rainbowjersey.jpgIn a sport built around years of tradition, one of my favorites in cycling is the rainbow jersey. Each year, a world champion is crowned in each discipline of the sport, from road racing to mountain bike to cyclo-cross. Beyond the prestige of being recognized as the world champ, the winner gets another honor -- the right to wear a special jersey for a year. It's one of those cool things that gives cycling its character -- when you're a kid racing, it's easy to dream of someday slipping on a rainbow jersey (although, you soon learn that it's not going to happen. At least, that's what I learned).

Now, some companies will actually sell you a replica of the world champion's jersey, one that you can put on as you go out on your training ride. Call me cranky, but this legitimately bums me out. I actually feel like companies shouldn't even be allowed to sell them -- the only way you should be able to get a rainbow jersey should be to earn it by being the best in the world.

But beyond that, who on earth would buy one and wear it? There must be a market, but for me it's oddly disrespectful. The people who wear the rainbow stripe on merit have sacrificed much of their lives in pursuit of it; somehow, dropping $100 for a replica seems like the worst sort of cluelessness.

So, I was down at Sea Otter on Friday, driving into the parking lot on a back road. As I get closer to the venue, I see someone on a mountain bike, wearing a world champ's jersey. I start cursing under my breath, and pull alongside him, fully ready to shake my head ruefully at him.

And it's Christophe Sauser. The mountain bike world champion.

So, I guess that's OK if he's wearing one.


AuthorMark McClusky

When I got a call from my friend Carmella at Specialized Bicycles, asking me if I wanted to go for a mountain bike ride with Ned Overend, I struggled to explain to my co-workers what that meant. "It's like someone inviting you to go to the batting cage with Babe Ruth," I said, which helped some folks, but maybe another sports metaphor wasn't the solution.

Overend, for the non-cyclist, is one of the greatest mountain bike racers of all time -- hell, he's one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time. In 1990, he won the first-ever official mountain bike world championship in his adopted hometown of Durango, Colorado; that same year he was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

"Ned wants to ride at Tamarancho," said Carmella. "You interested?"

Yes, yes I was. Never mind that this would be about my fifth mountain bike ride of my life -- when you get a chance like this, you take it, pride be dammed.

And thankfully, Ned was just about as nice a guy as could be imagined. I had met him earlier this year at Specialized's road product launch, but that was a big group setting. This would be just the two of us, banging along Marin County singletrack.

At the first, I struggled. Riding off-road, and on a mountain bike, it just super different than the road riding I've done for decades now. But I had (in a huge understatement) a very good teacher there in Ned, and he was kind enough to take it easy and try to help me learn.

What a lot of it comes down to is balance -- in fact, his top suggestion to getting better on a mountain bike is to practice trackstands. "You're moving so slowly some times that if you have better balance, you can pick a line and take your time," he said.

Over the course of our ride, things definitely got more fluid for me. One of the big things was just the chance to ride behind Ned, and see how he handled various sections of terrain.

I got this mountain bike to work on my technical skills for cyclocross, and I can tell it's going to be hugely beneficial. The terrain is just so much harder to deal with that if I can get decent at handling it, those skills should really help me next 'cross season.

Overall, just a super fun day. I'm realizing a couple of things as I sit here writing this. First, I've now ridden with a both a road and mountain bike World Champion cyclist, which is kind of neat.

Also, I'm hoping my friend Scot is reading this -- he's another MTB Hall of Famer, and I have to get up to Santa Rosa to ride with him ASAP.

AuthorMark McClusky
The Last Race
Originally uploaded by liveplayride

So here we are at the end of the year, and with it, the end of my cyclocross season. I had thought that I might make it to a couple more races after the first of the year, but the schedule just doesn't make that look like it's going to work.

At the top line, I'm pretty happy with the results of my first year. I feel like I was competitive in most of the races I entered, and that every time I raced, I learned a little bit more about how to manage a cross race.

Here's how the numbers added up on all the data I collected durning training:

  • Time ridden: 61:43:08
  • Miles ridden: 1,284
  • Calories burned (est.): 74,286

That's over the course of six months of tracked rides, a total of 59 rides and races. I think that's pretty good volume of training, although the milage isn't particularly high.

Part of that was from the strategy of using high-intensity interval training as the bulk of my work, and the results from the work I did at Endurance Performance Training Center were great. I raised my Lactate Threshold by 25 watts over the course of six months, which feels like very nice progress indeed. The top end power didn't have the same improvement, but that's also much harder skill to train.

So how did that translate to racing results? Here's a summary:

  • 10 races
  • 6 finishes in top third of field
  • 3 top ten finishes
  • Highest placing: 2nd
  • Best percentage beaten: 88.7% (8th out of 70)
  • Crashes: 6
  • DNFs: 2

At the midpoint of the season, I was in the top ten in the standings for Mens C riders in the Bay Area Super Prestige Series -- the biggest cross series in the area. Unfortunately, I missed the last two races of the season with conflicts, which is a real bummer. I think that I would have easily stayed in the top ten for the series, and could have maybe found my way into the top five.

