Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

From Dark to Light

My bike sat on the indoor trainer, mocking me. Each day for a week was going to be the day I got back to my training program. But each day “life got in the way.”

This happens sometimes, and when life is really good, and training suffers, that’s OK. Or when life is really bad, while not “OK” it is easy to use the training as a way to dig out of a dark hole and start to make life good again.

But when there isn’t anything specific getting in the way of training, it’s hard to accept. When you are simply having those days where you can’t motivate yourself, that is not OK. And those days tend to build upon each other and start to weigh on you. Each one makes that next day’s decision, to train or not to train, that much more difficult.

For eight days after the brutally cold Grant’s Tomb Crit, I was stuck in this funk. For eight days I felt the darkness weighing on me – and getting heavier along with my body weight. Sure, “life” threw me a few curve balls; but none of them big enough to beat me down. This was just a mental detour, and I needed to get back on my path.

Then I read, “The Pep Talk You Need Right Now,” a short blog post by Chris Carmichael. It was like he was watching me the last eight days; he was in my apartment, he was in my head. And I realized that this is such a common place for athletes in training to find themselves, so it’s also a common place to escape.

Yesterday I got on the trainer at 5:30 AM and did a tough 60-minute program. It hurt. A lot. But I felt so much better for doing it. I was physically slower all day at work, but mentally uplifted.

Late in the afternoon my teammate Ethan posted to Slack, “anyone up for a casual spin in Central Park tonight?” It was 60F outside after a few cold days and with 25F predicted the next, so I really wanted to get outside. But I had a late office meeting, so I declined.

Thirty minutes later, the meeting was rescheduled and I was free to ride. Ethan and I recruited Gavin to join us, and hit the park for a sunset spin. My legs fried from the morning workout, I road a casual pace and the three of us rode, talked, laughed, and just enjoyed wearing our new team kits. (They don’t include cold weather gear, so haven’t been worn outdoors until this ride.) It was terrific, and 27-miles later as I rolled up to my apartment, I knew that any little bit of darkness that remained from the last 8-days was gone.

It wasn’t a particularly solid training day, and I’ve undoubtedly lost some recent gains. But I will not harp on that and I will not beat myself up. As Carmichael said, “This is what I have right now, and today’s effort will make me better.”

So get out there and make yourself better. Yesterday no longer matters. And every small step towards your goal means you are closer.

2017 GFNY World Championship Jersey – Racing Team Edition

As Head of Group Rides for GFNY and Team Manager for the GFNY Racing Team, I get to preview much of the GFNY gear. And, for 2017, our kits are brought to us by GFNY Apparel – a new entity in the GFNY family. GFNY Apparel was created because Uli and Lidia, founders of GFNY, have uncompromising standards in their gear and now they can assure that these standards are fully realized.

The GFNY Racing Team has a season that starts in March, so we get the jerseys ahead of the full distribution to all GFNY World Championship participants on May 21st. And while there are a few minor design alterations to the Racing Team jersey, the overall design and the fit are precisely what you’ll get for May 21st.

While the previous jerseys were really superb, there’s always room for improvement and the zipper was top of this list. The previous jersey had a zipper designed to “disappear” within the jersey design when closed, but it wasn’t terribly durable. The new zipper has larger teeth, is easier to zip, and has a tab that is easy to grab (even with fingered gloves). And yet, for all these improvements, GFNY Apparel has managed to still find a way to hide the zipper track perfectly when closed!

Other improvements this year include a more proportional waistline cut, roomy (but not bulky) back pockets and, two side pockets for trash (not new, but unique, so worth noting.) Also, the side panels are extra-stretchy to fit all different body types.

With the weather way too cold for short sleeves, I took my new jersey for a spin on the trainer and I was very pleased with the results. If you are unsure of your size, I’d recommend you “size up” as these are racing cut (small) and, compared to last year, a bit snug. For me, the side panels accomodated the needed stretch, but I’d go a size larger given the chance. (If your fit has been perfect in the past, don’t change it – my thoughts are mostly for folks that consider themselves to be in between sizes.)

Here are a couple more photos of your 2017 GFNY World Championship jersey! (There are a few different design elements since these are the Racing Team jerseys, but you get the idea.)

GWB Incident w/ a Gunman

Today Faraz and I planned a little Friday morning ride to enjoy another lovely “early spring”-like day. It was a simple plan – up 9W to The Market for coffee and a scone, then back through Tenafly and home. A simple, 30-mile ride.

All went well until we got back to the GWB and were riding into Manhattan. Traffic was stopped (not just slow, stopped) and about halfway across the bridge we were waved back by an NYPD Officer with a high powered rifle. We heard the word “gunman” and gladly followed police instructions.

We later learned that it was a suicidal man with a pellet gun and the police ultimately rescued him with no shots fired. We rode an extra 10-miles each way to take the ferry for Port Imperial back to Manhattan. Here’s some footage of what we saw on the bridge:

 

When the Universe Sends You a Message…

…listen to it!

This morning I had to be in Central Park at 4:30 AM to marshal a CRCA race and then I was planning to do a Sunday group ride. Everything went wrong this morning, so I took this as a sign to not go on the group ride.

First, this ridiculous fall – just a few blocks from my apartment:

Next, I turn down a street that has a fire hydrant open and can’t turn around because there’s a car behind me, so I get totally doused.

Then I pass a building in Harlem where a body bag is being removed on a gurney.

All the while there is way more activity on the streets than I’m used to at 4:00 AM – and I do this ride with some frequency. It was a bit unnerving.

Finally, I get to the registration on time at 4:30 AM, but they aren’t even set up yet.

