Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cross Practice

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. I've been really busy at work and at home the past couple weeks, and blogging falls pretty low on the list of priorities.

I had originally planned to race at Maybury or Fort Custer last weekend, but, after having raced the previous two weekends, I felt like I needed to get in a good week of training instead. (I also wasn't terribly excited about either race.) I did a couple hard rides during the week, and then again on Saturday. The Saturday ride was interesting, instead of riding out on White Lake road toward Indian Springs, I turned down the park road to the campground at Pontiac Lake. For all the times I've ridden by it, I've never actually ridden on it; it was much longer than I thought... definitely worth riding. The campground at Pontiac Lake also looked nicer than I expected.

On Sunday, I went out to Addison Oaks, not to go hard, mainly just to familiarize myself with the trail (I'm planning to race there next month... last MTB race already). I think I've only ridden there twice over the past 5 years or so. I checked the weather before I left (for Waterford, not for Leonard, where the park is), 10% chance of rain, sweet... no need to check the radar...

I parked at Bald Mountain and started getting ready... I noticed a few raindrops... then on my ride over to Addison, it really started raining. I thought, "just a 10% chance of rain, so it probably won't rain long." Partway through my first lap of the trail, it did mostly stop, so I did a second lap. The trails were just a little wet when I rode them, the trees seemed to keep them (and me) relatively dry. Near the end of the second lap, it started raining really hard again, so I started riding back to my car. It poured on me the whole way back to Bald Mountain, and I was soaked by the time I got to the car. Fortunately, it was warm enough that I wasn't completely miserable, and I had fun riding at a different trail.

Last night, I went to the track for my first cyclocross practice of the year. I thought my legs would be OK, but they really didn't feel that great for any kind of hard effort. So, it ended up not being so worthwhile from a fitness standpoint, but it was worthwhile to get out and ride my 'cross bike off road. My rear tire was really squirming and sliding all over the place though; I may have also bottomed out the rim (or came close) at least once. Same tires as I used last year, and I thought the same pressure. This morning I checked my setup notes from last year: I saw that I eventually settled on runnning my tires at 30psi; last night I had them at 25psi. So, I can probably safely say now that 25psi is too low for me on these tires. I also need to work on getting back on my bike and into the pedals quickly... I was fast getting off, but slow getting back on.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PLRA XC - 2009

On Sunday, I did the Pontiac Lake XC race. It was another very hot race (temps around 90F for my race). I was very conflicted going in. From a technical riding perspective, I feel like I've made some good progress again the past few weeks. But, my legs had also been feeling pretty bad for most of the week. I was a little concerned that racing would be counterproductive, maybe undoing some of my technical progress and possibly hurting my confidence. As it turned out, I'm glad that I raced.

First, I set up my goals for the race:
1. Start at a reasonably hard pace, to set the intensity level for the rest of the race.
2. Relax and maintain good body position in the technical sections.
3. Have fun!

I've started thinking about cyclocross season a little already (it's not too far away now), and I realized that I'm almost always more relaxed and have more fun at a 'cross race. Why? I'm not completely sure, but I think I get more tense about the technical features of a mountain bike race, even at a trail I've ridden many times. So, that was the reason for #3. Anyway, going in with the idea of relaxing and having fun at the race seemed to help.

I got a good warmup in, but I didn't get a great starting position at the line. There was enough space on the grass field before the singletrack for me to move up and get a decent spot in the train that quickly formed though. (I've been practicing clipping my race starts a little, just getting my foot clipped in and sprinting for a few seconds... it helped!) The pace was high, but not too bad... I think everyone was holding back just a little due to the heat. I finally got gapped after the first real swoopy section on the trail (I don't have a better description); it was a combination of the high pace and bike handling. By that point though, I'd also built a decent gap to the riders behind me.

I kept up a fairly high pace until the sandy stretch where the mountain bike and horse trails cross. I'd picked off a few of the slower people from the classes ahead of me, and just a couple people (from classes behind me I think) passed me. For sure, I got passed by a lot less people this year than last. Andrea was stationed at the little drop just before I slowed... looks like I'm desparate for some O2!

The rest of my first lap was pretty uneventful. I mostly rode by myself, trying to recover from my starting effort. I figured I was still doing OK in the race though, since most of the people that had passed me seemed to be flying, I figured they were the fast guys from the other classes.

Me on the last climb... (from Bruce LeBlanc)

End of lap 1 (Hans Nyberg)

On my second lap, it felt like I was mostly just riding to finish. I didn't really feel like I could push a little again until about halfway through the lap. I rode most of the lap with some guys from Cycletherapy that were in a later start wave. It seems like I always end up racing with these guys for a while. So, the three of us finished more-or-less together (although all in different classes), and that was it. I was glad to be done, and fairly pleased with my effort.

Last climb again (Hans Nyberg)

I was a little surprised to check the results and see that my effort netted me 3rd place (out of 8). I was about a minute out of 2nd place, and the 4th place guy was about 3 minutes behind me. So, it was a pretty good result for me, the first time I've made the podium this year (as always, placement is also dependent on who shows up!). In terms of lap times, my first lap was about a minute and half faster than last year, but my second lap was about a minute and a half slower.