Season highlights? Best race for me was the BASP race at Candlestick Point. The rare rainy day made it feel like "real" cyclocross weather, and I had a blast. I also had my best race of the year, finishing 8th in a field of 70, and really riding well in tough conditions. I remember from my earlier racing days that I kind of liked riding in the rain, and that seems to have held true. Other highlights: podium in Livermore on the single speed. Meeting great teammates. Encouragement from a cool community of riders -- when someone like Josh Snead, who's one of the top riders in the area is posting advice on your blog, that's really fun, and helpful.

Lowlights? The early season festival of crashing, for sure. After abrading off a lot of my shin in my first race, totally jacking up my ribs in my second, and then sliding through a school courtyard in my third, it was apparent that I have a lot of work to do on the technical side. Crashing is always part of bike racing, but I was on the ground way too much, and those dings add up, not only in pain, but also in frustration.

A big part of what I hope to do this offseason is work on those skills. I'm going to do a lot of mountain biking if I can, so I can get a little more used to the uncertain traction that you face all the time in cross races. I think that if I can improve the technical skills this year that my fitness will allow me to be pretty competitive as I move up in class next year to the 35+ B category.

I owe a couple of huge thanks yous. First, to Claire McGowan, Charlie Livermore, Clark Natwick and especially Patrick Maher at Endurance Performance Training Center. Claire was kind enough to get me the chance to train there, Charlie and Clark were generous with their time and advice, and Patrick was the coach who got me through those three interval workouts a week. If you're a cyclist in the Bay Area with big ambitions but limited time, you owe it to yourself to check out Endurance PTC.

Also, big thanks to my colleagues at Wired for not making fun of my attire as I went out a lunch to ride, and to my teammates on Kaiser Permanente/Team Oakland who supported me at the races with advice and hand ups. Andrew Yee at Cyclocross Magazine was a great resource.

But the biggest thanks, as ever, to my wife Kristen, and our girls Kate and Paige. Thanks for letting me train and race, and for the cheers and signs. I can't wait for next season.

AuthorMark McClusky

"There's nothing clever or smart about being too cool to care." --from Nathaniel Ward's super smart post about (amongst other things) hecklers at bike races.

AuthorMark McClusky
Over the Barriers Originally uploaded by liveplayride

OK, let's acknowledge right off the bat that there were only 5 guys in our race -- the singlespeed B/C race at the Livermore series this weekend. Not exactly a huge field to try and work one's way through.

But still. Second place. My first podium finish in a bike race in I don't know how long.

A very chilly morning out in Livermore when we arrived, in the mid-40s, which now that I'm an honorary Northern Californian seems like the Arctic. I had brought both my regular cross bike, as well as this super-cool new Raleigh Rainier singlespeed that the folks there sent me to try out (Thanks, Brian and Susan!). I decided that it was time to take the singlespeed plunge, and registered for that race.

Felt pretty good in the warmup, especially since all of us here at McClusky World HQ seem to have been fighting a cold since Thanksgiving. I didn't know what to expect racing a singlespeed, so I decided that I'd just gun it, and hold on as well as I could.

First two laps were good, as I was about 10 seconds ahead of the second place rider in the singlespeed field, my teammate Brian Birch. Brian's a super strong guy who just finished in the top five of the 55+ Masters series in the Bay Area, and who won two Masters rowing national titles last year. Basically, as I told him after the race, he's a walking lung.

Looking at my data from the race, I was very consistent in my laps throughout the race. Brian was able to bridge the gap up to me and pass me, but I jumped on his wheel for a lap and half, never able to find a place to jump past him. I felt good, but I was learning the importance of gearing in a singlespeed race. I was spun out in several spots on the course, and with a slightly higher gear, I think I could have put in an attack that would have challenged Brian.

It wasn't to be, however. My last chance was to get him right before the line, at a set of barriers followed by a slight hill, a right turn, and then the finish. I sprinted over the barriers, pulling slightly ahead, but as I tried to remount, I managed to land to the side of my saddle, and went down. Brian cruised in for the win, and I hopped back on the bike, and came in for second.

So, hey, first and second place for Team Oakland, which was nice.

Singlespeed is definitely a blast. I need to get a higher gear on the bike, but I'm thrilled to have it to play with, and to have gotten on the podium. Next week, I think I'm back out to Livermore to race the Men's C race, and there's not much left to the season after that....