During the race, a woman I asked to leash her dogs decided to unleash them – and they both ran into the Cat 3 field. It was a miracle there wasn’t a crash and that all the riders (and both dogs) escaped unharmed. The woman was sufficiently shaken up that I doubt she’ll make that mistake again.

And then my friend Emma crashed at the end of her race.

Just one of those days, so I went home after the race and watched the Tour de France stage from the safety of my couch. And then I took a nap. Fun times!

“Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court.”

Almost a year ago I received a citation for failure to stop at a red signal while cycling. Today was my day in court. While I was undeniably guilty of the violation, I plead NOT GUILTY because I felt that there were extenuating circumstances (more below) and, well, there’s always a chance the officer won’t show up and the violation will be voided.

Little did I know the civics lesson that would unfold. And little did I know just how infuriated I’d become with the current situation regarding the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in NYC. And while this is playing out in many cities, I can only speak for my situation; and I plan to speak about this a lot more in the future.

Current NYC mayor Bill de Blasio has a program called Vision Zero with the goal of reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths to zero. Yet the policing and systems in our fair city are at complete odds with this mission. Here’s the culmination of the problem:

“Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court.”

These words came from the traffic court judge. On the record. I find this appalling.

I guess I should back up a little and describe how we got the point of this quote…

I was riding a Citi Bike up 8th Avenue between Penn Station and the Farley Post Office at the time of the initial incident. There’s lots of construction in that area and sidewalk, bike lane, and traffic signals are often rerouted and moved temporarily. On the day of my violation, the traffic signal at the mid-block crosswalk had been relocated and was not easily seen from the temporary bike lane. This was not my main defense, but is an important point. Further, due to the temporary lane shifts, and due to pedestrian behavior, people are constantly walking in the bike lane.

On the day in question, I was returning to the Citi Bike dock on this block and was forced to both dodge and yield to many pedestrians in the bike lane. At the crosswalk, I didn’t see the traffic signal and there were (finally) no pedestrians in my path, so I proceeded. Three NYPD officers were on foot nearby ticketing cyclists for failing to stop at this signal. It was a “ticketing blitz” and that location was very likely selected due to all the distractions that would lead a cyclist to run the light.

I made the argument in court that my putting the safety of pedestrians first and the temporary location of the signal lead to me missing the signal. As I noted earlier, I didn’t think this would fly, but I wanted to give it a go. But what when the judge responded by saying, “Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court,” I was floored. I was speechless. I was found guilty and fined $150.

A Little Perspective

My traffic court appointment was for 8:30 AM and after some administrative ridiculousness (bureaucracy at its best) I was seated in a small courtroom awaiting proceedings to begin. My issuing officer had yet to arrive, so the judge began with the docket of another officer. The judge went through her proceedings in a very rote, mechanical manner and this was of immediate concern to me.

After many motorist proceedings before me, I learned the following:

  • Pedestrian safety was of no concern to this judge
  • The judge ruled Guilty or Not Guilty solely on letter of the law (rather than spirit)
  • It was noted that the officer has the burden of proof, but “proof” was really a matter of interpretation based on how the judge decided to rule
  • Once a Guilty ruling is issued, the judge has enormous leeway regarding the amount of the fine
  • All the rules around previous violations and points are entirely moot in the courtroom

I need to give a few examples, because these made me terribly angry, and I kind of hope that you react the same way.

Motorist #1 – Made a right turn from the left lane, cited for Illegal Turn and Failure to Yield to Pedestrians. Motorist has four previous violations (all “previous violations” refer to a two-year window), six points and is a livery driver. Found Guilty of Illegal Turn, but judge waived the Failure to Yield since he was “polite and professional” – and he was fined $65.

Motorist #2 – Also two violations – Failure to Yield to Pedestrians and Not Wearing Seatbelt. I didn’t catch the number of points, but since his license would be suspended if he was guilty of the Failure to Yield, the judge waived that violation because “as a livery driver, you need your license.” He then argued that he had his seatbelt on and the judge challenged him. Response, “Well, I bent over to pick something up, so I unbuckled for a moment.” Mind you, his vehicle was in motion – what the hell did he need to pick up?!? This was unimportant, but he was Guilty of the seatbelt violation and fined $95.

Motorist #3 (The Worst One Yet!) – Single violation for Illegal Turn when, like the first motorist, he turned right from the left lane. Further, there were signs on that street making a right turn illegal during certain hours (including when he was cited.) His defense? “I was just following my GPS.” (OMG!) This motorist had nine previous moving violations and has 14 points on his license. He was found guilty and asked by the judge, “Why shouldn’t I suspend your license at this time?” His response? As a taxi driver, he needs his license to make a living. The judge agreed and fined him, wait for it… $75!

My Violation – Failure to Stop at Red Signal which was caused by a poorly placed signal and pedestrians in my lane. I’m told “Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court” and fined $150 – more than any of the dozen or so motorists before me for which none were fined $100 or more.

What Does All This Mean?

It means that Vision Zero is dead in the water. It means that pedestrians and cyclists are left to protect themselves because motorists with tons of metal and combustion engines may run us down at any moment. It means that I’m clearly more dangerous on my bike based on the size of the fine than any motorists. And, worst of all, it means that if you drive for a living, you are held to a lower standard rather than a higher one. Isn’t that completely backwards?

Part of me wishes I paid the initial fine and didn’t see the disgusting underbelly of traffic court. Ignorance is bliss, right? But now part of me wants to push the message “Crash Not Accident” even more than I did before. Motorists operate a potential killing machine everyday and pedestrians do not – nor do they have any protection. For that reason alone, they need to be held to a higher standard.

Isn’t this a First World Problem?

