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Figure Eights

June 16, 2012

Today’s Ride: 37km—Mineral Springs, Weirs Lane, and back again

Weather: Sunny, warm

Most of my rides consist of big loops, run either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Occasionally, I’ll run out along a particular line and follow it home. What I don’t do much is limit my distance from home by doing a more circuitous route that involves retracing my “crank steps” and cutting back on myself. Today, inspired by a drive to pick strawberries yesterday, I took in a dirt road closer to home that I’d not cycled. When I first arrived in Dundas, I’d ridden it on my mountain bike, but had avoided it on the road bike; driving along it yesterday, it was more compact and solid than I’d remembered. But how to incorporate it while still putting in a decent ride?

Regular Mineral Springs loop, adding on Weirs Lane’s climb, and then coming back around via Inksetter to return to the dirt along Sulphur Springs Rd., back up the hill to Ancaster, and then home along the Old Ancaster Rd. A nice loop with some decent climbing and never too far from home.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been fighting with a throat thing that seems to be evolving into allergies. A good/bad sign. Good that something isn’t knocking me out; bad that allergies aren’t always easily controlled. Today’s ride started out gingerly, but the climb up Wilson went fairly well and the pace improved. I didn’t feel my best in the humidity today, but the rhythm developed and I was comfortable throughout. Riding on dirt roads is nice. Different surface and, typically, more interesting roads.

Exploring Woolverton Rd.

June 14, 2012

Today’s Ride: 103km—Burlington, Grimsby, Woolverton Rd.

Weather: Sunny

A new route today, which involved heading out on familiar roads—up Sydenham and Snake Roads—and then cutting back along the lakefront trail, and south/east through Winona and Grimsby to take on Woolverton Rd. The picture to the side is a little misleading. Taken from the bottom, this is the easier half. Around the bend, coming out of the trees, the rider is in the sun and the incline pitches upward. In all, it’s 100m in less than 900m, and the worst of it toward the end. I was definitely at my limit, which could have stemmed from my first time trying the hill or its relatively late stage in the day’s ride. Maybe a bit of both. But that was hard. I’ll definitely have to head back that way again and try the various climbs up that side of the escarpment.

The day’s ride was generally fairly relaxed in its tempo. I rode fairly fast, but didn’t over-extend myself. With a long ride in Vermont scheduled for two weeks from today, I was mainly just turning the crank over rather than trying to push the pace. Putting some distance in the legs rather than training.

The approach to Woolverton Rd. The escarpment at this end seems to be more severe, especially as you get closer…

The view of Lake Ontario from Ridge Rd. If you look very closely, you might be able to make out Toronto in the hazy distance.

Ridge Rd.

Completing the V

June 14, 2012

Two rides:

Sunday: 26km—Up Valley Rd., Crooks Hollow, down Weirs Lane

Weather: Sunny, humid

Monday: 89km—Jerseyville, St. George, Concession 5

Weather: Sunny

Falling behind again. With morale low after the previous week’s poor riding, I set out on Sunday in sunny and hot weather and crossed paths with a number of cyclists out to enjoy the weather. My initial plan had been to go take it easy, but the number of riders on the road provoked a higher pace, especially on the climbs. I passed a good number of cyclists of various degrees of fitness, but found myself constantly looking over my shoulder to see if I had actually dropped them. A sign of a lack of confidence. As it happened, I had each time, but I found that sliver of doubt interesting and needing reassuring.

The same thing almost happened again on Monday morning as I hit Jerseyville Rd. I was surprised to find a cyclist behind me (maybe not; corner of the eye kind of thing). I raised the pace, and hammered hard from Shaver Rd. to Jerseyville. The cyclist could have been a figment of my imagination. And I don’t have such a fragile ego that being passed would have ruined a ride. And this was no race. But that was a long way to push to the pace in a big gear, resting on the drops. Which was good. Good for me to push myself. The pace remained high through St. George, and I eased up a bit on the return leg, letting the crank turn easily, still in a relatively big gear. But on fairly flat roads, momentum does most of the work.

All this to say that form seemed to be improved on the previous rides. The Velominati devote a lot of energy and attention to the promotion of Rule V. But in order to experience the V, one needs to hit bottom in order to “complete the V,” by climbing out of the valley inked on the page. The two rides at the beginning of the week offered that experience.

(Yesterday) I was Laurent Fignon’s Fat, Wheezing Neighbour

June 8, 2012

(Yesterday’s) Ride: 65km—Mineral Springs & Good Friday RR

Weather: Sunny

The problem with developing an aura of cycling invincibility is that it is always temporary. Just like the perpetually elusive search for la volupté, that sense of being able to do anything in the saddle—en forme, but so much more than that—is fleeting. After a good ride—such as Monday’s, where I felt I was able to emulate (poorly) Laurent Fignon’s smooth power—even off the bike, the arrogant confidence remains. One stands taller, prouder. One feels as though their entire body and psyche is emitting beams of confidence and invincibility. But that is all fleeting and the opposite is also true: after a poorer ride, the person reverts to their true, protean self.

