Goodbye summer…

22 09 2010

Summer is over. For real.

Those clouds in the attached photo are fall, which rolls in officially this evening.

Here comes fall.

It’s hard to feel a bit of melancholy at the change of seasons. No more dinners on the balcony. No more breakfasts either. No more new tomatoes on our tomato tree. No more fresh dill from our little herb garden.

But perhaps most sadly, no more evening road rides. There’s just not enough daylight anymore. And with road hockey starting this Sunday, that means I’ll be lucky to get in one good road ride a week for the next six months or so. If the weather cooperates.

After a number of days off to recuperate from the Fondo, I’m itching to get back on the road bike. It was pretty good to me this summer, more than 3,000 kilometers pedaled since the beginning of May; not the best ever, but more than all the kms I managed to accumulate last year. I’m feeling fit and svelte, just in time for our trip to Europe in October.

The immediate challenge will be to stay that way, especially since I hate the gym and the stationary trainer drives me insane. That means pulling on the tights, thermal gloves and booties whenever the roads are dry. It also means keeping the battery on my bike light charged so we can keep up with our trail rides out at UBC.

And sadly, it also means holding off on those cravings for Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs. After all, I just bought a new wardrobe at Banana Republic, I gotta make sure it still fits.

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The next challenge?

17 09 2010

The Fondo is over, now what?

I’ve been on a bit of a high all week as I reflect on that great riding day, my accomplishment, my ability to, you know, not die. But when the organizers posted the registration for next year’s Fondo exclusively for almuni of this year’s inaugural event, I balked.

Still feelin' a bit of a buzz from the Fondo.

Not at the Fondo itself, or the daunting prospect of again ascending some of those interminable climbs between Squamish and Whistler. But for $225 + taxes + fees, that brings the total to $270; add on a night’s hotel room in Whistler and meals, and that’s a pretty pricey “been there, done that.”

I can appreciate the cost to the organizers of traffic control alone, plus insurance, publicity, renting the hall for registration, etc, but at some point a great participatory event becomes an exclusive domain only for those who can afford it. I can imagine the 30 per cent boost for next year’s Fondo will also impact those organizations, like Team Diabetes, that used the event as a fundraiser, covering the registration fees of participants if they reached a certain threshold of donations.

That being said, I loved training for the Fondo, having a goal towards all my kilomters on the bike were leading me. I loved having a purpose to my summer pedaling, and the sleek physique I achieved because of it.

Now I know why Katie is so motivated by marathon.

So, perhaps another challenge? Like, perhaps Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo in California? Or the Colnago Gran Fondo? Or how about really hanging it out there at the Grandfondo Italia, in Carpi, Italy? I mean, go big or go home…

I made a reluctant return to the bike on Thursday, not because my legs weren’t willing; but just as I was about to head out to meet my buddy Dan for a trail ride at UBC, it started raining.

The rain starts spattering the windshield even before I leave for our ride.

I would have been perfectly happy to bail, but he shamed me into carrying on. By the time we hit the dirt in full darkness, it was pouring.

The rain turns serious.

So we ended up truncating the ride a bit, offsetting the shorter distance with the steep 20 per cent climb up Trimble. Proud to say, I barely broke a sweat.





Away, and up, up!

13 09 2010

Wow.

That was the word running through my head almost continuously for Saturday’s 120 kilometer Gran Fondo to Whistler. Well, except for the 20 km stretch from about 90 kms to 110 kms when my legs turned to concrete and my spirits bottomed out as rider after rider passed me on even the slightest gradient.

But with the first signposts for Whistler and the occasional well-wisher on the side of the road, as well as a Z-Bar in my belly, I got my mojo back and rode hard to the finish, five hours and 11 minutes after I set off, 4:34 of that rolling time, for an average speed 26.4 kmh.

The day started a little roughly. And a lot early. As in 4 a.m. alarm early. Then, shortly after we set off for downtown Vancouver, I realized I’d forgotten to pack along my cycling shoes. Luckily, we were just around the corner from home, so a quick turnaround and we were off again.

Dawn broke as I straddled my bike at Georgia St. and Hornby, surrounded by more than 4,000 other roadies, awaiting the 7 a.m. starting gun. The rain that had been forecast earlier in the week was now not supposed to materialize until evening; there were cracks of deep blue visible beyond the upper reaches of the condo, office and hotel towers looming all around us.

