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Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Not long after my last post, I took a spill at the end of a training ride. Maybe I can blame the newfangled, post-1987 pedals that I could never use on an Eroica ride that broke on a climb. I had to turn around and go home via a route I would not have used. But like the Jimmy Buffet song says, it’s probably “my owned damned fault.” No women to blame, just rainfall and a slick spot under a bridge. In a heartbeat, my rear wheel was horizontal and so was I, tumbling to the concrete pavement. I ended up with the number one and two most common cycling injuries: road rash and a broken collar bone.

Just as I was coming into form for a season, the cruel fates sidelined me. Just as I was gaining confidence that I might be able to stay in the gruppetto in very amateur category racing, I found my arm in a sling and my kit on a hanger. That was 12 weeks ago and it’s time to see just what can be salvaged of the season.

I’m thinking that I might get my mojo back by returning to the Moseman that stood me in such good stead for l’Eroica and decades of enjoyable cycling. Perhaps the carbon fiber needs to take a rest a little while longer and the reliable steel bike returns to the sunlight. I said there was no woman to blame, but if we ascribe female genders to ships, why not bikes? If so, the Cervelo was either a cruel mistress or the Moseman was a jealous, jilted lover. Regardless, the result was the same: a crash, weeks of recovery and rehab along with streaming video of the Giro d’Italia. And, a welcome end to the obsessions of Garmin uploads to Strava.

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Perhaps as a sort of voodoo ritual to ward off advancing decline, I have regressed to a point more than 30 years ago. I’ve registered to race. The impulse was generated watching my son-in-law, not that many years my junior, race cyclocross these past two seasons. In Oregon and elsewhere, cyclocross is not the serious, but somewhat less demanding, off-season sport for amateurs and pros. Here, it is part race, part side show and part beer bash. Occasionally, there is a costume party. The more I observed, the more I became curious and, perhaps in a misguided way, thought that I might be able to compete. I then realized that I would need a cyclocross bike since none in the stable are really capable of being raced through the mud and muck of that kind of course. Since these impulses typically occur at the end of the season, it was obvious that the racing bug would have to wait for a new bike and another year or . . . .

Sign up for some other kind of racing. The obvious and surely the safest would be the time trial. Lucky for me, a local clinic is offered in just two weeks. I quickly registered with the local sanctioning body, Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, booked a spot in the clinic and promptly, and coincidentally, caught a bad cold. Holidays and the cold interrupted a decent jump on off-season training, so I looked a bit farther down the calendar. And, there it was. The Gorge Roubaix.

The name implied, and the description of the course confirmed, that this was a race partially over rough roads, the Oregon version of the strade bianchi. With more than three months in front of me, I figured what could be more suitable? And, there was always the option of violating a Velominati rule of some kind, wimping out and riding the difficult Fondo version of the race, the Gorge Gravel Grinder, on Sunday.

Now, I find myself in that somewhat terrified state of four years ago when I registered for l’Eroica. I’ve signed up for something that I’m not really sure suits me. Will I be pushing my 2-wheeler up a dusty gravel track, wondering whether I’ll get back to the starting line before dark? Or, will I find myself under a pile of carbon, aluminum and steel in some crucial turn near the end? Perhaps a pile up caused by my own lack of experience? More to follow.

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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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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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That didn’t take long. Registrations for those of us who don’t live in Italy and are under 60 have ended. But, you knew that, right? Possibly the world’s most popular one-day cycling event is sure to sell out fast. There are ways to get in, but this post is really about the training, not the event. I’ll say more about registering in a moment.

If you even imagine that you will ride L’Eroica, now is the time to train. Need some inspiration? Watch tomorrow’s Montepaschi Strade Bianche on Universal Sports. Sad to say that my cable carrier doesn’t air US, but it is available online. You will view the very roads over which L’Eroica is ridden and get a sense of why this is a ride you will want to do sometime in your life.

But, training? I look out the window at the gray mornings that barely glow before 6:30 and question why I want to get out of bed. Last year, I was excited about the ride in a way that could be interpretted as really scared about how difficult it might be. And, how much I wanted to make a good showing. Motivation enough.

Here are a quick few suggestions that are by no means unique, but will get you started.

Stationary bikes or roller: Use them during the gloomy, dark days, but ride intervals. Nothing will give you a head start on the road like intervals inside.

Strength training: There are plenty of good books about strength training programs and there are coaches and personal trainers. I used the former, in particular, “Weight Training for Cyclists” along with other guides. When you face a 12 percent grade on the white roads, it’s not just strong legs and low gears that get you to the top.

Ride the sterrati or unpaved roads: Slap on the 28mm tires and leave them on the bike. Find some unpaved roads to ride, but make them part of a longer ride rather than just a practice piece. You’ll gain confidence on the stones and feel how they change the ride.

Since I never know quite what readers want, other than great pictures of bikes and components, leave comments about this and other posts. If you want more on training, I’ll spend some time with it.

Sold out registration? No problem. There will be at least two more chances to register, though at higher rates. Those will get you in and provide funds for the L’Eroica charity. Or, do it up right and contact inGamba about their tours. There is a long-weekend version and a full week along with additional tours that include L’Eroica. You’ll never eat, drink and ride so well. I might even see you there.

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Registration for L’Eroica 2012 opens at 3:00 Pacific time for those followers in the western United States, or midnight in Italy, which is GMT or UCT -1 hour. Hell, I suppose it is only right to say Greenwich Mean Time when we’re talking about something as traditional as L’Eroica. Regardless, if you plan to go, get your mouse ready and login here at the official site here.

The best part of the ride

The organizers have expanded the registration limits for non-Italians. I’m not sure why, but there are now 800 slots open compared to my experience of last year where the limt was 500. No matter. If you have any inkling that you plan to attend, register and pay your fee. It’s not enough to compel you to go if you have a conflict or a problem. But, it’s one of those motivating factors that sticks with you when you are deciding whether to add a few more kilometers to your daily ride.

You might choose to skip registration on your own because you’ve decided to go with a tour company. If you’ve made the decision, or even thought about it, there is one that stands above all others and is a relative newcomer, In Gamba, or “in the know” as the idiom goes. I met these folks last year. We shared a village home base in Lecchi-in-Chianti. I’ll have more to say in other places about that experience.

They offer a range of tours in Italy and elsewhere that really have no comparison. Led by a former Cervelo pro, but focused as much on culture and community as riding, they give the serious cyclist everything and a great deal more. They also hold registrations for L’Eroica that clients use and the vintage bicycle is provided.

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