Tacoma Twilight Criterium – My First Race

Tacoma Twilight Criterium

About a month ago an ex-neighbour and good friend challenged me to race in the (then) upcoming Criterium. The Tacoma Twilight is a lap race around 6 city blocks in downtown Tacoma. I thought “why not,” so I started training, figuring it out along the way. This Saturday I raced in the Category 4/5 Mens race and it was my first ever race. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t, but I quickly saw some big areas of weakness in my riding and HUGE holes in my training and preparations.

Me in the Tacoma Twilight Criterium

Fitness wise, I could have finished the race. I wasn’t out of breath and I wasn’t huffing and puffing. My big weakness was just strength. After 10 minutes I didn’t feel like my legs had much left to give. I couldn’t keep up speed and I was continually losing ground. I managed to pair up with another straggler name Markus and we worked together for about a lap, but neither of us had much left and I could no longer see the peloton down the end of each stretch. We were pulled off right after that. I lasted 14 minutes of a 30 minute race.

Me at the Tacoma Twilight Criterium

I had warmed up by riding along the waterfront for about 20 minutes or so. Starting waaaay too early, I was “warmed up” and still had an hour to kill. I should have brought my (noisy) trainer down with me and warmed up all the way to the beginning of the race, but it wasn’t until I was track-side that I noticed others doing the same.

Standing among the other starters I felt very small. Here are all these obviously serious racers on their Carbon rides and team uniforms and I’m there standing over my 20 year old steel bike with a shirt from a mountain-bike race in 1992, my $30 shorts, and my $2 garage-sale helmet. I just tried to ignore all that and just bloody race. Suddenly we were racing and I couldn’t get my damned cleat in the peddle (I’ll need to practice that). Initially I was thinking “I can handle this, this speed isn’t too bad” but other racers kept on pulling away from me. I don’t think I was tracking with the pace and before I knew it I was no longer in the main group and riding in the tail. I would gain in the corners, but lose out on the straights.

I was disappointed to be pulled out. I wouldn’t have minded a last-place finish, I just wanted to finish the blasted race. Training-wise I realised I need push myself much harder and work on leg-strengthening exercises. Afterwards it wasn’t my legs that were sore (they didn’t have time to get sore), it was my neck and back from pushing myself to keep up.

In 3 week’s time there’s a 34 mile race in Eatonville, WA. I’m going to try that and see how I fair. For training, I’m just going to try to get on the bike more often and push myself harder. Today I spent over 2 hours on the bike and it felt great!

Le Tour Begins

Thor Hushovd - Wearing the yellow jersey

The Tour is here and it’s big. This will be the second Grand Tour I’m following after the Giro last month. I came away from the watching the Giro absolutely loving every second. But the Tour is something else. It’s big, really big. The Giro was Contador’s show. He totally owned it and only Nibali and Scarponi were anywhere near challenging him. It seemed so small compared to the Tour and pales in comparison. Today, there are over a dozen proper GC contenders and it’s impressive to see all these stars battling it out.

I’m excited waking up to watch it at 6:30ish every morning and when I wake up too early I’m disappointed that it’s not yet time! I’m watching it at Tourdefrance.nbcsports.com. It’s in HD, looks fantastic and cost $30. Not bad when it ends up being $10/week!

The Giro – the Conclusion.

Contador, Scarponi & Nibali celebrating.

This year’s Giro was the first Grand Tour I’ve watched from start to finish. Early on this year I decided to give my summer to the Tour: I would do everything I could to watch it. When I was reminded by Eroica Cicli that the Giro d’Italia was coming up I immediately jumped at the chance to get my first proper taste of Grand Tour riding.

The Tour de France carries an impressive weight in the cycling world. It is THE event of the year, and everyone is, in varying degrees, familiar with the TourBut the Giro is something else, a little more mysterious and much less known. When explaining to friends and colleagues that I was watching the Giro I’d explain: “It’s like the Tour de France, but for Italy.”

What was it like watching my first Grand Tour? I was first struck by how little rest these riders get. I was expecting five to six days of riding followed by a rest day. In reality, they rode for nine days straight! And each stage isn’t a two to four hour ride, some were as long as eight hours! At the end of the Giro Contador concluded: “Hombre, it was tough. This was the hardest work and the hugest effort of my career.” And this is from the guy that breezed by other riders on more then a few occasions! It’s a tough race!

It’s easy to be disappointed when your favourite rider (in my case I decided to back Nibali – not the most exciting rider, but he had the amazing skill of just grinding up those hills in spite of breakaways and attacks) can’t quite get away from the chasing group and get on the attack. It took a while for me to realise that pushing yourself for upwards of four hours and then having anything left is a challenge in of itself. To remember that these riders had been doing it for three weeks brings a whole new perspective.

I was also surprised at how much tactics played a part. Well, maybe not surprised about how much tactics were key, but more the different ways riders used tactics. It had never occurred to me that if you pushed yourself hard one day, you might no longer have the strength to properly compete the next day. Or that riders would intentionally hold themselves back in the closing kilometres of a stage in order to try to provoke another rider to attacking early, so that they might draft behind the leader and ultimately pass them closer to the finish line. I wasn’t terribly impressed at the small ways riders try to gain an advantage. This was most clearly noticeable when riders were receiving drink-bottles from the team cars. Staff would hold out the bottle and pull the rider for a second or so as he was grabbing the drink, providing just a moment of repose. I just thought it was a shame.

