Friday, April 30, 2010

My Roubaix Ride and Steed Report

All pictures of race courtesy of Zara
The entire set of photos is here

Well with the agony of Roubaix over for another year, more and more I come to understand that to complete the Roubaix is feasible for many, to be competitive at the front requires both luck AND fitness.

At the RWR Clarence Rockland Classic a few weeks back, I definitely had luck. Once when the peloton shattered, I was lucky enough to be around enough guys willing (and able!) to work to get back to the group before it was too late, and of course lucky enough not to flat, which befell many of my competitors.

This weekend was the annual OBC Almonte Paris Roubaix, almost 90 km of rolling terrain, mostly gravel road and some all out trail, others have already described the course.

We arrived at the arena to a line of perhaps twenty racers, harried volunteers and the usual hubub.

Grab our numbers, get some pins, and back out to Glenn's team bus (crew cab truck with covered bed natch)

Pin on the numbers and go do some efforts

Zip to the top of the neutral section to czech out the first dirt section, and wouldn't ya know it? Fresh gravel. Knowing this is always a 55 km an hour downhill start, the thought of 140 some racers barreling down loose gravel eager to get good position gave me the willies. I vowed to be in the front to the first little climb, then settle in.

Back to the start, line up at the front, van pulls out and I hop right in behind the van. Perfect! Just stay with the van. So I do, and we make it up to the top behind the van and it's game ON!
Held my position all the way to the first climb, knowing the gravel was fresh I made sure I cut the corners correctly and stayed in the middle.

The first section is a long winding dirt road with short steep blind hills, and tricky little corners, most entertaining surrounded by 80 or so eager Cat 1/2/3s and Masters. Have a glance around and see Matt, and Neil, then a bit later David back to my right.

Remembered to ask Neil at the start when the first woods section was coming, and he reminded me. Wanted to be near the front for that section as last year I was caught behind a crash, and missed the group. Not this year if I could help it.
So left onto pavement, and the next right is the woods. Of course I am not the only one who is thinking to be first into the woods, and the pressure from behind was increasing as guys streamed by on my left. Crap! Don't get boxed in. Quick glance over my left shoulder, and slip into the surging stream like an eager salmon. Hard right into the trail, and I'm in a double line of riders absolutely pinning it through here. Most riding blind hoping the person ahead neither crashes or leaps aside to quickly reveal a sharp rock you'll pinch flat on for sure. No crashes, no flats, left out of the woods, onto a farm road and another selection as the group accelerates. No problem staying in the mix

Roll back up towards the front again, czech again and Matt, Neil and Dave and Todd are still with us. Things are looking good, but of course we're only 20 some km in...

A short while later, Matt flats. See more on his story here

That sucks, as I know how much Matt digs this race.

Roll up to Neil and let him know, he slides back into the pack offa the front, no sense pulling with a teammate out the back, we'll sit in for a while and see what's what.

Back onto a paved road, the pace relaxes a it, as Greg is long gone off the front,

Osmond is trying to muster some help chasing, but of course who is going to work for Osmond and then have him leave you behind? Being alone without teammates must suck, of course he won anyways...

Back to the race, rolling along the paved road then left onto dirt again, we get to the infamous construction zone, where not moments before, I had bottomed out both of my Grand Bois 30c tires, and didn't flat. Gloating to Chris Reid on my tire choice, what happens? Psssssst flat rear. Crap!

Pull over to the side, Doug Van Den Ham, and another are also there changing flats. I win the flat change race and am back riding before the others and start the long lonely chase back to the pack, get out to Wolf Grove road and turn left.

Just past the turn I see a Cyclery rider changing a flat tubular, looks like Steve Proulx, climb a bit, looking for black arrows on yellow signs, see a post with three right hand turn signs on it and follow it. Start rolling down a small dirt road, one lane, super fun up and down. As I start a stiff little climb I look up to see Aaron and Osmond followed by my lost packmates, approximately 20 strong bearing down on me at a great rate of speed. Dive into the bush, they're yelling wrong way, so I wait until most have passed, jump back on and chase, very confused at this point. I wonder if I have missed a turn and they are now looping back to me. What to do? Someone fills me in that they got to a dead end, turned around and Osmond and Aaron pinned it. So by the time I got back out to Wolf Grove and turned down onto Darling, an agonizingly long straight road, I could see the whole race unfolding. Aaron and Osmond way up ahead, what looked like a cluster of maybe 10 guys, which I now know contained Matt, Craig, Steve Proulx and Kiernan among others. Imad was slowly coming back to me, so I caught up with him, we started working, and we were then caught by a group of maybe 15 or 20 riders.

This is ok I think, we can catch the guys ahead, if we work together.

Nope. Never did, we spent the rest of the ride just riding hard, like an A loop in the park. Most seemed content to just roll fast to the finish, and not much rotating was done.

Ah well, good workout nonetheless.

To the end, we all stayed together, then a sprint, which I had no interest in contesting, hence 14 places behind my teammate David, who obviously had more sprint in his legs than I.

Now the Steed Report:

I rode my True North Custom for both the CRC, and the Almonte Roubaix. It has served me well since I received it in early spring 2007. I guesstimate I have somewhere near 20000 km on it since then. It handles with aplomb in all situations, yet I do not feel that I am compromised even on out Wednesday Night Worlds up in the Park.

It handles everything I can throw at it and really loves to go down, and at just nineteen pounds, with 31c tires, cages and pedals, it climbs well too.

I had an interesting experience the other week. I had been riding the True North quite a bit on fast rides in the Park, so had a sense of how it felt. I then rode my custom Steelwool cross bike, which I have sensed is quite a bit stiffer, and immediately noticed that the expansion strips on the Island Park bridge felt quite harsh. Pulled over to czech the pressure and nope, felt like the 55 to 60 I run normally. Odd. And then, once onto the parkway, I found that I was not able to stay on top of my Steelwool, I was forced to shift down and sit down, whereas with the True North, I was able to really wind it up and stay on top of the gear. I know that the Steelwool is made with relatively inexpensive tubing, while my True North had every tube optimized for my weight and riding style. It really shows.

Mufferaw Joe Update

Ok, so we're almost there, the Wheelers' Mufferaw Joe is almost upon us. Here are a couple updates from the organizers:
There will be meat and vegetarian chili provided apres, as well as bread made by John Large, Master Baker.
Tall Tree Cycles has donated a fresh Brooks B17 Special in Honey Brown with copper rivets as a door prize. Sweet.
The Wheelers would like to stress that the 7-person format is not required. If you've got friends to ride with, great, but don't let a lack of comrades keep you from coming. There will be all sorts of groups to ride in. Tall Tree will have a team of mixed abilities present, possibly enough to form a second team by pulling a few solo riders in. No worries, its not a race.
Here's the info from the Wheelers site:

The Mufferaw Joe Spring Sportif RETURNS WITH A VENGEANCE in 2010. This year we are adding a seven person team category for those of you who love company with your misery.So we’re up the Valley agin’, my band o’ misfits, and we’re gonna have some right good times and get sore legs and blisters and saddlesores. In fact, there’s a rumour goin’ round that Blister and The Saddlesores might be playin’ the Quyon when we get back for chow and brews.The ride will be about 130 km with some good dirty sections and some high speed jammin’.Details:Sunday, May 2, 2010We ride rain or shine$20 in advance, $25 ride-day registrationStart/Finish is at Gavan’s Hotel: 1157 Clarendon St. Quyon, Qc