Podium!(from Bruce LeBlanc)

Friday, August 14, 2009


I've changed my setup on the mountain bike this week. Taking the advice of the skills gurus out there (Gene and Lee), I put a shorter stem on the bike and raised it. I already had a 75mm stem on my singlespeed, so I used that, replacing the 90mm stem that was on the bike. My estimate is that the changes moved my bars back and up about 1 inch each.

Lee mentioned a test to see if you have adequate skill to rip with a longer stem. He suggests dropping off a curb 100 times. To pass, you have to land with the rear wheel first every time. I didn't try to do it 100 times; I only did 10, and I landed correctly 8 times.

Last night, I got my first real ride in with the new setup (at Pontiac Lake, my "home" trail). I can say that it's definitely different; it took a little while to get used to. While pedaling, I felt much more upright; it felt a little odd on the road, but fine on the trail. My first impression is that I descend and corner a little better this way. For sure, it's easier to lift the front wheel. I didn't notice any real problems climbing, maybe the front end wanders just a little more, but it wasn't too bad. I did stall on the steep climb after "The Chute" on both laps, which is pretty unusual for me now. I attribute that to the rider rather than the bike though, my legs just felt dead for the whole ride.

I also had Sarah record me doing Figure-8 drills in the driveway earlier this week; it was really interesting to watch. I expected to see that I wasn't leaning the bike nearly as much as I thought (I wasn't), but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I looked reasonably smooth. What I didn't expect to see was how bad my upper body position was; I mean, I knew it probably wasn't great, but what I saw wasn't even close.

(Lee, demonstrating proper, although exaggerated, form.)

So, I've been working on getting myself into a good neutral "attack" position whenever I'm not pedaling. I figure, if the ground is flat and straight enough to pedal on, I should be in a pedaling position; otherwise, I should be in the attack position. I found that being in a good attack position also makes a big difference in my comfort level while descending and cornering. What I realized last night though is that I basically never corner like that; instead, I go to some position where my butt is hovering just off the saddle and my chest is still high. I expect that this position puts too much weight on the back of the bike, which is why I feel like the front of the bike doesn't want to turn. For sure, in that hovering position, I can't lean my bike very far without leaning with it, there's no place for the saddle to go!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hines Park TT - 2009

It looked for a while like this race wasn't going to happen. When I went to bed on Saturday night, the report was that there was 1-2 feet of water over the road. I woke up a couple times during the night and could hear it raining hard. So, I was a little surprised to check my email Sunday morning and find that the race was still on (although probably delayed a little).

So, I loaded up the car and drove down (through more rain) to the race, where I found out the race was delayed 30 minutes, then an hour. By the time I started, it was getting hot, humid, and windy... perfect weather for bike racing!

The race went OK for me. I felt like I settled into a good pace pretty quickly. There were still some big puddles on the road; some of them where I wanted to ride. I hadn't considered that there would be a difference in puddles in the road created by rain (which is what I usually see) and those created by a flooding river. Turns out that the flooding river kind are really muddy. So, just a few minutes into the race, my bike and I were covered in mud... I usually finish mountain bike races cleaner than I finished yesterday. I tried to avoid the puddles a little more after I got coated the first time.

When I've done this race in the past and it's been windy, it seems like I usually get a good tailwind on the way out. There may have been some of that yesterday, but at times, I got a pretty strong crosswind instead, so the going wasn't too easy. There were strong headwinds and crosswinds all the way back too. Add the heat and humidity, and conditions were pretty tough.

I passed a few people on the course, including my dad, and only one guy passed me. I ended up finishing nearly a minute slower than last year. I'd like to attribute it all to the conditions, but I'm not sure if that's really the case.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Pontiac Lake

This weekend is the Hines Park TT, a 20km road time trial. I enjoy doing this race quite a bit. It's short enough that it's not too hard (I did the 40km race one year, and that was not so fun), there's nothing about the course or race format to worry about, you basically just pedal as hard as you can for about half an hour. My dad is coming over for the race too this year, so that will be fun.

So, in an effort to not really prepare for the race, I've been splitting my riding time between two activities: mountain bike "skill" rides in my backyard and rides at Pontiac Lake. The skill rides have been interesting. I'm making progress on cornering, but not so much on hopping. The improvements in cornering have mainly been due to looking farther ahead and improving my upper body position.

I'm starting to see the influence of my skill work on the trail too. I had really good rides on the trail on Sunday and Wednesday. I've noticed that I have the most trouble on corners where I can't see the exit (due to trees, grass, whatever), even if I know what the rest of the corner looks like. In those situations, you're supposed to look "through" the obstacle at where the trail will go, but I seem to have trouble doing that in practice.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I realized that I hadn't posted in a while. Not too much has been going on lately. I've been spending some time working on my technical skills again. The things I'm working on (mostly cornering) are getting better.

I rode at Pontiac Lake on Saturday and Sunday. Particularly on Sunday, I thought that I rode really well; the time spent on the skills stuff seemed to pay off. My biggest issue seems to be just not looking ahead enough; at times, my vision gets "stuck" on certain parts of the trail and causes me problems.

Speaking of working on skills... I'm strongly considering heading down to Virginia this Fall to attend a skills camp by Gene Hamilton. Ashwin has done this twice and has found it very beneficial.