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Monday, November 11, 2013

Stale Fish: The Masters Wreck at Derby City

Artwork Courtesy of James Billiter
I covered my eyes.  I’m certain that’s where the realization set in that my friend and teammate may be paralyzed.  I paced.  I rested my head in my arms along the course fencing of the start/finish straight.  Little clips trickled into my ears.   “I’m a doctor.”  “He’s complaining he can’t feel…”  I didn’t catch the rest.  Emotion overcame me.  I spotted teammate Gerri on the other side of the course.  We had a good weepy hug as the EMT’s carefully went to work. 

Nate was stale fish on the ground.  They already had a collar around his neck.  I looked back, with his arms at his side, his legs shook.  Shock I presumed.  Fuck man, just fuck.  I wasn’t angry.  I feared the worst.  I didn’t want to make that phone call.  Someone handed me his glasses.  I snagged his Garmin off his bike and tucked both in my jersey pocket.  Gerri helped getting a plan together.  I hopped on my bike with inoperable brakes and coasted back to the start to collect my grid bag and thoughts.

As of this Monday morning, Nate spent the night at U of L Hospital.  An MRI showed a fractured vertebra in his upper spine.  Thankfully, he can move all his parts.  He was alert, coherent and concerned about his bike.  Despite complaining of intense shoulder pain, the news sounded somewhat positive.  Granted the possibility of surgery and rehab still looms, at the moment it appears our buddy Nate escaped the most serious of injuries.  Looking at his bike and helmet, it looks as if he sprinted into a wall at 30mph.  When I put the bike on my roof rack, the drivetrain was in the 53x17 gear. 
Derby City Cup Masters Wreck 1 by Kent Baumgardt
I saw the wreck unfold firsthand.  Despite the ruckus over the large mixed fields at the MudFund Derby City Cup, I don’t think those things had anything to do with it.  It was the simplest thing really.  A rider hooked a wheel at the front which cascaded into a chain reaction full-gas pile up. 

I personally knew 90% of the riders in the first four rows, and at least two more rows behind me.  Look at the call up list for Wave 6.  Granted not everyone on the list started, but all of those guys at the front, masters and juniors, are good riders.  Most of them I’d equate with sticklers for etiquette.  They know to hold a line and not to make unpredictable moves.  With the callups based on points, at least the first 8 rows were sorted by speed.  Additionally, throughout the last two weekends with Cincy3, every junior I raced with passed cleanly.  Between a bunch of USGP’s and Worlds, most of these guys have done this same long paved Louisville start at least 10 times.

Derby City Cup Masters Wreck 2 by Kent Baumgardt
Based on Saturday’s start, the first few hundred meters of the course were key for position in the race.  Everybody on that start grid knew we had a long paved start, a soft curve onto a long downhill straightaway.  From there, the course made a huge soft left hand U-turn before getting into the first pinch point on the course.  We all knew the position you held going into the first chicane was more or less within a few riders you’d have up the steps, through the first sand and over the flyover before you’d have another big chance to make passes.  Still I don’t think the speed at the start or the jostling for position in the first few hundred meters of the course was unusual or overly aggressive.  Yesterday, the wreck happened not much more than 120 meters or so from the grid, 3 or 4 shifts, and a mere 10-15 seconds into the race.      

Derby City Cup Masters Wreck 3 by Kent Baumgardt
I cannot say it was a bonehead move.  Someone hooked a wheel.  Only the rider who hooked the wheel in front of him knows the circumstances.  Maybe the rider in front hit a crack in the pavement or a rock.  Maybe that rider came out of a pedal or his hand slipped off his bars.  From what I remember seeing, the hook was subtle.  It was not a big sweeping move from right to left, more a matter of inches.  The wreck happened before the announcer’s trailer, way before the bend to the left and onto the grass.  I don’t know if the rider in front slowed, moved right or if there was something unseen that happened miliseconds before it caught my eye.  Regardless, two riders made contact.  The rider in back went down.  I don’t recall seeing the front rider go down. 

Front end of Nate's bike caved in
I started on the middle of the 4th row.  My BioWheels teammate Mike was 3rd row and to my left.  My teammate Steven was a row behind and to my left.  Nate, registering late, had a 92nd call up.  With some no shows, I’m unsure of where he lined up on the grid.  In front of us was a who’s-who of the region’s top masters and a handful of seasoned juniors. 

At the whistle, a rider in front of me was a little slower off the grid, nothing unusual.  That held me up for a fraction of a second.  I got around on the right.  Clicking through gears, I remember seeing the two sides of the front open up.  The middle held more traffic.  Feeling the flow of the race drift to the left, I was now out of the saddle sprinting maybe just left of center. 

I saw the hook slightly ahead of me and just to my left.  A rider in front moved slight right to left and snagged the wheel in front of him.  I honestly can’t recall even a jersey color and would rather not speculate.  As he fell to the left, he went into someone else coming up from behind.  Those two went down and collected a 3rd rider.  Three riders and bikes slid across the pavement in front of me.

Chris King Headset Cracked
You make split second decisions.  I was sort of boxed and heading straight for them.  At this speed, likely close to 28mph, there was no way I could change my line fast enough to avoid them and not take out guys on either side.  I threw my weight back, braked and aimed for the least obstructed part of the pile, the rear end of a bike in my path.  I didn’t make it.  I fell down on the other riders with my left side.  My bike rolled up and over.  I tried to curl up in a ball and cover my face.  The rider next to me did the same, hidden under a cage of frames.

Then the impacts came, seemingly endless, one by one.  Oof.  Ugh.  I caught a glimpse of Nate’s kit on my right.  Mmmph.  Ugh.  The weight of people on top of me compounded.  I heard a young man scream out.  Frames dug into my hip and body.  They just kept coming, hitting, landing, rolling over.  I worried about being crushed.  Boom.  Bam.  I could hear the crowd gasp.  My teammates Steven and Mike, starting more to the left, avoided the serious wreck, but got caught up in the course fencing.  Both got free and continued racing.

Crack halfway through downtube at BB
Then the bodies stopped falling on me.  With the clop of bike shoes on pavement, riders scrambled to pull tangled bikes off the top.  I shouted at someone, “Hey!  Hey!  Be careful.”  A call went out for medical.  I could see my shifter stuck in someone’s wheel.  As far as we knew, the race was still on.  From the ground, I helped to untie the bikes.  The weight was still heavy.  I just wanted to get out from under as quick as possible.  It was freaking me out.

It seemed like minutes passed, but I’m sure it was only seconds.  I was able to wriggle out from underneath.  Nate still lay on his back, I think propped half on top of a bike.  I found my bike along the fence.  The rear wheel had come out of the drops.  I fixed that, but couldn’t reattach the brake cables.  My front brake pads were stuck under the lip of the rim.  I was done.  That’s when I turned to see Nate.  The sight made me sick with worry.  I couldn’t leave him. 

While Nate does have insurance, copays and deductibles for a serious visit to the ER probably wasn’t in the fall budget.  Not to mention, his custom Indy Fab Planet X is ruined.  A fund has been set up to help him out.  I’m sure he’d appreciate your generosity.  Click here for more information.

Joe Bellante

Update as of 3pm 11/11 from Anna: "Final X-rays came back and no serious damage to any of the discs. A lot of ligament damage so he will be in a neck brace for awhile until that heals. Won't be going home yet today but hoping tomorrow. No surgery!!!!! Very happy. We want to thank all of you soooo much for all you are doing. We got the best friends in the world and so proud to be part of the amazing cycling community."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Going to Uranus? Hire a Coach

I'm Drunk and I'm Skinny!
He knows bourbon.  Like the Southern Comfort on a canoe trip in my youth where I never actually paddled the boat, I will never drink it again.  While Southern Comfort made me spend a beautiful blue sky Wisconsin summer day lying in a gravel parking lot along the Crystal River, Bourbon made me shout at Sven Nys, “I’m drunk and I’m skinny!”  Then it made me spend the night laying on the bathroom tile after the Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville.  Bourbon is out of my league.  I don’t get it.

While he’s a virtual genius at select Kentucky beverages and can make anyone faster on a bike, he is not a Marvel super hero.  The guy I’m talking about is a lot like you or me, a person who is passionately involved in the things he loves, maybe a chromosome or two from being a full on savant.  While I’m into writing and music, can expound on the beauty of a worn sunburst Strat and tell you exactly why the new Fitz and the Tantrum’s song “Out of My League” sounds like the Cure’s “A Forest” from 1980, he is one of a handful of people that doesn’t get an itchy heat rash and headache trying to decipher a pro’s power meter graph posted on Velonews.  He knows bourbon and bike racing.  He’s my coach. 

Do I need a coach?  Yes.  Yes I do.  Take these awesome blue suede pointy shoes I got from Banana Republic.  You want to touch them don’t you?  Don’t get your oily fingers on them.  Just know they feel like the silky top of a cat’s head.  Purrr.  For you, maybe they’re not your bag, hipster dufus material.  They’ll likely be at the outlet store in November.  I need them.  For me, working in an industry like pop radio, where the feeling of youth and cool is part of the product, these shoes help me, a middle aged creative, stay in touch with fashion and trends, the same qualities that our listeners hold dear.  Your frugal cycling side may see an unwarranted expense.  I admit.  I do feel a bit out of my skin as I wrestle them on with a shoe horn in the morning, but I see it sort of as an investment.  The second I lose sight of or fail to be directly involved in what our listeners hold dear, like (egads!) an appreciation for Miley Cyrus, I may be looking for a job at the oldies station.

It makes me want to get a fake ID to actually lower my age, but I’ve been racing and ridiculously involved in cycling for longer than most juniors have been alive.  For God’s sake, there’s a 1991 Breezer Thunder in our bike stable, and that’s not even the vintage one in my book.  Every one of those juniors should know who Joe Breeze is.  I own a truing stand.  In my junior aged days, I circumnavigated Waukesha County on a bike with down-tube shifters and a boombox strapped to my front rack blaring “The Who.”  I’ve come back from ACL reconstruction surgery where my wife had to help me as I grunted attempting a single leg lift.  You’d think I’d know it all by now: training, mechanics, skills, speed, and history.  Yet, I have a coach. 

I look at having a coach like a trip to Uranus.  You might troll the boneyard next to the airport for parts, camp out in the science section of the library and actually build a rockin’ 1978 VW shaped spaceship, but you’re not going to feel the soft pale Uranus dirt between your toes without a little input from say perhaps…an actual rocket scientist.  The main reason I have a coach is so someone, a certified cycling dork, is vested as a shareholder in team Joe.  It’s no different than having a personal mentor or work consultant.  I could go pretty far on my own, perhaps land that VW mothership in a swimming pool the next county over and be on TMZ.  But, like those swanky blue shoes, my coach will take me where I’ve never been Uranus.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vichyssoise and Types of #Cyclocross Mud

It has been said the Inuit have 400 names for snow.  It’s only urban legend of course.  The truth is the Inuit, like me, are just a very colorful, overly dramatic and adjective laden people.  Thinking about cyclocross however, there has to be 400 types of mud.  I’ve personally ridden in Bronchitis snot, Chunky Gazpacho, Stripper Wrasslin’ Mud, Cincinnati Chili and so on. 

Saturday as the sun came out in Columbus, after 2 inches of rain, elite racers feared The Peanut Butter and not because of allergies.  Peanut Butter can quickly become Mesa Verde mud, named after the type of mud/grass mix the Anasazi used to build their cliff dwellings at the namesake National Park.  Consequently when that type freezes on contact, and can only be removed by a combination of welding torches and jack hammers, you get Dirty Igloo Mud, much like we had at Masters Worlds in Louisville this past winter.  See how that Inuit line came full-circle?

Back in Columbus Saturday, during the Masters race we had more of the chunky gazpacho type of mud.  It was a very wet mud, not as watery as the cold potato delicacy known as Vichyssoise mud or the romantic pottery mud from the movie Ghost.  Like an Italian wine with good nose, this mud featured delicate garnishes of grasses, hints of wild flowers and bites of thistles and briars.  On any Sunday afternoon in fall, you can find grandmothers selling the exact same mud concoction vacuum packed for $22/pickle jar with cute pastel labels as an anti-aging serum at the farmers market in Park City Utah. 

Sadly, as witnessed first-hand after the elite women’s race, after the gazpacho spoiled in the sun for a half hour, it became Emotional Mud, the exact type of mud that will cause a 14 year old girl racer to become so upset she will snap at her family near the start/finish between bouts of shuddering tears.  Kudos to the entire women’s podium for consoling her after the race.  For obvious reasons, one of them being how I could be perceived as a creepy old masters racer, I had to leave the estrogenfest, but it was heartwarming.

Columbus Women's Podium
Unlike the non-sticky Vichyssoise, Sunday’s mud stuck a bit to the bike but, due to the preponderance of puddles (I’m not sure if I’m using that word correctly, but the phrase sounds congressmanly awesome), washed itself off the bike every few hundred meters.  Shifters still shifted.  Brakes slowed.  The bike didn’t get that much heavier whether you rode 200 meters or 10 miles.  Not many switched bikes during the race.    

That said, there is a point when a cyclocross racer should switch bikes due to mud accumulation.  Rather than go through the entire scientific calculation on my Garmin 8045S, (which has something to do with the depth of mud cubed, divided by pi and multiplied by the square root of the area of the starting grid) I’ll spell it out simply.  You need to ditch your bike a half lap before it gets bad.  It’s like deciding whether to add another cup of kale to your morning smoothie.  You have to know when to stop before you’re stuck with a liter of bitter green barf.  Like bike stopping mud, there is nothing worse than too much kale.

Vichyssoise (Cold Potato Soup)
It should be elementary, especially for the well-educated cyclocross racer, but another confounding law of nature comes into play when racing cyclocross in the mud.  Bikes are slower in water.  Ka-pow!  Mushroom cloud above your head.  Blew your mind didn’t I?  Sure now, in your dry air-conditioned office with a heart rate 35% of max, it makes perfect sense that you would be hard pressed to ride 50 meters across an Olympic swimming pool.  However, every muddy race, I’m amazed how many people don’t realize bikes are fastest on smooth concrete.  Using these two known constants, you should be able to calculate the fastest way through any cyclocross course.  Ride the most solid ground possible, unless the reroute will cost you more time than riding over the slower surface.  However, sometimes in cyclocross common sense and elementary math are Hope Diamond-rare.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

That Happened: A Wknd w/Legend Paul Curley

Tsali, our cat (named after the 2nd best mountain bike trail in the world) is on my chest.  I’m pinned down like he owns me.  He knows I’m not moving.  A human kitty bed, I drift in and out of sleep. I finally caved after a weekend of cycling goodness.  Periodically I hear the hostess at Eli’s BBQ a few blocks from our house announce over the PA that someone’s food is ready.  The blinds are drawn.  The ceiling fan spins.  The cool leather couch soothes my slightly sun parched skin.  I would spend the next ten hours like this.  I showered, made a giant vegan protein smoothie with frozen berries, the cat saw his opportunity and I succumbed.  At 8:30pm, I got up to buy a six pack of Bells Two Hearted at my wife’s request.  The dude abides.  The Bells was a cool reward for her MS150 and my impromptu weekend riding with cyclocross legend Paul Curley and friends. 

Paul Curley hand-slung me.  Wha?  Huh?  The multi-year Cyclocross 55+ Masters National Champion joined us on the BioWheels bike shop Saturday Morning Beatdown.  He was in the Cincinnati area visiting family and called the shop to find an area ride.  With gray hair peeking from his helmet, stars on his shorts and an old Verge CX series jersey, he pedaled stoutly on his small black Cannondale.  His skin looks a bit weathered.  His stocky legs have seen a million miles.  I flicked my elbow.  He pulled through.  He can still pull his weight on the local racer ride.  He rode smart, doing work when he could, sitting on when prudent.  Periodically, like with any guest on the ride, I’d pull even and give him heads up about a particularly nasty stretch of road, an upcoming hill, or wicked descent. 

A Track Hand Sling
On a rough winding farm road in Cincinnati’s Little Miami River Valley, a rider punctured in front of Paul and me.  I coasted back to make sure the rider had what he needed for the fix.  He waved me onward.  Looking back and seeing me trying to bridge my way back up, Paul, the seasoned vet, drifted slightly off the back of the speeding bunch and extended a hand.  “Is this really about to happen,” I thought.  With a thumb up and the back of his hand facing me, this wasn’t going to be a handshake.  This was a straight up Madison style hand sling.  I took a few hard pedal strokes.  With my left hand, I grabbed firm and he hand-slinged me within reach of an easy catch.  He jumped in my slipstream.  The group slowed slightly through a corner and we were both back on.  I get goosebumps thinking about it.  Yes.  That happened, a legendary experience with a legend.  I never expected to ride with him again. 

“Is that Paul Curley?  It is!”  JBV Coach Chris Mayhew was wrapped up in the garage right up until the moment the group rolled out of Loveland.  I was invited on this Sunday ride along with other clients and friends of the JBV coaches who held a clinic the day before.  Chris, maybe too busy with coffee, didn’t catch that Paul’s sprinter type van was parked down the street.  Paul had been planning on doing a nearby race.  It was cancelled at the last minute, so he decided to join us.  It wasn’t until we were rolling through the tunnel of trees of the Little Miami bike path that Chris pulled off the front, only to have Paul roll by on his right.  I was no-handed on the back tucking my arm warmers into my pocket and saw Chris’ double take first hand. 

The genuine excitement was priceless.  The phone came out.  There was a pat on the back, smiles, maybe a tongue in cheek muttering of “go back to the front I’m just a washed up old man,” and a moment was made.  Later, Paul asked me what I did for a living.  I mentioned we had met once before mud covered in the pits at the Masters Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville two years ago.  He was just one of the bunch yesterday.  We traded pulls up the long climb into Devou Park.  To my left sat my teammate Jason, to my right cross legend Paul Curley.  Surrounded by friends and clients of JBV coaching, the Cincinnati Skyline framed a scenic 4 hour 70 mile Sunday ride.  If I had a bucket list, this would’ve been on it.  However, sometimes it’s just as fun to make the most of opportunity and write the list as you go through life.  It seems to work for Paul.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Most Elusive @Strava Segment Ever

In chest waders with a fly rod, I walked back from the creek after striking out fishing for Steelhead trout.  I wasn’t much of a bike rider then.  A camouflaged gentlemen rolled up the double track in a blue sun-faded early 80’s Chevy Imapla with black steel wheels sans hubcaps.  Using the crank on the inside of the door, adding to the backwoods drama, he physically rolled down his window.  Locking eyes, he quizzed me, “Nuttindoinaina?”  I stopped dead in my tracks.  A bit of water sloshed in my waders around my feet.  What the hell did he say?  Nuttindoinaina.  Miles from anything resembling civilization, I wasn’t scared, only caught off guard that I had to translate the native dialect in this land.  Nuttindoinaina was his way of asking, "Nothing going on huh?"  “Oh.  No.  Didn’t catch anything,” I answered.  He thanked me with a nod and a wave and drove off.  A few miles from the town of Gay (really...look it up), that was my first encounter with a real live native Yooper, a person from the upper peninsula of Michigan.  I’m thinking about going back, this time with a bike.

A Pastie is Like a Homemade Pot Pie
Traveling through Wisconsin, there is no physical border going into Upper Michigan.  It’s porous, sort of like Mexico.  The roads get skinnier, the signs for restaurants selling Pasties get more frequent and four wheelers seem to be the preferred mode of summer travel.  In winter they use “sleds.”  We call them snow machines or snow mobiles.  Coming through Lower Michigan however, you have the majestic Mackinac Bridge linking Mackinaw City with Saint Ignace in the UP.  It towers so high and stretches so long; you’d think a northern San Francisco is on the other side, not summer cabins.  As I discovered last night, the Mackinac Bridge is a Strava segment.  As I also learned, it must be the most elusive Strava segment ever.  I kinda want it.

It’s a 4.4 mile segment with 180 feet of elevation gain.  It’s a bridge, up one side and down the other for a zero net pitch.  The KOM is 16.1mph.  Don Kring of Grand Rapids bagged it in a time of 16:24.  I have no idea who Mr. Kring is since his Strava profile photo is a picture of a sock that says “I Heart Beer” but I thought I could easily take this one while on vacation.  There’s nothing better than bagging out of town segments, leaving the locals to scratch their heads wondering who “that guy” is.  It’s an odd segment; only 16 cyclists are on the leaderboard, not the triple digits we see in major cities or tourist destinations.  Still Mr. Kring’s KOM has stood since September 4th, 2011.  Now I realize why he rests easy.  No one will have a chance to beat him for another few weeks. 

“If we go here, we are so doing this bridge,” I said to my wife.  I could average 16.1mph over four miles in cutoffs on a beach cruiser with a puppy in a flower basket.  Then I looked at Don Kring’s ride where he set the KOM on the Mackinac Bridge.  He rolled a very respectable 76.1 miles in 4 hours.  He ain’t no slouch.  He wasn’t riding platform pedals or stopping at the pastie-selling tavern I imagine on the other side.  There’s got to be more to this bridge than data allows.  

It's no bike path noodle.  There are deep dish wheel-yanking jacket-puffing 40mph winds howling across the deck.  I heard rumors of a steel mesh deck, sasquatches and trolls too, but haven’t seen proof.  Reader Holly told me she was once on the bridge in a car over Thanksgiving.  On windy days, the police will caravan the cars to limit the speed.  Halfway across, they closed the bridge.  Ice chunks were breaking loose from the cables and pelting Holly’s car.  I understand Mr. Kring didn’t set the KOM in November’s Edmund Fitzgerald sinking gale force winds.  It was early September, where temperatures are in the lower 70’s, the leaves start thinking about changing colors and Da Yoopers start thinking about their sleds.  Digging into it, nearly all the people on the leaderboard rode the bridge in September.  2nd Place rode on Sept 2nd, 2012.  5th Place rode on September 6th 2009.  

According to our readers on Facebook Jeni and Seldomseen, native Yoopers from what I gather, the bridge is only open once or twice a year for pedestrian traffic, otherwise it’s a freeway.  One event authorities open the bridge for is the DALMAC bicycle tour, which takes place annually from Lansing to Mackinaw around Labor Day.  However, the 2013 application deadline has passed.  It’s a multi-day bike/camping tour.  So now you can guess that Mr. Kring might have set that KOM with some heavy gear as he rode up and over the Mackinac Bridge with strong crosswinds.  Either that or he took part in the Mackinaw City Bike Tour.  This year’s event is on September 15thClick here for details.  There’s still time for that, but only 400 some spots are available according to the website.  Like the Eminem song “Lose Yourself,” also a Michigan original, if you want this KOM, don’t let the opportunity slip.  The Mackinac Bridge is the most elusive Strava segment ever.