Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lance and the FDA

As I write this, I know that the government is exploring the possibility of legal action, of some sort, against, possibly, Lance Armstrong.  It is bizarre to me that the agency that might pursue this action is the Food and Drug Administration.   In principal, I get it.   In modern times, cheating often means ingesting drugs that enhance performance. 

In cycling, blood is a big deal.  If I could manipulate my otherwise pathetic blood so that my hematocrit jumped to, say, 49, the UCI limit, it would make a difference.  I would be like Thor, god of Thunder.  I would have “wind”, as they say.  I could actually win a race, methinks.

Lance Armstrong is accused of this.  To date, the government has not bothered to make public any of its intentions.  Troubling- the delicate balance between the necessity of confidentiality and the demand of public disclosure.  After all, the Food and Drug Administration is a public agency.  I always thought they tried their best to make our food safe.  Yet, people become sick and even die from contaminated food every year.  To my knowledge, the FDA does not plan to accuse Lance Armstrong of killing anyone.  Yet, without public disclosure of the government’s case, at this time, how do we know what the government is investigating or why?

Mind you, I am a lawyer.  I take sides.  I started to ride a bike because of Lance Armstrong.  Naturally, I am disinclined to be enthusiastic about the government’s case.  I used to be a government lawyer myself.  A U.S. Army reservist, I transferred from the infantry to the Judge Advocate’s General Corps when I was admitted to the bar.  I understand the ethics.  The government lawyer has a duty to the public.

Yet, Lance Armstrong is most likely being accused of sports fraud in France.  He was investigated for sports fraud in France by French prosecutors and the investigation dismissed for lack of credible evidence.   What is the proper venue to allege that an American committed a crime in a different country? 

To me, there is a question of standing.  Does the FDA have standing to charge Lance Armstrong with a crime?  In order for the FDA to move forward, it would seem that they would have to prove that Lance Armstrong committed a crime in the United States.  What is a crime exactly?  In this case, it is assumed that the FDA is looking at whether public funds were used to purchase performance enhancing drugs in a different country in order to improve performance for a race in a different country.  This seems weird to me.  The gist of the FDA’s case, then, must be that public funds were used to buy drugs. Yet, is it within the FDAs mandate to investigate the misuse of public funds? I thought the FDA had something to do with food or drugs. 
The connection that the FDA is trying to make has to do with the United States Postal Service. While Lance Armstrong dominated races in a completely different country, his team was sponsored by the United States Postal Service, a quasi-government agency. 

Benjamin Franklin, no less, established the first version of the U.S. Mail in 1775 and it is the only government agency mentioned in the US Constitution.  However, in 1971, it evolved into an independent agency under the Postal Reorganization Act.   As such, it is an independent establishment of the executive branch.  During the time Lance Armstrong raced his bike in a completely different country, the Postal Service did not directly receive any taxpayer dollars and had not since the early 1980s.
This begs two questions: (1) if the FDA has to prove public funds were used to buy drugs, does the FDA have a case when no taxpayer dollars were used to sponsor Lance Armstrong’s team?  (2) Even if there are complicated rules and monetary structures that satisfies the Judge on the first question, why the FDA?  Put differently, why does the FDA have a dog in this fight?  Shouldn’t it be the U.S.Postal Service that investigates and charges Lance Armstrong for defrauding the postal service?  The postal service has one of the oldest law enforcement agencies and has huge power to investigate fraud related to not only the delivery of mail but to its own operations.  If the postal service does not case, why does the FDA of all agencies?
Having been a government lawyer for a brief time, I can say that “politics” plays a bigger role in the public sector.  If the postal service does not think there is a case, why does the FDA? Ambition? 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is ATP?

I read this today:  "[t]he ability to maintain prolonged exercise is dependent on the ability to match the rate of ATP supply to the rate of ATP utilisation. If this cannot be achieved then the rate of ATP use must fall and power output will decline."

I used to know what ATP was.  Not really.  But, it sounds familiar.  

Apparently, ATP is required for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. As the work of the muscle increases, more and more ATP gets consumed and must be replaced in order for the muscle to keep moving. ATP is complex chemical compound that is formed with the energy released from food and is then stored in all cells, particularly muscles. Only from the energy released by the breakdown of this compound can the cells perform work.

Thus, without ATP, the muscles will not work.  There, direct and to the point.  

I then read that "training" increases the "availability of carbohydrate and lipid as substrate to meet cellular needs for ATP resynthesis."  (Why can't these guys speak English?)  I think this means that training leads to physiological adaptations that "make ATP last longer." I put that in quotes because it is my term of of art and should be in quotes.  

But, here is my question:  what adaptations?  What kind of training "makes ATP last longer?"  This time of year, I always ask:  does riding for hours and hours at zone 2 really maximize the type of adaptations that lead to efficient ATP synthesis? 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Meet The Team

Today was our annual Meet the Team ride.  It is a chance for local riders to ride with us and learn more about road racing.  Visit our team's website to learn more about our team and how to join. http://narrowsvelo.org/

The weather fooled us. I expected rain and we were met instead with glorious sunshine.  We all started out with arm warmers, full fingered gloves and vests.  That all stripped away as we rode.  

Out of Gig Harbor, we started the rollers, regrouping as we went along.  Easy pace that picked up to faux threshold pacelines on occasion. It is nice to ride for a change without feeling like you need to throw down.  I truly love September - rain or shine.  

