Monday, March 30, 2009

Cycling spring break.

Notre Dame road race: three laps of a 10-mile loop with a good-size hill that dropped me further back each time. Not a great result, but it was my first B-race, so I didn't have many expectations anyway. Following the race, we drove the rest of the day to Georgia. Got lost on the way and finally arrived at 5am, exhausted.

Easy 35-mile recon ride to initially scope out the area. Realized quickly that flats don't exist, just rolling hills. Even the highways in Blairsville seem like heaven compared to the ugly pothole riding in Evanston.

Large group ride, all fifteen of us. 58 miles total, including a 4-mile climb up Neel's Gap. Already I'm learning how to shift more smoothly and what climbing style suits my body best, as well as how to descend with more control. By drafting a heavier rider down a descent, I managed to reach 44.1mph.

Eight of us completed a 35-mile route that took us over three gaps: Neels Gap, Woody Gap, and Wolf Pen Gap. The latter two climbs have been in the Tour de Georgia, and we could still see painted names of pro riders on the roads. I'm starting to understand the rhythm of climbing.

28-mile recovery ride. Legs and butt so very sore.

Last day in Georgia, all of us drove out to the famous Brasstown Bald mountain. Highest peak in Georgia, 2.5 miles of a beyond-category climb. The fog was so thick that it felt like I was riding right into the clouds. I went so slowly that it took me over half an hour to get up, but the feeling of reaching the summit was unbeatable.

Loaded up all the cars, said goodbye to the dear cabin, and drove all day to Michigan.

Pictures from Georgia: one, two, three.

Michigan State road race: four laps of a 5-mile loop. I was unable to mark an early attack by a strong UChicago girl, so I spent the majority of the race chasing the front group with my teammate Emma. We efficiently shared the work and managed to stave off the rest of the pack behind us, placing 9th and 10th.

UMichigan circuit race: six laps of a 2.2-mile loop. Damn UChicago girl again attacked up the first hill. Like an idiot, I chased her hard for a lap, and then was so out of breath that I immediately dropped back the next lap. Still, I finished with my teammate Hannah in 5th and 6th place.

Pictures from the race weekend: one, two, three, four


Spring break in Georgia introduced me to swallowing pain. I surprised myself every day with how I could continue going up and up despite the hurting. Knowing that my body can take much more than I think it can is a confidence-booster that I will use to hammer away at the remaining races this season.

Bike-racing is beautiful in its unpredictability and its vast room for improvement. There are lessons gained with each race that I do -- tactical lessons, as well as physical and mental ones. I feel like I'm nowhere near hitting my potential with racing, and that is huge incentive to keep learning and keep moving up. The end of this year will not be the end of my racing endeavors.

Riding bikes aside, spending time with my teammates made spring break so very memorable. We laughed hard and much, ate a lot, learned about each other, encouraged each other, suffered with each other, and enjoyed beautiful rides and different places together. These people are dear to me.

So sad to see the week end.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Simple is best.

Trout: pan-fried in olive oil, scented with thyme and oregano
Asparagus: steamed, tossed with salt, pepper, and lemon zest

And to round out the meal, pita bread with artichoke-and-spinach hummus. Everything ready in 15 minutes, faster than take-out.

Trout and salmon are my favorite types of fish. Meaty texture, so flavorful that it stands well even without seasonings, hard to overcook, packed with juicy fats.

I'm the designated chef for my cycling team over spring break. Sixteen of us are renting a sweet cabin (clearly the best part is the hot tub!) in Blairsville, Georgia for the week to do some of the mountainous rides that are featured each year in the Tour of Georgia. That said, there will be sixteen ravenous mouths to feed, and the task will be a good measure of my home-chef skills. I will have lots of helping hands, but the organization and execution is my challenge.

I'm planning on making simple comfort foods that can be prepared in huge batches. So far, there will be bean chili and cornbread, eggplant parmesan, grilled Jamaican jerk chicken, some classic Indian dishes, huge home-made pizzas, and lots of side vegetables. Cooking for people is the way I show my love, after all.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Depauw race.

(All photos by Clara, and the rest can be seen here or here.)

Road race on Saturday. I was looking forward to this immensely as my first experience of road racing.

Start of the road race with a pileup. All of my teammates
remained upright.
Left to right: Emma, Hannah, me, Axie.
I hung towards the front of the pack with my teammates until three miles in, when there was a crash on a descent, which broke up the group into chunks. I dodged the crash, but also lost the front group, so I stuck with Emma. Two miles later, my chain became irretrievably lodged and knotted around my crank when I tried to shift down in front, and much to my frustration, I had to stop. It later took four people to get my chain out. Fucking bike.

Axie and Hannah were both in the initial crash. Axie somehow lost her shoes, which made for a hilarious story, although this meant that she and Hannah spent the next 20 miles in no-man's land, hammering away with no cover, trying to gain lost time. Valiant effort.

Lots of crashes in the sketchy men's D race, three for Greg here.

