Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mechanically Challenged (Challenge RR) (20070902)

Not sure what to write about this one. I don't have a lot positive to
say about the experience.

I do try to take something positive out of everything though, so I'll
think of everything good about Saturday.

1. The scenery was fantastic - Challenge, California is in some
truly beautiful country, and the course goes through some great parts of it
2. The school the race is based out of has great facilities (not
always the case...)
3. Hmmm...running out of positives here. The guys in the pack were nice?

Alright, so what gives? What sucked so bad?

Well, Challenge, California, is just a bit under 3 hours from my house.
With an 8am start time, my alarm went off at the chipper hour of 3:45am.
That's ugly. To get up at that hour and get everything together
(correctly!) while still zombified from being so early, that means I
have to do all my pre-race prep the night before which hurts the WAF
(Wife Acceptance Factor) for a given race. So the logistics required for
this race don't make it popular in the Hardy Household.

But it's hilly, and I'm a small guy, so I'm a sucker for hilly races. I
should be able to climb with the lead group, right? So off I go. At
least I didn't get a flat tire on the way to the race like I did for the
last race I did last Sunday.

I get there, go through the whole pre-race thing and see who showed up.
I'd checked the pre-registration and most of the climbers were on the
list, but not all of them. Well, they decided to come, and around 10
extra juniors (read: strong light guys that can climb quickly) showed up
too. Hmm, so this is going to be hard

I'd done all my pre-race recon though, had a mental map of the course,
the elevation profile, how I wanted the race to work tactically, and how
I'd react in various parts if it didn't go that way.

We roll off and proceed to do a neutral (read: referee/official
motorbike leading us at a moderate pace, no passing allowed) down one of
the most poorly paved descents I've seen. Except for Copporopolis I
guess. Then we're off to the races.

At this point, I'll mention some actual racing tidbits. There were
hills, we went quickly up them, it hurt etc etc.

But that's not what got my attention. What got my attention is that
after one of the hills, leading to a long descent then a false flat
downhill section, I can't get into my big ring. Huh? I do everything I
can with the shifting and the cables and I finally get it in there.

So I forget about it, and I'm in the 50x11 ripping down the hill with
the pack when we get to the false flat part and I want to move up to the
13 or so. But my bike won't shift into it. I'm stuck in the 11!

For those reading (like my family) that are wondering what "the 11"
means, it's the biggest, hardest gear on the bike. I turn the crank
once, and the rear wheel goes nearly 5 times. It's a great gear, if
you're doing around 32mph. I'm doing 26, and it's not the right gear.

Worse, there are hills coming, I know, in about 3 miles. What can I do?
I try to think of options, and I can't think of any. What can you do
when all you have is the biggest gear? Go fast, I guess.

So I attack.

I sprint off the front of the group, dial the pain level in the legs up
to "simmer" and start hauling ass. After a couple miles I have about 30
seconds and the hills are coming.

Trying to maintain mental focus while I'm hammering along, I'm doing
everything I can to figure out what the problem is. I'm jiggling cables.
I'm playing with the shifters, I'm looking around the bike, and flying

I finally realize what it is right as I get to the hills. My gear
shifter's cable guide had snapped off and moved out of position. The
cable guide is this little plastic bit that is on the bottom of the
bottom bracket, and it's what the shifter cables slide against as they
go back to the derailleurs. It's pulled off to the side, nearly into the
front chainrings, so the cables are nearly slack, jamming the gears.

Ah-ha! Maybe I can fix that. I look back and see the pack down the road
with my nice little gap, I sigh, and pull over, clip off the bike, flip
it over and start working on it. I see that the cable guide has a
plastic protrusion that holds the guide in place by fitting in a hole on
the bottom bracket. Or at least, that's the theory. Since it's plastic,
it's all mashed up and doesn't fit anymore. That's the problem. I shove
it into place, and jump back into the pack. At least the gap was good
for something.

The guys in the pack and I chuckle about it and we start going up the
hill. Then it pops off again.

Guess this isn't my race.

I pull over, the pack leaves (for good this time) and I fix it.

I ride on, and when I finish the first lap I decide to do the second lap
as training since I'd be doing a hard ride today anyway if I wasn't
racing, and it is pretty country.

Near the bottom of that hellaciously (non-paved) descent I hear this
awful rattle at the back of my bike though. "Now what?" I'm thinking.

Turns out the descent was so rough that the lockring on my cassette
unscrewed. I'm not even kidding. I know I torqued that thing up, too.
Again, for those wondering what this means, picture the gears on the
rear of a bike. Now picture them no longer stacked up neatly against the
spokes, but sliding off away from the spokes so that they're loose and
just rattling around. Yep, that's my bike. Great!

So I pull over, pop the wheel off, and do what I can to reinstall the
gears. I'm able to get it rideable again with finger-tightening at least.

Did I mention it was hot? Right about now, the temperature went over 90

I ride for another 5 miles or so, then the cable guide snaps off again.
I fix it.

91 degrees, 5 more miles

The cassette rattles off again

92 degrees, 5 more miles

The cassette rattles off again. Oy.

95 degrees, etc etc etc

I stopped 9 times total. In a race. I was starting to feel like I should
have brought a tricycle or a big wheel or something. I was having
heat-stroke dreams of a professionall cycling team's team car rolling up
with a spare bike so I could throw mine in the ditch.

At this point I'll mention the last really good thing about the day.
Brandon Hill, a racer out of Sacramento that I've been racing with for a
bit more than a year and moving up categories with fell out of the pack
and rode with me the whole way. Every time I stopped, he stopped and
waited with me, and we finished together. That made the race if not
actually good ... slightly less bad. Thanks, Brandon.

Then I got in my car and drove home for 3 hours.

I always try to take a lesson from each race. What's the lesson from
this? Well check your equipment, I guess. Torque everything down. And if
your cable guide is just plastic and doesn't have any screws holding it
in place, maybe you should think about making sure it's really secure.

I also try to leave some information in here for future people racing on
the same course. What's the course like? Well, it has a section of truly
awful pavement. Adjust your tire/wheel choices appropriately. The course
is very hilly. The 3s were doing about 5.2W/Kg up all of the hills. If
that doesn't sound doable, the race won't be much fun. If that does
sound doable it's a great race though - if you've got the power (and
functioning equipment) it can be very tactical.

Last CalCup race tomorrow! The Giro di San Francisco! Racing in the city
streets of SF is fun. Hopefully I'll have my gear working well for it.

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