Seemingly, yes – but indulge me for a moment. I don’t really care that I was found guilty or had to pay a fine; as noted several times, I WAS GUILTY. But this isn’t about my violation, it’s about the continued injustice to those that are in the most danger. Isn’t it completely absurd to hear that pedestrians are not the concern of traffic court? Isn’t it appalling that a driver can keep his license, even if he endangers others, because driving is his livelihood? Where’s the protection for society over the individual? And shouldn’t someone who drives for a living be held to a much higher standard?

I’m not really sure what to do, but I can tell you that I’m mad as hell. And in the current environment of our country where the militarization of our police is making it easier for them to kill minorities unjustly, this feels like another (very small) piece of the institutionalized bias in our government. It’s really scary.

GFNY Mont Ventoux: A Legendary Race

I’ve done the GFNY Championship in NYC four times. I’ve done a double century (200-miles) in one day. I’ve cycled up Stelvio in Italy. I’ve ridden GFNY Italia, Tour of the Battenkill and Tour of the Catskills with the infamous Devil’s Kitchen climb.

None of this could prepare me for GFNY Mont Ventoux.

Mont Ventoux is epic. And she’s a beast. With many nicknames including the Bald Mountain, she’s featured periodically in the Tour de France. GC hopes can be sealed or shattered at its summit. Weather is entirely unpredictable. (It was 36C at the base three days before the event – and four days before that there was snowfall on the summit.) Winds are notoriously strong and the climb is absolutely brutal. And she’ll throw everything at you in attempt to break you; to assure you don’t reach the summit.

The "beacon" at the top of Mont Ventoux

The “beacon” at the top of Mont Ventoux

There’s a weather tower on the top that serves as a beacon to those riding nearby (and seen from nearly the entire GFNY Mont Ventoux course.) But I didn’t think it was a beacon, I thought it was a middle finger saying, “There’s no f–king way you’ll get your @$$ up here! You can try, but you will fail.”

I wouldn’t listen. I succeeded.

Since she was giving me the middle finger for the entire eight hour ride, I figured I owed her some in return…

F–k you, Ventoux!

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because, of course, there is so much more to this story. Let’s go back to the beginning and first look at the course:

GFNY Mont Ventoux

On paper, this doesn’t look so bad; but a closer look shows that the total elevation and the climb up Mont Ventoux are two very real challenges. And the three climbs before Mont Ventoux don’t look too bad until you do the math and see that you’ll have virtually climbed Mont Ventoux before reaching the base of that climb! (The three preliminary climbs total almost the same elevation as the Bald Mountain herself.) And while this is true, it’s a really nice way to set up the course: do the first climb, recover; do the second, larger climb, recover; do the third even larger climb, recover; attack Mont Ventoux. If you aren’t ready when you get to the base of the mountain, you may as well abandon.

The Start

Our hotel was just a few blocks from the starting line and since the gun was at 7:30 AM we didn’t need to get up super early. An alarm at 6 AM allowed plenty of time for morning prep, a full breakfast and a short roll out to the starting line.

My "Wilson" shot...

My “Wilson” shot…

The mood as we staged was really friendly and relaxed. We knew there was a short “neutral” start to get out of the city center safely, so folks weren’t too amped up. However, even with the neutral start at GFNY Italia the peloton launched into a frenetic pace around 40kph and I was among a not so small group that was dropped before the neutralization was finished! This made me a little nervous, but GFNY Italia has nothing close to Mont Ventoux waiting on the course, so I was hoping the start in France would be more reasonable as folks paced themselves to the big climb. Thankfully, I was right.

Justin leading me out. I wouldn't see him again until I reached the hotel.

Justin leading me out. I wouldn’t see him again until the hotel.

The Preliminary Climbs

For about 10km the peloton rolled at a reasonable pace out of Vaison-la-Romaine and into the countryside. I was with a large pack of riders, probably right near the middle of the full race compliment. It was very comfortable, except that the first climb simply comes up way too soon.

Why do we start climbing so soon?!?

But before I get to that, here’s a short digression. Each bib had the rider’s name and flag of their home country in addition to other information like category and course distance. This is a really nice touch, especially for an international field. I could address riders by name and, for me, more importantly, I knew if I could communicate with them in English.

Bib #5

Bib #5

Now, I have to rant just a little. If you are sensitive to political incorrectness or stereotyping, please skip this next paragraph!

<BEGIN RANT>
The French. Oh, boy, the French! As a country, they are so hospitable and welcoming. And they’ve got such great food and wine. But on this race, they were the most irritating riders on the course. Two things happened that I consider unacceptable in a road race. First, whenever I was in a paceline, the riders rotated. And every time I can remember a French rider getting to the front, they immediately pulled off. They never took their pull. Maybe some did, but none that I saw and it really started to bother me. Second, this was not a fully closed course, so there were recreational riders on the road with us. Ok, that’s fine. However, on many occassions I was isolated (riding alone) and after passing a recreational rider, they’d get on my wheel. I was like, “SERIOUSLY?!?” I’m not winning this race, but I’m in a bike race and you are going to draft me just to save yourself a little effort?!? Absolutely absurd!
<END RANT>

Whew! Now that I got that off my chest…

The first climb is not a bad climb – about 5km with a 5% average grade and very little variation.

It should have been a piece of cake, but it just comes up so soon (at least mentally) and at 5km in length, it’s quite long by local standards where I ride regularly. In fact, it’s more than half the distance of the longest local climb! I didn’t exactly struggle, but my goal was to really take it easy on the preliminary climbs. At the same time, it’s a balance – taking it too easy would lead to more of a push on Mont Ventoux, so perhaps getting over these faster wasn’t a bad idea. Either way, by the time I was really calculating my plan, I had found a natural rhythm.