Roadies for as far as the eye can see!

Curiously, as the morning got brighter, it also got colder. Or maybe I was just getting antsy to actually ride.

The PA announcements from the start were mostly inaudible at my distant station. But when Vancouver opera singer Mark Donnelly, who’s probably better known for his rendition of O Canada before Canucks’ games, started singing the national anthem, his stirring rendition boomed up and down the city canyons. The energy of the crowd intensified.

When a helicopter cruised low overhead to photograph the throng of cyclists eager to get going, the excitement was palpable.

Then, the countdown. Given the size of our peloton, I thought it would be almost the start of the Lions Gate Bridge before we could all be safely clipped in with both feet and actually pedaling, but I was already riding as I passed through the timing gate.

We were buzzed again by another helicopter as we crossed the bridge, the sun cracking through the breaking clouds on our right.

As I expected, the climb up Taylor Way to Highway 1 started to string out the peloton. Already, some riders were suffering.

Owning a lane on the Upper Levels Highway.

What surprised me the most, though, was the number of people along the side of the road and lining overpasses at the early hour to cheer the riders on. When you’re used to hearing catcalls and car horns while riding in the city, how could you not help smiling and waving at their support!

The early morning light casts my shadow on the open road ahead.

Of course, in such a large, diverse group of cyclists, their experience with riding in a pack was all over the map. Some signaled hazards on the pavement, many didn’t. Some yielded to passing riders, some didn’t. Some called out when passing others, many didn’t. And despite a stated rule against tri-bars and earbuds, there were plenty of both in the peloton.

So it was important to stay alert early on with so many riders tightly grouped. The consequences of a moment’s inattention became tragically apparently on the first fast descent on the highway down to Horseshoe Bay.

As we screamed down the long, gently curving hill approaching 60 kmh, a couple of cyclists were perched against the concrete median frantically waving for everyone to slow down. A woman ahead of me fishtailed but remained upright. And there to our left lay a rider down, totally motionless, his face planted on the tarmac, a sickening pool of blood around his head, another rider immobilizing his neck. It was a frightening, disturbing sight. The bottom dropped out of my stomach. When I checked in with Katie a little later, it was all I could do from breaking down. We’re all too aware of the dangers we face every time we push our bikes out the front door, inattentive drivers and pedestrians, aggressive dump trucks, broken glass; but we don’t expect it in a well-organized, controlled environment like the Fondo.

A few times during the ride I felt uncomfortable with the group in which I was immersed, riders who didn’t understand “on your left,” the paceline that didn’t really know what it was doing and just managed to create a barrier preventing anyone else from passing slower riders; I just altered my pace or ducked into one of the aid stations for few moments to get away from them.

Ducking into the lunch station at Squamish meant pizza and wine!

Quickly enough though, the undulating course had its effect and strung out the peloton; there were moments when I was 100 meters away from any other rider.

Off again!

All in all, it was an excellent event, a magnificent opportunity to ride a renowned route safely and quickly. The rest stops were well stocked with fruit, energy bars, bagels, water and smiling, enthusiastic volunteers, especially the bagel person at the Salt Shed who just happened to be my beloved Katie; her smiles and encouragement came at just the right moment, propelling me up and over the difficult climbs that were still to come!

How could I not accept a bagel from this smiling, beautiful face!

Thanks to everyone who’s followed my training blog, and who donated to Team Diabetes. It was a magnificent team effort!

Next up: I try to maintain my sleek cycling physique through the long, dark, wet days of winter!





Moo!

10 09 2010

I’m not much of a joiner.

I prefer to avoid crowds, or large gatherings of anything more than, say, a half dozen.

When I ride, I usually ride alone. I decide where to go, where I’ll stop, the pace.

So what the hell am I doing joining 4,000 other cyclists pedaling to Whistler on Saturday???????

Today was package pick-up day. And my first taste of the herd so many cyclists will comprise, especially early in the ride before the pace, and climbs have strung everyone out.

Katie took the day off, so she could do her long 29 km Sunday run today, then take the weekend off. Our plan was to head into the city together, where she would do a 29 kilometer route I designed for her during which I could meet her three times to resupply her with water and a smile. Then I would walk to the convention centre to pick up my Fondo package.

I spent Fondo Eve working as Katie's pit crew on her 29 km run

Right from the get-go, the itinerary was almost derailed. Literally. A problem on the SkyTrain meant it took us more than an hour to make the trip downtown; usually it takes about 25 minutes.

Katie set off on her run, starting on the Seawall around Stanley Park. I headed into the city, dropped into a few shops, then worked my way to our first meeting point.

She was burning up her run, feeling great.

I then jumped onto a water taxi to cross False Creek to Granville Island for lunch, and our second rendezvous.

The third pitstop was back across the Burrard Bridge. With just three kilometers left in her run she was still smiling and looking fresh; you go babes!

We parted:  her to finish her run then head home; me to walk back across the city to the convention centre.

When I got there, the lineup snaked practically out the front door. Everyone seemed to know someone else in the line. People chatted excitedly with each other about the upcoming ride, their training, their aches. I just stood ever-glummer, feeling more and more like a cow being corralled towards the slaughter house.

My spirits perked up a bit when I recognized Vancouver Canucks’ icon, and avid cyclist, Trevor Linden strut through the doors and breeze past the lines; no slumming it with the herd for him!

In total, the wait was about 40 minutes. I spent most of it wondering if I’d ever seen any of these people on the road. The volunteers were plentiful, friendly and helpful. The time passed quickly.

The check-in was efficient and quick. The goody bag was underwhelming, the trade show even more so.

I’ve got my tag (#1150) and my timing chip is registered. There’s no turning back. Hopefully the Fondo won’t turn me into ground hamburger.





The clouds’ illusion

8 09 2010

The countdown to the Fondo is now more about hours than days. I’ll admit, I’m feeling a few butterflies in my belly.

Riding with so many other people is always a bit of a crap shoot as to where I’ll slot it, how well I’ll manage with so many people around, how I’ll measure up to those around me. And the weather forecast doesn’t sound particularly promising, so I’m nervous about such a long ride with so many people in rainy, slippery conditions.

But we must press forward.

My epic ride of Friday tweaked me to a few little faults in my Orbea that I thought best to get addressed before the Fondo; the chain hopped a couple of times while I was climbing in the little chainring up front, which I hadn’t bothered to replace when I got my drivetrain renewed earlier in the summer. After all, I’m all about the big ring, so it hadn’t seen much use.

But with my newfound love for the little ring, I brought my bike into the shop to get a new one installed, as well as get my rear derailleur adjusted ever so slightly to address a bit of a rattle in the first three gears.

When I got the bike home, I put it up on the stand and gave it a good cleaning, including the chain. At least it will look good, if only for the first few minutes of the ride if it’s raining.

Well, at least the Orbea will look good for the first few moments of the Fondo.

Wednesday I took my last pre-Fondo ride, a bomb along the trails at UBC on my mountain bike with Shanksman.

It’s getting dark so early now, the lights are on pretty much from the get-go of our ride, and getting used to the shadows and dark crannies of the woods in the darkness is like learning to ride all over again.

The bike lights have to go on right from the beginning of our rides these darkening days.

We were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset along the beach leg of our ride; the orange glow in the west seemed to last forever. Let’s hope the clouds sneaking in on the horizon are just passing through.

A beautiful sunset on the beach.





Exam time

5 09 2010

I’ll have to admit, Friday’s massive ride that included ascents of Burnaby Mountain and the 12 km ride up Seymour beat me up pretty bad.

Not physically so much, although I was a bit stiff and achey on Friday evening and into Saturday.

Mentally, though, I really didn’t want anything to do with my road bike through Sunday, which would be my last opportunity for a big road ride prior to the Gran Fondo. I was weary, my desire to rack up kilometers was depleted.

So much so, in fact, I forewarned my newfound riding buddy, Rich, I likely would pass on our plan to ride together Sunday morning.

Which sucked, because Katie was doing one of her rare city runs on Sunday, and we like to meet afterwards at Granville Island for a little lunch, or maybe a post-run-midway-ride beer on a patio. I told her I’d still meet her, but I’d likely just drive in.

But a funny thing happened when I got up this morning. I was feeling guilty about my decision to blow off riding for the day. The road bike still repelled me, like the thought of drinking another beer after a hangover; but my legs felt fresh, ready for some exercise.

So I compromised; I loaded the Kona onto the roof rack and headed to UBC for a tapering trail ride.

Getting my spin on at the Endowment Lands.

I spent an hour in the woods, riding the same route through the Endowment Lands and down to Jericho Beach that is our evening ride with mountain bike buddies Dan and Shanksman. It’s a 15 km loop with 180 meters of elevation gain, including a 10 per cent climb up 2nd Ave and Tolmie St., just enough to burn the fatigue out of my leg muscles and get my head back on a bike.

The ease with which I conquered the climb back up from the beach was also a much-needed confidence boost. I hadn’t expected to feel so mentally exhausted from my Seymour adventure and little rivulets of self-doubt were trickling into my thoughts; maybe I was underestimating the Fondo and overestimating my fitness?

But as Rich told me Saturday when we met him, his wife and younger son, Lee, for sorbetto in the evening; it’s like cramming in the days before an exam, if I don’t know the material now, I’ll never be ready.





The view from the top

3 09 2010

Fueled by Thursday’s consumption of rabbit, and with cyclists’ logs of serious climbing for their Gran Fondo training ringing in my ears, I set out on Friday’s ride with one goal in mind: climb.

And in the Lower Mainland, the most serious climb is the road to the top of Seymour Mountain.

It’s probably the closest climb we have to a classic European ascent; 12 kilometers, just over 1000 meters of elevation gain, for an average gradient of around eight per cent. It’s toughest slopes are at the bottom, where the road tilts upward at ten per cent, with the occasional section touching 12 per cent. The middle part wavers between seven and nine per cent, and the climbing becomes gentler near the top.

It’s been more than seven years since I last tackled Seymour, when I was preparing for my cycling trip to the ’03 Tour de France. Then I put my old steel Cramerotti on the roof of my car, parked on a side street near the base and basically just rode the mountain.

Friday, I was a man on a mission; Seymour would comprise just a portion of my 100 km route, that also took me up and over Burnaby Mountain.

All told, I achieved 1954 meters of climbing in 96.46 kms. That’s just a little shy of the total climbing on the Gran Fondo.

But it wasn’t easy.

For one thing, it was hot, much hotter than I expected. By the time I finished Burnaby Mountain, I could feed my skin roasting. So I made a pitstop to get sunscreen. Instant relief.

After a lunch stop in Deep Cove, I set out for my ascent.

A sign of the next hour to come.

As I churned my way up the steep lower slopes, the kilometer markers passing veeeeeeerrrrrrry slowly, I marveled that we used to ride this climb on our mountain bikes to access the legendary North Shore trails. This is one of those mountains where shuttling actually makes sense.

The road goes up relentlessly.

And I was passed by a few pickups doing just that, the front wheels of big 40-pounder downhill bikes hanging over the tailgates. But otherwise the road was pretty quiet; I passed only one other cyclist.

The first lookout was a welcome opportunity to get off the bike for a moment to check out the view east, high above Port Moody, Mount Baker rising up the haze shrouding the Fraser Valley.

From there the road levels out somewhat to five per cent.

But still the summit seemed interminably far away; the last time I tackled such a major climb, there were tens of thousands of crazed, and mostly drunk, cycling fans alongside the road up Luz Ardiden, awaiting the arrival of Le Tour and cheering everyone on two wheels in the meantime. That sure salved the pain of some of the crazy switchbacks on that 20 km climb.

The transmission towers near the Seymour summit seem so small from sea level.

Alas, Friday there was just me and my own thoughts, which veered wildly from ‘Holy Crap, I should have been doing this long ago; I’ll never be ready for the Gran Fondo’ to ‘this ain’t so bad, just keep my rhythm.’

I sure was glad when the trees parted and the road widened towards the parking lot at the Seymour ski hill. I celebrated with a Larabar.

On a clear day, you can see forever.

Now, you’d think after more than an hour of grinding climbing, the descent back to the bottom would be a piece of cake; sure there was barely any pedaling required, but coasting for 12 kilometers and 60-75 kmh presents it own physical hardships. Like watering eyes, cramped fingers as they hovered just above the brake levers ready to squeeze when needed, and burning thighs. O my, the thighs did burn from keeping the cranks level!

Oddly enough, my maximum speed for the day, 77.5 kmh, didn’t come on the descent of Seymour; it happened much earlier, down the Cariboo Rd. hill in Burnaby. I think I caught a draft from a car.

Home, showered and fed, I know this; the Seymour climb was my last big ride before the Fondo. I’m now officially in taper-down mode…