Archive for the ‘Gran Fondo’ 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.)

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.

_ThinkingMan

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!

 

What to Expect on May 15th

shields_multiple_PRINTTo all of you that participated in the Gruppo Sportivo training rides on Sundays from December through May…

First and foremost – you are ready!

Along with my teammates Omar, Vito, Frank and Ramon, I’ve watched a group of inspired riders take on the cold of winter, the climbs of the course and the typical trials and tribulations of cycling like flats and other mechanicals – and you’ve all come out ahead. The “B” group riders started strong and got stronger; many of you pushed me quite a bit this season. The “C” group riders went from “can I really do this?” to “bring it on!” in a few short months. And many “C” riders have switched from the Bear 50 to the full 100-mile sportive. I cannot think of any riders I’ve seen this season that can’t take on that challenge! While anything can happen on race day to interfere and ultimately sabotage completing the race, your fitness level and mental commitment can be counted on to perform for you on May 15th.

A few quick tips…

If this is a new challenge to you – first century, first Campagnolo GFNY, etc. – here are a few simple tips:

  1. BE CONFIDENT. This is far and away the most important advice. So much of endurance cycling is about your mental well-being and sometimes just convincing yourself you can accomplish a goal can get you there.
  2. DON’T OVER-TRAIN. If you’ve been training till now, you no longer need to “go hard” and it’s time to relax a little. Over these final two weeks, you should definitely ride, but don’t look for hill repeats or lots of extra miles. Just ride to stay fit and in your zone. Be comfortable. Enjoy the time on the bike.
  3. PLAN AHEAD. Everyone is different, but many of us have rituals before big races that require some planning. Be sure your bike is ready – for me that means new tires and new brake pads this week so I can do a few rides but have fresh gear for race day. That also means that I have already bought the tires and brakes – now I just have to install them.
  4. WEEKEND RITUALS. Again, is there a way you like to ease into a big race weekend? I take Friday off work for the Expo, relax on Saturday and, obviously, race on Sunday. But I also make sure I have my ritualistic ground chicken and pasta on Saturday, bagels both mornings and a few bananas.
  5. SLEEP. This one is easier said than done. I always nap on Saturday afternoon knowing that sleeping Saturday night is difficult. For many of us there’s a wake up time around 3 AM and we’re full of pre-race energy, so a full night sleep isn’t likely. Napping can help supplement that and sleep is KEY – so do what you can.
  6. ENJOY THE RACE! Whether you are racing at the front, trying to beat your own time, or just riding to finish – ENJOY IT! You’ve worked hard to get here and race day is an amazing day. Crowds, scenery, weather and attitude all play into a memorable event.

If you see me on the course…

OK – this is a tough one, but I have to be honest here. Sunday’s for the last six months have been all about YOU! Whether I was leading the B group and had to push myself to set the right pace or sweeping the C group taking it “easy” and focusing on coaching, each of those training rides was to get you ready for May 15th. My training took place the other six days each week.

On May 15th, that Sunday is all about ME! There, I said it. I’m not being a d!ck – I love riding with all of you. But on race day, I have a personal goal and to achieve it I need to remain focused and “do my own thing.” I may ride with some of you along the way and we may share conversation at an aid station as well. But if I seem rushed, impatient or inadvertently ignore you, please don’t take it personally. I probably won’t be rude, but I know that when I’m focused, I can really have tunnel vision. Last year someone was talking to me at the top of Bear Mountain and I completely ignored them. It wasn’t on purpose and, thankfully, they found it pretty funny when they saw me at the finish and I had no recollection of seeing them on Bear!

So, Jared, what’s YOUR goal?

I debated whether to include this but decided that putting a goal out there makes it that much more real and forces me to own up to it whether I make my goal or not. Here are my previous times:

  • 2013 – 7:12
  • 2014 – 7:07
  • 2015 – 6:44

My goal this year is 6:30. Six hours and thirty minutes. Including stops. I rode a solid ride in 2015 with no major issues and a strong finish. To take roughly 15-minutes more off that time, I need to do better than a “solid” ride – I need to ride hard. And I need to shorten my stops. My time gains won’t come on the climbs – I just haven’t improved that much in climbing. But if I can retain the energy to ride hard on the flats and rollers, and take shorter stops (especially on Bear!) I can make up that time. Last year I rode “OK” from Ramapo to River Road and then turned it up. This year I need to dial it up from Ramapo right through Dyckman Hill and into the finish.

What’s the bottom line?

I’m racing on May 15th. Granted, I’m racing myself, but unless you are one of the top few dozen riders, that’s what most of us are doing. Am I ready to meet my goal? I think so! And if I don’t? I’ll try again next year. No matter what, I’m out there to ride and have a great time doing it. And to share a few smiles and stories with all of you at the finish line. So, see you there!

Tour of the Catskills (and the infamous Devil’s Kitchen)

26353[1]For 2015, I decided it was time to try Tour of the Catskills. I (very briefly) considered the stage race before many of my trusted cycling friends quickly talked me out of it. There were lots of good arguments, but the very best one was along the lines of, “taking on Devil’s Kitchen after 65-miles is bad enough, but after two additional days, well, at least try it in the road race first!” So I signed up for the Gran Fondo and crossed my fingers that the Devil would be kind on August 3rd.

The week leading up to the race was very odd. There were a number of conflicting emails from the organizers about changes in registration and start times. Included in these emails was also the note that, starting in 2016, there would only be the road race on Sunday (no more stage race.) None of this was much of a concern to me other than assuring that I showed up on time. But it also turned out that our start time was nearly 11:00 AM when we thought it was going to be around 9:30. The original time was already pretty late in the scheme of bike racing – but 11:00 AM was pretty much unheard of! And in August, well, sun and wind await those foolhardy enough to delay their start times.

TOCRoute_zpsd0dbe2d2[1]The course seems manageable when you consider 77-miles and a bit over 5,000 feet of climbing. But there are a few twists. First, “rolling hills” in the metro New York area are typically 5%-8%, but in the Catskills, there are very few modest slopes and even the shortest climbs are typically at or above 10%. Second, the matter of wind (more later). And, third, well, there’s no avoiding the inclusion of Devil’s Kitchen in this course. Looking at the elevation profile here, I’m sure you can pick it out at mile 65. It also throws the rest of the profile completely out of whack – sections that look flat are typically full of small but steep rollers that simply don’t show up in this scale.

Devil’s Kitchen is one hellacious climb. A very good climber that I ride with once said, “some hills are not meant to be climbed on a bike and that’s one of them.” While the photo below (from 2012) doesn’t even begin to do it justice, it is a sample of the Devil’s Kitchen climb. For locals that I ride with, imagine doing nearly the full elevation of Bear Mountain, but in HALF the distance. Yep, that’s the Devil. And even that doesn’t indicate that practically each pitch of the climb is over 14%. The climb undulates, and believe it or not, every time it “flattened” to about 9% I was so incredibly thankful. NINE PERCENT!

But I’m getting ahead of myself since there were 65-miles to ride just to get to Devil’s Kitchen. The first 20-miles are relatively flat and after setting out from the start with my friend Jerry, we got into a group of six riders and pacelined for a solid 15-miles. We were going really strong, when… I ran over some rusty metal thing and got a flat. Jerry stopped with me, but the other four continued on. I changed the flat pretty quickly and, of course, SAG arrived right as I was putting the wheel back on. Jerry and I worked together to pass two groups before getting to the first KOM and then we went into “conserve” mode hoping to save our legs for Devil’s Kitchen.

Once in Prattsville, there’s a section of climbs about 10-miles long and, again, since everything in the Catskills is steep, this section takes a toll. After those climbs, we stopped at the first feed zone and had the pleasure of watching the pro peleton pass through while we hydrated and fueled up. Man, they were FAST!

Departing the feed zone was the backside of all those climbs – a descent about 5-6 miles long. If it weren’t for the spotty road conditions, that descent would have been amazing, but moving at 45-mph requires that you avoid the potholes! After the descent is a long slog of rolling road through beautiful, but practically abandoned, countryside. When passing through the open fields of large farms so late in the day, the wind started to really become a factor. I also found this section tougher than I should have. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t matter, but I was struggling a bit while Jerry was chugging along.

Let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to Jerry who made the 65+ miles we road together so enjoyable even when I was struggling. Jerry is a really strong guy, and he has to be since he’s a pretty big guy, too. But no matter how hard he is working to raise his power to weight ratio, he’s an all around gentleman and just a terrific guy. We had some great conversations along the way, a few good laughs and, thankfully for me, he was feeling strong so I could suck his wheel more than I should have. Without Jerry I would have gotten to Devil’s kitchen much later and with much less energy. Thanks, Jerry!

