je ne sais quoi

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Aram Chronicles: Cultured Edition

Hi. This blog entry was typed up on the laptop at home, and after driving around town with a teammate for quite a while looking for an open WiFi connection, it was finally uploaded to where you see it now. That's the idea, anyhow. We'll see how it goes...

So i've been in this place for a week exactly now. Where to begin? We'll start with the present, and move back from there. This morning I woke up with my sheets stuck to my left side. I expected this much, as I crashed yesterday. Yep. Story goes: It was 3 of us doing a recon-ride of the stage race that's coming up this weekend. I felt great, and even took the first KOM from our little group. The region is littered with little 3-4k [max] hills, which suit me really nicely when i'm going well, and on this day, I felt super. Anyhow, we cruise down this beat-up little farm road. It's paved, but with gravel pockets here and there. While traveling a brisk 30k/hr while drafting the team car through a fairly easy and wide bend...boom...rear wheel decides it wants to get to know that patch of gravel better, and Aram's on the ground pissed off at having crashed for the first time in more than 2 years. Eh. It's bike racing, huh? Anything can happen...Injuries aren't bad, except for the usual soreness and weird hip-flexor spasms. I'll be able to race this weekend. I did wreck my favorite retro PDM long-sleeve jersey, however. I have photos! But won't be able to upload them until I find an electronics shop that had a SD memory card reader! None to be found here!

So that's the present. I can type for miles and miles about the degree of culture shock that i'm experiencing. To all of you who said "oh, don't worry, i'm sure you'll find someone who speaks english out there." Nope. This is not true at all. My 18 (!!!) year old Australian housemate/teammate speaks English, obviously, but with that really thick accent that's synonymous with fast bike racing. Outside of that, I use lots of pointing, sign language, guessing, and exponentially improving broken french!!! I'm learning it at a nice clip, and it's a beautiful language. Knowing Armenian and Spanish definitely isn't hurting me, and helps with the pronounciation quite a bit. Moving on: The team. I'm still meeting more and more teammates. I've met 5 of them so far, my housemate included, and there are more that i'll meet in a few days. I can't help but laugh each time I speak to these guys in the cliche french phrases that i've mastered. "Hello, how do you go?" "very good, very good." "i speak a little french. little little." OUI. Michael (Friggin 18...and he's a great housemate) and I live in a guest house of the team's masseur, Jaque. Super nice guy, and i'm very thankful to have such an amazing little house to live in. It's on this big plot of land, in the hills adjacent to the town of Aubenas. Hills...there isn't a flat spot around. Everything is up or down. The "Ville Centre" [center of town] is awesome. Straight out of that vintage import film you've never seen. The team's staff! Mon Dieu! The other day, Michael had a bit of a cough...and the team president, DS, assistant DS, bike shop guy, and more...all lined up to check him out and make sure he's well. He had a blood test done, and everything checked out. They had all kinds of stuff lined up for me because of the road rash, but ehhh....we like the i'll just neosporin it for a few days and hopefully it'll at least dry out soon. And just a quick note...I was wearing my Voler shorts from last year...these things are friggin's the second time i've crashed them, and again! my skin was destroyed, but no damage to the shorts! how does this happen??? Terrific.

This is all a bit thrown together, I realize, but better than no blog entry! We should have internet at the house on friday...then the blog game will be full-go. No promises, as i've heard the France-Telecom people are flakey, but hey...fingers crossed. My bike...that i crashed up's a Giant. Carbon rear end, Alu front. Feels similar to the Cannondale, which I like...and i've never been able to adjust so quickly to a new bike. It handles really well and feels very secure. The components are a bit of a mix between record, centaur, and veloce...sigh...with some mid-range campag wheels which are TNT and descend and corner real nice (except on the team car's draft through gravel-ridden backroads). I WILL find a set of tubulars eventually. If anyone hears of a set of old Campy Nucleon/Neutron tubs, let me know! I've got the SRM, but am still waiting on hopefully being able to exchange it for a set that'll fit my bike (the SRM I have is for Cannondale's Si BB cranks). So yep. I actually need to go to the mechanic to pick up my bike...he was going to cut the steer tube a bit, and check it out to make sure it isn't f-ed from yesterday's spill. I'm sure it's fine. TNT. oh, and i'll be getting a matching giant TT bike soon. Michael's is real nice, with Ultegra, Record, Chorus, Centaur, Veloce, hahahhh...everything! but it looks nice and is really light and aero-looking. Hopefully i'll have a test ride on my machine before saturday's TT.

Let me drive this to a close by saying that things are well. I'm learning french. I'm getting a feel for the culture. Assimilating, in some ways. Every single calorie i've ingested so far has been terrific...the food standards are much much higher out here...and YES...Nutella here doesn't have hydrogenated oils, and i'm yet to see ANY product that has high fructose corn syrup. I'll definitely devote a blog entry to a food-shopping trip. And there is no peanut butter! Oh...right...i'm driving this to a close. First race is this weekend...we'll be staying somewhere other than Aubenas for a couple days, and really...I think i might miss the place. But it'll be nice to meet and ride with the full team. Oh...and the course for this race's stage 1...........INSANELY difficult....but it isn't a french cup race, so i'm told the "big teams" won't be there. The legs were good up until the crash, but at least this way i'm forced to rest (i've ridden every day so far) and i'll be fresh and ready for the weekend.

Abientot Amis!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Au Revoir!

Ahhh...i've totally neglected my blog duties....especially with regards to my France trip. I've got about 25 minutes to sit and write, and then....who knows? I may not have internet for the next year! But lets [please] hope that tiny towns in France are privy to internet access...please. I mean, if Banner Elk had it....

I'm here at a friend's apartment in Santa Monica...we strategically left Hollywood early to avoid the traffic. Santa Monica's about 20 mins from the airport, with surface streets -so no freeway drama. I should probably leave soon, but my procrastination doesn't stop at bike racing...airports cannot escape it's wrath! Hmm...the last week has been an awesome one. Sure, lots of things were neglected, and more than likely, I've forgotten a bunch of things as well, but eh? In the last couple weeks, I was particularly taken by how close-knit the cycling community is...had people wishing me well from all over...even riders with whom i've minced words in the past. I think everyone realizes how fortunate I am to have this...not just -this- not just the "ok to go to france", but above all, fortunate to not be too tied down to anything out here to be able to make a big long trip like this one. I'm not sure if that came out right, but if you read it a couple times, you can maybe discern the message i'm trying to get across. So yes. A big bigggggggggggg thank you, to those who've helped and motivated me through their kind words, burritos, bike parts, advice, euros, funding, plane tickets, ahh...lots lots more that i'm sure i've forgotten, but will certainly remember when i'm in the thick of it....and will hopefully get a chance to reflect on in front of that internet cafe that I hope exists...

So yes, got to wind this down....Goodbye, Socal scene. I'll definitely miss the Rosebowl super-sessions that I've wasted SOO much of my form at in previous years. I'll miss the tues/thursday morning barry ride that I've done regularly for the better part of the last 5 years...never a dull moment at that one. The rides, the weather, the people, the burritos....there are too many things to mention, and yeah...even by my lax standards....i'm running late...

Wishing you all a crash and drama-free season,


Friday, March 16, 2007

San Dimas: Not Happening

It's one of those decisions that'll have regret on either side of it: If I raced it, i'd regret devoting my last 3 days in this place to the bike, and not being able to properly say goodbye to friends, basses, and burritos...and the regret i'm left with for not racing it, is that it's a good course for me! And since it doesn't have NRC status this year, I could have gone pretty well, as no "real" teams were coming to do it, and $10,000! And Walker's riding well, and the weather's great and and and...

Oui that I have it all down in writing, it seems that it'd be a no-brainer to go out and race it, and I still can! But gah, my mind's just not in the right place for it. And there's that outside chance of maybe crashing in Sunday's [pretty technical] crit, and maybe having a 16 hour travel day with some nice road rash. Airplanes and Road Rash........bad combo. Road Rash and anything is a bad combo, but travel really accents the shite-ness of road rash.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Adventures of Aram and C-Walk

The last time Chris and I raced together, we won. Ironically, of the 10 races i've [already] done this season, this last weekend would mark only the second time I raced with a teammate. The TIME Team for this weekend would be just two guys. Chris Walker, and myself. The race: down south at the Tour of Murietta Omium, with a 90 minute crit on saturday, and a 100k circuit on Sunday. $5,000 purse with stage and omnium money. For purposes of this report, I must emphasize that both courses were flat. Some small sprint-hills on sunday's circuit, but really, a perfect course for a fat big sprinter guy like me, or a bigger fatter 200lb super sprinter guy -a mainstay of SoCal racing.

Saturday-90 Minute Crit:

Lets go. Role-Call. Rassan Bahati lined up, and was the clear favorite, as he had 2 teammates to help. Team Hi-Tec-Star-Fish-Something had a trillion (10?) guys, so if they raced right, could isolate Bahati and make a go at it. Good field, perhaps 100 riders. Great Weather (85degs). Race blasts off. I started the race in the middle, and by the time I made my way to the front, I saw that Walker was already in a move with 6 others. Time for domestique duty. As soon as i'm rollin' the sleeves and stretching the legs to begin marking moves like a good teammate, Chris Demarchi (Hi-Tec-Starfish) bllllllasts off the right side. I blast (just one "L") off the right side in pursuit. I'm marked by Sterling Magnell (Rassan's teammate) who wouldn't pull through. I get to chris after a 100 meters. He flicks his elbow. "I got Walker", I say. "THOSE AREN'T GOOD ODDS" is what Demarchi screamed back. And yeah, course like this? C-Walk doesn't have a chance in hell against the aforementioned SoCal Scene-bred crit stock. I pull through, and Chris and I close it (with no help from Magnell....sorta understandable with Rassan in the field, but cmmmon).


Break gets established. 9-10 of us. Me and CWalk, Demarchi and his teammate, Magnell, and others. It was never really smooth, and to be honest, I didn't feel great, but pulled through hard, with the intent of staying away, and mopping up the breakaway sprint. I could take these guys. Especially after a couple Walker attacks to soften them up. We eventually get half a lap (50 seconds), and just started to stagnate a bit. But it held, and with about 10 laps to go, we were well clear. Walker was itching to go, and went. I allowed Demarchi and 2 others to go with them, and waited for the rest of the break (Magnell, particularly) to chase but they sat up. Walker was gone. He had about a .01% chance of beating Demarchi in a sprint, but 4th place is a solid Crit result for C-Walk. To my chase group I said "Cmmon, First through 4th are up the road, but we can easily get top-10s, ffffffff-in work". Nope. We were swallowed up with 3 laps to go. I rolled in at the back of the pack, a bit bummed at not staying away after all that, but content, because 125lbs of in-form Walker ended up 3rd, amazingly. Demarchi won.

Not All Legs Are Created Equal

Day 2: 100k Circuit Race

I scored 0 points at the Crit, and Walker got plenty. I'd obviously be the workhorse on this day, and was happy to do it. Met with Chris before the race. He was his usual timid self, and said "Ah, yeah, lets try to keep a top-5 position" or something like that, and I couldn't blame him, as it was a realllly flat course against a FULL-team (hitecsportsfish) of flatland specialists defending the jersey. Still, I said "no, man. lets isolate Demarchi, get you and Thurlow up the road, and win the whole thing". Walker: -shrugs-. Those of you who race bikes know damn well that pre-race strategy and talks rarely [raaaaaaarely] come to fruition...but still, we do these things anyway to pass the time and to feel like there's a sense of underlying purpose while racing.

So from the gun, I put in a nice acceleration, strung the field out. Found that the legs are good. Good legs with fully-comitted domestique out. The plan was for me to work the Hi-Tec team best I could. They had lots of matches to burn, but C-Walk has an unlimited supply, and I felt pretty good too. During the first 3 (of 17 3.5 mile laps) laps, a little break containing no GC threats got a gap. Walker and I skipped this move, but no worries. I made a couple digs, and was brought back by hi-tec (as planned) each time. It came back all on it's own with no real chase pressure. Then things started to get jittery. Walker put in a couple moves, and huh? No instant response from Hi-Tec. They eventually came back, but I told Walker, "hey, a couple more digs, and you'll be clear -easily." So we kept leaning, and ha! We isolated the Jersey. How does this happen?? Walker's group had some good horsepower, and was off, but maybe only 100 meters in front because of steady pressure from Hi-Tec. What followed is among my favorite aspects of racing. I parked it at 2nd wheel the rest of the way (6 to go), and let Hi-Tec burn their remaining matches. Thurlow attacked in a bridging effort. Perfect! I let him get clear, and once he made contact with C-Walk and co., I knew it was over. Sensing victory, my legs felt even better than they did at the start, and the front of that peleton was shut down and SMITE to the back. [Can you tell that I really enjoy being the jerk domestique that sits at/near the front of the peleton, reminding everyone that "yep, you missed the move. Hi."] The hi-tec giant was slain. Demarchi (leader's jersey wearer) made a couple last-ditch attacks, but with no one but me on his wheel. With one to go, and the break nearly 2 minutes clear, I pulled out, and sprinted to the finish area to see Walker take the race. A hi-tec guy that policed the move won (and was pretty happy about it, though they lost the GC as a result), Walker came in 2nd just ahead of Thurlow to Seal up the GC win!!! Aram and C-Walk...undefeated as teammates.

Allright, time to drive this to a close. It was a great weekend, among the most lucrative of my career, but in some ways it bums me out. I look at my race resume, and see the results and all that junk from over the years, and nearly all of them have come while riding without teammates. From cat 5 to cat 1. Even this season (8 of 10, solo). Gahh. I think of how much more fruitful the resume (and the enjoyment of the sport) could have been with a nice group of guys to work with, but ah well. What's done is done.

Our Coy GC Winner

On this note, i'd like to announce that a week from tomorrow, i'll be leaving to ride with a new team. I got the call for it about 3 weeks ago. It's U25 French continental team, based in the southern town of Aubenas, France. I can't tell you how excited I am at the prospect of riding with a full team in each race, and in France of all places! The team will be providing me with a place to stay, some monthly €€€, a bike (Giant w/Chorus), and I hope a bit of food as well. I'm very very lucky to have this opportunity, and I was [rightly] threatened with death from several people if I turned the opportunity down! I fly into Lyon on Wednesday, the 21st, where i'll be picked up and driven the 150 kilometers to Aubenas. Aside from that, I know very little. This entry's gone on long enough, though........more reflections at another time. Busy week ahead, and long lonnng flight.

And some more great shots from Dave Haag. Geez they're crisp. I would have smiled a bit if I knew he was taking them. Here they are:

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Hi. day...why is it that my weekly off days always coincide with the nicest day of the week? It's just one of those unexplained phenomenons. Or it means that I need to switch up the off day. Anyhow, did a jam packed NRC opening weekend of racing, report follows. I'm limited on photos, but will try to come up with something nice before this comes to a close.

Some Beaters We Saw Unattended on a Curb in Merced

Saturday: Merced NRC Criterium 90k

I finished 79th. Usually, this means that I either nearly crashed at the end, broke a bike part, or some other catastrophic happening. Nope, I got nothing. No excuses, no stories. Just felt flat and pegged the whole time. It felt like everyone was really hurting throughout this crit. Weird. The course wasn't to my liking (except the biggest dots i'd ever seen in my life, i liked those lots), but i've done far better on worse courses, so that wasn't it, either. Just need to prepare a bit different for these two-day race weekends....

Sunday: Snelling NRC Road Race 200k

26th here. A really nice contrast, in all regards, to yesterday's race. It's nice to reaffirm the fitness levels after an uncharacteristic lull in power. Yep. Race report? Hmmm. Like the previous day, all the big-name pro guys were out, as they should be. The weather was tip-top, (TIP top...mid 70s, zero wind), full road closure on really lush vineyard backdrops...and the easiest course ever. So it was fast, yes, but not difficult. After the first two laps, I settled in, and was at the front for the remaining 3. top 20-30, every time. Fun story: At one point while up there, a guy from the new Kelly Benefits Strategies teams says [translation has a bit more eloquence than what was actually said]: "You don't belong up've got no teammates...get to the back". Expletives were exchanged, and I kept my position...not to spite him, no, but because it's much calmer up front, and less hectic. There's a nice ironic twist to this tale...which I'll get to in a bit.

Lunch Truck That Takes Credit Card? Really?

One tangent...I was riding near Ivan a couple times while funneling back and forth [can't miss the jersey with "DOMINGUEZ" across the back] in the peleton. Nicest guy. Maybe "nicest" isn't the right word, but he's considerate, and honestly, if you're that fast, you don't have to be, but he is. JJ was the same way. Not being a jerk goes a long way in being a successful sprinter...nothing glaringly obvious, but that consideration you give out, comes back at some junction....and it's such a contrast to these guys on the 2-bit teams yelling and cussing and making an unnecessary scene. Eh. C'est la vie?

So back to the race. Garret Peltonen put in a huge solo move. Good on him. It's a long course, so he was eventually caught by the collective efforts of Kodak and Toyota (mostly Kodak). It wasn't difficult to bring back...I think he was pretty bonked by the time we got him. So at 10k to go, i'm sitting in a nice position, but it means nothing...the entire pack was fresh...I could swear the pack was still 120 strong. after 110+ miles of racing! That's how easy the course/conditions were. Anyhow, each lap, at the 5k to go mark, the course gets twisty, a bit hilly, and I knew it'd be a messy finale. I stayed to the outside of the pack, on the inside of most turns, when I had the choice. Right at the 5K to go, there's a sharp and narrow left hander. Teams were jockeying, and it was dicey, as expected. I couldn't help but notice that the same Kelly Benefits guy who I had a chat with wound up taking this left turn too hot and too wide, driving himself and his entire team off course and out of the race. In bike all comes around, man...the racing spirits see all...

Post-Race Calorie Session. What? It's Comfy. Get Over It.

Anyhow, the next 4k were a maze of crashes, gutter riding, sprrrrrrrrrrints to close gaps, all that. I felt good, but after closing one gap too many, I had nothing left for the sprint. Should have been further up when the madness started, but easier said than done, right? Happy to be upright, of course. But a bit of sprint juice might have given me enough to make the 6 spots and get that $200 20th place spot. Ah well. Good to see Menzies take the was JUST his scene.

Other tidbits:

1 year blog birthday was on February 28th. Yeahhh. A year. Dig it.

My host family from wisconsin sent me cheese curds a couple weeks ago!!!!!!

So good! They were BEST the second I opened the box up. Fresh and soft as marshmallows...and a grrrrreat audible squeak with each bite. Thanks Mary and Phil! These were the best i'd ever had. California's got nothing on the Wisconsin curd scene...hate to say it.

And.....that's it for now. Murietta Omnium this next weekend. The TIME boys will be out in full force, so I'm ecstatic to be racing with a team again. In time. Also, might be some things in the mix next time I write though...just need to figure out how to word it all. Au Revoir...