Friday, May 26, 2017

Races, races, races galore

Driving through the Salt Flats on the way to El Paso for yet another race
When in the span of 22 days you work four races in four different states you know you're busy--especially when the next two races are looming within the next 10 days and will require close to 800 miles of driving and international travel to Central America. Believe me, Argentina seems like half a lifetime in the past!
High School League Director Vance McMurry humbly accepting thanks from our graduating seniors
It all started out with a long drive down to just north of San Antonio three days after returning from the southern hemisphere. It was time for the TX High School Mountain Bike League Finals, which took place at Flat Rock Ranch in Comfort. Saturday night I stayed with Judy's nephew, Conner, and his family. It was a long overdue visit as I hadn't seen him, Ginger, or the twins in eons. We had a wonderful evening, and Sunday's race was equally enjoyable with great weather and lots of emotions in the farewell race for several seniors. Race # 1 done.
Circuit race at Redlands, CA
On Tuesday morning I caught the very first flight out of Lubbock and headed out to the LA basin. USA Cycling had given me an appointment as an assistant judge at the country's longest-running stage race, Redlands. Last year I had taken the USAC A-Level officials clinic that had been run in conjunction with this race, so I had a general idea what to expect--and that was about it. While I am well-versed in mountain bike races and feel comfortable in my role as chief for events as big as the national championship, working as a judge in a road race is a totally different animal. I pretty much felt like a fish out of water, but I was lucky in that the crew with whom I worked were supportive and fabulous mentors.
Start of the men's circuit race at Redlands, CA, as seen from the judging stand
During this 5-day stage race I learned loads and loads from seasoned road officials who have been working this and other top-level events (several of them headed over to the AMGEN Tour of California right after the conclusion of Redlands), and I still felt like a neophyte when we finally completed the last stage on Sunday, amid rain and hail after the week had started out with temperatures in the 90's and nothing but sunshine. Working this race was a very cool experience, but I am not sure whether I want to go into the direction of being a judge as the role of the referee seems to be more my cup of tea. For those not familiar with the difference: Judges are responsible for the actual results, including not only the general classification but also specialty competitions such as the Sprinter's Jersey, the KOM (King of the Mountain), and several others. Referees, on the other hand, are responsible for what is actually happening out on the road by managing the racing caravan, as well as running their crews and general race operations.
View from my homestay-domicile in Midway, UT
I did just that--refereeing--a few days after returning from California, taking a two-and-a-half-day breather in Lubbock, and then flying to Utah where I was the Vice Chief for an international pro mountain bike race close to Park City, in Midway. Since the UCI-dispatched chief commissaire, my old friend Mike Drolet, hails from Quebec, I fulfilled chief duties for the amateur portions of the race weekend. We had a fairly small crew, and most of them had worked only road events before, so Mike and I did a lot of mentoring. Mike is the consummate teacher (he had just recently taught the ENC [Elite National Commissaire] course in Vancouver that several of my fellow mountain bike commissaire friends had attended) and was in his element.
The assembled commissaire crew at the MTB Tech Devo #1 race in Utah
We totally lucked out with gorgeous weather and a beautiful venue--the Nordic ski events during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics had taken place here at Soldier Hollow. Since the small town of Midway, Utah, does not have a hotel, Mike and I (plus Richard Blanco, with whom I had worked in Redlands) were put up in a super-fancy house owned by a gentleman who uncannily reminded me of Jabba the Hut from the first Star Wars movie. Ken, so his name, has been retired for about a dozen years and spends 95% of his waking time in front of the huge-screen TV, vegetating away. I'm glad that my retirement has taken a different trajectory! But that's what he chose after making a lot of money in the textile industry, and he has found his place.
My Canadian counterpart Mike Drolet and I enjoyed the comforts of our cush condo in Park City
The Utah race weekend was much less stressful than Redlands, and I had to pinch myself once in a while to really believe that I get paid to fly to such nice places and give back to the sport. Mike and I spent our last night in Utah in a fancy condo on Main Street in Park City, and we made the best out of our evening together. The IPAs and Glenlivet helped ...
Taking a break just west of the Guadalupe mountains on the way to El Paso
With my crew at the crit of the Tour de El Paso
Back in Lubbock I enjoyed a few days of catching up with past and future races (you have no idea how many e-mails need to be written, and there's a ton of paperwork), riding my bike, and cooking a few meals. And then it was already time to drive the approximately 350 miles to the southwest corner of Texas to be Chief Referee for the Tour de El Paso. I arrived in time to be available during registration, and then we had three separate races (criterium, time trial, and road race) over the next 36 hours. I had a pleasant crew of officials, with three of them being complete neophytes--so, the mentoring continued. Like any race, TdEP had a few hick-ups, but overall it was a smooth and successful race, and only one rider crashed hard enough to be transported to the hospital. The support from the organizer, Pedro, and his club (EP Cyclists) was solid, and so my job was once again managing a crew and keeping everyone on track and the racing on time. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun.
After successful completion of the crit, a treat from the food truck
After the final road race I faced the long drive back to Lubbock, and it was right around nightfall that I rolled into the Hub City, completing my fourth race since Argentina. In less than two hours I will start my drive down to Dallas and then onward to Greenville where I will be Chief Referee for the Texas Criterium State Championships over this Memorial Day weekend. Monday night I'll drive after the races only to Decatur and stay in a hotel; Tuesday morning I'll continue the drive back to Lubbock, and on Thursday morning I'll be sitting in a plane to go to a race in Costa Rica. Just don't say that I am like Jabba the Hut!
On the way home from El Paso last Sunday night


Monday, May 8, 2017

Ritchey set-up

I really meant to write this short post way before the second race that I've worked since returning from Argentina not even two weeks ago, but when you're busy, well, you're busy.

Here is how I set up the Ritchey BreakAway for my trip to Argentina (and if you don't know what a Ritchey BreakAway is, well, Google it!):

The biggest change was going from Ultegra Di2 10-speed to SRAM e-tap WiFli 11-speed. If you're not familiar with either: Di2 (in Ultegra or Dura Ace) is an electronic shifting system that relies on wires from the shift levers (integrated into the bike's brake levers) to the derailleurs. SRAM's eTap is a system that wirelessly sends commands from the shift/brake levers to the derailleurs. What's the advantage? Well, on the Ritchey it means that one doesn't have to worry about three wires (two of them somewhat fragile) when packing/reassembling the bike, but only one: the rear brake cable. That's it.

Another advantage of the WiFli system is that it offers a wider gear range than what I got out of the Ultegra set-up. For Argentina I ran an 11-speed 48/34 front set-up with an 11-to-32 tooth rear cog. That gave me almost a one-to-one low gear ratio, enough on all climbs except some very, very lose sections of uphill (such as the last half mile to my B&B in Las Vegas). And I had an honest 22 gears to choose from. I ran a SRAM 11-speed chain, and I disconnected and reconnected the quick-link several times (against what the manufacturer's instructions say) without ill effects.

For wheels, I used a set of hand-built 32-spoke Classics built by Next. I know that I can build wheels that are equally bombproof, but I was given a great deal and figured I'd save myself the hassle of gathering the various parts to build the wheels. They stayed true and reliable for the entire trip, and they were light and responsive. Good stuff--maybe I'll break down and try some of their carbon wheels, just for grins.

Mounted on the hoops were 28 mm Panaracer Gravel King tires. Let me just say: No noticeable wear, and no cuts or other damage from those miles off-road. You saw the pics--that was true gravel grinding stuff, and then some. I ran the tires at about 80 psi, front and rear. No flats during the entire 460 or so miles.

I substituted my normal Alpha Q full-carbon fork for a--believe it or not--steel tandem fork that Judy and I had received with our Co-Motion titanium tandem (and which we later swapped for a lighter Reynolds tandem carbon fork). This steel fork was needed since I wanted to mount a mini-rack to keep my Ortlieb handlebar bag from potentially touching the front wheel on some bumps. As there was no way to attach the rack (Merry Sales) to the carbon fork, I just mounted another Ritchey Hiddenset crown race on the tandem fork and installed it. The steerer length was just right for the swap. Voila! And how did it handle? Just perfectly--rake and trail must have somehow matched what I needed. The Alpha Q is a tiny bit snappier, but the steel fork felt nimble enough even when riding the bike without luggage. This was a really lucky, no-cost substitution.

For bags, Ortlieb set me up with three bags from their bike-packing line: a handlebar duffel, a matching accessory bag (in which I kept documents, money, maps, and most of my electronics), and a behind-the-saddle seat post bag. What a great system! I augmented capacity with a Delta clamp-on seat post carrier and two very small Delta panniers, enough for light stuff like shoes and rain gear, yet helping out in a pinch when I needed to carry a few extra bottles of vino. ;) This also allowed me to use the bike without all, but some. of my luggage, opting instead to throw my lock and maybe a raincoat into one of the panniers.

I used old XTR mountain SPD pedals that I matched with Pearl Izumi shoes (EP purchase--thanks!). On long days I'd wear a regular bike kit while for shorter days when I expected some sightseeing or wineries I used Alpinestars baggies with a chamois liner that can be detached (and is easily sink-washed) from the shorts. For warmth, nothing beats Patagonia nano-puff tops. I carried a few Royal Robins shirts that were just as easy to wash in a sink and dry overnight as the undies and other Lycras.

I'd like to once again thank Ortlieb, SRAM, Nexus, and Shimano/Pearl Izumi for their generous EP (employee purchase) and bro prices. The bike tribe looks out for each other, and they got some feedback, but mainly gratitude, from me.

Check back in a day or two since I wrote this after the conclusion of my officiating stint at Redlands, CA, and I'd like to write about my experience here as well, but alas, time's a-flyin' .....