No license requiredOnline registration via Paypal is available on the Wheelers' site.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Steeds of Roubaix: The Sleeper

I figured that the bike I rode for the Clarence Rockland Classic and the Almonte Roubaix deserved a little write up given that it suited both races very well and that it is very different from most of the bikes I saw at either race. Have you ever been in between jobs? Girl/Boyfriends? Apartments? I’m currently in between bikes. I sold my True North Custom Club Racer in anticipation of a Steelwool all road rig sort of similar to Matt’s. While I wait, Matt graciously lent me his Pinarello Cyclocross bike, nicely kitted with a hodge-podge of parts that all work very well together. I won’t bore you with details but will just say that everything works perfectly. The shifters, brakes, wheels and drivetrain function just as they should, zero complaints. I guess this baby’s been around the block once or twice or three times or…you get the idea, handed down from cross racer to budding cross racer over the years. This gave me instant warm and fuzzies. What I love most about this bike is how old and slow it looks and how fast it can be, given the right conditions. Dare I borrow a term from the hot rod lexicon and call this bike a “sleeper”. Does the old Pinarello fit in the “Ugly” category? Some might think so, but it is certainly not in the “Bad” category. Oh no this here is “Good”. Very good.

What makes it sing is the frame. Standard diameter Columbus Nemo steel tubing (according to Matt) rattle-can painted bright orange. It’s a titch big for me; I’m a square 56, this is a 57 TT, 58 ST. I guess I end up with what Competitive Cyclist calls The French Fit. Hey I’m French (mostly) so why not? With a 100mm stem this suits me fine. What is striking at first glance is how steep the head angle is. This scared me a little at first being a timid descender. I was afraid that this combined with the flexiness (is that a word?) of the skinny tubes would cause the handling to be too quick and wiggle on fast descents. I was half right. The steering is so quick that you only need to think about turning in any one direction for the bike to instantly dive into a turn. This proved to be VERY useful for avoiding potholes and rocks that suddenly appear when racing in a pack on nasty gravel roads. But what about the high speed wiggle? Well, it does wiggle but not at speed. I have not been able to ride this bike no hands for any length of time and I have to be going fairly quickly to ride with one hand. Otherwise I get a wicked side to side shimmy that amplifies the longer I let it go. (it’s kinda fun to watch and is always a crowd pleaser) But surprise! I have found my downhill wings on this frame. I was able to fly down all the descents at both races with more comfort than I ever had on my old road bike. I can just let it go and feel good about where it will take me. Why is that? I’m guessing it’s due to the skinny, thin walled tubes matching my skinny thin walled body. Maybe also because the frame is slightly big for me? I wish I could elaborate. I should add that I am running 28 Grand Bois tire in the back and a 30 in the front. The larger front tire has added a small but noticeable amount of pneumatic trail which has added to the stability at speed.

Steep! But in the end not scary.

Plenty of clearance Clarence

Matt mentioned “planing”. This bikes planes in spades. Someone (I forget who) noted that during the Clarence Rockland Classic I looked totally relaxed on the rough roads. (true dat) In fact, the moment whatever group I was in would transition to gravel, the others seemed to ease the pace while I felt perfectly fine going the same speed. I made my biggest gains on the gravel where I often pulled away in comfort from riders on carbon cross frames with whom I could just keep up on the road. As for climbing, during the Roubaix Recon ride, I noted how if I grabbed and pulled onto the front of the bars with my thumbs around the hoods and moved my butt forward on the saddle, I would fly up the steepest climbs the course had to offer. I could leave the bike in a medium gear and just row the bike up the hill- in a sort of half-seated, half-standing position on the nose of the saddle, pedaling smoothly and slightly rocking fore and aft. I wish I had the same legs for the race the following week (alas not so).

I wouldn’t call this a sprinty bike but I am not a sprinty rider so it suits me fine. Yes it’s flexy, but who says that is a bad thing? The woods section at the end of the Roubaix course proved that a quick handling flexy flyer is perfect for technical riding. I passed almost everyone in the surrounding group by not getting hit hard by all those sharp ups and downs. Obstacles that I couldn’t ride over were swiftly avoided with a flick of the bars. Once I caught up with Jim, I just followed his perfect line and we led the group out of the woods. This made me smile.

I can’t say that I am much of a cycle racer, but I rode both races as hard as I could and this bike was never the limiting factor. Sure my legs were hurting at times of extra hard effort, but I am familiar with frame induced pain and that wasn’t it. My back and arms felt great the whole time and I always felt totally in control. I would have to be twice as fit to tell you if this old sleeper really isn’t suited for racing. It’s plenty of bike for me. I certainly haven’t felt that I was missing something by riding this over anything else. We’ll see how the season goes, but I am likely going to try this frame in a cross race - what it was designed do in the first place! Can’t wait.

Brendan Brazier visits Ottawa this week!

Who? Brendan Brazier is the man behind my not-so-secret-secret-weapon: the Thrive Diet, and the mad scientist behind the Vega line of products from Sequel. Brendan is a professional triathlete from the West coast, and he is touring to promote his latest book, Thrive Fitness. The Thrive Diet is not a diet in the common sense, i.e., a temporary program designed to shed fat. No, the Thrive Diet is about long term eating for overall health. In a nutshell, eating the thrive way, as I like to say, is really about eating whole, mostly alkalizing foods, and we're talking about a plant-based diet, i.e., vegan.

Whoa, whoa, whoa...vegan you say, like, as in vegetarian and then some? Correct. But what about protein? Not a problem. I transitioned from a standard omnivorous diet to vegetarian (lacto-ovo) about 8 years ago. I noticed improvements in my overall energy level and lost a bit of weight. After becoming vegan a couple years later, I noticed significant improvements in my fitness, and I lost more weight. Each year I have improved, and I now perform at a level I never would have though possible when I transitioned away from animal products. Sure, I look skinny with pants on, but I don't think anyone who has seen me in riding kit would worry that I was lacking protein. Ethics aside, I would never revert to eating animal products. I couldn't justify the health and fitness costs. I wholeheartedly believe the vegan diet is a secret weapon; but its not a secret I'm willing to keep!

I'm not going to steal Brendan's thunder and blather on about the principles of the Thrive Diet. He'll deliver the key ideas far better than I can during his talks this week. I'll simply offer a nutshell version of the Thrive approach: the diet reduces nutritional stress so that your body/you are better able to cope with the other forms of stress in your life. Reduced stress translates into better overall health and better athletic performance. An added bonus is that an alkalizing diet creates an environment in the body that is not hospitable to disease. This is a massive long-term advantage.

I have a copy of Thrive Fitness, along with the earlier Thrive Diet publication. The latest work is tailored specifically for fitness seekers, which means a lot of the background science behind the diet is left out to make room for the fitness specific content, such as work out routines and sport specific recipes. I have used recipes from the Thrive Diet book, and find them excellent. The new book updates many of these, incorporating ingredients that have since come onto the market, or proven superior to others used previously. For example, buckwheat figures prominently, as does Salba. I've used the energy bars, energy and recovery drinks, energy and recovery puddings, gel, granola, and other main course recipes with outstanding results. The Salba granola from the new book is without a doubt the best pre-ride or race breakfast I've ever consumed. This book takes the guess work out of eating for endurance sport. I'd flounder without these resources. For endurance athletes new to the Brendan's writing, and Vega products, I recommend starting with the Thrive Fitness book, and adding the Thrive Diet book when you can. The two books compliment each other well, and it really is beneficial to understand the science underlying the approach. Its much easier to remember the "how" when you understand the "why."

