Weinfest in Hochheim am Main, July 12, 2008

Weinfest

My client, Wolfgang, who runs the Germany office, told me that his village was having a wine festival over the weekend. He sent me a link to his village’s home page, and I decided to go tonight. Wolfgang had said that I might have trouble finding parking, but that was the understatement of the year! It was incredible how much traffic was converging on this tiny village…

Traffic coming into Weinfest - Hochheim am Mein

Traffic coming into Weinfest - Hochheim am Mein

HISTORY. Hochheim am Main (or simply Hochheim) is a town in the state of Hessen. It is near the right bank of the Main River three miles above the branch into the Rhine. Historical reference to Hochheim can be found, in the chronicles, as early as the 7th century. Located in the Rheingau, Hochheim has historically been a center of trade in wine.

As I walked down the crowded streets, there were all kinds of booths that sold wine. However, much to my dismay, everything was white wine! Of course…Germany is a leading producer of white wines. But, I don’t drink whites, so I just kept wondering around. There were all kinds of foods – everything from Chinese to waffles to pizza to Spanish chocolates.

 

Hochheim Weinfest

Hochheim Weinfest

Then…I saw a couple holding glasses with red wine! I asked them where they found it, and they gave me some elaborate directions, something about turning right where all the people are standing, then go WAY TO THE BACK and look for the Portuguese place. So, I followed their directions, and found the coolest place.

It was a small store that also sold pots, pans, flower pots, etc. The only people in there were Portuguese, and myself. I asked for a glass of red wine, and it cost only 1 Euro! Most of the other white wines were selling for about 3 Euros outside. Then, the craziness started…guys with drums started playing very loudly…and it was insane. Everyone was cheering and clapping, because, I think…everyone was drunk on Portuguese wine!

Near the Portuguese place

Near the Portuguese place

Pretty soon, they brought me olives and some kind of bean, in olive oil. It was very good. Next, they brought me peel-and-eat shrimp, and lots more wine. Finally, they brought me a drum to play, too. I said that I didn’t know how to play, and they laughed…they said that no one there knew how to play…that’s why the music was soooo bad. All this was done via sign language, since they didn’t speak English or much German. So, it was pretty funny.

After about an hour or so there, I decided I’d better head out. I asked to buy a bottle of wine, and they said it was 10 Euros. So, I said, give me two bottles. They said it would be 11 Euros. I laughed, and said, the price is higher per bottle for two? No…they said…it would only be 11 Euros for both!

It was a lot of fun!

Here are a few more pictures from the Weinfest…

Unusual pub

Unusual pub

Statue in center of Hochheim

Statue in center of Hochheim

Hochheim Weinfest Street

Hochheim Weinfest Street

BMW 530Xi - my rental car this week

BMW 530Xi - my rental car this week

Published in: on July 12, 2008 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Beach Vacation 2008

Hilton Head Island, July 2008

Once again, the Huff family (sans Alyssa, who was on the island of Trinidad) headed to the Lugaila’s “Beach House” in Palmetto Dunes, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Branden and his girlfriend drove a second car behind ours, so we split the drive into two parts, rather than the normal 12-hour all-day grind that we normally do.

The weather and tide were absolutely perfect the first week of the vacation. William and the girls absolutely loved playing on the beach and in the warm waters of the Atlantic every day.

Beach at Palmetto Dunes, HHI

Beach at Palmetto Dunes, HHI

Every morning, Laurie and I would get up and wish we could go run or ride a bike together,  but instead, we’d cook breakfast for the kids (usually pancakes,  sausage and bacon – the normal Huff breakfast!). Then, we’d spend the next 30-45 minutes putting suntan lotion on the kids, packing up drinks and toys, and then head to the beach…always at least 1 hour later than we wanted to go!
But, once we were there, it was perfect. The hot sun, the soft sounds of the waves, ahd kids running around and squealing with happiness. We’d setup the tent usually, to provide extra shade for the kids that got my (fair) skin. And, then, William would want pulled on a boogie board in the surf, and the girls would want to go out into the water. So much for sitting down and relaxing on a chair, or so much for Laurie tanning!
Kids at Hilton Head (without Alyssa - Trinidad)

Kids at Hilton Head (without Alyssa - Trinidad)

