Friday, December 09, 2011

Rocking the Round Hill (VA) with a Neo-Pro

In looking back at this blog I  realize I post a lot about not being in DC.  Last year I spent over 80 nights away from DC for both work and bike racing, which could lead some to believe I do not like it here.  That is absolutely not true.  Riding in DC is some of the best I have found in the country.  We have beautiful roads, respected routes and a great community of fellow bike racers.  The Mid-Atlantic racing scene is also one of the best and most consistent in the country.

I also don't write a lot about local races and riding.  A quick review of Gam Jams on a Monday morning following a race weekend will prove how well covered the local scene is already.  It will also serve as a reminder of the painful moments my subconscious tried to forget as well.  Therefore, my own particular insights about these races probably would not provide extra value and might distract from my own joy of reading about other people's impressions of our experience. 
Now that the race season has subsided and I am back to long training rides I have headed back out to one of my favorite local haunts about an hour drive from DC in a town right under the Blue Ridge -- Round Hill.  For various reasons, I have become a regular in the area and I know I'm not alone.  In the past I have seen a host of MABRA's finest-- Joe Jefferson, the now west coastal Chuck and a bunch of team rides from NOVA-based squads on those back roads.  So the secret is definitely out.
One of the real joys of riding there is that I am joined periodically by Neo-Pro Curtis Winsor, pictured here in white (in full high school prom night glory).  When he is home and away from his efforts to conquer the cycling world I often join him for way too many long hours in the saddle.  He does have a tendency of getting us lost and convincing me to go for "just a little bit longer" which almost always turns into one more mountain or one more hour.

I need to brag a little bit here about my friend Curtis.  I have been riding with him for about 2 years and since then he has gone from elite ametuer to faux pro and now to an official neo-pro with Kenda/5-hour Enegry Pro Cycling presented by GEARGRINDER.  It has been incredible to be along for the ride while he has made this journey and I cannot say enough good things about his attitude and how grounded he has remanded.  Granted, his epic rise does mean I win fewer and fewer town/county/state-line sprints against him; but, I have grown comfortable with that fact.  And more importantly, it will not dissuade me from trying, again and again. 

Bike racing is, at it's heart, a social endeavor-- a shared suffering.  Growing up as a swimmer I realize the privilege we have in bike racing of being able to talk to others while we are training or competing.  It was always difficult in swimming to realize you were going to be staring at a black line on the bottom of a pool for hours without the ability to share thoughts or jokes with those who are nearest you.   

Winter training is about that aspect of the sport-- rolling out with your buddies for long rides.  In the race season, which now seems to be ever expanding with the inclusion of CX, I get so focused on getting to races on time, on prepping equipment and all sorts of things unrelated to just enjoying the company of people who share my interest.  When winter rolls around it's great to re-enter that world.  I have been admittedly isolated in the last couple of offseasons, much to my detriment.  I spent a lot of last offseason riding solo.  Too much time out alone will likely drive you crazy and I'm sure it did for me . . . to a small degree. 

So this winter, I have promised myself that I will be more present.  So if you see me out riding or on a group ride please just ride up and chat.  I can always use the company.     