If you can't make it out, go here for a series of videos that lay it all out really well. Plus, you'll get to see Brendan riding his cross bike up a beautiful dirt road. I intend on inviting him out for a ride with us, perhaps we can pull him into the Mufferaw Joe on Sunday! He's a busy guy, I'm not holding my breath.

Ottawa Tour Dates

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steeds of Roubaix: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As the National Capital Region's very own Paris-Roubaix slowly fades into memory and other challenges move to the fore of consciousness, I thought I'd keep the ball bouncing across the cobbles with a feature of this year's 3rd place bike. Granted, I was going to start a series of posts on the bikes of Roubaix anyhow, but now that mine has attained a podium spot, I figure I have even more reason to blather about it. I'm hoping other Tall Tree riders will follow suit and post on their set-ups to convey the spectrum of rides employed on Sunday. Its clear that some were good, but I'll leave it to the others to claim the Bad and Ugly. This post will be part Roubaix tech report and installment three of the series of writings I'm doing on my Steelwool Secteur 18.

Ottawa's longest running and most popular Spring Classics inspired sportif event, the Paris-Roubaix, named after the...Paris-Roubaix in France. One cannot fault the tireless organizers of the Ottawa Bicycle Club for borrowing the name. After all, sometimes this is what it takes to convey the spirit and flavour of an event; its easier to draw a direct line to the inspiration. Despite sharing a name, these two events are not really all that similar. France's Roubaix feaures twenty-odd sectors of cobblestones. In contrast, our Roubaix features none. Instead, about 90% of the route is dirt, mostly dirt road. While riders are spared the boneshaking abuse of the cobbles, we are treated to three offroad sectors that can only be described as trails. These sectors throw hazards at riders that pose the risk of both crashes and punctures, perhaps even sheared derailleurs and bent rims. However, these sectors are not taken at 50kph, unlike the cobbles.

Another key difference between the races is the elevation profile and distance. France's Roubaix is nearly completely flat, while out Roubaix features around 500m of rolling hills, some as steep as 15%. Then there is the distance, 260k versus 90. That's a massive difference, yet the tactics employed are not all that different. In both races many riders hope to finish, and many don't. So what sort of bikes are suited to our home grown Paris-Roubaix? Read on.

Regular readers of the blog will know that Tall Tree Cycles and Steelwool Bicycles co-owner, Will Ficner, and I worked together to design my first custom bike, the Secteur 18, last summer. The bike was to be the first Steelwool all-road bike, designed around 30c tires and fenders, mid reach caliper brakes, 80mm of bottom bracket drop, 72.5 degree head angle, 73 degree seat angle, and moderate trail. We indicated to Sam Wittingham, the builder, that this was to be a bike used for a variety of riding, including races like the Roubaix. Truth be told, I had designs on racing the bike in the amateur Paris-Roubaix, the real deal. The name, Secteur 18, pays homage to the infamous Forest of Arenburg sector of the Roubaix, the 'trench.' While it is not always the 18th from last sector in the race, that is the number it has most often held. The trench is hallowed ground, often decisive, always respected. Inspiring. The bike was delivered in September, mostly constructed from Zona tubing, a choice that came down to Sam, based on the information we provided about my size and riding style.

Last fall I didn't have a great deal of opportunity to put the Secteur 18 through the paces. The big events had come and gone, and sights were now set on cyclocross. I did end up racing the bike during one 'cross race, and was very happy with it. However, my general impression of the bike was that it was perhaps a tad stiff in the seat-tube. I was happy with the accuracy and torsional stiffness of the front end under moderate efforts, but felt a good bit of twisting under full sprints. This was no surprise to me, as it had not been designed with a bias toward sprinting. It was rather to be a bike for long rides with steady effort in the saddle. For this reason, it needed to be very efficient from the seated position. I felt it was perhaps a little stiff in the seat-tube to plane as much as I'd like. This observation was mostly based on the performance of my Pinarello cyclocross bike, constructed from standard diameter tubing (25.4tt, 28.6 dt and st). By the end of the fall I knew I had to put in a lot more riding on the bike to come to ground on the performance of the tubing. Ditto for geometry, as I was trying to figure out why the bike felt a little less stable in cross winds than my other bikes, and also exhibited a bit of wheel flop.

Fast forward to April. By this point I'd logged about 3000k on the Secteur 18, and had confirmed that it did indeed flop a bit more than I liked, and was a little less stable in cross winds than I liked too. But the question remained: how would it perform under race conditions? The Tour of the Battenkill was my first opportunity to discern how the bike responded to the surges and broad power output of a hilly mixed surface course, much like the routes we tend to ride.

Battenkill features numerous grinding climbs. My bike set-up was identical for both Battenkill and the Roubaix, save the gearing. I ran Mavic Ksyrium Elites shod in Brand Bois Cypres 30c tires and 28-43mm Continental tubes. Up front I used a 36/50 compact double crank with an 11-28 for Battenkill and 12-25 for the Roubaix. I always run Specialized Bar Phat under my tape, Yokozuna Scott-Mahauser compound brake pads in my mid-reach Shimano calipers, SRAM Force/Rival controls and drivetrain, 3T bar, stem, and post, Shimano XT pedals and a Ti San Marco Regal saddle. All in, the bike weights about 22lbs. This is definitely heavy for a road bike, but actually super light for a randonneur (if I were to set it up with a bar-bag I could call it that!). The low gearing for Battenkill was my typical set-up, but I didn't actually need the 28. The tire choice was larger than necessary, as the dirt roads were buff, but they are not slower than 28s anyhow. I experienced no negative handling traits during the race. THe bike was completely stable at 80kph dirt descents, and being in the pack most of the time cut down on potential for cross wind influence on the steering.

For the Roubaix, none of the climbs would require a lower gear than the 36x25, and in fact, I remained in my big ring for the whole race except two climbs. Compact gearing is good for that. The large slicks were ideal for the route, as I don't find tread worthwhile with so little trail, and no turns that are particularly difficult.

This is a real melange of compnents: Shimano pedals, SRAM Force crank, SRAM 1070 chain, Campagnolo Record front derailleur. It works flawlessly.

Even with the 30c Grand Bois, there is still ample room under the Shimano mid-reach brake and bi-plane fork crown.

Tire clearance in the back is pretty good with the 30s. I've run a 32 knobbie on this with good results, so the 30 has no trouble. With the fender installed I run a 28 for better clearance. Pauls Racer M brakes afford better clearance for fenders and 30s. This bike will be modified to accept the Racer Ms before too long.

Ok, so that's a run-down of the set-up. But for those uninitiated into the strange world of steel, the burning question might be just how a 22lb bike can be competitive in a race like the Roubaix? Isn't the extra weight detrimental?

In a word, no. What I am coming to better understand all the time is that the choice of frame-set, that is, when there is an actual choice, should come down to the specifics of the route in question. Here is a weak analogy: consider stage 12 of the 2009 Giro d'Italia, a time trial that featured a hair-raising descent down a very narrow road under a canopy of trees. Most, if not all, racers opted to use their regular road bikes over their TT bikes. That was the intelligent move, as handling was the priority. They had the option, and they exercised it.

