Monday, May 31, 2010

Best ride ever?

Usually when I ride there's lots of trash talk, lots of (good natured) aggression, and lots of trying to be the first to the line, the first to the top of a hill, just the first. We roll big turns into the wind, we turn up the pain, and we complain if someone isn't pulling their weight.

It mightn't sound like fun, but it is. But nothing like the fun I had yesterday. 

Do you remember being 12 or 13 and spending the afternoon just messing about on bikes? Riding aimlessly to nowhere and back, maybe over a trail through the park, or using a bumpy lane as a shortcut to somewhere unimportant? I got to go back there yesterday.

One of the most important races of the European spring season is Paris Roubaix. It's known as the Hell of the North. You can read all about it on Wikipedia, but it's called the Queen of the Classics for a reason. It's long, 260k in a day is long, there are something like 28 sections over cobbles ... real old farm roads ... it breaks bikes & men. One of the toughest sections is the Forrest of Arenberg. And for the sort of reasons that make bike racing bike racing, it finishes each year on the super smooth surface of the Roubaix velodrome.


I didn't ride Paris Roubaix yesterday. I rode Melburn Roobaix instead. (the spelling is correct).

It's certainly not a race, it's more of a 30 or so kilometre scavenger hunt around inner city Melbourne, along bumpy lanes and single track beside the river.

Arranged by the guys at fyxomatosis, it's limited to 400 entrants - I'm guessing any more would mean the need for officialdom, road closures and the like, which would be totally out of character with the event.

Mainly single speeds & fixies - lots of hard looking courier types with scary tattoos (and that was the girls!), but a smattering of bikes with gears, at least one folder, a couple of postie bikes, a unicycle, and one 12 year old on his mountain bike (my Joshua).

All we were told during the week was the start point - a park in Hawthorn. On arrival we were given our maps and questions, eg: for stage one (the Nightmare behind Elm St) "how many power lines overhead?". We started in 4 waves of 100 each. Sure we did.

And it was on. Bumping up the first lane - 200m in length? - with maybe 100 other riders, I just started laughing, and didn't really stop until we got home late that afternoon.

Cobbles are tough, and I'm no single track rider - especially when it's damp and I'm on a single speed with skinny tires - but it was fun all the way.

I flatted on the 4th stage, but manage to keep enough air in it to complete the next stage and ride to Smith St for a coffee while I changed it. We sat at a table with some other guys doing the ride, chatted, and I worked on changing the tube. No tire levers, so I used a spoon - it ended up looking like Uri Geller had been there - while I was struggling with the tire, I asked the guys at the table if they had any tire levers. When they handed one to me Josh said "I've got some of those dad" "Why didn't you say?" "You never asked" Can't beat 12 year old logic, can you. 

In a classic act of stupidity, I pinched the spare as I was refitting the tire, so now I two stuffed tubes.

A quick ride to Cecil Walker on Brunswick St and we were on our way again, $20 lighter ($11 for the tube, $9 for fitting - you didn't think I was going to do it did you?).

As usually happens on a mass ride, we fell in with a group of guys and rode with them for most of the rest of the day. Josh was wearing a Livestrong jersey, so they called him Lance, and I was Eddy because of the Molteni strip I was wearing. Look it up if you're not sure.

We cruised through Carlton, past the Zoo and then along the creek beside the Tullamarine Fwy (HUGE fun) to the only real challenge of the day: Melbourne's Koppenberg. The real Koppenberg is a feature of theRonde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flaners) and is a very steep section of cobbles (there's that word again) know for it's difficulty and the screaming fans lining the road.

Not quite the same thing, but we rode up a steep cobbled laneway in Ascot Vale, with 20 or so guys about halfway up yelling encouragement and giving those struggling a helping push. In the tradition of Belgian cycling fans worldwide, I think they'd been in the beer tent for most of the day. 

I passed "the fans"  - thanks for the push Andy! - with Josh maybe 50 metres behind me, and struggling on the hill, when I heard one of the guys yell "come on little one, you can do it!"

With huge grins on our faces, we were met at the top by the Red Bull girls - maybe next you year could be at the BOTTOM of the climb.

A few more cobbled sections, a couple of 'transport' stages, and two quick laps of Brunswick Velodrome and on to the official finish line, the Lomond hotel in East Brunswick for some proper refreshment. 

We both had a great day, Josh put in a big effort and was the prefect company for 400 "grown ups" enjoying being kids for the day.

Ever wondered what a couple of hundred bikes parked outside a pub looks like?

You know what, a pub full of 300 smiling cyclists (and they were all smiling) doesn't smell that bad. Maybe that's a bit of a lie, but I'd be very happy to be 12 again.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Learning (I hope)

When you learn to drive - my 16 year old niece is learning, that's scary - you display "L" plates front and rear.

When you first start motor racing, you have to do the same thing.

It's so other drivers know you're new.

In bike racing, we don't have L plates, we have D grade. D grade is where you race if you're old, slow or new. I probably qualify for at least two of those descriptors.

The little bit of crit racing I did over summer was in D grade.

The winter road racing season is upon us, and I'm racing in D grade.

It's probably where I'll start & finish my racing, um, career. But I'm out there to have some fun, not to try to win trophies, so I'm happy hacking around with the other old blokes in D grade.

Last weekend was my first race for the road season. Phillip Island Grand Prix track. Yes, the one were they race the motorbikes, and the V8s. Yes, the place where I destroyed the Porsche's engine last year (still not fixed, but that's a subject for another post) No, there weren't any race cars out when we were racing.

There was an Elite level race in the morning - Elite is where you race if you're trying to get picked up by a pro team, or you've gotten a little slow to remain on that pro team. The fast guys. Very serious racing. They did 25 laps, 111km. There's really only one climb at Phillip Island, and it's not that big, but see how you're enjoying it the 24th time you go over it (or the 10th in my case). 160 or so starters, 60 finished. 42kph average speed.

I, of course, wasn't there to race with the Elite boys, I was there to race D grade. We only had to do 13 laps, about 60km. Maybe 30 lined up for the start. Lots of nervous chatter before we rolled out for a couple of controlled laps.

A controlled lap (aka neutral lap) is when you're not allowed to race - a little like the GP cars behind the safety car - it's there so you can settle in, get your pace sorted out, get a little comfortable before the hurt starts.

The controlled laps were like a Sunday morning cruise ride ... easy pace, a bit of chit chat, nothing too hard. I was thinking "I could do this all day, easy". And then it go a little quicker.

I was holding on, near the back of the group, and still enjoying myself.

There are all sorts of things you can read about racing. Lessons on when to attack, when to hide, where to try to position yourself in a bunch, and so on. But I think the most important thing I realised on Saturday was .... there is NO SUBSTITUTE  for race experience.

How do I know this? Because when the hammer went down, in the middle of lap 4, where was I? At the back of the bunch, chattering with the guy next to me. We missed the move. All of a sudden we were alone with everyone else rapidly getting away from us.

We rode a few laps, then he dropped out, leaving me on my own.

According to the weather forecast, there was a "light" wind. It might have been light if you were in the midst of a bunch of 25 or so bike riders, but on your own, as you came around Siberia and started the climb towards Lukey Hights, it didn't feel light. All I could think of was what Inigo Montoya said in the Princess Bride, as the Dread Pirate Roberts' boat got closer and closer "I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using?"

I struggled on until lap 10 of 13 and realised I wasn't going to catch anyone (I'd probably realised it 4 laps earlier), so I turned off the track, rolled up pit lane, handed in my race number and was marked as DNF. Better or worse than SML (Stone Motherless Last)? Ask me in June after the next race.

My race face: