2011 Race Reports 1, 2, 3 & 4: The End of My Youth…

2011 Race Reports 1, 2, 3 & 4: The End of My Youth… I lived my 50’s in my twenties (thanks to the heavy training for the Olympics that left me so exhausted I constantly craved sleep and avoided stairways.) Then, I lived my 20’s in my thirties (where I had seemingly endless energy and required very, very little sleep.) Last weekend I confirmed I’ve solidly entered my 30’s in my forties…

Why again, do I race? It is a question worth repeating. In full disclosure I hate most of it: the monotony of training, the pre-race gymnastics – loading up, driving, registering and paying, the pinning of numbers, warming up, lining up… I hate all of it. Even worse is my hate for the first half or even ¾’s of the race – an agonizing, lung shredding celebration of all my weaknesses and incredible pain and lethargy against faster, stronger, and younger men than I with their chrome plated legs bulging with muscles…

But time, time is flexible, and for the sprinter, there comes a few moments where light penetrates the gray haze of the mind numbing training days and racing hours. For a few moments a brilliant pulse of energy comes to neurons, blood, bones: muscles align to provide a glimpse of hope and opportunity. Today – today could be the day where I win, despite the odds and the haze of pain. And in those seconds, we the dormant, we the feeble, encased in the shell of the peleton suddenly thrust through the shroud of the chrysalis and life, color and hope returns to feed the unfolding of our flight.


The end-of-season races in Grand Rapids included the U.S. Pro Championships and a series of highly competitive categorized races both downtown on the bricks and then in East Grand Rapids in the gentrified “gaslight district.” My plan was to “double up” each day, which would mean racing 4 times in 21 hours.

It was in those 21 hours that the evidence ending my extended youth piled up. It all started with an innocuous phone call “Coyle, want to bunk up for the races in Grand Rapids?” This from Ray Dybowski – the “Godfather” of Michigan cycling and heir apparent to Walden’s coaching legacy. Ray turned 50 today and is still tough as nails often doubling up or even tripling up at races, completing 50 to 60 competitions each summer.

In my mind I pictured a leisurely dinner after the first day of racing, a glass of wine, a luxurious hotel with two queen beds, and a good rest prior to the second day of racing. Then Kroske joined in the group – another Master’s level racer with a strong sprint, great sense of humor, and a ubiquitously available camera. Fantastic I thought – “let’s order a roll-away.”

Then team members “the Rodds” entered the picture – a pair of brothers in their young twenties known for winning races, flashing irresistible smiles to the ladies at every opportunity, a high tolerance for post race libations and little requirement for sleep. This is the beauty of bike racing – age matters nothing, only ability. “I’ll bring my inflatable bed” said Ray. Just like old times…


The day dawned gray-blue and lugubrious and the 4 hour drive to Grand Rapids featured varying speeds of windshield wiper the entire way. Oddly I actually felt a quiver of nerves as I approached the race course, partly due to the inherent danger of racing on wet cobbles, and partly due to built up expectations of delivering results: I had won the last two times racing this event and wanted to do so again.

It was about an hour out from Grand Rapids when the realization that another driver of the empty feeling in my stomach was simple hunger – of course – I would need to eat lunch prior to racing. I swung off the highway and looked at the fast food row dismayed by my options. I tried Wendy’s, pulling through the drive-thru. No, nothing there I can eat. I then followed the signs to McDonalds knowing I could get a yogurt parfait and maybe a grilled chicken salad. The McDonald’s was in a giant Walmart. This Walmart was in the middle of no-where in western Michigan. As I entered the sliding doors to Walmart I had a sudden jolt – everywhere, padding along in flip flops and ill fitting stretchy waistbands were rotund families and individuals who were either eyes down looking into an electronic device, or shoving something unhealthy into their mouths – or both. As I waited in line at the McDonalds it was overwhelming – the sizzle of the fat, the massive sugar laden drinks, the mottled skin, stretchy outfits, and instantaneous entertainment befitting the lifestyles and girths of kings – these were now reserved for those without the money or education to realize what the 24/7 passive entertainment, 2000 calorie, 2000mg of sodium meal was doing to them. I was in an earthbound version of Wall-e and it was no joke.

Chastened I ordered only a yogurt parfait, (king sized, of course w/ a superfries and 64oz Coke), and headed to the car feeling holier than thou while texting Randy and checking weather.

I managed to arrive in time to see the end of the pro race, register, change, AND warmup. It was weird.

It was pure luck – the pro race had been delayed 45 minutes due to a storm that had rolled in and taken out half the field and a number of the barriers. All the extra time made me nervous. Ray remembered to give me a plaque from a few years prior - we thought about replacing my hood ornament:

Race 1: Elite Cat 1/2/3 Temp 68 – 75 degrees, light winds, average speed 27.2mph, Finish  speed 37.8 mph

It was a good thing I warmed up – 100 riders on a still puddled course with 2 sections of cobbles. The pace was high much of the race and I wandered the peleton looking for a comfortable position, suffering immensely. Mid-race the pace was particularly tough and I moved up 20 or 30 spots. A few laps later and I found myself at the back of the pack again - without dropping position - the pace had dropped a number of riders.

As the miles added up and the laps counted down I began to feel a glow of power in my legs and mastery of the bike in the corners that Csikszentmihalyi would describe as “Flow”. With confidence and control I rotated up through the corners, purposely fell back on the short straightaways, and then hit the afterburners down the long homestretch in order to stay connected to the stretched-thin core of the peleton. Each lap we hit 32, 33mph into the slightly uphill stretch on cobbles against a mild headwind. Each time the effort put me at the edge of my aerobic capacity, but instead of fear of getting dropped I recognized in the open mouths and agonized pedal strokes of those around me that for once I wasn’t the one “on the rivet.”

Three laps to go and it was “my time” and I began that odd dance through the swaying peleton that has come to characterize my racing career over the years. Like a highly choreographed dance routine on a ship experiencing high seas, the peleton tends to be predictably scripted in its patterns, with the occasional lurches flashing changes like shoaling fish when a predator appears.

Six men off the front, I read the patterns and flashed left and right when the signals suggested panic and in the space of 2 laps I found myself in the top ten readying for the sprint with much younger, stronger and faster men than myself.

Things then peeled and surged and I lost position again but notched my way back up against ever rising speeds, never falling below 30. On the backstretch of the final lap I burned a match to position back in the top 7 and then followed the leadout machine around the final corner and into the uphill, upwind finish. The resisting elements caused a fanning of riders up front and I rode the drafts and waited, finally hitting the afterburners directly in the slip stream of super-strong Panther rider and former Wolverine Ryan Cross who surged toward the line. I had the advantage of the draft and timing and had hopes of breaking through and winning the field sprint when a breakaway rider appeared directly in my path hurtling backward. I came across the line coasting, hands on the brakes and finished third in the field sprint, 9th overall. I was happy.

Race 2: Masters 35+: Temp 76– 80 degrees, light winds, average speed 26.0mp, finish speed 36.6mph

The lactic acid burden had reached its climax just as I coasted to a stop at the line w/ the Masters. I was in miasma of pain and could barely speak when I found Kroske and Dybo and they unpinned my old numbers and repinned the new ones as I heaved over my bars, finishing the job only seconds before the officials sent us off for race two.

F-ing Masters racers! Never content to settle smoothly into a race, they hit it hard right from the start and it was everything I had to just stay tacked onto the last wheel of the peleton for the first lap. Same for the second. By lap three I started recovering from the intense effort of the prior race, and then things slowed up and I began to enjoy the dance, trading places with Ray on several occasions as he made bold moves up the inside to try and force a breakaway.

Things moved to their inexorable conclusion and I moved up into the top five with one to go. Surges put me back to 12th so I again used a match on the backstretch to slot into 4th – as it turns out, right onto the race winner’s wheel. As we wound around the snaking final corners, I considered an attack into the final two corners, and then watched it happen to me – Switlowski hitting it hard just prior to the final two back-to-back corners. I tried to match and then found myself taken to the barriers by a racer shooting up the inside. Braking into the final corner, I tried to retrieve my speed but found myself only able to hold onto 5th.

Then, the true test of endurance began….

Saturday night:

Kroske, Ray and I planned a nice dinner at the bistro across from the hotel and for a while the older crew held sway – risotto, paella, shrimp and varied libations at an outside table. But Randy and Ryan brought their own energy to the conversation and moments later Randy had convinced the waitress to spoon feed him his food, sitting on his lap.

From there were a series of visits to various Grand Rapids eateries and bars where we watched the younger crew expend their endless social energies.

 At one point we tried to lock Ryan in a Port-o-Pottie but he escaped and tried to force us on to the next stop.

Kroske, Ray and I threw in the towel around midnight and it was only upon returning to the room that I had failed at one of my golden rules – 2 glasses of water for every glass of wine, AND there was a huge inflatable bed between me and the sink to get more water. Chugging some tap water before bed and leaving the 10 oz cup lonely on the bedside table I crashed only to be awakened much later by the returns of Ryan and Randy.


It was a night of awakenings – 5 guys in one room, 2 stragglers returning, and then the need to get up and head to the races.

Dehydration and fatigue are familiar friends – despite feeble attempts to hydrate enroute to my first morning race, I actually felt too tired to drink water. I wondered how I could possibly race feeling hot and dry with a pounding head and queasy stomach, but knew I could – and would.

Cat 3: Temp 74 degrees, light winds, average speed – I forgot to check, finish speed painfully fast.

After arrival at the course came an agonizing tiring string of events – parking, registration, changing, number pinning, and lining up for the first race – sun glaring.  After 3 laps I wanted to quit, not unusual. With 3 laps to go I was chugging the rest of my water and wanted still wanted to quit – highly unusual. Still, as a chessmaster I knew what to do even if my pieces didn’t want to comply and pushed my pawn into position for a checkmate, coming around the final corner in 5th and finishing… 5th. Nothing to give.


Masters: Temp 76 degrees, light winds, average speed – I forgot to check, finish speed painfully fast.

The beauty of pre-registration is that it creates a dialectic between laziness and frugality: I had already paid so of course I’d have to start my fourth race in 20 hours. Some additional hydration helped with my motivation as well as energy and despite a faster pace I navigated the laps with little difficulty. In the final sprint I struggled despite a leadout from Kroske and only managed 10th.

After the race I hooked Dybo up with a “5 hour energy” vial and then jumped in the Jaguar for the long drive home.

As always, there was something about the darkening reach of the trees and the end of August light that suggested the closing in of time – that the summer solstice and height of the racing season was well behind me and that try as I might, races to try and win would be far and few. Still, I smiled – what a weekend of intensity, fear, pain, suffering and joy.

I remember reading in one of the many books on “Happiness” about a study on joy. I believe the book was called “Satisfaction”. Specifically, the author entered an experiment where he was subjected to some extended and extensive pain (ice water over his extremities). The interesting outcome was that the neurological response to the end of this programme was exactly identical to that of happiness – and indeed the author experienced a “high” following his ordeal that could only be described as joy.

I guess this is why I race: the extended periods of suffering required for limited periods of joy is a tradeoff I’m willing to make. Corollary: choose your suffering – don’t let it choose you.



Why Cycling is the Greatest Sport in the World

(an edited repost... I think I've converted 3 or 4 cyclists with this line of logic) So… why is cycling the single greatest sport in the world? 

Three ages and three scenarios:

1) Age 35 - 65: Let’s say “you’ve arrived” – after switching jobs and questioning your career, finally, in your late 30’s or into your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s+  you come to that odd and sudden realization that money suddenly is no longer the end goal – that you “have enough” to satisfy your needs – though not necessarily your wants. Meanwhile the questions pile up: “Am I really as old as my age says I am?” (How did that happen?) And then a little more subtly, “yes, where did my energy go? - and my waistline?” or, “How can I stay healthy?”

2) Age 20 - 35: Instead, maybe you are in your 20’s or 30’s - finally “growing up,” finally have a real job and doing well, moving out and moving up, thinking about building a career and a family, fulfilling your potential. “How can I do all that and still stay in shape?” “Am I predestined to become yet another doughy pale office professional?”

3) Age 10 - 20: Finally, lets imagine you have (or are) a grade school or junior high school kid – band, drama, national honor society, soccer, football, track, baseball – so many choices - what activities should you choose?

Let me propose that the activity that is the best answer to all the above questions – and I mean “best” in all its objective and subjective senses – is cycling.  Riding a bike is the single greatest sport in the world.

I can prove it.

“Sure,” you immediately conjecture, “you must be some kind of cycling fanatic, aiming to convert the masses to your biased way of thought. Besides, who wants to cavort around in spandex and risk their lives in traffic?”