Men's A started with a breakaway that neither Will nor Josh could catch. Will spent the whole time in a chase, then solo-ed the last 10 miles, coming in 7th. Josh hung with the pack, and finished top 20 with a field sprint into a headwind.

Clara pulling hard trying to move up in the pack, eventually finishing in a top 10. She followed a sprint attack a full 300 meters from the finish.

A lot of the day was spent watching races and hearing recaps in the cargo van. I love these guys. A candid video here:

Saturday evening was the team time trial. TTT's are composed of groups of 2-4 riders. Teams roll out one-by-one, are timed against the clock, and times are compared afterwards. The finishing time is measured by the second rider across the line.

The course was a flat 5-mile out-and-back course, with a tailwind there and a strong headwind back. We girls team had done a pacelining practice a couple days before the race, which felt smooth and comfortable, but the windy conditions on Saturday made us nervous.

Starting off: me, Axie, Emma, Hannah

The pace on the way out was steady and brisk, 20-23, but the way back was brutal. Following the turn back, our paceline became broken as we struggled against the wind. I dropped off with a mile or more to go, both because we only needed two to finish, and because the wind was making it difficult for me to maintain the draft. Emma dropped off a bit later, and Hannah and Axie took the finish for a win over the competing Depauw.

The TTT will take some more practice, both individually and as a unit.

I opted out of the criterium on Sunday, due to my still-fresh wounds (check 'em out!) from a ride this past Thursday. The race was impossible anyway. Unbelievable wind gusts of up to maybe 30-40mph plus spotty rain made biking riding difficult.

I have strong teammates, which is a huge motivation to get better myself. Race weekends are fun, yes, but I do need to get more serious about improving, moving up in the pack, learning some tactics, and dealing with suffering. I want to improve as my teammates improve. I'm not as athletically aggressive as I need to be in order to consistently hang with the people in front, and I frequently allow negative psychology to get in the way of doing what I could otherwise manage.

There are two clear-cut aspects to competitive cycling. The obvious is the physical and mental aspects that allows you to hurt but still provide power over an hour or more of racing. The other is how to race intelligently: where to be in the pack, when to be in front, and when to follow, how much effort to give and when. Poor tactical choices make for inefficient riding and could take a race away from the fittest rider. At this point, I'm not the strongest, and I'm not very smart. These shortcomings will take work and much more experience to solve, but I am patient.

I had a conversation with Will this weekend, in which he described to me his road race not in terms of how his legs hurt or lungs burned, but in terms of what, tactically, he was thinking while he raced. It occurred to me that I think more about the former rather than the latter, and that is precisely what I need to change.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

MSU Race.

This weekend was too much fun. Summary: First place on Saturday. Ass handed to me on Sunday. Read on.

Our team loaded up four cars and made the drive to Kentucky on Friday. We didn't make it to our Super 8 until after midnight, at which point we set our alarms for 6:45am and promptly went to bed.

typical hotel room of a cycling team -- bikes and parts everywhere

Bike races are divided up into different categories, starting with Cat A as the most advanced. Out of reluctance to race 32 miles in the horrid weather, or perhaps just out of nervousness, I opted to race the short 16-mile Intro category. This was a big mistake. I ended up winning the thing with little effort, and so didn't learn anything about road race tactics. I stayed with one girl the entire way, and out-sprinted her to the finish.

pre-race, when I was still dry

The course consisted of a lot of rolling hills through scenic Kentucky countryside, which would have been beautiful had I not been soaked to the bone with freezing rain. The cold seeped into my core, and it took me at least two hours afterwards before I could stop shivering.

Since my race was first, I spent the rest of the day watching the other races and supporting my teammates. Here's a (poorly-shot) video of one of our Cat A guys coming in an impressive 4th.

Back to the hotel, nap, dinner at a pizza place, hotel, massage train, bedtime.

Sunday was the crit, or criterium. These types of races are held on short courses for a specified period of time, rather than distance. Ours was less than a mile long, and snaked around a parking lot with over a dozen corners. Add some finicky bike handlers and some nervous riding to that technical course, and you're just asking for crashes. People went down left and right.

I came out tired, but thankfully unscathed. Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I rode in the Cat B/C race this time, which had some really strong riders who dominated the race from the start. I was lapped mid-race, but I hardly noticed because the short course was soon strung out end to end with riders.

I started the crit with no expectations, so I really enjoyed myself, despite wanting to die everytime I hit the windy and uphill stretch of the course. For starters, it was really good cornering practice. It took me a while to get used to whipping around the corners, but by the end of 30 minutes, I had stopped braking altogether. I consider that a success.

me and mah girlz, post-race on Saturday

Following the crit, we loaded up, grabbed food, and drove back home to snowy Evanston.

I love being on this team. It gives me so much to look forward to : Depauw race next week, spring break in Georgia, four or five more races after that. I only spent about two hours racing this weekend, and the rest of it was spent lolling about with great people. Collegiate cycling is something I now wish I had started from day one. What took me so long?