Around mile 55 we turned south onto a state road with good pavement and a broad shoulder. I got pretty excited that this was going to be a 5-mile “recovery” stretch before the approach to the big climb. Well, it might have been just that, if it were 10:00 AM. But at 3:30 PM on a hot summer day, the atmosphere was getting unsettled and the wind began to whip up. Those five miles went from a recovery to a huge drain. Turning off the state road, the marshal said, “the feed zone is just ahead!” Jerry and I were both relieved – until we realized that “just ahead” in the Catskills is another 3-miles!

At the second feed zone we fueled up while “mentally preparing” for Devil’s Kitchen – as if that’s possible. And then, we set out to tackle the monster…

TheKitchen20112After a few miles of gentle incline, Platte Cove Road, a seasonal road that is closed in the winter and known to cyclists as Devil’s Kitchen, comes into view. It’s narrow, has bad pavement, and looks like a vertical wall. Of course, it’s not a wall. It’s worse. After almost 70-miles of riding together, Jerry and I agreed that Devil’s Kitchen is a personal matter. I set out just ahead of him fully expecting to see him grunt past me at some point. The first pitch immediately hits 16% and only 0.3 miles into a 2.4 mile climb, I’m dying! After each pitch, I tried to catch my breath on the “flats” (9%) and this worked a few times, but eventually, I had to stop on one of the flats and catch my breath. Jerry caught up to me for a short moment and then I proceeded up one of the steepest sections.

At the top of that section there’s a sharp right turn and several folks cheering us on. I stopped there (as others did as well) and almost immediately the pro peleton was approaching, so this turned out to be perfect. (The pros had a longer course with a loop, so they passed us twice.) It was great to watch the pros on this section as they were panting as much as I was (although they were still moving) and there were a few walking. After the pros I continued on and finished the climb in about 45-minutes. At the top I was proud to say that, while I did stop, I didn’t walk, and therefore I pedaled every inch of the climb.

After the climb, I slogged through the last five miles – really the only time all day that I rode alone. Riding alone is create during training, but not great on race day. It was a tough and lonely final five miles. But, alas, I finished the course, proceed to my car and headed out for a burger and beer with friends.

Final Thoughts on This Event

This was a strange event – some things were awesome, others were terrible. Quick summary:

PROS

  • Terrific course
  • Amazing challenge in Devil’s Kitchen
  • Motos and SAG were EVERYWHERE (Motos went back and forth and were highly visible
  • Controlled intersections (granted, there’s only like six of them on the whole course!)

CONS

  • No timing chips (seriously!)
  • Disorganized event before race day
  • Late start (this, alone, discourages me to the point that I’ll pass next year – I didn’t get back to NYC until 1 AM)
  • Feed zones had AWFUL water – smelled so bad I almost went without more water

GFNY15 Race Report

Prelude

Scene-2My Campagnolo GFNY journey began after I did my first century ride – a completely flat one – in 2012. A friend said we should do the GFNY 2013 and the training began when the first Gruppo Sportivo GFNY group ride took place in early December of 2012. (And the morning of GFNY13 looked a lot like the one this year, only about 20-degrees colder and it rained all day.) Despite having taken to cycling over the last couple of years, I was a sloth – overweight and lazy. I was at the height of my weight trajectory – one trajectory where “height of” is not a good place to be. I was quickly approaching 200 pounds.

I had never cycled past Nyack at this point and I had never climbed any serious hills. After the first couple of training rides it became obvious – I needed to lose some weight. I began paying close attention to my food intake and began taking more and more rides. This plus the encouragement I received from Heidi, Vito and Omar (and the rest of GS-GFNY) resulted in my losing 18-pounds before GFNY13. And I maintained this new “weight state” through GFNY14 and much of the 2014 cycling season.

Scene-5Then August and September (2014) happened – the worst two months in a long time. It was a stressful period at work – and I compensated with food. I traveled a lot – and used that as an excuse to eat more food. I went to Italy where, well, you just can’t help but eat great food! I returned from Italy just over 190 pounds. No problem – I’ve got the GS-GFNY training rides all winter to motivate me! Well, winter turned out to be really tough as well – one of the coldest on record and WAY too many training rides cancelled. Sure, I rode the indoor trainer – A LOT, but it wasn’t enough. Only as the weather started to turn in late March did I finally strt losing the extra pounds. By GFNY15 race day, I’d managed to get down to 177 pounds – my lowest riding weight since I started keeping track. Things were looking up again.

Race Weekend

Despite the warm and fuzzy feelings about my weight going into the race weekend, I was still a bit worried about the lack of sustained winter training. I felt mentally ready for the race, but was entirely unsure what to expect from my body. I’d had training rides where I was floating on air and others where I red-lined my heart rate on an otherwise ordinary hill. Which body was going to show up at the starting line was anybody’s guess. Either way, I went into the race weekend with good spirits and followed my now established ritual:

  • Scene-3Friday:
    • Work the bike expo
    • Enjoy the Italian welcome dinner
  • Saturday:
    • “Sleep in” (7 AM for me)
    • Bagel and whitefish “treat” for breakfast
    • Prep Maggie and take her for short spin
    • Cook up 1-pound of pasta and 1-pound of ground chicken
    • Relax with some TV and shovel down pasta and protein all day
    • Drink lots of water
  • Sunday:
    • Wake early
    • Bagel w/peanut butter for breakfast
    • Ride to the starting corrals
    • Second bagel w/peanut butter on the bridge
    • 7 AM – go for a pleasant ride with a few thousand close friends

The Race – Part One

sportograf-59844833_lowresRace morning was comfortably cool and waiting on the George Washington Bridge for 1.5+ hours was much more tolerable than usual. I was also incredibly relaxed – almost too relaxed. When the 7 AM start arrived, I rolled out feeling really comfortable for the first time in my 3-year GFNY history. The wait time on the bridge was social, relaxed and really enjoyable. I felt no obvious anxiety leading up to the opening gun.

As planned, I stayed with some super-fast groups through River Road and dropped off at the bottom of Alpine Hill. And at that moment, my relaxation turned on me. I began the climb of Alpine and felt rather sluggish. Despite a smooth ten mile start on the flats and rollers, my climbing was more tortured than usual. I took about 8-minutes to get up Alpine when I normally do it in about 6-minutes. Not a great sign.

Scene-4Alpine behind me, I found another group on 9W and got back to the 24-mph range which was sustained most of the way into Nyack. I felt better again, but next up were a few short, challenging hills in Nyack. I climbed the very short 4th Avenue climb smoothly and felt pretty good. Then the Old Mountain Road climb went pretty well, too. And, finally, I was on Hook Mountain (Toga) and while I was spinning more than usual, I felt pretty good. Then a rider passed me an asked it I was OK. “Fine, just climbing slowly as usual,” I replied. But was I actually going even slower than I thought?

I took my first of two gels before Bear Mountain, proceeded through Haverstraw (with a VERY short stop just for a bio-break) and over “Baby Bear” at my normal (slow) pace. At the bottom of Bear, I was 15-minutes ahead of my target pace and feeling pretty relaxed. I typically climb Bear Mountain from 9w (the very bottom) in just over 30-minutes. Add a short break at the top and I’d still be ahead of pace. But the climb took me almost 45-minutes and I felt awful. Now I was really worried – if Bear Mountain, a climb I usually take smoothly was such a challenge, what’s going to happen on the steeper climbs to come?

The Race – Part Two

Scene-6Well, this was definitely a Tale of Two Races. The first half was erratic, and I was now a bit off my target pace. But somehow, after a rest at the top of Bear Mountain, I was able to turn on the gas for the second half and never let up. Maybe I just needed the rest. Maybe it was the energy of the crowd on the top of Bear Mountain. Maybe it was just a weird day for me. All I know is that I took the rest I needed, got some fuel, filled a bidon, and went on my merry way.

Speaking of bidon’s – that’s my 2014 bidon in this photo on the top of Bear Mountain that was shared with every GFNY15 rider (and my knee in the corner of the frame.) I told the photographer that it was last year’s edition but he liked the contrast of the black. Yet the date was awfully clear in the shot, so I’m sorry for any confusion that this has caused!

JMS-C- (1)Despite my struggle ascending Bear Mountain, my descent was flawless. (And by looking at this photo, I didn’t seem to be visibly struggling on the ascent!) I didn’t set a personal best on the ride down, but I came close. And, frankly, I hit a cluster of riders near the bottom of Perkins that I couldn’t safely pass – once we got onto Seven Lakes Drive I passed them and continued rapidly. That delay plus the terrible road conditions at the traffic circle may have been the difference. No matter, I’d later learn that I didn’t really need to make up another 10-20 seconds on a fast descent.

