Monday, February 22, 2010

The Dog Days of February

February is the toughest month during Winter in New England. Snow, cold and ice are no longer a novelty and something "rad" to race cross in. Sure on a powder day in the woods in the right conditions it is incredible but the rest of the time it is a test of a riders resolve and sanity. Those that have to are in their basements logging in crazy trainer time so they will be ready to race in March. I refuse to do that. Luckily for me I am a cross racer no ifs, ands, or buts about it so it doesn't matter. I don't need to ride til March. But I love riding hence a tension is created between how miserable it is riding and the peril of if I don't ride how badly my mood will deteriorate to levels where I can't even stand myself.
My training has gone to Hell in a handbasket recently but I've had some great group rides. Frankly the group rides and social rides I've been on this winter have been some of the most enjoyable in my life. One thing that has come out of all this social networking is a conversation about the two American cyclists who should never be named. They are our cross to bear in US cycling right now. A black mark. A stain. And one of my good friends who I look up to is very clear on his thoughts on doping. Zero tolerance. You dope and you are persona non grata. And he is right that this shit has to stop.

But in all this Tyler and Floyd bullshit what has begun to percolate in my brain is why do we hate them so much? Is it because they were our heroes? And before they fell, they stood for something as American's we love so much in our athletes? Hardwork, grit, toughness, brashness, honor, and also loyalty. Remember when Hamilton forced Ulrich to wait for Armstrong when he crashed? So many memories of Tyler. But then they are all sullied because he is dirty. Same goes for Floyd.
But then I noticed a discussion about Pantani. Someone said they still loved Marco even though his legend is tainted with his doping. Like Hamilton and Landis Pantani was a trainwreck. Shit how much more of a trainwreck do you need to be that you kill yourself with coke after a career of killing yourself with dope? But it got me thinking. Why do we still revere some riders even if they are dirty but hate others for doping? Being on a Belgie-centric team the first name that comes to mind is Museeuw. Johan doped. He took epo. He was caught and admitted to it. His explanation as to why he doped was "I wanted to end my career in style."
Again the question I keep asking myself "what is it about Museeuw that he gets a pass while others don't?" Obviously a classics rider is different than a grand tour rider. Rasmussen's doping affected the whole tour. If Cadel didn't have to chase a doped to the gills Rasmussen all over every Col in France would Cadel have had more matches to actually have won the race over Contador? And this also raises an interesting side note. We hate Evans (who appears clean) we mock Lemond as some crazy old drunk uncle who cries wolf at the slightest hint of doping and yet we still accept dopers in our ranks. Why is that? I personally am a huge fan of Johan Museeuw and watch youtube videos of his Paris-Roubaix rides constantly. While the epo helped him at the end of his career you could be doped to the gills and still not win P-R. Look at last year's race. Riders were crashing out in every turn. Boonen knows how to ride Paris Roubaix others not so much. It is skill and panache over sheer fitness and speed.

I personally don't have the answer to this nagging debate that keeps going round and round my head. Floyd and Tyler are trainwrecks. Frankly they both disgust me. Ricardo Ricco probably makes me more sick than all of them combined. Is it just Americans who want to put our Heroes so far up on a pedestal that when they fall we just want to crucify them? I am not asserting that either Tyler or Floyd deserve our sympathy, understanding or forgiveness.

It could be perhaps that Europeans (other than Italians seemingly) admit their guilt and take ownership of their failures. Remember David Millar? That is how you show you are contrite. You lose your shit, go on a drinking bender, come up for air and never let anyone forget you sinned but then you fly straight. People love you for that. But maybe the American mindset can't fathom that.

It had to be somebody else's fault we took the drugs. It was our tough life. We needed to get back into racing shape after an injury. Blah, blah, blah. No more excuses. I don't want to hear about therapy, addictions, etc. Face the music. Ride clean. Turn yourself inside out because you want it more than the other guy. So Museeuw? I will still revere him. My heroes don't need to be saints. Its not a hate the sin not the sinner bs either. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe its why I love sprinters and cross racers. Dope culture just doesn't seem as prevalent there. Do I care if Tomeke wants to snort coke with his 16 year old socialite girlfriend right before the Spring Classics? I don't think its a good lifestyle choice and a waste of talent but he's sure not getting a performance advantage out of it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fresh Tracks!

It was the storm that never happened. Y2k, Guaranteed Colts Super Bowl Victory, Swine Flu, and Snowpocalyps. Notice a trend here? Yeah its called the so-called experts like Hysteria more than the actual facts. But we did get some snow. Maybe a couple of inches of fresh soft powder that turned the woods into Skadi's Winter playland. Nothing wipes away a nasty disposition than diving into the woods where the only sound is your breathing and chicadees.
I got to the "pukey" place a couple of times as the climbs were like 50 rpm grinds in the longest sand pit you can imagine. But surfing the downhills was worth it! I stopped to take a ton of pictures as the wind blown powder on the trees and bushes was incredible. Phenomenal hour in the woods! Words are pretty much pointless but suffice it to say I had a great ride. The Nokkians continue to keep me upright and sans broken bones which is a plus. All those west coasters who think they've got it so good in their temperate climates have no idea what they are missing!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Riddle of Steel

Saw this up on Vsalon that had been ripped from Good stuff as we all sit huddled on our couches waiting for a winter storm to blow over. Lots of talk about plans, training, long miles but what does it take to get to that "next" level. Hard work. Basically its just the old Merckx quote "ride lots"

"Tor Arne Hetland is real. I saw him. Actually, I closed out the bar with him last night. The guy lives in a different world than you and I do. And, he’s a hell of a lot faster than we will ever be.

