Tuesday, February 19, 2019

False Advertising at College Station

Ready to head back home
Last weekend was another collegiate race weekend, and although those things usually take a big bite out of my own riding time, I was kind of excited about it because the weather forecast was looking so much better than the prior weekend. Granted, it was a pretty low bar, but when I started stuffing things into my travel bag on Friday morning I was expecting dry roads and temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Winter jacket?  Naaah. Thermal knickers? It won't be cold enough for those. Basically, I brought a summer kit, and then threw in a long-sleeve jersey and wind-front base layer "just in case." I know better than that, of course. I mean, after all these years of racing I should know better than to head off on a cycling road trip in February without clothes suitable for 35-degrees and rain.

Keeping warm at the Road Race
There was another reason I should have been less optimistic. On Tuesday I'd come down with a head cold. Scratchy throat, sleepless nights, stuffed-up head. By Friday I'd been on 12-hour pseudoephedrine for three days, but since I was so certain that the weather would be dry and relatively warm, I just knew I'd be able to do at least a bit of riding on Saturday and Sunday, salvaging a bit of the weekend and perhaps keeping me from getting fatter than I already was, having already skipped rides because of the head cold. Although there were only four TU riders making the trip, they had been unable to get a Tulane minivan from the motor pool, so Dustin and I were taking personal cars instead. I'd have one person and four bikes, while Dustin would have the other two bikes and riders. We hit the road around 2 pm on Friday for the long drive to Texas A&M at College Station. The drive was marred by a lot of traffic and a fair amount of road construction, but we still arrived at a pretty reasonable hour.

Cold and wet Time Trial riders
Early Saturday morning, after not sleeping very much, I stumbled in the dark over to the Super-8 motel window, pushed aside the curtain, and thought, "Crap." It was raining, and the temperature was in the 30s, all of which was entirely different than what Weather.com had led us to believe twenty-four hours earlier. It looked like the actual rain would end in time for the 8 am Time Trial, but they weren't offering much hope as far as the temperature went. It was going to be cold and wet all day, and, being only partially recovered from a head cold, there was no way I'd be getting on the bike that day. I hadn't even brought much in the way of warm non-cycling clothes with me, so I layered-up with what I had, and pulled the rain jacket out of my commuting bag for good measure.

Gavin ready to go for the TT
The Time Trial was the same as it had been in earlier years, a 10 km one-way affair at 30-second intervals with absolutely no course control. I don't know how they get away with doing this sort of thing over in Texas without having at least a couple of police cars around. Anyway, it was clear that I wasn't the only one who had been led astray by weather.com's false advertising. All of the riders were clearly improvising in one way or the other, although in some cases they were just wearing their skinsuits and freezing. At any rate, the TT went fine. Gavin, competing as a Cat. A for the first time, was 5th out of 19 with a solid time. Kaitlyn and Julia, competing in Cat. B, went first and second. only 9 seconds apart, and both faster than the 2nd place Cat. A woman. Julie finished 7th in the Women C.

Cat. B Women on the line
By the time the afternoon criteriums started on the A&M campus the roads were reasonably dry, but the temperature was practically unchanged. Riders were wearing everything from summer kit to full tights and jackets. As seems to be typical at collegiate races, they completely changed up the races and start times on the spot, with the result that the B and C women would be riding together. At least this was better than what was posted on the original flyer, which showed one criterium starting 5 minutes after the next. Julia and Kaitlyn were primed for this race, and after Julia put some pressure on the field early in the race, it wasn't long before Kaitlyn rode off the front of the group.

Kaitlyn attacks, Julia creates a gap - teamwork
That quickly split the pack and Julia tucked herself into a small 4-rider chase group where she could bide her time while the others tried in vain to close the gap to Kaitlyn, who somehow managed to stay out there all the way to the end, raising her hands as she crossed what she thought was the non-existent finish line where there was a Bike Barn flag. The actual finish was about thirty feet farther, but it didn't really matter. When Julia's group sprinted, Julia also sat up at the flag rather than the finish line, which was actually just a seam in the road with traffic cones on either end. I don't think that mattered, but she was definitely disappointed to finish 3rd instead of winning the pack sprint. Julie finished 9th in the C category. It felt good to get back in the car with the heater on, I must say.

Pensive Gavin
So Sunday morning it was still cloudy, but at least the temperature was up into the low 50s. I was feeling better than I had the day before and decided that I'd pile on some extra clothes to avoid getting chilled and pull the bike out to see if I could get in some easy to moderate miles without risking pneumonia. Confirming rumors from the prior day, the road course had been modified and shortened to cut out the advertised gravel section because just the day before the county had laid down a nice new thick layer of new and essentially unrideable gravel. I'm sure some were disappointed by this development. I wasn't one of them.

Cat. A RR Field
First off were the A men with Gavin. Dustin was tagging along at the back of that one. I waited until they started, then got my bike together, and jumped in behind them when they came around at the end of the 2nd 6-mile lap. I was still pretty concerned about stressing my compromised lungs, so the first time the pace kicked up into the 30s I eased off the back, stopping at the end of the lap to re-assess before continuing. I was wearing my thick commuting vest over a long-sleeve jersey and wind-front base layer, so despite the bare legs I was pretty warm and ended up with the vest mostly un-zipped and functioning like a parachute. I stopped again at the start before resuming when the breakaway came by, and then dropping off from them to wait for what was left of the field that included Gavin, and riding with them before stopping with one lap to go so I could see the finish. Gavin looked pretty well-toasted but still sprinted and finished 10th out of 21, which was pretty good for his first Cat. A road race.

Flying Feedzone Water Bottle
Next up were the women, and by then I was feeling a little more confident that I could make a few efforts without doing too much lung damage. Dustin and I started behind the B women, who were mixed in with the Cat. C men, which is really never a good thing but almost always happens with collegiate around here.  This race was obviously slower and shorter, so Dustin and I sat at the back for all but the final lap. They were probably only half-way through when the pack split with Julia and Kaitlyn unfortunately on the wrong side of the split. We didn't really know how many of the B women were in the lead group, which fairly quickly disappeared into the distance, and since we couldn't really engage in any coaching under the circumstances we couldn't ride up to Kaitlyn or Julia to ask. Well apparently there must not have been any B women up there because in the end Kaitlyn won the pack sprint with Julia 2nd, which is how the final results were posted.

Right after the women finished we loaded up the cars and headed out for food before hitting the road for home. Julie, who was in the car with me, was having intestinal problems from something she ate at lunch the whole way back. Luckily I had some kind of medicine to help with that in my first aid kit. By the time we left the sun was coming out and it was much warmer, but a few hours later we found ourselves driving through the same chilly wet weather we'd had on Saturday. Still, the drive back seemed a bit smoother and I was probably back home by 9:30 or so. All-in-all I was really happy that I'd been able to get in 50 miles or so without feeling like I'd done any significant lung damage.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Texas State Weekend

Gavin won the Cat. B tme trial, crit, and overall
Last weekend I drove over to San Marcos for the Texas State Ultra collegiate races. From the outset, I had a feeling I was driving away from the good weather and toward the bad weather. I was not mistaken. I was still nursing a sore jaw after having an implant screwed into my jawbone earlier in the week, so I figured I'd get in just a little bit of training and hopefully some more moderate riding. Gavin, Frank (Haoting), and I made the trip in one minivan, with the three women in the other, and Dustin and Joey from LSU going up in Dustin's car. The 8 or 9-hour drive went pretty smoothly and we arrived around 10:30 or so, I guess, which wasn't bad considering we had not left until around 2:00. The temperature was already down to 40 or so, and predicted to drop farther by morning. I went to sleep hoping we'd be able to get in the road races before the rain.

Riding back after taking photos on the hill
Naturally, when I looked out the window at 6 am the next morning it was raining, and although it was predicted to end around 8 am, when the races were scheduled to begin, by then there was no chance we'd be seeing any dry asphalt all weekend. This is at least the third time I've been to this race and the weather each time has been cold and wet. Anyway, although the rain was technically over, there was still a cold mist for the whole road race. Riders were piling on whatever warm clothing they could find, so actual team jerseys were kind of rare. Julia, who is on the Tulane team, raced all day in an LSU jacket. I had planned on starting behind the A men and then eventually dropping back to follow the B men, but I was still rushing spare wheels to the follow car when the A race started, so I lined up with Dustin behind the B race. I was wearing my heavy NOBC jacket, a warm long-sleeve base layer, a short-sleeve wind-front base layer, and a thin long-sleeve Nike base layer, along with full tights and shoe-covers. It was a bit of overkill, but then again I knew I wouldn't be actually racing and might very well end up riding by myself, so better safe than sorry. The road race started out fairly easy, but I immediately realized we weren't doing the loop that I thought we'd be doing. There had never been any course map available, and after the race I realized that we were doing the old loop, but in the opposite direction. Basically, I was totally lost most of the time. So we were probably just about half-way around the first of three laps and I'm not paying much attention and I look up and there's this fairly big climb up ahead. I was still in something like the 53 x 15, loafing around at the back of the pack, when it finally dawned on me that this thing was way more steep than I'd thought. By then I was bogged down and afraid to try and force a shift while standing on the pedals, so pretty much everyone rode away from me before I got to the top. I came over the top and got together with another rider and we traded pulls at a nice pace that was obviously not going to be sufficient to close the gap which was probably already up to 45 seconds or so. This was fine with me, and apparently with him as well. Around the end of that lap we picked up one of the A women who had started with this group and gotten shelled when there had been a big surge, so I got in a nice little 40-something mile paceline ride without ever getting too cold. Mission accomplished, although I'd have liked to have done one more lap just for the miles. Gavin ended up placing 3rd in this race, but the other races were kind of a disaster for us. Kaitlyn and Julia were in the Women's B race. Kaitlyn crashed twice and Julia crashed once, but Julia ended up winning anyway. Kaitlyn smashed up her hip pretty badly and didn't finish. She would later ride the criterium on Sunday, though. Meanwhile, Frank, who was in the A group, somehow took a wrong turn while off the front and ended up on a highway somewhere, finally finding his way back but not finishing the race. Oriane finished 9th in the Women's C race. Oh well. Still, a 1st and a 3rd were good.

Cleat troubles on a 16% - 20% grade section of the TT
That afternoon was the infamous Time Trial on Fulton Ranch Road that features some short sections of around 20% grade. It was still very cold by the time that started around 2 pm. Gavin posted the fastest time in the Men's B category that would have put him 6th in the A race, while Julia did the same in the Women's B category. Oriane, who had just gotten her first pair of cycling shoes the week before, had a cleat come totally loose part-way up the climb. Dustin and I were halfway up the climb taking pictures and when we saw her walking her bike Dustin ran over to see what happened. He kind of hand-tightened the cleat bolts and got her going again, so at least she finished. Frank had a good time that put him 12th among the A riders. Everybody was happy to head back to the hotel after that to clean up. The bikes and clothes and shoes were all covered with mud from the wet road race, but considering the forecast for Sunday, nobody bothered to clean any of it off.

trying to warm up
So Sunday the rain stopped in time for the races, but the course was wet throughout because of the mist that was falling. Fortunately, the whole thing was at a big sprawling high school with fairly new roads. The loop was over a mile around and not very technical at all. It was still pretty cold - around 40 I guess - and never really warmed up at all. Everybody rode the Crit, including Frank and Oriane who had never ridden one before. Considering the wet roads they had instructions to just drop off the back whenever it got sketchy.


Gavin, on the left, realizing he has a flat rear coming into a wet downhill turn.
In the Women's race, Kaitlyn went for one of the early points primes, won it, and then dropped out of the front group. Julia stayed in there and ended up winning the sprint, locking up the omnium in the process.

Julia swept the B race.
In the Men's B race there was a lot of action. Frank came off the back fairly early as expected, but Gavin was looking for a win and was up at the front a lot. I was taking photos part-way around the course where there was a little downhill turn when the group came by and I heard Gavin yelling "flat!" A piece of metal wire had gone through his rear tire. Luckily we had spare wheels in the pit, and with the course being so long, he was able to cut across to the pit, change the wheel, and jump back in just as they were coming around again. A couple of laps later he was off the front with another rider who quickly dropped off. Gavin then just put his head down and went for it. There was still a lot of time on the clock, and there was definitely an active chase going on behind him. After a while a 2-rider break separated from the pack and was hovering around 12-20 seconds behind him, so we were starting to worry that he would be caught. Somehow he found a little extra for the last few laps and pulled it out a few more seconds, winning the criterium and the overall, with lots of room to spare.

So although Saturday hadn't gone as planned, and the weather pretty much sucked the whole time, it all worked out OK with some good results to show. After stopping for lunch we hit the road for home around mid-afternoon, getting back in to NOLA as a thick fog was settling in around 10:30 pm. It was a fun trip, although I wish I could have gotten in some more riding myself.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Burned, Drilled, Fogged, and on the Road

The weather around here has been unseasonably warm for about a week now. Naturally it's about to change pretty significantly, but it's been quite a relief to be able to ride in basically summer kit for a few days. Being early February, I have had a really hard time not over-dressing. Basically, I can't accept the thermometer at face value, and pulled on the arm-warmers a few times when they really weren't needed.

Last weekend, after a pretty routine Giro Ride on Saturday, I went with a small group of Tulane riders up to Independence for an easy 60+ miles in the country. The strongest riders weren't there, so I actually had a pretty relaxing ride. I needed it, I think. A week or so ago I broke down and visited the dermatologist, which of course resulted in a liberal application of liquid nitrogen and a scrape biopsy on a little spot on my back. Amazing how they can pick out that one spot from among the thousands of others on my sun-ravaged body. I guess I was about the last generation before sunscreen became readily available. As a child I would get sunburned to the point of blistering at least once or twice each year. Back then we used "suntan lotion" which was basically mineral oil that did essentially nothing but provide an excuse to rub your hands over your girlfriend's body on the beach. So anyway, with the LN2 burns are slowly healing, I found myself at the dentist yesterday for phase II of an implant I need to replace that tooth that had to be pulled back in December because it had cracked underneath an old crown. I had already been back the week before when they did a CAT scan of my mouth in order to figure out where to drill -- in to the bone. So I wasn't exactly looking forward to this little visit during which they would slice open my gum down to the bone, force my mouth open way past its normal limit, drill a hole into my jaw bone, thread the hole, screw in a post, and then stitch up the gum. After that I went home and briefly - very briefly - contemplated whether or not to go to work. Luckily I decided to stay home, because an hour later when the anesthetic started to wear off, I knew I was going to be in for a couple of uncomfortable days on Ibuprofen. It's still a bit swollen and obviously tender. Fortunately I am well-stocked on avocados and soup at home.

Levee fog - one of the better sections
This morning I ventured out to the levee for the Thursday ride. Although there were heavy fog warnings out, there was really no fog until I got to the river. There, there was plenty of fog. I guess there were six or seven of us by the time we got to the playground. So there we were riding along the levee bike path, in the dark, in a paceline, in fog so thick you could barely see the rider in front. It was stressful, even at a relatively sedate 22 mph. I was spending a lot of time about a bike length behind the rider in front of me, just so I'd have a slim chance of avoiding a crash if something suddenly appeared out of the darkness in front. By the time we got to Williams Blvd. all but three had turned back. We decided to continue on to the Big Dip. Things improved ever so slightly after sunrise, which I can only assume happened somewhere above the fog layer, but it was still pretty sketchy for most of it. At one point Rich, who was on the front at the time, hit the brakes pretty hard when we came up on a police car that was stopped on the bike path in a particularly foggy area. Once he finished playing with his phone he said something to us on his loudspeaker, but we couldn't understand it. I can only assume it was along the lines of "Slow the f^*k down!" Anyway, we all survived, and thanks to the shortened distance I had time to stop for coffee, which I sipped carefully in order to avoid hitting the injured gum where the stitches were.

Tomorrow we'll have a small component of the Tulane cycling team heading off to Texas State for the first collegiate road event of the brief season. Naturally, a cold front is coming through tonight and the temperature in San Marcos will be in the upper 30s for the start of the road race with rain in the forecast for Sunday. At least it shouldn't be as bad as it was a few years back when the whole weekend was basically freezing cold rain. I'm going to bring the bike and hopefully tag along with the A or B race in order to get in some miles. That never really works out too well for me. I tend to sit at the back so I don't affect the collegiate race, which means I inevitably hesitate when the pace surges and get gapped off at some point.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Nice in Natchez

the group about to roll out on Saturday morning
The weather around here has been pretty unpredictable kind of the way the Space Mountain ride at Disneyworld used to be when most of it was in the dark and they let us ride it while holding onto our infant daughter. So it was with some not insignificant sense of relief that, some time around the middle of last week, I felt confident that it wouldn't rain this year for the Tulane cycling team's training camp up at the Natchez State Park, which is close to Natchez but closer the the Natchez Trace. Although I felt certain that we would remain dry, which is actually kind of rare for this particular training camp, I felt equally certain that it would be cold. Cold and dry, being orders of magnitude better than cold and wet, I went home early Friday afternoon and stuffed my bag with all of the warm cozy cycling clothes that would fit. The only thing I didn't pack was a pair of knickers since I just knew it would be too cold for that. Naturally I was wrong.

Waiting at Bruff Commons
After loading the car with my gear, plus the bike, plus a small tree saw (I was determined to have a fire in the fireplace at the cabin), I swung by Tulane to pick up Anna and Oriane who I'd be bringing with me.We got there before dark, which was nice, and as we were driving into the park we saw Dustin heading the other way on a mission to procure groceries for the weekend and pizza for the night. Remind me never to go grocery shopping with Dustin unless he's picking up the tab, by the way. So we hung out in the middle cabin of the three that would be housing 15 riders, two of which were LSU riders. It's been a joint Tulane/LSU training camp for a few years now. Finally, Dustin arrived with a stack of pizza boxes and a few hundred dollars worth of food. Since I no longer have the metabolism of a 23-year-old cyclist, I knew immediately I was in over my head. Drinks consisted of stuff I don't normally drink much of, like milk which I don't drink for reasons related to my gut microbiome's reaction to my mild but sometimes dramatic lactase insufficiency. Fortunately I had brought along a couple bottles of leftover Porter or Stout or something, along with a few cans of Coke.

Just some of the food on hand
Interestingly, the male/female ratio this year was 0.875 which may have slightly reduced the amount of pre-ride trash talk. The training camp is much more about team-building than actual training, and this year I knew that the wide range of fitness levels was going to make it impossible to keep things together for long on the rides. I decided I'd try and ride herd on the rides and try to keep from leaving any of the riders alone and exhausted out in the middle of nowhere. Besides, I'd had a pretty solid three weeks of riding and had already started slacking off earlier in the week, so an easy January weekend wasn't going to cause me any undue anxiety.

Saturday morning we decided to wait until 10:00 to start the ride, which turned out to be perfect. Although the morning temperature had been in the mid-30s, by the time we started it had warmed up considerably. If I'd packed knickers, I would have worn them. I had brought knee-warmers, which I loaned to one of the riders, so I ended up with my thermal long tights, long-sleeve base layer, long-sleeve jersey, and wind vest. The wind vest was in my pocket by the time we got out of the park four miles later. Right from the start it was easy to tell which riders were going to be having trouble staying with the group because of the hills. I think it was Anna who was riding flat pedals with running shoes since her first pair of cycling shoes hadn't come in yet. The 60+ mile route for the day would take us north on the Trace for a bit, then back down Church Road and from there west and south to Natchez via a zig-zag route that included a mile or so of dirt road. My strategy was to ride with the main group while keeping track of who lost contact, and then backtracking at the intersections to pick up the stragglers and ride with them back to the intersections where we'd regroup. That assumed, of course, that everyone would wait at the intersections to regroup, and also that I could keep track of who was behind the group, neither of which happened. We did all regroup at the old Church on Church Road, where we took a group photo.

Post-ride on Saturday - everyone inside eating
On the way to the next intersection a few riders came off the back right away. As I'd planned, I stayed with the front group to the intersection and then turned back to pick up the last rider, or at least the rider I thought was the last rider. When I saw Julia a couple of minutes back I turned around and rode back to the intersection with her. Unfortunately, neither of us realized that Anna was yet another minute or two behind her. When we got to the intersection I was a little surprised that the group hadn't waited for us, so we continued on Emerald Mound road for a mile where I was sure they would be waiting at the Indian mound site. But they weren't. No worries, though. I was really enjoying the easy pace through the countryside with Julia and knew we'd all end up in Natchez at the Steampunk coffee shop eventually, plus I had the route on my Garmin. Well after making a few turns, we got onto a road where the Garmin kept telling me to turn right, which I knew couldn't be correct. As it turned out, the route was slightly offset from the actual road, so the Garmin kept trying to get us onto the road that it thought was twenty feet to the right, but wasn't. Anyway, once the road started heading north I got worried and stopped to check the map, which I couldn't do because we had no data service out in the middle of nowhere. I decided we must be going the wrong way, so we turned around. Luckily, about 100 feet later a guy in a pickup truck off to the side of the road yelled at us that the rest of the riders had indeed gone by earlier in our original direction, so we turned around again.  A little while later I got a text from Anna asking which way she should turn since she was by herself. I assumed she was somewhere ahead of us and had been dropped by the lead group, but after calling her figured out that she had been behind us the whole time and had turned the wrong way on Emerald Mound road. I gave her directions to ride to Natchez via the Trace, which I knew would be shorter.

Anyway, we all finally got back together in Natchez and had a nice ride back to the park, which was around 15 miles. Before we got off the Trace I doubled back to pick up the three riders who were off the back but had now learned to stay together! That night Dustin made an enormous batch of RB&R from scratch, which was pretty good. I'd spent the first night with my own bed since all of the girls had wanted to stay in the same cabin, but after they had improvised some of the sleeping arrangements, one of them was more than ready to take me up on the offer of taking my bed and letting me sleep on the couch. I'd slept on those couches before and knew that I'd fit nicely and would sleep fine, which I did.

Since things had gotten so split up on Saturday we decided to shorten Sunday's ride and instead just ride straight into Natchez on the Trace, do some efforts up and down the Bluff, and then ride back. That worked out nicely. It was slightly warmer on Sunday, even though we started at 9 am instead of 10, so I was pretty over-dressed with the long tights but since it never got very fast, I was OK. As I had before, I doubled back before we got off of the Trace to pick up the last three riders who were about a mile back. We were about 100 yards from the turn off of the Trace when one of the National Forest officers stopped us to tell us rather sternly that we had to ride single-file on the Trace. I had completely forgotten about that odd rule they put in place a few years ago. Fortunately, the larger group had escaped their notice both days!

Riding up the bluff in the 39x25
All-in-all it was a really nice, relaxing weekend for me, so I was really glad I'd gone. Back at home I went through a few hundred photos, posted the nicer ones, and shifted gears to get ready for the return to reality on Monday. Although I got in a short easy ride Monday morning, I knew that Tuesday was probably not going to happen. Indeed, when I woke up the streets were wet, there was a 30 mph wind blowing, and it was supposed to start raining fifteen minutes later. A cold front blew through precisely during my usual morning ride time. Now it's clear and sunny, but still windy and cold. The low tonight is supposed to be around 36, which isn't nearly as bad as it will be north of us, and I should be able to do the WeMoRi in the morning without much of a problem.

This morning I had a dentist appointment, which included a CAT scan, to prep for an implant to replace the tooth that had to be pulled back in December. That'll end up costing a couple thousand, of course, which will be on top of the five grand in property tax I'll be sending to the city tonight so that they can keep digging holes in my street. Remember those four traffic barrels that were in front of my house since January of 2018?  Still there.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Weekend Winter Rides and Little Crashes

Saturday morning Giro heading out.
Winter training rides tend to be predictable primarily with respect to their unpredictability. On the one hand, the time-honored winter training rides offer opportunities to make new friends, have long conversations about racing past and present, and generally catch up on some of the social interaction that tends to go quickly out the window when everyone's on the rivet, legs burning, and otherwise unable to form complete sentences. On the other hand, winter group rides always bring together a much wider diversity of riders. Some are seasoned bike racers putting in early season Long Slow Distance miles, some are newer riders jumping into their first serious group rides. Others might be long-lost ex-racers trying to get back into shape and rekindle the excitement that got them on the bike in the first place. In fact, winter is probably the best time for new competitive riders,or returning riders making a comeback, to start doing the faster group rides since speeds are often a bit slower, for shorter duration, and the stronger more compulsive riders are a bit more likely to have mercy on those at the back. Sometimes they will even speak to them and offer advice. Conversation turns from powermeter stats and Strava KOMs to topics like which shoe covers are the warmest and where we'll have coffee. So anyway, it's that time of year now. You would think that the group rides would be safer with the somewhat lowered competitive drive and cold weather and bulky clothes and all.

You would be wrong.

Looking at the hourly weather forecast early Saturday morning I was pretty sure we would get the Giro Ride in without much of a problem. The temperature would be in the 50s and it would be cloudy, and we might get a little bit of spotty rain, but the real cold front wasn't going to come through until later in the day, so while Saturday morning was looking fine, Sunday was still a bit up in the air temperature-wise. Over at Starbucks I was a little surprised how many riders were on hand as we rolled out along Lakeshore Drive. As is often the case when the temperature is in the 50s, practically every possible permutation of wardrobe accessories were in play. Some riders, presumable those with young well-lubricated knee joints, were in shorts and arm-warmers. Others, like me, in knickers and arm-warmers and various base layers. The occasional rider was in long tights. None were uncomfortable. As usual, the pace ramped up quickly when we hit Hayne Blvd. I knew there were four or five guys at the front who were looking for a workout, so I was trying to be attentive to any gaps that might open while also avoiding the infamous line of manhole cover cracks on the road. Turning right at the end of Hayne I made an effort to move closer to the front as we came into a bit of a headwind and things got a little strung out. We came over the I-10 overpass and down onto I-510 at only 25 or 26 mph, which was pretty normal, if not slow, for that little downhill. This is where the group has to cross two lanes of interstate traffic that is turning off of I-10 and onto 1-510, so that we can get into the exit lane. It's always a little dangerous here and numerous riders, including myself, will be looking out for cars and calling out if it's clear or not. That day is was clear and there was no need to slow down at all. The problem, however, was that the road there has just recently received a nice new asphalt overlay, but the shoulder hasn't. That leaves a two or three-inch drop-off at the edge of the lane. Well, as riders were crossing the two lanes to the right and then curving back to the left to line up with the lane, a couple of them overshot and caught that edge. I was ahead of that, chasing a group that already had a little gap, and at first all we heard was someone screaming something. We all figured it was just a flat and continued on a bit until we were off of the interstate. That's when we found out that two or three riders had crashed. The front group was already up the road, but the rest of us waited or turned around to assist, riding carefully the wrong way on the shoulder. By the time we got back to the crash site there was already a little group riding back, nobody was on the ground, and a couple of the riders who had crashed were heading our way ready to continue. So it was all good and we pacelined out to Venetian Isles, turning around to meet back up with the front group that was, I'm sure, disappointed to discover that they hadn't actually dropped all of us. There was another little surge on Hayne as we got a few drops of rain.

Sunday, somewhere near Bogalusa
Sunday morning we had an NOBC Northshore Ride scheduled and the weather over there was as cold and overcast as predicted. I think it was right around 40 when we started (my Garmin always seems to show a couple of degrees colder), and there was a pretty significant northwest wind blowing. On the way over I had been thinking that there might be only three or four other riders, considering the weather and the fact that there was a big Saints game that afternoon, so I was quite surprised to find maybe twenty people ready to go at 8:00. As usual, there was a pretty good mix of riders on hand. A few were hoping for a nice easy 63 miles in the country, most were hoping for a moderately challenging workout, maybe a couple were looking for something harder. We had mapped out both an "A" route and a slightly shorter "B" route, and a few people had planned to turn back early anyway, so by the time we were on Choctaw Road the group was down to about a dozen. Dustin had convinced Kaitlyn to ride, although she really didn't have the miles in her legs yet and had just gotten back in town for the Spring semester the day before. She had a pretty hard ride, coming off the back every time the pace heated up. Fortunately, everyone was fine waiting for the two or three riders off the back to regroup at the intersections, and most of the time they were only a minute or so back, so that was fine. I put in a little effort on the back stretch as usual when Dustin kind of attacked one of the little hills and rode off the front. Three of us came together after that and mounted a bit of a chase, although the best we could do was maintain the gap which was probably around 45 seconds or so.

After we regrouped and made the turn near Bogalusa to start heading back, everyone was in a nice long paceline rolling down Hwy 60 when all of a sudden riders are going down right in front of me. Jaro's head was sliding across the ground in front of me as I swerved hard to keep from plowing into it. In fact, my front wheel brushed his helmet, but luckily it wasn't enough to take me down. I think three riders hit the ground on that one. Fortunately the car that had been behind us stopped and waited patiently while we picked everything up off the road. I'm sure they had some good stories to tell at church that day. Although it might have been much worse, everyone involved was back on their bikes quickly, and whatever injuries there might have been must have been fairly minor. The only evidence of a crash could see were some tears in some shorts and Jaro's slightly twisted handlebars. Anyway, by the time we got to South Choctaw Road, maybe twelve or fifteen miles from the end of the ride, it was clear that Kaitlyn was running on fumes and a couple others were getting near the ends of their ropes as well. Between intersections the group would split, then we'd wait to regroup, then we'd repeat. All this time the sky was dark and the temperature wasn't rising at all, so some of us were starting to get pretty cold from the sweat generated earlier in the ride.

Afterwards a few of us stopped at McAllister's for some badly needed food. Even after sitting in the relatively warm eatery and consuming a nice helping of hot mashed potatoes, I was still feeling pretty chilled when I got back into the car for the drive across the Causeway. I cranked the thermostat up to 75 degrees, set the cruise control at 65, and tuned in to "60s on 6" on the satellite radio, gradually getting my core temperature back to almost normal by the time I got home. 

Winter rides.  Gotta love 'em.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Back to It

Sunday northshore ride - 20 degrees warmer by the time we finished
It was "back to work" on Wednesday, but not until after heading out for the 5:45 am WeMoRi. Outside, the streets were wet and it was foggy and chilly, and I wondered how many might actually show up at the lakefront. Although the thought of staying in bed definitely crossed my mind, I went out anyway, reluctant to throw in the towel quite so early in the new year. I was running just a little bit later than usual so when I got to Lakeshore Drive I turned west, expecting to be swept up by the group at any minute, but the minutes passed and passed and still no group. I figured I must have missed them, so rode back to Wisner, cutting across the City Park loop at Filmore and then turning left so that I'd meet the group as it came up Marconi. I rode all the way to I-610 and still no sign of the group, so I turned around and wondered if perhaps nobody had showed up at all. I was already wet so I went back to Lakeshore Drive and somewhere around Bayou St. John finally met up with a trio of riders that, as it turned out, was pretty much the entire WeMoRi that day. Someone's pedal had come off at the start, so they were running way behind schedule, and as I was riding around searching for them I somehow managed to miss them entirely. Thursday morning's situation wasn't much better, and I ended up with a shortened levee ride then as well.

As bad as the weather had been for a solid week and a half, it was finally looking to be improving for the weekend, so we scheduled an NOBC Northshore Ride for Sunday. I rode the Saturday Giro, which was pretty much a typical winter Giro with a few fast sections and a few slower sections. I'd put on a new chain the prior Thursday, and was quite happy to have done so early enough that there was no skipping on the older cassette. I changed it at around 2,800 miles, which seems to be about the limit for me. If I let it go much more than that it's almost guaranteed that I'll be buying a new cassette too.

S. Choctaw Road
So Sunday morning I met up with Randy Holmes who is back in New Orleans. Randy started racing back when he was about 14 years old, around the same time as I, but hadn't really lived in the city for a long time. He was anxious to see how much things had changed on the northshore. Anyway, when we arrived at the Lee Road ballpark there was a nice turnout of maybe fifteen or so on hand. It was pretty chilly, but the sky was clear and we were expecting the temperature to rise by about twenty degrees by the time we finished the planned 63 mile ride. I'd be trying out the route function on my new Garmin 520, and although I pushed a number of wrong buttons, I did get it working nicely, not that I needed it much on a route that I'd mapped out myself.

The weather on Sunday was practically perfect for riding. Temperatures in the 50s and 60s, minimal winds, clear blue sky, and just the right size group. We stopped a number of times to re-group at intersections, which allowed for a couple of fast segments for those who were interested. Noel it getting ready for a trip to Cuba where he's planning on doing some fast group rides and perhaps a race, so he was doing a fair amount of work at the front. I was feeling fairly good and really enjoyed the faster parts of the ride, especially the little climbs. Scott G was on the ride trying to get back in shape, and by the time we were halfway through he was already struggling. When we got to Choctaw Road he took the shorter route to Enon where we re-grouped, but by then his legs were toast. Once we turned onto Tung Road I told Steve I was going to backtrack and pick him up. Steve did the same. By then he was pretty far back and definitely in limp mode, but fortunately only about four miles from the end. Even at 15 mph he'd immediately come off of my wheel on the slightest of inclines. I'd look back and be surprised how far back he would be. But I knew exactly how he felt because I've been right there on more than one occasion. Anyway, it was a really nice ride that day.

The weather on Monday and Tuesday was still pretty nice, although it was quite foggy and fairly windy on the levee Tuesday morning. We just had a few people show up, so we turned around at the Big Dip which I guess was OK under the circumstances. I was definitely still feeling the effects of Sunday's rolling terrain. This morning I went out to meet the WeMoRi, and once again my timing was less than perfect. Riding along Lakeshore Drive in a strong double-digit northeast wind looking for the group I saw a lone rider going pretty fast, but there were no lights behind him. I turned around and followed, but it wasn't until I was on Robert E. Lee until a 4-rider break caught me. I latched onto that because, looking back, I could tell that the rest of the group was way behind. We turned onto Wisner and picked up a pretty good bit of tailwind. I was sitting on the back of the rotation trying to come to terms with the dramatic increase in effort, and was finally starting to come around when we hit the Wisner overpass. Naturally there was a surge there, which wasn't much of a problem, but coming over the top someone at the front really put the hammer down. I was behind Rob who was on his track bike, and about halfway down the overpass a gap started to open. Rob was maxed out in whatever fixed gear he was riding and I'd guess he probably hit something around 200 RPM for a while there, but it wasn't enough as we were going close to 39 mph by the bottom. I finally, and reluctantly, came around him since it didn't look like the pace was going to ease off, and with great effort finally closed the gap, but it didn't last long. Just after I finally got a wheel we went around the corner onto City Park Avenue and there was another surge. I made a very brief effort before blowing up. I knew Rob would be heading straight home from there, so I was on my own most of the way down Marconi until the next group finally caught me. By then the 3-rider break was a good minute plus up the road. Behind us there was yet another little group as well. I guess the crosswind on Lakeshore Drive must have shattered everything on the way out. Anyway, at least I had a nice tailwind all the way home.

Tonight winter will be returning and by morning it's supposed to be 42° F with another cold front coming through on Saturday. Still, we're not expecting anything much below that for the next ten days, and some lows will be in the mid-50s, so I really can't complain. Things don't get uncomfortable on the bike until it gets down into the mid-30s, really.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Rainy Restart

Most of the group at the Spillway. There was a second group a couple of minutes back.
The plan was to do a nice 50-mile ride out to the spillway to kick off the new year. The forecast was looking better than it had been for days, lots of people were interested, the temperature would be in the 60s, and we wouldn't be starting until 8:30 am. What more could you ask, right?

Shiny roads
I woke up a couple of times in the early morning to hear rain outside. Actually, what I mostly heard was the stream of water pouring down from the broken gutter just above my bedroom window, but at any rate, it was not what I'd been led to expect by the National Weather Service, aka weather.com. By 7 am the text messaging started. Looking at the radar, I was sure that the line of rain that was barely moving to the east would be past us by 9:30, so I sent out emails and FB posts pushing the start time back by an hour. Around 8:30 I found out that a number of people hadn't gotten the message before riding down to Z'otz on Oak Street where we were to meet. A little while later it started raining again and the radar started looking worse rather than better. Well, like me a lot of riders were determined to get in a ride on New Year's Day, come hell or high water. I left the house around 9:00 and when I got to Z'otz  few minutes later I was a little surprised to see a half-dozen riders huddled under the sidewalk awning waiting for the ride to start. I stuffed my raincoat into my pocket and went inside to get a cup of coffee, and then sat down in my usual spot outside to wait for whoever else might show up, which was basically Pat by that time. It was still raining and I wouldn't have been surprised if a number of riders had just called it a day at that point and headed home, but as it turned out everyone mounted up and headed out on Oak Street in the rain for what promised to be a rather soggy start to 2019.

We soon picked up Mignon and Mark and a few others up on the levee, and before long the pace started to pick up. Howard went to the front and upped the pace a couple mph, which split the group, and we didn't really all come back together until around the Big Dip, despite some slow-downs to negotiate the leftover piles fireworks that were littering the bike path.

Clean Slate
It was one of those rides where it was sometimes actually raining, sometimes not, but always wet because of the wheel spray. The pace was kind of erratic as there were a few riders determined to get in a workout, a few more determined not to get dropped, and a few others who didn't care one way or the other. In a way it was rather fun. If it had been colder I would have been absolutely miserable, but fortunately I'd over-dressed with the expectation of being wet. Over-dressing when the temperature is in the 60s means wearing an old jersey under your regular one and pulling on the arm-warmers. So I was never really cold except for a few minutes after we stopped to take a documentary photo at the spillway.

So once again I am re-starting with a clean slate. Last year's miles are just a matter of history now and a new year of riding has started. In the rain. With friends. I am taking it as an omen of a good 2019 that despite riding in the rain for three hours, nobody had a flat!