Here are a few pictures.  

John Rodgers, our Prez addressing Congress

The Roll Out

The road, riding near Ollala.  Glorious!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The term "bellwether" comes from middle english.  Apparently the Middle Englanders placed a bell around the neck of a castrated Ram.  A castrated Ram is a "wether." The flock of sheep would follow the bell toting eunech by listening to the bell ring.  In modern usage, bellwether is any presage of a future event. 

I read today that the French Anti-doping Agency will cooperate with the USDA's investigation of the former U.S. Postal Cycling Team and Lance Armstrong by providing, if asked, Lance's 1999 blood samples.  I think I hear a bell ringing.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

When a Rider Runs

I am training for the Portland Marathon to be held on October 10th.  Why couldn't Phidippides have passed out and died after 18 miles?!  26.2 is a long, long way on foot.  The amazing thing is that the real Phidippides only died after 26.2 miles because he had run to Sparta and back (from Athens) just before his historic run from Marathon battlefield to Athens.  The distance to Sparta is 140 miles!  Think about that.  The dude runs 280 miles, then 26.2.  Thank god they DO NOT have running races called "Spartas".  No doubt there are people who would run it. 

As for me, I am up to 15 miles but strained my hamstring.  I heard that 25% of people who sign up for Marathons do not show up for race day due to injuries related to training. I believe that!  I might be one of the 25%. 

I am offended by the price tag.  Bike races are cheap.  $25.00 bucks lets you suffer in a pack of animals.  The Portland marathon is $130.00 dollars.  Of course, they actually hand out water and gatorade.  There are also people taking pictures of you on the course and there are medical tents and massages available after the race. At bike races, the rednecks just throw beer cans at us.  You get what you pay for.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I, like many cyclists, was introduced to the sport by a friend.  He did triathlons, knew all about the Tour de France and bugged me to give it a try.  This friend, I noticed, had several bikes. As a rookie, I asked him about that and he pointed out that he had to have a “rain bike.” 

Once I became addicted to riding, I often asked him to ride with me.  Over the years, I have noticed that this particular friend does not actually ride his “rain bike”, or any other bike for that matter, when it is raining.   This, of course, means that my friend doesn’t ride his bike at all.

I do not understand that.  Cycling is not entirely about comfort.  On many occasions, it is about enduring.  We do it because that is what cyclists do.  I know that sounds ridiculous.  I imagine some would say it is cliché.  They don’t ride.

On Saturday, I rode the Tour de Blast, a 80 miles out and back ride that climbs to the Mt St Helens observation center.  In good weather, it is a hard ride.  The ride has a big dip in the middle which is Latin for “you climb on the way out AND the way back”.

This particular ride, was particularly “cliché”.  My new word for “miseable”.  For all of my followers in California, it has rained a lot in the Northwest this year.  (In the Northwest, there are four cycling seasons “Rain,” “More Rain”, “Still Raining” and “Road Construction.”)  This year has been about the worst.  

The ride started out with an annoying mist.  Getting ready in the parking lot, I ran into my 5th grade daughter’s teacher.  She is new to cycling and was riding with her husband and another couple.  I, of course, had to be cool and refused to wear winter gloves.  She, I thought, is new.  She is overdressing.  I was arrogant. 

I started out blissfully happy as we motored along.  I was climbing well and road with team mate, Tom Hackleman.   I used the wrong verb.  Hackleman tortured me until bored and then handed me my lunch.  Actually, Hackleman dropped me not once but three times.  The first time, I just popped.  The second time, he got a flat and I was too cold to do anything but holler at him as I passed "Are you ok?"  After he caught me and shelled me again, he stopped to pee only to fly by me near the final summit.  I responded with words that can not be repeated here but “riggin” and “frickin” were two of the words I remember.

After climbing an hour and a half or so, we began the first big descent.  This descent sat in fog and the temperature dropped.  There was no spectacular views. In fact, there were no views at all the entire day.  Nothing but the despair of a fog that Jack the Ripper would have found homey.  Through the fog, one could hear the faint but increasingly louder wail of ambulances, shuttling hypothermic riders from the mountain. 

But, suffering is a meal best served with company.  On the descent, Hackleman and I shivered so uncontrollably, we could not control our bikes.  The speed of the descent and the inversion, forced me to pull over and break out my backup gear, all of it wet.  Tom's lower face was a deathly blue but, urging me on, he got me going again in search of the final climb. Relief!  As the heart rate jumped, so did our core temperature. I have to say, this was the first massive ride like Tour de Blast I have done in which I preferred, by far, the climbs to the descents. 

(Cycling Tip.  You can descend faster in a tuck that you can pedaling.  But, on cold weather days, DO NOT TUCK on a major descent.  First, the faster you go in bad weather, the colder your body becomes.  Second, your body is pissed at you and pays you back when you pedal again for the climb.  I don’t know where the blood goes during your fancy tuck but it has definitely left your legs. The bloodless, blue clumps of bone and flesh attached to the pedals become worthless.)

Through a few breaks, I could spot the weather.  In some cases, below us in the valleys, dementing clouds hovered like hawks looking for mice on bikes. Fog to the left and above, something else.   If you have ever seen "Ten Commandants" with Charleston Heston, you will not doubt remember the scene where a dark and sinister cloud descends upon Egypt to strike the first born son of any home that not marked for the passover.  In the movie, this cloud was the Angel of Death.   Above me, I imagined the Angel’s hand outreached.  Over the remnants of the 1980 blast zone,  St. Helen’s hand made the Angel of Death’s grip look infirm by comparison.   

Yet, there is something about weather.  In 1988, American Andy Hampsten wrote himself into the history books because he assaulted the Passo Gavia during a blizzard. Covered in snow, riders abandoned and he pedaled on.  He literally passed competitors cowering alongside the road. 

I am not comparing the 2010 Tour de Blast to the 1988 Giro.  However, I did remember Hampsten’s effort and it gave me encouragement.  Bad weather days are the days to do something great.  The sky is not blue but it is dramatic. 

I am clearly not the only one that feels this way. Despite the conditions, there were lots of riders.  People on weird bikes.   A hand pedaled bike lumbered up the slope.  A few recumbants.  Occasionally, a mountain bike.  Yellow, red and blue cycling jackets worn by silent men and women of all ages.  Scores of humans on the slope, all of them tough.   I saw a guy with a plastic bag on his head and thought of my friend at home with his rain bike in the basement, nice and warm.  What is worse?  Riding in the rain for six hours or sitting on the couch for six minutes?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lance's Melon

To the occasional annoyance of my fellow bike racers, I often analogize bike racing ot the Army.  In both worlds, team loyalty is important and you get up really early to get your job done.  Let’s face it, we do more by  1:00 pm on Saturday than most people do all weekend.

Here is my most recent analogy.  Amateur bike racing is to the Reserves what pro bike racing is to Active Duty.  Sure, they have the big budgets with top of the line equipment.  But, in amateur bike racing we have diverse talent.  While the pros have so called “experts” at their disposals, we have talented, educated and creative people in our ranks from diverse backgrounds.   There is a huge asset that is occasionally leveraged by the enlightened.
Case in point, Walt Nestell.  Walt is on our team, Old Town Bicycle Race Team.  He has raced for years.  He is understated.  Humble.  I knew he was creative as I purchased some shoe covers that he made.  They match the blue of our kits and they rock. 

However, I had no idea he made custom helmets for skiing and, more importantly, cycling. Here is how I found out. Today, Walt posted on our team site a little anecdote.  He was contacted to go to Hawaii to build a custom TT helmet for an athlete.  You guessed it, Lance Armstrong.  Apparently, Lance wants to go faster this year in the TT at some race they hold in France.  Lance is known for innovation and trying new things.  No idea how he knew of Walt but somehow Walt got the call.

Many of you probably have seen this Youtube video.  Apparently, this was shot out of Walt’s car as they conducted comparison testing.

Here is a photo of Walt constructing the mold of Lance’s head for the custom fit helmet.

Another photo

Get this, apparently Lance warms up on a trainer in the parking lot just like we do. 

A better look at Walt's design. 

Now I know that Walt has a company and can build customized helmets. Here is his website.  Check it out. http://www.speedski.com/speed/

Anecdotes about Lance.  Walt reports that Lance is very nice and his hospitality was amazing.  Walt was provided accommodations in a five start hotel in Hawaii as he worked on the project.

Walt is also doing some design work for Darth Vadar: 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bubble Gum Race

We call it "the course."  It is a "flat course", "brutal course", a "fast course."  We are talking about the roads we race.  We use the word "course" because, in part, we race the same roads over and over.  Mason Lake, Sequim, Independence Valley.  The excitement is the race, not the repetitive road.  

With that said, I am always interested in new "courses."  I recently visited Pike Place Market.  I stumbled onto "Post Alley" and the Bubble Gum Wall. 

No idea how it started but there is a portion on the cobbled alley that leads up to the Market upon which there is wall covered in used gum.  Disgusting really but for the artistic value. 

When I first saw it, there was no real explanation for all of the gum. My most recent trip to the shrine, I noticed a bubble gum machine.  Gas to the fire. 

Cyclists should note that I used the word "cobbled."  Granted, the Puget Sound does not have 28 sections of cobbles as does the road from Paris to Roubaix.  But, we do have the bubble gum wall. 

So, here is my idea.  Mass start from Tacoma, down Levy Road, up the STP route but onto Duwasmish trail into Seattle with the finish at the Bubble Gum Wall.  Winner gets a bag of donut holes from the Market!  

Pics from the Race. 

Heading to the Start

The Finish

Bike Racks in the Assembly Area

When you finish the race, it required to replenish the wall!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Training Unplugged

I am not a proponent of training with technology.  The day I unstrapped myself from my heart rate monitor and took my power tap off my bike was a day of liberation.  I now return from rides and I do not know what time it is let alone my average watts, speed and cadence.  

I should explain that I worked with a coach for quite some time when I began to race.  I also obsessively uploaded and analyzed by stats to include power, heart race, speed and all the other data.   I believe in periodization and structured training.  But there are ways to gather gauge your performance by simply paying attention to your body and your racing.  Here are a few examples. 

How to Tell When You Are Peaking
You know you are peaking when you assume you have a tailwind but you don't.  Or, you keep flicking your elbow for your wheel man to take his pull and no one is there.  Or, you keep wondering when the neutral roll out is over and the pack will start racing. 

