All posts by leadoutman

A Full Season – Part 3, the Grand Finale

Everyone has a bad year.  My last blog post was a good indicator of that.  But it’s also about what you make of it.  An early season injury, especially one that lasts the whole year and adds to the fatigue and declining performance reminds you and your body that you have to take the time to slow down.  You have to allow for some down time.

Doing the “wave” at a Blue Jays game in the Skydome.

After vacationing in Canada, reconnecting with old friends and regrounding with family, I was ready for the Green Mountain Stage Race in Vermont.  This race had been on my bucket list for some time.  And even as the registration deadline was looming, I made it to be a last minute decision.  My fatigue was beyond the point of making any competitive difference because of the overtraining, but I figured this would be a good race regardless.  It would be good practice and preparation for when my fitness and form would come back to me next year.  This time, it was to just get to know the course.  It would be four days of racing – something I’ve never attempted before.  The Killington Stage Race was only three days, and even that was unrelenting.

Green Mountain Stage Race

Day 1 – Individual Time Trial, 5.6 miles

Greeted with scenery at the end of the time trial.

It was all uphill from the start.  The start of my race was a disaster.  I couldn’t keep my balance and nearly fell off my bike in the staging area.  I had to unclip in order to keep from falling.  And then I tried again after the official gave me an additional 5 seconds to get myself ready.  But still, I couldn’t get off the line correctly.  A little bit frustrated, I had no time to be fully mad.  I clipped in on my own power, taking my time to set off because I knew the next 5 miles or so were going to be tortuous.  There’s no rush to experiencing pain.  I paced myself to go hard only at the start, ease myself in for the negative split, finishing the race by passing two racers.  Although my power was questionable, lightness ruled the day.

Day 2 – Circuit race, 39 miles

An early morning drive in my BMW M3 over the Appalachian Gap at speed was epic.  On the other side revealed a perfect race course, although a bit windy at spots.  The temperature and conditions were otherwise perfect.  Smooth roads made everything better.  The pace was a little docile in the beginning.  After the first lap, which the Masters field usually uses as a warmup lap, the pace picked up above a crest.  I held on for as long as I can, knowing that a few other riders got shelled immediately.  So that means my form wasn’t all too bad.  However, I dropped back, trying to not re-injure myself and only gave more effort where I felt like I could in some short punchy climbs.  I ended up with two other, less experienced riders, taking turns pulling at the front, until the last kilometer where we played a bit of cat and mouse before the sprint.  I expended too much energy before the sprint and relegated myself to the back, not having enough kick to hit the line first.


Day 3 – Queen Stage 3, 64 miles

Two minor climbs and two major climbs.  All steep enough that if you didn’t have the energy, fitness and stamina, you were pretty much toast even before you started.  Nervous but positive, I knew this day was going to be difficult because of my fatigue.  The recovery and preparation from the night before was adequate in that I did all the Yin Yoga I needed and properly nourished myself with only the best foods.  It helped that my Maine housemates were great cooks the past couple of nights and the habit of cycling, stretching, eating, sleeping eating, then more sleeping was starting to form.  I could get used to this.  Life was simple being an amateur racer with few worries.  Take care of your body and your bike.  That’s all.  It was a great escape from the world of other life responsibilities.  The only person you’re accountable to is yourself and your goals.

Ready for the queen stage.

I was happy to have survived Granville Notch as the peloton stuck together for most of the time.  A few of us tried to create a breakaway only to be brought back.  It was a good test of who was in it to play for the stage and for general classification.

The attacks started on the climb up to Middlebury Gap.  Naturally, I was off the back and kept my pace conservative after trying to hang on for as long as I could.  The consolation prize was that I started to drop the Gruppetto, only to be caught on the downhill on the other side at 55 mph.  It was an exhilarating downhill with curves and bends.  I didn’t weight enough to keep my momentum going and I was passed.  I tried to keep up and then went for a chase only to be left farther back with a couple of other fellows whom I met the day before.  We rode together knowing we weren’t competitive and just tried to enjoy the ride.  Baby Gap (4% grade) and then the proper Appalachian Gap (10%) at 2,358 feet were up ahead.  Some sections went up more than 13% grade and the last section was a lung-busting 15%.  I swear there were undocumented sections that felt like 20%.

At the bottom of the climb, a couple of women passed us at speed as a battle was brewing.  The last ascent would be the last place anyone could make a difference by either gaining time or losing it.  I gave words of encouragement as they hammered up the 2.6 mile climb.

Somewhere along the way, I parted with my buddies.  I left them behind and we said our goodbyes for the moment.  Heavy breathing replaced pleasant conversation for the next twenty two minutes.  I took some sections a couple of feet at a time, almost nearing a standstill, but not to the extent of climbing up Hurricane Mountain Road in New Hampshire.  Masochists ride up that wall over and over again.

The top of Appalachian Gap.  It’s steep.

The last 500 metres were the longest.  I passed one of the women who attacked at the bottom.  She was spent as if she put her gearing in reverse.  At the top and across the line, it felt like a block party.  Music, cheering, food, drinks – everything and everyone you could imagine was there.  The vista was incredible.  It was your reward for being courageous and persevering in spite of setbacks.  It was an accomplishment greater than completing the Queen Stage in the Killington Stage Race.

My new friends caught up several minutes later assessing the climb and our efforts.  The other efforts was making it alive down the gap on the other side to reach the start area.  Unfortunately, I forgot to turn on my Garmin to record the descending section, but I’m sure I reached more than 60mph on the rutted, heaved and uneven surface.  For safety, I had to completely let go and let gravity do its job.  It felt like skydiving – not like I’ve ever done that before.

Day 4 – Stage 4, Burlington Criterium

This was the home stretch.  Cycling felt like my day job, but in a good way.  Excitement instead of nerves.  And with three days of racing behind me, I felt accomplished despite not being competitive.  I did it anyway and that was all that mattered.  I went into the criterium with the same attitude.  Knowing that I wouldn’t last long, that at some point I would be lapped and even thrown out, I went for it regardless.

At the start line for the final stage.

I was able to get in just one practice lap before we started.  There was an interlocking stone section up the first straight which made things interesting, and then twisting, turning, technical bends before hitting the slight downhill into a 90-degree bend back up to the start/finish line on a slight grade.  Do enough laps, and it will wear you out.  I was done by the eighth lap, eighteen to go.  The consolation prize was that I’d get the same time as the average racer, plus some time added.

The exotic pace car (Audi R8) for the criterium.

But during the race, I made it my mission to practice to perfect my turns, hit the apexes at the right time, accelerate out of the corner and put in massive efforts up the slope and soldier on into stones.  A few of them rattled as I raced over them.  Some people just race hard but not mindfully.  Picking the right racing lines makes all the difference.  It’s part of the technique.  It’s part of survival.  Even though I was thrown out at the end, it was an amazing experience.  Part of it was having so many people watching us race, feeling the buzz and excitement.  I never had that before.

In the race’s general classification, I ended up 39th of 43 riders who finished.  I expected better, but I performed with what I was given.  I was still happy about the experience – having spent time with some great friends from Downeast Racing and those racing in my category, and having the best weather and roads to race on in Vermont.

A Full Season – Part 2: There’s no Glamour in Cycling

If you think cycling is always glamorous with perfect kits, toned, tight bodies and expensive bikes, consuming espressos with exotic pastries and boutique donuts, you’re partially right.  What you don’t see is the other side of cycling, especially when it comes to racing.  Not everything is a bed of roses, though they do smell nice.  There’s personal sacrifice, disappointment and physical plateaus.  You’re putting yourself on the line, spending exorbitant amounts of time, money and effort for training, equipment, traveling, lodging and food to accomplish goals you set out for yourself in the beginning of the year.  These are the things you don’t really see (unless spoken of) because you’re trying to answer a calling with each race.  You do it for the challenge – but there’s no glamour in it.

At this point, I started to feel the off-season training in my legs, training I started last November, most notably in my glutes and piriformis.  There was little rest in between races as my conditioning needed to be in top form as I monitored my Strava graph lines carefully.  Little did I know that it would actually hurt me, thinking that pushing through the fatigue would help.  I’ve done it before, and with success.  This time, however, it was different.

“If your life just got a little harder, that probably means you just leveled up.”

That was my goal this year – to level up.  And this is how it went:


Purgatory Road Race – finished 16th out of 25 riders

This was a big turnout by our team.  4 men and 4 women.  Since the Tour of the Battenkill was no longer USAC sanctioned, this was a proper one day race for many of us in Tall Sock Racing to appear.  I don’t recall the details from the men’s CAT 4 race since I was racing in the Master’s category, but the women fared well.  Martha went to the podium for 2nd place, just a couple of minutes behind the leader and about a minute ahead of 3rd.  Ashley placed 21 and unfortunately, Ellen DNF’d after a mechanical.  She felt strong too and was taking pulls at the front.

For me, this was the usual thrashing of hill repeats and I stuck with the main group until midway through the race after the second lap.  My legs began to fail.  I compensated by keeping a measured speed but was trailing the main group by only a few hundred metres.  By the last lap, the group shattered and it was every man for themselves.  Temperatures reached 81F which I’m usually happy about, though this time, I struggled to chase on back, leaving my soul on the road.  I was as wrung out as a session of hot Vinyasa Yoga.  I was happy to at least finish in the middle of the field.

At this point, according to Strava, my fitness was on a slight decline.  This was the beginning of the plateau.

Tour of the Hilltowns – finished 43rd out of 71 riders

I would have loved to have shared this experience with someone, but solitude had its privileges too.  I could do whatever I wanted.  This was a solo drive out to the Berkshires and I experienced what Northampton, MA had to offer the day before.  I’ve been here last year and it was time I branched out.  Knowing that I wasn’t at top form, I discovered a local tea room, Dobra Tea, which I also frequented in Portland, in town!  It wasn’t an exact replica, but the decor and ambiance was the same.  I later discovered a Tibetan restaurant I wanted to try the next day for lunch, after the race.  Sometimes, dissociation helps with keeping me sane, knowing full well the huge effort required the next day.  The good thing was that I had taught some Yin Yoga for Cyclists sessions to my team, so at least that contributed to my continued healing.


As for race day, it was hot and humid since the evening before saw some scattered thunderstorms.  There were two major climbs, one in the middle and one towards the finish line.  There was a fast descent in the first half of the race, which does no one any favours for getting warmed up.  Legs stiffen by the base of the first climb.

Halfway up the first climb, an attack was made and the group scrambled to chase and shatters.  Everyone was strung out by the time we reach the the other side of the KOM.  I form with a small group and took turns to catch up but eventually get dropped.  Or rather, I wanted to save myself from further injury.  At this point, I relegated myself to a softer pace and let others catch up to ride together.  Fatigue settled in.  My legs were spent.

With more than half of the race done, we enter a false flat for several miles and take turns at the front to pull the group.  It’s amazing how the presence of other riders gives you a second wind.  I try to gauge my competitors even though we were working together to limit our losses in a chase.  Out of three other riders, I felt the strongest.  That was apparent when the road started to slant up to a 3% grade.  Even though my legs were beyond fatigued, I was still able to climb.  By the finish, I had put 17 seconds between me and my last competitor in that group.  Severely dehydrated from rationing my water, almost threw up.

I then reminded myself of the fabulously nourishing lunch I was going to have at that Tibetan restaurant.  I ordered a noodle dish, dumplings and Yak.  I don’t eat red meat but figured this would be a delicacy.  It was satisfying!