Let’s examine each of the three examples above to determine whether there is any truth to my potential fiction. Further, let us add that the criteria for the ‘greatest’ is based on the sport’s contribution to health, longevity and happiness.

Let’s work our way forward starting from the youngest age bracket above from 3) Age 10-20: the junior high, high school, or college kid. Normally soccer, track, football, baseball, or academic pursuits or some combination are the typical achievement oriented activities for this age group. Rightly so – all of these have a teaming aspects and bring about important developmental opportunities including discipline, social development, and balancing individual performances against team gains. For most of these activities, true victories and the associated celebrations come about from the performance of the group rather than the individual – a great corollary for the modern workplace.

For all the above reasons, Team sports are a mainstay of youth development programs the world over and provide many valuable lessons. There is just one huge, glaring problem – team sports for these kids tend to end as soon as high school ends. For a smaller percentage, it ends in college. And for that incredibly rare few (1 in 10,000? 1 in 100,000?) it means a few years as a professional.

Regardless, the fundamental flaw of team sports remains the same – they end. Joe Montana isn’t playing adult league football somewhere and for 99.9% of these talented athletes the result is the same – ‘retirement’. There is no opportunity to create an extended healthy routine from these kinds of team sports. If the goal is health, longevity, and happiness, then these sports have a very limited shelf life.

Want to help your junior-high school student have a full, healthy, active life? Consider individual sports… in particular cycling…

Let us consider the second age bracket,  2): the twenty/thirty-somethings. Work lunches, late nights, travel and the associated fast foods, Friday night beers and cocktails – all without the active lifestyle and sports of high school and college – including the basic physical activities of walking across campus or playing intramural Frisbee.

Witness the arrival of the second ‘freshman 15’ weight gain. Team sports may still be an option – and if you are single – they may still be the best option: find a league dominated by the opposite sex and you’ve got a surefire way to potentially ensure continued reproductive health (and the motivation to continue it.)

Sooner or later though, the odds are you’ll settle down – and suddenly 3 hour softball games a couple of nights a week with single girls in short shorts and tight t-shirts, combined with post game rituals of pitchers of beer after the game may not fly so well with your fiancé – and definitely not with your pregnant wife even if you are both part of the league. And, seriously – is swatting an oversized ball and jogging a few bases really an equal balance to the beer, shots, hamburgers and brats?

At this point, running might seem the best option – easy to do anywhere, no equipment other than shoes and shorts - even city living presents no serious obstacle. That is, until the first injury… Lots of 20/30 somethings decide to train for marathons – often with the doubly noble goals of getting fit and accomplishing a difficult task, as well as raising money for charity. However, there is a significant downside. According to several studies, running a marathon can create irreparable damage to bones and tendons. Even if an injury isn’t serious, a sidelined ‘occasional’ runner may well lose weeks or months of activity while recovering, and will likely be more cautious in the future.*

(*sidenote – in 31 years of cycling I’ve never had an injury that kept me from riding, and indeed, all injuries were from crashing – not from the actual activity of pedaling).

Finally, 1): the productive 35/40/50/60+ year old. No longer in the full bloom of youth where muscle pulls are rare and bodies recover quickly, these maturing adults, professionals, teachers, factory workers, working mothers and fathers etc. still need exercise. Indeed it is more imperative than ever for success in work, family – in life - to reduce stress and increase productivity, as well as to manage weight and blood pressure: heart disease is the number one killer of adults in the USA.

Running remains a temptation – but becomes more and more fraught with injury perils with the exception of those naturally birdlike lightweight athletes whose frames can withstand the pounding.

Now those other team sports – softball, racquetball, tennis, football etc. become more and more untenable – either from a schedule standpoint – or from an injury standpoint. In the modern office workplace it seems that a majority of casts and splints are a result of one of these sports – the sudden twists, sideways movements, stops and starts – these begin to push the limits of the aging musculature and thinning bones.

So… whats left? Surfing and downhill skiing may actually be the perfect combination of “flow” activities that are seasonal and sustainable, but lets be fair to the other 98% of Americans that don’t live near surf and mountains. What remains for the majority are swimming, cross country skiing, walking, and cycling. All of these are low impact sports and tend to be relatively injury free. Each has their limitations – lets start with swimming. For some dedicated few water rats that don’t mind being in a liquid habitrail with no sights and no sounds, swimming may be the perfect addiction – safe, all muscles used, aerobic, no impact – an excellent choice assuming you live near a gym with a pool that has lanes available and you don’t mind all of those other limitations.