How to Tell When Your Peak is Over
You know your peak is over when you keep looking down to see if your brake pad is rubbing.  You ask team mates to check if your back tire is low.  You keep shifting down but there are no more gears. 

How to Tell When Your are at Threshold
You know you are at threshold when you feel your heart where your tonsils used to be.   You catch yourself trying to breath through your tongue.  Or it feels like you forgot to take your blood pressure medicine that morning. 

How to Tell When You are Over Threshold
You know you are over your threshold when it feel like your heart fell down into your stomach.  Or, even the words you are thinking are slurred.  You feel like your sunglasses suddenly went two shades darker.

How to Tell When You are Over Trained, i.e, Burnt Out
In the Wenatchee TT, you think about work.  In the Wenatchee Crit, you envy the due who loses his chain.  In the Wenatchee Road Race, you ask one of the spectators if they have a gun.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Lull

If a road race is over 30 miles and assuming it is NOT an uphill finish, in a noticeable number of cases, the pack will hesitate somewhere around 3 to 1 K to go.  It is a lull - a breather.  The thing that surprises me is that the guys in the middle part and back of the field do not elbow their way forward.  The guys in the front adjust, drink some water and reflect on the sprint finish that is coming.  I guess the guys in the back are just apathetic. Not their day.  Tired. 

I first noticed "the Lull" last year at Dung #2 and literally yelled at the 1K mark "will you PLEASE just GO!"  Like I always say, if you can't beat em at least try to persuade them!  It happened again at Dung this year, at IVRR and yesterday at Ravensdale, just before the last corner. 

Velo News points out that Cancellera won three races in three consecutive weekends: E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke, Flanders and then Paris Roubaix.  In each race he attacked at 50K to go.  In Paris Roubaix, the attack was so definitive, he was not required to attack again.  So, here is my thought - in Pro races, "the lull" is 50K to go!  If you look at Paris Roubaix, Cancellera's main competitor paused at 50K.  Sank back to the cars.  A drink of water.  The lull.  Those in the lull no doubt thought that any rational racer would do the same.  50K is a long way out and those who were there would surely finish together.  Save for the sprint. 

Personally, I do not care much about winning for myself.  I do care about racing.  As long as a team mate wins, it was an awesome day! Here is my conclusion:  in order to beat opponents, it would be better to shell some of them before the sprint.  Just saying.  IVRR ended in a crash.  I was second wheel at 1K during the lull and selfishly waited for the sprint.  BIG mistake.  A roadside bomb went off at 50 meter line and we ended up in the ditch. Had there been an attack at 1K, the result of the race would have been different. 

This is why bike racing is a team sport.  1K to go is a LONG, LONG way.  It might as well be 50K to go. 
I am as impatient with amateur fantasies about "tactics" as the next guy, but a team that could put 2 or 3 on the attack during the lull,  would be well nigh unbeatable assuming they had a ringer or two to exploit it.  Clearly, this is exactly what the pros do.  At our level, I have never seen it. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Master

I like Phil Mikelson and was happy to see him win the Masters this year.  I also acknowledge that Golf is difficult.  As Phil approached the 18th hole on the last round of the 2010 Masters Tournament, he looked as if he was actually glistening with sweat from his exertion - or from the sun.  To shoot back to back eagles is difficult to imagine. The last time I golfed, I hit a Buick.   

At the same time Phil worked his way into Master's history, Fabian Cancellera also made history by winning Paris Roubaix.  For the one reader who is not a cyclist, Paris Roubaix is regarded as the most difficult single day bike race in the professional race calendar.  It is difficult because many parts of the race are over cobble stone roads in France and Belgium.  Cancellera won by viciously attacking a selection of some of the best racers in the world and literally rode away from them. He created a gap of twenty seconds that became more than two minutes.  This was accomplished a week after a similar performance a week after the Tour of Flanders.  

Cancellera is in a class of his own.  I personally think he might be the Eddie Merckx of our era. Yet, most Americans have never heard of him. 

The following day, I stopped by a coffee shop.  Newspapers broadcast the good news:  PHIL MICKELSON WINS THE MASTERS.  All of the newspapers had the same or similar headline.  I picked up a copy.  I knew I would be disappointed but I wanted to read about Cancellera.  I turned to the Sports section.  I was surprised to see a regurgitation about the Masters tournament on the front page of the Sports Section.  And the second and third pages.  Shouldn't a story about Golf be in the Lifestyle section?  Shrugging my shoulder, I turned to page 2 to read about Cancellera.  Nothing.  Surely, on page 3.  Page 4?  The back page?  

Back at the office, I googled for news stories about Paris Roubaix.  Here is what I found from the New York Times: 

Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won the Paris-Roubaix race in France, capturing the event for a second time and claiming his second victory in a one-day classic in eight days. He won by two minutes a week after his victory in the Tour of Flanders. 

Better than nothing. 