After the race, I met up with a couple of my teammates.  Martha placed 8th, Ashley 24th, and Stephanie got a ride back to the finish because she was spent after helping the other two.  She didn’t need the points anyway.  She’s selfless like that.

Auburn/Lewiston Rotary Criterium – finished 25th of 33 riders

Tall Sock Racing had a big turnout here on our local grounds as did Downeast Racing, PVC/Cyclemania and Team Rancourt & Co/Rainbow Bicycle.  Everyone from Maine who raced regularly showed up.  The course was challenging as it centered around the commons with one stretch of road uphill was badly rutted from the harsh New England winter weather.  It was enough to dislodge my chain a couple of times, losing momentum.  I knew from the start it would be a difficult race since my conditioning wasn’t built for sprinting having completed more hilly races.  There was an attack from the start, making the selection quick. Someone had their morning espresso.  Or two. Or three.  I had barely clipped in when we started moving.  It was comedic.


It was only a matter of time before I was lapped – but I kept going.  No one was being eliminated from the race, which was very gracious, but demeaning at the same time.

Hmm…let’s see how many times the laggers get lapped.

I didn’t care.  I went full speed and considered it a mid-season FTP test.  We had 45 minutes to race and I wasn’t going to give in.  When I did get lapped, twice, I was able to momentarily keep with up the main group when they passed.  There was some relief from the aching fatigue my legs were experiencing and the burning of my lungs from the efforts but it wasn’t enough.  Still, it was good practice hitting the racing lines and dodging the occasional oblivious pedestrian crossing the street in front of me.

Tall Sock Racing Standings:

Women’s CAT 4 – Ellen, 3rd place, Martha, 4th, Ashley, 6th.

Men’s CAT 4 – Matthew B., 4th; Chris P., 7th; Kent, 9th; Michael W., 10th; The Stiv, 15th; Jordan, 23rd; Myself, 25th; Todd, DNF.

Concord Criterium – Eliminated

When a race is within only a couple hours of driving, you’re obliged to show up, even if your body says, “No.”  The course was fun as usual, and I expected to be dropped early on since my legs weren’t responding in the last race.  Still, I was able to take the corners at speed, picking the perfect racing lines, taking turns with one other off the back.  Eventually, we would succumb to the quicker pace of the main group and was eliminated before they caught up to us.  This was a safety precaution since the course had tight corners with little place for slower riders to go.  It was fun nonetheless and my riding buddy, Chris, complimented me on my speed and that I should be in CAT 3.  I wish he could tell my legs that.



Earlier in the day, Ellen raced her CAT 4 women’s race and placed fifth!  That was an incredible result!  From the looks of the finishing times, there was a bunch sprint.  She also made it a point to stick around to see my race.  How thoughtful of her!  She cheered me on just as I did for her in the last criterium.  I love how we support each other.

Tokeneke Classic Road Race – finished 28th of 43 riders

It was a hot and humid weekend in East Hartland, CT.  I arrived at my 1-star hotel after dodging some gravel roads going 5 mph trying to save my tires and my car.  Obviously this was my first time in the area because Google Maps doesn’t do such a good job at recognizing the types of roads a high performance tarmac car is limited to.  This weather continued on during the race.  There was no relief at all except under the shade of trees.  But on the race course, there was plenty of that.  Little to offset given the effort to come.



There were three of us in the CAT4 Masters and one other in the non-Masters.  The course was picturesque – two laps of 22 miles of smooth, fast and hilly pavement around the Barkhamsted Reservoir.  There was some enjoyment of the scenery at first, but that faded between the hard effort and panting on the first climb after the fast descent where the first selections were made.  I was able to keep up for a time, but the usual fatigue set in and I couldn’t push any harder.  I did everything right – I got enough sleep, enough to eat and no mental distractions before the race.  At this point I knew for a fact I was severely overtrained.  Doing badly in criteriums was okay because it wasn’t my strength except in the early season.  This time, my mental ability went far beyond what my body could do.  I was already looking forward to vacation in my hometown in the next few days.  That would be great preparation for the Green Mountain Stage Race in Vermont.  Do nothing for seven days.

Part 3 coming up…

A Full Season – Part 1: A Good Start

After having completed my physical therapy from my muscle strain injury, I had the intention of giving you more frequent race updates, but I was too busy.  Racing.  And training.  And preparing for everything in between.  I also took up Yin Yoga Teacher training and then taught a 6 week series to my teammates so that they could experience a restorative practice of stillness and meditation.  It’s the perfect compliment to such soul-wringing ferocity and suffering on the bike.  A little bit of bliss brings back your sanity.

I know you’re probably dying to read about the Green Mountain Stage Race in Vermont, but not before knowing about the full season leading up to those four days.  “Sorry,” as Canadians would say.  During the course of this year, there were races I haven’t done before, some on my bucket list, others, not so, charity rides which I have done for the ninth time (the Trek Across Maine for the American Lung Association) and a vacation back to my hometown, Toronto.  Now that I’m in transition heading into off-season training, I’m going to give you the highlights of some of my adventures.

Here we go…

Myles Standish Road Race – finished 26th of 42 riders

This is considered one of the spring classics in New England.  Four laps totaling 23 miles in 50 degree weather with technical turns and “yumps” as the Finns would call them, was the course of the day.  I felt good having recovered just enough to race.  I kept with the group the entire way as did almost everyone else.  There was little room to move about so positioning early on was key.  And the way to play it was to keep your position as long as possible – not in the back, but in the front half of the peloton.  Well, I yo-yo’d in the front to the back and then to the front again.  The pace was high and averaged 24.1mph.  We literally had no room to move in the bunch sprint.  You had to move up before the sprint even happened or you’d be stuck.  The few early season Saturday morning rides prepared me for the efforts as they felt similar with every acceleration and deceleration.  Not much to write home about except that this was one of the most fun courses on the race calendar.

Killington Stage Race 5.0

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years already since my first stage race in Killington.  Each year, it gets better and better, and each year, I get faster and faster – well, marginally – and except when I DNF’d because of a horrific crash.  But that was the past and this is now.



This time around, there were six of us – four men and two women from our Tall Sock Racing team, who raced the Killington Stage Race in Vermont.  It seemed routine to me, except that instead of staying at my usual bed and breakfast, we shared lodging.  Guys and girls kept separate.  And we had a ton of fun together!

Stage 1 – Circuit Race, 37 miles, 1,506 feet of climbing

The 37 mile circuit race was fast.  And it seemed easy too with the exception of a few efforts.  I had flashbacks of our usual Portland Velo Club Saturday morning rides, getting wrung out by more developed riders a few times.  It was all for a buildup to the finish which ended on my part to be 47.5 mph.  I hung in the back as usual and tried to get to the front for the sprint – but there wasn’t room.  I had missed the boat when Chris Durand started to go on the right with 500 metres to go.  He had a clear path and went on to podium for second place.  I waited too long and put myself in a poor position to gain any places.  I chose the left side of the road – but so did everyone else.  Coming up from behind on some riders, I ended up being wedged, essentially being blocked by two riders.  I backed off only to lose my momentum and had to sprint around them.  By that time, I was at top speed and top gear (53×11) and there wasn’t more I could do to gain places.  I ended up 20th out of 48.  Better than my 42nd place last year and off the back.  But hey, big congratulations to Chris Durand for a job well done!  It was a victory for Tall Sock Racing!

Stage 2 – Queen Stage Road Race, 61 miles, 4, 751 feet of climbing

This ride was like a Sunday cruise by the beach, until the four of us instigated some hard riding because we just felt like it.  The Stiv (we call him that because he has great power to weight ratio and bikes like the Stig drives in Top Gear) made some attacks, as did Durand, contesting a sprint section, but no one really followed.  At some point during the mid point climbs, I too was getting eager to expend some energy, powering up some climbs and even hanging out in the front.  We increased the pace and dragged the peloton over the terrain until one of the last few climbs, a leading group started to form, and three out of the four of us weren’t in it.

Once the first selection was made, we decided to initiate a second selection, so we started to chase.  We tried to form a paceline, but each time we did, some unruly and sketchy riders broke the echelon and our momentum was lost.  The ride up to the base of the climb was a fast one as there was a headwind to help with the efforts.  I took up the front and pulled the group a few times, but again, some riders just couldn’t, or didn’t want to do the work.  It didn’t matter to me.  The pulls I made (as well as a select one or two others) got us closer to the lead group.  We could see the backed up traffic because of them and eventually they were in our sights.

But the moment I saw them, I backed off, knowing that I shouldn’t be riding my self into the ground before the daunting and brutal climb.

“Conserve your energy, Juan.”

He was suffering more than I was.  We were at equal pace but I eventually lost contact with him as he dropped back.

“It was nice riding with you today,” I said as I started to put distance between us.  I was panting as hard as he was up the 12% grade.  Or maybe it was 15%.  The access road from Skyeship Base was unrelenting as always.

My teammate, Nate caught up to me after having a mechanical at the base of the climb.  We rode up together to the finish and met up with the rest of the team.  Chris Durand had DNF’d after some hard work and a great performance.  Sometimes the body says, “No.”  The Stiv finished a few minutes behind the winner in a lead group that had broken up at the top of the climb.

Stage 3 – Individual Time Trial, 11 miles, 400 feet of climbing


This was somewhat uneventful for me since I wasn’t feeling too great and I had technical problems with my Garmin GPS.  It didn’t record anything between software updates so I had to do everything by feel.  Regardless, I did it and recorded a personal best of 21.9 mph with aerodynamic gear.  Last year, I went to Merckxing it with only the basics.

Our team General Classification results out of 43 riders who finished:

  • The Stiv – 14th;
  • Chris Durand – DNF, best place 2nd on Stage 1;
  • Nate Kimble – 32nd;
  • Myself – 29th of 43 riders.

 Part 2 to come…


Road to Recovery (again?)

When your level of play increases, you expect to push that little extra to get into shape, to have an edge, follow a plan and to destroy your competition.  Well, none of that is useful if you don’t listen to your body or execute the fundamentals. That’s what happened over a month ago as I was starting to ride outside again after a long season of indoor training, but not before enjoying some downtime cycling in Florida.

Apparently, my body doesn’t like the cold, even though I grew up in Canada where the winters can be biting towards -40 degrees Celsius.  Riding in 17 degrees Fahrenheit on the other hand felt balmy.  But that’s where I was mistaken.

It was one of the first few Saturday morning rides of the year and there was a bunch of us ready to pick up where we left off last year after the Doppio Ciclo.  (That’s “double loop” for those who aren’t Italian.)  I was feeling great after having come off vacation and felt I could continue on the work I did when I was in the warmer climate.  I pushed just as hard as I did in the Fallen Heroes Ride – except in the last few miles before the big sprint, my legs and body gave out and I went backwards as the group surged on.  I didn’t think too much of it – not with the amount of training I had put in since November.  But as the days went on, it turned out to be almost 2 weeks before I went to get diagnosed.  I could feel the power in my legs dissipate and the fire slowly burn dimly.
Back strain was the first culprit.  The people at Maine Medical Orthopedics and Sports Medicine made the diagnosis and immediately set out a plan for rehabilitation.  The reason my back was strained was because my core was weak.  I realized that by taking part in more Yin Yoga, I had forgotten to take care of my core by doing Vinyasa Yoga.  In the first couple of weeks of doing Vinyasa, it was painful.  My body wouldn’t bend the way I wanted it to and I was completely stiff.  Part of the therapy regiment was staying off the bike – initially.  I wasn’t okay with this, but I had no choice.  I remember the moments when my body, especially around the lower back, hips and gluteus muscles where they were screaming ever so silently, “No more!”  They were fatigued after the amount of stress I had put them through.