So, after building sand castles, or homes for their Polly Pockets, and swimming, Branden would come down and do some surf fishing. He’d catch a few small sharks, and get them off his line before the nearby life guard could come and make him stop fishing! We’d also use the castnet and catch some other small fish. Well, I never caught any, but Branden always seemed to.
Then, it would be lunch time. We’d head over to the Hilton Buoy Bar, and spend a mere $100+ for lunch. But, it was fun, and the food is really good – especially the hamburgers. The highlight of this trip was always William and Emily feeding the huge fish that swim around the bar.
Some mornings, we’d get on our bikes and do about a 1-hour ride. My favorite was to ride out of Palmetto Dunes, turn towards the mainland on the trail beside 278, and then, at the park, turn right and go back on the beach. The first time we tried this, we had to cross a small river, which Laurie and Jessica (on her tag-a-long behind Laurie) plowed into, and Laurie soaked her new running shoes! Rachael and I crossed in a shallower place and kept our shoes dry!
Published in: on July 12, 2008 at 1:27 am  Comments (1)  

2Hr MTB Ride Darmstadt on July 10, 2008

I flew this morning from Hilton Head via Savannah and Newark to Frankfurt this morning. Actually, I tried to fly yesterday from HHI to CLT, but sat 6 hours on the tarmac on a USAirways A330 which broke twice before they canceled the flight late last night. Because of no hotels, I ended up renting a Mustang convertible and driving back to Hilton Head and getting in at 330am. Then, I woke up at 9am and drove to Savannah at 10am for my second attempt at getting across the pond.

Anyway, I made it this morning. I worked all day, then went to Velocity and rented the same MTB as last time for another week and 60 Euros. Just before 6pm, I went riding. I was planning on heading south, and then deciding where to go on-the-fly.

The absolute BEST part about these rides in Germany is the fact that I’m riding a bike at all. Normal work hours sometimes extend into the wee hours of the night, leaving no light for riding. However, I’ve managed to take a break around normal supper time and get on my bike and explore the German countryside. I don’t know why, when Laurie and I lived in Germany for 3 years, we never biked anywhere. Biking is the way to see Germany. There are trails everywhere, and share-the-road bike paths all through the cities. Plus, there are bike trails that you can follow that take you around traffic into interesting villages and small roads.

I learned more about Darmstadt and the surrounding area in the 1 week that I rode every evening than I had learned in the previous 4 visits. The tough part was riding by so many small restaurants and “pubs” that looked so interesting…I always want to stop and sit down on the patio, or in the dark, smoky interiors and soak up this village’s culture.

After emerging from the forest near T-Mobile, I decided to follow the signs which said 17km to Gernsheim, because there was a picture of a boat on water (which ended up being a Rhein Ferry, which I never did find). I followed this trail across all kinds of fields and through small villages, and more fields. It was a great ride. I could see Alsbach (where I rode the 7% incline to the ancient knight’s castle 2 weeks ago) on the left once I got near Gernsheim.

I enjoyed this 2 hour 15 minutes ride which covered almost 50km. I rode medium to hard, but didn’t have a water bottle and was a bit parched by the end of this ride. One highlight was seeing a mischwagen (which spreads liquid manure onto fields) near Gernsheim. For those of you who don’t know, Porsche and Daimler Benz are made near Stuttgart. BMW is made in Munich. When I lived near Stuttgart, they called the BMW a “Bayerische Mischwagen”, or translated, a “Bavarian Shit-Spreader”. Very funny!

I’ve attached some photos from the ride, to show the beauty and variety of this almost entirely flat route.

Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 11:15 pm  Comments (1)  

3 Hour MTB Ride from Darmstadt to Alsbach

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This was my last day on my rented mountain bike in Darmstadt, and the 10th day in Germany. I had worked late last night, and also had worked early this morning. So, after determining that I didn’t have any meetings or conference calls for the next 3 hours, I hopped on the bike and headed out.

I decided to head south, and see if I could make it southeast of Pfungstadt, to Naturpark Bergstrasse-Odenwald. The weather was perfect – sunny and not as hot, in the low 70s at about 900am. I rode from the Maritim Rhein-Main hotel, and went into the forest. I headed down to Pfungstadt, and then started following Bike Route 24, which took me east towards Eberstadt. There was a beautiful paved bike trail through the forest, which I followed for awhile. Then, I started following Bike Route 15, which wound through beautiful fields and woods.

As I passed through the village of Alsbach, I saw a sign that point to the left and said Schloss Alsbach, 1,7km, 7%.

Schloss Alsbach

Schloss Alsbach ist eigentlich eine Burg, die etwa um 1235 erbaut wurde. Eine kleine Burgschänke sorgt für das leibliche Wohl, der Turm kann bestiegen werden und bietet einen atemberaubenden Fernblick. Die Burgruine und der angrenzende Waldspielplatz (mit Picknickplätzen) laden zum erkunden und spielen ein. Schöne Wanderwege führen bis zum Aussichtsturm auf dem Melibokus. Hier starten oft die Drachenflieger.

