Sunday, December 9, 2012

2012 Boulder Cyclocross Series Finale

It’s time for another rare, collector’s edition, blog post about cyclocross. Today was the final race in the Boulder Cyclocross series. With my good showings at Interlocken (2nd) and Valmont (1st), I had a tenuous hold on the overall series lead. As the race approached, I crunched the numbers and knew who I needed to watch out for on race day to maintain my lead.

It seemed as if the cycling gods were not smiling on me as this race approached. First, the race got moved to the Boulder Reservoir. I’ve successfully avoided racing there for several years because I hadn't liked it previously. A lot of sand and sometimes goatheads. Second, some cold weather and snow were supposed to move in. I’m not really fond of racing in snow. But hey, at least the sand would be frozen, right?

Race day came, but the snow didn’t. It was cold, but dry. My legs didn’t feel great during my warmup, but I at least felt like I was riding the sand reasonably well. I got off to a pretty good start – 3rd wheel going into the first section of sand. I nearly lost my rear wheel coming off the pavement, but I saved it. I think it kind of shook me though, and it showed in my tentative riding.

I battled near the front for the first lap, but my legs felt heavy and I was starting to get overtaken. On the second lap, someone came up on the inside of a corner, overcooked it, and stopped dead in the tape. I was riding pretty close, and ran into him. The crash managed to mess up my front brake enough that I couldn’t ride, so I ran to the pit to grab my spare. Someone I knew happened to be working the pits for another friend and he grabbed my bike. I told him what was wrong, and he had it fixed up by the next time I went by the pit. We performed a flawless bike exchange, and I was on my way. I owe Eric a beer. It was unbelievable how smooth that went.

By this point I was pretty cooked and I could see that my closest competition in the overall standings was up the road. It was pretty frustrating, but I charged ahead hoping that he would slip back or I could pick up some places. When I crossed the line I thought for sure I had lost the overall by maybe one place. It’s devastating to have that happen due to a mechanical problem (although my poor riding was probably more to blame).

The promoter of the race uses a chip timing system that, when it works correctly, provides instant unofficial results via a laptop. After I dusted myself off and congratulated my friends, I went over to check the results. Low and behold, I did just enough to keep the overall lead! My competition finished in 8th, which meant I needed to finish 11th or better. I finished 10th. It is super exciting to pull that off. I wish I could have had a better series finale performance, but I’ll take it.

As usual, the amateur racing scene doesn’t pay too well. I won a free pair of shoes ( that I can’t get in the wide width that I need), a jersey, socks, and a small plaque.

One more race weekend to go –the state championships. I’m gunning for the podium.
Boulder CX series podium 2012 35+ Cat 3

Monday, November 19, 2012

Did I really just win a race?

I haven’t done any race reports this year, but now seems like a good place to start. I’ve been having a great cyclocross season with several top 10’s and even a second place at Interlocken. I started out the season hoping that I could just hang with this group that readily kicked my ass last year, and now I’m a contender.

Saturday was another race at the Valmont bike park in Boulder. I got off to a slow start and soon found myself around 10th. I burned some matches early and was able to get into a lead group of about 7, but I wasn’t feeling great. I thought I was going to have to go into damage control mode, but soon people started fading and making mistakes. After a few laps, there were just 3 of us up front with a small gap to the chasers.

I sat in third for a while, happy to let the others set the pace. When the 2nd place rider was having trouble holding on to the wheel in front of him, I came around him and closed the gap. The guy in first made a couple attacks, but I was comfortable and able to cover them. At the top of the course with 2 laps to go, he really slowed down. I took the cue to pull around and set the pace for the descent. He pulled back around me on the last lap and put in another surge to try and drop me again. As strong as he was, I could always make up some ground and catch him on the technical stuff. (I never thought I’d be talking about out-riding people on technical terrain.) I sat on his wheel for most of the rest of the lap. I knew my legs were good, and I was hoping they were better than his.

On my warmup laps, I had paid attention to where I thought the last good place for passing was. When we got to that point on the last lap I gave it everything I had and pulled into first. I never looked back until the last corner, and I could see he was still close. One last explosion to make it across the line, and I won by less than a second.

This win means a lot to me. My skills were good, my legs were good, and I really rode smart and executed a game plan to beat some really tough competition. I was really frustrated last year after upgrading and feeling like I’d never see the front end of the race again. I’ve been working super hard this year and it’s amazing to feel the hard work pay off. I have enough upgrade points to upgrade to a Cat 2 now. Wow. That’s still a little hard to believe. I’m hoping I can finish out the season as a Cat 3 and then upgrade to Cat 2 for next year.