The only bike activity I was allowed to have was if I pedaled below 100 watts – which was soft pedaling or, “Look pro, go slow.”  Even though I felt devastated, I also knew the consequences if I didn’t follow my doctor’s and therapist’s advice.  The good thing is that this happened early enough in the season and not in the midst of it, even though I could use some additional conditioning.  The silver lining was that I was able to ride with friends who had a more leisurely pace.

I had a four week plan after two weeks of trial and error.  Along with back-strengthening exercises, I was to gradually increase my power output on the bike each week, but only if I followed the guidelines exactly.  If I were to exceed the guidelines, I would have to revert back to the previous week as a form of punishment.  Actually, the purpose of that was to not re-injure myself and create more fatigue and strain, producing unnecessary muscle inflammation.  One of the ways to reduce inflammation was to concentrate on nutrition.  Less fish, more vegetables, more nuts and avocados and turmeric on everything.

By the third week, I had felt better having continued with Yin Yoga, but also doing more Vinyasa Yoga in the gym as well as at the Greener Postures studios.  Although I was doing this activity, I felt a need to get a specialist I hadn’t called upon in a long time.  My intuitive masseuse, Amber.

After just two sessions, she was able to pinpoint and address my pains.  Not only was it coming from my lower back, it was all connected into my hip flexors, gluteus areas, piriformis and psoas.  I discovered that while Yin was able to relieve much of my pain in the connective tissues, I also needed direct manipulation in the form of massage.  Afterwards, I felt out of sorts and my body couldn’t coordinate with the effects of the massage.  My body was that messed up!  But I knew it was all the accumulated toxins that was floating around that made me this way.

Miraculously, I was able to race the next day in the Scarborough Criterium Series even though I had my doubts having already missed two of them.  I finished with the peloton, which was my goal, but I wasn’t competitive.  Another Vinyasa class, another Yin class with the mindful instructor, Sagel, a fast Monday night ride, another therapy session and Yin class over the course of a few days, and finally – I felt like myself again!  Yes, that’s today!

What I learned from this experience are the following:

  1. Injuries teaches you patience – in the mental and physical aspects;
  2. Listen to your body – you only have one, so know its voices;
  3. Always eat nutritious foods – avocados, turmeric, maple syrup, steel cut oatmeal, organic and raw cashews, almonds and pecans and bananas are my go-to foods;
  4. Always exercise your core – this is fundamental.  There are so many benefits with Vinyasa Yoga;
  5. Get massages – especially after some hard training and racing;
  6. Listen to your sports doctors and physical therapists.

As of now, I feel 100% healed.

And all it took were a number of people and events to make it happen. Feeling blessed?  Yes.  Feeling motivated?  Of course!

I’m ready to ride bikes!


Marginal Gains and Yoga

Ever since Dave Brailsford used the term, “Marginal Gains” for cycling, it has been the buzzword everyone seems to gravitate towards.  And with good reason – Team Sky has seen great success because of it.  Minute changes in behavior result in a positive outcome.

Maybe I’m late to the game, Yoga can be considered as a marginal gain – or maybe not so because its benefits are much greater than that!  Roughly for the past three years, I’ve been practicing yoga as a sort of training and maintenance program to improve my cycling.  My initial intent, however, was to relieve myself of some post-concussion syndrome symptoms as well as to heal my fractured vertebrae in a horrific crash I had during a race.  Little did I know it was to transform my life, not just in the cycling world.

What’s interesting is that men still have apprehensions about the practice, thinking it’s too feminine.  But if you look towards its history, the practice has been around for thousands of years in Hinduism, before the bicycle was even invented.  NFL players embrace it.  Prisoners found solace in it.  It’s also being taught in grade school and among the elderly.  So of course, why not for athletes?  Why not for cyclists?

First off, there are different kinds of yoga, and depending on what you want to achieve, certain types will benefit you in different ways.  I’ll summarize briefly what I practice and then write about it in more detail in later blog posts.

Vinyasa Yoga – This is one many many different types of yoga where it works your muscles, also known as yang tissues.  It’s the same muscles you use in cycling, but by posing in different postures, it builds strength, most notably, core strength.  By doing this asana, you recruit muscles that hold your body into position so you can put the power down to the pedals.  You’ll also find how you move on the bicycle either out of saddle or on generally is less fatiguing.  Since my overall fitness improved because of it, I was able to go faster.  (Practice this at least once a week to see benefits in 3 months or sooner.)

Yin Yoga – This practice strengthens the connective tissues and lubricates the joints.  The objective is to reduce the amount of fixation caused by poor posture or repetitive yang movement such as cycling.  By doing Yin Yoga, you increase flexibility and support for yang activities.  This increase in flexibility means you can get lower and more aerodynamic in your body position on the bicycle.  I also found that certain poses alleviate chronic muscle problems such as lower back pain.  (Practice this 1 to 2 times a week, especially after a hard race or intense training.)

Yoga Nidra – Also known as “yogic sleep”, is still quite new to me.  The objective of this practice is to reduce tension in the body and anxiety.  It is held in a prone state (Savasana) where you surrender yourself completely to the ground, and you are instructed to become aware in each part of your body in a sequence.  It’s is known that 1 hour of this practice is equivalent to having 3 to 4 hours of sleep.  It completes the suite of yoga practices.  (Practice this 1 to 2 times a month.)

When you practice any version of yoga, you are exploring yourself and getting to knowing yourself in your physical, mental and spiritual states.  I am always asked,

“What do you get out of it?”