Sunday, December 04, 2011

New Orleans and New Sarpy

I've had a long standing love affair with the Crescent City and I got the chance to be there for a week. There is something really special about New Orleans- it's a perfect mixture of life, food, decadence and rust. I enjoy cities that are lived in, ones that have history which is evident from the moment you walk in. I get really annoyed with places that are so clean and so perfect that you wonder if you have to take your shoes off when you cross the city limits. New Orleans is a special place and you know it just by being there. You see it even more when you get passed Poydras and head out into Southern Louisiana.
While the pavement might not be perfect, New Orleans is a really rideable city and one that I have gotten used to riding in. It also has a growing cycling community with well attended local weekend rides. By virtue of living in Mississippi for a couple of years I came to know the racing scene and a bunch of the elite guys who are legit hammers. I wanted to test out my legs on the river levee which is an about 25-mile stretch of paved bike path along the Mississippi River which heads out to New Sarpy, which is a small town on the river. The path is not nearly as congested as you would guess and it's a good place to get in a strong ride out into the swamp. Just don't expect any elevation change but do expect a strong headwind at some point.
I love eating in New Orleans. My experience is that food is a celebration down there and not something which you just do. I had to have a couple quick meals and hit up one of my favorite sandwich shops Mother's which is perfectly located right across the street from the courthouse. Just remember when someone asks you if you want debris on your po-boy that means a whole bunch of dressing and not road trash. And everyone at Mother's refers to you as "baby" and they don't take tips. Just accept those facts.
I also got to try out a place I've wanted to try for a long time- Upperline-- which is just up the road off St. Charles uptown a bit. It was delicious meal and the bartender made a great sidecar which is always a plus. And who can complain about a $45 prix fix three course menu? I enjoy places where the owners and managers are there and take an interest in your enjoyment. Just thinking about it now makes me want to go back down.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I cannot make it any clearer than that. I have been a longtime critic of the random pricing of airline bike fees; but a recent charge I was forced to pay was unconscionable. I went down to New Orleans for a trial last week. Based on our position in the case I knew I would have some periodic free time while I was down there so I thought it was a good idea to bring the bike with me. Plus, I wanted to test out my form on the river levee-- nothing says fun like 50 miles of absolutely flat reptitive riding (sarcasm font)!!! So I boxed the bike up and took it to DCA for my morning flight. After some back and forth with the ticket agent, I was charged $200 for just my bike-- $200!!!
This was a $140 increase over the fee I paid in 2008, on the same flight, on the same plane, on the same airline. I consider this to be ridiculous. Of course I thought that this was just the latest in a long line of airline's charging random amounts for bikes for no good reason. And, that on the way back the price would fall back to the $100 range like it is on United and most other airlines. Sadly I was mistaken. I checked the US Airways website and sure enough, the bike fee is listed at $200.
I guess I should have checked the website out first and would have been spared the grotesque shock of hearing that dollar amount. However, in my wildest imagination, I did not think it could possibly be that much of an increase in such a short period of time. What is most interesting is that the bike fee is a 10x increase over their standard charge for other checked bags. I debated doing an airline-by-airline spreadsheet of charges; but I found that the fees change so regularly that it really is not worth my time to try and keep up.
Moral of thes story, check their prices online beforehand and simply do not fly US Airways. The service has always been marginal and its employees are lackluster anyways. By and large Southwest and Virgin are the best and cheapest airlines when it comes to baggage fees-- $50 each way. If possible, my goal is to limit the number of times I check my bike this year. Just means more driving for me; but to save the aggravation of fees and bike boxes I have no problems doing it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Rivalry

There is something pure about a rivalry-- a simplicity in the dislike rivals have toward each other mixed with a grudging respect that comes with heated competition. Rivalry is part of what makes sports great and why watch. What would baseball be without the Yankees and the Red Sox? What would football be without the Bears and the Packers? It is games like those that get circled on calendars long before a season starts. It is those games which draw people in like no other throughout the season.

When I was a swimmer, back in the days of yore, I had a bitter rival. We did not race each other each weekend but we found ourselves staring across the lanes more often than not. With each race our rivalry grew and the competition got better. Eventually I would outpace him and the competition ceased but while it was on going it produced some magical races.

In the world of bike racing I have missed out on that for some time. So you can imagine my happiness when Nick Versus Gravity brought back the joy of rivalry to my life. It started subtle, a text taunting me about his prowess in CX followed by a Facebook message encouraging me to bring my "A" game. Then came his assurances I would find myself in the tape. Because of a trial scheduled this September I was not able to open the CX season in MABRA but sure enough when Winchester rolled around I got to line up right behind him and this is what ensued:

Granted neither of us won the race but all the fireworks do not have to be at the front of the field right? In the end his mouth was bigger than the wattage he could throw down...however he did go down a bunch of times. We have not resumed our rivalry yet because frankly Nick Versus Gravity chose to chicken out and not go to Granogue; presumably because it was too much of a man's race for him, and I raced up in the 1/2/3 at DCCX.

Come Ed Sanders the Rivalry will resume. This one is likely to get ugly.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Raining and Pouring

The weather here, and around every part of the country that I've been to lately, has been spotty at best. One moment it's sunny and the next moment it's raining sideways. Such has been the pains of my season as well. I showed moments of greatness in Phoenix and had a solid ride at Black Hill to be followed by three sub par performance over the past three weeks. A battle with a couple mechanical problems and a crash have a way of sorting things out for you in a hurry. Especially when my margin for error is so small.

