30 July 2006

Not 100

Had I known I wouldn’t have gone. Not on this local metric century. This became obvious when I showed up to register and I just stood there with my Piglet staring at all the roadies in disbelief. These aren’t normal men; they cannot only stand up to kryptonite, I think they have it for breakfast.

My Piglet was the only piglet there. All others had names ending in vowels and if bikes could speak surely they snarled at Piglet. We didn’t belong there. I think that one of the ultra-leek, carbon-titanium-scandium beasts literally barked at Piglet.

Piglet wanted to go home. He knew better.

Let’s face it: I felt like an idiot. This, I suddenly realized, was not a walk in the park. You guys know that feeling: earth swallow me now. How can I get out of this?

I didn’t. I was dumb enough to take the start. After four kilometres – FOUR – I could not keep the pace on the controlled speed section of the tour. Let me explain.

This tour was made up of four sections. 1) The first 30 kilometers were to keep the speed of the Race Director’s car. Meaning all cyclists are to keep together riding on the main road through all the towns. There is a State Trooper on the front stopping traffic and a State Trooper on the back to let traffic pass when all cyclists go through. There is also an ambulance and a sweeper car to take care of any “problem” cyclists that can’t keep up, are injured or just give up. 2) There is a 15 kilometer “free zone” that climbs Mount Iroite. This is a free-for-all. No pace car. Nothing. The fastest wins and wins after climbing a gruelling 12 kilometer ascent (12% rise). 3) A second controlled section of about 45 kilometers where the Director’s car again maintains the pace. 4) A free-for-all final ascent of 10 kilometers up Mount Curota (15% rise).

I kept up as fast as I could in the first section but always lagging behind the group. I had never maintained an average 30 kilometer speed. It was destroying for me, but I somehow kept up. On the second section – the huge 12 kilometer ascent – I kept up for about half the course and then all passed me as though I was a vegetable on the road. I couldn’t believe it! The roadies just climbed and climbed. The sweeper car stuck with me on the entire climb at 6 kilmeters per hour – walking speed, I kid you not. I was a puddle of sweat and drank my only two bottles of Gatorade on the climb. There was a 20 minute rest at the top of the climb which included fluids and food for all the riders. When I got there the group was beginning to take off on the 3rd section so I only had time to eat a banana, take more water and ride the descent.

I could not keep up on the descent either. My 58 kilometer top speed was nothing for these monsters. Again I stayed behind. After riding on the main road for another 20 kilometers – crawling – it became obvious that I had become a nuisance. The sweeper car had to stick with me yet the State Troopers and the roadies were already 40 minutes ahead of me. The sweeper car politely rode next to me and said “I think we’re falling way behind. Maybe you should consider coming onboard so we can catch up.”

And that was the end of it. About 70 kilometers into the deal and I was done. Not because I couldn’t make it but because I couldn’t make their speed. I had expected to see some beginners like me on the tour so we could make a little “inexperienced group”, but there were none. It was just me and my Piglet.

Still I had a great time seeing how the roadies go about their thing. They are great riders on their slick bikes. And for road work there is nothing like a true road bike. Lots of lessons learned, which I’ll come back too. And most important of all: rather than feeling defeated I feel stronger and with more will than ever to continue to ride and to improve all my skills on the bike. For serious road work, no Piglet.

29 July 2006


In a couple of hours I’m off to see the wizard, I guess. I’m gonna try to do my first 100 K. A couple of friends -- untrustworthy roadies -- asked me to participate in the annual metric century ride here. It’s actually 108 ks and it climbs two ports of 700 meters -- the first one is 12 ks long. I’m fairly sure I won’t make it because the last port is about right at the end of the ride and I know the mountain well. The first ramp nearly defeats me in normal conditions; that is, riding a mere 30 ks for me (and the most I've ever ridden in one sitting has been 66 ks.) It’s a 12%-15% rise and it's the only time I have to hit my granny gear. The roadies chew it up. I’ve seen them pass me on occasion as they wave by, saying “C’mon champ, we’re almost at the top!”

I just love that. It’s when I think of semi-automatic weapons and their much needed use in cycling. But the roadies have encouraged me looking down at my Piglet: “Nice little, fat wheels on that, eh?”

Nice, little fat rider, I am. See you at the summit, buddy.

18 July 2006

The Fall…and it ain’t the house of Usher

Falling from a bike is a right of passage. We’ve all fallen, from that tricycle, deluded as always from the false safety of extra wheels, then later just from riding that normal afternoon ride over that pot-hole we didn’t see; that gravel on the curve. The more advanced riders fall, too, as seen in this year’s Tour de France.

In fact, there is NO NOT FALLING from our two-wheeled horses.

Getting back up is part of that passage from no fear, to panic, to respect for speed and road.


When my 8-year-old son fell HARD a few days ago going down a rocky slope for the first time, twisting his bike out of shape, tearing the breaks out of his handlebar and holding his right elbow in tears as though he had broken it made me reflect on these “dangers” for awhile.

It was difficult to get my son back on his bike; nothing happened to his elbow (or his head, thanks to the helmet). Only lovely black and blues added to his beginner’s scar collection. Still he isn’t riding the same as before. He’s afraid. He’s tasted fear and pain – for the first time on a bike. How to make him overcome?

When I was zooming down at 58.3 km down-hill yesterday, my bike swerving in a cross-wind, – that taste of speed-fear on my lips – I thought of my boy: his fear in me.