During the Battenkill race, there were moments when I wished my bike was lighter. This does not mean I wished it was carbon, just lighter. This is entirely achievable in steel. The issue was the relentless climbs at 70 and 90k. Since my seat-tube is a little stiff, in my estimation, the seated powering I was doing was not entirely rewarded with flex side to side, what is describes as planing. What I should have done was stand a bit more often to keep from hurting my legs. That seems to be the best approach on a bike that's stiff in this way. Bikes that are too stiff hurt the legs more than bikes that plane well. My Pinarello confirms this. So the roads were smooth enough to mix standing and seated pedaling, but I fooled myself into thinking I was better off 'conserving' in the saddle. Wrong, I should have mixed it up.

In contrast to the Battenkill route, the Roubaix features numerous loose sections, as well as full on trail. The climbs are neither as steep or long. A resilient frame and fork will translate into greater efficiency over this route to a degree that exceeds Battenkill. The climbs are not long enough to bog me down in the saddle, so the seat-tube stiffness is less of a concern. On the other hand, accelerations are a significant concern. There are normally numerous instances in this race where you have to respond quickly to attacks. The less than optimal flex in my frame for long steady rides becomes an asset on this course, as the bike responds better to jumps than a softer frame could. Bear in mind here that I am speaking from a very 'picky' point of view. That's the primary reason I am involved in the R&D for Steelwool. Not all riders will ever care to think about this stuff or even be able to discern it. Its up to us to figure out what works.

The degree to which a frame planes has a great deal to do with the rider's pedaling style, including both their power curve and rate of cadence. When I was alone trying to chase after flatting, I got into a very good rhythm on the bike. Even though my lower back became intensely painful, and my legs and lungs were nearly maxed out, I did not have any desire to be on a lighter, stiffer bike. My bike was working flawlessly, rewarding my power. So the question that comes to mind is whether this bike necessarily performs better under higher power outputs? I believe it does. The wind was blowing, and I was putting in enough power to hurt my back from the bracing, so I think I was getting more of a planing effect out of the bike than while climbing at Battenkill. The bike was in its element. So we are talking about matching the flex of the bike to the terrain AND, importantly, the amount of power output expected. A randonneur bike would not likely be ridden this hard, so it probably shouldn't be as stiff.

When I attacked into and through the last sector, the Sugarbush, the bike was steady and predictable, responding well to my power output. The low bb instilled confidence, as always, and we came out with enough juice left to keep the pressure on to the line. I was completely happy with the bike's performance.

I'm continuously learning about the nuances of frame design, material selection and spec. Jan Heine's writing in Bicycle Quarterly is contributing greatly to this learning process, more than any other source by far. Padraig of Red Kite Prayer is the other writer contributing to this ongoing conversation about frame design. His observations about handling are tinged by his penchant for high speed descents, a nice compliment to Jan's longer distance bent.

While there is much to learn from here, I'll offer a couple conclusions I've come to with regard to tubing choice. These are not set in stone, just the ideas I'm marinating right now.
  1. The first step is determining how and where you ride. One rider might ride the Gatineau Parkway and never get out of the saddle. S/he would not need or want the same sort of tubing as a rider who spends a lot of time out of the saddle, and goes for the sprints. The roads are relatively smooth, so comfort would not need to be addressed to the same degree as a bike being ridden around Wakefield, for example.
  2. The next step is determining how much emphasis you want to put on comfort/efficiency. Do you want the bike to feel fast or be fast? There is a difference. 23c tires feel fast, but they are usually slower than 25s.
  3. The third step is deciding where you want your handling bias to fall: should the bike be optimized for moderate speeds, or should all out speed on descents be a priority? If you like to plummet descents at maximum velocity, you might want to forego a bit of pedaling efficiency in favour of front end accuracy (read, stiffness). So while a 25.5 top-tube might provide better suspension, it might not feel precise enough in the turns. This is a tough one to get to the bottom of, as suspension and precision cannot be taken separately. Companies like Specialized are using oversized head-tubes and steerers and focusing the flex in the fork blades like suspension on mtbs. This can be achieved with steel forks too, but whether oversizing the head-tube and isolating flex to the fork would be optimal is unknown to me.
I've come to the point where I am relatively certain that more fork rake will reduce if not eliminate the flop and cross-wind instability I am presently experiencing (see the latest edition of the BQ for an article on cross-wind instability). This conclusion is based on my theoretical understanding of trail, which is mostly informed by the tests and calculations conducted by Jan Heine at Bicycle Quarterly. I hope to have a new fork build in the near future to address these quirks, all part of the process.

So what did you ride for the Roubaix, and what did you like and/or dislike about your set-up? Would you consider a high quality steel bike as an addition to your quiver (if you don't already have one)? What would you want to use it for? Perhaps we'll hear from David Bilenky, proud owner of a special aluminum Alan cross bike that is reputed to exhibit very lively sensations. Don't feel the required to geek out to the degree I do here. All comments, no matter how technical, are welcome. Its really all about the sensations...

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Before the story, how about a (revised) breakdown of Tall Tree Cycles' Results:

3rd Matt Surch
14th David Stachon
28th Rodd Heino
37th Todd Fairhead
91st Anna O'Brien - 4th Woman!!!!
48th Steve Bosworth
59th Jamie Pold
70th Jim McGuire
71st Pascal Marais
74th Mike Abraham
74th Thom Johnson
96th Neil Scheimann
132nd Mark Carver
133rd Jeff Ryan
134th Glenn Murray
136th Chris Simmons

Neil got the jump below and posted about today's Paris-Roubaix from Almonte. Great to read his account of the bizarre series of events that transpired today. I'll elaborate a bit.

I share Neil's affinity for the Almonte Roubaix. It would not be unfair to say I put a lot of my eggs in the Roubaix basket. Its my favourite local 'race,' but it comes early in the season, so it can be difficult to prepare for it. Four years ago a group of about 9 of us rode the event for the first time, on fixed gears. To the oganizers' delight, we returned the following year with gears, and finished about an hour sooner I suspect! That was a tough one, I didn't prepare very well and could not hold onto the lead group. In 2009 I had many more miles on the road in advance of the race, plus two hard races under my belt in the weeks prior, so I was able to ride a good race. I chased a break and managed to finish in 15th with Neil, only a couple minutes off the winner. I learned a lot, as I do each time I race on the road, so I immediately looked forward to the 2010 edition of the Roubaix.

As Neil writes below, we talked strategy this morning. We knew Osmond and Aaron would be the major protagonists on the road, so all we really had to do was stay with them. We felt pretty confident that a number of other Tall Tree riders would put in strong rides; Rodd, David, and Todd were quite likely to be in the mix, and Jamie, Mike, Steve, Thom, and Pascal all had form to draw on. It would really be about positioning for the guys with less power to call on. Our wild card was my long-time friend, "BMX" Jim McGuire, soon to be Tall Tree club rider, and strong ally.

As Neil and Jay detail (see Jay's great report on, the start of the race was pretty quick, like last year. To my chagrin, the beautiful buff dirt of last week was now covered with a thick coating of gravel. Wheels churned the surface into a broiling froth, spraying chunks in all directions as wheels flailed through shifting furroughs. Carnage was avoided...somehow. I staged well enough to move close to the front before hitting the gravel, then followed Oz up to the front with Neil close-by. Stay up front and out of trouble was my aim, which led to a good bit of riding on the front. I was keen on seeing what was coming.

After the fresh gravel subsided we had a short respite before heading into the woods. I moved to the front for the 90 degree turn and rolled in third or fourth wheel. Not willing to follow a wheel into a rock, I move forward and assumed the lead position, keeping my pace consistent. I'd focused on this sector during our pre-ride, knowing it is always decisive. Smooth lines were at a premium, and I was happy to find that I was able to come out of the first and second sectors in the lead position. Safe, and not blown up; excellent.

Oz was knocking on the back door, followed by a couple others, but there was no point in really trying to get away. I knew I was by no means strong enough to go away with a small group so early. Neil was with us and a selection of others, including both David and Rodd, within a minute or two. Excellent. As Neil writes, Greg rolled away without a response, and slowly built a gap. Neil and I were not keen to thrash ourselves to reel him in. Then I flatted.

I gave Rodd notice as I pulled to the side. Jim rolled up within a minute as I fumbled with my tube and CO2. I was panicking, think Lance in Ride Across the Sky. I can normally fix a flat rather quickly, but not so well when my hands are shaking with adrenaline coarsing through my veins. Tube out, tube in, CO2 on...not enough gas...seeped out sitting around. Canister two, gas in, unthread, valve core comes out with it!!! Swearing. Extract valve core with much effort. Replace. "Pump Jim?" "CO2." On it goes. "How does it work? Uh, I can't get it to work." Pascal, Jamie and Thom now stopped with us. "Pump?" Pascal delivers. Frantic pumping. Pathetic wheel intallation. "Ok guys, team time trial." Off I go, trying to gradually wind it up. I look back, I've opened a big gap. Damn. What to do? Better keep the hammer down. Time trial, five minutes to make up. Good luck.... Better to try.

One simple word describes the next 15-20k: pain. That's it, pain. Mostly in the legs, then in the lower back. It seems riding hard into head winds hurts my lower back. Must be the stupid hard pedalling. Many carrots dangled for a while. Mostly solo riders, then a group, the one Jay was in. A couple from his group tried to latch on , but I just couldn't slow to collaborate. I had to go as hard as I could if I was to have a chance to catch the second pack, the one with Steve in it (and maybe Todd). I thought of slowing and letting the others catch me so I could ride with them. No, what if the next group was around the next was possible. I had to remain in the hurt locker, keep stretching the back out and pedal.

I passed a rider who could hang for a bit. He put in a great pull for me and I bridged up to a friendly face, David Bilenky. It was a good time to ease up for a minute, we we rode side by side. Approaching an unfamiliar turn option with three arrows pointing to it, I mentioned it to David. He wasn't having any of it. In no uncertain terms he told me it was definitely not the turn; the correct one was a little further up. I remembered the correct turn up the road from last weekend, so I didn't put up much of a fight. But the arrows were there.....they were. Surely others would be confused?

David let me go soon after and I got back on the gas. Wouldn't you know, Aaron and Oz approached from behind a few kilometers down the road. What the? I surmised they must have taken the wrong turn and been spit back out on Darling after a lengthy detour. They were maching, and I knew there was NO chance I'd be able to hang with them for the next 40k, but there was a small chase group approaching! I was back in the game! Near despair morphed into hope; perhaps I could salvage this ride. Nobody knew whether others were ahead, there was no way to know. We were now three Cyclery riders, a Brockville rider, Keirnan Orange, A Scott rider, and me....I think. One of the Cyclery riders, Steve Proulx, had also flatted and avoided the detour. We made for a pretty able group, and shared the work well as we marched on...and on. Aside from the fading dots of Aaron and Oz, we saw no one.

Attrition hit with about 15k to go when we shed the Scott rider. I was watching the others closely to gauge their condition. Keirnan was riding well, and I contemplated seeing whether he'd want to try to work with me to counter the impending Cyclery attack. Would they have the juice to Domo us? I wasn't sure. Approaching the final Sugarbush wooded sector, I knew I'd have to be very observant and look for an opportunity. I felt confident that I could open a gap through the woods. If the others got through close together, they could counter on the final road section of 3-4k, but I had to go for it. Last week I rode the sector twice at full speed, so I knew what to expect, and I was ready. Approaching the climb into the woods, I attacked. We're not talking fireworks here, just the best I could muster. I got in with a clear path ahead of me and pressed the meat. With only a few minor mistakes, I came out with just one Cyclery rider, Craig "Smoking Gun" Hawkes, in pursuit, with perhaps 20 meters between us. But I let up before the exit, and then accellerated again. The gap grew. I hunkered down and drove it hard. The gap was growing. I didn't allow myself to let up, I couldn't leave anything to change. Go. I was not confident enough to keep from looking back every 30 seconds, despite a growing gap. The final stretches felt far longer than they should have.

Approaching the last turn I spied Oz backtracking, obviously winding down after finishing. He gave me an inspiring thumbs up. "Huh, that must be a good sign," I though. Turning the final corner I scanned ahead for other riders. There were none. Zipping up the jersey I unceremoniously crossed the line an still saw no one but Aaron. "Where is everyone?" "Its just you guys." "Am I third" "Yes" "Oh. My. God."

I still can't believe it. What a roller coaster ride of emotion and pain the race was. I'd resigned to the fact that I'd finish wayyyyy back, only to find myself far exceed my top-10 goal, and secure my best ever road result (not that I've raced a tonne on the road!). I'd been hoping for some time while labouring on the bike that Neil would salvage a result for Tall Tree today. But as fate would have it, he'd double flat, Rodd flatted, and I had the good fortune to be in the right place in at the right time. On the one hand it feels odd to celebrate the placing when many of my competitors were sidetracked. But then, I did suffer a great deal today as I fought to salvage my ride. I never gave up, and I worked hard with my group and executed my plan through the final sector. I'm proud of today's effort, and finishing 'on the podium' of the Roubaix will be an accomplishment I will draw on for years to come. It'll make a great story too.

Thanks to all my team-mates, official and unofficial, who sacrificed their race to help me today. Tall Tree pulled out a terrific result today. Many thanks go to David Bilenky for his guidance as well; Guiness to come. And a big thank you to the event organizers for their hard work putting on the event, always a highlight of the season. Saboteurs may have thrown a stick in the spokes today, but this was one for the books!

