Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Death ...Troy Passes, Way Too Early

There was another death recently.  He was a bicycling friend.  Most of the friends I see on a regular basis are cycling friends.  When I first heard about the death, I supposed it was as a result of a bike accident.  I later heard it was an "accident at home".  I was curious how the death occurred:  fell from a ladder, and hit his head? electrocuted?  I suppose we justify our curiousity with the lie that we want to learn what mistakes not to make.  Would the death be more tragic, or the loss more severe, if it was the result of a inattentive automobile driver crashing into the bicyclist-victim?

In the end, the important part is that we, who are left behind, have lost a part of ourselves.  Troy was an especially lively person, the one who organized a new ride that everyone then found to be one of their favorites.  When we descended from the wonderful climb up Mt Laguna that he put together, it was a party.  We hooted and hollered, and screamed down from the top.  I remember he had just got a new video camera that he had mounted on his handlebars to record the descent.  He was the one who had the latest and coolest gadget.  And he was always so proud of having got a great deal on it.

The church was filled with his friends and acquaintances, and especially with those who were friends and acquantances of Troy's family and closest friends.

He had recently returned from a cycling trip with two of his closest friends.  They climbed the fabled Mt. Ventoux from each of its 3 directions this day ...
Several weeks aftet the memorial service, I ran across some UCC Cyclery teammates of Troy and I learned how Troy died.  He had been shooting a classic shotgun, I think one that had belonged to his grandfather, and a shell got lodged in the chamber.  He took the gun home and later was trying to dislodge the shell, when the gun went off and hit him in the chest.  God, what a waste!  RIP, Troy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tour of California, 2010, Stage 8 Anti-Doping Control

A close friend was in charge of volunteers for stage 7 of the 2010 Tour of California, a time trial stage.  I volunteered and was assigned to be a chaperone for one of the racers who had to undergo testing for doping.  I had no idea what was involved; didn't even know what a "chaperone" did.  However, the experience gave me some insight of the inner workings of professional racing, and I thought I'd share the experience here.

We were told to meet at 1:00, at the same time as the time trial was to  begin.  We met at a back corner of the parking lot where the team vehicles were parked.  A spanish fellow explained the protocol to us.  There were four of us who would be chaperones for the riders to be tested.  Two of those to be tested had been selected at random, with he other two being the stage winner and the GC leader, who would not be known until the completion of the race.  I was selected to be a chaperone for one of the randomly selected racers, Francesco Bellotti of Liquigas.

Each of us was given a Amgen staff badge to hang round our neck marked "Anti-Doping Chaperone", a pullover top marked "Chaperone" and a clipboard with a sheet for the details of the person to be tested.  For the two of us assigned to the randomly selected racers, our sheets had the name of the rider, and we were required to keep it secret until the person finished the race.  Also, we were required to make sure the person started the time trial, because if he didn't, another rider would have to be selected.  Once the person started, we were to make our way to the finish, and wait for the person to cross the finish line.  Then we were to identify ourselves, and tell the person that he had been identified for anti-doping control.  We were to write down the time that we identified ourselves to the person, adding 30 minutes, because each identified racer had 30 minutes to show up at the doping control station, an RV.  In addition, the racer had to sign his name to acknowledge the time limit, among other things.

Before Bellottii started, I went by his team warm-up area to watch him to make sure I could later identify him easily.  Of course, I did this discreetly, making sure he didn't suspect he was a racer who had been selected for testing.  Afterwards I watched him start, then made my way to the finish area.  I found a good place to find him at the end and waited for him to arrive.  It was a spot where the racers had to stop and go up over a curb before making their way back to the team area.  When Bellotti got to the curb, I identified myself and had him sign the form after writing down the time plus 30 minutes. 

He was very pleasant, and said he would follow me.  Part of the protocol was that I was not to let him out of my sight.  He asked to be able to first go to his team RV to change and relax a minute, and I accompanied him inside while he toweled off and got out of some of his cycling clothes.  I offered him some water that I had been given for the purpose, and he drank one bottle.  When we got to the testing RV, the official in charge spoke with him to find out what language they should use.  I believe she was Scandinavian, and her english was very good, but Bellotti's english was not as good, and after a bit of trial and error, they settled on french.  After agreeing on the language, he showed his racing license, as is required, and went into the RV to undergo the testing.  I was supposed to wait outside until the testing was over.  We were told earlier that it was only a urine test, so I was surprised when it took a very long time before he came out, perhaps more than 20 minutes.  I didn't ask why the testing took so long.  I thanked him, and he was very gracious, not appearing at all inconvenienced by the testing.  My responsibilities over, I then returned to the rest of my day.