If you do it only once in a while, not much.  But if you dedicate yourself to the practice at least once a week, you will see changes within yourself.  If you do it a few times a week, you will see an awakening and a transformation in your entire self.  Over the course of the first six months, you’ll see big changes in all facets of your being.  Your mind will become more clear, and you will be more aware of your body.  You will also find that your breathing patterns are enhanced – all of which are extremely important in cycling.

Here are a few steps to get started:

  1. Ease yourself into yoga by finding a few local yoga studios to try.  Start with community classes as they are inexpensive.  It’s a good way to test out if yoga is for you and get a sense of what it’s like to do certain poses and find out how your body responds to them;
  2. Once you know you want to do more yoga, start finding an instructor or two to follow to get a sense of what they’re teaching and how.  Their level of difficulty, pace and flow are great indicators of how well they match your style.
  3. Dedicate yourself to the practice weekly.  You’ll get to know the different poses intimately and feel like you need it every day.  Don’t limit your practice to just going to the studio.  You can start doing it every day in the morning for 5 to 10 minutes.  This will wake you up and get the blood flowing.

I’ve written this article for the sole purpose of educating my Tall Sock Racing teammates and my friends in the cycling community.  Hopefully, you too will start getting curious about yoga and what it can do for you in your cycling adventures.

Feel free to ask me questions and comment here to discuss what you have tried.

But for now, Namaste and ride on!

Product review: 2016 BMC Team Machine SLR01 – Part 1: Build

When you increase the level of game play, things start to happen to you because you’re more engaged in the world.  Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad.  But it’s all subjective and really, you shouldn’t be shaken up too much about it, because, after all, it’s all relative.

The bike-building drama (yes there is such a thing) I experienced this year was quite, interesting.  A broken BMC mid-season gave way to reviving a beloved, steel dinosaur which eventually broke.  Replacing it meant building and riding a Bianchi Sempre Pro borrowed, then bought from a good and gracious friend in the local cycling community.  And after a month without a halo bike to ride, BMC finally resolved it by standing by their products and sent me a replacement frame before anyone else had one.  Even the pro team didn’t have it in their hands yet.

I later discovered, it’s one thing to have the frame, and another to actually build it into something rideable without breaking.

The build and the drama

I started tinkering with the bike for a few days before the major job was to start, just so I could prepare myself with the task.  I knew it was going to be a challenge because of the new technology and standards, of which, I had little experience – BB86 instead of Italian threaded cartridge bottom bracket, integrated headset instead of the traditional cups, new electronic shifting components.

Wiring harness fed through before bottom bracket install.
Wiring fed through to battery installed on seatpost.
Front derailleur hookup.
Charging and control unit.
Easier than dealing with shift cables.
The dreaded brake cable still  needed to be fed internally.  Thank goodness for pre-installed guides!

The Bianchi was a dress rehearsal as the BMC frame too had internal cable routing.  But miraculously, that was the most fun and easy part of assembling the bicycle.  Everything else, not so much.

Trying to press fit the bottom bracket.
The aftermath of a poorly installed bottom bracket.  It broke.

I must say – I despise pressfit bottom bracket systems – with a passion, as you can see in the picture.  They are the most troublesome and expensive standard.  They wear out, creak and are immensely difficult to install – for an amateur mechanic.  The act of installing the bottom bracket should have been easy.  It wasn’t.  First, it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to use the pressing tool.  Then, when I finally figured it out, I destroyed the Shimano bottom bracket because it didn’t align properly.  Basically, if you have this bottom bracket with your group, throw it out because it’s plastic and it’s garbage.  That’s Shimano trying to skimp on one of the most important components on a bike.

Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket.

Instead, I got upgraded to a Wheels Manufacturing aluminum anodized BB86, thanks to after-hours service from LL Bean by Matt.  I was able to drop-off the bike in the early evening then come back later that night after the work was done.  And I was on a deadline to give it its maiden voyage on my Monday night club ride.  By the way, this was during Labor Day weekend.



Completed in the wee hours of the night!
The crank slipped off the spindle attached to my foot, dragging it on the ground.

The fixing bolt for the crank was also plastic.  And it didn’t work, as I found out.  Because when I did get to ride the bike on Labor Day Monday, it too failed and left me stranded.  (It’s a good thing I have friends to bail me out.)  So I ordered the Dura Ace version, an aluminum part that actually held the torque.  I later learned that part of the failure was due to using a too thick spacer that was included in the bottom bracket assembly, reducing the amount of clamping purchase for the left crank.

Crank was positioned too far outward.

The Lessons

After all the kinks in the build had been eliminated, the bike rode perfectly, though there were times when I soft-pedaled, anticipating the crankarm to fly off the spindle again.

“Too much power…”

…I insisted.

In retrospect, with each of the five builds that I’ve gone through since the 1990’s, I’ve accumulated wisdom and lessons learned.

Lesson 1:  “Don’t skimp on tools and assembly.”

Lesson 2:  “Let the professionals build your bike.”

Lesson 3:  “You rarely get it right the first time.”

If I had followed the second lesson first, I wouldn’t have to learn the third lesson on bike-building.  Nor would I have known more about the components that made up the modern bicycle.  Nor could I impress myself and my friends that I was more than just a racer.

Stay tuned for part two – The Ride Review.

The Specs

Frame – 2016 BMC Team Machine SLR 01 (58cm);

Cockpit – Shimano PRO Vibe 7S (44cm) handlebar, PRO Vibe UD Carbon (130mm) stem, Cinelli white cork handlebar tape.  Stiff and light and for the traditionalist in me;

Components – Shimano Ultegra 11speed, Di2, (53×39, 175mm, 11t-28t);

Pedals – LOOK Keo2 Blade CroMo, 12nm;

Saddle – Selle Italia Flite Kit Carbonio, 143mm, 165 grams;

Wheels – 2014 Reynolds Assault SLG, clincher;

Tires – Vittoria Corsa SR & CX (24mm front, 25mm rear);

Bottle cages – Reynolds carbon.