Passing one on many, MANY, vineyards on the course.

Passing one of the many, MANY, vineyards on the course.

I was in the small ring, but only about the 17 in the rear, so I knew I had lots of gears left for the harder climbs. This was definitely something I thought about beforehand – don’t use any of my easiest gears until I’m on Ventoux! That part of the plan I did execute successfully. But when I later heard that Justin didn’t even go to the small ring until the big climb, I was a bit jealous. Then again, he’s about 20% faster than me in these events, so it’s crazy to compare us and our riding strategies.

Around a switchback through one of the old towns

Around a switchback through one of the old towns

Each climb took us through spectacular old towns with lots to look at and take our minds off either the current pain or the pain we expected to feel on that final ascent. The old buildings, the beautiful vistas and the winding roads were absolutely spectacular. And each town had at least a few locals cheering us on – it was terrific!

IMG_20160626_094400964

The Mont Ventoux summit always looming over the course.

The second climb was much like the first, but a little shorter. I realized that in my mind the preliminary three climbs were each longer than the one before, but that wasn’t true – they were just higher. So the second climb was really a nice ride – more great views and more old towns.

The best thing about these climbs was that they were “mountain pass” roads in that they went up, and then right back down. Each climb was rewarded with a beautiful winding descent on roads that weren’t perfectly smooth, but were virtually pothole free. This meant that I could really bomb the descents and I twice approached 70kph which is among the fastest I’ve ever descended.

One of the narrow, winding descents. And the terrific view.

One of the narrow, winding descents. And the terrific view.

The third climb had the same 4.5% average but was quite a bit longer at 12km and a couple of short kicks that were steeper including a few switchbacks. But then again, it’s called Col de L’Homme Mort, or “Dead Man’s Hill,” so there must be more to the story. Once again I found my rhythm and made my way up the mountain. Many riders would pass me on the climbs, but I would pass many of those same riders on the descents and I later found myself in much of the same company as I was in the first 10km. I was feeling good about my pace overall.

After the third preliminary climb is the road to Bédoin and the base of Mont Ventoux. The course in this section is mostly false flat (slightly uphill) along the valley floor. However, when I entered this section, I was greeted with a brutal headwind. I’m roughly 90km in and feeling great when suddenly I’m pushing hard just to move forward at a snail’s pace. I was hoping the wind would pass, but it did not and the next 10km or so really tore me up. I was pacing myself so well, leaving as much as possible for the mountain climb to the finish, but now a 1.5% incline was killing me because of the wind. It was very demoralizing.

My signature pose. While I was still feeling strong.

My signature pose. While I was still feeling strong.

Just when I was beginning to crack mentally, a group of eight riders pulled up to me. There were three Italians at the front and they immediately noted that I was an American riding an Italian bike:

“American? On De Rosa?” they asked.

“Oui, oui!” I replied (I was thinking in French, not Italian, but they got the point.)

“For you, we work!” And they signalled me to get into the paceline.

I got some similar attention at GFNY Italia and I’ve really come to respect riding the De Rosa in Europe. But this was different – just when I was hitting a wall, they pulled up and saved me. I dropped into the paceline and they pulled me for 5km+ and then we were passing through the valley vineyards of Bédoin and beginning the Mont Ventoux climb. I waved a hearty thank you to the Italian leads and international group I was with and pulled off to do my own thing on Mont Ventoux.

The Bald Mountain

With some help from the Italians, I reached the base of Mont Ventoux somewhat refreshed. Overall, the three preliminary climbs are a perfect setup for the mountain climb. At the base of Ventoux are farms and vineyards – and a perfect view of the weather tower at the top, looking very, very, far away. The climb begins very gradually and just 1km or so in there was a fountain, so I stopped to fill a bottle and take in some nutrition.

The Mont Ventoux forest is a mental game, and a hard one to win.

As the climb heads into the forest, everything changes. What was a casual, countryside ascent suddenly becomes a threatening challenge. There are trees everywhere, yet somehow there is practically no shade. For one of the first times all day, and for a mentally long stretch, there was no more view. And no visual indications of progress – just turn after turn in the trees with more and more climbing. Most of the forest, and a fair stretch beyond, hover between 9% and 11%. In fact, there’s a stretch of about 10km that never goes below 8.5%. The only savior? Very few kicks beyond 12%; as if that’s comforting.

Stone road markers along the climb

Stone road markers along the climb

The only indications of progress while in the forest, other than the feeling that I was ascending, were the stone road markers indicating elevation, grade and distance to the summit. I was mostly keeping my wits about me, and at least I was passing a few riders, so I knew I was making some progress. At one point an older woman (recreational rider) passed me with ease and I was quite startled – until I realized she was riding a bike with a motor.

Does the forest ever end?

Despite all the legend about the barren, lunar landscape at the top of Mont Ventoux, I found the forest the most difficult. Perhaps I’d have felt differently if it were snowing, raining, windy or if there were searing heat. But on this day, the mental game being played with the forest was the toughest for me. Worse, still, as the forest starts to thin, it still takes seemingly forever to finally clear it. The wind gets stronger, the trees fewer and further between, but still many blind turns before full exposure and a clear view to the summit.

I was also having an issue with my gears. With a compact crank and an 11/29 in the rear, I have good gearing for long climbs. But when I was in the 27 or the 25 (second and third easiest) gears, they were slipping. So I found myself shifting between the 29 and the 23 which is a pretty big gap. I did much of the climb in the 29 and felt that the 27 would have been a better choice. C’est la vie!

The beauty of the Beast

The beauty of the Beast

And once there’s a clear view to the summit, everything changes. Suddenly, progress is notable and there’s a real goal in sight. But at the same time, while the grade declines slightly, it’s rarely under 8%, there’s more wind, and the visual progress, while notable, is painfully slow. Still, while my time doesn’t reflect this, the top portion of Mont Ventoux was my favorite part of the ride. Every moment on that mountain felt sacred and suddenly the entire race felt like the Bucket List challenge I’d originally planned. At this point all the suffering to get here was all worth it.

My pilgrimage to the Tom Simpson memorial.

My pilgrimage to the Tom Simpson memorial.

With just over 3km left I stopped briefly at the final aid station – Chalet Reynard. I got my last boost of food and water, and began the last stretch to the summit. With 1km left is the Tom Simpson memorial where I had to stop to pay my respects. Tom Simpson died on Mont Ventoux at this location during the 1967 Tour de France. He was severely dehydrated, but his death was more a result of his doping attempts which caused his poor judgment leading to death. I walked up the ten steps to the memorial which seem painfully difficult to climb at this point, left a water bottle for him, snapped the photo above and continued my ascent.

The summit is finally within reach!

The summit is finally within reach!

I went no faster on the final 3km from Chalet Reynard, nor on the final 1km to the summit, yet this last stretch felt much easier. Perhaps just having the finish line approach was enough, but also the ride atop this sacred mountain was beginning to wash over me.

Crossing the finish line just minutes ahead of my eight hour goal.

Crossing the finish line just minutes ahead of my eight hour goal.

When I crossed the finish, I could not throw up my hands and I could not celebrate for the camera. I simply pushed with my last effort over the line and coasted to the spot where they were presenting the medals. I cried for a moment realizing the magnitude of this accomplishment and the history of this place. I was exhausted, but so incredibly pleased to be on this summit. And to have gotten here by bike

Maggie and me at the summit - 1912m

Maggie and me at the summit – 1911m

The Great Descent

The summit was chilly and windy, but tolerable. There was a bag waiting for me with a vest and full finger gloves; I donned them both and began the ride down to the valley.

The race is over, but the fun has just begun!

The race is over, but the fun has just begun!

The first few turns were awesome – the wind was moderate, the road was clear and the switchbacks had lots of room. I was able to let loose and really fly downhill. It’s not often I want to see the profile of a descent, but this one is worth a look:

However, the fun ended about a third of the way down the mountain when the wind really kicked up and I was getting tossed around the road noticeably. I tried to refrain from braking too much, trying to trust the bike to remain true; but this was hard at 60kph+ with turns and traffic coming the other way. It was definitely a hairy ride down, but still pretty fun.

Once at the base, there’s anoth 10km+ to Vaison-la-Romaine where the race started and where my hotel was located. That was a tough stretch – windy, flat, busy roads and I was clearly quite tired. When I finally got to town I was less than 100m from my hotel when a car left me too little room and I went over the curb and crashed. I was fine, but the bike was a little messed up, so I carried it to the hotel figuring I’d pack it in the bag and deal with it back at home.

Conclusions

GFNY Mont Ventoux is a legendary ride. Anyone who watches the Tour de France and does these sportives should put this on their bucket list. The riding in Provence is lovely and the towns welcome cyclists with open arms.

A huge shout out to Nicolas and Lucie, the organizers of this event. There is a standard set by Uli and Lidia at the GFNY Championship in NYC that must be upheld by each of the GFNY World organizers. But Nicolas and Lucie really go beyond! The expo, the “parade of nations” and the concert leading up to the race are really well done and lots of fun. And the race itself? Well, maybe Nicolas and Lucie are blessed to have one of the best routes in the world. But the work they need to put in to get all the permits and pull off race day so perfectly – well, that’s monumental. And you need to experience it for yourself.

Campagnolo GFNY 2016 Race Report

dDespite being 5:30 AM, it wasn’t as cold as I’d expected on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge. The weather forecast called for a chilly day so I expected the bridge to be windy and cold; but with the breeze in check, the line up for the 7:00 AM start wasn’t too bad at all. Would this be a good omen of the day to come?

I had made it clear in my last post that I was on a mission with a goal time of 6:30. In my three years prior I came in at 7:12, 7:07 and 6:44 – a nicely positive trend. And my training this season was solid, so I felt that improving my time yet again was quite attainable.

From the starting line to the base of Baby Bear, I executed my plan perfectly. I moved from group to group, taking advantage of speedy pace lines where I’d otherwise have had to work much harder. And, unlike last year, in one of the naturally windiest spots through the Haverstraw waterfront, I remained well protected that entire time. I took it easy over Baby Bear (as always) and made it to the base of Bear Mountain at my target pace. I then ascended Bear Mountain comfortably and reached the summit at nearly the same time as I did last year. Since I took a long stop there last year and moved on quickly this year, I felt I’d gain about ten minutes there alone.

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I even had time on the ascent to “strike a pose” for the camera!

I then descended Bear Mountain in what I’d later learn was my best time ever, saving about two minutes there alone. And by the time I reached Mott Farm Road, I was ten minutes ahead of my previous pace, so right on target for this year’s goal. Mott Farm is a tough few miles, but it went smoothly and I was soon beginning my ascent of Gate Hill Road (Andrea Pinarello Climb) around mile 60. Despite most riders’ hatred of this climb, it’s my personal favorite. The undulations and steep pitches allow me to hammer each one and then get a (very) brief recovery before the next one.