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tour of Catalonia – Jeff and John Style

May 2008.

The plan was simple…I was working in the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain for 2 weeks. John would fly to Spain, I would finagle a few days off and we’d ride together in the cycling heaven around Girona, Spain. If more than 30 professional cyclists made Girona their home, then it must be a great place to train, right? Lance Armstrong had owned a house in Girona. His lieutenant, George Hincapie, still lived in Girona.

The “plan” had started in November 2007, when I won a contract with Mylan Labs that would take me to Milan, Dublin, Darmstadt, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Barcelona. When I first heard that I would be working a week or two at a time in Barcelona, I used Google Maps to explore the area. That’s when I discovered that Girona was only 1 hour north of Barcelona. I distinctly remember sitting in the Waterfront Hotel in Morgantown, West Virginia in front of my laptop, thinking “wouldn’t it be cool to take my bike with me and ride in Girona?”

Fast forward to May 2008…I had spent the past 6 months working 2 weeks on/1 week off all over Europe. I had spent months in Lyon, France, and had spent 1-2 weeks in Milan, Dublin, and Paris. I was now quite a “hardened” international traveler…get up early on Monday…1hr drive to Pittsburgh airport, then 2 hour wait for flight to Newark…then 4 hour layover until 8 hour flight to Paris…then 1 hour wait until climbing on the TGV (bullet train) to Lyon…finally, arriving in the office before lunch and working until 8pm that night. Monday’s were always 30 hour days, and then in the excitement, I could never sleep.

It was the second straight week of my third trip to Barcelona, but it felt different. All of the professionalism was giving way to excitement. I had my bike with me, and my friend, John Coyle, was arriving from the States this morning. We were going to do our own Spring training camp in Catalonia! We had 4 days to do nothing but bike, soak up the Mediterranean sun and Spanish food and culture.

Last week, I had helped in bringing two global information technology systems online in Spain. It was a great success, but the hours had been extremely long, and the stress immense. It was touch-and-go whether my team would complete its assignment in time for Go-Live weekend. But, at the very last second, everything fell into place. The “Tour of Catalonia” was still on!

Last week, I had ridden my racing bike for the very first time in Europe. I had explored the area around my hotel in Sabadell, Spain. Although my rides were fairly short, and always started with a mad dash through crazy city traffic and round-abouts, I still made it out into the beautiful Spanish countryside. Even here, near major metropolitan areas, the roads were wonderful to ride. Thousand year old buildings dotted the fertile green countryside. Scents from a dozen different flowers filled my nostrils as I pedaled under the hot Spanish sun.

Again, using the marvel of technology called Google Maps, I had found a 10km mountain climb that was only 30 minutes from my hotel via bike. I had taken a long lunch hour (or two) last week and ridden out through Terrassa, and up this magnificent climb. As my friend Ray Russell says, “any day on a bike is a good day.” And, I was riding my bike in Spain!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008.

I was able to work from the hotel, and left early in the morning to go to the Barcelona Airport to pick up John. Since his cell phone didn’t work in Europe, we had developed a plan of where to meet; sometimes these plans do not work. However, as a good omen for the remainder of this week, everything worked perfectly, and I met John without incident. Minutes after meeting, around 9am Central European Time, we had both fired up Cuban cigars and our bike trip had officially begun!

After putting his bike together (whew! all the pieces were still in the bike box – nothing lost), we headed out together. The weather was decent (60s and overcast), and we survived the city madness to make it out through Terrassa. It was the first time that John and I had ever ridden a mountain together. I’m sure that neither of us was sure what the result would be – would John be stronger and leave me behind, or vice-versa? If you’ve never climbed a 5+ mile mountain climb with another person, then you don’t know that usually, someone is working too hard, and someone is riding too easy. However, we found that we were perfectly matched. Another great omen for the next 3 days of riding

Flashback…Houston Memorial Park, Year 2000.

Although I had once been a pretty good runner, I was relatively inexperienced on a bicycle. Yes, as a kid, I had ridden 100s of miles up and down Cleland Mill Road, but on a bike that had no gears and the only brakes were stomping down on the pedals. This is quite a bit different than riding a 15-pound racing bike made of aluminum, or carbon, or some other exotic space-age metal with ultra-thin tires around a course with 8 turns every 1.2 miles.