As I began to climb “Baby Bear” on the return trip I was a little concerned that I might slow down yet again. But this time, I took it at a smooth pace and one that was more familiar to me from my training.

JMS-D- (2)A little further down 9W and it was time for the most challenging 12-miles of the course. While Bear Mountain is the longest climb, the next 12-miles have the three “hardest” climbs. I classify difficulty in ft/mi (feet per mile) otherwise known as % grade. Where Bear Mountain averages 5.5% for a longer distance, the next three climbs are all of a higher gradient and 1-2 miles long. And one of them, “Mott Farm,” isn’t even a “named” climb on the GFNY course layout. But, believe me, it’s just as challenging as the named climbs.

I really love the challenge of these three climbs and portions of them, especially on Gate Hill, are more suited to my style. These are shorter, steeper segments that I can attack and then get a small recovery before the next kick. I love this photo in particular because it reflects how I felt at this point – cool and collected. Other’s are struggling, jersey’s open, trying to recover and I’m just doing my thing. This is when I knew I was finally racing my race and I was in the zone. Passing riders on the hardest climbs is not usually what I do, but when I started passing others here, it really got me motivated.

JMS-C- (5)Even though I’d gone effectively 45-miles on the front part of the ride without a notable stop, I always had it in my plan to make the Pomona rest stop even though it’s so close to Bear Mountain. But with the toughest stretch in between, I know I need it. And I think it prepares me mentally for those 12-miles, knowing I can push harder and then take a break really helps.

I stopped in Pomona, filled a bidon, got some fuel, and headed back out pretty quickly. I needed the mental break more than the physical one and didn’t want to lose time here. While I made up some time over the last section, I was still a bit behind my target and it was time to get moving. Thankfully, I was ready for the next stretch and it suits my strengths – relatively flat with rollers where I can really get up to speed. I was feeling great and, even knowing there’d be few groups to draft here, I headed out at 20+mph and kept a blistering pace (for me) until reaching State Line hill.

JMS-A- (2)When I got to State Line I was almost back to my target pace but here was another climb and I was still questioning which rider would show up. Thankfully, I took it smoothly – no records, but no significant struggle, either. From here I headed back into Palisades Interstate Park for the final section through River Road. On the approach, I was really impressed with the new road layout and police control – it was nice to have a protected chute into Alpine Approach.

In the past GFNY years, River Road was a mixed blessing. For the most part it suits me, but after the challenges of the 90-miles already completed, I would find some of the small climbs to be unbearable. Not today, though – I was smooth and steady through the park and on my way to a terrific finish. At this point it was all but certain that I’d set my best time. What was uncertain was if I could reach my target time – a full 24-minutes faster than last year. What was certain, though, was that I was going to leave it all out there and either reach my goal or collapse trying.

Finish-2As I completed the River Road segment at mile 97 with only Dyckman Hill and Hudson Terrace left, I did a time check and saw that I’d have to crush the last three miles to make my goal. So I attached Dyckman Hill, briefly glanced across the Hudson River from the top to find some motivation, and began my sustained effort down Hudson Terrace to the finish line. There’s one short climb called Unnecessary Hill a little over a mile from the finish line which I love to attack. This time wasn’t my fastest as I’d been really pushing for the last two miles, but it was still enough. With a target of 6:45, I crossed the finish line at 6:44:14. Victory! And after that victory? The first GFNY where I almost fell over after the finish line because I truly left it all out there and hardly had the legs, or balance, to dismount.

Final Words

GFNY Results 2015GFNY15 posed a unique challenge – a tough winter which limited training and then a warm and sticky race day. Normally the weather we had would be welcomed, but I think many riders were unprepared for such effort in the heat when there had really been no hot training days this season. Maybe this is what hurt me on the initial climbs, maybe not. But the reality of a May race, early in the season, is that the weather is almost always a factor. And, for me, the reality is that improvements in my climbing could take yet another 10-15 minutes off my time resulting in a 6:30 goal for next year. (That was my stretch goal this year and was absolutely not possible. Yet!)

