Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pleasant Introductions

So, my goal for this weekend was to get out into the community here in Strasbourg and dip a toe into what the cycling scene was like. I had found out about a ride on Saturday at 2 from a dude I passed while riding around, so that seemed like a grand place to start. I was pretty unsure of what to expect from this, first off I was a little disarmed by the fact that it started at 2. In the States, at least most organized rides I've heard of start at 10 or 11 at the latest. So, I figured this would probably be some kinda laid back afternoon spin sorta deal. Worked for me, I just wanted to meet some people.

Ladies and gentleman, never assume.

I decided to get some miles in before the ride, because starting at 2 it probably wouldn't be that long. So, I set out and spun around with about an hour on the clock before meeting up with the group. When I finally did head over to where they were meeting, a good sized pack had started to build up. We set out with maybe two dozen riders. This is in part due to the way cycling in Europe is organized. Unlike the smaller teams in the US, which are focused primarily as a racing team, Velo Clubs in France and elsewhere can be large, 50 people up to even 200, and based out of a city or region. The largest club in this area, for example, has 100 members and is "owned" by the small village of Eckwersheim outside of Strasbourg.

We set out at a decent pace and I did my best to chat up some of the local roulers. Unfortunately, my French failed me a bit on the roads, where wind, navigation, and riding a bike made my basic language skills a bit strained. I did my best to introduce myself though and make a positive impression. The real way to show myself as a rider though would be to take some hefty pulls. The pace quickened as the ride got underway, passing through some beautiful countryside and winding through beautiful roads I would never have been able to find on my own. I took my turn in the front a few times, gunning it out at the fast pace that had been set. Soon, we had gone far enough west that we were in the mountainous region away form the city. The group broke apart on the climbs, but I managed to sit up near the front groups for the first couple hills.

Then, as we approached are biggest climb a few guys shot out from the back, breaking away form the main group struggling up the incline. I jumped, trying to grab the wheel of the escaping lead group. I hit it hard, but at this point I had spread myself too thin with my pre-ride and ego-proving pulls. They slipped away up the hill, but I did stay with a secondary break which sweeped me up on the way up the climb. I could feel myself fading though and honestly had no idea how long this ride was going to be at this point. It was certainly a lot faster then I had expected.

At the bottom of the hill, the group recongealed and began to head back toward the East. Shortly into are return, one of the guys told me the group tends to pick up near the end and into town. I felt like it had picked up a bit already. But, as we winded back through the small towns there was a moment when the hammer dropped, like we were going into the end of a race, and the pack jumped forward. This wasn't your usual Saturday no-drop ride, no sir. I did my best to hold the wheels infront of me, but at this point was just spent. I had ridden for longer then I expected and had burnt too many matchs pulling and sprinting the hills, not to mention the hour I'd done before even meeting these guys. I watched the group pull away down the road and just hoped I would be able to find my way home.

Even though I had been dropped, I kept on the gas. I saw another rider fall from the group put my last hard effort into catching his wheel. We rode on together, chasing after the pack which was by now out of sight. I was still straining though and could feel my skinny little bodies blood sugar dropping fast as I tried to focus on keeping behind the guy infront of me who would hopefully be able to help me find my home. But I was zoning out on the bike at this point and when the road snaked to the left a bit I ran right into the curb. I flipped off of the bike, tumbling down into a patch of dirt that was thankfully on the side of the road. My bike had deflected off and continued a few feet down the road without me before lazily tipping over onto its side. I got up, a bit dazed, but more awake now. I was OK. The guy I was trailing noticed and stopped. I did a quick check of my ride and was amazed to see everything was fine on it as well. It was one of those stupid silly crashes that only happens near the end of a ride, but luckily everything was OK. I got back up and mentally slapped myself. Keep going, your almost home.

Well, not really. We met up with a third chap and the three of us, all a little warn, rode the rest of the way into town, but it was a surprisingly long distance yet. I managed to chat with this guy a little though thanks to our smaller group size. We got back into town pretty late, the sun was just setting. I rolled the rest of the way home with the thoughts of a grand feast on my mind. The day ended up being 80 miles in four and a half hours. A bit more then I had planned.

The guy who I had ridden the last leg of back into town invited me to go out with him again tomorrow though. He was part of the Eckwersheim team and he said it would be a ride with those guys. Some more decent base millage, but not as fast as today. I was glad to have gotten the invite and so, tired as I was, I gladly accepted. We would meet Sunday at 9:45. A more reasonable time too.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Settling In

Well folks, here I am. I'm settling into Strasbourg and have been spinning around getting a feel for the city. It's real perdy here, although a little flat in comparison to Oregon. In the course of my spins ran into a couple different people around the area to ride with and am going to try to hook up with a big group ride tomorrow. I only got some vague French directions to where and when, so I'm not totally sure about it, but I'll see if I can't find 'em. Not to mention this area is damn confusing. Like all of Europe, the road layout is the same as it was five-hundred years ago so nothing is on a grid and roads twist and turn and change directions. I'm starting to get some idea of my way around, but I'm usually lost for a portion of every ride.

The past couple weeks have been a little hectic training wise, what with all the travel and adjusting and stuff putting me a bit off "the plan" but that's how it goes sometimes. Since I've started working with structured training, I definitely find myself overwhelmed sometimes. For all the times when I was working on my own and felt lost for what to do to improve, there are times working with a coach that I feel confined and want to just spin my own way. Everything needs a little bit of perspective sometimes. A step back and a view of the simple beauty of flying across the Earth that riding a bike is all about in the end. That grande ronde where you aren't counting your watts or miles and are just racing to catch the horizon. That's why I ride. That's what a change of scenery has helped me realize.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On My Way

Well world, I'm on my way to France. I leave today. It's a weird deal, I don't feel like I can properly imagine the adventure ahead of me in the next six months. I know it's gonna be good though. On my way out I've stopped in New York to stay with the fam here. I briefly unpacked the bike to go for a ride around New York and I must say, it was underwhelming. The Strava pages for Brooklyn segments like Prospect Park are crammed with fast times, so clearly their are strong riders who live around here. I mean, it's New York. Everyone lives here! But, it seems like it would be hard to go on a long ride amongst the traffic and stop lights. Anyone have any experience with big city riding? The great thing about Portland is that even from the heart of the city you are a stones throw away from the boonies. Strasbourg is an even smaller city with plenty of open roads around it, although it's pretty flat, and I'm looking forward to rolling around there.

Speaking of which, travelling with a bike case is a little ridiculous. I feel like I'm dragging around the monolith from 2001 a Space Odyssey.

Not terrible, I'm glad I was able to get my hands on a solid bike case, but yeah a little bit of a ridiculous piece of luggage. Now I just gotta haul the damn thing back to JFK, fly to Frankfurt, take a bus to Strasbourg, and get to my host family's home. An Odyssey if there ever was one. 
Anyway, I'm off. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Ice Man Cometh

Well, it's been a long time since I've posted anything. Reader warning: that's because nothing interesting has happened. Nah, but I finished up my semester at school, had some crazy times with finals, and in the mess of all this stress gained a new appreciation for indoor training. It's just so much more time efficient to hop on the indoor trainer and crank out a quick workout then to ride outside. Still, if I lived in Wisconsin or somewhere I had to ride indoors three months of the year I'd probably go insane. I spent some quality time with Graeme Street from Cyclo-Club. They were recommended to me by my coach Josh Liberles and have a vast store of indoor trainer workout videos as well as core and flexibility work. They even have some P90X style training plans called Cyclo90 for you unlucky sons-of-bitches who do live in Wisconsin that are basically all inclusive 90 day training plans based around videos of Graeme Street talking you through workouts. 

So, I've been doing some relaxing, drinking some delicious winter beers, and logging plenty of base training miles. Basically, preparing for my trip abroad and taking some much needed relaxation time. The riding has been good at times, tough at others. This time of year it can be a challenge to get your ass out the door and even once your riding it can be tough to crank up the intensity when it's pouring rain and cold. But it's all part of what it means to be a cyclist. Sure there are summer century and fair weather riders, but the Spring races demand us to throw on a rain coat and brave the cold. It's this aptitude for making ourselves uncomfortable on a daily basis that make us better people in addition to better cyclists. How many times in life do we have to "ride in the rain?" To buckle down and harden up and grind through with something even when we would rather warm are toes by the fire with a nice hot tody? But after a three hours of hard riding in the rain, you will appreciate that warm fire and hot tody way more then the other guy, I guarantee it. It's the contrasts that give life pizzazz. The dark spots that make the lights pop. So, to beat the winter blues and make your smile brighter, give yourself a reason to be happy. Make yourself suffer.

For further great writing on these subjects, look here and here. Gotta love the Velominati.