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Archive for the ‘The Ride’ Category

l’Eroica Support Bike

Testing my 2015 entry for a l’Eroica support vehicle.
Leroica support bike

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If you are looking for some early season inspiration for your l’Eroica training today’s race through Chianti is your best bet. Not only is the race run over many of the same roads as l’Eroica, but today’s winner hails from a family, a tradition, of Italian cycling greats. Moreno Moser stood atop the podium today, but the real story for l’Eroica participants is the beauty and the beast of the strade bianche. The race, appropriately christened Monte Paschi Eroica when it was first contested, has become a preview of the northern European spring classics. But, it is really a story unto itself and a reminder of what racing was like in earlier times, even though today’s bikes weigh a fraction of what those early ones did. Even so, the sterrati are great equalizers, forcing carbon-bike perched pros to adopt tactics and the grit that today’s winner’s uncle and his family had to endure.

For some photo inspiration along with race highlights, go to Steephill TV Classics.

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If this is your first L’Eroica, the memory will be sweet. By now, you are probably asleep or nearly there. The rest of us who weren’t with you this year envy you and at the same time are joyful. You have carried on a great tradition.

20121007-141830.jpg

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I keep reminding myself that it was this time last year, 2011, that I was waking up in Lecchi-in-Chianti, enjoying the sunshine and blue skies and nervously looking forward to my first ride on the strade bianchi. I had scouted a short, 30K route that made a loop from our rental home and traversed what I later learned was part of one of the shorter rides that year.

Signs declaring 15% grades with falling stones were foreboding, but after a few slips and slides, I came to love the white gravel. I returned to the house after that first ride believing I knew what lay ahead, even if it was to be 5 times the distance.

For those lucky riders planning to participate this year, spend some training time on the gravel if you don’t normally get to ride it. And, don’t forget to look up and enjoy the incredible scenery that surrounds the L’Eroica route.

A view down my first downhill sector of gravel

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Riding over the strade bianchi leaves more than just a satisfying impression and memory. Your bicycle collects a little bit of that history as either dust or mud or both. The 2011 version of L’Eroica was run under blue skies after more than a week of clear, autumn weather that hovered in the mid 80’s (High 20’s C). This left the white roads powdery on top of the stones.

The final sector, L'Eroica 2011

Climbing the final sector of gravel to Castello Brolio, L’Eroica 2011. Photo by Brad Sauber, InGamba

My several training rides included time on the gravel and often over some of the same sectors that I would enjoy on the day of the ride. I developed several layers of the buff-colored dust on my kit and the various frame parts and components. It was easy to submit my jersey and shorts to the washing machine. I couldn’t bring myself to wipe the dust off the bike.

I’ve heard that athletes are superstitious, baseball players being overachievers in that department. I don’t think of myself as an athlete, but I am sharing that particular characteristic. I don’t know what I imagine might happen if I remove the fine dust from a down tube or a chain stay, but I cannot seem to do it. Sure, the Moseman would benefit from a thorough cleaning. And, I’ve been careful to keep the drivetrain in good shape. But, that dust. It just won’t come off the rest of the bike.

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Fear is a great motivator. If a bear is chasing you, you are more likely to run your best 100 meter dash compared to the annoyance that advances made by a squirrel might engender. Fear, or at least anxiety, animated my early season training in 2011. To channel that fear into something useful, I followed a few simple steps during the gloomy months of winter and early spring.

I had read as much as I could from 2010 on about the ride. The one clear message, apart from the glories of the ride and the food, was that the course, no matter the length, would be a challenge. Chianti is a hilly place. Roads are built right over the hills. The old roads especially were steep and often eroded.

I had been to the area in 1997, the first year of the ride, but about a month after it was concluded. I remembered only the great food and wine, but nothing of the roads even though we had traveled over many of them.

I knew from the turn of the new year in 2011, I would need to achieve a pretty high level of riding fitness as well as the endurance to simply ride a long distance. I got there by doing the following.

Stationary Bicycle: Whether you have rollers, a wind trainer or belong to a club, a stationary bicycle is unbeatable in the early season. But, the way to make it really work for you is by riding intervals. If you’re simply giving it a good spin for an hour, you’re missing the multiplier effect of interval training. Last year, I did it this way:

Intervals: 15 minute warm-up at a steady state that was taxing, but not a killer

10 minutes of intervals where I was at or above 80% maximum heart rate in this sequence, 2 minutes on, 2 minutes rest; 1.5 minutes on, 1.5 minutes rest and so on. In the 1/2 minute on segment, I switched into a nearly impossible gear, stood up and pumped until I nearly failed.

I repeated the above after a five minute “rest” at the steady state. I finished the 45 minute workout with five minutes of cool down at the steady state.

Strength training: With some dumb luck, experimentation and a guidebook, “Weight Training for Cyclists,” I did my best to achieve a sort of all over workout. The stationary bike riding I did three days per week. The strength training took the other two days. Weekends would find me on my single bike if weather permitted or on the tandem with my wife.

Stretching: I realized after a month and especially after I read the guidebook, that I needed to gain flexbility. Bicycling is a killer in that regard with limited range of motion. Before every session whether stationary bike or strength training, I added a set of stretches for the whole body. I’ve come to believe that this effort made it possible for me accelerate my training.

On the road: Once the weather improved, I skipped the stationary bike and hit the road. I put together early morning rides that incorporated steady spins and steep climbs. Since I only had an hour, I had to make the most of it. Weekends would now be focused on longer rides over more demanding terrain and the introduction of gravel.

By the numbers: I don’t have a heart monitor, but the training bike at the club provided RPM and watts averages along with calories burned. Though there is no way to validate the last two numbers, they would be consistent. I used them as measures of progress. On the road, it was a simple measure of distance and time. In every case, all of the information was recorded by writing it down or posting it to mapmyride.com.

What about Beethoven? The 3rd Symphony. Eroica. I tried The Clash and Billy Idol. Pandora served up what amounted to opera’s greatest hits. But, the one piece of music that provided the most inspiration and distraction was “lovely, lovely Ludwig Van.”

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I suppose the question answers itself if you are reading this blog. I think my dreams began as early as 2009, but certainly became vivid in 2010. I became aware of the ride while researching and curating links for a Facebook Group, Brooks Saddles. They have been a sponsor of the ride for a few years, though I’m not sure if they are now. (If you have a Facebook account, this link will get you to the Group: http://tinyurl.com/BrooksFB.)

Upon learning about L’Eroica, my interest went from the merely curious to the “I’d like to do that someday” to the “I’ve got to do this soon” to “I need to set a bookmark for the registration page” to sitting up at night to log in and be registered for the 2011 version. It all happend pretty quickly.

Grapes dreaming of their transformation into Chianti Classico.

The beauty of the dreaming was that it turned quickly to a sort of nightmare. I hadn’t ridden a single bike any distance greater than a few miles for the past ten years. Most of my riding was on a tandem with my wife, sometimes over great distances and on tour. That’s not the same because the handling, the effort, everything would be different, not to mention that everything I read told me that this is a very difficult ride.

If you are aware of L’Eroica and it seems like a ride that you must do, now is the time to start dreaming. If you are registered for it this year, your dreams must now shift to wide awake training. My own training last year began in earnest in January with several months in the gym until the weather became conducive to road riding. More on that later . . .

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