je ne sais quoi

Friday, August 31, 2007

Got My Mind Blown

First: shortly after writing that last blog, the team pres rolled up, unannounced. "Dude. You gotta move out by the 15th." Also, I might have just one more race left, or none at all! Just like that. Weird, but I'm relieved...and the body's tired. None of this is the mind blowing part...

Today was an off day (and with gale force crazy winds and 60 degs outside, I wasn't too tempted to break out of it), and I figured I'd stay active in ways that don't include the legs. Lets try some pushups. Hadn't done one since i'd started bike racing. Not a one. So I get set, go allright, down...two...ok, down...uhhh -no. The third one was an impossibility. I figured maybe there was a fluke problem and that I should be able to do 15, easy. Tried again a few minutes later....FOUR. All sprawled out on the floor, I burst out laughing. What is this?? Frankly, I'm embarrassed, but perhaps i've uncovered something that could use some tweaking? Out of many pushups can you do? Particularly interested in the cyclists' responses. Also, any thoughts on "pushup ability" with regards to the bike? Pushups work the chest, i'm assuming, and there isn't a whole lot of muscle-action over there while riding...but four?!

Je Suis Seul

One of my favorite places in all of kitchen. Worth noting, is that the kitchen was not cleaned solely for the purpose of the photo. It looks exactly like that exactly all the time now. Why? I'm alone. Je suis seul. No roommates combined with my manic drive of having a spotless kitchen make for what you see above. It's like that before, after, and sometimes during every meal. Simon left Aubenas about two weeks ago. He was a top roommate, never a dull moment, particularly with his sweet sweet [and incessant] singing. Still, i'm more the solitary type, and am relishing the opportunity to live entirely alone 'till I leave (or when they kick me out? hehhh). In the mean time, I hope to get a bit more creative with the blogging. If anyone's got any ideas, comment away. Maybe a particular supermarket aisle? More in depth marche scene coverage? An attempt at trapping the wild boars that visit me almost nightly now? Cmmon now, mutual boredom and a bit of creativity can do wonders for all involved...get with it.

Do I even race tomorrow? I really don't know. It's September.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fake Plastic Figs

I guess after an entry like the last one i'm obligated to reply promptly, and I haven't. Desole! But short, no minds were blown, and no, there won't be an offseason full of regret either. The legs are okay, but they won't be ripping any crank arms off any time soon. I like to ride crits aggressively, and for that I need those two guys to hurt a bit more than they did.

It was a swell course, really. I got all nostalgic when we first drove up and I saw orange traffic cones for the first time since my last race in the states. The course was 2k in length. The shortest circuit I've raced on here -by far. It had 5 corners, and a roundabout, which we went all the way around. with the finish line about 150 meters from the final turn. Really rough section between turns 2 and 4, and that roundabout! We did it 40 times, and I clipped my pedal 15 times at least! Thing with'll be easier if I put it this way: You know how velodromes are banked so that the centrifugal force works to keep you grounded exponentially as speed increases? Well, roundabouts are the opposite. Like a mini inverted velodrome -every one! This one was no exception, and 40 times around it. I never did figure it out, and really killed rhythm with people sprinting out of it each time.

So the race. The scene's slowly dying out. Again, we had 70-80 starters max...just like socal races this time of year. Bunch of new teams i'd never seen showed up. UCA fielded just two. So after getting to a cafe to use this friggin thing (please, click, educate yourselves...port a pots? no), we lined up...blasted off. I was beaming the first couple laps. It'd been so long. Attacks all over the place! Sprrrrrrrint to get out of the corners, lulls in the big wide flat section. Then fast again. Basic crit stuff, but yeah, I was taking it all in. The racing was agressive the entire time. There was no relapse, and I put in a number of digs to either close gaps or try to get something going off the front. Eventually, a break of 7 got established, and pegged it at exactly 30 seconds for a long while. Another chase group of 10 (?), and then another group with me, and then even more groups further back. Just totally blown to bits, and difficult to gauge where you were exactly. My group had about 10 dudes, one of which was doing a spot on C-Walk impression: Skinny guy, tan, calmly churning his 53x12, but doing it well and smooth and fast. He was a good wheel to be on come the roundabout. Anyhow, a short while after taking a 50km/h feed (got to be my fastest ever?), 5 to go sounded. Couple guys schneaked off of our group, and again, third race in a row, I attacked the chase group to take the minor placings. I attacked on the most shite dirty bumpy annoying section of the course, 350m before the finish. One guy caught me at 100 to go, I got in his draft, but couldn't come around. I finished 20th.

