"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


San Luis Obispo: Days 7 and 8, and Recap

Friday, March 13: The Wall

A warm day. The nicest weather so far at 2009 SLO Camp. We noticed it immediately this morning at sunrise as each of us walked from our rooms to the common area. It would be liberating to finally ditch the knee and arm warmers and even out the funky tan lines. Well, make them less funky, but as cyclists we are resigned to the birthday skinsuit lines.

The Wall day is always the most focused and intense day of the trip. After breakfast we rolled out again down Highway 1, this time about 20 miles out to Cayucos Beach, a small picturesque little town where, as I rolled down the hill past mom & pop grocery strores, B&Bs, and a surf shop, I could imagine living there with nothing more than a typewriter and about 12 cats to keep me company as I churned the Great American Novel, in between 100 mile rides along the coast.

Once in Cayucos, we split up into five teams, one more than last year, to stagger our approach to The Wall, a four mile climb straight up, after a 12 or so mile run up in a driving pace line. I was again grouped with three others from last year's run, Peter, Newt, and Stocky. Stocky would our protected man, as he was the best climber in our bunch. Behind us, five minutes back, would the so-named "Snakes" - Luke, Ed, JT, Joe, and Seth. But, we also had Randy with us, so I was definitely liking our chances of not getting caught, with Seegs and Moyer doing some heavy lifting as well.

Looking back on our blazing departure north onto Highway 1 to the turn off at Cambria, I should've been more careful about choosing my wheel in the paceline. The general rule is, you don't want to be in front of or behind the strongest rider - in this case, Newt. The man is a freaking stallion - an efficient, powerful, confident and aggressive rider. But, we fell into order like a single-minded unit and we were off.

So self-conscious am I of my own pace, I am reticent to call anyone else out for going too fast. I did once, but mostly I felt I had to man up and just work harder. But Newt is so full of bike rage, every time he pulled through the pace would increase by 2 or 3 miles an hour. When it came time to pull through, I would be halfway cooked already - running at 450 watts just to keep the pace up in the headwind. And so it went to the foothills of The Wall, me needing to pull off about 30 seconds earlier than I wanted to and slowing the train down.

I hung on longer than I did last year, but still was the first to be broken off. We caught the group in front of us at almost the same spot, and the two of us merged into a super-paceline of at least 12 riders. I was already getting gapped at that point and faded to the back for maybe another quarter mile before a serious hole opened up in front of my wheel. This cause a series of curses to come from Tom Briney, behind me who then bridged up and caught back on before the group disappeared around the next bend. Only to be seen occasionally in a break through the trees, they gained ground on those behind them, and increased the suffering for those still hanging on. With each glimpse I would catch another rider being shelled off the back.

I caught several riders on the way up, after regaining my composure and strength. I caught Jeff at almost the same spot last year, yelling at him to say it again, to tell me to "get my fat ass up there!" He and several others were zig-zagging their way up one of the greater-than-20% grade sections. I just slowly muscled the cranks straight up them, explosively blowing snot as I exhaled through my nose after each hoarse gasp.

I was maybe 6th to the top, after Moyer, Pankonin, Randy, Peter, and Stocky. While I fall back and seem to lack potential on the hammerfests and stinging, quick climbs, I excel, however, when brute force is required over flashy power and quick wits. I am most in my element when others are slowing, despairing, or even unclipping and walking up. I should definitely try to find an uphill time trial this year.

The group arrived at the top all within 20 minutes, and we sat in the sunshine and recovered, laughing and BSing, listening to "Eye of the Tiger" blast out of the sag wagon's speakers. Soon we were spread out all over the backside of the mountain and on the way down, confidence in descending weeding the slower ones out, myself included, and holding us back. But soon we were all regrouped back along the highway.

A quick stop in Moro Bay State Park, we came back in the route from last year where our disastrous crash struck, along the shoulder in the deep cracks of the pavement. I thought I caught a glimpse of "the crack" as we cruised along single file, full of caution. The day was warming, with a comfortable tailwind and bright sunshine blowing through the tall grass and poppies along the road.

A few of us opted for the long version of the day's ride, and after another hour, we found ourselves in Avila Beach, relaxing on the sidewalk, eating ice cream and slurping espresso. I dipped my swollen, aching feet into the same Pacific Ocean that laps on the shores of my hometown, Anchorage, standing next to a sign that warned swimmers with a reminder of a confirmed shark attack in 2003.

The mailbox sprint came and went again, with me out of position. JT led it out into forever in the headwind with Peter on his wheel. Stocky bridged Ed, Luke and I up and soon it was a train six long until JT finally cracked and Ed and Peter jumped. It seemed Luke was successfully on Ed's wheel, but that reverie only lasted for a second as Ed fanned left, sending Luke and I across the yellow line, and we both sat up. I heard some thing clink loudly on the pavement but thought nothing of it.

Getting back to the room, the clink I heard came back as I realized in horror that it was my ziplock bag, carrying my cell phone, credit cards, and driver's license. I panicked and completely lost my temper, and the manager who was cleaning a room down the way had to come over and calm me down.