How about cross country skiing? Potentially the ‘perfect sport’ for winter – scenery, low impact, all muscles, strength, power, speed, and aerobic conditioning – it also requires… snow. Not exactly year round.

So we are left with walking and cycling. Walking is amazingly healthful – a long walk burns fat, strengthens muscles, improves coordination, and gets oneself outside (weather permitting) to bring in that other significant contributor to health and reduced stress – nature.

That said, walking feels a bit mundane for many – and because it limits output, is necessarily a low aerobic exercise – very difficult to approach aerobic thresholds or test oneself.

Finally – we are left with cycling. An interesting side-note here: guess what, according to several recent polls, is the number one preferred leisure activity for adult Americans? No – it’s not cycling, running, skiing, swimming, baseball, golf, soccer or football.

It is ‘going for a drive.’ Americans love their roads and their native invention the automobile.

Cycling is low impact – the smooth rotation of the pedals causes few injuries. Cycling is both aerobic, as well as anerobic – the body is naturally stressed to accompany the needs to accelerate, shift gears, climb hills. The fat burning characteristics of low aerobic efforts like walking are enabled during flat steady efforts, but this is complemented by the muscle and bone building anaerobic strength exercises caused by accelerations, stop signs and hills. Cycling provides the perfect balance of aerobic, strength, and aesthetic activities in one form.

So… there you have it – for teens, an individual sport like cycling creates a lifelong skill and interest that will increase their lifespan and happiness. For twenty-somethings it can replace time consuming team sports or injury prone activities like running, and for the rest of us 30+ athletes, cycling provides a low impact sport that burns fat, builds bone and muscle and serves as a non-sedentary surrogate for the #1 US pastime of ‘going for a drive.’

But all that is a lot of data – let me end with two stories:

Story 1: When I was growing up – as a young teen – there was a guy in my cycling club named TJ Hill that led a lot of the rides where I grew up in Detroit. He was sort of ageless – lean, muscular, and incredibly strong. On club rides he would take the lead for long stretches and we would all draft off his strong legs and amazing endurance.

I went to college over 20 years ago and never moved back to Michigan. Nonetheless a couple years back I joined the email newsletter of my old cycling club in Detroit – the “Wolverine Sports Club” and lo and behold, TJ was still leading rides and a key figure in the club.

For the last couple of years I continued to read about his exploits without much thought – “that’s TJ” I thought. It never really occurred to me that TJ could have aged in the process.

It wasn’t until I read a ‘race result’ from a 100 mile tour/race in Northern Michigan a couple summers ago that it brought home the legacy I had always observed but never comprehended growing up. Those ‘ageless’ guys leading the rides? They weren’t 20 or 30 something athletes – they were 40/50/60 somethings continuing to practice their craft.

The race result I read? 1st in the 70 – 75 year old category – TJ Hill. 100 miles: time? 4 hours and 17 minutes. 73 years old and he averaged over 23mph for 100 miles. TJ is now 75 and rode 12,313 miles last year (yes – that’s nearly 40 miles a day, every single day). He just got back from a two month training camp in Alabama where rode 58 days straight and averaged 67 miles every day.

Sure – he’s a freak – an anomaly of nature to do so much and do it so fast. But do this – go to a charity cycling event or a century ride – you’ll be amazed at the number of healthy older individuals out making their mark and helping others.

Story 2: This one is simple. Think back to when you were a teen or maybe a young twenty something. Remember how you used to skip stairs, or bounce down them? Sometimes you’d take them 3 at a time, and with a good rhythm seek to skip and reach for the 4th stair? Remember sprinting all out to chase the dog or a Frisbee or having the control while running to leap high in the air off a stump or curb? Remember that confidence, quickness and coordination? (And lack of fear?)