Friday, August 24, 2007

September Comin' I haven't updated my race resume since early march, and perhaps it's better to not know exactly how many races i've done this season? One thing's for sure, i've done a shite load of road races this season. Billions! The last crit I did was part of that Murietta omnium way back when. I miss the speed, I miss the corners, and I miss the zen that comes with knowing your bike and the corners so well and so fast as the last couple of laps near, and I miss f#%@%$ sprinting my bike!! The little fast-twitch guys inside the quads have been on vacation since '94, and you know? In fact, I think some of them have left for good: my legs are noticeably smaller than they were when I left the 'states. They'll be back though, I know it.

Tomorrow. 40 laps around a 2k course. A criterium. This race...I'm gonna kill it. Total destruction. It's time. The legs are going well, the race is good for me, and I'm motivated (ravaging). The team president is taking on DS duties for this one, and he's going to get his mind blown. The season is nearly over (September 15th, here), and I'm not going to spend the offseason replaying missed opportunities in my head (Like I still do with Downer Avenue in '06). So yes, tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Honest, that's the first rainbow i've seen since '88. It was only up there for a few minutes...I managed to take a shot and now the innocent arch will be whored out for everyone to enjoy. It glowed and beamed. Rainbows aside, the weather continues to be uncooperative. Still managed a nice session today. Got soaked, but it's still better than wind. Another thing that makes riding in the wet stuff more bearable: It's fig season! Almost as highly-anticipated as bike racing season. So from now 'till I leave (October 7th), all my training routes have a fig tree [or six] on them. I've got an unexplainable affinity for these fruits [they're actually not fruits, but inverted flowers]. My dad claims he was born under a fig tree, and in 50s era Lebanon, it's quite probable. So perhaps I subconsciously feel indebted to this super-food for indirectly contributing to my own birth? Or maybe this is getting unnecessarily introspective? Back to earth. To figs. They're awesome. The Aubenas scenesters keep telling me to be careful with the fig intake because of their strong laxative effect, but hey, no problems whatsoever. Just free natural nourishment. Though I regrettably don't have a photo, I bought a fig at the farmer's market on sunday that was larger than most grapefruits! It didn't taste too good, but more than made up for it with volume and novelty factor. Could go on blogging, but not now. Why dilute the beauty and simplicity of figs and rainbows?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Attack Chronic

Cmmon now, no one noticed the change in the blog's title?? The Aram Chronic. Shorter, sweeter, faster. Though the blog title no longer bears a resemblance to a really good Creedence album, the new title is more fitting in every way. I was never too fond of "Chronicles". Not so much the cliche-ness of it, but it was just kind of lame/soft. I'm a big fan of proper titles, subject lines, headings, etc...and so we have this one.

Take this entry's title...The Attack Chronic. The words that follow a provocative subject line like that need to have some substance, or it won't work at all. Same with the blog title. So without further pulp ramblings, I'll get into it. This weekend there was a big omnium type of race soiree in and around the Avignon area. The south! First time the team's ever raced down there this season. I really wasn't sure how the form was, but judging from the decent sensations that flowed at last week's TT, I was tinged with a bit optimism for the first time in a long while. The omnium: 5 races in 5 days. The team was slated to do 3 of the first four races: Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Doing them all would have been a bit much, as we race a French Cup race on Saturday.

The first race was on Sunday, in the little city of Roquemaure, slightly northeast of Avignon. We showed up, spirits were high...though for the wrong reasons. Last week's TT was a success, yes. But it was against a paltry field of locals, man. I was cognizant of this, and subtle in my expressed optimism. Others...not so much. So, it was time to check out the course. This is always an apprehensive time for a racer, particularly when you're unsure about your form. We rode away from the parking lot, and toward the course. Immediately, it was a slight uphill with the numbers "400" painted on it. Ha! This is the climb?? Hah...c'est trop facile! Though steep, it was only 400 meters long, bringing us to the finish line, which I assumed doubled as the GPM. We cross the finish line and start the recon lap. A couple hundred uphill meters after the start/finish, I bummed out..."GPM 1km". The cycling spirits must have heard me laugh at their previous hill which I assumed would be the only threat on the day. Gah. Cruised up the hill. One of those annoying hills that get progressively steeper except this one had the added bonus of having progressively worsening pavement as you got to the top. The last 200m were particularly terrible. Terminal steepness and poor pavementness! It doesn't sound bad, but look at it his way: 5k circuit. 20 laps. 100k. ~1.5k of hill every lap. 30k of climbing over the full distance! And that dreaded 200m section. Gah man.

Francis! One of My Favorite DS-es!

Still legs were okay. Small field today, of 70 or so riders, and a surprise starter was current World and Olympic MTB champion Julien Absalon. Also, in the lead car was Tour de France superstar Joop Zoetemelk. Genial! The start was mid-way up the hill. Ouch. Blazing. The descent was nervous and shite-pavement filled, and it was strung out for all of the first laps. No relapse, no recovery, and I approached the foot of the climb near-blown each time. Riders were shed each lap, and I was too smashed to cling onto the Absalon led peleton on lap 5. Bummer, but not a shock...this is how most of July had gone. I rode the 110k home. Good chance to cleanse the mind, try to figure out what the deal is, and not sulk in the downtrodden atmosphere that was the team after that race. Besides, weather was awesome when I left the Roquemaure. However, as I entered the Aubenas county limits, the cycling spirits unleashed the full fury of their punishment with crazy doses of wind, rain, cold, and hail...all at once and all in August. Hail, dudes. Seriously.

The Jovial Pre-Race Scene

The next morning as I set off on a recovery ride, I kicked up the seat height half a cm. Just to mix things up. It felt good. The race the next day was in the town of Bagnols, again, near Avignon. 21k circuit with 2 gpms, 5 laps for ~105k. The apprehensive pre-race recon with the car proved damning. The entire first 11k was mostly uphill, culminating with a decent 4k climb which led to a flat couple K, then a second shorter climb, 2k, followed by a twisty descent and a long flat and wide tailwind section to bring it home. The start finish was at the end of a 500 meter climb as well. We sighed as we saw the course. A rough one...but...the wind was picking up. Hills become a non-issue in the wind for me.

So we start. hmm...the seat-height. Parfait! It really felt much better, and I felt particularly powerful coming out of the saddle. Like I had an extra gear whenever I wanted it. I took a different algorithm with regards to climbing on this day. Instead of busting my ass in the wind to get to the front of the peleton before the climb, I just hung out in the middle. If a spot was given to me for free, I took it...otherwise, I was just hanging out, calm, riding my bike. That "make sure you get to the front of the peleton at the start of the climb or else!" stuff doesn't really work with my climbing style. So, new algorithm in hand, the climb came. As expected, the wind tamed the peleton a bit, and I made it over. A big relief, yes, but I felt really swell. It's a great feeling to be able to climb while not being so-blown that you can't think rationally.

A Big Thanks to Johnny Boy For the Phots and Vids!

The feed zone situation was awesome. I took a bottle on all laps but the last. It's good to finally make use of the terrific support the team has on race days. The rest of the race went well. Like all french races, things settled down once a break got established and the peleton diminished in size. We had about 20-25 riders left come the 4th lap, but several were up the road...I never took count. On the awesome downhill section, I noticed that me and this other "big boy" were getting a gap each time. I really pushed it the 4th time, got a gap with the big boy, and held it for a few K on the flat downhill, but were caught. Shortly afterward, I attacked again and only 6 came with me. We worked pretty well, established a gap, and got over the hill good. The last hill came, and this one dude just drilled it. I was on-edge, as the legs hadn't done an effort like that since the first two laps, but made it over. Didn't push it on the descent -no need. Only 7 of us, and things were pretty tight. At 1.5k to go, I put in an "everything" attack. From the back of the group, big jump, followed by forearms on the bars, 53x12 go. Didn't look back 'till I was well into the final straight, when I realized I had the gap, I nearly fell, but coasted in to get 17th on the day. My best result since the 80s! Francis was stoked, and I'm happy he was there to see it after he witness Sunday's piss-poorness. Here's the finish...smashed and all...

That final look back was a big relief. It's nice to see moves like that work, even if it's just for the field sprint. The following day would be our last round of the omnium. Villeneuve lez Avignon. Right next to Avignon. 12.5k circuit, 8 laps. 2k climb, and the rest of it was a beautiful swooping course with rough road sections, speed bumps, headwind sections, etc. I liked it, and went in with a bit of confidence. I'll spare the details on this one. I'm getting worn out...and I need to ride still. The race went well. I finished 18th. Again, it feels good to be a fcking bike racer again. I hung out in the continually diminishing peleton all day. Spent all of the 7th lap off the front solo, confirming my firm belief that I have the most aero tuck in the world. THE WORLD...and the deep mavics accent it so well. I'll write an entry about the tuck some other time...but yeah. Solo off the front for the 7th lap, caught before the climb, but hung on. Then attacked at 3k to go (1k before the base of the hill) because I knew I'd have no chance at that uphill 2k sprint finish. One rider came with me and dropped me with 400m to go. One guy from the peleton caught and passed, but he was the only one. Nice! It's rare for me to have good legs so late in the season, but they're here. Whoo yeah!

She's a big loaf, boy!!!!!


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Jackets and Leg Warmers? In August???

I'm the guy that rides in triple digit weather with a huge smile on his face. So when we have filthy-belgian 55 degree no-sun weather with rain and strong wind blasts in the beginning of August, it's a downer. Today was one of those days. I waited all day, with hopes of the weather clearing up, but it only got worse. After searching all over for the leg warmers i'd put away so long ago, I hopped on and went for a ride at 6:30pm. I pray that upon returning to California in October, we'll have one of those XXL summers that last 'till December. I remain optimistic...

Ah...there's a shot from last week's uphill TT in Burzet. The weather that day was terrific -though still a little brisk by summer standards. As I mentioned, small, local-style TT with a monster 1500 euro purse! 95% of which consisted of wine, pate, sausage, awesome t-shirts, goats, gift certificates for more sausage, and cheese. It was really fun, and of the 100 or so entrants, I think 95 people walked home with some combination of the aforementioned stuff. I got a t-shirt that says "Ardeche..." something on it. It's euro XL but fits me like a US small, and it's bright turquoise! I wear it all the time 'cause it helps me pose as a local better. I guess a photo would help...

There we are...lookin all tough and mean for the 'net. And: the first instance of photoshop usage on the blog. This is becoming a real milestone entry, in many respects. So...the Burzet TT. Lots of swag. Good TT, fun times. Everyone went home happy. It was a bizarre day in many respects (culminating with the wild boar session that same evening), and after the TT a teammate said, "Gee, Aram, I wonder how you're going to blog about this one...". He said this because it was a pretty irregular day, even by Ardeche standards. For instance, there were podium girls. 20 of them. All dressed in matching outfits. All tall, blonde, amazing-looking, and from the Czech Republic. Huh? I don't know, blog people. They were just there. They did not dance, but looked as though they were about to. They had an accompanying band. The whole entourage arrived in a giant bus, marched to the podium area in neat formation, and the band played a little ditty each time a name was announced.

There we go, pictures to prove. But really, it was much stranger than it looks. No shots of my time up there, but it was a nice time, all around. Simon and I hauled ass after the podium ceremony to make it back in time to see Lewis Hamilton dominate the Hungarian Grand Prix (Formula One). A few words about the TT itself: The first picture up above is the beginning. That's the steepest section. The rest of the 7k is pretty mellow, and I even had some big-ring time in the middle and the end. My time was 17:40, and the winner's time was in the low 16's. I was 10 ticks from 5th place, and KNOW I could have gone harder, but hey. It's an uphill TT, and relative performance was up to standard. Here are a few shots of the scene along the TT course. Note the clock tower...and the time. It's correct. ALL clock towers in France function properly, perfectly. I've never actually seen one that works in the US...anyhow, some fots:

Monday, August 06, 2007

23:45 Last Night

Simon rushes into my room late last night. "Dude, you gotta come hear this." The shutters for his window were shut, but the window was you can usually here cats playing about, crickets, some distant dog....etc. Last night, after my roommate woke me, we went to his window. I heard it, too. I figured, "yeah dude, it's probably just some cats walking about on the roof." That's exactly what it sounded like -and so near! Just to be cautious, we turned on the light. I put in a good knock on the shutters before opening it...the noise kept on. Then, light-open, I slammed open the shutters, and right there...20 meters in front, well-lit by a nearby street lamp, a pack of wild european boars. Seriously? yeah dude, seriously. 20 meters in front of the window. A group of 8-10 scurried off at first, and a couple minutes later a HUGE one (200lbs?!) nonchalantly trotted off in the nearby woods. Got the HR going for a minute that's the story.

That's that. I'll write a blurb about the uphill TT later. Super-Climber Aram finished can deduce field quality based on that alone! The team got 4 in the top-10. I did take home a bunch of swag though, even for 8th. 2 wine bottles, sausages, Pâté, t-shirts, a lil' trophy even. You'd think I sandbagged a cat IV race and won all the primes and finale. Lots of photos, too.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Un Tranquille Apres Midi

"A Calm Afternoon"

It's been a swell week. Tomorrow, we've got a tiny race: a 7k uphill time-trial right here in the Ardeche, about 20 k's from Aubenas. Not exactly my scene, but it's a modest 4-5%, and most importantly -close to home! I'm definitely relieved at not having to spend 6+ hours in a car in transit. Those car rides, particularly the agonizing drive home...they're rough. Especially now that the auto-route (tollway/highway) is jam-packed with all of Europe coming to the South of France.

So this week. First week in a long time that I was able to focus entirely on the bike. In other words: there wasn't anything else to do or people to bother, so I rode. lots. It's Saturday now, and a quick count shows 23 hours since Sunday. Definitely my longest week in some time. It's mostly been tempo/almost-tempo riding. No intervals. No drama. Actually, some drama: a couple weeks ago, while loading up the cars before a race, either a clueless director (likely) or teammate (unlikely) slammed the rear hatch onto my SRM head unit, smashing the mounting bracket up without saying a word to me!!! I tried to repair it, but it's beyond it, and now i'm left with a $850 paperweight. Email-tag is always a challenge with the SRM dudes, so it'll wait at least until I get state side again.

Just bums me out and angers me a bit that no one stepped forward to claim responsibility...gah. C'est la vie, non? So no more HR, no more speedo, no more wires, no more data. It isn't too bad, though. Just me and the ipod now. I hope that come November and the start of base i'll have it all working smooth and clean. And the moral? Be careful with bikes when loading and unloading, particularly if it isn't your own stuff! 90% of wear & tear on the bike (with me, anyway) occurs during this time -not while actually being raced, ironically. And f-in claim responsibility if you do fffffkk something up!

A bit of an abrupt end to an entry, but I need to sleep!