It was certainly an adventure! I loved getting up early, watching these guys slog it out, experience the excitement of frantic finish morning after morning and then having the whole rest of the day to get on with the rest of life. I hope I get to watch the Tour this summer. Maybe, just maybe, like Contador I’ll get two Grand Tours under my belt this summer!

Bike to a Better Tacoma Meet-up

Conversation around the map.

I found myself sat around the map. A natural gathering place I’m drawn to. Sitting in the Harmon Hub, to my right and opposite me are David and Ken, both local bike activists working with the city to create a bike-friendlier Tacoma. As we pour over the map we’re exchanging ideas, pointing to new routes, discussing issue areas. I learn a lot. I now know enough to brave venturing not just over the Narrows bridge but also beyond. They assure me that the roads over that way are going to be a lot more like the ones I miss from Madison.

The mention a few development points. A bike boulevard running north-south next to Yakima Ave, an extension to the Scott Pierson Trail that will connect to downtown (hopefully) & better bike access along Schuster Parkway (unlikely, but necessary). It’s fascinating seeing Tacoma from different eyes: new commute routes, shortcuts, and leisure rides. Apparently it’s “a lot better then it used to be,” but I find that that’s typically true of all of Tacoma.

Bike Valet Parking
Bike Valet Parking

I get a contact for a local morning group-ride. No luck with the Saturday AM Tacoma Bike ride, but one day I’ll just have to figure out my schedule and tag a long. A bit later we have a raffle and once again I’ll have to wait till next time to find my first win. Outside I pick up my bike from the Bike Valet Parking, provided for by REI and watched by the 2nd Cycle guys. Quite fancy.

Pereira Cycles
Spotted this custom-built Pereira touring frame on the way out. Very nice.

It wasn’t the public forum I was expecting, but the Meet-up was valuable all the same.

Giro d’Italia – Stage 1

Watching the Giro with the kids

The Giro started today with a team time trial that was ultimately won by HTC Highroad with the Maglia Rosa going to Italian Time Trial Champion Marco Pinotti. Not the most exciting opening to an event, but I look forward to more racing tomorrow. I’m pretty fortunate in that I mainly work in the afternoons and evenings and I’ll be able to watch lots of the stages.

Map of Route

Tacoma Bike Swap

Tacoma Bike Swap 2011 - indoors.

Wasn’t a big or crazy as the Cronometro Bike Swap in Madison, but it was still good to get out and meet people and look at some sweet bikes. There were a few nice setups: an Eddie Merckx with Dura Ace 7400 (same as on my gaspipe Battaglin), a Benotto, and an Alan framed Guerciotti (which I’m still not sure how to pronounce.) The indoor area seemed to be the more serious zone with Tacoma Bike’s stand there and a couple of real collectors (lots of yummy Campagnolo stuff). Outside was generally mid to low-end bikes, the selling coral, $7 helmet fitting and mountain bike goods.

I succumbed to my love of Record Hubs and I’m now 2-for-2 in buying a one at a Bike Swap (I had picked up a Rear Pista Hub at the Madison one a few years back). This one was a modern 10-speed hub which will hopefully be the starting point for getting a modern gruppo on my Gios Compact Pro. I also picked up a Nitto Moustache handlebar for the Medici build which I’m now having second-thoughts about.

Apart from the odd embarrassing moment when my mind went blank and I couldn’t think of the right word – this is something that happens to me when I’m around people who know more about bikes then me – it was pretty fun and quick because I had to shoot to work early. I think I need to make a list of parts I’m on the lookout for. I got home and remembered a couple of other things I had totally forgotten that I needed.

Tacoma Bike Swap This Saturday

Tacoma Bike Swap

From exit133.com

The 3rd annual Tacoma Bike Swap will be held on Saturday, April 30th from 10am to 2pm at the University of Puget Sound Memorial Fieldhouse, located on the corner of N. 11th and Union Avenue. This is a great event, with a wide range of bicycles and related merchandise. We’ve seen everything from 1970’s European road bikes to “tricked out” contraptions that wouldn’t look out of place in a music video. The swap draws individuals looking to sell a set of wheels and well-stocked bike shops.

We have been informed that there is still plenty of vendor space available, but the time to secure your space is now. You can find out more here. The organizers would like to remind you that if you’d like to sell 1 or 2 bikes, all you need to do is lock them to the corral at the venue with a tag informing potential buyers of your phone number.

Highlights of the Bike Swap include:

  • $7 adult and children’s helmets and free helmet fittings with Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Center for Childhood Safety.
  • Free Intro to Bike Maintenance with REI at 11:30AM and 12:15PM.
  • Free flat repairs by Tacoma Bike
  • Bike registration in a national data base

Warmer weather is approaching, and you’re going to want to experience it on a bike. And don’t forget – Bike to Work Week is coming up fast!

The Tacoma Bike Swap is part of Bike Month 2011 and is a collaborative effort of the City of Tacoma, Pierce Transit and Pierce County. For more information, visit PierceTrips.com