I turned 40 in August. I’ve been a cyclist for 32 seasons. Today I skipped 3 steps (and considered a reach for the 4th) on my way chasing my 7 year old daughter up the stairs. Sometimes in the winter, when work overwhelms and riding in the gym or on trainer becomes a bit boring and lags, I’ll start to feel my age, walking flat-footed, clearing the cobwebs from my back when bringing things up from the basement – but I’ll tell you this: with the cycling season back in full swing and being back outside riding and enjoying the spring air almost every day – my youth is still here. I pad lightly around the house on the balls of my feet with a spring to my step no different than when I was 19, and when I tense my leg muscles to chase my daughter or my dog out in the lawn – it is still with a burst of furious speed that pursue her giggles and flailing tresses.

It’s hard to describe, but after a good hard ride, you’ll never feel more alive: THAT’s why cycling is the single best sport in the world - because you can experience runner’s high without running - and see the world around you while doing it.

The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 5: Bike Maintenance

Volume 5: The Sprinter’s Guide to Bike Maintenance “It’s the rider not the bike” – Mike Walden

Roadies obsess over their equipment and view it as an ally in their route to success. Sprinters view the bike as a necessary evil. A great roadie finish includes references to how the bike and rider have “become one” – Lance Armstrong’s famous quote - “no chain man - no chain.”

Roadies and sprinters part ways when it comes to bicycle maintenance, sprinters win despite their equipment. Before a race, the toolio roadie is waxing his chain, rebuilding his bottom bracket and putting ceramic bearings in his derailleur wheelies. The sprinter hopes he remembers to put air in his tires.

A quick inventory of my own equipment proves my genetics - below was the current state of my bike (upon this writing), and some typical sprinter solutions:

Issue #1: Rust. Recently I noticed a squeaking sound than intruded over the volume of my ipod headphones. To my chagrin I noticed after the ride that my chain, and cog were rusty after a winter of disuse.  

Solution #1: Lube. I didn’t have any expensive “roadie lube” handy, but figured oil is oil so I dumped some 10W40 motor oil from my car onto my chain. Problem solved – look, you can barely see the rust in the “after” picture (sadly my Blackberry self destructed and I lost this wonderful archive of photos of dumping a quart of motor oil on my chain in a Target parking lot in South Barrington)

Issue #2: Brakes.  Again, a foreign sound recently intruded over my headphones (I usually ride on a bike path w/ no cars and hence can listen to music) – this time it was the grating of metal on metal. Sure enough my front brakes had managed to wear themselves out.

Solution #2: Adjust. Right hand = rear brakes. Enough said. (Hear is a picture of the offending pads)

Issue #3: Cracked Seat. I didn’t even notice this problem until someone pointed it out to me. My immediate thought was, “what’s all that extra material on the back part of the seat for? - clearly not necessary” However, over the past weeks, the crack has continued to grow…

Solution #3: Adjust. Sit a little more forward – a typical sprinter move – in a match sprint on the track you end up riding the nose of the saddle anyway…

Issue #4: Threadbare Tires: I only noticed this one because I was taking off my rear wheel to put it in the trunk of my car – apparently if you ride them enough, tires wear out.

Solution #4: Keep riding back to the car – I ride “run flat” heavy tubes on my training wheels, so no big deal if I get a flat.

Issue #5: A month or two ago I received an email from Ray Dybowski about inspecting your bike, and in particular, your cleats. A month later and in putting together this inventory, I actually looked at the bottom of my shoes and discovered this – half a cleat.

Solution #5: In this case, I was forced to admit that actual maintenance was required and I replaced this cleat. (As an aside, during the mid 90’s one of my shoes had a slightly loose cleat with stripped screws, and like a good sprinter I kept my pedal tension very tight.) The solution here was to leave my left shoe clipped to the pedal – in fact it stayed  on the bike for a 4 year period – until I replaced the bike.

Issue #6: Lately, when I’m in the big ring, but using a smaller gear, if I get out of the saddle, my chain will drop to the small ring without shifting. I used to think this was my bike flexing, but now, after experience with this, I realize it means my chain is worn out. Last season I broke two chains – one during a race.

Solution #6: I’ll have to replace the chain soon… and likely that will require a new cassette as well… instead, considering all these issues stacking up, there really is only one solution: a new bike.

My new Trek Madone 6.5 arrived a few weeks after I wrote this (last spring): complete with a new chain, cogs, seat, brakepads, and whatever else was about to go bad on my 5 year old Colnago. Problem solved.

