Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Midsummer Rides

The July 4 Giro heads out along Marconi

We are more or less back into our summer pattern now, both meteorological and cyclelogical. The relentlessly hot temperatures have been slightly subdued by the occasional thunderstorms and replaced with a mostly suffocating blanket of humidity. One arrives back home after a ride soaked to the skin with sweat, an occurrence that even the $100 high-tech fabric jerseys through which you could read a book in the dark are nonetheless powerless to prevent. Glasses are smeared with sweat halfway through the morning ride, and top tubes are splattered with body fluids, mostly sweat. Still, I admit I prefer all of that to those 30° winter rides into those 15 mph north winds. To each his own, I guess.

Sunday Giro - some wet roads out to the east made for a nice sauna feeling

The group rides this week were sometimes a little less intense than usual, probably because after a while people were feeling like wet dishrags that had been left out in the sun too long. After the usual Monday and Tuesday rides I went out earlier than usual to meet the WeMoRi, turning onto Lakeshore Drive a few minutes ahead of the group so that they didn't sweep me up until I was already on the way back from the Armory loop. The pace was still pretty fast, and after the turn onto Wisner a big gap opened up ahead of me (of course). There was a little help with the chase, but it was looking pretty hopeless until the group ahead had to stop for a light and were able to re-group. Then, crossing Toussaint, the front of the group blew through just as the light was turning red, causing another split as the rest of us chose life over WeMoRi fame. A few reacted quickly and made the bridge. I wasn't one of them. Still, it was a good enough workout and my early arrival meant some bonus miles as well. The Thursday morning levee group turnout was sparse and since apparently I wasn't the only one with dead legs, we turned around really early, chopping about 15 miles off of the usual 41 mile ride. I wasn't complaining, though.

By Saturday I was feeling a little better for the Giro Ride, which in this case turned out to be moderately fast and more than moderately hot. It was July 4th weekend, and as things were going it was looking like I'd be doing three Giro Rides in a row. On Sunday we had one flat shortly after turning back from Venetian Isles, and then one of the riders slammed into one of the big cracks on Lake Forest and pinch-flatted both tires. I gave him one of my tubes and an valve extender, and although obviously it took longer than usual we were back on the road in a reasonable amount of time. Somehow, though, stopping in the sun mid-ride on a hot summer morning really takes the wind out of your sails.

Mellow Monday before the July 4th Giro

The July 4th holiday Giro had a reasonable turnout, and fortunately nobody was trying to really push the pace. I had gone out early to do the usual Mellow Monday ride, which had only four people including me, before turning off just in time to meet up with the Giro group at Starbucks. Shortly after we got onto Hayne, JC slammed into one of the broken up concrete potholes over on the right and not only flatted both tires but also practically destroyed his rear rim. Luckily after changing the tube the tire didn't blow off the rim where it was badly dented, so he was able to limp back while the rest of us continued on. As if we hadn't had enough holiday weekend flats already, there was yet another just as we were getting back onto the Interstate at Lake Forest. By the time we were halfway back my neck and upper back were on fire despite the Naproxin I'd taken earlier that morning. I guess the extra miles and extra Giro finally took their toll. At any rate, the ride home was kind of miserable.

We had a couple of the neighbors over for dinner that night, which was nice even if I did end up drinking a glass or two more than the recommended daily allowance. The dog is slowly getting better, having refined his begging style to minimize the incessant barking, but he's still got a long way to go. As we were saying good-night to everyone at the front door he managed to get both paws up onto the table and take a big bite out of the cake. Frankly we were both too tired by then to give him much grief about that.

This morning we had a small group for the Tuesday levee ride. Charles was at home waiting for the long-awaited air-conditioner replacement that involved an extra thousand dollars or so for a crane to lift the equipment over the front part of the French Quarter building. At least the Vieux Carré Commission didn't make him get the color of the compressor approved for historical correctness. Anyway, I was still clearly feeling the effects of the long weekend but nonetheless hung in there for the full ride that was mostly just Boyd, Martin, and me, and eventually just Martin and me. I was feeling pretty wasted by the time Martin pulled off to head home and pretty soon I just shut it down and cruised in on whatever fumes were left in the tank. It looks like Entergy has finished building the big new towers on the levee to support the transmission lines over the river. Those were the ones that came down during the Hurricane when the tower on the westbank collapsed. They have signs up now saying that the levee bike path, and likely also River Road, will be closed from July 6 (tomorrow) through August 01. I guess we'll find out how it's going to work on Thursday. I guess we won't have a problem on the way out since we will be there by about 6:10 am. Coming back, though, will be another matter. I can't see them closing down the road full-time, but who knows?

There's not much on the calendar for July, but things will start to pick up again in August. I'm hoping to finally be able to make the Mobile races on the 20th and 21st, but will miss the next weekend's races in Hattiesburg because we'll be visiting The Daughter up in Olympia. 

I did my time a long
time ago!

People are inexplicably rushing to sign up for the NOMA to NOMA "race" which is traditionally basically a 160-mile Alleycat. They're limiting registration to 100, probably in hopes of keeping it all under the radar of the various jurisdictions through which it secretly passes. They're charging only $15 to register, so I guess people are figuring "why not?" I'm sure they will fill the 100 slots within a few days. The route, which last year was more or less optional, involves a fair amount of Tammany Trace bike path and Highway 21 on the northshore. Some of the riders will actually race it and finish in a mere seven and a half hours or less. Some will do it at a more moderate pace with a couple of brief stops and take more like eight and a half hours. Some who probably shouldn't have registered in the first place will be halfway around the lake and already an hour and a half behind before realizing they've made a horrible mistake and will be out there for ten or more hours. Last year one rider took 14 hours and the last rider was out there for around 16 hours. None of them will be me, as I'm quite sure I'd need narcotics to handle the expected neck and upper back pain, but if the weather is OK I may ride out to at least the Spillway as I did last year to see the first of the riders come through. Hopefully everyone survives and nobody ends up in the hospital ... or back seat of a sheriff's car.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Summer Pattern

Friendly Friday

Although most of last week was abnormally hot and dry even by New Orleans standards, by Sunday it looked like things were starting to settle back into the more typical summer weather pattern. On the plus side, that means a daily chance of scattered thunderstorms to cool things down a bit. On the minus side it also means no huge blob of high pressure to protect us from storms and hurricanes coming out of the Gulf. Indeed, there are already three disturbances that are being tracked out there - two with relatively low chances of development but one with a high chance. The models are currently keeping that one well south of the Gulf, but then again, it's early.

Sunday Giro starting back from Venetian Isles

Last week was just a series of really warm but mostly uneventful group rides here in the city. They all seemed a little harder than they should have, as rides on hot summer days always seem to. 

Summer Pattern

For some reason the Saturday Giro was particularly fast. I'm pretty sure there was a bit of a race going on among a handful of riders up at the front, where I definitely wasn't. We had a significant west northwest wind, and as a result our average speed from the time we hit Hayne until the turnaround out at Venetian Isles was 28.2 mph with a max a bit over 34. Even sitting in the group that was a significant effort. On the way back we were more in the 25-28 mph range, and as always the headwind made it seem easier as long as you stayed in the wheels and off of the front. We were just about to Fortier Blvd. and starting to ramp up for the drag race to the Goodyear sign sprint when I saw Richie sit up with a flat. He was already toward the back and nobody was stopping, so I eased over and went back to help out. It was still a long way back into a headwind and it would have been a pretty miserable slog alone. So he got the flat fixed and we rode back together, which must have looked almost comical since he's about the tallest rider in the group and I'm about the shortest. Anyway, he continued on to the west when I turned off at Marconi. A minute later I thought to myself, "Damn, I should have given him a spare tube and CO2." I'd noticed he had only the one spare back when he fixed his flat. As it turned out, he didn't even make it to Canal Blvd. before he had another flat and ended up calling someone for a ride home. As I made my way town Norman Francis, sucking the last drops of electrolyte solution out of my water bottle, I came across Joe who mentioned he was supposed to be helping a few people do a practice duathlon out around Audubon Park later that day.


By the time I got home and took a quick shower the dog, who now thinks he should be taken for two-mile walks in the park on a daily basis, was already harassing me so I threw him in the car and drove over to Audubon Park where we could take a long walk under the oak trees. Halfway around I hear, "Hey Randy, is that you?" It was Joe sitting under an oak tree with water and stuff waiting for his people to arrive at the ad hoc transition area. As I stopped to chat Keith Andrews, who was riding around the park, also stopped by. So ultimately the word for the day on Saturday was "dehydration." I spent the rest of the day drinking whatever cold fluids I could lay my hands on. Thankfully, the dog was good and worn out.

Sunday's Giro, although it featured pretty much the same wind conditions as Saturday, was considerably more civilized, which is to say I wasn't hanging on for dear life quite as frequently. Later in the afternoon we took the dog for a long walk in City Park, followed by a much-needed stop at the coffee shop on the Lafitte Greenway for an iced coffee.

Finally wore him out

This morning, Monday, there were a few light scattered showers around in the morning. I aired up the tires on the old Orbea and rode that bike just in case the roads were wet so that I wouldn't be risking a puncture on the somewhat nicer tires on the Bianchi. Only four of us showed up at the start, joined a little later my Mark M, so we had a pretty nice ride. There were a few light raindrops here and there, but really nothing that was enough to get the pavement really wet. This time of year I almost welcome a little rain shower now and then. At any rate, the cloud cover kept the temperature, but definitely not the humidity, down to more tolerable levels than it had been for the prior week, so that was good.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Brandon Weekend

The Cat. 1/2/3 road race winners - a race is a race even it it's small!

Last weekend was the Brandon Grand Prix that included the LAMBRA road championship in Saturday and a criterium on Sunday. Since my brother recently bought a house up in Madison (basically the other side of the Jackson MS area), and was going to be there over the weekend painting walls and stuff, I figured I'd camp out at the empty house over Saturday night to save on the hotel cost. With gas running at around $5/gallon, the road trip costs were already adding up, so I was glad to have that opportunity. A final check of pre-registrations on Friday night left me wondering, "Where are all the bike racers?" I hadn't seen numbers that low since the 70s when everyone started together, the road race was 110 miles, there was no course control, jerseys were made out of wool, and the race had to be done within a 2-week period in July. Back then we considered a field size of 20 to be big. No field last Saturday achieved half that size. This kind of thing is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Potential riders look at the start list, find it to be small, and so they don't sign up themselves. Some races have stopped showing the "Who's Registered" page on BikeReg lately, probably for the same reason. Anyway, I was going regardless and looking forward to riding both the road course and the criterium course, both of which I'd ridden the year before when the event was held in September. With the scarcity of nearby races lately, it would be the first criterium for me since that same race last year.

The Saturday morning alarm went off at 3:30 am and I stumbled down to the basement to load up the car, not just with my bike and bag, but also with the radio equipment, a big ice chest that I almost never bring, my new Jackery power supply (just in case), the laptop, spare wheels, and a bottle of merlot. By 4 am I was on the road for the 3-hour drive up to Brandon, Mississippi with an ETA of 7:00. We have been in the middle of a pretty significant heat wave down here lately, and I was expecting the race temperature to get up in to the 90s, so I had a bag of Scratch electrolyte mix and some HammerGel on hand. The masters race was to start at 8 am and would be under 60 miles, so I wasn't too worried about it, but better to play it safe rather than end up with heat exhaustion on the side of the road somewhere. Turnout at the race itself was, to put it mildly, pitiful. Those who were there were excited to be racing but everyone was asking what the hell happened to the bike racers. This was an event that should have attracted at least 100 riders. As it was, there were, I think, a total of 30 riders on hand, and some of those were from outside of LAMBRA. We had riders from Texas and Tennessee and Alabama but I think nobody from Lafayette, four or five from the New Orleans area, and about that many from the Jackson area.

Frank and I finishing up the road race

Of course, every cloud has its silver lining, and it this case it was that the Masters race was slow, unlike last year when it was quite the opposite. So this time I made it up and over the "big" hill on the way to the loop without any problem and settled in to the back of the dozen rider combined Master and Women's field. Of note was the fact that we had on hand Frank Moak, Woody Boudreaux, and Julia Simpson. My guess would be that Frank had twisted Woody's arm to get him to come! So as I said, the pace was pretty slow. I guess everybody was a little worried about the heat combined with the small number of people to share the work. I doubt we were halfway through the distance when the Cat. 4/5 breakaway (apparently the rest of the race was already shattered) caught us. The front of our group sped up when that happened and we were all mixed together for a number of miles. I chatted with a couple of the riders to let them know it was technically illegal for us to be working together, and also that it probably wouldn't matter since there was apparently no chance of anyone else from their race catching them. Eventually one of the Masters drifted back to ask what we should do and I told him that the Masters should neutralize until the 4/5s had a significant gap. He went up to the front and made that happen, so everything was back to normal after that. 

Somewhere on the back stretch one rider had hit a pothole and flatted. Later, I saw Woody looking down at his front wheel which was rapidly deflating (he'd hit a big chunk of gravel that was in the road). Julia also flatted, although I'm not sure if it was before Woody or after. Woody ended up changing his tube - he has a newish bike with disc brakes and didn't have spare wheels - and finishing. Our race really started about ten miles before the finish when a few of the stronger riders started launching attacks. I survived the first big one, but there was a quick counter-attack and a little gap opened up that I just couldn't close. That left five riders ahead of me and just two, including Woody, behind me. It also left me all alone, so I just resigned myself to a long time trial. Fortunately the last 8 or 9 miles of the course is relatively flat and probably a net downhill, so it wasn't all that bad. I could see the group up ahead the whole time, and about a mile from the finish I saw one rider come off the back. I was Frank who looked fairly spent. He had been one of the riders doing all of the work. He latched on when I came past and we rode in the last bit together. So actually I was not all that unhappy with myself under the circumstances. Granted, I had avoided putting my nose into the wind like the plague, but I wasn't feeling too bad and with a bit more motivation might very well have been able to survive one or two more attacks. 

After the race I waited around until things were packed up and had a nice lunch with the officials at some place near the hospitals in Jackson before continuing a few miles north to Madison where my brother was busy painting walls. It was really the first day he'd been able to get into the house and unfortunately one discover was that the air-conditioner was barely functioning. I looked up at the wildly oscillating ceiling fan and soon realized that one of the five blades had the wrong bracket installed and was blowing air up while the others were blowing air down. I installed a couple of shower heads and a toilet seat and took a cool shower (the gas hadn't been turned on yet so no hot water). Luckily one of my brother's daughters lives nearby so we left the hot house for a nice dinner where we polished off the bottle of wine and spent the night in fully functional a/c. 

Finish camera image of Julia and Zion finishing the criterium

The next morning I headed back down to Brandon for the criterium where the turnout was no better than it had been the day before and I discovered my rear tire was flat. It's a fun little course that includes a short but steep rise from the road up into a parking lot that makes things interesting. It's probably about 8 percent, but just for five or six pedal strokes. Anyway, the Masters race was a good workout even if I ended up off the back. By then it was starting to get pretty hot, especially since we were basically in the middle of an asphalt parking lot. A little while later I decided to jump into the Cat. 1/2/3/4 race to provide a little pack fodder. For that one we also had Julia and Zion from NOLA. That one started out pretty fast and I found myself feeling a little out of practice on the fast downhill sweeper which of course resulted in me being off the back. There was a 2-rider break by then and, as is my usual MO, I continued until they caught me and then jumped onto the back. By then I was nicely warmed up and it wasn't too difficult to sit on the back of the duo (would have been illegal for me to lead, anyway) until they lapped more riders. So, long story short, I ended up riding with Zion and Julia, dropping off on the last lap when we were about to be lapped again and I didn't want to be in the way of the finish sprint. I hung around until everything was packed up and was back home by 4:30 or so. Robert was using just pencil and paper for registration and results, so I still haven't seen the official criterium results, although I did take photos of what was posted for the road race. 

Despite the tiny turnout I had a pretty nice time at the races and by the time I got home I was feeling that good kind of soreness in my quads that I only seem to get when I race. I'm hoping it will go away by Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Tour de la Louisiane #51

Last week could be well-described by the term "unexplained absences." It started on Monday, which was Memorial Day. As usual there was Kenny B's Memorial Day ride through town out to the Chalmette battlefield with stops at Holt Cemetery and the WWII museum. I rode out to Starbucks where the ride would start, just as I had done the prior two mornings for the Giro. For some reason the turnout for this year's ride was pretty small. Go figure. Sitting there before the ride I chatted with the sidearm-carrying Veteran who I see there often in the mornings. He and some of his friends go out every year to Holt Cemetery the day before Memorial Day to clean it up and put flags at the graves of the soldiers. This year, that was our first stop, and when we got I was surprised to find that he was already there. Anyway, it was a nice ride even if the group started out small and finished even smaller. 

Memorial Day Ride

The rest of the week was just the usual routine of group rides for me, which was good because I was increasingly anxious and distracted ahead of the big Tour de Louisiane weekend. Pre-registration was lagging even more than last year, for reasons unknown, but at least the weather forecast looked pretty good. Mignon had done a ton of work on the planning, and on Thursday evening she, Christian, and Ty stopped by so we could split up the stuff that we'd need to transport across the lake. That evening I stapled together about 100 copies of the race bible and made sure the big Excel workbook we use for registration and results was in reasonably decent shape. I'd taken Friday off so I could pre-assign bib numbers in the morning and populate the spreadsheets. Pre-registration ended at midnight Thursday with only 70 riders registered. I don't really get that. We are busting our butts to put on three races at three different venues as close to the city as is really feasible for that kind of thing and there were probably 100 other riders in the general area who apparently came up with excuses to stay at home. To twist the knife, this was one of those years when we were quite short on sponsorship money, so with that kind of turnout the club lost $3-4,000. It would be one thing if the forecast had been for rain all weekend, but as it was we were virtually guaranteed to have mostly dry conditions and even relatively low humidity on Saturday.

At the road race

So I loaded up the Volvo with the P/A system, generator, two bins of equipment, numbers, pins, flags, banners, tent, computers, camera, etc. and headed across the lake around 2 pm. My plan was to freshen up the road marking for the Time Trial before checking in to the Comfort Suites hotel at Highway 59 and I-12. Well, as luck would have it I was halfway between the start line and finish line when a little rainstorm sprung up on top of me and washed away my road marking plan. Fortunately, I could still see the marking from last year on the wet roadway. So I drove over to the hotel where I found Steve, one of the two motorefs we have, already there. I knew he'd be staying with me Friday night but didn't know when he'd be arriving, so the timing had fortunately worked out. After hanging out in the hotel room for a couple of hours we drove up to the Abita Brewpub for dinner. That turned out to be remarkably nice. They had added a bunch of outdoor seating since I'd last been there, and even had some live jazz music.

Earlier in the week - Friendly Friday Ride. All of these
people should have been racing on Saturday!

Saturday morning I got up really early, stopped at Starbucks where they didn't even have coffee ready (I got an Americano instead) and made the drive up to Stoney Point, stopping to put up the 1 KM sign along the way. As I was driving there I got a call that turned out to be one of the Covington police officers wondering where everyone was. He had the day wrong for the criterium. That caused me a little bit of concern that maybe I had somehow given them the wrong date (I hadn't). Soon all of the other volunteers started to show up and by 7:45 am we were ready to check in riders and, we were hoping, register some new riders. I was quite surprised that we had no race-day registrations. Perhaps people were still remembering the COVID year and thought it wouldn't be allowed. Who knows? On the plus side, that all went smoothly as we got the start/finish area set up, checked in with the Sheriff's deputies (I think we have 8 or so for this 16-mile, 6-corner course) and got the follow cars lined up for the 9:00 start. This year we were allowing riders who suffered a mishap in the road race to go ahead and race the other stages if they wanted. A few ended up taking advantage of that.

The Road Races went off nicely this year. There was only one crash, and it was self-inflicted when one of the Cat. 3/4 riders who thought he had the pack sprint in the bag sat up early to put his hands in the air only to see someone starting to pass him out of the corner of his eye. He dropped back down to the bars and one of his sweaty un-gloved hands slipped off the bar and he went down just after crossing the line. Fortunately he didn't take anyone else down. We wrapped up the results quickly right at the finish line, and after tearing down everything and cleaning up I headed back to the hotel to post the Road Race results and make printed copies to bring to the 5:30 time trial. Meanwhile, Ricky went over to the nearby Bogue Chitto state park and did some riding on the mountain bike trails there before meeting back at the hotel. The time trial went nice and smooth except for a couple of mistakes on my part, but at least we didn't have a thunderstorm, which has practically gotten to be tradition. There were two riders for whom I had apparently written down the wrong starting times. Both were staged immediately behind missing riders, and as always we waited out the 30 seconds for the ghost riders before starting their 30 second intervals, but somehow I had written down the start time for the missing riders for them. Of course I discovered that at dinner, again at Abita Brewpub, when one of the riders emailed me about his time, so it didn't get corrected until after dinner.

The Covington criterium, as always, seemed kind of chaotic to me but apparently well-organized to the riders. With three officials and two motorefs plus me the start/finish setup went fine, especially since we had an extra half hour thanks to there being only one Junior who we had race with the women. Once again there was some confusion about the Boston Street closure. Since it's a state highway the Covington police have an issue with closing it, even though at our meeting earlier in the month they always say it's fine. We may just end up shortening the course by two blocks and avoiding it altogether. Anyway, thanks to our ability to have radio communication with the police they were able to open the street back up to traffic between races and then close it again when each race started. We had a few corner marshals around the course as well to help control that corner and also the bike and pedestrian traffic on the Tammany Trace which crosses the course in two places. 

Thanks no doubt to the smallish fields there were no crashes at all for the criteriums and everything went off as planned except for one little snafu with the Baldwin Motors Subaru that was to lead a neutral lap for the Cat. 3/4 field. Somehow the diver got confused and turned right instead of left, unexpectedly showing up back at the finish. Luckily the riders knew better as did the motoref who was with them!

Working the race with me this year we had Ricky D, Cole S, and Mark D officiating/scoring, plus motorefs Ian F and Steve. Mignon was handing registration and police and awards and primes and one of the corners in the road race among other things. Christian F did a ton of work with course setup for the road race and criterium as well as serving as a corner marshal. Chip E was in charge of the road race follow cars. He drove one and Kerry P, Randy H, Ty P, and Christian F drove the others. Boyd and Ty were also taking photos. Ty also picked up and deployed the hay bales around the crit course. Adam Watts handled the criterium pit, and Erich M served as announcer and general DJ for the criterium. After the last of the prizes were handed out and the last podium photos were taken we tore down the criterium course and were ready to roll by 1:30 or so. Mignon, Kerry and I went over to Buster's, where we used to do the awards back in the day, for a late lunch since we were starving by then! After driving back across the lake I unloaded the car and got to work posting the final results to the website and sending out the appropriate announcements. 

It was a long week, but I know the riders really appreciated it, even if the field sizes weren't as big as they should have been. The next race weekend is up in the Jackson MS area June 18-19 for the Brandon Grand Prix which will include a road race and a criterium, presumably like last year. My brother just bought a house up around there but I don't imagine that is all finalized yet, plus he still has to sell the house in Orlando and make the actual move. I am definitely looking forward to free lodging for races in the Jackson area next year, though!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Punishment Pass

Front of the Giro Ride coming over the Danziger bridge Saturday or Sunday morning.

It was another fairly routine riding week for me. We seem to be rapidly getting into summer mode now, and I have been arriving back home pretty well soaked in sweat. Even so, it's not yet as hot as it will be later on in the summer, and I've yet to resort to freezing those huge waterbottles in preparation for the weekend rides. I did re-stock on Hammergel and Scratch, though, and have been adding a scoop of Scratch electrolytes to one waterbottle pretty regularly now, partially for the actual electrolytes, but also just because the taste helps me drink more. Even with that I'm still a pound or two low after the longer rides, so a bit dehydrated for sure.

There was a big group for the Friday morning ride.

This week's Friendly Friday ride had a particularly big group so I guess the earlier sunrise and warmer weather is pulling in a few more riders. We are finally at that time of the year when I can comfortably leave home without a headlight by about 6:15. I am still using a headlight on its lowest setting when I ride out to meet the levee group for 6 am, but I can usually turn it off shortly after the ride starts.

Saturday's Giro Ride seemed fairly easy this week, as a few of the usual workhorses were absent. We are still taking the alternate route down France Road and Almonaster, and I guess that will continue for at least another two or three weeks until they get the Seabrook bridge repaired. After Saturday's Giro I drove out to the Tour de La road course to check it out and re-mark the turns. We took the dog along for the drive to see how he'd handle a longer drive, which fortunately turned out fine. The road course looked no worse than usual. There were lots of fairly recent asphalt patches on almost all of the roads, so I guess the parish did a little road maintenance some time last year. There were only a couple of actual potholes that could cause problems, so I marked those with white road marking paint that may or may not still be there by the time the race happens. Of course the one or two mile stretch along Sunlight Road, between that sharp left-hand turn where we had a crash last year and the next turn at the Sunlight Baptist Church, is still all broken up in a way that I can't really fix myself. Basically it needs to be completely re-surfaced, so all I can do is warn the riders about it. Otherwise the course looked OK. I didn't check the time trial course, but will need to re-mark that finish line at some point soon.

The Sunday Giro heads out along Lakeshore Drive

Saturday afternoon the weather forecast for Sunday morning was looking pretty bad with a high chance of rain all morning, but when I got up Sunday the radar was clear and the rain chances were really low so I went ahead and headed out to Starbucks for the Giro. Turnout was predictably a bit low, but we had a big enough group on hand regardless. There seemed to be a slight chance of rain around 10:00 but we are always back well before then. Things were going along just fine until the front of the group didn't make the left turn from Almonaster onto Michoud like we'd done the prior two times and instead continued on Almonaster, which meant we'd have to negotiate those dangerously angled railroad tracks near the end. Just as we got there and riders, including myself, were weaving all over the place in order to cross the tracks at a safer angle the warning bell went off and the railroad crossing arms started coming down - basically right on top of me. I had to duck to slip under on of them as it was coming down. At the turnaround where some people sprint it out for the actual finish line while others turn around early and stop under the tree those of us who hadn't turned early had a bit of a surprise. I usually turn around around 200 meters from the end where there's a turn lane by the fire station. When I did I could see that the riders who had turned around early were already riding back.  A couple of us had to make a pretty decent effort to get up to that group before the pace started to rise, but most of the riders who had sprinted were basically left behind. I knew that was going to piss them off, as well it should have. It was two or three miles later when they came sprinting past the group on the right - clearly a punishment pass - and the group I was with never really made an effort to go with them. That was pretty much the last we saw of them. Although things had gotten pretty fast for a while on the way out, the ride back was relatively easy. 

Monday, May 16, 2022


The Sunday Giro starting to string out as the pace rises on the way back down Chef.

After last week's excursion to Augusta I was really wanting to race. Unfortunately it was just another week of the usual group rides, however. I guess I had maybe 4 hours of sleep before I headed out on Monday morning for the 6 am Mellow Monday ride. I might have just slept in except for two factors. One was my compulsive need to mitigate the lost training mileage from the prior week. Another even more critical factor, however, was that the dog woke me up at about 4:45 am. Although the dog is getting better about it, he is still waking us up once or twice a night in order to go out. He is also getting a little bit better about not wanting to wrap his teeth about arms and ankles. Even so, there's still a lot of puppy left in him. He has destroyed all of the soft dog toys so we are now just getting the relatively indestructible ones from places like Bullymake. They seem to last a bit longer and he can't tear them apart and swallow the pieces quite as easily. 

Thursday on the Levee Ride

Anyway, the weekday rides were fairly routine. It's finally getting warmer, bordering on hot, around here, and the sun is coming up early enough that headlights aren't needed for more than twenty minutes or so, which is good because the battery in mine is definitely on its last leg. I love this time of year when I don't need to check the outdoor temperature before getting dressed. It probably saves me ten minutes in the morning since I don't have to make wardrobe decisions, search for the right layers, put on base layers and then outer layers and long gloves and caps and stuff. What a relief. Of course, that all means that we're only a week or two away from having my glasses covered with sweat, but I'll take sweat over ice any day.

Sunday's alternate Giro Route.

One little wrinkle this week was the emergency closure of the Seabrook bridge at the eastern end of Lakeshore Drive. That resulted in an ad hoc route change for the Giro that was nevertheless well-attended. The only way over the Industrial Canal for the Giro will be via the big Chef Menteur Blvd. Danziger bridge for at least the next month or two until they get the Seabrook bridge repaired. On Saturday we took Franklin to Leon C. Simon to Press down the Chef, crossed over the bridge, then worked out way over to Almonaster. We went all the way out to where Almonaster turns into Old Gentilly Road and meets up with Chef Menteur. The only problem with that was the diagonal railroad tracks near the end. I was amazed that nobody crashed. For Sunday we decided instead to turn off of Almonaster at Michoud just to avoid the tracks that are guaranteed to eventually take someone down. Too bad, though, because I really liked that long unbroken stretch. We used to ride Almonaster as part of the Giro years ago, but switched over to Chef Menteur when the road surface started to get really bad. It's been mostly re-paved since then, so it's pretty fast with just a couple of surprise potholes, although I hear it can be kind of muddy when it's been raining. Coming back on Almonaster I was having flashbacks of the sprint at the western end that we used to do for the Giro Ride. On Sunday we didn't quite make it that far without stopping, however, because Jaden picked up a screw in his rear tire. That took a couple of tries to repair and since that was the second flat for the day I was a good twenty minutes late getting home, which wouldn't have been much of a problem except that it was Candy's birthday and we needed to go out to Gambino's to pick up a Lemon and Chocolate Doberge birthday cake because we were having the neighbors, one of which was also celebrating a birthday, over that evening.

The Tour de Louisiane is looming just a few weeks away and as usual I feel like everything is still up in the air. I'm cautiously optimistic that we will have a decent turnout this year but you never really know until a few days before the race. As always, the big challenge is finding enough volunteers to handle the road race setup and follow cars, and then for the criterium course setup and marshaling. Hoping for the best, as usual.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Back to Augusta

It had been a long time - 28 years to be exact - since I'd been to Augusta, but memories of the road course at Fort Gordon and the criterium in the old part of the city along the Savannah River were still fresh in my mind. I'd had a couple of really good races, along with one mechanical disaster, when I'd been there for the USCF Master's Nationals with Mike Lew, Mike Williams, and a couple other teammates. This time it would be for the USAC Collegiate Road Nationals, supporting Tulane's Julia Simpson and alumnus Gavin Blair who was now riding for Maryland where he's in graduate school. I'd be taking my bike, and although I wasn't expecting to get in much riding, I was hoping to be able to check out the road course that was essentially identical to the one I'd raced on back during the Clinton administration. Over the years that course has been used for numerous national championships.

Julia - TT

As usual, collegiate nationals was scheduled basically on top of everyone's final exams. Dustin had an exam in the morning on Wednesday right before we planned to leave. Julia had one on Monday afternoon, maybe twelve hours after we expected to be back. On the plus side, the weather forecast for Augusta couldn't have been much better. We met up at HQ, aka University Square, around 2 pm to load up the nice big Tulane van. With only three of us in a 12-passenger van (with the last two seat rows removed) we had plenty of space for bikes, spare wheels, tools, tent, chairs, trainer, cooler, etc., etc. The nine-hour drive was long but uneventful, and we arrived at a nice Airbnb not far from the base at a reasonable hour. Gavin had driven down from College Park and arrived ahead of us. For Thursday the plan was to go get our credentials for Fort Gordon and check out the road course. Despite what they warned about in the technical guide, all we really needed was a driver's license to feed into the kiosk in the visitor center, which then spit out a little slip of paper with your photo on it. When we arrived at the start location on Thursday morning I was a little surprised to see so many of the collegiate team vans, busses, and trailers there doing the same thing. It was kind of cool, though. We pulled the bikes out and headed out for a lap of the 15-mile loop. After so many years, I was surprised how well I remembered it. The only difference was that it looked like it had been repaved within the last few years, so almost the entire course was on just the smoothest, fastest, most pristine asphalt you could imagine. Your tax dollars at work, indeed. 

The first six miles of the course feature two or three significant climbs, after which it becomes more rolling. Then, a couple of kilos from the finish, there's a nice downhill to a little creek crossing that you can hardly tell is there, after which a one-kilometer climb begins that tops out about 300 meters from the finish line. The climb and finish were still quite firmly burned into my memory, and I could still identify the spot where I shifted into my biggest gear, which back then was probably a 52x13, to start the sprint, only to have the chain wedge itself between the freewheel and dropout, leaving me to coast across the finish line as the entire race streamed past. Anyway, I really enjoyed the ride around the course and trip down memory lane. The rest of the day involved a trip to the grocery store where Chef Dustin loaded up on about twice as much food as I probably would have.

The announcer was saying "This guy really left it all on the course."

Time Trial: 
Friday featured the time trial, which was an out-and-back affair on the road course. Julia and Gavin were both in the Club division (collegiate is divided into Club and Varsity), so would be starting reasonably close together in the early afternoon following the team time trials. They had one aero helmet between them and planned on swapping it from Julia to Gavin once Julia finished. It was going to be kind of tight, timing-wise, though. Fortunately it worked out, and Gavin strapped on his helmet just moments before his start, much to the consternation of one of the officials. Julia finished 11th out of 30, and Gavin followed that up by placing an excellent 8th out of 42. Patton Sims made the podium in that race, finishing 4th. earlier in the day Lance Abshire's Colorado Mesa team had won the Varsity Team Time Trial. It was a pretty good day for LAMBRA riders.

Julia comes up the Road Race hill past our tent. At least they had a little tailwind for this climb.

Road Race:
  The Road Races were on Saturday with Julia's going off in the first wave and Gavin's in the second. Julia's mother had joined us for the Time Trial and Julia's father and sister would be there for the Road Race and Criterium. We arrived nice and early and parked the van at a flat spot in the feed zone, about 2/3 of the way up the final climb. USAC had the finish line area all set up with the barricades and banners and official's trailer and everything, which is always impressive. I got to say hello to Valecia who we often deal with for event permits. It was windy, but the temperature was perfect for racing. We set up the tent and stuff and I had just enough time to sneak in a quick ten miles before heading up the hill to watch the start. Julia was focused on staying with the lead group and hoping to be able to do something in the final sprint. That would not be easy on this course since the climb always strings out the pack before anyone even gets to the 200 meter mark. Gavin, however, had other plans. During the race Julia was looking good, holding a mid-pack position on the climbs. Her race didn't look like it was particularly aggressive, though, and so although they lost a number of rider from simple attrition, there were still at least 20 left for the final sprint up the hill to the finish. Julia ended up 12th out of 25. 

Gavin's field comes up the hill past the feed zone.

Gavin's race had a big field of 55 at the line, so I knew it would be fast. It was. With little confidence in his sprint on a course like this, Gavin was all-in for a breakaway even if it had to be solo, which ultimately it was. Knowing the course, the best bet for a last-lap break was right after the bigger climbs in the first half of the course, and indeed he got away with about 8 miles to go. Unfortunately nobody came with him, so it was just a matter of whether he could build up enough of a gap to hold off the expected pack sprint that was bound to start a kilometer out. As it turned out he was able to hold off the charging pack until maybe 300 meters before the line but then got streamed by the sprinters, finishing 31st out of 55. It was a noble and very impressive ride and I think he was happy with it even if the ultimate placing didn't really reflect the magnitude of the effort. Looking at the results I noticed a rider from Indiana named Grace Saccone and figured it had to be Tom Saccone's daughter. Tom had raced here for a while in the 80's, notably winning the French Quarter criterium in 1989. He had been coaching the Indiana women's Little 500 team for a number of years but last I'd heard he was involved with his daughter's soccer. In the Varsity Road Race, Lance Abshire and a teammate had a solid breakaway, finishing first and second with Patton Sims finishing third. Lance and Patton are both from Louisiana, so that was kind of nice to see.

 Sunday's criterium was a nice little rectangle, about a block offset from the course I'd ridden back in '94. Since then they had built a nice kind of park / entertainment area that spanned the course from the start/finish to the back side where we set up our tent on the neutral ground of Broad Street, just past turn #2. As in the road race, the Club Women would be going first. I was a little surprised how cool it was - around 58° - so I pulled out my rain jacket, which was the only thing I had with long sleeves. Julia's race was 70 minutes. 

In the final laps Julia moved up near the front.

Kind of like the road race, the group stayed pretty much intact for the whole race. Julia was mostly staying sheltered in the back half of the field, which made us nervous every time there'd be an attack, but as it turned out she had everything under control. As planned, she was hoping for a pack sprint, and with a field of only 26 and a nice wide 4-corner course with long straights it wouldn't be too difficult to move around when necessary. The race did indeed come down to a 31 mph pack sprint and we were thrilled to see Julia come across the line in a solid 5th place, earning herself one of those big medals and a podium photo. Right behind her was Grace Saccone. I wasn't sure if I'd recognize Tom if I saw him, but later in the day I saw some Indiana riders talking and asked if he was there. One of them said, "No, but his daughter is right here." So I did get to chat with Grace for a minute and explain why some old guy from New Orleans knew her father.  

Part of Gavin's field along the back stretch.

Gavin's race was next, and with a field of 51 I knew it was going to be fast and aggressive. It was, with an average speed of 27.8 mph for the 80-minute race and a top speed of 35.9 mph on a pancake-flat rectangle. As in the road race, Gavin was hoping for a breakaway, but also as in the road race the big field wasn't really letting anything go very far before chasing it down. After a few futile attempts, Gavin settled in around mid-pack waiting for an opportunity. 

Gavin launches an attach with one to go!

Well sometimes you have to make your own opportunities and when things came down to 2 laps to go and at least 31 riders were still together there was only one option left. He worked his way to the front and as they were ringing the bell for the final lap he launched. It's a classic and time-honored move that always makes the sprinters hesitate, but it's also a roll of the dice. He flew down the back stretch at 30 mph but he was kind of a marked man from his solo attack in the road race and although he'd gotten a decent enough gap it wasn't quite enough to hold off the sprinters on the long drag race from the final corner to the finish line. 

Always throw you bike, even if it's for 22nd place!

Still, he ended up 22nd out of 51, and if there had been a "most aggressive" prize for the weekend he'd have won it hands-down. We had to wait around until after the final race - the Varsity Men where Lance finished 5th - for the awards ceremony, so it was late afternoon by the time we finally rolled out of Augusta. 

A championship podium and one of the big medals!

Fortunately, I was well-rested for the 9 hours on the road, aided only by two Red Bulls. We unloaded stuff at HQ a bit after midnight and Julia dropped me off at home around 12:30 before returning the van to campus and heading home herself. It was a really fun long weekend and I was happy I'd finally been able to go.

Waiting for the awards as Lance Abshire rolls past in the Varsity Criterium.

Photos at https://photos.app.goo.gl/oj3ViH3A59uhoUto9