It’s been a long season.

We’re finally at the end of the season.  It ended last week.

But before I go ahead and stop training and eat a crapton of fatty foods (i.e. poutine) and drinking beer because I’ve been depriving myself of indulging in the taste of the day, there’s next year to think about.  What better way to think about next year but to review the past couple of months.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog, because I’ve been training and racing with my team, Tall Sock Racing.  We’ve had some epic rides and races lately.  We rode the Loon Echo Trek and did a team camp at Rangeley.  I also completed the Cadillac Century for the first time since my first attempt back in 2007.  I completed the metric and didn’t get to go up the mountain due to lack of fitness.  What a stark contrast that was from this year.

Bobby, Todd and myself doing our job to eat goodies.
Bobby, Todd and myself doing our job to eat goodies. (Loon Echo  Trek)
Evan's Notch climb.
Evan’s Notch climb.  (Loon Echo Trek)
Reached Evans Notch on my new bike.
Reached Evans Notch on my new bike. (Loon Echo Trek)
The best goodies of the ride.
The best goodies of the ride.  (Loon Echo Trek)
Majestic Rangeley.
Majestic Rangeley.
Team camp nerding out.
Team camp in Rangeley.
Taking in the view at the top.
Taking in the view at the top.
Yeah. Rangeley.
Yeah. Rangeley.
Obligatory selfie.
Obligatory selfie.
...many, many bikes.
…many, many bikes.
Immaculate view.
Immaculate view.
Bonjour, Monsieur Poulin!
Bonjour, Monsieur Poulin!
Woke up to this the morning of the Cadillac Century.
Woke up to this the morning of the Cadillac Century.
I'm home to roads like this.
I’m home to roads like this.
At the Seawall.
At the Seawall.
Park Loop Road before the climb.
Park Loop Road before the climb.
Rewarded at the top of Cadillac Mountain.
Rewarded at the top of Cadillac Mountain.
After the descent.
After the descent.
This is what you eat after a century - Maine style.
This is what you eat after riding 100 miles – Maine style.

The last two races we completed were the Maine Apple Classic in Vasselboro and just recently, Jamestown Classic in Rhode Island.

Maine Apple Classic

Maine Apple Classic.
The team at the Maine Apple Classic.

One gentleman commented when he saw our team, seven of us hanging out at the registration area, in our matching red kits,

“You guys are like a [professional] tour team.”

Well, that inflated our egos somewhat.  But that only gave others a signal that we’re a tight team.  And it showed in the race.  We were together from the beginning, riding with each other in a tightly-knit formation.  It was an amazing sight to see a sea of red in the peloton.  The course was undulating and a bit short.  I was nearly shelled off the back a couple of times because of the notorious end-of season fatigue but caught back up riding at threshold.  It was two laps on an eleven mile circuit with one major climb each lap.  It was “Purgatory-lite” because the pace was fast and unrelenting (but no souls were depleted), especially on the short, punchy climbs.  I made it a point to stick with Chris and Kent as they were the closest to the front most of the race.  But somewhere along the way, I lost concentration and drifted back a couple of positions.

No points were awarded because it wasn’t a USAC sanctioned event.  However, up for grabs were a bag full of apples and bragging rights.  The finish was a bunch sprint for those who survived.  Chris Poulin just missed the podium finishing fourth.  Do note that beyond the top three places, the results recorded for our team were all wrong.  We probably confused the officials because there were so many of us.

Jamestown Classic

Jamestown Classic on the other hand was a different story.  A few of us headed down a day early for a mini-vacation in Rhode Island and to pre-ride the course.  Needless to say, it was absolutely perfect, until I got a bit of a chill with the gusts of ocean winds on the recce.  Heading down early made a big difference in our demeanor – extremely relaxed and pleasant, cracking jokes left, right and center.  Bobby had these knee-high, striped socks that were comparable to those on the legs of the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz, after she was crushed by a house.  They were so bright, it would have confused competitors whether or not to sprint.  I need to get myself a pair of truly tall socks like that!

A better look at Bobby's socks and Todd's mug.
A better look at Bobby’s socks and Todd’s mug. (Photo credit: Todd Strehlke)
My socks have nothing on Bobby's.
My DeFeet socks have nothing on Bobby’s.  (Photo credit: Todd Strehlke)

Even eating was a pleasantry not to be missed:

Lunch – salmon sandwich with Parmesan risotto;

Dinner – clam chowder, cod fish tacos, quinoa and kale salad with crushed nuts and ahi tuna;

Breakfast – chocolate chip pancakes, oatmeal with maple syrup and cinnamon, orange juice and espresso for impulse power.

A perfect amount of savoury protein and carbohydrates to fuel the body without overloading the digestive system.

CAT 4 start.
CAT 4 start.

The weather too, was perfect on race day, with a slight breeze of 5 to 10 mph – a big difference from the 25mph gusts on the recce.  Temperatures were hovering around 65F.  It was going to be fast for all categories.

But it wasn’t.  At least not for the CAT4’s.  With the young and old fields combined, the race became a circus and a few riders got wheels tangled immediately in the first few miles, crashing out with a hiss of a blown tire.  We kept speeding up and slowing down and it didn’t help the riders’ nerves.  You could feel the tension pile on.

The turn-around at Beavertail Headlight.
The turn-around at Beavertail Headlight.

Over the course of the race, the middle became the back as several riders were shelled.  I gained a few positions halfway through the last lap, sprinting out of the turn around that we’ve practiced so many times on our Saturday morning rides.  Each element of the course, the climbs and dips, the wind, the turns and the straights felt like it was replicated from our usual club rides.