Next Up: The Sprinter's Guide to "Kits" (that's Roadie for bike shorts/jerseys)

The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 4: Cold Weather Riding

Volume 4: The Sprinter’s Guide to Cold Weather Riding “I love to ride – as long as it is sunny, downhill and with a tailwind” – anonymous sprinter

Today in Chicago it was 53 degrees when I left work… and windy… and cloudy. Despite my bike being in the trunk and a reasonable departure time from work, I went straight home. No ride.

Machismo aside, lets face it, when it comes to riding in poor weather, sprinters are pansies. Here’s one sprinter’s guide to riding in less-than-optimal weather organized by temperature:

  • <20 degrees = no riding. I hate balaclavas and other than using chemical heating pads I’ve not found shoe insulators that would keep my toes warm below 20... in the sun. Spin bike in the basement here I come. Clothes: bike shorts, no shirt in the 50 degree basement
  • 20-32 degrees: Must be both of the following: sunny and no wind
  • Clothes: two cycling caps – one w/ ear covers, warm “3 finger” gloves, wicking t-shirt, thin under-armour type long underwear – tops and bottoms, full heavy bibs and heavy long sleeve jersey. Start w/ windbreaker and remove after 20 minutes.
  • 32 – 43 degrees: Must be at least one of the following – either sunny, or no wind
  • Clothes: Same as above if either cloudy or windy. If sunny and calm, same as above but no vest, only one hat, and no t-shirt.
  • 44 – 55 degrees: Can be cloudy and windy but I won’t like itClothes: Same as above if both cloudy or windy. If sunny and calm, knickers and long sleeve jersey, hat and light gloves. Remove hat after 20 minutes.
  • 55+ degrees: Riding in most conditions… except rain

Rain Rules: Never start a ride when it is raining. Turn around if it rains in the first 5 minutes. However, once warmed up, continue riding regardless of conditions (even thunderstorms, hail, tornados). For racing, if rain is 100% assured, just don’t go. If traveling less than 45 minutes, don’t register if it starts raining – go home. Otherwise, if you’ve traveled more than 45 minutes, or if it starts after you’ve registered, (grudgingly) race in the rain and complain bitterly after...

Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to bike maintenance

The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 3: Sign Sprints

INTRO: Sprinters are the pariahs of the peleton, despised and verbally abused as “wheelsuckers,” “peleton trollers,” or worse: http://www.truesport.com/bike/2005/articles/druber/druber13.html   Deep down though is the unspoken truth: jealousy is at the heart of the contempt.... But, being a sprinter is more than fast twitch muscles, podiums, and podium girls – it is a lifestyle, with a clear set of unspoken rules and traditions – most of which are in direct contrast to the majority roadie rule. In these next few volumes I’ll attempt capture some of them.

Volume 3: The Sprinter’s Guide to Sign Sprints

Sign sprints are a common element of group rides that create a love/hate relationship with roadies. On one hand roadies design the routes for most group rides, and attend them religiously – hence they have insider knowledge of where and when the key sign sprints  are. If you see a roadie suddenly pop out of his saddle and accelerate out of the peleton in the middle of nowhere (when it is not a hill or false flat)– then you can be assured a sign sprint is in the making.

That said, sign sprints are… sprints.  And hence, in the absence of an element of surprise, will ultimately lend themselves to the fast-twitch group.

Rules: The rules of sign sprints are fairly simple: group rides will abandon the traditional rules of steady pacelines, pulling through, accelerating only on inclines, if, and only if certain street signs are within a reasonable distance on low traffic roads with ample time to slow & regroup.

Typical Sign sprints – in order of ‘importance’:

“Yellow signs” – any yellow sign is potentially fair game, though it is usually specific to the ride and sprinting for an “undesignated” yellow sign can look foolish.

“Stop Ahead” – these signs, depending on locale, are ubiquitous, and are generally “legitimate” as long as there is ample distance before the actual stop sign. They are convenient in that the looming Stop sign also creates the natural opportunity for the group to re-form

“Tractor crossing” – in the Midwest these are premo destinations. Rare, usually very rural, and typically requiring insider knowledge, these signs will tend to have a ¾ mile ramp up.

“Town line” – these are the kings of sign sprints – these matter most as they indicate a true change of venue.