Mt Whitney Stage Race, May 2010

I haven't posted for some time.  More about that later.  For the present, let me try to describe the wonderful Mt. Whitney Stage Race.  I heard about it from Jim Morehouse, the terrific climber from Las Vegas, who, like me, races for Paramount.  I saw him at the Paramount Masters Crit and he asked me if I was planning to do the Mt. Whitney Stage Race.  I said I didn't yet know anything about it, but later checked out the website, and found out it was scheduleld for May 15-16 and put on by Steve Barnes, who is the one who also puts on the Everest Challenge.

I have some personal history with the Everest Challenge.  In about 2000, I met Tom Reid on some of the California Triple Crown double centuries.  At the time we climbed at about the same pace (he's now a much stronger climber than I ... he's much younger than I am), and I found myself climbing with him on one occasion.  As we climbed together, I found out he lived in Bishop was also a skier, and enjoyed backcountry skiing, as do I.  Later, perhaps the next year, I saw him at the end of the Eastern Sierra Double Century where he had left out some fliers on a table with the title "Mt Everest Challenge".  The fliers described a ride he had dreamed about:  a series of climbs in the eastern Sierras that had elevation gain that totalled the height of Mt Everest.  His idea at the time was to do the entire collection in a day, and he had set a particular date for it.  By coincidence the distance travelled was also about 200 miles, an appropriate distance for a double century.  I picked up a flier, but didn't seriously consider doing the ride.  climbing had always been my weakness.  The maximum amount of climbing I had done in a day was the Devil Mountain Double out of San Ramon, which totalled about 18,000', and that had been more than enough for me.

The next time I saw Tom, it was more than a year after the date he had set for the original Everest Challenge, and I asked him what happened on that first day.  He told me that no one had signed up and no on showed up, but he decided to try it anyway.  He started from Bishop at 3 am and rode to the top of Rock Creek, the first climb in the series.  It was still in the 30's when he descended, and he was so cold that he called his wife to pick him up, so the very first Everest Challenge ended in a DNF.  After that he had the idea of doing the climbs as a 2 day event, making things much more manageable. I'm guessing that it was the second year before it became a USAC stage race. 

In two consecutive years, I did the race on tandem with Anny Beck, a terrific climber and, at 100 pounds dripping wet, a blessing for a tandem captain.  Both years it was ungodly hot, especially at the bottom of the third climb each day.  The last climb of each day was so long I thought it would never end.  Also, I got badly dehydrated and had to stop and beg water from passing cars.  But we finished , albeit dead last on both occasions.  I think Tom kept the course open as a favor, so that we could finish.  The good news is that Tom gave each of us a championship EC jersey, as first place in the tandem category.  The second year there was another tandem that attempted the climb, a male-male pair, but they DNF'd.  In later years, Anny did the race twice on her single, but I haven't attempted it solo, at least not yet.

In any case, when I saw the plan for the Mt Whitney stage race, I was intrigued, because both stages are wonderful climbs.  The eastern Sierras has what have to be some of the best climbs in the world.  With the clear desert air, and the lack of forests on the terrain, the vistas are unparalleled.  Also, Steve had established a Masters 65+ age category, and I had just turned 65.  Yes, I'm a card-carrying geezer now.  Just ask and I'll show you my Medicare card!

Originally the ride was planned to begin in Furnace Creek and climb Townes Pass, similar to the old Death Valley to Whitney Road Rrace, which I never attempted.  I've climbed Townes from the west a number of time as part of the Furnace Creek 508, so the pull of doing the pass from the east also attracted me.  But due to some new Park Service rules for Death Valley events (dedicated EMTs and ambulance available the entire time!), Steve changed the stage to Horseshoe Meadows, the huge set of switchbacks carved out of the eastern face of the southern Sierras that stares at you as travel south out of Lone Pine.

Saturday's stage climbed Whitney Portal, and a 10:00 am start allowed everyone a leisurely morning.  There were about 90 racers in all categories. As I looked over the group of cyclists preparing for the race, I thought to myself: "Golly, these are some seriously thin dudes.  I'm really out of my league!" I hardly saw anyone with any bulk at all.