John and I were leading a project at Enron (yes, that Enron), and John managed to get me into cycling. I’m still not sure how he did it, but it happened. I bought two cheap road bikes ($400 each) and John started teaching me how to ride. Now, what was amazing to me in retrospect is that John never mentioned that he was a phenomenon on a bicycle. He had 20+ years of racing experience, starting when he was a pre-teen. Of course, I knew that he had an Olympic Silver Medal from Lillehammer, in short-track speed skating. He never mentioned (when we started biking together) that he been on the 7-11 Junior Team and spent time at the Olympic Training Center for cycling, too. I’m sure it was calculated on his part…I would’ve been too intimidated to ride with him had I know the depth of his experience.

As we rode endless laps around Memorial Park at 9pm in the hot, sticky air of a typical summer night in Houston, John teaches me how to turn. “Lean your body to the left, keep the bike upright, and steer around the turn.” John teaches me how to draft. John teaches me everything a track racer should know. I absorb these lessons like a sponge, but have horrible style (knees pointed outward)…John doesn’t criticize…he simply encourages me.

Back to Wednesday, May 14, 2008.

After climbing this gentle 4% climb outside of Sabadell, Spain; John and I explore a beautiful residential area built on top of this mountain. The views are fantastic – look down one side and see Terrassa and Sabadell spread out beyond the verdant green of the Spanish fields. Look down the other side, and one could see the sharp, stark slopes of the Pyrenees. This was the border between Spain and France…that legendary place where the Tour de France visits every year. The homes were beautiful – white stucco with red tiled roofs – built on sharp ledges with incredible panoramic views.

As we contemplate how fast we’re going to attempt to descend back into Sabadell, John turns a small corner and almost goes down. His rear tire flats! We fix it, and then proceed to speed down the mountain together. Uncharacteristically, John is lagging behind me. Typically, John is much more of a daredevil than I am. However, flatting on a descent is almost sure death here.

As the road flattens out, and our 35+mph mountain descent ends, John suddenly swears and announces that he has another flat. How lucky was he that this didn’t flat on the way down. It would’ve been disaster on the tight curves – either straight into a guardrail or over a small cliff. On the other hand, how unlucky to get 2 flats in one ride. We quickly determined that the rim tape was at fault, and ended up at a bike shop I had happened to find during a ride outside of Santa Coloma de Farners. John’s bike was fixed and we are ready for our first “real” day of riding tomorrow outside Girona…well, almost ready.

Because the car was too small, we had to make two trips to move all our stuff (bikes, bike boxes, luggage) from Sabadell to Santa Coloma de Farners, a small town just outside Girona. Trip #1 took our bikes to the new hotel. Then, back to Barcelona where we ate topas at 1230am and wandered up and down Le Rambla in the warm Spanish air. Finally, another trip took us back to our new hotel at 330am.

 

May 15, 2008. Girona, Spain.

John had spent hours and hours with Google Earth, analyzing the terrain surrounding Girona. I had also spent hours reading cyclists diaries and studying MapMyRide.com for ideas of where to ride. We drove to the base of a climb called Els Angeles about 10km outside Girona, and parked our car. Our plan was to tackle a 10km 1,200 vertical foot climb, survive the wicked mountain descent on the other side, and then try to make it to the Costa Brava (the Mediterranean coast), all the while zigzagging between 2,000 year old walled cities. Believe it or not, the plan worked!

As we started the climb together, we reveled in the hot Spanish sun. As we went around switchback after switchback, climbing through the evergreen and arid rocks, our spirits began to soar. Although neither of us is a climber, or could ever be accused of having a climber’s build, our legs felt strong, and our pace was steady. With each turn, we could see further and further over the amazing Catalonian countryside. As we approached the top, the views of Girona were breath-taking. However, nothing can prepare you for that first glimpse of the Costa Brava from the top of mountain.

View of Costa Brava from Els Angeles

View of Costa Brava from Els Angeles

 

 

 

The azure Mediterranean, contrasted with the browns of the sharp mountains and islands, and the dark greens of the fertile Spanish fields, took my breath away. However, this was just a warmup for what was coming. After a rather brutal descent (the road was very steep and extremely rough), we began my favorite part of every day’s ride in Catalonia…exploring 2,000 year old Catalonian castles, cities, walled-cities, and verdant farmlands.

It’s impossible to describe the excitement as we rode from village to village across empty, rolling roads. John points to the left…an incredible castle. I point to the left, a 500-year old estate. I began to wish that I had a camera implanted in my eyes.

Jeff and John in L'Estartit - Mediterranean Village in Spain

Jeff and John in L'Estartit - Mediterranean Village in Spain

 

If you could only see what my eyes have seen. This is a thought that echoes countless times through my mind this week. I don’t have the words to describe the views or the emotions playing through me. This is “living”!

John and I both snapped pics from our tiny cameras, but it’s impossible to capture the beauty.

We enter the outskirts of a small town called Monelles. It is one of the most beautiful villages in the world (only perhaps surpassed by Peratellada, which we visited later in the week). It is a 1,000 year old walled city. The streets are paved with stones, which as we ride on with our carbon racing bikes, makes us wonder how Hincapie and the others race on the “pave” of the spring classics in Belgium. We ride silently through this village; John leading. The walls are steep on either side of us. The alleys are so narrow that sometimes both of our shoulders brush the sides as we pedal.

Monelles - 2,000 year old walled city

Monelles - 2,000 year old walled city

 

The heat from the Spanish sun beats down on these stones. It seems as if I am drawing energy from the very stones of this magnificent village. My skin warms, my legs forget their fatigue from the earlier climbs, and my heart races with excitement. All the while, I keep thinking, I need to bring my family here. I want Laurie and the kids to ride and walk up and down these roads, and taste the hard breads and cheeses sold here.

As we reluctantly leave Monelles behind, we pedal strongly across the relatively flat spaces between villages. We skim the edge of L’Isabel, a rather large city, and head past another ancient castle. We then begin following a dirt road (which will become a commonplace occurrence the next couple of days). Neither of us are sure that we’re still on the route we planned, but we kept pedaling, avoiding rocks and kicking up a light dust in the arid soil. We find ourselves in the middle of amazing farmland, surrounded on all sides by green. It is apparent that although it’s relatively dry here, the land is very fertile. We glide through crops of all kinds, still following this beautiful dirt road.

Finally, we find pavement again, and we are still on track! Now, as we approach the Costa Brava, we begin to experience what I had experienced in Mallorca. The Mediterranean coastline is unpredictable. The sun is bright beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in the USA, but strong winds blow in off the Med and swirl around the mountains dotting the Costa Brava coastline. The ride starts to become hard…pedaling becomes more deliberate. We take turns taking pulls, and the draft becomes something that we cherish.

It seems to take several hours, but in reality, it was probably only 45 minutes, before we had finally reached L’Estartit, a beautiful city lying directly on the Mediterranean, under the shadow of an amazing castle-ruin sitting on a 1,000+ foot rocky mountain. We pedaled gently through L’Estartit, taking in the brilliant blues of the Mediterranean and the pure whites of the buildings reflecting the bright sun. We looked out at islands that seemed unreal because of their beauty. We took dozens and dozens of pictures.

I was very happy to stop pedaling and sit down at an outdoor café overlooking the Mediterranean. We were actually sitting 10 meters away from the Mediterranean, eating grilled squid, and putting away a huge amount of pasta. We sipped cokes and slowly worked our way through wonderful bottle of Spanish red wine.

Jeff riding under golden evening sun and flowers in Spain

Jeff riding under golden evening sun and flowers in Spain

 

Finally, it was time to get back on the bikes. I felt refreshed, and undaunted by the fact that it was about 530pm and we had another 3 hours to get back to our car. Before today, I’d never ridden more than 3 1/2 hours on a bike. We left the coastline and pedaled strongly inland. We took a fairly busy road for about 10km before getting back onto the empty roads and ancient villages. Soon, we found ourselves on another dirt road. We pedaled a long way, and began to worry that this wasn’t actually the route we desired. Finally, when the path turned to single track, we turned around and headed for a road we could see in the distance.

After getting back on the right paved road, we found ourselves approach Els Angeles for the second time today. However, we knew that the climb from the Costa Brava side was much more brutal than from the Girona side. The road was much steeper and the road surface much rougher. However, as we climbed together, each pushing the other on, we actually climbed a real Category 1 mountain. Little did we know that this was part of the Tour of Catalonia, a stage race which George Hincapie would ride in just a few days. Turn after turn, we pedaled, and stood, and sat, and pedaled. Sweat poured from our bodies, and the late evening Spanish sun turned everything to gold. Still, we climbed. The kilometers are marked on this climb, and we knew that this climb was “only” 5km long. However, between kilometer 13 and 14, we both swore that we had climbed 3 kilometers – not one!

As we crested the mountain together, such a sense of satisfaction filled both of us. We had just not only survived, but really “climbed” a Cat 1!  As we descended in a crazy swirl of leans through sharp turns and standing and pedaling hard between switchbacks, we yelled to each other in happiness. We were riding the same mountains that Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie trained on.

 

 

Published in: on May 18, 2008 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Attempting to ride to Costa Brava plus a second ride – BIG CLIMB! (Spain)

Santa Coloma de Farners, Spain

Two rides today… 

View from Hotel
This is the view off of my hotel balcony. 
 

Today was day #2 near Girona, Spain. I am actually staying in the Hotel Apsis/Mas Sola in Santa Coloma de Farnes, Spain (about 10 miles SW of Girona). After staying up too late (it’s hard to go to sleep being 5,000 miles away from home on mother’s day weekend), I got up late and checked the weather forecast. After yesterday’s bone-chilling descent from Sant Hilari Sacalm through stinging rain, I was ready for a less-rain-filled day.

The hourly forecast showed no rain until 3pm, so I hurried up and changed into my biking kit, and headed outside. The first raindrops fell as I pulled my bike out of my rental Renault MPV and put the wheels on. I used some White Lightning and lubed/cleaned up the chain, and used a rag to clean off quite a bit of sand from the ride yesterday.

I had used www.mapmyride.com to find a route in the opposite direction today – away from the Pyrenees, and toward the Costa Brava (Mediterranean coastline east of Girona). I found a ride from Girona, and adjusted it to work from Santa Coloma de Farnes.

RIDE #1. Well…I followed the map almost perfectly, except for one critical mistake around 15 miles into the ride. I took the first (instead of the second) exit on a roundabout, and ended up climbing an incredibly bombed-out, sand-covered, gravel-the-size-of-grapefruit, you-name-it: bad-things-for-bikes. I ended up climbing about 1,000 vertical, but never made it to the Costa Brava.

* One funny note about this wrong-way-climb…near the top, 2 dogs came out to see me. They were both kinda interested in the way my legs looked as they turned the pedals, and since the road was in such horrible shape, sprinting to get away from these dogs was not an option. So, I just pedaled lightly, watching them get closer & closer. All of a sudden, one of them moved in quickly from the side and behind. At that exact moment, my tire went over a small rock and “pinged” it (if you’ve ever ridden a bike on rocks, you know how this happens – the rock just zings away at an incredible speed from your tire). Perfectly, this rock hit the lead dog (now in attack mode) right in the face. He screamed…turned and ran with his tail between his legs. The second dog didn’t know what happened, but he also squealed and ran. I laughed the rest of the way down the mountain!

It started raining on my way out, stopped during my climb, but then I stopped for lunch. Lunch was macaroni pasta (hit the spot) along with some cheap, chilled red wine and coke. But, then, as I stepped outside to ride the remaining 1 hour back to the hotel…the heavens opened up. This made the deluge from yesterday seem like sprinkles…it was incredible. I couldn’t see through my glasses, but couldn’t take them off because the rain hurt my eyes too much.

At least it was fairly warm – in the mid 60s, so it wasn’t freezing. I made it back to the hotel, and commenced with typical post-rain-bike-activities…washing all my sandy/dirty biking clothes, and hanging them on the heated towel rack.

RIDE #2. Immediately afterwards, the sun broke through and the day turned into one of those incredible blue sky, intense sun days. I stood on the balcony and wished I was riding. Finally, I succombed, and took out my second biking kit (except for soaking wet shoes), and rode AGAIN!

Switchbacks on Sant Hilari Climb

Switchbacks near 10km left-in-the-climb (7km down already)

This time around (my second time climbing to Sant Hilari), I knew EXACTLY how to get to the start of this climb, and hit it. I started around 530pm, and the ride took about 2hr 15mins. It was an incredible experience – first, the beauty. The plush green mountains, the bright sun, the threatening clouds hanging over an adjacent mountain range. I took the 12 mile climb hard today (same one was yesterday), and kept the pressure on. I made it the whole way up, but the temperature was dropping rapidly. My time on the ascent was 1hr 30mins and about 47mins on the return trip. That tells you how big the climb is.

On the descent, my feet (wet from the morning showers) became numb quickly. I dove down the descent as quickly as I could, without being too dangerous. I’m actually learning how to descend a series of mountain switchbacks now. Interesting, I would memorize the locations of mud/sand across the road or falling-rock-debris, so that I would take it easy on those turns. Internally, “remember…u-turn after 2.5km has mud…8.8km turn has fallen rocks…etc.”

It was an amazing day. I got in 76 miles, and 3,500 feet of vertical.

 

Published in: on May 11, 2008 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

First ‘drome race of the year

April 23rd ‘Drome Race in Pittsburgh

There has to be a first race of the year, right? Well, tonight was that first race. I left work early and headed up I79N to the Pittsburgh Bike Oval, affectionately referred to as the ‘drome. It was gorgeous when I left Morgantown – about 80F and sunny, but there were threatening clouds everywhere. The rain and storms held off until just after I pulled into the ‘drome parking lot.

I saw Bryan’s orange Sette Nove jacket (my biking team), and hurredly changed into my VisionQuest gear (yeah, I should’ve been wearing orange too, but I didn’t bring all my race clothing to Morgantown) and climbed onto my bike. Just as I started riding, the rain started to fall. I got about 15 minutes of riding in before the heavens really opened up. Then, I retired to the back of my Jeep and sat beside Bryan, waiting for the weather to clear.  And, the weather did clear – at the end of the “B” race, just in time for us to get in a few more laps of warmup for the “A” race.

The 1/2/3’s line up…I take my place at the back of the pack. I really don’t feel that good – I have only been back from Germany for about 30 hours, and I’ve only been on a bike once (for 1 hour last night) in the past 9 days. Not great preparation…my mind is nervous.

An easy start (thank God for small miracles)…we roll away from the line and start our 40 laps. The first few laps seem to take forever. Then, the attacks start, and the race really starts. I’m seriously glad that I’ve been doing the “Wednesday Night Worlds” with the Morgantown crew the past couple of weeks. My legs aren’t totally unprepared for the brutal accelerations, but it still hurts.

After about 4 attacks, I am seriously on the “rivet”…barely holding on, and beginning to worry about being dropped. However, I start that “lying game” – just make to 10 laps, then I can quit. Now, just make it to 15 laps. Then, all of a sudden, we’re at 20 laps, and I’m still there. I start to gain confidence; I might actually finish this race.

By the way, my goal going into this race was purely to finish with the pack. No heroics, no plans for a sprint…just don’t get dropped. And, this was “shooting high” in reality, since I haven’t been riding nearly as much as these other guys. And, I’m older than everyone else except for one amazing 52 year old.

Now, 15 laps to go, and then folks start getting serious about trying to get away off the front. That’s fine, except the pack will have nothing to do with letting a break get away…so, there are more and more brutal accelerations; some of them lasting a mile or more. I come very close to being dropped. But, I hang on at the end of the pack, surfing back and forth, trying to find the best draft and the best lines to keep me going.

With 10 to go, I actually have some hallucinations about moving up in the pack and thinking about the sprint. Well, with 6 to go, all hell breaks loose. Bryan and Zimmerman are off the front going like hell, and the pack goes all-out to reel it back in. I keep telling myself, this can’t last too much longer. Nobody can ride this fast for so long. But, 3 laps later, we’re still hitting 28-29mph on the uphill, and 32mph on the fast side.

Finally, a small slowdown, but with 2 laps to go, the pace goes back up again. I realize that there isn’t going to be a slowdown to allow the sprinters to setup for the final sprint. My legs are screaming, and I look at the others around me – they are all suffering, barely holding on. So, I don’t feel as bad, knowing that everyone is hurting.

Bell lap – 1 to go – normally, I’m at least trying desperately to get into position for the sprint. Not today…I’m barely holding onto the back of the pack. Then, the pack disintegrates. People start coming back at me quickly. About 5 guys disappear on turn 1/2…just exploded. Then, I stand up to sprint, and only last about 12 pedal strokes before running out of steam. I only passes about 5 guys on the final straightaway.

My guess is about 20th place…but I’m happy…really, I am. I just raced 20 miles with a group of FAST 1/2/3’s and I stayed with them. I haven’t downloaded my PowerTap data yet, but will update this posting with power details soon.

Published in: on April 24, 2008 at 4:13 am  Leave a Comment  

WED NIGHT CRIT – GOLDEN, COLORADO

Raced Golden Crit. Took 16th place out of 60 starters. But, the weather was horrible – steady 30mph winds with HIGH gusts. It was a race of attrition. The pack blew apart about 3 laps in, and splintered into 2 small packs (of about 5 men each) and then singletons and doubles. The thing that I am most happy with is that I averaged 22mph for this race, and rode it almost completely alone, with this terrible wind.

Published in: on July 7, 2007 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

SHOOT-OUT IN GOLDEN, COLORADO

Tuesday, June 20, 2007

At 430pm yesterday afternoon, I discovered that there is a Tuesday night criterium series in Golden, Colorado. Why it is called the “Pseudo-Mead” is beyond me, I confess. I immediately jumped into my car, picked up my bike at my apartment, and headed to Golden. My family, who is staying in Beaver Creek, headed down to Golden to watch. We met at the “track” around 6pm, and the 4/5 race had just started, but the 1/2/3 race was scheduled to start at 7pm.