Almonte,(not the paris roubaix), Roubaix

Well, just coming off the Pro Am in the Tour of the Battenkill where I finished 48th, I was feeling pretty confident going into this race. As some of you may have heard me say before, I look forward to the Almonte Roubaix more than any other race. Matt and I talked a little strategy during a very short warm up, we were aiming for the win.
Going into the first forest section Matt was leading followed by Osmond Bakker and myself--We came out in that order and shed a lot of riders.I'd estimate the pack was down to about 30 at this point. The attacks started going- Oz went first, when we caught him Greg Reain countered and was gone far off the front shortly after. No one seemed to care that Greg was slowly turning into a speck of dust in the distance. I then got word from Rodd that Matt had flatted-S%*t! Finally we organized a small chase group rotating at the front- Imad El-Gazel, John Fee, Oz and myself-We drove the pace for a bit but then everything started going wrong....The course was marked incorrectly and approx. 20 of us(the lead chase pack) went right for about 3 kms to discover a dead end and where I also discovered I had a flat tire.
Everybody sprinted out of there while I put a tube in my tubeless tire.--Jumped back on the bike prepared to time trial for 50km, but wait, here comes Greg Reain out of the bushes covered in mud. apparently he took the wrong turn too.
He and I worked together right to the last Forest where I had a catastrophic tear on my rear wheel which went off like a gunshot.--Fixed it with a Cliff shot wrapper, then slowly and carefully rode the last 3 km to the finish line--Very anti climatic, Way she goes sometimes I guess.
But wait, there's more!
Matt Surch, after fixing his flat tire, didn't take the wrong turn---he was actually leading the race for a while until Oz and Aaron Fillion caught and passed him.I won't give away too much but Matt got third!!
Podium for Tall Tree at the Almonte Roubaix,(the most prestigious race in all of Ottawa). I'll be marking this one down as a great success for us all!'
Road season over, 364 days to go to the next Almonte Roubaix. Next stop Baie St.Paul XC Canada cup.
Neil. Schiemann

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Local Spring Classics Update

We are fortunate enough to have two Spring Classics flavoured events coming up over the next two weekends here in the National Capital Region. The OBC's Paris-Roubaix from Almonte, Ontario, will run Sunday, and the West Quebec Wheelers will host their Mufferaw Joe Lucky 7 sportif on May 2nd, featuring a twist this year: teams of 7! I've posted the new map for the Roubaix below, followed by the lowdown for the Lucky 7. These deserve separate posts, but there are only so many days in the week!

Go here for the OBC's map for Sunday's Roubaix, and here for the map I made, which will provide a bit more info about elevation, etc.


From the Wheelers site:
The Mufferaw Joe Spring Sportif RETURNS WITH A VENGEANCE in 2010. This year we are adding a seven person team category for those of you who love company with your misery.
So we’re up the Valley agin’, my band o’ misfits, and we’re gonna have some right good times and get sore legs and blisters and saddlesores. In fact, there’s a rumour goin’ round that Blister and The Saddlesores might be playin’ the Quyon when we get back for chow and brews.
The ride will be about 130 km with some good dirty sections and some high speed jammin’.

Sunday, May 2, 2010
We ride rain or shine
$20 in advance, $25 ride-day registration
Start/Finish is at Gavan’s Hotel: 1157 Clarendon St. Quyon, Qc
No license required

Online registration via Paypal is available on the Wheelers' site.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Anniversary Sale!

Some amazing deals to be had in the store this week during our anniversary sale celebration.

April 19th - 24th.

20% off all Parts and Accesories

5-20% off all bikes

BBQ Saturday

Amazing deals on 2009 MASI single speeds, cross bikes, and commuters. See the above add.


Its Coming: The 2010 Ride of the Damned! May 16th, 2010.

Spring Classics are undoubtedly BIG.
In Europe, they virtually comprise a season unto themselves, and here in North America, they are more popular than all other disciplines; the Tour of the Battenkill in New York is America's biggest one-day race. In Europe the Spring Classics span two months, but around these parts they get packed into one, on account of...winter. Obsessed with Spring Classics and rough roads in general, the Tall Tree clan decided to extend the Classic action into May in 2009, inaugurating the Ride of the Damned. In its first installment, the RotD was a group ride over challenging terrain, passing up to and over the Paughan Dam, North of Wakefield. On Sunday, May 16th, Tall Tree Cycles will host the second annual Ride of the Damned, utilizing the 'gentleman's race' (or, preferably, gender neutral 'gentlefolk race') format. This format was employed in our Quintuple Pave Classic last August with resounding success.

Teams of 5 start en masse to tackle the 145k route of paved and dirt roads, passing through the Monts Cascades region and North of the 366. This format is an un-race, meaning it is a glorified ride with friends and perhaps...rivals. The spirit of the event is spirited riding, working together, and enjoying the challenge of the terrain; its a 'challenge ride,' not a 'victory ride' (more on this distinction soon, I promise).

The route map will be posted in advance of the event, and teams will be provided cue sheets. The course will not be marked. There will be no technical support, but there will be at least one stop where water and food will be provided. Teams must finish together in order to qualify as finishers. A BBQ post ride might occur, weather permitting, otherwise, we'll work out an alternative. We will really push to make the BBQ happen.

Cost for the event is $10/rider, registration will run from 07:00 - 07:45, start time 08:00.

Team captains are asked to RSVP to by Wednesday, May 12th. For additional details, including confirmation of route, please visit Please feel free to share the poster around, the more the merrier!

This info is also posted on, your one-stop shop for cycling news in the National Capital Region. Visit often to keep up to speed on rides, races and non-competitive cycling events in the region, and more!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Almonte Roubaix Recon


A solid group of about 15 Tall Tree riders and friends met at the arena in Almonte this morning to recon next Sunday's route. We pulled in to the parking lot to the sight of another group getting ready to roll, comprised mainly of Cyclery folks. Ian, the route master, was also there, and asked both groups to test a new section off Darling Rd, looping back to Tatlock, approximately 6k long with a couple good climbs. We were keen to comply; what might the section bring?

The dirt throughout the route was in excellent shape today, having soaked up the recent rain. Buff would be appropriate. The wooded sections are in very good condition, with just a couple puddles in the final sector, Concession 6D. Only one flat was sustained over the route.

The potential new section was outstanding, possibly the finest dirt road sector in the while route, featuring rolling turns and beautiful surroundings. A couple good climbs figure, on around 15%. The sector would add about 11k to the route, for a total of about 97k. Our group would be happy for it to be included, as we think it is a high quality sector that would definitely enhance the route. Yes, 10 or so kilometers on top of a hard ride can be crushing. If the sector is added, I hope Bob makes the distance clear to everyone so there are no surprised. I think bringing the route up to just under 100k is perfectly appropriate for the spirit of the event; people simply need to know what they are in for and how to meter their efforts. The new sector would fall between about kilometer 57 and 68, from the arena. I hope it makes it in.

Hope to see you all there on Sunday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

CRC - Part Deux

OK so here is the first race report I’ve written in a few years, it promises not to be as eloquent, nor as detailed as Rodds since he covered a lot.

So as per usual I’m always a little late going and mentally and physically challenged in the morning. I was the last to get out for a warm-up and while it was sufficient with a couple of intense pushes it really was not ideal in length.

Lining up at the last minute beside Dave about 50 back we were chat chatting and Dave mentions that we were kind of poorly seeded should have talked strategy prior....oh well, we’ll just work our way up close to Rodd, get him to the finish and let him go. I’m thinking...there is no way in hell I’m going to be anywhere near Rodd at the 85 km mark !!

The weather stated a bit chilly but in the end I was dressed ideally with two undershirts, jersey and arm-warmers.

So 50 back is not ideal but I know both Dave and I will move up on the first two climbs, which we did, him on the left and me on the right sometimes, on road sometimes on shoulder. I was feeling my lack of warmup on these pushes but knew (hoped) that I would have a chance to settle in and recover a bit before any real attacks happened. I love Rodd’s audio descriptor “a cacophony of missed shifts and dropped chains”. Yup it was cacophonous !

The pace stayed reasonably high for the flat straightaway but in the pack I was able to recover enough and respond to any accelerations. Dave and I were bobbing back and forth and at some times could even chat a bit with friends and competitors. There were a few little accelerations but nothing crazy...couple of guys of the front early but no interest in chasing them down it seemed. Eventually at one point I no longer noticed Dave bouncing around for a while so with a couple of looks back and seeing no green I decided to move up to Rodd (if I could). There wee a couple of pushes into some turns that make moving up and hanging on in some cases a bit of work but made my way up to Rodd and bounced around beside and behind him for a while. As Rodd mentioned, at about 30 km in there was a sharp right (west) turn onto a fairly soft gravel road. I felt OK for a little bit but must have been more drained than I thought as I lost my grip on Rodd and others, and started to get passed by Alex Michel and a couple others. Usually I will turn myself inside out to stay on Alex’s wheel but in the soft gravel and headwind my spindly legs just did not have the power. The back of that group was splintered and there were a 2 or 3 guys strung out over the next 50 meters or so ahead.....but as much as I worked to bridge to a wheel, they all worked at least as hard and after 10 minutes of gradually losing a little ground I had to call a truce with myself and think a bit more strategically. While feeling a somewhat dejected at having been shelled, I was at the same time happy to have stayed with the lead pack of uber-fasties for that length of time, and I knew there would be good groups behind to jump on with....the question was “when”?

It felt like a looooong way on my own through both gravel and headwinds and tailwinds and pavement. All the while I could see the few riders off in the distance close, yet so far ! Eventually after about another 10 minutes I noticed 3 guys 100 m back so started to soft pedal and sit up. Unfortunately right before they caught me I threw off my chain (the second time in the race - the first was near the start and I was able to shift it back into the ring), this tmie however the shifting was not working. In a panic I hit the breaks and jumped off the bike to manually put the chain back on the ring but it was too late.....whoooosh they went by as I jumped back on the bike. There was NO WAY I could catch on to the 3 of them from a dead stop and gave up after a couple of minutes. I was cursing my stupidity.....I waited so long for this opportunity and blew it ! So on I went for the next 10 minutes or so with the idea that there is no point in expending too much energy now, just wait for the next group and be satisfied with that. Eventually a large group of about 20 came into sight of my rearview mirror on a paved headwind section. I was glad to join them and the pace seemed surprisingly slow even tho there were some strong riders in this group, Greg Zuliani, Chris Mullington, David Bilenkey, Stu Blunt, Jason Cheney, Jon Gee, Chris Olsen and uber-triathlete Cynthia Wilson. I guess only a few of the 20 were actually working so I ended up joining the 6 or 7 that were rotating through. I did have a chance to chat with Cyn and Greg and commented at how fast his brother Chris had gotten. At one point in time Cynthia decided she had enough of this pace and put it into overdrive and steadily rode away. Shortly after that we came to a small gravel downhill and bridge. Some of the guys in the group were clearly not as comfy on the gravel and while they were not necessarily sketchy, they were kind of “blockie”. Coming around the left side at the bottom of the bridge I pulled around and ahead standing on the pedals uphill, I had no intention of jumping and really just wanted to get in a stretch and in front of the “blockies”. Well in my inexperience I guess I opened a gap and that ruffled a few feathers as about half the group came along behind me and subsequently passed me 30 seconds later as I tired out a bit and had to work to hang on to the last wheel of this group as apparently the other half of the 20 or so splintered off the back. Jason C. made some kind of remark about my move but I didn’t hear what is was exactly...nevertheless it was clearly an expression of displeasure. I think in the end it all worked out for the best as we had some strong riders that kept the pace high. Chris Mullington was an absolute fiend as he time trialed off the front a few times, sometimes pulling us along, other times flying on his own !

Back onto paved road and a bit of the last climb hurt spreading things out a bit but not too much that the group broke big attacks there, at least not that I remember....maybe there was a few who flew off. Anyway there was still a group of 8 or so that savoured the flat pavement and then the sweeping left downhill, (me off the back as always on downhills) but caught back up in a couple seconds. As we made the last turn toward the finish some of the group sprinted. This cowboy is NOT built to be a sprinter and I simply savoured the reasonably good finish rolling in moderately just ahead of Craig Hawkes. About 1 minute behind the previous group, 5 behind Rodds and with a few others in between.

I was glad to be done and chatted with Greg who looked destroyed, Rodd and Marc Lapointe who looked fresh and Alex.

It was a good race - a sufferfest for me at many times but it all goes in the bank and I was happy with my top 25% placing which was better than expected. Stu came in a few minutes later with some bad cramps, then Pascal brought it all home having left everything out on the road after playing good samaritan.
The hamburger helper “meal” was rather below standard, but the race organization was quite good and it was awesome to see 140+ races and a virgin event.

That’s long-winded enough...see ya in Almonte !

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 Tour of the Battenkill Race Report

Photo: IanC83 @

The 2009 edition of the Tour of the Battenkill was marred by flats for both myself and Candace Ellicott, Tall Tree's lone riders testing the New York waters. As soon as I flatted I knew I'd return in 2010 to try again, to see what I could do in America's Queen of the Classics, my favourite road genre. That race was 82 miles, a distance that suited me more than the 62 mile route every category but Cat1 and 2 race. But the allure of racing with my team-mates as a Master in this race and others through the year was far more enticing than the longer route. After Christmas it was time to work on the trainer to hold onto, then build on 2009's fitness. And so it went, ramping up through January, February and March, all with the Battenkill carrot dangling. How would it go? Could I win? What about Rob, he'd be strong for certain....

Friday, travel. Tanya, aka, the Vegan Vagabond, and Tall Tree's newest addition to the family, picked up myself and family to round out a vegan juggernaut (Mazda Protege) destined for Cambridge New York. Travelling through Ogdensburg, we had an interesting encounter with a US border officer (BO): Where you headed?
Tanya: Cambridge.
BO: What for?
Tanya: A bicycle race.
BO: Oh, I see. Well, it looks like someone's due for an upgrade.
Tanya: Huh? Which one?
BO: The brown one. I mean, the Ksyriums (pronounced Ka Syriums) are good and all, but I dunno about that frame.
Tanya: Baffled.
Me: Laughing. Hey, that frame is brand new, its custom made for me, i.e., really cool.
BO: Hmm, well, I don't recognize the brand.
Us: Ok, bye.

I considered that encounter hilarious. Perhaps others might be offended, but I just love hearing that sort of stuff. Its just too funny. If its not carbon flash its obviously old and outdated, so it seems. Ah well, we'd put that perception to the test on Saturday.

Across the border my daughter spewed chunks (puked) due to the winding road. This was indeed a blessing, as searching the trunk for a rag revealed that I'd left my Rubbermaid of riding clothing at home. A few calls later and Todd and Jamie were picking it up from my house as they left town. Phewf, puke to the rescue. I made sure Ronan knew she'd saved the day with her vomit action. Life can be funny.

The route we took through the Adirondacks was beautiful This road is a typical example of the ample shoulder and great surface for riding. Top to bottom, the park spans around 200k. We hope to ride there soon.

A few missed turns, due to my distinct lack of navigation while enthralled in a conversation with Tanya about philosophy and communications studies (yep, I'm a nerd of many stripes), we arrived at our hotel, the Hyatt in Malta by around 4pm, about 7 hours after departing. Others took less than 5 hours. Others still also got lost.

After settling in and eventually rounding up the rest of the crew, Thom, Lily, Jamie, Todd, Neil, Rob, and Steve, we all headed to Saratoga Springs for dinner at a health food store/restaurant with buffet, where we all enjoyed excellent veg/vegan food at incredibly good prices. The exchange rate certainly didn't hurt. Then it was off to the bar to pound Bud for a few hours before riding back to the hotel and passing out. Kidding. We headed back to the hotel and turned in early, monk style.

Saturday morning. Windy as forecasted, Steve and Tanya headed out after breaking the fast with the team at the hotel. Free breakfast there is excellent, with all the stuff cyclists need before an event. Sure, they don't serve super granola like the stuff I make, but that's cool, I brought my own. The staff at the Hyatt are the most hospitable I've ever encountered, and genuinely so. This is the sort of hotel you return to every year, 'cause it just can't get any better. At $89 for two Queens and a pullout, this place is truly unbeatable. So Tanya and Steve headed off for Steve's 10:30 start, as the venue, Cambridge was up to an hour away, depending on how lost you got.

The rest of us pulled up a bit before 10:30, Steve about to go, Tanya preparing to. Steve was in for his first ever road race, in the Cat5 field...or one of them anyhow. Then it was Tanya off, also for her first race. That left us five Masters, Thom, Todd, Jamie, Rob and myself, to prepare for our start at 12:25. Pressure mounted as the start approached, pinning numbers, checking tires....I was last to the line after a nature break, and sensed an issue with my left pedal on the way over. This triggered a mild freak out, as I had no tools on me. Fortunately, Todd did, and I checked all my cleat bolts, reassured myself, and calmed down for the start.

Rob had wheels in the van, so he gave me his tube and CO2. Nothing like peace of mind. In 2009 I had neutral support in the Cat2 race. Didn't need it this time.

Ok, sorted. Ready to go. The dude in blue and white was a strong climber. I don't know whether he stuck around until the end, but I figured him a contender.


Rob and I knew we'd be able to stay together unless a problem arose, but the question was how the others would fare. Todd had been training as well as he could given his tight schedule with work and family, and Jamie and Thom had been preparing all winter, to varying degrees. Of the all of us, Todd has the most experience by far, with lots of road racing and track miles from 12 years back. Meanwhile, Rob had various road races under his belt, followed by myself with a smattering of races, then Jamie and Thom. Experience counts for a lot.

The start was smooth and easy as we enjoyed a tailwind of about 30kph. Rob and I were about 12 rows back and taking it easy for a while, just getting the feel for the group, when Jamie pulled up. Excellent. From that point, I never saw Thom or Todd. The pace was steady and easy for a good while, then the rollers began. Rob, Jamie and I progressed to the front of the pack in preparation for the route's first significant climb, Juniper Swamp. I'd flatted before this climb in 2009, so I didn't know what to expect from the group. As it turned out, Rob and I climbed at the front of the group, and crested at the front. Ok, good, feeling ok, checking out the other climbers to see who looked like they had legs.

Each dirt section was buff, utterly buff, as the roads were almost free of gravel, and packed smooth from rain. Dirt does not get better. Flats would not be common. After Juniper, the group reformed with who knows how many shelled. As it turned out, Thom and Jamie we dropped. Bummer. Todd was hanging on; what a champ!

Jamie on the move.

Due to high winds, the flats and rollers were not hammered. Nobody had any real desire to pull, so we rode mellow until about the 50k point, when attacks began. Rob and I were careful to stay at the front, well positioned to get onto the front side of any splits, allowing others to take up the chases. Before long, attacks subsided for the most part, with just one or two riders dangling off the front for a while. There was no chance they'd stay away. 70k marked our most formidable series of climbs, both paved and dirt for almost 10k from start to finish. We knew this could be decisive; it would at least be a selection. I worked hard to stay on the front over the climbs, cresting the final one in second position, while Rob was back a bit. With one rider ahead, three behind, then a gap of about 20 meters, it seemed like it was go time. The others were of the same mind, and we went for it, digging in on the downhill and working together. Unfortunately, I was already at my limit at the top of the climb and I NEEDED to recover. I wasn't recovering at all, nope, not at all. After a few futile kilometers I looked back, say the chase group of 20 or so closing, and sat up. Try to get on, these guys can't last, I though. Rob passed about 6th wheel and I managed to get onto the back. A descent soon followed and I moved up to slot in behind Rob. Recovering now, we were ready to try to make something happen. "Are there any more major climbs?" Rob asked with about 15k to go. "No." Oops, I was wrong, there was one final climb at 90k that was brutal. Rob and I struggled to hang with the group, having absorbed the other guys from the break, as we climbed the dirt for about 2k. This was where I had thoughts of letting them go, I was suffering in the true sense. My quads wanted to seize near my knees, a sensation I've only once experienced, at last year's other first race, the Hell of the North. Nevertheless, Rob and I attacked on the descent, trying to bridge to the 4 guys up ahead who had escaped the group at the top. We simply couldn't do it in our weakened state, and the others were soon on us. Backing off to get out of the wind, I couldn't do much better than take second wheel approaching the last kilometer. Turning the final corner into town we spotted the 300m to go sign, and the guys behind me opened it up on both sides. The sprint was on. I tried to respond, but with my quads seizing I had to stay in the saddle and sprint there. I had no clue where the finish line was as riders steamed by, including Rob, who got right in in front of me so I could take his wheel. All but one passed me; I was helpless.

This is 100% effort here. Jan Heine would be proud of my in the saddle sprint.

Nevertheless, Rob pulled 18th, myself 19th, and the next rider rounded out the top 20, with the next closest rider another minute or so behind. We were at the front of the race, and we certainly left it all on the road. Todd pulled 11 minutes later for 55th place, an incredible ride for the amount of on-bike time he has this year, followed by Jamie and Thom, both having spent tonnes of time in the wind. The winner, Ed Ceccolini, repeated his victory form 2009, an outstanding feat. I think we'll need to identify him next year and follow him. Its hard to race people you don't know from Adam.

It was awesome riding with Rob. Even more awesome though, was my daughter's excitement, enthusiasm, and support for me and the team. No matter where I finish, she's always there with a hug and a kiss.

All smiles at this point. Lets party!

Todd's yellow helmet is easy to spot. I like that. His first race in 12 years was a smashing success! Way to go Todd, you are a champ!

Tanya rode a smart race, battling the whole time. Check out her lowdown here. Image borrowed from SmugMug

Looking pretty fresh eh! Tanya had fun in the Womens Cat3 field and secured 27th place!!! She was definitely in the right category, way to drop the wooden hammer! PS, Tanya is vegan.

Mmmm, fooood. Steve worked hard in the Cat 5 under 35 Black field and finished in....18th place!!!! PS, Steve is vegetarian.

I didn't get to talk to Neil much, but he was pretty happy with 48th in the Pro field. And he should be, its hard to race without any team-mates. One day we'll all race Masters, then things will get really interesting! Image borrowed from SmugMug.

This post is becoming epic, so I'll wrap up. The Tall Tree/Steelwool Bicycles team made a great showing at Battenkill. Of our 8 riders, five were on steel bikes, and of those five, three finished in the top 20. Of those, only one eats animals (hehehe). No meat was consumed by any team member the night before or morning of the race. If nothing else, we proved that steel is still a viable material for road racing, even on hilly terrain, and vegetarian food is awesome.

Sure, I'd like to shed a few pounds off the bike, and I likely will next time, but there is no question that the bikes held their own. I don't think 'upgrade' is the right word. If we'd not been so flustered, we'd have taken hsots of the race bikes and a team photo. We'll try again at the Roubaix next week.