AuthorMark McClusky
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Me at Sierra Point
Originally uploaded by djconnel

Garmin Data for Bay Area Super Prestige #3, Sierra Point

Race three of the Bay Area Super Prestige series yesterday at Sierra Point in Brisbane: A couple of things made this race different from the rest of the series. First, it was a night race for the fast folks, like the A men and women. What that meant was that instead of the typical very, very early start time for my C race, we went off at 2 in the afternoon. Also, we've been having the most amazing heatwave here in the Bay Area, so it was sunny and in the 80s when we took the start.

The course during warmups seemed fun -- lots of twisting and turning to try and squeeze a long enough course into the area allotted for it. One set of four barriers, and a decision to be made after the barriers: remount immediately, or run up the first half of a two-level hill before the remount. And also two sharp little hills that were rideable if you didn't have traffic or anyone in your way, but if there was some mishap, you'd never make it. The other main challenge were the ruts. In some places, the course was very, very rough, and the ruts ran directly across some of the turns.

On my warmup laps, I felt OK, and was excited about the race. I'd been fighting off a cold all week; Paige has been coughing and stuffed up, but all I had was a sore throat. But that had seemed to fade away, and even though I'd done little training the past week, I was cautiously optimistic.

At the line, I got my call up just at Kristen and the girls arrived to cheer me on (the other huge benefit of a reasonable start time). Very nice to be ready for the start, and seeing nothing but a race course ahead, rather than a couple of dozen riders.

The whistle blows, we all clip in, and gun it for the first corner. Things are fine for the first half lap, but my heart rate is completely pegged. We come to the first of those two little hills, and a guy stalls out just ahead of me. I unclip, dash to the top, try and get the groove back.

I need to punch it immediately, get back up with the leaders. My whole plan is to stay in contact. I ask my legs for a little snap, a burst to get things rolling.

There's nothing there.

Turns out that it just isn't my day. Don't know if it was the cold or something else, but I'm just not sharp. It's both fitness -- I'm slowly getting passed by people -- and also mental. I never really put together a good lap with good flow to it. I either struggle up one of the little hills, or get really bounced around by the ruts, or just can't power out of the corners to get up to speed.

At one point, I get a little tangled with a guy on a decent, and my chain drops. I spend 10 seconds dealing with it, and watch five guys pass.

The rest of the race is an exercise in suffering, and damage control. By the last lap, I'm in a nice little race with a guy, who passes me on the second to last straight, but I force him wide on the final turn, lining up the sprint.

Crang! My chain snaps, dropping to the pavement. I coast over the line, in 23rd place for the day.

Kristen, the girls, and our friend Randy came back to the Team Oakland tent to hang out, drink a beer (well, not the kids), and eat sausages. It was just really excellent to have a little cheering section, especially when I was hurting so much near the end of the race. Later, I ran down to the SRAM tent, where the super-cool techs there replace my chain, which was awesome. Thanks, SRAM!

Oddly, the 23rd place was actually good enough to raise my standing in the overall series to 8th, although I'm going to miss the next race at Golden Gate Park, so that's immaterial. But it was another great learning experience. I felt just totally dead after the race last night, much worse than I've felt the past few races, which tells me that I was definitely not my best.

I also felt pretty beaten up, with all the ruts. I was talking to Kristen last night, and it seems clear to me that one of my big things I need to do in the off-season is get much more comfortable off-road. I should trade road rides for base for mountain bike rides, just to I get more acclimated to it.

One other thing that was cool is that Travis Ma, the guy I've found myself racing against in the past couple of races, finished 5th on the night, which is an awesome finish for him, and puts him way up to fourth in the standings.

AuthorMark McClusky

Garmin Data for LARPD #6 Cross Race Hopped back in the Jetta Racing-mobile this past weekend to go to Livermore, where there's a fun series of races on Saturdays. I've been toying with the idea of upgrading in categories after my two good races in the Bay Area Super Prestige series, but I stuck with the Men's C race for a couple of reasons. First, it's early in the morning, which meant I'd be home to hang out with Kristen and the kids earlier, and also, I was hoping for a high placing.

Short version, it wasn't quite in the cards. On the first lap of the course, in a section through one of the sandy rodeo pits, a rider fell directly in front of me. I had no time to react, and ran into him, and our bikes got tangled together, with my left brake lever getting tangled in his rear wheel.

It took us what felt like an eternity to get them pulled apart, as riders steadily passed us. Once the bikes were finally free, I hopped back on, only to discover that my chain had jammed as well. That probably took another ten seconds to sort out.

Looking at the Garmin data, I'd estimate that I lost 20 seconds or so, and probably 15 places in the field.

The rest of the race was spent trying to get back those positions, trying to chase people down. It was a very fun and challenging course, with lots and lots of twists and turns -- the downside of that is that there weren't a lot of places to really drop the hammer and try and gain big time. I think that I'm still better at power output than I am at bike handling, so some of my skills at this point might have been neutralized.

Ended up 11th, which felt like a let down. Crashes are just part of racing, but it's hard to have your race completely turned on its head by something you had nothing to do with. What I am happy about it how I handled it during the race, just trying to get the speed back up and get toward the front.

After the race, I found the rider who had taken me down. I'm not sure exactly what I expected...maybe a "Hey man, sorry about that." I know that during the heat of racing that sort of apology isn't going to happen, but afterward, I thought he might have that to say. I think I'd say that to someone, at least.

In any event, he didn't.

I don't know what to think of that. It comes off as a little bit of a dick move to me, but maybe I'm just being naive or overly-sensitive. Any thoughts from more experienced racers?

So now I'm focused on this weekend's BASP race at Sierra Point. My math after the Candlestick race was correct: I'm in 10th place for the series in the Men's C category, which I think will mean a call up to the front row at the start. I still think I should probably upgrade categories, but the thought of a call-up is too much to refuse.

One thing for locals: this is a night race, with the last few categories running under the lights. But what that means for us slow guys is that we'll be racing at 2 PM, rather than our typical 8:30 AM. Come hang out -- it's supposed to be a beautiful day on Saturday. I'll be the guy in the Team Oakland kit.

AuthorMark McClusky

Garmin Connect data for Bay Area Super Prestige #2, Candlestick Point As I've gone through this first season of cyclocross racing, I've discovered various things about myself, and the sport, that I need to understand and work on. My lack of off-road riding experience has lead to a couple of hard crashes, and a set of ribs that's still a little sore over six weeks after I dinged them up. Poor warm-ups and not fighting for a good start position has left me in the middle or at the back of the pack at the start of the race, causing me to drop time and positions that I just can't make up in a short cross race.

This past weekend, at Candlestick Point, I resolved to change those things that I could. Coming of 21st place in the first Bay Area Super Prestige Race, I felt like I would be competitive if I just got everything lined up right. The race was on Sunday morning; Saturday all day, we got the first big rainstorm of the year here in San Francisco. So we'd have a nice muddy race -- "real" cross conditions, which I found myself excited about. Back in my younger days, I liked racing in tough conditions, so hoped it would give me a mental advantage.

Got to the course at 7 AM for my 8:30 race, and got onto my bike to check out the course. It was a super fun layout -- lots of tight turns, little hills that you could either run or ride, one big runup, a couple of sets of barriers, some fast pavement sections. The rain had left it very muddy and soft in places, but really, just a blast.

Registered, and then my teammate Jeff was super excellent enough to put my bike on a stationary trainer so I could get a good cardio warmup in without slogging through the mud on the course. Morgan and Lauren got there with the Team Oakland tent at about 8:10, right as it started to pour again. My awesome teammates set up the tent, and then scooted it right over me, so I could keep warming up underneath it. Finished the warmup at 8:20, and then headed right to the line so I could get a good position for the start.

The whistle blew, and we were off. I was about 15th into the first corner, and started working my way up. On the first two laps, there was a rider in front of me who kept trying to ride up the slick hills before stalling out half way up each time, and then blocking the path.

This became progressively more frustrating, and finally I shouted out, "Come on, dude!" Apparently, this pissed him off, as he said, "Then pass me, Mr. Bike Cop." So, I did. I guess I feel a little bad about it, but it was just really, really maddening.

With my way clear, I worked up through the field, until I came across Travis Ma, who I had raced against on the last lap at Mclaren Park -- apparently, we're pretty damn evenly matched. I pulled up on him, we said hello to each other, and then set about our race. I went ahead of him and led through most of the second to last lap, feeling pretty good. But after we took the bell for the final lap, he went out ahead of me, and I started to struggle to close the gap.

On the final time up the muddy run-up, Travis did a great job remounting his bike and getting right back up to speed. I had a bad remount, landing a little more squarely on the guy parts than I would have liked, and it resulted in a 20 meter gap. Try as I might on the last bits of the course, I couldn't close it down, and he ended up beating me by 10 seconds.

That's the bad news. The great news was my 8th place finish, under a minute off the winner's time.

What's more, by my math, I think I might be 10th overall in the series after this race, which is pretty damn cool, too. It might even mean a call-up, so I can start on the front row of the next race in two weeks.

Looking at the lap times from my Garmin, I'm shocked at how consistent they were -- the first lap was different, and the other four are all within nine seconds of one another. So that good start was key, as it kept me from giving up a lot of time in traffic like I did at Mclaren.

I'm really happy about how cross season is going so far -- learning lots and lots each time I go out and race, and feeling like it's starting to pay off in good results. Now, of course, I'm torn. Part of me feels like I should go ahead and upgrade to the 35+ B race, where I'd get hammered, while part of me wants to do a couple more C races and see if I can get up in the mix for the podium.

After the race, cleaned up as best I could, and then hung out with my Team Oakland crew, doing hand-ups of water for them in the race, and enjoying a sausage and beer.

Cross, it should be said, is just silly, silly fun.

AuthorMark McClusky
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Garmin Connect data for raceGoogle Earth KML file for race

Given a day to digest it, I'm feeling good about this race. Not super-amazing, give-me-a-high-five great, but good. Solid.

There were some key things that led to this good feeling. First and foremost, I kept myself upright throughout the race, an accomplishment that was all the more notable due to what was an extremely bumpy course. There were two descents on the backside of the course that were just dirt single-track, heavily rutted. The second one was particularly brutal, as the bottom of the decent was a 100-degree left turn straight uphill onto a paved climb. One of my teammates took a crack at a visual description of the course. That is dead on for me.

I was actually glad to hear that everyone else thought the course was as rough as I did -- I'm still at that point where I'm not sure about my opinions as I'm just six races into my career. The fact that these experienced racers were bitching as much as I was felt oddly validating.

On those rough sections, I spent a lot of time thinking about relaxing my upper body, and letting the bike just roll, and that made a big difference. The other thing that really helped was racing on tubulars for the first time. I was able to run them at a low enough pressure (35 PSI) that the tires could soak up a lot of the bumps, and leave me much more rooted to the ground. I don't think I'll ever race on clinchers again, as you just need too much air to avoid pinch flats.

I started about the middle of the pack in the Men's C race. With 78 competitors, that was way, way too far back. I failed to get to the line early enough to insure I was closer to the front, and that was a big mistake. The course only ran about 300 yards to a huge dirt run-up, and I was probably 35th when we hit it. And by that point, the race is gone from you, especially when all the singletrack on the backside of the course made it so hard to pass people. On the first lap, I actually came to a complete stop, as the rider in front of me took his time rolling onto the decent.

The long paved climb on the back was the focus of much complaint, but given my climbing chops, it was the best place on the course for me to pass people. I'd pick off five or six riders a lap on the climb, and then we'd all stay in basically the same order until the climb the next lap.

Over the course of the race, a guy from Peninsula Velo and I had a good little battle. He'd pass me, get a little gap. I'd chase him down, put a gap on him. It was really fun to be out competing in that way. On the final lap, I had a little lead, but he did a better remount after the last barriers, got the inside line on me. We hammered down the finishing straight, and he pipped me right on the line, by about 2 inches.

I finished 21st. Or as I'm choosing to think of it, in the top third of my race.

After the race I shook hands with my adversary, and we talked about how much fun the battle had been. And it was fun, even though I felt like I had been pounded by a hammer all over my body.

Looking at my lap data, my first lap was my slowest, by almost 30 seconds. That's the traffic jam on the singletrack. The last lap was the fastest, which was a little surprise to me, but the effort of the racing for position would have done that. The other laps were shockingly consistent, within seven second of each other.

But if you do some wish fulfillment, and wonder what would have happened if I could have done each of the five laps as fast as my best...that time would have been good enough for the top ten.

Of course, I probably couldn't have done that, even with a better start. But if my first lap could have been the same as my consistent times, I could have been 15th.

So, the focus next time? Keep working on technical skills and warmup. And get to the start line earlier, so I don't lose the race before it starts.

After the race, had a good time hanging out with teammates, watching them race and chatting about the day. Next time, I'm hoping to stick around long enough for a sausage....

AuthorMark McClusky
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Forgot to post a link here to my report on the Cross Vegas race:

Tuesday night, rumors began to swirl that Lance Armstrong, as part of his comeback to competitive cycling, would race at Cross Vegas. Having resigned myself to not racing and then feeling crummy, I suddenly decided that I had to try and race, if for no other reason than riding on the same course a couple of hours before Armstrong, not to mention a field of the best cross racers in the US. After I decided to do the race, my wife Kristen said to me, "You're smiling now," which made me realize it was the right call.

That's how I found myself in a field of 100 cycling industry folks on Wednesday night, sweat rolling down my back after my warmup laps in 90 degree heat, getting ready to ride a cross race in front of 2,000 or so spectators. (By the time the elite race started, there were nearly 10,000 fans there).

Read the rest at Wired.com.

AuthorMark McClusky

This past weekend, I rode in a long-running, top-secret cyclocross race series, known only to a chosen few as dfL. A hundred or more crazy 'cross racers gathered in a park in San Francisco to bang around a makeshift race course, drink some beer, oh, and cross dress. (You can read more about dfL from the excellent folks at Cyclocross Magazine.) It was a fun day out, especially since Kristen, Kate, and Paige made it over to cheer me on. There's something unbearably wonderful about your three-year-old holding a sign that says "Go Daddy Go!" to motivate you as your heart rate is pegged well over your anaerobic threshold. Especially when you're wearing a pink dress.