On the lead up to the sprint, there was a climb.  I had thoughts of winning this race and I could only do so with better positioning.  I tried moving up while others struggled.  They were breathing harder than me so I knew they were suffering a lot more.  I had to navigate through the pack to get to the front, threading several needles.  I went into a bigger gear before the peak of the climb and just powered on, eventually hitting 42.1mph at some point, stomping on 53×12 gearing in aero mode.  I passed a few riders on the descent making up a couple of places, but it wasn’t to be.

I had bought the ticket, but missed the train by a few seconds.  I ended up 13th in my age category – which isn’t bad, but I knew I could have done better.  This race wasn’t nearly as hard as our club rides.  I felt I could have given more.

The final sprint.
The final sprint.

The silver lining was that in the final sprint, I had passed one of my fellow racers, Steve, while trying to keep up with another, Matt, both from the Downeast Racing team.

“Nice job!”

…Steve exclaimed as he slapped my leg, rolling to recover after the sprint.  What a gentleman was he!  Such encouragement!  I told him at one point on our coffee rides that when I beat him in a sprint, I know I’m getting better.  It took me more than a year to do that.  Even among competing cyclists, there’s camaraderie.

And that’s what it’s all about.  Our Tall Sock Racing team finished the CAT5 races with two second places by Chris Poulin and Pete Talbot, and one third by Kent Ryan.

We’re starting to make a name for ourselves.

Eight of us raced that day and it was one of the best showings we had for the year.  We’ve come a long way.  It started with an idea mixed well with passion.  It showed in the team parties we attended, the epic rides, and the training camp at Rangeley.

Next year, for spring training, we’re thinking about heading to Florida for some proper sun and fun.

I can’t wait.

Kent Ryan before receiving his medal for 3rd.
Kent Ryan before receiving his medal for 3rd.
Chris Poulin at the podium for 2nd.
Chris Poulin at the podium for 2nd.
Pete Talbot at the podium for 2nd.
Pete Talbot at the podium for 2nd.

Bikes that starts with “B”.

The past few weeks have been a bit of a lull, even though it’s at the peak of cycling season and my form has been the best it’s been ever (at least, according to Strava).  I can only go uphill from this point.  The only setbacks this time are mechanical – in that my only two road bikes broke in front of me (or rather, under me) and I’ve had nothing to ride on except my mountain bike (not the same!) for a few days.  I was fortunate, however, in having a cycling community here in Maine.  Everyone I knew reached out to offer words and actions of support through sympathy or by either lending parts or an entire frame.  The principle here is that no one should ever not ride because you don’t have a bicycle or you have a mechanical failure.  Those who are passionate about cycling knows this and will do what it takes to support you to get back on the bike.  What other subculture does this in the name of health and well-being (or addiction)?

The loaner frame, borrowed from this year’s Yarmouth Clam Festival Race winner (thanks, Eliot!), is now bought and paid for.  (Maybe it will win me races.)  It was only appropriate that I bought it having put so much emotional effort into building the bike.

Yes, I hate internal cable routing (as a mechanic).

The Bianchi Sempre Pro has performed well these past couple of weeks.  Once dialed in, it’s very responsive and stiff.  It will point you to where you want to go, though it’s not as compliant as I’m used to.  I was probably spoiled from my late BMC.

As you probably know, (if my making so much noise passed through deaf ears and by blind eyes,) BMC had initially denied my warranty after my bottom bracket shell broke.  Miraculously, I got an email from BMC corporate and we had a short discussion on the matter.  It took some effort, but BMC finally did the right thing in handling this unique situation.  (Kudos to BMC!)  They honored the full warranty and I actually received it just last week at a bike shop in New Hampshire.  (I would have gone through my sponsor, but they’re not a BMC dealer.)  Talk about lucky!  It’s quite a sight to behold.  All in all, it took roughly one month for this to be rectified.

Out of this bike drama, the interesting part is that I learned about a little known law called, “the implied warranty law” which protects consumers from unexpected product failure.  Stipulations of the law may differ from state to state, and not every state may have one.  The fact is, that the BMC frame was 3.5 years old and Maine’s law protects any product for 4 years.  And well, you can connect the dots.  (Thanks, Matt!)

So it seems that all worked out in the end, especially when one stands up for their principles and has a community to back you up.  And when that happens, great things happen.  As for the current status of bikes, I’m at N+1 as I have to spec-out the BMC.  (Component manufacturers, please check out my sponsors page.)  Once the bike is built, I will post a review after my races and rides.  Hopefully it will be completed very soon!

But for now, ride well!

Life off the bike

It’s been only three days since I’ve been on a bike, but I’m already feeling withdrawal symptoms. So desperate and motivated am I to ride that I borrowed a fellow racer’s bike and built it in 12 hours. Why so long to build a bike? Internal cable routing.  While many rejoice in such a clean design, when you build it, it’s far from clean. As a mechanic, it’s messy, involved and very cumbersome.  Threading the needle with cable is far from straightforward. There’s a lot of trial and error.



Of course, this was the first time I ever built one, and doing so takes immense concentration, intuition and patience.  (Also a great knowledge in expletive vocabulary.)



Having finally completed the bike in the wee hours, basically two nights in a row of late night wrenching, I can honestly say, I will never, ever build my own bike if it has internal cable routing.  It makes me more appreciative of the mechanics I rely on at the bike shop.

The Panzer is dead. For now.

It’s amazing how 2 centimetres can affect your riding position. Instead of risking injury and hurting my body further, I tackled the task of trying to unseize a 15 year old seatpost from the Panzer. This seatpost I bought many years ago at a Toronto Bicycle Show for $27.  Unfortunately, things did not go well as it is now mangled after trying to use penetrating solution, a hacksaw and a channel lock wrench.  Now I am without a bike for the time being.  I may have to get it machined out when I want to bother with it.

At least my body will have some rest as I’ve been fighting fatigue these past few weeks.



This means I’m in the market for a backup bicycle until my BMC comes late August.

So now I’m up for suggestions. Or I may just grab whatever is available to me.