However, today would not be a good day for me on Gate Hill. I ascended in about the time I needed, but it started to rain on my climb. Thinking it would pass, and not wanting to stop to put on my vest, I rode through. This would turn out to be my biggest tactical error for the day! The rain didn’t let up until I was at the top of Gate Hill, and while it wasn’t a hard rain, it was enough to soak my arm warmers and much of my body. The Willow Grove descent from Gate Hill is well paved, has practically no turns, and I had no riders nearby to contend with, so I attacked the descent and got another PR. (Unlike Bear, though, saving time on Willow Grove is a matter or seconds, not minutes.)

My pace was terrific! But I just paid a dear price flying down Gate Hill – I was shivering. I was without knee warmers and suddenly my knees were struggling with the cold. Next up was Overlook (Cheesecote) and I thought I’d warm up on the climb. Instead, the skies remained dark, the winds picked up, and my body was betraying me. I spent that entire climb on the verge of leg cramps and lost a lot of time there. Plus, I couldn’t attack the descent – it was just too cold.

sportograf-77466571From there to the aid station in West Nyack, I struggled. These fifteen miles really did me in and even though I took only a brief stop at the aid station, the distance remaining (20-miles) and time to make my goal (1-hour) were too much to overcome. I could do a one hour sprint on flats at 20-mph, but there were two more climbs (State Line and Dyckman) plus plenty of small rollers in the way.

I did make up some time during the final stretch, and I, again, attacked Dyckman setting up a half mile sprint to the finish. But, alas, when I crossed the line at 7:07, it was not the race day I was hoping. I still had a great time and I learned a lot about dealing with the conditions. A handful of my friends crushed their goals, and another handful were in my court – beaten by the conditions. It’s interesting to see who wins and who loses when factors beyond your control take over.

Campagnolo GFNY #4 (for me) is in the books. I love the challenge each year and I’ll certainly try again next year to race against myself and get a new best time. In the meantime, I’ve got lots of shorter races with Team CRCA/GFNY and I’ve got a trip to France in six week to tackle the Bald Mountain at GFNY Ventoux! In cycling, there’s always another opportunity; and another challenge to look forward to after each race ends.

See you on the roads!

 

Thoughts on Zwift as a Training Tool

This morning was a washout here in metro New York. With heavy rain, wind and fog from about 5 PM until 11 AM outdoor riding wouldn’t have just been tough, it’d have been dangerous. Even solo.

But alas, these days there are a bevy of indoor options: Sufferfest, Zwift, “spinning to the TV” and, of course, indoor cycling classes. My teammate Vito offered a terrific indoor group session today at Gavia Cycling, but to get there, I’d have to bike. And if I was on the bike in this weather, I might as well keep riding outside! My “pain cave” of choice was Sufferfest until Zwift came around last year. Since then, Zwift has added lots of features, and lots of riders. It’s a pretty awesome platform for sure.

However, after three recent “workout sessions” on Zwift, I find myself longing for a good Sufferfest video. And here’s why I’ll likely be using both of those, and indoor group classes, all winter long.

1452446057596What Zwift gets right is gamification. Making what may cyclists consider “torture” (a bit harsh, but you get the idea) into something competitive and fun is a terrific idea. Some indoor cycling classes do this as well – that’s why I like Flywheel and Swerve in NYC. Both offer some level of competition that’s just friendly enough to make it motivating, rather than disappointing (especially when you “lose”). Zwift ups the ante with a virtual world and a ton of data. By tying you on an indoor trainer to a powerful computational engine on your computer, Zwift can do a lot to make a virtual ride seem real. And, sure, if you have a traditional trainer, we can argue over the Zwift Zpower all day long. But for me, it’s close enough and, even if it’s off, it’s a benchmark I can use to gauge my training. And the visuals are pretty compelling – realistic, yet often a little silly to have some fun. I mean, look at that wooden bridge – it’s almost like crossing the Croton Reservoir!

Now, here’s the paradox…

1452443337210I love data. I love Zwift data. I love that I just did a 90-minute training session and could accurately adjust my power to fit the training plan. But with that comes tunnel vision. Everything that Zwift does so well fades into the background. Silly underwater tunnels start to feel like you are pedaling into the tide. Group chats become an annoyance. Other riders suddenly seem like they are in your way. It’s funny that the best things about Zwift in general make serious workouts harder for me.

On the bright side, I can now tunnel vision on the spot on the screen with the relevant data while making constant rapid-fire adjustments in my cadence and breathing. But I think I’m getting too fixated on the perfect workout instead of aiming for a pretty darn good workout that I really enjoy. I think that’s where videos like Sufferfest excel. You may need to make lots of estimations regarding data, but that’s a reasonable balance along with the enjoyment those videos bring to the workout. And while I haven’t been to a class with Vito yet, I know that he’d give me a motivation that no game or video can ever replace. Just like the best Flywheel and Swerve instructors that I frequent, there’s no substitute for human feedback.

Am I giving up on Zwift? Hell, no! Did you make the connection that I love data and they have tons of data? And gamification is seriously fun! But for well rounded training, especially in bad weather, I’ll need a combination of Zwift, Sufferfest and group classes at Gavia, Flywheel or Swerve. And as many cold, winter rides on 9W that the weather will allow.

New Bear’s Day

It all started innocently enough… Let’s ride on New Year’s Day to clear the cobwebs of the holiday season. And while not as crazy as the Polar Bear Plunge, our ride would include Bear Mountain. Emma hadn’t been to Bear yet, so Gavin and I were very willing to oblige. We got a “late” start to assure that the hangovers had properly set in, and there were actually six of us preparing to ride together at 9:30 AM. One of them was a “surprise guest” and he had no aspirations to take on the Bear this day, so he rode alone after the bridge. Susanna and Michael started with us knowing that they’d veer off at some point along the way.