I really encourage others to challenge themselves and to take advantage of the Gruppo Sportivo GFNY training rides December through May. Training with GS-GFNY made all the difference in my first year and now I’m blessed to be a part of that team and share this with others. I’m inspired everyday by the folks I’ve helped along the way – each of them has achieved a personal goal and rewarded the entire GFNY community in the process. Register now for May 2016 to secure your spot and to get into the GS-GFNY training community in spirit before we kick off on the road in December.

And in the meantime, have fun, be safe, reach new heights and I’ll see you on the road!

GFNY Results CBND 13-14

GFNY15 Course Recon Ride

With just over a week to go before the 2015 edition of Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York a few of us set out on a long, slow ride to recon the course – and what a day it was! With mild temperatures and beautiful sunshine, the 8:30 AM meet up in Fort Lee was an easy start. Five riders began the journey at 8:45 and three returned after 6:00 PM. (The other two had an evening commitment and split off a bit early.)

We skipped River Road on the ride out knowing that section well and knowing we’d have to navigate around three closed gates. (And, personally, I’d already navigated the stairs on the GWB North path, so I just wanted to ride.) The ride up through Piermont was lovely and uneventful – and here we picked up a sixth rider for a portion of the trip.

We continued up the usual route to the top of Bear Mountain without any incident and soon four of us were at the top of Perkins munching Pringles and drinking up cold drinks. I don’t think I’d ever been there on a weekday before and it was so incredibly peaceful and quiet! But then we began to wonder what happened to the fifth rider. Thankfully, I was sure that he knew his way and was either dealing with a mechanical or choose to head back early.

Knowing that we’d pass the final rider on the return if he didn’t head back, and knowing that lunch was only a few miles away, we began the Bear Mountain descent. The speed, thrill and views never cease to amaze me. After the descent we tackled “Baby Bear” (which, by the way, was getting strips of pavement to cover the worst of the potholes) and were nearing our lunch spot when we found the missing rider. Sadly, he had a double flat and then, after repair, had another and was out of tubes. Ironically, this is the rider that gave me a tube on GFNY14 after I had a similar incident, so I was more than happy to return the favor.

A little while later we arrived at the newly re-opened Cove Deli and relaxed over some sandwiches and banter about the ride so far. There was also plenty of banter about the next ten miles – the ones with some of the hardest climbs.

As lunch wound down two riders headed down 9W for their earlier return and three of us went straight from lunch to the climb up Buckberg (otherwise known as Fuckberg). I’d never gone up Buckberg so I really wanted to try it once and it didn’t disappoint – quite the challenge! I will say that I’m glad it’s not on the official course at this time.

Following Buckberg we rejoined the official route on Mott Farm which took us into Gate Hill (Andrea Pinarello) climb. Gate Hill is a long climb with many pitch changes and sweeping curves, so you never really know where it is going to end. I kind of like it for this reason and any climb with even the smallest recover “plateaus” suits my climbing style. Gate Hill ends with a very fast descent before a shorter uphill and then immediately into Overlook Terrace (Cheesecoat) climb. Overlook is the opposite of Gate Hill – once it starts, it is a relentless slog up a rough and completely exposed roadway. Even though temps were mild, this as where we all felt the sweat.

After descending from Overlook we began the roughly 20-mile stretch of somewhat flat suburban roads with mild rollers. It’s funny how difficult these little rollers can be when you’ve already done over 5,500 feet of climbing! And then, just when we thought we were out of the woods comes State Line climb on the 9W return. Ouch!

17667_10206487233570033_9124649944848607909_nFollowing State Line we proceeded to enter the park for the River Road/Hudson Terrace finish. The descent down Alpine is one of my favorites since the road was repaved last year, but then the 5-miles of relentless rollers take their toll. And at the second roundabout we may or may not have ventured up Dyckman Hill to test out the final climb on the official route. (That may or may not be me in this photo and it may or may not have been Photoshopped.)

After exiting the park on Hudson Terrace there’s one mile left to the official finish and with fresh pavement and a slight downhill pitch, it’s a great finish. There is Unnecessary Hill to content with, but I like to carry some momentum from the descent into this climb and then sprint to the top – what a great way to finish the course on May 17th!

Campagnolo Gran Fondo NY 2014 – Ride Report

logo[1]First, I cannot thank the GFNY14 sponsors enough for their contributions to this awesome event. But this year, one sponsor in particular, De Rosa, deserves special attention: not only for providing Gruppo Sportivo with a terrific ride, but for the personal attention that they gave us and this event. I met Chistiano De Rosa at NYC Bike Expo and he was both friendly and humble.  Then, on ride day, he and I shared most of the River Road section on the ride out and encountered each other numerous times along the way. I hope that my cycling hobby (career?) keeps me in such good shape. And spirits.

And before I continue, let me thank a few others:

  • Uli and Lidia for their desire to create such an incredible, international event. And the dedication to make it actually happen.
  • The officials and volunteers (on and off the course) for making the event safe, supported and fun.
  • The Gruppo Sportivo riders for coming out in some seriously challenging weather this year. You guys make winter interesting and make our training so enjoyable!

OK – now, to the race itself…

sportograf-48814788Last year was my first GFNY event and it was only my third century ride to date. And while I trained with Gruppo Sportivo, there was nothing that could prepare me for the conditions of the day – 50F and rain – ALL DAY. It was awful, but finishing the course was epic. And looking back, my official time was quite respectable and this was likely influenced by my inability to stay at an aid station for more than a few minutes before feeling too chilled.

This year couldn’t have been different (except for my official time, but we’ll get to that shortly.) The weather was near perfect – partly sunny with temps in the mid-60’s. And I couldn’t have been better prepared: both mentally and physically, I WAS READY! I arrived early, lined up in the front corral, socialized with fellow riders, fueled up and tried to stay warm until the 7 AM starting gun. (Despite the great weather, it will pretty much always be cold on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge at sunrise.)

And as 7 AM approached, I made a last minute change to my race strategy. During training, I’ve been giving out the advice, “don’t let the adrenaline at the starting gun get the best of you or you may burn out too early.” Well, I’ll still give out this advice, but I made the decision not to take my own advice. I did this for a very specific reason, though. Being a Gruppo Sportivo captain, I’m lined up in the front corral with riders that are much stronger than me. So my adjusted plan was to get into a strong peleton and let them carry me for as long as I could hang with them. And… IT WORKED. I was pacing about 1.5mph faster than last year without overexertion. But soon the wheels came off the bus for an entirely different reason.

sportograf-48877953

Attacking Bear Mountain

My first 30-miles were really strong. I spent much of this time in various peletons using paceline techniques to my advantage. At about mile 10 is Alpine Climb, the first notable climb of the day – and I conquered it with little difficulty, tying my personal best on that segment. My only physical issue was that my lower back was nagging me early in the ride, forcing me out of the saddle more than usual to stretch it out. Thankfully, my legs were fine, so the added exertion on them was fine. But as I got to the Haverstraw aid station, the nagging was flaring and I took a short break to stretch.

Stretching off the bike was helpful and I got back on the ride quickly. But I didn’t plan my departure well and quickly found myself riding alone along the Hudson River where there was a very notable headwind. Rather than hammer through it, I slowed up and was finally overtaken by a group that I could tuck into and I rode with them back to 9W where we all broke up again (but the wind wasn’t much of a factor here). I made it to the base of Bear Mountain having lost a few minutes (due to my stop) but still notably ahead of my target pace. And I still felt great. Time to attack the Bear…

I rode the first section with a small group all pacing together to the roundabout. The section from the roundabout to Perkins is my favorite – fairly low grade and very consistent, so I found my rhythm and started passing other riders. Typically I’ll gain ground through this mile or so and simply try to hold it through the first mile on Perkins – and when I entered Perkins, that’s exactly how it went. Then I got a pleasant surprise as I approached and overtook Nelson Vails on the climb.

“Hey, Nelson! Not too many hills on the track, right?”

His reply?

“That’s the beauty of riding today – I don’t have to twist myself upside down to beat a time – I can just take it easy and enjoy the ride!”

Touché.

