Sunday, September 26, 2010

First Euro cross race

After last weekends incredibly road racing experience, I was really excited to see how a local cross race would compare. The race was on a lake in a small town, Montrevel en Bresse, about a 2 hour drive from Premanon. Rain was coming down hard until an hour before our race when the weather cleared up a bit. This made for wet grass, sticky mud, soft wet sand, and even some loose dry sand.

Team Premanon, cross style.

Jesse, TJ, Russell, and I were there to race, but we were also lucky to have a full support crew of Ian, Shaun, Adam, and Robby. During our race, they cheered like crazy which definitely made us go faster!

After a slow back of the pack start, I began working my way through the field quickly. Despite riding with a semi-slick hutchinson pirhana rear tire, I still felt good in the slippery stuff. I had tons of fun passing people and riding the different features of the course. Several times, when I would come out onto a long paved section, a couple strong riders would come charging by me, staying ahead only until we reached a technical section, where I was back in my element. The most difficult part of the course for me was the long beach section, where we rode through sand into a stiff headwind for 300 meters. Slow painful grind.

In the end I probably finished just inside the top 20. Russell had a great ride to around 10th place, as did Jesse and TJ, coming in shortly after me. It was so refreshing to race some cross, especially in the mud. Now I'm really itching to do some more races!

Thank you for the great pictures, Adam and Ian!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Road racing in the Alps

I figured it would be hard, but I didn't know it would be that hard...

There were 7 of us, including teammate Russell Stevenson and Ian Terry from Seattle, who drove the 120km to the start of this local French road race. We were a bit concerned about being allowed to race, especially when we realized that none of the officials spoke english. Much to our relief, registration actually went smoother than most US races and only cost 7 euros! After warming up, we arranged ourselves at the start line. The seven of us, Jacob, Ian, Sean, Laust, Russell, Andrew, and I discussed team tactics. Techno music blasted as we looked around and were shocked to see 100 riders at the start line. There were a lot of serious looking racers and even a couple AG2R guys. Oh shit, this could be really really hard, I thought.

Team Premanon, ready to race.

I should also mention that I was rocking my cross bike, mountain bike shoes, and hairy legs. Images of the movie Breaking Away flashed through my head and I was fully prepared for somebody to stick a pump in my wheel...

Elevation profile.

The race got underway and the pace was hot. We did three 30km loops followed by a 20km finale loop with a huge climb in it. Each of the three main laps featured two low-grade climbs that left the field strung-out and shattered in the wind. Reminded me a lot of the first stage of Walla Walla, but in the Alps with Mont Blanc towering overhead. Several breaks formed but were brought back. On the third lap, a huge split of roughly 30 riders went away. Andrew put in a big dig to try to close the gap. A few minutes later, I followed a move and found myself with 3 others out in no-mans land attempting to bridge to the lead group. We hit the second climb and two of my compatriots took off and the other dropped back. Now I was really all alone in the wind. I rode probably 15km before I was relieved to be caught by another chase group. This group contained Russell and about 10 other dudes, one of which was quick to yell at me in French for not pulling. Well, at least I assumed that was what he was saying.

Yours truly with Russell 2 riders back. Survival mode on lap 2.

Now on the 20km finishing loop, our group pace-lined the next 10km until we hit the base of the big climb up Mont Saxxonnex where it became more or less every man for himself. The climb was really spectacular, following a steep ravine along waterfalls and huge limestone cliffs. I think it was only a 5km climb, but steep! I guess the average grade was around 12% which made me glad I had put my 28tooth cassette on. I kept thinking of yesterday's Vuelta stage, where Nibali had defended his lead on a similarly steep and painful-looking climb. I pushed over the top through a small village and began the descent to the finish. This part I really loved! Technical, fast downhill. I think I must be an ok descender because I caught and passed several riders, hitting speeds of up to 50mph in the process. After the fun descent, it was only 1km of flat into the finish. I could see Russell and some other riders about 20 seconds ahead on the finishing straight when I rolled in.

Leaders going over the top of Saxonnex.

