Archive for June, 2012
I had been looking forward to this race for the past couple weeks because the course is amazing – with lots of hills – in a topographically interesting area. Several ridge lines merge and end near the turnaround point. See the topocreator map from my post about the 2010 time trial (where I did much better).
Well, on Thursday night Kristine and I celebrated our 9 year wedding anniversary. In the middle of the night, I woke up with some severe intestinal issues – eventually losing 6 pounds of water weight and collapsing on the floor on the way back from the bathroom in the early morning. After spending an entire day in bed and resting and drinking, I started to feel better in the evening. So I thought maybe if I felt really good in the morning, I would go ahead and do the time trial. Not a good idea as indicated by the stats in the screenshot with 1 mile to go in my race:
By the time I had driven to the start (the original plan was to ride to the start for a 90-100 mile ride like Wednesday), I was not feeling great anymore. After a 12 mile easy warm-up, I was feeling less great. Travis Sherman said it best – “you look hung over”. I started out with a target wattage of 325 watts and was able to maintain that for about 5 minutes – at which point I started getting nauseous. My next thought was “ok”, let’s shoot for 300watts. Then as I couldn’t even get my current power over 300, I thought maybe “250” would be ok. A couple minutes later I realized that the only way I was going to finish the race at all is if I backed way off, so I started soft pedaling to eventually finish in 6th place (last).
So, here is future advice for anybody with food poisoning 24 hours before the start of a 40k tt … even if you feel all better when you wake up the morning of the race, don’t do it. Stay in, rest, and watch the first stage of the Tour de France instead!
Quick summary – this was a long, hot race with a huge field of more than 175 riders. I rode really conservatively never chasing anything down or trying to get into any moves, and this worked out well as I had tons of energy left for the uphill finishing sprint where I finished 8th. With three riders up the road, that means I finished 11th in the race. Congrats to Mat Davis (Team La’Sport) on a strong second place finish. Also, the power map and plot below also summarize the race … hard on the uphills and coasting or braking on all the downhills getting sucked along by the huge field.
2012 elite nationals heartrate, power, speed plot. I thought my power meter wasn’t working correctly because the power averages were so low … but look at how much my heartrate drops on all the downhills. So I’m thinking the power meter was working correctly! (click to enlarge)
Heart rate zone summary
These Garmin screenshots also summarize the race. The max speeds indicate the “sucking” power that the huge field had. 51mph on a less than 10% downhill! Also, the temperature of 107.1 degF indicates how hot it was in the sun. And finally over 8300′ of climbing is a lot of climbing for a race!
Kristine and I drove over to Augusta, GA on Saturday for the road race today – leaving the kids home with Grandma and Grandpa. This made for a short, fun getaway trip with Kristine to race on a course that I raced over 15 years ago as a college student at Clemson. The course is on a large, active military base (Fort Gordon), which adds to its uniqueness. “CAUTION: target area”, “The Confidence Course” were two signs that I noticed today, but my favorite from 15 years ago was “WARNING: unexploded ordinance”. I didn’t see that sign today, but I really didn’t have much time to look either as the race was super fast covering 103 miles in just over 4 hours. The course is constantly rolling with no flat sections at all. There are a few longer hills including the finishing hill, but none of them are long enough to be categorized climbs.
The air temperature was probably low to mid 90s with lots of humidity, but in the sun it was well over that with my Garmin reading a max of 107.1 degF. I knew that hydration would be important, and so I planned to take a bottle from Kristine and a neutral water bottle every lap. Kristine positioned herself at the front of the feedzone, and did an excellent job handing me five bottles for a total of nine bottles of gatorade, coke, and water consumed during the 4 hour race. I never once felt any muscle tightness (indicative of an oncoming cramp) and was able to sprint at full speed at the end of the race without fear of cramping.
Strategically, I raced a conservative race having convinced myself that I should wait until two laps to go to try and get into any kind of move. But with two laps to go, our field was still really large and moving really fast so I didn’t think a break would be able to stick. Many breaks formed during the race but were brought back by the large field’s momentum on the downhills.
Funny sidenote – I had ridden to the start from our hotel, so I knew that I would need to do a bit of math to figure out which lap we were on during the race. With two laps to go, I was pretty sure we had two laps to go – but my distance was already up to 85 miles partway through that lap so I had a hard time convincing myself that we really had two full laps left to go. I knew that I had ridden about 8 miles before the start, but in my state of delirium from the heat I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with that 8 miles to confirm that we really had two laps left. Eventually, I got it all worked out and realized that I need to add the 8 miles to expected race distance of 104 miles to get the total that would appear on my Garmin when the race was over. I would guess this took 10 minutes to figure out between thinking about the race and moving around in the pack and then revisiting this relatively simple math problem in my head. Plus, what makes the story even funnier is that I forgot all the math and had the number 113 stuck in my head so that when I saw 109 miles, I figured we had 3 miles left because I subtracted 113 from 109 incorrectly to get 3 miles, which was the correct distance even though the subtraction was wrong. I would imagine that a neuroscientist would be quite interested to see all the craziness going on in my head to make me struggle with these extremely simple math problems during the race.
Back to the race – there was one break very early with a chase group behind it that had close to a 2 minute gap on the field. I’m pretty sure that all the major teams were represented, but they couldn’t extend their gap because there would always be somebody attacking from our group causing the whole field to chase. Once the field got up to speed on the rollers – there was no stopping it. We hit close to 50mph just about every lap on the downhill after the feedzone, and I am sure that the breaks were going at least 5mph slower on all the downhills. Our giant field would bunch up on some of the uphills slowing the pace down substantially. But then we would go flying down the next downhill. Plus some of the uphills were short enough that if there was an attack at the front of the group, then those in the back could carry there momentum up the hill without the normal yo-yo effect. This meant that the field was not only flying on the downhills, we were also flying up some of the uphills.
Eventually, a strong group of 3 emerged from the largest break (about 19 riders). And this turned out to be the winning break with eventual winner Julian Kyer (Juwi Solar), Mat Davis (Team La’Sport), and Stefano Barberi (Cashcall Mortgage). These three built up a lead of 1’30” with two laps to go while the remnants of the larger break was quickly chased down by the field. The gap continued to fall throughout the last two laps – during which time a chase group of two or three emerged from the field. This chase group stayed away until 1K to go when they were caught during the sprint. The break of three stayed together until the final climb and just barely held off the field – finishing 17, 14 and 6 seconds in front of the field.
In the field sprint, I decided that I needed to be on the righthand side of the group going up the final hill – even though the wind was coming from the right because the field was always bunching up on the left. This worked out really well because the field bunched up on the left and I flew around a ton of people (10-20) at the very bottom of the climb. Then I got tucked in behind another rider across the crest of the hill into the slight downhill 200 meters. The road made a quarter-turn into a stiff headwind, though, and as people who had been at the front started to crack, I passed a lot more people to end up 8th in the field sprint, 11th in the race with Julian, Mat, and Stefano already across the line.
View from the middle of S Cove Dr shortly after the blind corner
There is a road near my house that drops 240 feet in 0.3 miles, which works out to an average gradient of 18%. Since it is relatively flat (-5% to -10%) at the top and bottom that means the middle section is well over 20% for close to 0.2 miles. They have been doing construction work on the driveway at the “commit point” of the descent so I decided to take it slow today and stop to take pictures to document the descent.
I discovered that they were doing construction work earlier this week when I came around the blind corner in the middle of the descent to come face-to-face with a cement truck backing into a driveway. Fortunately, I had also noticed pick-up trucks in the driveway visible before the corner so I had already slowed down and aborted the descent. I came around the corner, saw the cement truck and had plenty of room to maneuver around it on the wrong side of the road. If a car had been coming up the road, I would have had to scrub into the driveway under construction.
S Cove Dr elevation profile.
Before going any further, let me emphasize that this is an extremely dangerous descent. I document this to warn people that this descent should not be tried at speed, and the posted speed limit of 30mph should be observed.
Here is a blow-by-blow of the descent starting from Panorama Dr …
After making the righthand turn from Panorama onto S Cove, the descent looks deceptively gentle. I normally abort the descent if there are any cars going down the hill here. You can see the road bends to the left. What you can’t see is that the gradient jumps abruptly to -20+% around that gentle bend.
Even though the gradient is above -20% here, you can still brake and stop accelerating if there are any cars in front of you or if anything else looks/feels off (e.g., construction vehicles parked in driveway and alongside road). The righthand turn up ahead is at the steepest part of the descent, and it is completely blind. I call that turn the “commit point”.
Pressure washing in the blind corner – finally, the construction work is done! This is just before the “go/no go” decision must be made. Once you round that corner, if you haven’t braked hard yet then you physically cannot stop your bike before the next intersection. So you have less than a second from here to scan for obstacles and brake or switch to an avoidance mode where you are looking for an escape route instead of an emergency stop.
This is the view just after the blind corner. Here you can see the next portion of the descent, and here you must decide whether you are in brake-mode or avoidance-mode. Although, any good safe cyclist should always be prepared to do both at all times.
The next blind turn. This gentle left has two driveways on the right and three driveways on the left. The safest place to be is just to the right of the center-line. Although this means you have to be super vigilant for oncoming traffic. But this gives you extra clearance if somebody were to be walking/jogging up the hill (rare) or backing out of a driveway on the right. At this point though, you should be anticipating the road being completely blocked and know your escape routes.
Around the final turn you have a small run-out before the three-way stop. You have to be on the brakes really, really hard through here. Fortunately the road kicks back up just a little bit before the stop so that helps the deceleration process.
That is the South Cove Dr descent in pictures. I did this descent twice today – once to take the pictures, and once at normal speed. But again this descent is super dangerous. Observe the posted speed limit of 30mph and stop at the three-way stop at the bottom!
And finally, here are some other pictures from my ride today:
My bike at the Cahaba Beach road bridge. You have to hoist your bike over the barricade and carefully ride the planks to make it over to Cahaba Beach road. Watch out for the holes straight through to the river!
A post about climbing the ridges in Birmingham wouldn’t be complete without my favorite ridges southeast of town – especially the two high ridges on Double Oak Mountain. I rode out there today armed with my camera and ended up taking more than 50 photos. I picked out the best ones and created a topocreator map to highlight the ridges southeast of Birmingham.
Two screenshots merged to form a complete ride profile (10 mile, 250ft scale). The numbered ridges and creeks are labeled on the topocreator map below.
Topocreator map of the ridges southeast of Birmingham out to Double Oak (click to enlarge) or download the hi-res version (6.5MB)
After three weeks of traveling out west and enjoying some really amazing riding and sightseeing with the family, I have been enjoying a week of riding back in Birmingham. Today’s ride typifies the type of ridge riding that you can do here in Birmingham. I started out this ride with a loop on the side of Little Valley Mountain followed by a route crossing all the major ridge lines to Birmingham. Then I turned around and took a different route home recrossing the same ridge lines at different points. After a quick stop at home, I did a loop through Bluff Park bouncing back and forth between the two ridge lines on top of Shades Mountain. That last bit through Bluff Park is shown with ridge and creek crossings highlighted in the first elevation profile and map below:
- My neighborhood – on the remnants of Altadena Ridge
- Little Shades Creek – feeds into the Cahaba River
- Little Valley Mountain – Panorama Dr home of S Cove, Renfroe, VHHS
- Little Shades Creek again – after the S Cove Dr descent
- Little Valley Mountain again – this time descending off the other side of the mountain via Gay Way
- Patton Creek headwaters – near Vestavia Pizitz Middle School
- Vestavia Lake overlook – high point on the lower Shades Mountain ridge
- Vestavia Falls bridge – tucked down below a cliff, cool and shady
- Hwy 31 at Shades Crest – right before the descent past Brookwood hospital. Crosses the upper Shades Mountain ridge
- Shades Creek – high bridge (Hwy 31) over the creek and Lakeshore trail
- Red Mountain on Woodcrest – http://goo.gl/maps/xHwf – super steep descent to Five Points South
- Five Points South – still nearly hundred feet above downtown (Village Creek, etc…)
- Red Mountain Crest Rd with all the mansions across the top of the ridge – http://goo.gl/maps/MTu2
- Shades Creek – after descending down through Mountain Brook (Crestline Village)
- Shades Mountain eastern ridge – the part of Shades Mountain east of US-280
- Shades Creek at the 280 flyunder – http://goo.gl/maps/hjbV – flying down westbound 280, cross under on Shades Creek Pkwy, back up the ramp/climb eastbound 280
- Shades Mountain high point crown – this includes the real high point at Vestavia Dr plus lower summits at Smyer Circle and Chester St
- Little Shades Creek – awesome descent down Vesclub – crossing the creek at an upper branch
- Dolly Ridge at Skyland roller coaster
- Little Shades Creek – down at the actual creek
- Dolly Ridge at Rosemary
- Altadena Ridge back in my neighborhood
Entire ride profile with 15 mile zoom (numbered ridges, creeks explained below)
- Little Valley Mountain
- Shades Mountain
- Shades Creek
- Red Mountain
- Shades Creek
- Shades Mountain
- Shades Creek
- Shades Mountain
- Little Shades Creek
- Patton Creek
- Shades Mountain
- Patton Creek
And finally, here is a topocreator map of the entire ride … plus a super hi-res version (10.7MB).
Entire ride – ridges and creeks annotated (click to enlarge) … or download the super hi-res version (10.7MB)