 

The course is interesting…~1.5 miles in length, and snakes through about 7 turns, with 2 chicanes. The course is some kind of police training “track” and is 2 full lanes wide. It sits on a mesa that is slanted, so half of the course is slightly uphill (including the home stretch) and the other half is slightly downhill. There is quite a bit of wind, since this mesa sits on the eastern side of the front range, and the westerly winds curl down over top of the mountains. In fact, for about half of the race, I swear the wind was hitting me from above, and drafting did absolutely no good.

 

The race was 18 laps, with pre-designated primes every third lap, resulting in a race about 27 miles long, and about 1 hour.

 

I was a bit nervous, since I had never raced with any of these people before, didn’t really know the course that well, and was a bit apprehensive about racing at altitude (course at 6,100ft) my very first time (although I’ve been training at altitude since November). I got a decent warm-up in, although the temps were in the high 80s, if not actually 90F, so not as much warm-up was needed. At the gun, things were very civilized (i.e., slow), and stayed that way for almost 1 complete lap. However, on the uphill homestretch, the drag race started. This section is about 500 meters long, and climbs about 30-40 feet. This turned out to be the theme of the most of the race…attack on the homestretch, normally at 29-32mph.

 

Two challenges throughout the race: 1) people just don’t corner that well, and were continually braking, and 2) the pace never really slowed down that much for the middle third of the race. Although I had started up in the pack, I found myself near the back for that middle part of the race, and then forced my way back into the top half of the pack for the end of the race. Anytime that I could find a clear line on a turn, I was able to move up ~5 places without effort just be coasting through the turn and not braking. So, I got better at this during the race. There was one woman in our race, and this gal just was a menace on the corners…seriously. She couldn’t hold a line to save her life…she always started on the inside, and ended up like 3 feet from the inside by the end of the turn.

 

 

The finale…with 2 laps to go, I started feeling really good, and stopped worrying about getting dropped. I moved myself up through the pack into the top 15, and settled in. There was a break of 4-5 riders off the front, and we finally gave up trying to bring that group back in. There was a second group of 4-5 off the front that we had just absorbed. With 1 to go, the pace started to back off a bit…all the jockeying for the field sprint started. I was tempted to make a dive for the front during this lap, but decided to wait, since everyone had the same idea and it was crazy in the turns. I actually lost position in this craziness, and swarming, and dropped to about 25th place. Damn! The pace picked back up significantly with about 800 to go, and then the final turn, with 500m slightly uphill to go…

 

There is no way that most people can sprint that far, so I decided (for once in my life) to be patient. The sprint started, but I stayed calm. A big guy (physically) in front of me started to move with about 400m to go, so I glued myself to his wheel. I stayed there for about 200m, then decided it was time to move. I popped out to the left, found a clear lane, and turned on the kick. Then, it got interesting. All the folks who had gone early started coming back through the pack like they were in a track stand. I stayed seated and just kept pedaling harder and harder and harder. I shifted up twice, and started passing folks easily. At the end, I found myself in 14th place, and was quite happy with the results. With 5 off the front, that meant a 9th place in the field sprint.

 

Average speed was 27.6mph on my bike, which I noticed after I stopped, and couldn’t seem to find any oxygen in the air. I was seriously sucking for air for about 3 minutes, while Laurel help my bike (and me) up after the finish line. It was a good race for me…the pace was fast, the attacks were frequent, and I managed to keep myself (most of the time) in  a good position in the pack (i.e., not at the very back). It was my best sprint of the year…being very controlled, and still having a decent result. If I had just managed to start from 15th place instead of 25th, I could’ve been in the top 5 (in the field sprint), I believe.

 

On a side note: Branden found and killed a small rattlesnake in the dry grass right where all 7 kids were standing. Also, we saw about a dozen elk after the race, grazing on the mesa. It is very, very cool out here.

 

Published in: on June 20, 2007 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

‘Drome May 3, 2007

I rode the “A” race at the Drome tonight in Pittsburgh. It was very warm – 84 at the start at 730pm. Race was 45 laps (22.5 miles). Race was VERY fast – average pace right around 28mph. There were a couple times in the first 15 laps, that I was struggling to keep up. But, then, I started feeling much better.

At 5 laps to go, I moved myself up into 7th place. Then, the folks up front gave up the ghost with just over 3 to go, and we got swarmed. I slotted back into the pack in almost last place, and then fought hard to bring myself back up (with Bryan’s help) to the front of the pack with lss than 2 to go. The effort was too high, and I snapped. I was unable to sprint.

Some analysis:
– 39 times over 600 watts;
– 15 times over 700 watts;
– Max watts only 840 today, hit in the first 3 mins of race;
– Avg watts only 229 watts; Normalized 259 watts;
– Max speed 33.3 mph, average approx 27.5mph.

Published in: on May 3, 2007 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment