je ne sais quoi

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Aleppo, Syria

The latest addiction. What you see pictured above is one [of six] brands of Roquefort, a french blue cheese [of which there are 100+ different types]. I won't forget the first time I tried it. It was similar to the first time one goes cliff diving or bungee jumping. "Hey, it'll be terrible, but i'll live...maybe." Opening the package (of this particular brand) is like opening a present. There's a little bow to undo, then you slide out the built-in green tray, and are instantly dazed with its pungentness as the cheese is exposed to the air for the first time. It's slimy, moist, looks old (it is), and you can't help but be intrigued. So the first time I tried it was with a spoon, just a dab. So much happened that day. I honestly can't remember how my tongue reacted, but the seeds of cheese-lust were planted.

Today, I take great pride in being able to palette this stuff. I have an elitist sense of superiority over lowly brie-eaters. Brie tastes like soft flavorless fat supplement to me. But in time, i'll dip into that world. For now, it's roquefort, preferably melted, over baked eggplant w/ garlic, on top of pizza, or by the spoon. I try to limit myself to 100 grams per week. I know it's fattening, but the mental-stability would take a hit if I were forced to cut it.

Do they have this in the US? Check on it, and if they have the brand pictured above, even better! Get some!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hucked Up


[Good Day]

Not really. It's been overcast and rainy for the last couple of days. I'll jump right to it. This "chronicle" (how lame is my blog title? I've always thought it is) begins with the week's training. The team president said "Aram, you'll be doing a two-day three-stage stage race this weekend." Hey, thanks for the advanced word, big guy. I'll train accordingly. And did. Smashed it on tuesday, long wednesday, zero on thursday, and some quality openers on friday. A note on my "opener"'s more than just a way to let the legs know that they'll be going to a big fun lactic-acid party the following day...I use the time to get the mind riled up as well. I really love these rides. Never do I feel more connected to my body and bike than at this time. Yep, and so, the mind, the legs, everybody was ready. Role call was a success...and I was giddy at the prospect of taking the good legs to a stage race. And...flat 17k TTT! This (from a time when I sent out annoying emails instead of the blogging thing...the file works, promise) was the last TTT I'd done. A pretty fun outcome. Okay...without further blather....the exxxxxxxxxciting pre-race segment....

Annoying Toll Booths

Action. Chaos. Can't wait to do this thing. yeahhhh!

The first stage was in the city of Macon. 40k north of Lyon. First thing I noticed was how big-time it all seemed. Huuuge huge caravan, bunch of classic cars to lead the race, at least 20 motos, a big huge stage just for sign-in purposes. There was even a 30 page magazine to accompany the race. Like a "program" in some ways. Right on! First step was to find a toilet...this is always a challenge in France. But, I found a cafe. Bought an espresso, and thus, bought my toilet privilege. Spirits were's always gratifying to find a toilet. There was a little 5 piece brass band wearing matching outfits. Of course the saxophone player was trying to smoke his cigarette between notes. Now, the next task was to get the blood-sugar flowing. Energy levels were already bouncing around pretty nicely, so it wouldn't be too difficult to keep them there. I went back to the team car to put my kit on and take in some sugary race juice.

Pre-Race Hucker Entertainment

En route to buying toilet privileges. Fav pants. Fav shirt.

A teammate casually, almost proudly, said "Aram, you're not racing." What? WHAT? I was heated. I investigated. 5 riders per team, maximum of 2 category 1 racers. I am 1st category. Those spots went to Herve (classy super climber), and Michael (18 year old australian kid who has been sick and/or DNF for the last month). Sure enough, I was not on the race program, and would not get a number. My first thoughts were not "oh, why aren't I racing?", but that I'd wasted the week lying to myself and my body and training for nothing. This completely derailed the algorithm i'd successfully gone with for the past month. I was, at the very least, pretty upset. Why'd I get a massage last night? Why'd I do those openers on friday afternoon? Why'd I just eat all this sugary garbage? Then, I thought: why would I been left off the roster despite being the top placed UCA rider in each of the last 3 weeks?? Gah. Clearly a huge misunderstanding and even more clearly, a huge waste of my time to be out there for the entire weekend when I could be at home relaxing in an empty house discovering new french cheeses at will. And to miss that TTT. GaH. Okay. Done.

One Bike Was Never Unpacked

So after taking a couple of breaths and realizing that "what's done is done", I had an epiphany. I ran to the team truck before it left to get my bike and kit, and suited up in 3 minutes. I asked the DS what city the team hotel was at. "Belleville." Okay, I'll see you at 6:30, and I was off, to see France's 2nd largest city, Lyon...and though I was still upset, I was happy that I would at least not have to undergo the agony of following the race way back in the caravan staring at the same rear bumper for 4 hours. All in all, it ended up being a great day. I did the same thing the following day as well. Took plenty of photos. My main mission was to find a burrito, but happily settled on a falafel sandwich which ended up being quite good. Anyhow, when France gives you lemons.... a tourist

Not The Classiest City Limit Sign, But Hey, We're Here

Free (for 20 mins) Bike Rentals Throughout Lyon

You know how people abuse rental cars? People abuse these bikes, too. I saw a couple guys jumping curbs and laughing all about. Funny!

A Happy Tourist

Tourist Photo

Tourist Photo...With A Twist...

HUGE crowds for the "throwing the steel ball" game I still don't understand.

Triplets of....



Monday, May 21, 2007

For The Good Of The Land

The weekend's race was an interesting one. My forearms are still sore from riding with my arms on the bar for a good bit near the end of the race. More on this in a bit. Before rolling along, I want to give thanks. Had a bit of a realization today: Every click to velonews or cyclingnews has become such a downer. I get this uneasy feeling of apprehension during that second or two before the page loads. Emotionally bracing myself, in a way. I'm sure i'm not alone in this regard. So after reading the day's filth, I click over to the other side, to my bar of soap: the blog world. The personal side. I'd so much rather read about a guy training like a madman in the dead of winter so that he can get that superrrr cat-2 upgrade...or reading about a under-20 kid guy mixing it up in the EU game for the first time...or reading about the supposed cause of a crash from the perspective of two or three different parties...Hilarious stuff sometimes, and I'm very happy to have this alternative to the "conventional" cycling news outlets. If you read this blog, you read others. You understand what I'm talking about. I wish more of the "cycling is dead" theorists would share in this great epiphany. To the blog people: Thanks! Write more!

Allright....on to business. All week long, the team president said "Aram, the course is flat flat flat. Good for you." Hmm, yeah? Well, i've finally figured out the French race-description code. "Flat" means: not flat at all, but without massive hills over 4k in length. It can also mean that it's a smaller-than-normal circuit (under 10k). I wonder how my DS would describe a course like the one in dominguez hills? Or LA Circuit? Hah! He'd be at a loss for words, I think. On the way to the race we got lost -a first! It took nearly 5 hours to drive what should have taken 3 at the most. We arrived with 25 minutes 'till the start. Ah! JUST my game. While my teammates were running around nervously trying to get situated, I was right in my element. Hah...all that training...paying off. 15 to go, I was dressed. 10 to go, bottle situation taken care of, pockets full of food. 5 to go numbers pinned. 1 to go, fixed the pin-job on my number after a teammate gave me a nice parachute to race with. After a 200 meter ride to the start/warmup, I got to staging and we were soon off. The course (oddly..."course" in French means "race"): Here's what it looked like from the startline, halfway up the first hill: "flat flat flat".....just as I expected. But hey, the legs are good, and a bit of selection wouldn't be a bad I didn't care. Wind in droves as well.

The race: 7 kilometer circuit. 17 laps. 125k. The race started full-on gung-ho. They all do. Road racing in the USA isn't like this at all...quite the opposite: Mellow at first, getting more difficult as the race progresses. 5 UCAers started: Herve, Adam, Loic, Michael, and myself. And we're off. After a few pedal strokes, I realized the legs would destroy -they felt springy and quick. I put myself in a bunch of little moves early. My break-success rate last week was 1 for 1, 100%. In the early going here, not as good. My first 5 didn't go too far....but...the damage was being done. It's always reassuring to get caught by a continually diminishing peleton. Eventually, the pace settled. The elastic was on its last fibers: go time. I attacked through the start/finish area in a bridging effort. 4 came with me. We worked well and smooth, and caught the 6 in front. 11 leaders now. Once we caught, the pace slowed. Gah. 4 bridged up -not shocking if you consider the lapse. Ah well. More than I wanted, and I was bummed to see that no teammates had hitched a ride up to the break. So with the 4 new guys, the rockets blasted, and we were gone. C-L-E-A-R. hah! Two races in a row! I don't think that's happened to me before. Now, the prime situation...I wasn't sure which laps were $ laps, but at 5 to go, I saw a guy get excited 100m from the line, followed him, and took it from him, easy. But! A counter with 6 guys went right as I took the prime! I dugggggggg to mark it, and failed....and nearly got dropped by the rest of the break. Poor timing on my part. So now it was 9 of us now. And the pace dropped to stupid-slow speeds. I recovered, and seeing as the rest of the break had no interest in catching, I attacked. The next three laps were insane. Racing for 7th. solo hammer-land. And strangely...the legs were F#@%$#% amazing. I didn't look back because I didn't have to. They would not be there. I snuck up behind a group of 2 stragglers, and just attacked through. Again, no looking back. No need. Rode 2 laps solo, now for 5th place. Caught a guy 10 meters from the line, and cruised in, figuring I was AT LEAST 4th or better. STOKED.

I finished 17th. I rolled up to the team car afterwards, and asked..."so what'd I get? 4th? 5th?". No one was sure. Fact: I took a prime in a group of 15...the group split in exactly the way I described above. No one passed/caught me. They don't give "field primes" in French Road Races. So I really can't understand it.....and "protest period"??? hah! Gah. Money was 20 deep. I got TWO envelopes. One for the prime, one for 17th. The only feasible explanation is that a huge group maybe slipped off in the early going that me and the entire team somehow missed...and...if this is true, then they erred in giving me that prime! We had a lead car! The guy with the boquet and trophy getting interviewed [pictured above] after the race was in my break! Something awry went down somewhere, and what could I do? Eh...I'm over it. My legs were fantastic, and I'm happy to have made the break again. So that's that. Stage race this weekend. RR, TTT, RR. It'll be a daisy.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Aram Becomes Eclectic

Quatre-Vingts Neuf Points Neuf

Lots of the training around here is done solo. Matching the right music to how the legs feel or what workout is on the schedule can make or break a training ride (that, and the weather...). So a little blurb on what albums i've been listening to. No particular order...

The Decemberists-The Crane Wife

Tip top. The single "O Valencia!". The album works from beginning to end. Not big huge watts interval music, but exactly what I like to hear after the 3rd hour of a 4-5 hour tempo session. Standout tracks-All, but "O Valencia!", The Perfect Crime #2, and Shankill Butchers [Tracks 4, 5 and 7] go real nice on two wheels.

!!!-Myth Takes

I asked a French friend how to say "psychadelic" yesterday. That's how these guys roll. Amazing music that goes with any type of ride, particularly shite weather ones or after total depletion to give that extra juice to finish the ride and get home. Track 4, "A New Name" is mind blowing. The guitar work and other subtleties. And this band...seeing them's akin to seeing tanlines for the first time...but far more pleasurable. DO IT. They have 5 shows in France coming up...not that I can go, but hey...I'm happier knowing they're in my country.

M-Qui De Nous Deux

French pop-funk that's not unlike Jamiroquai (whom i'm a huge fan of). Great basswork with crafty guitar fills and funny lyrics that I don't [yet] understand. His voice is ok, I guess, but the instrumentals ("Ton Echo", the album's closing track...ahhhhmazing) really shine the most. He even does a god-awful but hilarious cover of the Cure's "Close to Me." The weather has to be good for this one. Good for short recovery jaunts.

Girl Talk-Night Ripper

Ce fou! Track 5. Biggie samples used in the most tasteful fashion I've ever ever heard. I think I got teary the first time I heard it. Then track 3 has weezer samples, again, TASTE here is phenomenal. Hear it and you'll know what I mean. Some of the subtleties on the album have almost knocked me off the bike laughing. Terrific stuff, although it doesn't have much longevity because it's just too intense. Selective use of this one for riding.

System of a Down-Mezmerize

I listened to this album for the first time in at least 6 months. Mon Dieu! I'm not big into the genre, so don't have much to compare it to, but wow. I could be at the tail end of a 6 hour ride, click to this album...and put out a million watt sprint without thought. It gets the physical and spiritual juices flowing like nothing else I've heard in yeaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrs. The tone is set with the first track (Soldier Side), mellow, but with an underlying tension -like the legs prior to a really hard effort. Then it just explodes into a 35 minute session of %$#@%. "Radio/Video" gets the blood flowing...with the odd sensation of goosebumps to go with it. It's even got lapses of hilarity thrown in for good measure. Oui!

Tenacious D-The Pick Of Destiny

Stoner band of the ages. Ridiculous and dumb. Crude instrumentation and lyrics. Bush-league harmonization and vocal lines. But. I'm drawn in and addicted. The accompanying film to the album was all those aforementioned things and more. But amazing. Sum of the parts is greater!!! The track "Beezleboss (The Final Showdown)"....everytime the song climaxes, the legs do too...regardless of what they've felt like prior or what I have schedules. We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D We are the D. Video for the track here.

Allright, that's it. Music. Cycling. There are heaps more, but these have been getting the most circulation lately. I'd be really stoked if anyone actually gives any of these albums a try. I stand by them! I'm happy that I got this entry up so that that god-awful image of the tanlines wouldn't be the first thing people see upon visiting the blog. It's just pulp...Adieu!

Friday Morning Pulp


I'm done with the tanline gimmick. "Oh! look at me! I'm a cyclist." I've probably had to explain them to too many people in different scenarios more times than I can remember. I think I began to grow sick of them a long while ago deep in my head, and the loathing only recently surfaced into conscious thought. Unlike tattoos, bad hairstyles, piercings, or other forms of body mutilation, these guys are going to take an eternity of focused therapy to get off. Brace coming...

Apologies for that. Really. The legs are also terribly dry, i'm noticing. These things happen. Back to topic. Before I get into my plan of attack, let me chronicle the history of these guys. It begins with the first time I saw a cyclist with tanlines. The first time anyone sees one of these aberrations is hard to forget. I remember it clearly. It was during the annual Mt. Wilson ride on New Year's day, 2002. I hadn't yet started racing bikes. I was training lots for the upcoming season, my first. I'd joined my first club (Encino Velo) a few months prior, and was stoked with any opportunity for a ride with these guys. It was a learning experience each time. For instance, it was from these guys that I learned that you're not supposed to...uhh...wear anything underneath cycling shorts. A lesson still in practice to this day! Anyhow, I rolled to the start near the 7-11, and saw a guy, maybe 18-20 years old (my age) lifting up his shorts to put on some leg warmers. I noticed two distinct colors in the middle of his thigh. Cartoon-like. I did a double take. My first reaction was of disbelief. No. What? Is this guy diseased? Is it the lighting? Then, being the naive and novice cat-VI cyclist I was, I instantly deduced that "ohhhh...he TRAINS alot, and so, all the time in the sun culminates into what's on his leg. What commitment!. I wonder how many minutes he'll destroy everyone by at the top of wilson?"

Cat IV Days
[photo: Stefan Mayer]

Fast forward a year to 2003. I go from Cat VIII to II, develop a nice even fade from white to olive-ish on both legs (i'd kill to have this back), and would soon enroll at Lee's McRae College in NC. I saw tanlines again. This time, on a guy I knew rather well, my Greek friend, George. We'd ride together often, and I noticed that he'd align his shorts precisely on "that line" on his thigh. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Click! That's how it was done! So for those of you not privy to the elitist workings of the racing cyclists' world....I expose one of the sport's biggest farces! It has nothing to do with training time or devotion or genetics!!! It's just a little pre-ride adjustment! And also, on that day, my tanlines were born. It would be years before they would reach the [hopefully not irreversible] state they're in today.

So this brings us to the present. I really want to get rid of them. I want to bolt out the door for rides 10 seconds sooner by not having to "align". I want to go swimming without facing the confused stares of random french tourists. So yes. Done. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it isn't very easy to undo, but I'll remain patient, and have a realistic goal of being done with them by mid-summer. Now...I ask...has anyone undertaken such an unusual task before? The undoing of cycling tanlines.........I don't think there are any books on the subject. In last week's race, I flipped up the lip of the shorts about 1cm from the top of the line. They looked NO different after the race, and the white part was not even burned. Strange. Should I just wait it out? Or on to more drastic strategies like putting XL SPF on the dark section to try to balance it out quicker? Tanning salons aren't an option out here. But there's lots of sun, and I realize that I'll be "the guy with the white racing stripe" for the next couple weeks/months. So please, suggestions to help me through this plight are welcomed....and needed!

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Breakaway Chronicles


Scroll down and you'll find it all over the blog: "...but i've been improving with each race" or "the body is starting to adapt..." Unsubstantiated words in most respects, as there wasn't any "pudding to prove," so to speak. Well, yesterday's ride finally validated the fact that yes, the words are real, and the body really is doing some interesting things...

Where to begin? The city. Another marathon 300 kilometer drive brought us to the town'll be easier to just put up a photo:

It's a tiny town. A couple hundred inhabitants, perhaps? These little towns are usually the backdrop of most of our races. I'm likely mistaken, but according to the race flyer, this 2007 edition would mark the 98th running of the "Prix du Pave D'Antibes"...swell!

Again, we were probably the first team at the race...more than 2 hours early. The photo above shows a couple teammates ready to go...despite ample time for the all-important pre-race nothingness. I'm a procrastination addict...this i've already confessed. A pre-race ritual. Speed through procrastination. What? No. Moving on: I haven't mentioned this, but it's really cool to have the basic things like putting the bike together, pumping tires, and filling bottles lovingly taken care of by team staff. Good guys, and I am forever grateful for their efforts. So after sitting around for a good bit, I found a way to just barely make it to the start after doing a 1-lap warmup on the 10 kilometer course.

The course: We pre-drove it once. Not bad. No flat, but no major hills. The worst of them was 1 k long. Some brrrrutal wind was on the menu, as well...which I didn't mind. Oh, also happy to note that it did not rain on cue this time. The wind took care of that. It was a 9.6k circuit which we'd roll around 11 times for 106 total kilometers. A short one, no doubt. So after a bunch of guys got call ups, I staged it about mid-pack. From the gun, I felt springy. I didn't really have a proper warmup, so I figured a short dig up front would open things up. So after a few hundred meters, I rode the next rocket out of the peleton. Fun, there never was a gap, but the field was strrrrrrung out. Not even a K in! I kept pedaling. Followed a few other wheels, and thought..."ok...getting hard now, and I think i'm warm. Enough?". We get to the top of that 1k hill. I looked back for the last time on the day. We had 200 meters. 15 of us at this point. Guys were killllling it trying to make it work, and by the end of this lap, it was 12 of us with 30 seconds advantage. The legs were buzzing with the lactic stuff, but "stable" still. I was able to pull through fine, particularly on the flatter sections, and we were able to peg it at or around 50 k/h for nearly all of the first two laps. I kept hearing gaps. "Trente seconde!" then we'd hit it hard and only increase the gap by 10 ticks..."quarante seconde!!". I think at some point the break lost some resolve, but still, some nice even pulls. Some sweet death noises on the hills by some of the breakaway mates made me laugh a bit.

After a couple laps a few things changed. We were down to 10 guys, and every time through the start-finish area, guys would sprint for the line. I mean, really, 4-wide guys absolutely punching it, then sitting up. Primes?? Hmmm. So after making that deduction, I picked up a hat-trick of primes rather easily. I used that little sprint-trick I'd written nice!! After the third prime win in a row, I got some slang French words and dirty looks thrown my way. I then made two more deductions: (1) How sweet would it be to arrive at the finish with this group and wax the sprint? and (2) Shite. Did I just give away that I'm going to kill them in the sprint by winning 3 primes consecutively? #2...gah. There's always that damn number 2. After the 6th or 7th lap, we no longer got time gaps. It was above a minute at last check. Ah well. 4 laps to go. I ordered "une bidon tres forte" from the DS. "Extra Strong Bottle." Our bottles are usually just flavored sugar-water. The only variable is the ratio of sugar to water. On the advice of this old guy in Michigan, I upped the glycemexity [newly coined -by me- nutritional term] of that all-important last bottle. And it worked well. I'm blessed with a tolerant stomach.

Can't say i'm missing the expensive Accelerades and Cytos yet. Allright...before another tangent begins, let me finish the report. So I stopped going for primes after taking them on the 6th, 7th, and 8th lap. 3 laps to go. I even kindly "led out" the prime sprint with 3 to go, as a token of humility. Didn't work. On "that hill", a guy attacked hard, solo. Pieces. But back together after a while. Thank god for the wind...worked in my favor on this day. One thing I lack as a rider is that non-sprinter mentality of attacking out of a break. Whether I have the legs to attack or not, i'm always content to roll in with a break as I like my chances in a small group, so I don't attack the break. In the US, people rarely do, and this is what's been burned into my race-psyche. Back to topic...the flurry of attacks continued for a bit, then a brutal cross-winded short steep hill was coming up. Just as soon as I thought "no. don't attack here. not on this hill, man...." Boom!!! Attacks fly! Aram's popped. But not out. Instead of putting my head down immediately and hammering, I used this time to coast a bit, recover, and wait for one of the other attack victims behind to work with me in hopes of making the final 2 laps (20k!) without getting caught. 8th place was at stake. Eventually a skinny lad joined me. We kept the main breakaway in sight. Mother F-ers were working so smoothly with each other now...are they really privy enough to calculate that it'd be worth it to attack and try to get the American with fat legs out of the game? Gahhhh. Victory was up the road, but I could still salvage something. We worked well together. I really was fearful of the peleton catching, and didn't look back. Just hammered. Allez bidon forte! Last lap came, forearms on the bars hammer-land. I knew once we crested the first hill that we'd made it. I unintentionally gapped the guy (who hadn't done much anyway) with 2k to go on the final hill, waved goodbye to him, and coasted in, 8th. The top result for the team since i've been here. The diminished peleton rolled in 3 minutes later. I am content. At the result, yes, but more so because I now know that victory is within my grasp. I just need to get to that line in the first group....and will.

My first French envelope!!! Gonna hold on to that one. The cash from the primes was much better than my finishing money, so I guess that's some consolation, despite the tactical mistake it might have been (we'll never really know). 105k off the front! A record length/time for me. HR/Speed graph here. Crazy speed variance, huh? Average HR of 172 might be a record for this length as well. I love this computer download stuff...too much! I could stare at it for hours trying to recreate and analyze the race. Hopefully i'll have power figures soon!

And we'll end this one with a shot from today's recovery ride. It was a bit too wild outside so I kept the training to 90 mins recovery on the turbo. It went well. Had some nice tunes (Broken Social Scene's "you forgot it in people") getting me through it. Definitely no shortage of photos in this one, huh? And none of them tourist-related! All bike! I do have some pulp-laden and insignificant entries and photos on the way.

'till then...


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Aimez Vous Radis?

Came home after a session this morning to what you see above. Radish accompanied with a note saying: "Radish. Eat with salt and mustard." I love this place and the people in it even more. I've never been surprised with a bowl of radish (plural?) before. They're really good, too. Not too strong, but with plenty of kick.

So I was supposed to ride mellow in the short-week between races, but it's been too nice and California-like lately to sit indoors. Also, a nice set of circumstances gave me a chance to ride out from the Rhonne Alpe region of France to the southern-most region of Côte-d'Azur. Any opportunity to leave the house, I take. It's a bit...stagnant...sometimes. A friend from Aubenas goes to school down there during the week and comes home on Fridays, so I got to ride the 130 k there, and carpooled it home by car. It took 3.5 hours riding at/near tempo. On the way there were two principal cities: Orange and Avignon (my final destination). Both cities are way wayyy bigger than Aubenas, so it was a refreshing reminder of how busy more populated places can be. Traffic lights! First time since I've left Los Angeles. They're much smaller and less pronounced than their American counterparts, and subsequently more confusing...particularly if you're used to the ease and efficiency of the rond-points (roundabouts). Flashing yellow means go, Red is stop.

Allright. The most striking feature of Avignon is a gigantic, thick, tourist-magnetizing (me included) wall that encircles the entire city. It almost looks like a natural formation, because of how old and weathered it is. I wonder if current Avignon residents sleep better knowing they're well- protected from the chance barbaric invasion? The first photo is from the outside. It took me a while before finding a road to the inside, but I did, and so you have the second photo from the inside. The outside was hectic. Too much traffic (it was rush hour), lots of one-way streets, tourists, etc etc. A little bit more serene on the inside, as there weren't as many cars. Anyhow, after putting around town, I'm VERY proud to say that I was eventually able to find my friend's apartment with just the address. If you knew how insane the street-structure of a 2000 year old city is...and how limited my French speaking/understanding's a big accomplishment! No tourist games other than the photos you see, so rest assured. Didn't bring enough clothes (130k with a pack wouldn't be fun...), so had to get creative with some borrowed threads...

Yep. They were comfortable pants. Bike looks good huh? I'm prettttty close to hopefully "temporarily trading" my Cannondale Si SRM for a standard one to fit this bike. I will be stoked when this happens. Maybe the guy i'm supposed to trade with is reading this paragraph? Email me, guy! The funny part is the SRM cranks are probably lighter than the Centaur cranks they'll replace. Double-positive. Fingers crossed on that one. I'm slowly figuring out the workings of the SRM head unit as well. Lots of algorithms. Lots of possibilities. 160 page manual! Anyhow. After the big caloric hole of a 130k ride, I indulged in some pizza. Pretty sure it's near the necessary 4:1 ratio, no?

Email me if you require a higher-resolution version of this photo. The details are critical. This one's with Roqueforte (local type of blue cheese), mozzarella, and olives. C'est trop bien! Too good. Blue cheese on pizza must be tried. And a really thin I was still hungry afterwards. So, that's all I got...Race tomorrow. Legs are good. Hair is ridiculously long and out of control. Mind is good. Rode a bunch, but I think they'll be fine. It's 150k and "should suit me well". Heheh. Heard that before! It will be fun regardless. The speed-radishes i'm eating (in droves) right now should help!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

American Crit Juice

I actually do have some responsibilities out here. One of which is to ride with the Aubenas juniors at 2pm on Wednesday afternoons, or "cadets" as they're called in French. It's a great time: For one, it gives me a chance to completely immerse myself in the French-speaking game. Since the cadets cover a bit of english in school, we have some pretty complementary levels of English and French. Savvy? Yeah. Took the camera out today with hopes of getting some nice shots, but eh? My fleet of personal photographers were unable to attend this group ride, unfortunately. All I have is the busch-league one up there. One junior, Florian, is the most gigantic 16 year old i've ever seen. 187cm (this week), and he seems to get taller each time I see him. And of course, the upper-body of a 9 year old -at best. I bother him incessantly with my poorly constructed (but understandable!) french phrases. Ah, so yes. I enjoy the wednesday group ride. Can't explain it properly right now. Let's hope the rest of this entry doesn't follow suit.

Hmm...let's insert a photo to make it look nice for people who don't read the worthless pulp...
[as if we didn't have enough egg-related fotos on this blog already...]

So. While I'm generally pretty frugal with my food purchases, I allow an occasional splurge on some things (like last week's cheese). This week, we have the 3-euro 6-pack of eggs (versus 1.70 for THIRTY of the budget ones). Fun packaging, bits of feather and dirt (we hope...) stuck to the shells, all that. From a performance standpoint: They cracked rather easily. Conveniently. Taste standpoint: they're no friggin different. Still delicious, but 10 times the price. The food scene is alive and well, despite the blandness of this paragraph.

On to the race scene:

So yesterday, 101k circuit race. They called it a "kermesse". I was anxious, and had a little glimmer of hope (tm) that maybe the course won't have 10,000ft of climbing, and that maybe I could do well? The team president assumed DS duties for this one, so a bit more pressure to flip the switch on. We get to the course really early. Gah. 3 hours early. If you've been reading this blog for a know how I go, and how i've refined the procrastination proceedings. Gahh. A little piece of me dies each time we arrive 66 hours early to a race. But I guess this is how it's supposed to be done. Anyhow. Monsieur Prat asks if I want to do a lap of the course in the team car...of course, man. We have 3 hours to kill. Lets do it. Allez! The course starts off with a sharp drop off. Then it kept going down. down down down. So the morale: down down down. Finally, it leveled off, and yep, what goes down...must go up up up (the course...not the, uh...other thing) for about 1.5 kilometers. Steep, borderline big-ring, likely small ring. Then some rollers which eventually led to a tight off-camber 120 degree right turn into a 400 meter finale. Cool finish too. 200 meters down, then 200 up to the line. 15 times, that hill. That thought stung.

So, as was mentioned, for the first time in my tenure here, I wasn't anxious to start. At all. I was bummed (but not shocked) that the course was as hilly as it was, and further disappointed that Monsieur Prat would be hanging out and watching. And given how fast these things start...I remember discussing feed details with him, and was wondering if i'd even get that far. This "safety net" crap isn't me at all. I'm usually on the "overconfident" side of this fence, but today was an anomaly...

Well...i'm just gonna steer this entry home: it ended up going very well! 15 friggin times up that hill, and each time I thought "cmmon, Schlitz Park. 100k. I got 25th there. Easily. And we went up that, what, 80 times? I can do this." On cue, the rain came, but I was too giddy with the fact that the legs were great, and didn't care. I attacked a couple times, and was off for 1/2 a lap ('till the hill started...) during one excursion. One funny moment...I yelled at one of my breakaway mates (in French) to pull through and was given a blank expression. He didn't speak french! He probably thought I was a native speaker! hehehhh. So 3 to go. More and more riders were exploding. American Crit JUICE! My legs had it. I'd see these guys getting popped and get more motivated. "I did Schlitz...cmmon" was the reoccurring thought in my head. That and tracks from the new "Decemberists" album. And Lebowski quotes (this goes without saying, though). Yeah. 2 to go. 1. Wow. Still here. Hi. We crested the hill. A break of 3 was gone, 45 ticks up the road. Racing for 4th. I had decent position. The mass sprint madness....gahhh i'd missed this game! I planned to make up ground in that gnarly tight turn before the 400 meter gallop. Got there. Legs? What lactic acid? They were fresh. Started the sprint a bit late, as there was an uphill 200 meters, and...and....some lanky french lad starts goin diagonal and I was doing 50 k/h in the gutter. Ahh! Mixed feelings. On one hand, I was upset at a lost opportunity because of this guy (though I shoullllllllld have been further up with legs like i'm partly to blame), but on the other's good form! And I didn't go down (though it appeared I should have). I sprinted up to the guy afterwards and said "VOIR SIL VOUS PLEA" or "LOOK PLEASE". I didn't know what else to say? hahhah. Good times. I was 20-something. And even got some cheese afterward as consolation! I think actual money was to the top-20. Not sure. Here's the cheese!

We ate the one on the right today. Interesting. The soft-cheese is something to get used to. Don't have much experience in that world. In time. So a short week between races now. The next one is on sunday. I feel good still. Mind and body. I'll keep the training mellow, and hopefully bring the A-game sunday. Not sure about what the course is like. "Expect the worst...hehh." Allright, that's it. Au Revoir!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Groupetto Chronicles

I've done four races in France. I've had four groupetto finishes. So perhaps it's time to rename the blog? Hehe. The strange part is, despite the continuity of the mediocre/poor results, the legs have been better with each race. They look nicer, too! Veins poppin up in places i'd never imagined they would. So despite circumstances that should normally bum me out, the motivation is on a tear. I think I can partly attribute it to the new interval game. Finishing intervals and all's not just a physical gain, but a emotional lift as well. For me, anyhow. The mind and legs need to be on the same page. Yep, so the motivation and its healthy state: it's not "so high that i'm bound for a crash" high, but the "really controlled routine-driven" type of motivation. It's perfect, and I'm enjoying every moment immensely. Really, i'm not just saying that to rationalize my being here. Those who know me well know how complementary my lifestyle is to a European only regret, like I've said before, is that I didn't do this lotttts of years ago. Oh, and I also regret eating. Daily. Manger c'est PAS bonne pour cycliste! In any case. A photo to start things off:

The team for yesterday's 150k session. Left to Right....Me, Luic, Julien (seated), Herve, Herve #2 (seated, DS), and Michael hiding in the brush. Despite being pretty crammed in the team car, the ride out (3 hours) was a blast. The race? Things started off rosy. Perfect weather. Couldn't see a mountain in sight on the way la la yeahhh. Like I mentioned, I brought the good legs. But for naught. Everything changed really quick. First, had a bit of a mechanical issue. No worries. Then, of course mountains showed up. Who invited them?? I cruised it at 197bpm while getting over the top of the 2nd climb. Whoever made up the "course profile" thing for that race MUST have been wasted while making that thing. The profile map showed 3-4 climbs, and plenty of flat. The DS told me, "Aram, looks like a good course for you." Cool. Nope. Not today. Not yet......In emphatic fashion, my getting shelled after 40k (and lots of vertical meters!) coincided with a crazy downpour, and yeah. Cruised it home with a group of 10-20. The faces of the groupetto changed often, but given my VAST experience in this type of group, I stayed in there. But I'm in good spirits. Here, let's end this entry with the PRE-race video session. We're a cheery bunch, no? Perhaps one day we'll have an equally cheerful post-race video...

Kermesse (Crit) next week! Stoked!