For the cycling fans, if you are not already depressed, this next tidbit will do it for sure.  The person who secured second place in the Masters tournament, was awarded a cash prize that amounted to $200,000 more than the first place winner of last year's Tour de France.  Fabian Cancellera raced his bike for about six and half hours at an average speed of twenty five miles per hour into headwinds and over roads that are centuries old.  He likely burned more calories in the race than Phil Mickelson ingested the entire four days of the Masters tournament.  Cancellera probably won less cash prize money than Mickelson's caddy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We Could Take up Golfing

In eight days, from Tuesday March 23rd to Tuesday, March 30th, Old Town team members had raced in four separate races and suffered 3 crashes.  One, depicted below, was particularly stressful. (I am the racer in the white and blue upon whom the Old Town member with his wheels in the air is landing).

There is nothing funny about crashes.  It takes a lot out of the sport.  Good athletes are injured. Most are stiff and sore from a crash for a few weeks but are racing again in a week or so.  Others are more seriously injured.  A small minority of racers who crash are injured badly enough that they are not able  or are unwilling to return to the sport.

I have suffered four crashes during races.  One was silly and I barely remember it.  The second crash took me to a hospital in an ambulance and the third knocked me unconscious for a few minutes.

The fourth crash, the one shown, happened at Independence Valley Road Race and was the most dramatic.  I am lucky that I only suffered bruising and minor scrapes.  The dude next to me screamed "Oh My God! Oh My God! My neck!"  He went on like that for awhile and then jumped up and walked away.

Another victim of the crash is reported as having a broken collar bone and a shredded ear.

Crashes are caused by a lot of things.  Most typically, they are caused by human error.  Fatigue simply makes one lose concentration.  Muscles become wobbly.  Speed requires quick reactions and oxygen deprivation slows reaction times. Wheels cross.  Then comes the sound.  It starts as a swirling sound.  In just an instant, the wheels start to go in the wrong direction.  No longer rotating, rubber begins to turn sideways and rub against the pavement. This has its own sound.  Not a terribly unpleasing sound.  A gentle swirl. It is only unsettling because it is always the precursor to much more terrible sounds, the sound of an eminent crash, the sounds every racer has heard.  At that sound, adrenaline is released.  After the crash, you can taste it in your mouth, the bitter taste of adrenaline. 

The next sound is guttural.  In desperation, the racer tries to correct.  I have seen these efforts work occasionally but mostly the efforts to avoid the crash are futile.  Bodies twist and torque, men groan and begin to curse, then the sound of crashing metal, bones, plastic and pavement.  In bad crashes, it comes in waves as subsequent racers pile into the carnage.

Then comes a almost comforting moment of silence.  The physical violence has ended and the emotional violence has yet to begin.  It begins with swearing.  Angry words that can not be repeated here. For some reasons, there is a gut reaction to blame.  Always, it is the sketchy rider who is to blame - he swerved when he should not have. He stopped after the finish line when he should have kept sprinting.  He kept going when he should have stopped.  Even the pros try to blame the Joe Sketchy.  He is always from a different team.

Apparently, it never occurs to the battle wounded that even the best racers in the world, the "pros", crash all the time. The best riders in the world who are paid to ride and train constantly crash in every race.  They break collar bones, necks, backs and arms.  Sometimes they get up and sometimes they do not. I recall Lance Armstrong almost causing a crash in the Tour of California in 2009. He just jerked unexpectedly and almost took out a team mate.  No one would dare say he was a sketchy rider.

Yes, there is a certain callousness that comes in bike racing.  We definitely race because there is a risk of danger.  Let's face it, if we didn't like the risk, we would golf.  Yet, do we sometimes go too far?  I myself have felt annoyed that a sprint finish was disrupted because there was an ambulance in the section of the sprint finish that is supposed to be closed to traffic in both lanes.  In the crash above we suffered at IVRR, I listened politely to a racer from the women's field complaining that the ambulance that attended to the injured clogged their sprint lane.  I recall hearing racers curse when the pack had to go neutral to let an ambulance go by to attend a fallen racer injured in a crash in a different field.

Clearly, we have issues.  Are we unique in that regard?  How many hunters would continue hunting if there was a 1% chance the deer shot back?  Granted, they are pretty bad shots but who knows, they might get lucky.   And what about fishing?  Suppose that one out of every 5,000 salmon that spawned was actually a great white shark?  Probably won't kill you, but it might warrant an ER visit.   Candidly, I think there might be far less "outdoorsmen" out there. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Know Your Rules

I was re-reading the USA Rules of Road Racing. Chapter 3B deals with Rider Conduct.  Here is a Gem: 

"3B10. Foul Riding. A rider near the edge of a road who leaves a gap sufficient for an opponent to pass may not suddenly close the gap upon being overtaken [relegation or disqualification]." 

Bizarre little rule.  I guess if you are not near the edge of the road, then the rules does not apply.  How do you get redress if there is a 3B10 violation?  If it were me, I would point out the rider that Rule 3B10 provides that I must be let in.  However, I will say that my recent attempts to discuss interesting points during bike races with my competitors have had mixed results. 

You can read the rules of racing in the USA here. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010


An American, one Willie Hamilton, set the hour record in cycling in 1898.  Until that time, the hour record had been established in Europe, most notably in Paris.  Yet, one of Hamilton's attempts was disqualified because he was paced by a speck of light that was shone in front of him on the track.  The UCI determined that this constituted cheating.  He had not altered his body artificially or developed a new piece of controversial equipment.  Willie had just given himself psychological help.  The proverbial rabbit.

On Sunday, March 14th, at Mason Lake, the Old Town Racing Team was Willie Hamilton.  Tom Potter, a rival from Olympia Orthopedic, was the speck of light.  Potter, as we painfully discovered, is a time trial specialist.  At the first kilometer, he jumped out of the pack and began what would become a 30 mile time trial.  Folly certainly.  Solo breaks are a joke.  I certainly paid him no mind.  He'll be back.  His team foolishly sat at the front. They are wasting their time, I thought.  Maybe I can get Internet reception back here.

My party abruptly ended when I rolled up to Tom Hackleman, a seasoned Masters' racer who has a mental Rolodex of racers.   "That's Tom Potter up there. If anyone can stay away for the race, it's Potter."  

Really?  The entire race?   I rode to the front to check it out.  Sure enough, Potter had his entire team up there ready to pounce on anything that twitched.   Normally, I would not have cared.  At least, not that much.  If Potter can stay away, then good for him. I will sit and wait for the end.  Today, however, we had a team mate, Steve Matson who could win.  Steve had won the race last week.  We were not going to derail our chances at the first kilometer. I slipped past the guards and into dark. I heard the sirens behind me and gun fire.  A quick glance back and the spotlights were already streaking out toward me.   The night erupted with the boom, boom of FLAK.  Wait,.  No, that is my heart.

Instantly, what was a once a leisurely pack of middle aged men, immediately became a long strand of men and machines, streaming in the wind.  The darn wind!  We rolled through the front side, over the rollers that started to feel more like mountains. I never noticed that Mason Lake was so hilly until I was at the front chasing a speck of light. 

I am red/green color blind.  It is hard for me to see specks of red against fields of green.  Not that day!  Against the background of green trees that line the Mason Lake course, I could see Potter's red jersey.  The speck of light! The cape to a bull.  I am going to kill that damn rabbit!  On and on.  

Just when my heart felt as if it would burst out of my chest, team mate, Choi Halladay, took over.  Choi is an amazing athlete.  Technically, a Cat 5 racer, he raced in his youth and now has calves the size of small cantaloupes.  I was never so happy to see cantaloupe!

We streaked through the first lap and just as the lights started to dim, Tom Hackleman came up to offer relief.  Hackleman had raced the day before at Sequim, but one certainly could not tell.  He powered through the first corner and assaulted the wind.  

Though, truthfully, through a massive effort, we had made no progress against Potter.  But,  neither had Potter gained.  Tens of thousands of calories were expended by 50 men chasing one.  After more than fifteen miles, it was a stand off.  

The disadvantage of a small team is there are only so many guys to share the work.  Eventually, your team runs a little low.  Potter's team mates did a superb job of covering breaks.  Take note of the banner photo of bikeracinglawyer.com.  That is a photo taken by the wife of a Starbucks racer. In fact, she also took the photo of Potter in this blog post.  In the bikeracinglawyer.com photo, you can see our effort at the front.  Tom and I are at the front and shredding the pack.  But, I completely eclipse a Potter team mate and two others are right on my wheel.  As soon as I or anyone else for that matter slacken the pace, they sit back and relax, disrupting our effort. 

However, there is a certain truism in bike racing.  In one of the few books about bike racing, The Rider, author Time Krabbe put it this way. "I have an aversion to the expression ' allowed to escape.', because it usually comes from people who have no notion of the tremendous power needed for the 'being allowed to,' but its a fact: no rider could ever escape and stay away from an unwilling peloton in the final kilometers of a flat race."

Those words were written in 1978 but might have well have described Mason Lake #2 in 2010.  Into the second (of three) laps, just as Old Town began to deflate, Steve Matson shot solo out of the pack.  Pow!  It was beautiful.  He wanted it. It was inspiring. I thought of Phil Ligget. With his British accent saying "He has shown what a great champion he is!  He wants it today and when you want it, you have to show the peloton just who the boss is."  OK.  That is a little overstated but Steve is a great competitor and showed that he was willing to put it all out and not just rely on others.  The pack surged to catch up to Steve and the gap to Potter closed a bit.  Hope. The slightest glimmer.

On the third and final lap, Matt Swanson, Larry Baker, Choi, then me, then Choi took suicidal leaps to the front, making incremental progress.  Matt Swanson is a big and powerful racer.  He stormed to the front.  Previously complacent racers who were more spectators than competitors, literally cheered. One jumped on his wheel. Finally, we had help.  Men shot off the front.  The wind howled.  Potter became bigger. I could see more than just the red of his jersey. I could almost read the lettering of his sponsors.  Dropped racers from the Cat 5 race in front of us, clogged our lane. The wind had picked up just a bit.  When you are in lactate pain, chip seal might as well be a prostate exam.  

Suddenly, Potter was back!  Back with us. Friends again.  "No rider could ever escape and stay away from an unwilling peloton in the final kilometers of a flat race."  So true. 

IBut Potter made us suffer.  It is funny the things you think of during a race.  I love Harry Potter movies. In the story, an particularly evil wizard, Lucius Malfoy, plays antagonist to Harry Potter. Malfoy, an arrogant and narrow person, scorns Harry Potter whenever he can and shows his loathing of Harry Potter even in the way he says his name, sneering, particularly spitting the name "Potter!"  

The image of Lucius Malfoy and word "Potter" flashed into my mind.  I giggled at that. "Potter!"

In the end, our team mate took second in a hectic sprint finish.  Fatigued from the effort to chase down  "Potter!", Steve leapt to the finish line only to have a better rested Potter team mate come around in the final meters.  The rabbit, in a sense, had won. I have to admire the tactics. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Case for Time Trials

The race against the clock should be a part of every serious road racer’s calendar. Often shunned, these events edge out yet another training ride for its benefits. Here are 5 simple reasons to register for the next time trial.

1. A Race:
Typically, the winter months are spent in long, slower rides. Hour after hour. The goal is to build base fitness in order to increase the athlete’s lactate threshold. By late Winter, the training events are more intense with the goal of building higher end fitness and skills.

Yet, the only true race is a race. And a Time Trial is a race. If you are at all skeptical about that statement, just show up and observe the hundreds of athletes who nervously warm up on trainers before the event. Donned with team kits, these men and women are all too serious about the event before them and concentrated only on the best possible performance.

When the official indicates “Go”., the race is on. Although it is a race against the clock, you are still racing to catch the rider in front of you and to stay away from the rider behind. With no wheel to suck, it is as if you are alone in a break, a break that is interminable. Mile after bloody mile. Make no mistake, a time trial is competition and let’s face it, competition is what marks a competitive cyclist. No matter how fast one goes on a training ride, it is still just a training ride.

2. A Yardstick:
Fitness is elusive. This is partly so because it is difficult to gauge your fitness. Even with the best of intents, it is too easy to ease up on a trainer or even in a training ride. Time trials are different. The game is on. Assuming an athlete competes in Time Trials as a regular part of their race season, then competing in and noting performance in a successive years helps the athlete gauge fitness. Though wind and atmospheric conditions vary, the course usually does not. A time trial will help the athlete answer the question: how am I doing?

3. A Certain Peace:
With all of the above said, Time Trials are not as intense. Time Trials are not as nerve racking. Before jumping in the season’s first pack race and all of its inevitable crashes, try an early season Time Trial. Time trial offers the athlete exposure to the competitive environment and allows one to size up the competition in a relaxed, contemplative way.

4.  A Process:
Time trials has the same process as a road race. This year, at the opening time trial, I simply forget to bring recovery food and drink. Big mistake. I was noticeably fatigued and run down the following day. The early season time trial is a great way to ease back into the race checklist: shoes, helmet, kit, trainer, GU, race license. You get the picture.

5. A Scene:
I save the best reason for last. If you race long enough, you will get to know people. Some of these people will not be on your team. Eventually, you will make friends with other racers. The atmosphere of a Time Trial is more conducive to chatting. Most of your buddies will be there. After the race, it is just great to catch up. Who said road racers can not be social?

For these reasons, the serious road racer should embrace the Time Trial.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You Give Pick Up Drivers a Bad Name

I, like you, have had my share of abuse from motorists. But, here is a new one. 

Yesterday, I was commuting on Levy Road trying to get from Tacoma to Puyallup. Levy road is good and bad. Good because it has light traffic that goes slow. Bad because there is NO shoulder. I was hugging the right edge of the road and looking as submissive as you can on a bike. The few vehicles that passed me gave me plenty of room. All in all, a good day. A good day until a large pick-up truck drove alongside me with his window down. (Why are all pick-up beds empty?) I saw that the driver's lips were moving. I thought, "here we go." But, the driver did not look particularly pissed. I thought that maybe he was lost and asking for directions. I decided to do something other than ignore him, which is my usual practice, and here is what he said to me: "You give bike riders a bad name." 

Hmmm. Ok, I'll bite. "How do I give 'bike riders' a bad name?" Now, to engage this man in this conversation, I reach out and am hanging on his open window of his truck. We are literally driving along Levy Road at about 20 MPH debating his world view. (Don't try that at home). I asked him if he has ever ridden a bike and he claimed that he rides bikes and it was people like me that made it harder for guys like him because I - you guessed it - give bike riders a bad name. His argument was that my route selection was bad. He thought Levy Road was too dangerous and I should ride on River Road. I told him I thought River Road was dangerous even for cars and I sure as heck would never ride a bike on River Road. Back and forth. I concluded by saying: "Thank you for your input. I am doing the best I can and just trying to get to work." 

Here is what bugs me. What is it about riding a bike that makes everyone feel like they need to express their opinions. I am 45 years old. I am an attorney by trade, have two kids. I served in the US Army for several years. On and on. In all of my other realities, guys like that don't come up and tell me they think I am wearing the wrong suit, or playing the wrong game with my kid. I know it sounds arrogant, but in my other, non-cycling life, bloated, pickup driving men between the ages of 18 and 55 know better than to debate with me. Yet, on a bike, everyone has an opinion and they express it. I hate that! Another thing, they treat us like we are kids. Hear is what I have heard while riding my bike: "You riding too fast. You are riding to slow. Get off the road. Get off the sidewalk. Don't turn left." 

The other thing was this. I actually let the guy get to me. I tried to find a different route home. I ended up on a creative combination of Pioneer Ave, side roads and even River road. I am lucky to be alive. I ride my bike continually. Nearly every day. I knew darn well that Levy road was the only road and yet, I was trying to be accommodating and almost orphaned my kids. Levy road is the ONLY way to ride to Tacoma and every reasonable bike commuter knows that. 

I realize I am preaching to the choir and I do feel better. From now on, I am going to ignore all motorists who try to say something to me. I just hope they don't express themselves through mass and the velocity of their steel wrapped frames. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

Starbucks Rider Injured And It Gets Worse

I was horrified to learn that a racer from the Starbucks Race Team was almost killed on Saturday.  A King 5 Website described the accident as follows:

The Washington State Patrol is seeking witnesses to a bicycle accident on SR 202 east of Redmond Saturday that left a 49-year-old Seattle man seriously injured. The State Patrol says at 11:45 a.m., a group of about 10 bicyclists with the Starbucks Racing Team were traveling westbound on SR 202 near Ames Lake Road when one of the riders was forced off the road and into a ditch to avoid being hit head-on by a minivan.

Witnesses said the red minivan, possibly a newer model Honda Odyssey, was traveling eastbound at an extremely high rate of speed as it crossed the yellow center line and passed several eastbound vehicles while in the westbound lane.

The minivan forced the westbound bicyclist to take evasive action to avoid being struck.

This reported version sounds less alarming than the version reported to me by my former team mates.   Starbucks Race Team, soon to be SCCA Race Team (Seattle Cancer Care Alliance), rode on the shoulder of SR 202.  They only intended to use 202 as connector for a few miles.  They, as typical of this well drilled team, rode in a rotating paceline, i.e., single file.  The driver of a red van passed traffic coming from the opposite direction and veered over the fogline into the shoulder where the team road.  According to a Starbucks team member, the driver “quite literally just about killing all of us in the pace line as he had drifted over the fog line into the shoulder while accelerating close to 70 mph.  It was friggin scary.”

On the King 5 website, readers were able to post comments.  Several of the readers’ comments are truly shocking.  The first reader to comment, wrote “Give the guy a medal for trying to clear the road of irritating vermon.”   

Another wrote “I would have more sympathy if bicycle riders did not act like they own the road. . . When you ride on a two lane road with no shoulder then you risk getting hit or run off the road. There are plenty of bike trails . . .”

The one that bugs me the most is this one: “Sorry people, but if the road was not built to accommodate bicycles then your taking your chances. Ride at your own risk.”

In the early 1900s, one of the most popular spectator sports in America was cycling. There were hundreds of velodromes across the nation.  Thousands trekked to the races and cheered as enthusiastically for the racers as any Superbowl.  Now, cyclists are “vermon”, worthy of being run down like dogs. There are clearly some who clearly believe that if someone kills or injures a cyclist, they should be given a medal.

What happened to the American respect for human effort?  One answer is simply that Henry Ford invented the automobile.  From that moment, the thrill of watching machines race with far less effort but at much greater speeds captivated America.  Bicycle racing became a footnote.

I recently viewed two photos of Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. One was taken in the 1900s and the other by the Google Maps cameras recently.  The architecture is the same. The lay out of the streets is the same. The difference is the girth of the people in the photos. People in the 1900s photos were rail thin.  The people in the modern photos were, well, large.  Let’s face it -  Americans are becoming obese.

According to a Time magazine article,  “[j]ust two decades ago, the incidence of overweight in adults was well under 50%, while the rate for kids was only a third what it is today. From 1996 to 2001, 2 million teenagers and young adults joined the ranks of the clinically obese (see "What Is BMI?"). People are clearly worried. Here is the link to the article. http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/covers/1101040607/article/how_we_grew_so_big_diet01a.html

There are many causes of obesity in America but one of them is the automobile.  At the time thin Americans enjoyed bike races, it took much more effort to do everything.  Work was hard.  Obtaining and preparing food took effort and there was far less of it.  Today, we can literally drive our cars, stop at places that give us food in our cars and actually arrive at our destination with a net GAIN in calories. 

The Starbucks rider who was almost killed was 49 years old.  He has a broken left clavicle and rib along with fractured radius and a fractured wrist.  Before he was injured, he was training with his team and burned, on average, 750 calories per hour.  Had he not been injured, he would have been on his bike for at least three hours.  He would have burned in this one training event as many calories as the caloric budget of the red minivan driver for the entire day.  Yet, this is the guy who should get a medal?

Several days ago, an Al Queada operative attempted to ignite a bomb on a jet.  It has been said to re-focus America’s efforts on the fight against terrorism.  Several millions, if not billions of dollars, will no doubt be directed to Yemen to fight the extremists who are training there and planning new attacks on Americans. 

In 2008, 34,017 Americans were killed by automobiles.  I understand that this is too simply stated but check out the more detailed statistics at this link.  http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

In contrast, 2,973 people were killed on September 11, 2009.  I am not comparing automobiles to terrorism but it is strange that Americans are essentially of like mind when it comes to fighting terror, yet 32,000 more American are killed every year by cars. 

Cars have changed us.  Our nation is different because of them.  We are fatter because of them.  Many of us are killed or injured because of them.  Worse, they have changed our national character.  Think of the last incidents you have had in the last year in which you felt incredible stress or extreme rage and chances are the incident involved a vehicle.  Cars have made us obsessed with ease, convenience and speed to the point where it is more important to us than human life. Anyone who gets in our way is “vermon.”   Here is a quote from a reader on the King 5 website:  “I have no empathy for the riders who force everyone else to slow down for them as if they think they have the right.”

What happened to us?