Let’s be clear: I wasn’t wheezing. But stiffness and aches characterized the ride. And the energy that typified the past two rides was decidedly absent. The gears were smaller. The arrogance: gone Still, 65km over some nice hilly terrain, including Weirs Lane again, was fine—and, more importantly—a completion of the planned route, rather than looking for shortcuts. Finished and in good time. I felt better at the end, but not great. Enough to not be  total wreck the rest of the day. And a day on the bike is always better than not.

Unconscious

June 7, 2012

Today’s Ride: 26km—Mineral Springs & Weirs Lane

Weather: Sunny

Continuing the string of good form. I was on automatic during this morning’s ride. Unconscious. I got to Binkley Rd., and found myself wondering how I’d gotten there. It was going to be a short ride, but I’d ridden so smoothly, easily, and quickly—with limited exertion—that I elected to go up Weirs Lane, to tack on a few kilometres and take on a bit more climbing. Weirs Lane—600m @ 17%—can be tough, but I think I handled it fairly well. And recovered quickly.

Today I was Laurent Fignon

June 4, 2012

Today’s Ride: 120km—This

Weather: Cloudy, overcast, windy, stormy. Heavy rain at the end of the ride.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading Laurent Fignon’s autobiography, We Were Young and Carefree. Along with Steve Bauer taking the maillot jaune at the Tour de France, Laurent Fignon is one of my earliest memories of pro cycling. Among a host of cyclists, le professeur stood out with his spectacles and long blond hair. There was something fluid, natural, noble about his style. Even in years when the Tour didn’t go his way, Fignon—the former two-time Tour winner—always commanded the camera’s attention and respect. Even when his strength wasn’t there—at the end of his career when EPO-infused riders took the pace to inhuman levels—there was a beautiful efficiency in his stroke.

In his autobiography, Fignon described going on training rides, which consisted of his riding in the 53×14 or 53×15. Today, I was Laurent Fignon, riding almost exclusively in those two gears. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been running lower gears. Wondering when and hoping that I might be able to ratchet up the power more comfortably. Sometimes, of course, the problem is more psychological than physical. Today, in spite of wrestling with fatigue from not having ridden a great deal over the past week, I pushed myself. Several days off the bike, and I start to feel sluggish, flabby, weak. Regular riding, and everything is easy. But today didn’t really involve pushing, even though I was tired. My body responded, and the ride went well. I felt strong, but the rhythm itself took over.

I was ragged to start and worried about the length of the ride, since today seemed like it might be a jour sans. But patience—waiting to develop the strength, waiting to write off the day’s writing—paid dividends, and I settled into a comfortable cadence. The winds buffeted from in front and from the side, but I still moved well. The tailwinds allowed me to maintain a terrific speed with little effort. I was flying down 25 Sideroad, reminded of why I enjoyed riding and riding solo.

The grey clouds only added to the ride’s ambience. Until I was closing in on home and the heavens opened. In the space of twenty minutes I went from strong and fast to drowned rat. A moment of vanity had me admiring the glossy, wet sheen on my legs from the rain. And the pace only slackened a little in the wet, instigated likely as much by the fact that I was on the home stretch as because of the rain. I shifted down the cassette just a little, and rode 53×17 across the top of the escarpment and then down, squeezing on wet and fairly unresponsive brakes.

But it was a good ride. I managed the 120km in a whisker over four hours. Not a bad pace at all given the distance, the rolling hills, and the conditions.

Resolve

May 31, 2012

Growing up, I played competitive soccer in Vancouver. At 19, I had a professional trial with Oxford United; it’s become an old go-to line, but I like to claim that I’m the only academic who ever went to Oxford for the soccer. There’s something pure about soccer that I continue to appreciate, although I don’t play anymore and don’t really miss it. Something about the art of the game—how numbers and statistics can’t explain the result as well as they might in any number of other sports.

One teammate and old friend of mine comes to mind. Dave was one of the best players I’ve ever played with—and one of the few “soccer” friends I still have. He was a consummate goal-scorer; he had the necessary personality (that cold clarity in front of the goal) to finish, which is easier said than done. I’m not sure if it’s a skill (I never acquired it) or just something that’s ingrained or wired in certain people. At any rate, Dave had it. He was quite skilled, but something I noticed over years of playing with him was that he wasn’t all that fast. In the heat of the game, though, nobody was ever going to beat him to the ball. He spent the entire ninety minutes on the field in such a high state of determination that good things came to him. He had resolve.

Resolve isn’t something you can quantify. It doesn’t occur at a particular heart rate or require a special kind of musculature. It’s a mental or psychological aspect that allows an athlete to dig deeper, to push farther, to try harder. When athletes reach their physical threshold, the question becomes who can maintain that threshold longest? Cycling uphill is an especially rapid and acute method of reaching one’s physical limit. The lungs burn, the heart pounds, and the legs ache. But how long can you maintain the agony? How long can you put it aside? Bradley Wiggins once famously noted that you’re only ever one minute from bonking, so all you have to do is keep on going for one more minute.

Nice thought in theory, but that’s only a part of how resolve works. Resolve involves preparing for the hurt, too. Luck favours the prepared mind, claimed Louis Pasteur. Preparation (not “preparation”) is tantamount. On the bike. At work. At home. Resolve requires the single-mindedness to succeed. Whatever the odds or obstacles. To prepare for the struggle. To prepare to endure at (and beyond) the threshold.