Friday, January 30, 2009

roller update

My many loyal readers will be happy to know I have successfully completed 1.5 hours on the rollers without stopping. Although I do not possess the holy grail of training equipment, I do believe this training is making me stronger. Once I complete my goal of 2 hours on the rollers I have been told I can join some elite cyclists in the Boston area to apply my skills to actual outdoor riding.

Although I was hopeful of taking the giant step to outdoor riding this weekend I will instead be traveling to Grand Junction, CO to apply my indoor walking training to outdoor snow shoeing. Wish me luck because I have only successfully walked for 20 minutes indoors and I hope to complete 1.5 hours of snowshoeing...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

roll another joint

I dread riding the trainer indoors. I seek every excuse not to and am willing to risk a lesser workout and frigid temperatures to ride outdoors. Thinking that riding rollers instead of a trainer would more closely mimic the outdoor cycling sensation, I recently purchased some inexpensive rollers (as recommended by Mr. Indoor Training). I ordered them over the phone on a Tuesday and they arrived on Thursday! Not bad for $104.
With no asembly required, I was able to rip open the box and start my balancing act in less than 5 minutes. At first I put the rollers near a desk so I could lean on the desk to help balance. I quickly realized I’d need a taller stable surface to prop myself against so I opted for a doorway instead. Using the doorway for support, I was able to ride for 15 minutes without wandering too much though I was definitely holding on for support.
I had read about others use thick tape to help “force” the wheels to stay within a limited range on the rollers so I gave this a try. At first it was useless. My wheels still wandered outside the range although I managed to avoid any serious disasters and never rode off the sides. I decided to add even more tape to build up a decent ridge and this helped. On day 2 I was able to ride for about 3-4 minutes without holding on to the door frame.
On day 3, I set the rollers next to my wife’s trainer and a tall storage dresser. To avoid boredom, my wife put on a DVD and I tried to keep myself focused on the tv because that helped keep me centered on the rollers. During our workout I managed 15-20 minutes of consecutive roller action without reaching for support.
On day 4, I popped in a DVD and took to the rollers by myself. I successfully spun for 50+ minutes and worked up quite a sweat. I even managed a couple of one handed reaches to the water bottle. So the roller thing is getting easier and it is definitely more enjoyable/challenging than a trainer. I’m actually looking forward to more roller workouts this winter. Crazy, I know.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

better late than never

Oh yeah, I forgot that this blog was supposed to be about the places I travel. Well, earlier this week I found myself at the familiar Logan Terminal A waiting to board yet another Delta plane. After the big Sunday morning snow storm and hearing of my coworker's 5 hour flight delay and ultimate cancellation, I aborted the Sunday travel plan and rebooked for an early Monday departure. We were boarded and ready at 7:50 as scheduled but apparently Delta only employs one person to load bags for every plane on Mondays because we spent an hour waiting for the oversized carry on bags to be loaded. By the way, has anyone else noticed that the new fees for checked luggage has encouraged people to try to carry on absurdly large bags that inevitably have to be checked at the door and inevitably take extra time to load in the cargo area and inevitably delays the flight and inevitably causes missed connections, upset customers, and added work for the airline? So, is that stupid $25 fee really worth it Delta?
So the short story is that we were delayed 1.45 hours in Boston (despite boarding on time) so I missed my connection in Cincinnati. On the plus side, a former coworker was on the plane and he had a long layover too so after chatting for nearly 3 hours on the plane we continued catching up over lunch (at Chick Fil A of course!).
My flight to Kansas City was uneventful except that my coworker had already come and gone 2 hours earlier and he had the rental car so I had to wait for him to pick me up after the client meetings some 30 miles away. Fortunately I was only spending 24 hours in Kansas City so I didn't worry about seeing the sites in such a short time. We had lunch out by the Nascar race track and dinner at a brew pub. Never did get to see the cross nationals venue but from what I saw of the area, those of you who might have felt like you were missing something by not going...didn't (sorry Kyler). Pretty standard "anywhere USA" type of place. I'm sure I'll have another few trips there and I'll try to branch out to see more sites, but so far I'm not impressed.
My next two trips are to Grand Junction, CO and Billings, MT. Hopefully I can produce some more exciting reports.

Monday, January 12, 2009

where da money at?

This past summer/fall I tried to help a friend launch a new road racing team comprised of amateur (cat 2-4) racers focused on racing in the northeast. Since I wasn’t working, I didn’t mind lending some time to the effort but I have to admit I was not very optimistic. I’d never really done the math to calculate how much money or product would be needed for a team of 10-12 people. Once I did, it was pretty easy to see that success was highly unlikely. To make a long story short, we failed to gather any monetary support after almost 4 months of trying and although cycling companies were willing to offer “team” deals or even free products we decided not to continue our efforts.

I was reminded of this quest for sponsorship when I read a few articles recently. The first one was the review of Lance’s specially painted race bike that he’ll be using for his return to competitive road racing this month. The next article was an interview with the male and female mtb ultra distance series (NUE) winners who are both losing their sponsorship from Trek/Volkswagen and may not compete in 2009 as a result. It immediately struck me that huge dollars are being spent to paint and ship Lance’s frame (they supposedly closed their custom paint shop for a week in order to work only on this frame) while other racers are being completely cut from the payroll. Initially I thought it was unfair that these two very successful mtb racers were essentially being put out to pasture while seemingly excessive amounts of money were being thrown at an already-established superstar. Then I realized that the factors that make it highly unlikely for a group of Boston based amateurs to raise money for their new road team are also making it harder for the professionals to keep their existing money.

ROI, or return on investment. Truth be told, there is not much ROI for Trek and Volkswagon when it comes to their mtb team. Heck, Trek will probably generate more Fuel sales as a result of Lance’s mtb racing this fall than it will as a result of Jeff and Cheryl’s NUE series victories. In the same way, sponsoring 10-12 “guys” who race in New England is not likely to yield a high ROI, no matter how little money a sponsor puts forward.

Bringing more to the table. To be appealing to a potential sponsor, groups, or individuals will need to deliver outside of cycling. Let’s face it, our “community” is not that big, even in the athletic world, so being able to reach a broad audience beyond cyclists will be a key to securing dollars. Lance has used cycling as a spring board to reach millions of people who could care less about racing but are able to relate and support his Livestrong program because their lives were affected in some way by cancer. Those people are more likely to buy a Trek bicycle or Oakley sunglasses or Nike running apparel (remember that silly marathon stage he went through?) if they want to “be like Lance.”

Smell the coffee. Lots of people point to the tough times as a generic reason for why athletic sponsorship is decreasing. Underneath that excuse is the added reality that many companies are waking up and realizing they need to make smart (i.e. safe) marketing investments with their limited pool of funds and so the areas in which they will/did spend money are being more heavily scrutinized. It will be interesting to see whether or not companies continue to act this way when the economy turns around and travel and leisure spending goes back up. In the meantime, unfortunately it looks like fewer and fewer athletes will be able to subsidize (or make a living at) their sport without a j-o-b.

Friday, January 9, 2009

no battenkill roubaix

Last year I missed out on the registration because frankly I wasn't ready to commit to the event so far in advance and it sold out quicker than I expected. This year I have a conflict that will keep me far away from central NY on April 18th. I was initially disappointed about missing the Battenkill Roubaix yet again in 2009. It remains on my short list of must-do events before I retire and move west. But I am extremely excited about the other adventure I will be part of instead.

Last summer I got to see a great deal of the United States from the seat of my bicycle. This spring I am going to see amazing sites at 4000m of elevation from the comfort of my hiking shoes. Even if it rains the whole time, I know it will be a scenic adventure with great company in the form of my wife, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law.

When I arrive in Cuzco and start acclimating to the high altitude I'll probably be gasping for breath with almost as much frequency as my friends who are trying desperately to maintain contact with the leaders of their respective peletons. Maybe next year I'll be with you guys. In 2009 I'll be far far away.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

breakfast slushy

I had a half full bottle of Gatorade in the fridge and thought it would be wise to grab it for my morning commute. Sadly, it was mostly slush by the time I was 5 miles from home. It still tasted pretty good. Probably not as good as a hot chocolate would have been but still satisfying.

While riding I also thought about another way to enhance the Verge series. See below (#5).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ways to improve and accommodate growth

There’s been a lot discussion on the New England cyclocross distribution list lately about ways the Verge series can improve the schedule for 2009. Some suggestions are good, others are bad. Adam Myerson, to his credit, has been quick to respond. While I appreciate his willingness to listen, he did open this can of worms, so now he's had to deal with it. As I think about the next ‘cross season, here are my opinions on ways to improve the Verge series
1. Pay attention to those who “fund” the series
2. Reduce the number of UCI-categorized events within the series
3. Eliminate the payouts for all but the UCI categories
4. Force upgrades
5. Season passes

1. The biggest fields at the Verge races are the Masters 3/4, Cat 2/3, and Cat 4 fields. These racers are paying the lion’s share of the entry fees that essentially fund the prize lists and reimburse the promoters for their expenses. I appreciate Myerson’s desire to have a series that is top notch and worthy of the “New Belgium” moniker but not if it means $40 entry fees and 8 race weekends spread throughout New England and never within 45 minutes of Boston where most of the racers live. Let’s focus on improving the experience for those who fund the series. Give these big categories the course and start times they deserve.