I wanted to suck some training talk out of him, so I made up some BS about having a bad race and threw in a cheap shot about Americans being slow (USST, I didn’t mean it at all).

Through the noise, norwegian, and waking up at 11am, here’s the best that I can remember from a conversation/rant/binge between 1:30 and 2am:

He said, “All that matters is you have a good miljø (which means culture and environment) and that you have the…(tried to explain ‘the fire within you’, but couldn’t).” He was very animated. “Where did you finish today?”

“50,” I lied.

“Ja. You are here now with (unnamed coach),”

(places a beer in the lonely corner of the bar)

“This is winning your Nationals.”

(places a beer in front of him)

“This is winning a World Cup.”

(practically tosses a beer out of reach and off the bar)

“If you want to win you need to train 1200 hours like Justyna (Kawuckchuck). You are not even close.” he said.

“That’s rediculous! Not to mention totally ‘questionable’,” I said.

“But have you tried? No. That’s why you won’t win. If you train 1200 hours THEN you will know how to train. You are not even close.”

The thing that blew me away is that it was immediately apparent that he comes from a COMPLETELY different world than we do. He’s right, we aren’t even close. Nowhere near it.

When guys like him talk about training it’s not about getting faster or making some team, it’s about *winning world cups*. Even when he’s talking to someone he doesn’t know.

He’s right, he has the miljø, so he doesn’t have to consider second best. It’s tip-top or nothing. Train more, *lots* more. Don’t expect help, because you are the one that has to race. Don’t come to a workout and say “what are we doing today?” - just show up with a plan.

This energy I got from that beer soaked nordmann is something I can’t describe in writing."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fire & Ice

February's training "plan" has gone to Hell in a handbasket and I blame one thing. Its not the cold or winter its Hot Yoga. My wife got me to go check a class out with her after cross season. It was pretty key in helping me recover from my mcl sprain. Seriously. After 2 classes I could actually walk again. The first class was pretty hilarious. I gimp in with Pam and she sets me up with my mat and blocks etc. We go through a few asanas and then settle into a pose called Thunderbolt or Vajrasana its basically a chair or squat with your hands up in the air. The teacher of course asks us to really sit into the pose like a squat. My leg is totally f'd from my crash and can barely hold me up so I am just sort of hanging out there. Next thing I know she has her hands on my hips and is trying to scoot me down. The only place I can "go" is back so I sort of lean back into her and whisper into her ear that I have a knee injury.

It is a total non-event but after class my wife looks at me and is like what the f? it looked like you were going to do some martial arts move on the yoga teacher. Haha so funny. Welcome to yoga biker boy. But even after that totally lame entry into yoga I was hooked. Now the yoga we are doing is not your gentle stretching yoga. It is a Power Flow yoga in a heated room or Hot Yoga. Baron Baptiste popularized this style and a lot of the teachers hail from his school and tutelage. The studio we go to is in Needham and Wellesley and called Hyp Studio. It has totally ruined me for cycling. Well ruined is perhaps dramatic but close. From age 12-22 I was obsessed with Martial Arts. Way before it was cool and popularized by MMA I was going into south station to learn Northern Longfist Kung Fu from a chinese master. Hot Yoga is ten times harder than that. And Kung Fu was hard! The only difference between Kung Fu and Hot Yoga is I don't have matching black eyes and cracked ribs every week!
But back to the Yoga. I am somewhat joking of course that it has ruined me for riding. Really in two short months it has healed me from a lot of my old cross injuries. I swear I have been dealing with a sports hernia for over a year from a crash I took in the forest of Lowellenberg in 2008. I got zero traction from my doctor when I described the pain and tearing feeling. It really sucks to be a low-maintenance fairly healthy patient in our health care system. I could have cancer and it would be years before my Dr would even order the tests. But all those weird nagging injuries are almost healed. Its crazy.

A few disclaimers about hot yoga. You will suck. I really suck. I have no balance. I have no strength. You think you are strong and then the whole class is doing some crazy ninja move and you have to take child's pose on the floor. Not pretty. It is HOT. Its called Hot Yoga afterall. But it can be really hot. You'll feel dizzy. You might want to puke. But that is part of the character building part of it and why for me it is a perfect balance to cycling. Cycling and racing is all about suffering and character. How we suffer is a testament to our character right? Hyp Studio for me right now is a bit of a Church or Shrine or Dojo or what ever you want to call it. Its way more than a physical practice which is what is drawing me deeper and deeper into it. What they have at Hyp Studio is a gift. You just don't get this type of thing in the 'burbs. They have incredible master teachers, the studio is designed like a spa, and the classes themselves while hard are very welcoming and open.

The challenge for me will be how to marry the two. I don't even know if it can be done in the middle of "real" riding season. It is perfect for winter. You have the fire (yoga) with the ice (riding outside in the cold!) they are such a beautiful balance right now. Doing yoga is also helping me realize just how bad biking is for you. My god we eat crap, drink crap and then ride for hours to make it all "right" I have got to stop eating like a 12 year old fat kid. Seriously. We wonder why we gain so much weight every winter. Our bodies, especially masters, just shouldn't have to process all this sugar and carbs.

If you live near Needham or Wellesley I highly recommend you checking out Hyp Studio for one of their classes. It really is a unique opportunity and a unique place. Ok off to get a bit of a ride in before this next storm hits us. Hopefully it won't be anything like what they are dealing with down in the MAC. Oh one last bit, the one thing Hot Yoga practitioners seem to share with bikers? Tattoos. There is a big guy who I see pretty often in class no lie he has a full back tattoo of the Punisher! Crazy. Most people seem to have the prerequisite dragon across their shoulder blades or perhaps a henna style wrapping around an ankle here an ankle there. But the Punisher? Damn that just rocks my world every time I see it!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Cool Ride Single Speeds

Mike Ferrentino wrote that article for me 16 years ago when I was editor for a small regional bike rag in Northern California. Dear god I am so friggin old. Where does the time go? But I digress. The point is it is still sooo true even more than a decade later. The whole single speed thing to me is sort of an anomaly. Back almost two decades ago it was kind of revolutionary. Certainly the guys (and girls) doing it were making a huge statement. And in Northern California a statement in spades as out there the terrain is either steep as shit up or steep as shit down. Hard to pick the right gear for that. But I drank the koolaid. Chopped my purple Bridgestone MB-2 had Jeremy Sycip weld horizontal dropouts on and made a frankensinglespeed. I dug it. But it was more of a lifestyle than a riding style for me and I just had to kind of step away from it. For lots of reasons. I still hold that whole Santa Cruz crew in the highest of esteem. They live in a kind of biker Valhalla in my mind's eye still do as they are all rocking it out there.

But being so far removed from it at this point I have a whole new perspective on it. Single speeding contrary to some peoples opinions is a solid equipment choice. Mike Rowell got 3rd in the Open single speed cat and then went 5th in the 1/2/3 race at Ice Weasles on the same single speed. Now granted Ice Weasels was a crazy cross course that put a massive premium on bike handling. But all the gears in the world wasn't going to save your ass at Ice Weasels if you didn't know how to ride in snow and ice.
Single speeding has infected cross like an avian flu...well that's not totally accurate. Its more like a nice French press coffee percolating to heavenly perfection offering a totally different experience racing cross. A few hard riders on the right course can do well on a single speed cross bike against geared riders but those cases are super rare. But as a one design Open competition it levels the field, literally, and turns the victory over to the rider with the strongest quads, best bike handling skills and most moxy. But take a single speed and throw it in the woods in its 26" or 29er mtn bike configuration and now you have a performance "advantage." This is where my brain kind of wants to explode because it makes no sense. But denying the facts when they are in front of you is the quickest route to insanity.

I've been back on the east coast for five years. I openly admitted hating the mountain biking back here. There are obvious reasons for this. I am old and naturally timid. Hahaha, well pretty much that is true I am kind of fragile. But after 5 years and riding with some people who actually know what they are doing I've gotten less fearful and have adapted some better skills to tackle the terrain. And yes, disc brakes and some sweet sexy ti goodness from somerville has made me a bit more at ease.

But back to the single speeds. What has blown me away is the level of riding of my friends who ride single speed. What they are able to do on rigid single speed is nothing short of mind blowing. I have maybe five friends who use a single speed either as option A or a very solid option B. All have phenomenal technical ability. Not Banned 3 Colt Fake type skills but close. Riding with David Wilcox on tuesday in Hale reservation was kind of the exclamation point to the epiphany. Again not to seem like I am daft, but a single speed should be a disadvantage on technical terrain right? Or the rider should end up running a lot right? WRONG. They end up riding so much faster than a geared rider (because they are strong as hell and have to to keep momentum) that they put the geared rider into a spot of bother almost immediately. Mind blowing and puke inducing.

The other resultant observation is that riding single speeds forces the rider or maybe tranforms the rider into a smooth absolute bike Ninja. If you can't smash through things with suspension you are forced to flow over it like water. Crazy. Now I am not saying I would ever consider riding or racing a single speed mountain bike. Its just by riding with them I am either going to self combust and burst into flames on the side of the trail or become a wayyy better mountain biker. The one common denominator in all this? Could it be the Viking beards? True 3 out of five of my good friends who ride single speeds have impressive beards. But I don't think that's the whole story. I think a lot of its big phat tires and some serious mental and physical toughness and of course the most important bit they are just Cool as hell.