The course was really challenging, especially since it was the third and final race of the series, and the course had sprouted some pretty deep ruts and holes. Just riding along would beat you up, and I had to constantly fight the urge to grip more tightly. It's one of those great Zen contradictions of riding off-road--you need to relax and loosen your grip when things get rough, letting the bike go where it wants to.

All in all a fun day. But.


But I took a pretty hard fall headed to one of the logs we needed to hurdle. My handlebars hit me hard in the left side, just under the ribs. I finished the race, but definitely notices that it was a little difficult to breathe deeply, and when I lifted the bike over obstacles, I felt a tugging on my left side.

Apparently, adrenaline was carrying me through. Because my ribs hurt like hell now. I've been icing them, going to see my chiropractor, trying to take it easy.

What's really frustrating is that I'm supposed to race in Cross Vegas tomorrow night, a big race that I've been excited about for two months. And I just don't think I can ride that way tomorrow with my ribs like this.

Which has left me really frustrated, and disappointed. I just want to go out and race and have fun and compete, and not have these setbacks. Because physically they're annoying, but mentally, I'm proving to be a little bit of a wuss.

AuthorMark McClusky

Update: Here's the GPS data from the race -- the first two laps are real data, you can see on the third where I flatted and started walking back. The cyclocross season kicked off today with a race at Robertson Park in Livermore. We're in the midst of a heatwave in the Bay Area, so when I arrived at the site this morning at 7:45 AM, it was already pushing 75 degrees. By the time of my 9 AM race, it was in the 80s -- I can't even imagine how hot it was when the good racers went after 11.

I went in to the race not really having any idea what to expect. I've been training pretty hard, and feel like I'm much more fit than I've been in years, but it's never the same as actually competing. If you had told me that I'd go out there and get crushed, I would have believed it; if you told me that I'd win, I guess I would have believed that too.

The reality was somewhere in between.

The course was fun, a good mix of grass, dirt trails, some loose wood chip covered paths, and some pavement. There were just two dismounts -- a set of barriers before a hill that turned it into a run up, and three downed logs on a dirt trail.

I got in what I thought was a good warmup, a few laps of recon on the course, and then some sprints on the road. But as the race started, I found that I wasn't quite ready to really hammer right from the gun. I need to get in more work before the race starts, especially since the first lap or two of a cross race is so, so important.

At the first turn, I was probably 15th or so, and eating a ton of dust on the dry, hot day. After that first turn was one of the wood chip paths, which were hard going, as they were very loose and the bike wanted to go every which way underneath you. I kept applying the pressure as best I could, and after that section, and the first pass through the grass section and the first runup, I was picking off riders, and had moved up into the top ten.

Then, there was a long flat dirt section, where I found that I was able to ride hard and pass people while still recovering. That's a great sign, I think, that the interval training has really enhanced my ability to recover at a high workload.

We came to the downed logs, and I did just a horrible, rushed dismount, and fell. I've got a pretty gnarly road rash (dirt rash?) on my left calf, and a big ol' scrape on my ass. Just very frustrating, as I know I need to get better technique working, and generally felt OK with that today. Practice is the only way to get better, I guess.

The next two laps, I rode well, passing more riders. A couple of people were way off the front of the race, then another pair of riders, and then me and another guy. So I was in a fight for fifth place, and feeling like I had a real shot at that. I was feeling OK, especially on the dirt sections. The grass really grabs your wheels and adds a ton of effort to riding, so I was trying to get through those and then recover on the other sections.

With a lap and a half to go, we came to those downed logs. I dismounted and immediately heard the air going out of my rear tire -- a flat.

I shouted some very angry words. The wheel pit was about 300 meters or so up the course, but by the time I could have run there, I would have been way out of the race. Plus, I didn't have any spares stowed there.

So, I slowly walked the bike back to the car, cursing my luck. Several of my teammates checked in with me to see what had happened, and I thought that it had been something on the course, like a thorn. I didn't feel the rim bottom out (I was running about 33 PSI), which could have caused a pinch flat.

When I got home, I got the tube out, and there it was, the telltale two-hole pattern of a pinch flat. So, there's one lesson learned -- I either needed a little more tire pressure, or a little smoother technique. Or a little of both.

Overall, my fitness was pretty decent, but I'm disappointed in my skills, and crushed that I didn't get a chance to finish the race strong, and maybe notch a top-five performance. Plus, my leg hurts.

Things to work on: better warmup. Dismounts and mounts. Hitting it harder at the start. Bike handling skills. Getting tire pressures right. Keeping my mental focus.

AuthorMark McClusky
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I'm about two months into my training regime for cyclocross, most of which has consisted of my interval training classes at Endurance PTC in San Francisco at lunch. While those classes have been awesome, and I'm definitely a much stronger rider than I was 60 days ago, the one things the classes lack is volume. It's very intense training, but I don't have a huge aerobic base built up. So what's a cyclist pressed for time to do? Two weeks before the century, I did a 40-mile ride. The next weekend, I did a 60 miler--the longest ride I had done in a year. I figured that if I could ride 40, then 60, I could find some way to gut out a 100-mile ride. Even one that featured about 8,000 feet of climbing.

This is the sort of thing that passes for "logic" when you're a cyclist.

The good news was twofold. First, I had a wonderful time with the group of us that did the ride together from Wired. Any time you're out on a bike is fun, in my eyes, but it's so much more fun to ride with other people you like. So that was a real bonus, to get to spend the time riding with my friends from the office. A big shout out to Wired Deputy Editor Thomas Goetz, who goaded us into do the century.

The other good news was that I felt, on the whole, pretty good on this ride. Given that it was nearly twice as long as any other ride I've done in, oh, two years, that's encouraging for the racing season, which is looming just a month or so away.

There were two stretches of the ride that were pretty tough. After we turned toward Valley Ford, there was a series of three short, steep climbs that really sapped my energy. Thankfully, after that, we arrived at a rest stop where I could wolf down a ton of calories--a skill that I've been working on.

And then after a lovely stop in Petaluma, there was a rolling section of road with a headwind, culminating in Red Hill. a climb that shoots up about 8 percent over the course of a mile or so, and coming as it did at the end of a long day, it was a killer. I focused on one of the techniques that we work on in class, trying to transfer every bit of energy in our bodies to the pedals, and stomped my way up the hill. At the top, there was a mini-rest area, where I drank two completely wonderful, ice-cold Dixie cups of water.

The rest of the ride was a breeze, literally, as the wind we'd been fighting became a tailwind which helped blow us home.

Two days later, I'm feeling good. I did my Endurance class today, and actually felt shockingly strong, like my legs have adapted to the stress that I'm putting them through. In the next week or so, I'll go through my performance testing again, and that should be an interesting window onto how far I've come, and what I still need to do.

(Cross-posted from Wired.com. See all of my Bike Geek posts there.)

AuthorMark McClusky

I've got a post up at Wired.com talking about some of the new generation of carbon bikes that try to combine performance and comfort:

When I first raced bikes back in the dark ages, the pinnacle of the bike makers art was the handmade Italian steel frame, built up with Campagnolo components. This was the era of unindexed downtube shifters, gluing on tubular tires, non-aero brake levers. A great steel bike like a Colnago would tip the scales at 22 pounds or so, and come with gearing so steep that just climbing my driveway was a significant effort.

We've come a long way. My bike now, with absolutely no effort spent in cutting weight, tips the scales at a hair under 16 pounds, and the gearing reflects a much more realistic version of my fitness. The components shift with a speed and precision that I could have only dreamt about as a skinny junior racer. And while the ride of tubular tires still surpasses anything else out there, clinchers are more than good enough for what I do.

But there's one area where those Italian bikes still shine compared with today's superbikes -- handling and comfort. There's an organic feel to a steel bike that's hard to replicate in carbon fiber, although the road feel of carbon bikes just keeps improving.

The handling is a different story. Those 80s steel bikes were stable and predictable, made for the long haul. Most high-end bike today have a racing geometry, one that's much steeper and quicker handling that those older bikes. Most of us don't need a bike tuned like a Formula 1 car; we need a bike that's stiff and fast, but one that doesn't require too much physical or mental energy to keep pointed where we want it.

I've written about Specialized and their Roubaix model before; it was really a bike that changed the industry when it first came out. Over the past couple of months, I've had the chance to ride two other wonderful bikes that also look to combine race-level performance with increased stablity and comfort: the Cervelo RS and the Felt Z15.

You can check out the entire post at Wired.com, as well as all my Bike Geek posts.

AuthorMark McClusky

(Cross-posted from Wired.com. See all cycling entries there.) Harrisburg: River Run
Harwich Port Run
Bristol: Wood/Hope/High Street Run
Bristol: Wood Street and Hill Repeats
Bristol: Wood/High Street Run

The lack of updates on my training hasn't been for the lack of training -- it's been about where that training has been taking place. I'm off work for a month, taking the remainder of the paternity leave for our new daughter's birth, and part of the month we decided to spend on the East Coast. But not just one stop. We set up a whole East Coast Tour, from Rhode Island to Cape Cod to Pennsylvania and then to Washington, DC. Two kids, eight bags, 17 days.

And no bike.

So what's a newly-ambitious athlete to do? I asked my coach, and the answer was as clear as it was unwelcome.

It was time to run.

Now, there's a reason that I'm a cyclist, and not a runner. Not to put too fine a point on it, but running...well, running sucks. It's hard. It's slow. It beats up your body.

And did I mention that it's hard? I've never really run with any sort of fitness intent before, and I was surprised just how tough it was to maintain what my runner friends would find to be a pretty easy pace, about 9 minutes a mile, give or take. Made sense, as I thought about it, lungs burning and heart rate soaring -- you're obviously using many more muscles to try and get through the run, especially in the upper body. The next day, it wasn't my legs that were sore or tired, it was my shoulders.

But trucking down the street in the East Coast humidity, sweat soaking through my shirt, I think I had a little bit of a conversion experience. I could see the same Zen in running that I find on the bike, the same winnowing of the world down to just keeping your speed up, feeling your breathing, and putting one foot (or pedal) in front of the other. And of course, given that there's always some running in a cyclocross race, I need to get used to this at some point.

Plus, there's the benefit that a 45 minute run feels like a lot more useful exercise than a ride of the same length. I might try and mix in some runs at lunch when time is tight, just to get more bang for my buck.

That said, I was back on the bike for the first time yesterday, and it was an interesting experience. Cardio-wise, I felt good, which was kind of the point of running. But my legs felt slow, my pedal stroke noticeably less fluid.

The trick here I suspect is, as ever, balance. And getting a travel bike.

AuthorMark McClusky

(Cross-posted from Bike Geek at Wired.com)

Workout data, 6/16/08 Workout data, 6/18/08 Workout data, 6/20/08

So, the first week of my classes at Endurance is over.


Seriously, just wow. I like to think of myself as in decent shape, but doing really intense interval training is a completely different animal than heading out to just tool around on the bike for a couple of hours. That's the point, of course -- training right below and right above your anaerobic threshold is how you get better at riding at it, but it's hard.

It doesn't help that I've been sick for going on two weeks now with some sort of mutant cold that I can't shake. I think it's a fact of life that when you have small kids in the house that there's just going to be a higher level of germ circulation than you might like.

One thing that has become clear is that I need to be religious about stretching and doing other body work outside of class. Boosting my intensity this quickly might not be the smartest thing I've ever done (although so far, I feel pretty decent). But my muscles are definitely tight, especially my IT band, which can be a bugaboo for cyclists as well as runners. Last night, I spent 30 minutes trying to loosen it up with a foam roller, one of those activities that's squarely between helpful and excruciating.

Today's class was particularly tough, especially the last interval set, which was meant to simulate the dreaded Seven Sisters, a particularly annoying set of rolling hills that sit on Ridgecrest Road in Marin County. If you check out the data from the workout, and especially that sawtooth pattern for my heart rate, you can see how I waver back and forth just over and just under my threshold heart rate. Brutial, but no doubt effective.

Before that last interval, I actually felt like I was handling the intensity slightly better than earlier in the week. One benefit of riding indoors is that you can really focus on technique, and making sure that you're activating your hamstrings and glutes as well as your quads as you pedal. I've been concentrating on that.

The other day in class, I had an interesting thought. I was looking around the room, and even though I was dying, it occurred to me that other people in the class felt even worse.

It's perhaps not nice, but their pain somehow made me feel better, and like I might actually be a competitve racer by the time this process is over.

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesCycling, Wired

I've started a series of blog posts over at Wired.com called Bike Geek -- I'll be charting my progress in a cycling training regimen designed to get me ready to race this fall. To read all the posts, you can go to the Bike Geek home page. I'll also try and remember to post links to individual posts here. Here's the start of the first entry:

I used to be a pretty good bike racer. Not a world beater, but competitive at a state-wide level. But that was many years ago. Since then, things like a job and a wife and two kids have cut into my cycling hobby. I used to ride 300 miles a week. Now, I'm lucky to ride a third of that.

But last winter, after over 15 years away from competitive cycling, I tried a cyclocross race. Cross, a melding of road racing and off road racing, is kind of like steeplechase on a bike. You ride, but you also have to carry your bike up steep climbs and over unrideable obstacles. It's kind of absurd, really hard, and an insane amount of fun. One race, and I was hooked.

I decided that I wanted to race cyclocross for the 2008-09 season, and I wanted to be competitive. But with the aforementioned job and family commitments, my time is limited. That means that every moment of training that I do has to be very, very focused on exactly the kind of fitness I need to race; I just don't have any time to waste.

When I raced before, heart rate monitors were just entering the mainstream. Today, the advent of power meters which measure exactly how much work you're doing on your bike, combined with GPS and heart rate, can provide an incredibly detailed portrait of your workouts. In combination with fitness testing, this lets you target your weaknesses exactly, and spend all your time doing exactly what you need to do to improve quickly.

So here's the challenge I've set myself. By the start of cyclocross season in September, I want to be ready to be competitive.

Read the rest at Wired.com.

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesCycling, Wired

Really mostly interesting to hardcore bike nerds like me, but Shimano announced details on their new, top of the line Dura-Ace component group today. I'm especially interested in the brakes, which look lovely.

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesAsides, Cycling