I took a rare day off to do my other favorite thing. . . sit and enjoy a Spring day with food and friends at Oatlands for the annual Hunt Point-to-Point. I am bringing out a new fashion trend this season. I noticed a vest as a replacement for the sport coat in a recent episode of White Collar and wanted to give it a test drive. I think it's a great move for the blistering temps of the Summer. Who ever is running the costume shop on that show has been inside my closet lately. As long as looking classy is in style I am a happy guy. To that end I was introduced last year to Suresh Khemlani of Custom Executive Outfitters. He's been my tailor since then and put together a great set of shirts for me as a Christmas gift from the pretty brunette pictured here. I strongly recommend him to anyone. It's harder than you think finding business clothes that fit the body of an athlete. He comes to you and has been a pleasure to work with.

My out of town season starts in mid-May with Tour de Grove. It marks the first opportunity that I have had since becoming a Cat 2 to get into a race with my coach and friend Adam Mills. I have been looking forward to this for two years. No doubt it'll be one of the toughest races I have been in for a long time but bike racing has always been about challenges and meeting them head on, especially when they have a tendency of meeting you back.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Local Racing

MABRA has a style of racing I have not found in too many places-- the circuiterium. It's not long enough to be a circuit race and its not short enough to be a crit, it's the race somewhere in the middle. During the opening months of the race season in the Mid-Atlantic our calendar is dominated by these races. They take a couple different forms but mostly they are about 1 1/2 miles without much in the way of technical challenges. In most cases the races come down to a match up of rider against rider and not riders against the course. Our first local race like this took place recently out in Maryland in a particularly unassuming place. It was great to get the local season started here but the remainder has been less than satisfying. Our early season races appear to be vanishing this year. Some have been postponed, some have been canceled. I am not passing judgment just expressing my frustration in wanting to get some racing in. It is making it difficult to follow through on the plan that I made at the start of the season. At a minimum it requires me to be more flexible as to when I'm going to line up to do battle. I set out on work travel last week to Rochester, NY. At first when you hear that, you are at a loss for anything good to say about the locale. And, I will admit that there really is not a ton to do there but it is not half as bad as I thought it was going to be. I have heard that Rochester's Museum of Play is not bad for the family folk among us and the Eastman Kodak Museum has some great exhibitions throughout the year. However, when I am on travel I do not get the opportunity to check out things unless I get done really early. What I do get to enjoy is the local flavor. I refuse to eat at nationwide chains while on travel. Whenever possible I go out of my way to find something local and something off the beaten path. While driving from the airport to a meeting I ran across a little pizza joint called Perri's Pizza. It's classic New York pizza with counter service. I am not saying it was just like pizza down in NYC, but it is definitely better than any of the soggy-crusted pizza we have in DC. As a Chicagoan I can appreciate good pizza and I am not going to engage in a debate of what is the better style of pizza. Let's just put it this way, NYC pizza is better for lunch. Whereas Chicago pizza is the better style for dinner. These are just facts that should not be disputed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cowboy Boots

San Antonio surprised the heck out of me. I first found myself there a month ago and was blown away by how big the city actually is and what the city had to offer. Growing up in Naperville, with our own version, I had heard about the Riverwalk in San Antonio but had no idea what to expect. So I put on my cowboy boots and headed out to see what I can find.

I have had a fascination with Texas for as long as I could remember. I am not exactly sure what there is about the State but I really enjoy the food, music and culture, especially in central Texas. So when I knew I was heading down I was really charged because it had been a good long time since I have had some BBQ. Also, I knew I had to make my pilgrimage to the shrine of Texas itself-- the Alamo. Just being in this humble building was like walking into a center of pride; especially for a guy like me who grew up idealizing Davy Crockett to the point where my Grandmother made me a coonskin cap that I wore all over the place.

I was only gonna be there for a couple days so I did not bring the bike with me; but I can see how there would be great riding in the area. Despite a big downtown, it looks likes it would be easy to get on some lesser travel roads and eventually into the open country. And, with the hill country nearby I can only imagine the trouble someone could cause on two wheels. If I get the chance I am definitely gonna bring the bike.