Emanuele and I took the sag back out, and, miraculously, right by the mailbox that starts the jump, we found my phone and credit cards. We looked futilely however, on the pavement and kicking in the grass for over twenty minutes, for my license. I was assured however, by the Southwest Airlines customer service rep that it would be possible for me to fly the next day.

We had our camp dinner that night and laughed and applauded and awarded and relived our experiences. Dave Moyer was voted Outstanding New Rider. Truly deserved. He certainly shined in winning something like four Cat 5 races last year, but in SLO he hung with the elites and the leaders every day, on every climb. A confident and aggressive rider, he is also humble and genial. I am really looking forward to riding with him - if I can keep up.

Later we headed back to the hotel to celebrate Jacques' birthday with some surprise cupcakes sent by his wife and few impromtu cupcake-eating contests. Won handily by Newt. His hand to mouth reflexes, not to mention speed-chewing, have been well-honed.

Off for drinks, I had a few snags with my missing ID, still managing to enjoy a couple of Wild Turkeys. Yet at the fouth bar, I decided I'd be better off back in bed, rather than arguing with the bouncer about it, instead getting ready for the next day's ride.

Saturday, March 14th

We over slept, ate a quick breakfast and rolled out sharply at 8am for the day's 2 hour 27 mile ride. A hell of a climb. It seemed to stretch into nowhere, which made it very hard to gauge my effort and catch the two or three riders immediately in front of me, including Randy and Jeff, who'd finally caught me on a climb. He'd said all last year not to miss this ride, that it was his favorite of the entire camp.

On the way back, alone after getting gapped on the descent and rolling through the mailbox sprint, what did I see, alone on the side of the road, glinting in the morning light like Frodo's ring? My ID.


I am a much stronger rider this year, and I should have a stellar racing season. Many more on our team are, as well. They are also much more confident and aggressive than I am, however. And if I am to get my upgrade on schedule, and be competitive in the 3s, I need to find a way to leverage my natural tendency to show people respect instead of wanting only to stomp on them. Right now it's killing my tactical thinking.

I have difficulty getting better at tactics in training situations, because I could never think of teammates that way, but I guess I'd better. I am always the laughing stock of the sprint afterwards, rolling in twenty feet behind the action, with a confused smile on my face. When I realize too late that once again I am out of position, the prostrations that spew forth as I try to move back leave me with a bit of bad taste in my mouth, as if the prime positions are not meant for me.

Truth is I need to be thinking ahead far earlier in the game. It's that simple. No need to take it personally. It's all a part of being "pro". Which is why we go to SLO in the first place. More personally, and something I really do have a problem with, is staying clean - in both the kit and the bike. For whatever reason, no matter how much I clean the bike, no matter much dry I try to suck the gel packet, I am the one sporting the greasy calf and the chocolate smudge on his jersey pocket.

I take a LOT of heat for it. It's mostly good-natured, but some mornings I could hear the jokes drifting forward on the breeze, not meant for my ears while riding at the front, and it cut. Because I don't know why I can't not be dirty and not be looking like a newb. There are far, FAR dirtier bikes in our peleton. Yet, I have earned the nickname "Pigpen" for God's sake. A grease chain on your calf is now a "Morrissey." I don't want it, however. It's not funny anymore. At least until I am a 2, if that ever happens.

In the movie, "Bull Durham," Kevin Costner advises Tim Robbins that when he's in The Show, fungus on his shower shoes make him eccentric, but in the minors, it just makes him a slob.

So, as of now, I will be more Pro. If it means balling up every empty gel pack tightly, scrubbing the kits for two hours after rides and races, or losing an entire day to cleaning the bike (as I did today upon getting it out of the travel case) I will do it.

I'm tired of jokes, the names, and not being respected. I never thought I'd have to give less respect to earn it, and I still don't. I don't count Lance Armstrong as one of my inspirations, instead keeping Andy Hampsten in that pantheon. Rather than being driven by thoughts of grinding my opponents, and anyone who gets in my way, to dust and grit, I'll just go as hard as I can, knowing that I don't have to win, I just have to give all I that have to give.

That I can change.

Welcome to 2009. Race well, win lots, and be safe.


bstocky said...


Please accept my apologies for any ribbing I gave you regarding the grease smudges. It’s seems we pushed it too far. Respect. You certain have my respect. You are always ready to lend a hand or help a team mate. A true sportsman. As for being out of position on the sprints…I’m there with you my friend! To sprint practice we go.

Newtrøn said...

good stuff

The Car Whisperer said...

no apologies needed...just a bit wrecked emotionally from the relationship roller-coaster I am just now getting off of. And my period.

The Car Whisperer said...

And no more gel shots. Walgreen's $.99 Candy: orange slices, gummis, and jelly beans, in plastic bags.

I'll still eat Clif Bars tho. GO CLIF BAR!

allenpg said...

Brian, my calves look like a gear box and I clean my bike a couple of times a week. If your drivetrain doesn't leave marks, it's not lubed enough (or you're using a wax-based lube, which can be a can of worms around here). Cleaning your bike is meant to keep it operating tip-top and prevent premature component wear. Get in the habit and your bike will love you. It's not about the looks, it's about the ride.


P.S. Ditch the gels and go Shot Blocks. The new packaging rocks!