The 55s, 60s and 65s, numbering 10 in total, raced together, but were scored separately.  The pace began pretty easily, but when we arrived at the first climb up Tuttle Creek Road, I was struggled to stay in touch at the back of our group.  Finally I resigned to climb at my own pace and began to drop back.  But as I did so, I realized we were almost at an intermediate top, and I pushed to see if I could keep in contact.  By sheer luck, it was an intermediate summit, and I managed to hang on to the group as they descended.  We the turned down Lubkin Canyon Road and toboganned down the single lane road.  At the bottom, we did a U-turn and began climbing the same canyon road.  On the descent I had decided that I would climb at my own speed when this climb began.  And it wasn't very long before all in our group had passed me.  It was about 11:00 am by the time we began this climb, and it was noticably hot. I figured it wouldn't be too long before we would gain enough elevation to begin feeling some cooling effect. Also, there was a strong cooling tailwind as we climbed toward Whitney Portal.

The climb approaching the first switchback, and then the lower portion of the first switchback is the steepest, over 16% best as I could tell.  With my compact crank and 11-28 cassette, I was barely able to keep my wheels turning.  I certainly wouldn't have wanted any less in the way of low gears.  The road stayed very steep for the first half of the climb, then tipped down to a more manageable level, say 10% or so.  The gradient stayed about that steep until we approached the portal area itself, where is was only 5% or so.  When I finally crossed the finish line, I had been riding about 2:28.  I was the last finisher of our group of 55 and older racers.

Steve Barnes, the race director, arranged a fine picnic that afternoon and evening at a ranch at the base of Horseshoe Meadows Road.  The ranch had a breathtaking view of the the valley floor, about 2000' feet below.  I visited with several people and commiserated over the sorry state of the driving public's consideration for cyclists.  There was also some agreement that the increased number of bicycling commuters should eventually help turn the tide of public opinion.

Sunday's beginning was much more relaxed than that of Saturday, there being no registration needed.  The pace at the beginiing was somewhat faster, and a couple of cyclists in our group fell off the back.  A bit later, and before the first top, I also fell off the back.  By the time I neared to top, the other two had caught up with me, and we figured we could help each other on the flat before the big climb.  At first I thought I'd only be able to stay at the back of the three of us, but as I recovered from the climb I found I was able to take as long a pull as the others.  We then had a U-turn and retraced our steps approaching the climb.  When we first started up, I stayed at the back awhile, but after recovering I was able to continue taking regular pulls.  There was a pretty stiff quartering headwind and even though we were climbing, we echeloned across the road, making good progress up the approach to the beginning of the real climb.

When you drive south from Lone Pine, you see a series of 4 or 5 huge cuts into the eastern side of the Sierras, going up toward the top as far as you can see.  These switchbacks are part of the climb up to Horseshoe Meadows that we were then approaching.   The first switchback begins after the Horseshoe Meadows ranch where we had the picknic on Saturday afternoon.  I continued climbing with my 2 partners.  They were Bob Dahlgren, who eventually finished first in 65+ and Mike Crystal, racing 55+.  The climb was very exposed to the southerly headwind, and working together really helped, making the miles go by much more easily.  Someplace towards the top of the first switchback we caught up with Bob Llamas, the other 65+ racer.  He had been riding by himself in the wind for a long time, and was pretty beat.  After we caught him, he jumped on the back of our group, but before long I saw he wasn't able to stay with us, and dropped off the back.  We continued together until about the middle of the 4th switchback, when Mike slowed a bit, and I filled the gap.  After awhile Mike had to drop off the back, and a bit later still I had to let Bob go ahead.  Each of us was now climbing at his own pace. 

Eventually I arrived at Walt's point, where a plaque to an early flier of hang gliders is mounted in a bolder.  This is where hang gliding enthusiats jump off to glide to the valley floor, 6000 feet below.  There was one longish climb after that, then a descent of about 300-400 feet, followed by the final climb to the top.  Before the summit preceeding the descent, a volunteer offered me a bottle.  I figured I was close enough to the finish that I could do without the water, and I declined it.  What a poor judgement on my part!.  

Shortly after this intermediate top, I drank the last of my water, and cramps began to threaten.  After the descent, as I began the final climb to the finish, I had to unclip and shake out my leg while pedalling with my other leg.  I had to let the one leg dangle, as I shook it out to try to calm the cramping.  Will I nver learn? Around the 1 mile to go mark, I looked at the right side of the road and saw a water bottle on the ground.  I stopped and picked it up and found it was half full of water.  I drank it right away, then resumed the climb to the finish.  I had to go easy until the finish because when I tried to push, the cramps would return.  I finally crossed the finish to the cheers of the earlier finishers.  What a relief to have finished!  It turned out that I picked up enough time on this day's stage to come in 2nd in my age group.  By some mixup, the race director put me first and Bob Dahlgren second.  I emailed him about the mistake, but as of 1 week later, he still hadn't corrected the published results.  I know he's been having trouble with his website, and he'll eventually correct things.