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