Kermesse

cyfac kermesse

On Friday, after work, I drive down to a “kermesse” in Connecticut.  The traffic thickens on the Mass Pike; I bypass the Sturbridge Tolls and still arrive at the race site early with lots of time to kill.  I start my warm-up with plenty of time before the start.  The late afternoon sun beats down on me.  It will be cooler by the time the race starts at 7PM and nearly dark by the time we finish.

I’m smug in my warm-up, on a trainer stationed by the back of my car.   A trainer!  I swore I’d never ride one of these again.  But here I am.  I spend 45 minutes pedaling at low heart rate and medium cadence.  Spinning and taking my time for my legs to wake up.  Getting older.  It takes a long time to get things moving.  Plus, I haven’t been on the bike since Tuesday night.  Plus, I did a rollerski interval workout the night before.  Plus I was in the car for an hour and a half.  After some time, I’m sweating hard and a thought passes:  all I’m doing is dehydrating myself.  Another 30 minutes on the trainer.  I slowly begin to ratchet up the gears and increase the intensity, the last few minutes just below race-pace heart rate.  As I step off the trainer and swap over to my race wheels, the announcer is calling us to the line.

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In Lance We Trust?

 Much of what follows is based on my opinion formed from what I’ve seen directly, what I heard (most of it hearsay, admittedly) and, wherever possible, supported with other sources.  I’ve struggled to write something conclusive but this subject is so challenging precisely because the truth is vague, often unsubstantiated rumor, and those that know the indisputable facts have not come forward to put matters to rest.  I was a contemporary of Lance Armstrong.  I raced alongside him on a number of occassions, though never at his level.  I had a professional relationship with him and his handlers during his comeback from cancer.  For me this is as much personal as it is about Lance Armstrong and whether or not he doped his way to victory.

USADA’s proposed lifetime ban of Lance Armstrong, his steadfast denial, and the arguments over who is responsible for policing the sport is reminscent of the late 90’s and early 00’s.  The use of performance enhancing drugs and its surrounding code of silence among riders, teams, and the majority of the press and fans is the main reason why I lost interest in cycling as a competitive sport.  Cycling became a farce of tainted super-human performances, suspicion around every rider and every effort, and politics that have prevented the truth from being told.  If the USADA’s allegations are true — I’m willing to grant the possibility that Armstrong wasn’t part of a huge doping conspiracy on Postal Service, despite everything I’ve seen and heard on the matter — it’s taken far, far too long to get to this point.  Judgment will rest on the truth — the evidence — coming to public light.  Some will argue it will be too damaging to the sport revisist offenses a dozen years old, or that Armstrong was the most tested athlete and “never” failed a drug test (he did in 1999), or that he is being singled out for some sort of personal or political vendetta.  This isn’t just about Armstrong, it is about all the people around him and the sport in general.  For me, ignoring it means the dopers and their supporters continue to win.

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Training Partner

Boston Mayors Cup 2011

Soon my son will turn 10.  He’s been on the bike since he could walk.  Maybe sooner.  I don’t push him but I offer him opportunities. He’s done half-a-dozen races over the years.  He suffers for them the way a young boy does.  Results never meet his expectations.  The causality of training and performance are, as of yet, abstract concepts.

I don’t push him but the sport is his for the taking.  It’s in his blood and genes.  And he’s stubborn enough to be good at it if he decides he wants it.  I don’t push him, but he can see what it takes by watching me.  A while back I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting.”  One of the points they made was that you’re far more likley to affect your children by modeling the behavior you’d like to see in them, as opposed to telling them how to be.  I think about this often when I’m working out and my son is complaining, “I wish I had a normal Dad who didn’t exercise all the time.”  He sees commitment, discipline, healthy living.  He sees how much work it takes and what the payoffs can be.

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Rainy Rollerski

On Sunday morning I did the long rollerski loop in Littleton.  Normally, there are 20 to 30 skiers who show up for the usual Saturday roll.  Instead, the parking lot was empty.  My plan to roll with a training part had fallen through.  As I headed out, a light rain started to fall.  I can be pretty nervous on rollerskis when it’s bone dry and the roads are black-poweder smooth;  I tend to avoid rolling in the rain.  But I was already out there and I needed to do a workout, so I went for it.

The start was tenuous.  The wet pavement was okay but anytime the rubber wheels rolled over the tar-sealed cracks, the ski would suddenly slip out.  The first, long climb was covered with the stuff and I skied it no-poles.  I really had to focus on my technique, getting my weight directly over the ski — not ‘edging’ because the ski would let loose and I’d do a fancy split off into the woods — and kicking down and forward instead of out.  It highlighted some of the bad habits that I’d picked up rollerskiing.

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Dope

doping cycling new york times

New York Times – Jacob Thomas

I read this New York Times mea culpa from Jonathan Vaughters this morning and it made me sad. When I raced in the 1990’s, Vaughters was one guy with a reputation for being clean. But it’s hard to believe that anybody who raced at that level in late 90’s and early 00’s was clean. And this op-ed piece only confirms it further.

I was part of that lost generation who tried to race clean in the age of EPO, pot belge, limited sponsorship dollars and pro contracts that were hard to come by. Friends went to race in Europe and returned filled with despair. There were tales of mysterious packages from Mexico, suitcases full of drugs tendered during contract negotiations, riders injecting themselves with all sorts of things. There were guys who, after years of obscurity, suddenly had results along with suddenly altered bodies. Guys who made it onto pro teams told stories of being doped up to the permissable limits with testosterone or caffeine. Young athletes on the Junior National team were unknowingly injected with drugs. Dutch riders were dying in their sleep from EPO. It was all around me. And I wanted to pretend it didn’t exist. Acknowledging so would have put the dream at risk.

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One Night Stand

salem witches museum salem witches cup 2012

Salem Witches Cup

On Wednesday night I did the Pro/1/2  Witches Cup race around in Salem.  It was a mid-week, evening race — a nocturne of sorts — that required me to escape work a little early, pack the car and drive up 128 through stop-and-go traffic to the town where the hung witches hundreds of years ago.  The course was flat, not very technical except for one acute angle turn and couple of rough spots, about 1km long.  Fast.  This year had the special bonus of my wife coming to watch, just like the old days.

After all these years, I still have a basic ritual when I get to a bike race:

  • Pick up my bib number, pin it to my jersey with the classic 7-pin method.
  • Pump up my race wheels to 120 psi.
  • Mix up my drinks:  Cyto in one bottle; the other, Mountain Dew cut with water.
  • Kit up:  easy for this race because it was so warm and I didn’t have to manage extra clothing.
  • Balm up:  with the humidity and intensity, this was essential.  Plus, I’ve been having problems down there.
  • Warm up: 20 to 25 minutes easy spinning with guys I starting racing with when I was 13.

At the last minute, I switched over to the race wheels and headed to the start line. Continue reading