The first time I was there I took in a classic Texas experience with a former teammate and his wife-- Rudy's. Having lived in the South I am familiar with the tradition of mixing bad for you food with gas stations. I loaded up a plate full of different meats, creamed corn and topped it off with some Lone Star. I do not care if the latter is Texas' version of Bud Lite; when I go native I really go native. The "Q" was as good as I remembered it.

The most recent time I was there I met up with a long-time cycling friend and the guru behind State Wheels at the Gristmill River Restaurant for some Chi-Friy and to discuss exactly why I love the wheels he builds. One of the great things about traveling as much as I do is the ability to keep connected with people and to experience all the country has to offer. The Gristmill is located right next to Gruene Hall, one of the oldest dance halls in Texas. I was told that on any given night you could find just about any one playing there including some of the biggest names in music. The food was great and, by the looks of things, that dance hall is definitely a place to head back to when I get my boots polished up.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Escaping the Cold: Valley of the Sun 2011

After a hiatus from travel and blogging (but never from racing) I returned to a faux pro lifestyle in the early Fall 2010. It's taken a while but I'm back in form and am ready to provide that bit of unique commentary that I have and to share the stories of racing and riding throughout this most beautiful country.

In D.C. we have languished under some pretty cold temperatures for most of the winter and I have found myself wearing my thermal jacket way too much this year. So when I had the opportunity to depose a witness down in Thatcher, AZ I jumped on the first plane I could. It happened that this trip would coincide with Valley of the Sun so I packed up the bike and my new set of State Cycling Wheels which I will demo for the first part of the season.

After a quick deposition and a stop at Pima-based Taylor Freeze for a remarkably cheap, delicious and greasy lunch, I made my way up to Phoenix for the start of bike racing season ver. 2.11. Valley of the Sun is a three-day stage race which features a flat time trial, hilly road race and a downtown criterium. Without a time trial bike I rolled the first stage and determined to hunt stages starting with the road race on day two.


The road race consists of 16-mile triangular laps which feature a 4-mile 400 foot climb and corresponding descent into straight as an arrow valley road. The challenge to this year's race was the strong cross wind in the valley road which put everyone into the gutter. I rode well through the first lap until I felt that sinking feeling that corresponds with a flat rear wheel. I looked down and sure enough I was rolling on the rim and was about to launch into a 73-mile chase.

After a wheel change I dove into the headwind just in time to see the field turning into the cross wind about a mile ahead of me. Throughout the course of the race I picked up and passed shattered riders and formed a small groupetto that continued to chase. Eventually the effort wore us down and the chase finally went out of the group. We rolled in a good distance behind everyone else. When they say that its a dry heat in Arizona what they should say is that it is a heat that will suck all the water out of you so you better drink double what you are used to drinking. At the end of the race my legs were white from salt and my body was dehydrated beyond belief.


The profile of the crit said it had a 40-foot elevation change so I was expecting a hill. What I got was a figure eight course flatter than my IHOP pancakes. With no large teams in the field it was negative racing at its best. Guys threw themselves off the front but each time they came rolling back through the field like a bowling ball heading downhill. After a brief second of toying with the idea of doing that myself, I settled in for a field sprint I had great position all the way through the race until about 3 laps to go. At that point in time I looked up and suddenly saw 50 guys in front of me and just about nobody behind me.

I have always been curious how this phenomenon happens. You roll in the top 10-20 guys for 25 miles and are vigilant about what is happening and where everyone is and it is as if you suddenly find yourself teleported back to the lantern rouge. I remedied my positioning problem with a few dives into a couple corners and was back into good position...just in time for some guy to flat right in front of me through a corner and nearly take out the middle part of the field right as we hit the ultimo kilometer. I scrubbed speed hard getting through his shaky line and found myself thrust to the back as we hit the final lap-- packfodder. I was not pleased with my result but pleased with the effort I put in up until that time.

After the races I visited two solid local spots: Los Olivos Cafe in Scottsdale and Monti's in Tempe. Definitely places to go to when you are in town. If you get to Los Olivos, which I've been to twice, ask for one particular server, she's been there for 56 years and has the greatest stories ever. This time I was served by her granddaughter who also works there