 

The morning was cold and dreary with dark clouds that made it feel late in the day before we even got started. Not knowing what kind of crazies would be on the road on New Year’s Day, we opted to avoid 9W and instead took the suburban back roads through New Jersey. Of course we all had a different idea of which roads to take, so we zigged and zagged quite a bit before settling on a northbound road taking us to Sparkill. From there Susanna and Michael turned off for a food stop at The Market. The remaining three of us continued in search of our first food stop. We settled on a bagel shop off Route 303 and ate rather quickly sitting in the cold parking lot since the shop had no seating. I guess a cold, hard slab of concrete can certainly keep get you motivated to keep moving.

 

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From the bagel stop we continued through the more scenic suburbs before picking up the more “traditional” route through Haverstraw and up 9W to the start of Bear. In Haverstraw we came across this interesting holiday scene, complete with a “Where’s Gavin?” After Emma and I finally identified the Gavin (which is apparently the brown dog in front of the strange man in blue) we rode through Haverstraw along the water where we helped point out a few secret “quick stop” points to Emma for May 15th. It’s those insider secrets that can make the difference on “race day” (which Emma asked us to more politely call RIDE day.)

 

IMG_0016Despite the cold, dark and damp weather, we arrived at the base of Bear in good spirits and ready for the long climb. During the ascent there were some really light snow flurries which we all found rather entertaining. The entertainment wore off as the flurries became light snow which continued during, and after, our descent. (More on that in a moment.) I watched from my spot at the back of the group as Emma slowly pulled away from me, and Gavin from her. Until the entrance to Perkins Memorial Drive, Gavin in almost the precise location as my virtual training partner on my Garmin. This means that Gavin “taking it easy” up the first half of Bear is about equivalent to my best time. I was mildly pleased when he didn’t continue at that same pace up Perkins.

At the top of Bear, there was some snow on the roadside and there was a light snowfall as well. Yet for the first time all day there was a lift in the gloom allowing us to see this great shot of the city skyline:
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And we got this shot of us as well:

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It didn’t take long for the chill to set in while we were at the top, so we began a quick decent. The snow kept falling, but it wasn’t heavy enough to cause any issues on the road. Yet it was just enough to remind us how darn cold it had gotten! Half way down, as we approached the gate at the bottom of Perkins, I managed to lock my back wheel while traveling 44mph. Emma was a safe distance behind me, but she was probably more scared than I was as I skidded several times ultimately going off the road, skidding some more, and catching my balance in the dirt before getting back onto the asphalt. She was sure I was going to crash. I can’t say I wasn’t so sure, either.

When we reached the bottom and estimated that the wind chill during the descent was likely around 10F, we decided to head to Peekskill to catch the train back to the city. Although, as cold as that sounds, I think in the cold rain of GFNY 2013 it felt even colder! Before catching the train we had lunch at the local taco bar:

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Then we got punchy as the sun finally came out (too little too late):

IMG_0048And finally we completely lost our minds as Emma tried to find that one speck of sand on her cassette:

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All in all, it was a pretty fun day, even if we didn’t complete the century ride as planned. Maybe New Bear’s Day will become a tradition! Oh, right… Frank already started that, but didn’t tell anyone, so we were climbing Bear as he was riding home. Maybe next year we’ll do it together. Are you in?

GFNY: 3-Years and Looking Back

GFNY-LogoRecently Omar and Frank each wrote a “looking back” post on Facebook about their GFNY experience, so I thought I should follow suit. Omar used a photo from three years ago to highlight his first day as a ride leader for Gruppo Sportivo GFNY. That very same day seems to have been Frank’s first GFNY group ride. And, well, that’s true for me as well – that fateful, foggy Sunday was what started this wild ride for me, too.

Before GFNY

In 2011 I was digging through the basement of a weekend house we had on the North Fork of Long Island and found a “beater bike” that my in-laws got at a garage sale for about $20. I brought it to the Local Bike Shop (LBS) and started riding on Sunday mornings around the mostly flat local roads. It was a 12-speed that was missing a chainring making it a 6-speed. (And if I mistakenly “shifted” into that ring, well, there goes the chain!) After a summer of increasingly “long” rides (15-miles was my longest) my wife encouraged me to buy a better bike. “It’s clear you’re enjoying this, so let’s get you a decent road bike for your birthday.”

In early 2012 I picked up a Giant Defy 3 from Country Time Cycle, my LBS, and joined their Sunday group rides. Soon I was riding 30-40 miles on Sundays. I was always the one catching up to the group, but I finished the rides and ultimately made great new friends. In September 2012 I rode my first century – a pancake flat 100-miles on the North Fork. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done at the time, but I knew for sure I’d do it again.

Introduction to GFNY

Immediately after that century ride I was riding with a friend in the metro-NYC area and he mentioned GFNY. He had done a few triathlons and was a big runner, but was leaning more toward cycling at this point. During GFNY 2012 he was riding casually when the peleton came through his neighborhood, so he dropped in as a “bandit” for about 10-15 miles before testing his luck for too long. But in those miles, he was convinced he wanted to do GFNY. He described what he knew about it saying, “sure, it’s a century, but it’s so much more than that,” going on to highlight the challenging climbs, matching jerseys and George Washington Bridge start. He had friends who did it in 2012 and they clearly convinced him it was worth it. He quickly convinced me.

We both registered for GFNY 2013 sometime before the December group rides started and when December 2, 2012 arrived, we were in the Strictly Bicycles parking lot along with Frank, Ramon and so many others. Up on the starting “podium” were (Don) Vito, Heidi, Hayden, Omar, Wade and Paul – the members of Gruppo Sportivo (GS) GFNY at the time. Checking in with Heidi that morning was such a joy – she was (and always has been) all smiles and so encouraging. I, on the other hand, like Frank noted, was terrified. The C group was riding 30 “easy” miles, but for me, 30-miles wasn’t all that easy – and I had never before encountered State Line or Alpine climbs, so I was in for a “treat.”

That Fateful, Foggy Sunday

The entire pre-ride presentation by Heidi is nothing but a blur today. Now I can recite it in my sleep, but at the time, there were so many new “tips” (rules, really, but GS-GFNY tries to keep it casual) that I was entirely overwhelmed. Don’t pass the lead rider; stay off the road paint since it’s slick in the wet conditions; ride single file; etc. What I DO remember clearly is rolling out of the parking lot and up Hudson Terrace for the first time with the exhilaration of the group all around me. That 1.5 miles or so were fun and relaxing, but that didn’t last.

As we turned off Palisade Ave onto 9W, the pace didn’t really increase, but the group spread out as some were slower than others to make the turn. Near the back, I was pushing to get back to the pack and that first little incline and then CNBC hill just left me in the dust. But just when I thought I was all alone, either Heidi or Vito came up from behind me (I can’t remember which it was that first time) and paced me back to the group. This was not an uncommon occurrence over my rides into 2013, but there was notable improvement as the weeks wore on.

The Winter of 2013

The group rides in 2013 (starting December 2012) were blessed with relatively cool temperatures – you know, just above freezing! I struggled to stay warm that year trying all sorts of different gear, but if it were any other winter, I’d have given up. 2013 was generally above freezing, often foggy, but rarely intolerable. I learned so much about winter gear that year and it really paid off the next two winters.

Something else happened over those group rides that was pretty miraculous – from December 2012 to race day in May 2013, I lost almost 20-pounds. This was over wintertime when most (including me) usually get fat and lazy, justifying the “winter weight” as a way to stay warm. But when I started the group rides I was pushing 200-pounds, well over my ideal weight of about 170-pounds, so I was determined to shed some weight. And, let me tell you, getting dropped on every climb in group rides is incredible motivation! By May 2013, I was still at the back of the group on the climbs, but I was with the group instead of watching them ride away.

Race Day 2013

GFNY 2013 is infamous to this day for the Flandrian conditions – steady rain and cold for the entire day. Granted, the Flemish have it much, much worse – if nothing else we had no mud or cobbles – but locally, this was darn near Flandrian. So many riders caught their final chill on the Bear Mountain descent that there were ambulances at the bottom waiting to treat them and deposit them at the finish line. To this day I’m impressed that no rider with numb hands actually went off the side of Bear Mountain – and I’m quite thankful for that as well.

How did I handle my first GFNY in these epic conditions? Well, slowly and painfully. My biggest mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Just before we left the GWB start, I shed my outer layers expecting what was then light rain to let up as the day progressed – and it would get warmer.Well, it never got warmer and the rain got heavier, not lighter. But when I got to the top of Bear Mountain, I had a dry rain jacket and full finger gloves that I was able to put on for the descent. I’m fairly certain if I didn’t have these dry items, I’d have abandoned at the bottom of Bear. As it is I barely finished the race – while stopped at the last stop in Ramapo I gave very serious thoughts to a DNF (Did Not Finish) because I was shivering so violently.

The one good thing about these conditions was that I spent less time at the aid stations. I stopped at every one, but I refueled and rode off quickly to stay (relatively) warm. So even though I was riding slowly, I finished with a respectable time by keeping my stops brief. Besides freezing, the thing I remember most about this race were the rolling hills right near the finish and how hard even the smallest hills were at that point. But the feeling of crossing that finish line made every moment worth it!

Summer of 2013

I rode with Vito, Heidi and Omar (and others) throughout the summer of 2013 – strengthening the bond we’d formed through GS-GFNY. Vito was an especially strong influence on my rising season and by the time the fall rolled around I was begging for ways to help GFNY for the next season. GS-GFNY helped me turn my health around – from my max weight and panting to get up a flight of stairs from the subway to the wonderful feeling of early morning solo rides before work. I couldn’t have done it without them.

When I was told there was an opening on the team and they wanted me to meet with Uli and Lidia, I was floored. I wanted to help, but I didn’t feel worthy of being on “the team.” When I met with Uli and Lidia, I was so intimidated by them – these are serious, serious cyclists that I can only aspire to understand. But over coffee on Columbus Circle I came to understand GFNY through their eyes and it was life-changing for me. These hardcore athletes didn’t want to sign up 5,000 elite athletes, they wanted to sign up a few elite athletes to race at the front and fill the rest of the filed with aspiring weekend warriors like me. I was inspired by their desire to grow the cycling community while offering a race that is a serious, but very fun, challenge. To this day I’m still in awe of what they have created.

Gruppo Sportivo GFNY

When Uli ultimately sent me the email asking me to join the team, I was floored. I also threw myself into it with gusto, trying to get into perfect shape before December 2013. I failed in that regard, but I was mentally ready for that first ride – or so I thought. As Omar noted, when I arrived that day, I didn’t think I knew what I was doing and didn’t think I was ready to lead rides. I’m thrilled that I overcame all of this and made those on the ride feel like I knew what I was doing!

But, honestly, after that first lead ride, I felt like a leader, but I also felt like simply a part of a bigger community that is greater than the sum of its part. And this is my key takeaway – Gruppo Sportivo GFNY is made up of a small team of lead riders as well as the entire group of riders each week. This is a critical point – there is no GS-GFNY without those that ride with us each week and together we all get better over the six months we ride together.

Thank You All!

This is also what I’m thankful for this holiday season – that everyone I ride with on group rides has worked together to become better riders, better friends and better people. And I have GS-GFNY (including all of you) to thank for that.