Looking at my computer, I knew the race was hard because my average heart rate was almost 170 for 3 hours! The organization and professionalism of this race really amazed me. We had the entire road and there were course marshals with flags and whistles at all the traffic furniture and roundabouts, just like the Tour. The local spectators were even out in force along the road in every village we rode through as well as on the climbs. All in all, an amazing day on the bike! Thanks for reading and good luck to all you cross racers back home!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Premanon week 3

Not a whole lot to report from here in Premanon. The days are really flying by now. Highlights include improved food, lots of hours in our rooms(we are required to be in them for 16+ hours per day for hypoxic effects), more fun rides, and even some downhill mountain biking!

Russell and the Jura countryside.

Yesterday, Thomas, Carsten, Christof, and I rode a cool mountain bike trail that descends down one of the local ski hills. It was complete with slimy roots and rocks, steeps, and lots of mud! Carsten, the leader of the altitude study, very generously let me borrow his old mountain bike, full-face helmet, and body armor.

Me, followed by Christof. Thanks for the video, Thomas!

There are a couple road races this weekend and a UCI Marathon(100km) mountain bike race. I'd like to do at least one of the events, but don't know which it will be yet. I'll report back after the weekend...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Big rides and hypoxia

Last night was our first night in our new rooms on the fifth floor. Two thirds of us are in hypoxic rooms, while the other third are not. Nobody knows who are in the hypoxic group and who are in the placebo group except for Carsten, the leader of the study. The rooms are equipped with an atmospheric-controlling machine that circulates the air and possibly(depending on hypoxic or placebo) releases Nitrogen into the room, thus decreasing the percentage of O2 and simulating a higher elevation. As the machine runs, it sounds a lot like a fire breathing dragon is sleeping in our room, emitting a constant loud hum and a puff of air every 12 seconds.

Hypoxic sensors, intake, and exhaust(aka"fire-breathing dragon").

Now that I think of it, I realize I have not really talked much about the overall goal of the study. The idea is to study the effects of "live high - train low" style training on elite-level cyclists. I originally found out about the opportunity to be a part of this when Russell Stevenson sent me this very informative and enticing link.

Lake Annecy from Col de la Forclaz.

Nearing the top of Chatillon. Mont Blanc in the distance.

The last couple days, I was able to get out on some big rides. On Saturday, Russell and I rode with Tim, a friend from Seattle, and his buddy Miles, from Chamonix. We did a spectacular loop around Lake Annecy in the French Alps. Big climbs, castles, crazy bike paths, and amazing views! Being in Annecy was also a bit of a shock. Seeing so many people, cyclists, and tourists everywhere was the opposite of our hideaway in the Jura Mountains!

Big Stella at the top!

Yesterday's ride was another good one. Lots of miles in both France and Switzerland at a brutal pace, thanks mostly to Jacob from Denmark. This week's training should be a lot lighter to allow for some recovery and acclimatization to the (possibly)hypoxic room.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Premanon week 2

It's been a few days since I last posted and a lot has happened around here. I had my first muscle biopsy performed and it was pretty uncomfortable and gross during the procedure, but healed-up quickly in the days following. Of course, I've been on some more great rides too! Two days ago, Thomas from Denmark, and I did a big ride leaving from the hospital in Switzerland. We climbed narrow paved roads up Mont Tendre, the highest mountain in the Swiss Juras, while looking across massive Lac Leman into the Alps and Mont Blanc. Spectacular!


Yesterday was our first really rainy day and it felt like home! Rather than riding in the rain(too early in the year for that), Russell and Nikole(visiting for the week) took me around in their rental car and down into Geneva. We walked around the old city streets, had an awesome Swiss lunch, and some good beer. It was cool seeing Geneva, but it did seem mostly to be a city for wealthy shoppers.

Veinous and arterial lines in place.

Today was a pretty crazy day at the hospital, to say the least. I performed two VO2 max tests; one at current altitude(about 1000 meters) and one at a simulated 2600 meters. During these tests, I was hooked up to an insane amount of sensors and gadgets, including veinous and arterial catheters, cardiac sensors, a brain-blood ultra-sound, and some sort of other muscle sensors(forgot to ask what they were for). As crazy as I looked, it was actually surprisingly easy to ride normally in the tests. The arterial catheter was really the worst part, which had to be placed by a certified anesthesiologist. Even this task wouldn't be a big deal if I wasn't so freaked out by needles. This trip is really helping me face my fear!

Plugging me into the matrix!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Premanon 4 and 5

The days are going by quickly as we have all gotten into more of a rhythm. Yesterday, I had my first VO2 max test. Never done one of these before and now I can see why people say they are so hard! I figure that since I have 7 more of these to do, I'll be pretty used to the pain by the time I fly home.

Looking down at Saint Claude.

I had the day off from testing today and I was able to get out on a longer ride. Rode on some really fun quiet roads out of Premanon down to Longchaumois, then dropped way down to Saint Claude. Out of Saint Claude I followed a bike path along the Bienne River Gorge, climbing gradually to Morbier and Morez. From there it was a quick, albeit tough, climb back up to Premanon.

A cool viaduct in Morbier.

Tomorrow is my first muscle biopsy and I'm not looking forward to it after seeing all the current victims limping around. Thankfully, we only have to do two of these throughout the whole study.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Premanon 3

As I sit here typing this, my legs and body scream at me. I feel like I just did one of my hardest races of the year.

The name submax does not do this morning's test justice. The test is actually quite involved and lengthy, starting first with electrostimulation and leg-force measurements. For this, electrode patches are used to zapp our quads as we do a leg lift against a measuring device. Not painful, but uncomfortable. Next up is a 30 second Wingate test on a stationary bike. This is an all-out effort against sudden heavy resistance. I think I measured about 770 watts max and 660 watts mean. I don't have anything to compare these numbers to yet, so I don't know how good or bad they might be(not that is matters).

After the Wingate comes the real challenge; an all-out time trial over the last 30km of the Milan-San Remo race. How, you ask? Well, on a very advanced Tacx indoor-trainer/simulator. During the effort, I was able to ride through the lovely streets of San Remo, Italy while viewing my wattage(something new to me), heart rate, etc. Pretty cool!

Indoor time trial. Thanks for another photo, Ian!

All within 30 seconds after the tt, barely able to stand, I was rushed/guided back over to the electrostimulation and zapped a final couple more times to measure muscle fatigue. After the tests, I rode slowly back to our home near Premanon. Looking back at this morning, I'm a bit overwhelmed that we will be doing 5 more submax tests but I am sure they will only help to make us stronger!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Premanon 2

Today we had our first taste of the testing that we will be going through during our two month stay in Premanon. I'll be honest, I did not think much of this before coming here, but now I can see that my time here may become quite the mental challenge. We have a schedule that divides everyone into different types of tests at various times, all of which are performed just over the border in a Swiss hospital. Today I did the CO-rebreathing test. This test is intended to measure the total hemoglobin mass in a person's blood, a number that is useful to know for athletes.

CO test. Thanks for the photo, Ian!

The test involves breathing into an oxygen-rebreather(similar to what astronauts and scuba-divers use) that is injected with a set-amount of carbon monoxide gas(CO). You may be wondering... Yes, CO is poisonous, but the dosage is very small and only induces some tiredness and slight dizziness. Blood samples are taken before and at the end of the 8 minutes of CO breathing and are intended to show the concentration of CO and thus, through the magic of science, the total hemoglobin mass. Looking back, this test doesn't seem too bad, but at the time it was pretty uncomfortable.

Quiet roads through the countryside.

The good thing about all the time that will be spent doing tests in a hospital is that it will make me appreciate the riding, fun, and relaxation even more. Oh, and I'll probably learn an incredible amount about my body along the way! Speaking of riding, today's ride was super fun! Ian Terry, Adam from Denmark, and I rode some amazing roads before I peeled off and did some exploring in a different area. Many of the roads seemed more like golf cart paths than roads, seeming to twist and turn endlessly through forests and meadows!

Lots of moo-cows = lots of fromage!

Tomorrow morning's test is the sub-max time trial and it sounds like it will be a real challenge. More to come...