2012-11-17 Valmont first place
Not even enough time to throw my hands in the air.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

American Lakes July 2012 - Camping in the rain

Panoramic morning in the mountains
One of our favorite places to camp is at the American Lakes in the Colorado State Forest State Park. Not only is it a super beautiful spot, but it's also where we went on our first camping trip together and we go there every year.

This year, our trip was a little wetter than most. Okay, a lot wetter. This is probably the wettest camping trip I've done in Colorado. Usually storms around here are a quick affair, so found some trees to hang out under a couple times when some stronger rains came. Of course, when we got to our camping spot a nice long heavy storm came. We waited under some trees, but the sparse spruce trees at 11,000 feet don't do a great job of blocking rain so we still got soaked.

I can appreciate a little rain, but it sucks when it doesn't stop long enough to even cook dinner. Not to mention, it's also a bummer to share a tent with some wet, muddy, and cold dogs. As we sat in our tent eating our dinner (a big-time no-no for sure) we decided to make it a 1-night trip instead of 2, and we'd have a "do-over" another weekend.

It rained off and on all night, but it stopped for the morning and we got a reminder of why we love to come here so much. The rain is a double edged sword. While it's a hassle for camping, it makes this valley beautifully green, keeps the bugs down, and feeds the wildflowers. On top of that, it keeps people away so we had those whole gorgeous scene to ourselves while we enjoyed breakfast.

Wet Banksy 
One Soggy Banksy

Kuzca models her new jacket. We just got these recently and were really glad to have them on this trip. It helped keep them warm on a damp chilly night. We've tried covering Kuzca with a blanket before, but it never stays on all night.

I have fond memories of our first camping trip to the American Lakes. It was Christine's dog's, Bucket's, last backpacking trip. He spent most of the day swimming in the lakes and was really tired on the way back to the car. We had to stop several times so he could lay down and rest.
It all comes full circle. Kuzca is now 10 years old, and she's not quite the spry pup she used to be. She still loves to go walking, but we were worried about how much she'd be able to hike. She tackled the hike into the lake with no problem, but she was hurting on the way out. We think the combination of two days in a row of hiking plus cold, wet paws were making her hurt. We made it about halfway down with her walking gingerly. After that we had to take more frequent stops so she could rest, just like Bucket several years earlier. Unlike the 100+ lb Bucket, Kuzca was happy to be picked up, so I carried her occasionally as we got closer to the car. Christine swears Kuzca looked happy about it sometimes, although not in this picture.
Ryan carrying Kuzca

And just to show how great this place looks without the rain, this is a picture I took on a previous trip that was in the Colorado Lake Hikes) book.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back on the "road"

I haven't done much road racing lately. In fact, I think I only did one (a criterium) last year. This year, I'm back to road racing and last weekend was the Mead Roubaix. It's tough to call it a road race since half of it is on rough dirt, but since I was on a road bike I guess it's a road race. The race was 3 laps on a 12 mile loop, with 6 of those miles on dirt. My road season is pretty unstructured back this year, so I wasn't sure quite what to expect out of my fitness. I just wanted to ride smart and keep all of my skin.

I pre-rode the course on Friday, so I knew what to expect and I knew where I wanted to be. As we approached the first dirt section, I rode to the front of the group and set a quicker pace to (hopefully) get the group single filed. Regardless of what was happening behind me, I was able to pick my own line through the gravel, which was pretty nice.

Everyone took the opportunity to recover when we hit the pavement again. While the first dirt section was pretty consistent and flat, the next one was pretty killer. It's covered with washboard for a while, then you have a 2-tierd climb to make it over (after you're gassed from powering over the washboard). I started near the front, but I was getting passed by people who were a little more on the gas. I managed to stay on the tail end of the lead group up the climb and through to the end of the first lap.

The pace was still high on the second lap, but I was hanging in there okay. I got gapped as we hit the downhill pavement and had to work really hard to get back into the group. My lack of mass helps me on climbs, but hurts me on descents. If I'm not on someone's wheel, I end up working way too hard while people are coasting.

The next trip through the rough dirt was rougher than the first. I was on the right side of the road when someone came up the gutter and bumped my bars as they bounced around on the dirt. I got pushed left, corrected, and did a little fishtail. Then I felt someone hit my rear wheel and go down. It sucks to be part of a crash like that, but I'm sure that guy understands I wasn't just squirrel-ly (is that a word?) riding around. I lost some ground with that slowdown and never quite regained solid contact. I was just getting to the back of the lead group as we reached the climb. I was nearly in contact after the first tier of the climb, but I was completely gassed and got dropped.

I chased solo for a while, but I wasn't pulling them in. I saw a couple riders coming up behind me, so a sucked down a gel while I waited for them. I didn't have any chance solo, but I thought we might be able to make the catch with three of us. We all worked well together, taking smooth equals pulls, but it wasn't to be. We rode hard enough to not get caught from behind, and I finished 13th.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Belgium and France 2012 - Paris and Paris-Roubaix

When we started kicking around the idea of this trip and found out that my parents would be in Paris around the same time, we decided that we just had to go to Paris to meet them. We were able to meet up for dinner every night while we were there and it was great fun. We all agreed that we should meet in Paris more often.

Mon and Dad

It wouldn't be a trip to Paris without some croissants. Christine's old favorite was under new management so we weren't sure if they were still awesome. Long story short - they're still amazing and we didn't even bother going through the list of award winning croissants that Christine had printed up. If it ain't broke...
Christine in line at Boulangerie 28

On Easter Sunday we drove out from Paris to see a little bit of the Pariss-Roubaix bike race. Similar to Flander the week before, this is a race that features a lot of cobblestone sections of road. It's a real hardmans race, and I love it. We drove up to the start to watch the riders sign-in and roll out, then we drove up to the one of the famous cobblestone sections - The Trouée d'Arenberg. What an amazingly hellish stretch of "road". We were about 100m meters from the end of the sector and I couldn't believe the speed that the riders were carrying. Unbelievable.
Paris-Roubaix Arenberg sector

Paris-Roubaix Arenberg sector

Paris-Roubaix Arenberg sector

All good things must come to an end, and eventually we had to head home. With a 12:30PM flight, we had enough time to drive by Christine's favorite croissant shop one more time and get a couple to satisfy us until our next trip.

And just in case you wondering, we didn't leave Belgium empty handed:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Belgium and France 2012 - Normandy

Walking around Saint Bernardus

We checked out of our beer lover's lodging on Thursday morning and drove down to the Normandy region of France. We drove most of the afternoon to get down to Mont Saint-Michel, which is a rocky island that his home to an abbey. Until the late 1800's, you could only get to the island at low tide. Nowadays, the road is accessible all the time. The parking lots, however, are not. As we pulled up to park, there was a sign indicating that the parcking lot would be under water in 2.5 hours. It was less time than we thought we'd need, but we went for it anyway. It turns out that it was just the right amount of time for us to tour the abbey, stop in a couple tourist shops, get a crepe, and leave before the tide buried our car.
Mont Saint-Michel

We stayed in the town of Bayeux that night so we could explore the nearby D-Day beaches the next morning. We spent most of our time at the American Cemetary and Memorial at Omaha Beach. It's a breathtaking place containing over 9,000 graves of American military dead. I was really blown away at the number of people who gave the ultimate sacrifice here to literally change the world. Neither Christine nor I are too versed in WWII history but we learned a lot at their awesome visitor center. We were only thinking we'd make a quick stop here, but we ended up staying for a few hours. Well worth the visit.
American Cemetary at Omaha Beach

American Cemetary at Omaha Beach

On our way into Paris we made one last stop in Giverny to visit Monet's garden. We were going to skip it, but it turned out to be such a beautful day that a walk in the garden sounded great.

Monet Garden
Monet Garden

Monet Garden

Belgium and France 2012 - Wandering around Belgium

We filled some of our other time in Belgium by visiting some new beer cafes and checking out other sights.

- We went to the World Cyclocross Championship course in Koksijde. It turns out there's not much to see there, but we did have a good time shopping and having a picnic at the beach.

- We drove just across the border to Roubaix France to see the famous velodrome where Paris-Roubaix finishes.
Roubaix Velodrome

- Flanders is a big hop growing area, so we went to the hop museum in Poperinge. We only expected it to be mildly interesting, but in actuality it was really interesting. We learned a lot about how hops have been cultivated and sold throughout the years.