After passing Nelson I started to hear the music from the top of Bear Mountain and that sound can really drive my legs to finish the climb strong. Soon after I reached the top of Bear, music blaring, and I was still about 15-minutes ahead of pace. BOOM! The day was in my favor. And after a rest at the peak that I should have cut shorter, I nailed the descent in record time (for me). But as I passed the 50-mile midpoint, I ran into a stretch of trouble.

sportograf-48871712

Climbing Gate Hill

Before and after Bear Mountain is a “hill” known as Dundenberg (or Baby Bear) that is 1-mile up and 1-mile down in both directions. It’s also a terrible stretch of pavement along 9W. And while much of it had been patched this year, there were plenty of notable potholes remaining, including the large one I ran into while attempting to talk to another rider. POW – pinch flat. Bummer. But that’s OK, I’ve got what I need and can change the tube in about 10-mins, keeping me on pace. But my first replacement tube was defective – and it took me awhile to figure it out and move on to my second tube – losing a lot of additional time. Ultimately, Matt, a fellow GS-GFNY rider stopped to help me and at the last minute a SAG Vespa pulled up and we finished the job. However, having used both my tubes and both my Co2 canisters, I should have bought another set from SAG – but what are the odds of another flat, right?!?

Famous last words.

With the tube finally replaced, I was back on the course and I started hammering towards Gate Hill in hopes of gaining back some time. Also, Gate Hill is my favorite climb, so I still felt good about my ability make up time. And I may have done so – I was pretty strong through Gate Hill, but then came my second flat on a climb “in the middle of nowhere” – not likely to see SAG anytime soon. I had to plead with passing riders who could spare a tube, but I had a lot acting against me. Who in their right mind would stop mid-climb? During the hardest 10-mile section of the course? And since I having racing wheels, I needed a long stem valve which most didn’t have. Avi, another GS-GFNY rider stopped to offer a tube, but it wasn’t long stem, I eventually found a valve extender in my kit and made the replacement. Sadly, though, I had now lost about 40-mins total to the two flats.

sportograf-48860610

Colle Formaggio. Those cheerleaders are the best!

Having rested during the repair, I was pretty fresh for the last big climb: “Colle Formaggio” (or Cheesecoate) and I killed it. Both up and down. Following that climb I coasted into the Pomona aid station to buy a tube and CO2 canister, unwilling to take that risk again. Alas, more time lost. Leaving Pomona I did the mental gymnastics required to figure out how I could still beat a 7-hour chip time. And it was pretty daunting. I’d need to average 18-mph for two hours (including one notable climb) – not a likely feat, but I’d certainly try. I picked up a group doing 21-mph on Strawtown Road and that certainly helped, but once I struggled up State Line Hill and the climb that follows, I needed to average 20+ mph for the final ten miles. And there were no groups to draft in sight. I pushed on for the short stretch on 9W before getting into the park and found that I still had the legs for a sprint, so sprint I did.

sportograf-48893387

Fist bump at the finish.

I got back to the park (last 8-miles) and tore down Alpine (again tying my best time) and I pushed, hard, through the River Road rollers. As the timing mat approached for the finish I could see that I was already a few minuted past 7-hours, so while I pushed through the finish, I dropped from my sprint pace at that point and crossed at 7:07:02. Really not bad considering how far off a 7-hour time I was only two hours earlier. I celebrating with a mysterious fist bump to nothing as I crossed the finish line.

Below are my official results, side by side, from 2013 and 2014. While my improvement of about 5-mins is a bit underwhelming, I’m so thrilled with my performance. Having lost about 40-mins to mechanical issues, I’d have crushed my previous time. And being able to get an official time under 6:30 is my goal for next year. It will be a challenge as I felt in top form this year, but who’s to say I can’t improve upon that form over the next year?

GFNY Results CBND 13-14

Also, there’s more to a ride than the official results. Most important to me was how strong I felt on the ride. I was faster and stronger than ever before and my “moving time” shows this. I don’t have accurate figures for last year, but I estimated my moving time around 6:45 and this year I came in at 6:17. And I had PR’s all over the course just proving how solid I was riding. My full Strava details in all their glory…

All in all, a terrific day with great weather and fantastic people on the course. I talked to so many people along the way and shared great stories. And, of course, a special thanks to Matt, Avi and Heidi who all stopped to help me during my flats. Each of you made the day that much better – your willingness to help a fellow rider is what makes GFNY more like a family than just a group of riders.

I am an Elite Athlete

I am an elite athlete.

I am not an elite athlete because I win races or perform better than others.

I am an elite athlete because I enjoy the sport for what it is. I enjoy the people in the sport. I enjoy sharing the sport with others and helping them improve. In fact, I am elite because I hope everyone I encounter can be better than me at our shared sport.

I am elite because I do not want to beat others in competition. My only competitor is myself and every other athlete in my sport is an opportunity to improve the sport and everyone’s ability to enjoy it.

I am elite and you should be, too.