2. I am all for a few marquee New England events such as G-stah, NoHo, and Warwick, but I don’t see how keeping 8 UCI weekends in New England is a benefit. Let’s face it, very few cross racers are going to make it to Europe to compete at the highest level and very few (5 maybe in the whole country) can claim cyclocross as a source of reasonable income. If the Verge series put its financial and historical resources towards promoting 3 top tier C1 races, “New Belgium” would be the only destination for top-tier elites in North America on those weekends. Instead of watching Jamey Driscoll ride unchallenged for the last 40 minutes of most Verge races among a field of 25-30 people, let’s raise the bar for a select number of weekends to watch all the best. Perhaps other areas such as the Pacific Northwest, Mid-Atlantic, and OH/WI area can follow our lead and take the same approach with 2 or 3 C1 level races of their own. On the weekends that the top-tier elites are chasing C1 points, our “grass-roots” promoters can thrive off the attendance of local amateurs and second-tier elites. If you are good enough to “need” UCI points or want to always race against the best then pick your weekends carefully and committ to traveling. Us local racers don’t need to fund your “need” for a few UCI points or your 20th out of 22 payout.
Another benefit of fewer UCI Verge series weekends is that multiple "grass-roots" races can be successful on the same weekend. If given the choice between a race in their backyard (relatively speaking) and a race of similar size and quality 2-3 hours away, the vast majority of people would stay local. That means a race in NH should be just as successful as a race in RI on the same day. Don't worry, you'll get to see your friends at the 4 or 5 Verge series weekends and you'll cherish those races even more as a result.
Also, by having fewer C2 races all over the country, the NACT and USGP become much more appealing and powerful races. There is no reason the Verge series events can't account for 3 of those series weekends, right?

3. If the amateur categories are overflowing and the elite field is too small, let’s eliminate rewards for the non-elite fields. I like what I hear about races in the NW giving prizes at random to the non-elite fields. Reward the people who show up every weekend and race for mid-pack because they love the sport even if they don’t excel. Those are the people investing money…for race entry fees, for parts, for clothes, etc. If racers want to be paid for their performance they should do so once they’ve reached the highest level. If you must reward people in the amateur fields, do it randomly so everyone has a shot at it, not just the top 5-10 people who win their amateur field each weekend.

4. If Verge races are trying to encourage competition and excellence at the highest level, then let’s force some upgrades. I’m not trying to say people can’t remain at a certain category level for multiple years, but there seems to be too much of a problem with people staying in a category they have dominated without being told (forced) to upgrade. It is likely that racers will get some pretty good beatings immediately after upgrading but everyone seems to feel the only way to improve is to race against those who are better than you. Once you reach the penultimate step, however, you face a dilemna. It is really hard to tell (force) a person to leap to the UCI level and that is exactly what one has to do to graduate from the women’s ¾ field or from the men’s 2/3 and master’s 1/2/3 fields. If we go back to the second point though, with fewer Verge races being UCI category events, this would be less of a problem. For the 3 marquee C1 weekends there should be a UCI race held separate from the 1/2 race (non-UCI license having people). If you have to start the schedule at 8am on these days, so be it. For 3 marquee weekends it is worth it.

5. Offering season passes seems completely logical. Growing up I was fortunate enough to spend nearly every winter weekend on the ski slopes. Unfortunately it was always at the same mountain because my family invested in a small condo on the slopes. But I digress. I remember pre-purchasing our seasons passes in June or July because the mtn offered a discounted rate in return for the off-season influx of otherwise non-existent revenue. Why wouldn't this work for the Verge series? With 8 (I think) race weekends on tap for next year, why not put together an early season purchase option? Here are some possible offerings:
- pay by May and save the equivalent of 4 race entry fees, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.
- pay by August and save the equivalent of 2 race entry fees, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.
- pay by September and save the equivalent of 1 race entry fee, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.

This way the promoters get money earlier than usual to reduce any out-of-pocket money they may otherwise have to front. Also, if this is a series and the promoters are working in conjunction with one another it will boost revenue to be shared among them. It also creates an incentive for racers who may not otherwise make the trip to VT or ME or down to RI late in the season because they can save as much as $100 with the early buy in. I'm not trying to say this is the only or best scenario but I do feel strongly that a season pass could work to everyone's benefit. Oh, and just like the ski resorts, all sales are final. If you break a wrist in pre (summer) season you don't get a refund. Yeah, it's harsh, but to make something like this work there has to be some rigidity.

I attend the Verge races because I like competing with and socializing with a great group of amateur cyclists. It is my strong feeling that the series would not suffer by eliminating the UCI status at many of its events and would in fact grow like the NW series if the emphasis were put back on growing participation, especially if the races were held in strong cycling based communities like Boston (why are there no Boston venues?) and Providence.