- The finishing city of the Tour of Flanders, Oudenaarde, also is the home of the Ronde museum. The race has a rich history in Belgium and they've collected a lot of cool stuff.

Without a doubt one of the trip highlights was having dinner with the Paneels, who run our favorite cafe. (I've babbled ad nauseum about In de Verzekering Tegen de Grote Dorst before here and here. We love that place and these people.) On our last trip, they had us over to their house for dinner and we wanted to return the favor by taking them out. We showed up at the house and were greeted like old friends with warm hugs and smiles before they invited us inside to catch up over a nice beer. Their son, Yves, also came over for a little while to chat. He's really involved in the lambic community and we had a good time chatting about some past and upcoming events he's planning. We spent the next couple hours laughing and chatting with a combination of English, French, Dutch, and wild hand gesturing over dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Before we drove back to Flanders, they invited us back inside for a special treat. In celebration of Lydia's birthday, her sons created a custom geuze blended from the region's well known lambic brewers. [Briefly: lambic is a style of beer that uses wild fermentation, aged hops, and a lengthy oak barrel fermentation. Old and young lambics are then blended together by skilled blenders to create what's known as geuze. It's often considered the "wine" of the beer world.] They made 20 bottles of this beer and then the grand kids painted labels for each bottle. 20 bottles of an expertly crafted geuze, and they chose to share one with us. It is truly a special beer, and I felt pretty honored that we qualified as a special occasion. I don't know when it will happen, but I can't wait to go back!


Cuvee Lydia label

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Belgium and France 2012 - Ronde van Vlaanderen

About a year ago I was watching the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Paris-Roubaix bike races in front of my TV with a nice beer in hand, and I started thinking about how fun it would be to actually be there. So...I made it happen this year and went to Europe to watch my 2 favorite bike races. I'll take any excuse to go back to Belgium, though. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: Belgium isn't generally the most scenic of places, but there's something about it that feels comfortable. The people are friendly, they love cycling, and they make great beer. What's not to love (I mean, besides the weather)?

De Lambiek MuseumAfter a pleasant trip on Air Canada through Montreal, we arrived in Brussels Saturday morning. I like the fact that we've been to this airport enough that it's familiar. Our first stop was the new Lambic Museum in Beersel, which was worth a visit. If nothing else, they give you a sample of their lambic to taste. Best part - it comes out of a box (like wine in a box). I wish I could have bought some lambic in a box to take home.

On our way out to our B&B in Flanders, we scoped out a good place to watch the Tour of Flanders the next day. The Oude Kwarement had a pretty good setup with beer and food vendors and a large TV so you can watch the rest of the race. That seemed like a good plan for Sunday.

When I was starting to look for a place to stay in Belgium, I found out that there was a B&B right next to the Saint Bernardus brewery. Saint Bernardus is one of our fevorite breweries, and the B&B came equipped with a fridge stocked with all of their beers. Dreamy. Sadly for us, the nearby Westvleteren Abby was closed for the Easter holiday. Tragic, because I'm nearly out of the Westvleteren 12 we brought back from our last trip.

On Ronde race day, we tried to get to the Kwaremont but they had a bunch of the roads closed off. Instead of continuing to drive around trying to find a good route, we parked near a different big climb - The Paterberg. It got used 3 times during the race and they had a similar setup that we say the day before at the Kwaremont. Having seen both on TV now, I think they Paterburg actually looked like a better place to watch from.
Ronde van Vlaanderen - Paterberg

Ronde van Vlaanderen - Paterberg


Ronde van Vlaanderen womenWe were there early enough to walk on the course and check out the whole cobblestone climb. It's nothing you'd want to ride on your relaxing Sunday ride. We then settled in field with a bunch of crazy Belgians, many of whom were several beers into their day. Before too long the pro women rode by. It was fun to see Fort Collins cyclist Amanda Miller tackling that climb. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how nice it is, to see her suffer on a ride. On any ride that I'm on with her, I'm too far off the back to see that suffer-face.

Next up, the big boys came zooming by. I like this picture with Tom Boonen:

Ronde van Vlaanderen - Boonen

You can see the face of pain on Seb Vanmarcke, but Boonen was looking pretty damn comfortable. He eventually went on to win the race, which was no surprise. To be in Belgium watching the Tour of Flanders with a bunch of Belgians when a Belgian wins is awesome. They love their cyclists, and the crowd cheered loudly when Boonen won the sprint. An amazing experience.