“The final sign” – at best a “town line” sign, but perhaps merely a “stop ahead" sign, the final sign of the day features the greatest effort, and the most glory. Win this one, and you’ve won them all…

Below is a great set of posts I found on a forum from a “Newbie” rider who is clearly a sprinter and feeling some guilt about it. He was getting hassled for not pulling enough for some sign sprints. I love his final post – no way to argue with that...


Newbie Sprinter: Is the cyclist wrong by sprinting at the end if he did not pull "during" the sprint? In most cases during these sprints, several strong riders try to up the pace as much as possible, but these same riders usually do not engage in the final sprint. But often times I hear riders condemn the rider who did not pull "during" the sprint, with comments like " he was never in the wind" etc. And if it matters, the prize is just a beer for the winner of the zone. My feeling is someone who doesn't work with the group or do his/her share during the ride shouldn't sprint, but in the actual sprint zone it's every man for himself and no one's forcing anyone to push the pace at the front. For instance I've not seen Cavendish "take a turn at the front" before he sprints to the finish.

Roadie Response: In my experience, the guys who sprint for county line signs, etc., are usually the ones who do the least pulling during the actual rides. The same guys tend to crank it up in the last mile or so of a long recreational ride -- like they are actually proving something by "winning" the sprint or being the first one back to the parking lot after sitting in at the back of the paceline for most of the ride.

Newbie Sprinter: I'm willing to pull, just can't sustain a long (mile or more) pull at the speed of the best pullers. Is that my fault?

Roadie1 Response: Yes! You should be working on your weaknesses rather than showboating your "talent".

Roadie2 Response: If you're this concerned about sprinting, you should save it for an actual race.

Newbie Sprinter: I have… and I won the race…


Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to cold weather riding

The Sprinter’s Guide to Cycling Vol. 1: Training Rides

(The first in a series) INTRO: Sprinters are the pariahs of the peleton, despised and verbally abused as “wheelsuckers,” “peleton trollers,” or worse: http://www.truesport.com/bike/2005/articles/druber/druber13.html  

Deep down though is the unspoken truth: jealousy is at the heart of the contempt. In the roadie dominated peleton, where suffering is the gold standard, the very idea that someone could merely coast in the vortex of the roadie created draft then break out a few golden strokes with their fast twitch muscles to win the race seems unfair.

But let’s face it – if any of these roadies could choose their lot - they’d rather be a sprinter. Inevitably blessed with larger muscles, better looks, and social skills held in reserve from their skinny, geekish bretheren, the sprinter more often than not gets the gold and the girl. It is really no wonder that they are so hated. But, being a sprinter is more than fast twitch muscles, podiums, and podium girls – it is a lifestyle, with a clear set of unspoken rules and traditions – most of which are in direct contrast to the majority roadie rule. In these next few volumes I’ll attempt capture some of them.

Volume 1: The Sprinter’s Guide to individual training rides

Roadies often like to ride together – to prove their fitness, and to socialize with other humans capable of understanding their awkward attempts at conversation. Roadies also like long solo rides – the longer and more arduous the better. Other than avoiding traffic and seeking hills, roadies really put no effort into the art of designing rides and they care little for the weather conditions. This is the one and only area where the sprinter over-analyzes vs. the roadie.

Rule #1: Sprinter training rides must be designed to avoid hills, minimize headwinds and crosswinds, and maximize tailwinds.

Before any ride, I check the wind and design a ride that maximizes scenery, minimizes exposure to headwinds and crosswinds, and avoids hills. I honestly assumed everyone did this until joining a few roadies out for rides and found myself out in the wind scoured cornfields of Illinois without care or knowledge to where the wind was coming from, or if there were hills. It was a rough slog out into crosswinds, and an even worse slog home into a headwind. It was coarse and inelegant.

The first rule of sprinter bike route planning is to determine if there is wind stronger than 7mph, if so, the route must be customized to minimize the effects. Specifically, routes must be chosen that start with the headwind section first – preferably under cover of forest or river valley. The cross wind portions should also be sheltered as much as possible by trees, river banks or bluffs to block the crosswinds on the traverse, and then open land for the tailwind aided return.


 Also the golden rule: never, ever, head downwind to start a ride… In the attached diagram you can see a typical ride from my house w/ a NNE wind. (For a South or SW wind I just reverse the route.)

Next up: The Sprinter's Guide to Group Rides