Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Balltown Recon Ride

Three of us set out on a damp and foggy morning with Cascade Iowa as the destination. The plan was to meet Paul Carpenter at 9:00 AM to ride the north 100 miles of the Balltown Classic race course. Bill, Paul and I had ridden the entire route many times but Jean (pronounced like John) Dragon would see the toughest part of the course for the first time. Jean's plans were to make 2012 his first attempt at the Midwest spring classic.

The gloomy mist turned into a light rain as we neared our staring point at the tiny Happy Joe's just off highway 151 on the northeast corner of the small Iowa town. The fine mist returned as we rolled out of town hoping the England like weather would break and turn into a beautiful day like the rest of the unseasonably warm spring had been.

The pace was social as we forged our way north into a slight headwind while the spray from the water soaked roads made drafting less then desirable. Shortly after the aptly named Roller Coaster Road the pavement showed some signs of drying as the mist ceased and the light fog began to break. We enjoyed so great views as we neared the bluff town of Balltown sitting at the end of Ridge Road. The long gradual climb to town provides a panoramic view of the Mississippi River valley as well as Illinois and Wisconsin. We three veterans enjoyed this forgiving approach to the hilltop turnaround and remembered years this scenic road was closed and we were forced to go in and out on the more hilly and less scenic Horseshoe Road. We also knew what was waiting on the southern trip.

I am not sure how Horseshoe road received it's name. Maybe the visual of standing many horseshoes in a row would give you a good idea of the profile. Another possibility could be the horses needed special shoes to climb the hills or stop at the bottom. Either way after 7 different times over this road going south or north I know what it means to me. We are going to descend really fast and ascend really slow on three "major" climbs before we hit Epworth. This is where the race would break into the contenders and pretenders and leave rides scattered to fend for themselves for the next 80 miles to the finish line. Luckily we were only riding 100 today not 200.

The three long, steep climbs were just as I remembered them. All you can do is just set a nice steady pace and grunt it out, and wish you had a bigger gear in the back. During the race this is where you decide if you want to push it to keep up with the lead group and risk blowing up and a very long ride back to Dewitt or do you climb at your pace and try to conserve as much energy as possible. On this trip I chose to let Bill and Paul go up the road and I hung back with Jean. Unlike race day I knew they would wait at the top to regroup. Afterwards I wish I had pushed it a little harder on at least one of the hills.

Epworth was the planned stop for the day at the 57 mile mark. Jean's wife is from Epworth so he knew where the BP store, just two blocks off the route, was located. A quick in and out and we were on our way south with the hills and the wind behind us. At this point you can breath a little sigh of relief knowing the big climbs are over but the problem is you still have 75 miles of riding. On this ride we only had 43 so it did seem like the end was near.

The thankful light breezes pushed us along at a nice pace over the next 25 miles to our turnaround at the race 50/150 mile sag stop location. The only break was a quick flat tire change by me just before the turnaround. Bill was not too happy to learn that we had to turn around and head back into the wind for the rest of the ride to Cascade. He mentioned something about finding a stick.

We plodded north, rotating regularly, over the undulating terrain counting down the last miles. Our trip was interrupted again by a mechanical problem with 15 miles remaining. This time it was a little more serious then a flat tire. As Bill rotated behind me and in front of Paul his rear skewer brushed Paul's front wheel and bent a spoke causing the wheel to have a significant wobble. Paul was able to stay upright but the wheel was gently rubbing on the fork. Luckily I had a multi-tool with a spoke wrench and was able to take some of the wobble out so we could continue.

We finally rolled onto Cascade 6 hours after departing. Once the roads dried the weather was fabulous for riding with the temperatures staying consistently in the low to mid 60 the entire ride. It was a great training ride that provided Bill, Paul and I a reminder of just how tough this hilly course can be. For Jean it was an eye opener. He later said that words cannot describe the course even though I had tried several times since he had mentioned the race would be fun.

I look forward to the challenge that competing on this course always brings. There will be some very talented riders and I hope to hang with them as long as possible. Whether solo of with a group this is one of my favorite ultra-distant rides in area.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Balltown Training

With out of this world warm weather planned again for this weekend I am planning a reconnaissance run of the top 100 miles of the Balltown Classic race course on Saturday. There are a few of us from Muscatine that will be entering the May 18th event and this gives us a nice hill workout. We also get to see some really scenic areas of Northeast Iowa at a moderate pace instead of race pace the next time we are on the course.

This year will be my fifth time entering this event that is one of the toughest 200 mile road rides in the mid west. The race attracts ultra-cyclist from all over the mid west. Years past have seen RAAM racers toe the line as final preparations for the big event in early June. I am sure this year will be no exception.

Jim Amelung's course record of 20 mph average has stood since 2003 with many coming close to besting it. A group of riders with a helpful weather day might have a chance if they can stay together and keep the pace steady. No support is allowed but there is three bag drops along the way for restocking. Quick transitions are required if the record is going to fall.

Nice spring weather might help make this the year for the record to fall. There are a few strong riders in the area that will be doing RAAM, as a team or solo, that have participated in the past. Looking at results from the few races that have taken place, already this year, Kurt Searvogel of Arkansas looks in prime shape to give it a run. If anybody from Team Bacchetta decides to enter again this year that will add some horse power especially on the "flat" and rolling sections. Paul Carpenter, a solo RAAM racer, hopefully will be making a start. Paul is like the energizer bunny he just keeps going and going and going.

It should be fun, as always, and I look forward to the speed of the rolling hills leading up to the suffering on the big climbs. Many of these riders I only see at events like this a couple times a year so it is good to hang out and see how the fitness is coming along. This event happening just three weeks after my Trans Iowa start should either put me in great shape of still wiped out. We shall see.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Broken Bike

As I shifted to the big chain ring while riding my Cervelo R3 on the Tuesday night group ride the chain became wedged between the outer chain ring and the derailleur. This didn't seem to be too much of a problem. I gently back pedalled to get it un-stuck and them soft pedalled forward to finish the shift. It still did not go so I shifted to the small chain ring and softly pedalled again. This time the chain went back to the inner chain-ring but there was an awfully loud rubbing noise. So I decided it was time to pull over and take a look. The two guys behind stopped with me but Chad, who was in front of me, did not here us yell so he pedalled on.

Curiously, I dismounted to asses the problem when I noticed that the front derailleur was sitting directly on top of the outer chain-ring causing the noise I was hearing. My assumption was the bolt that holds the derailleur to the hanger bracket had come loose and the entire assembly had shifted down. No problem I got out my handy multi-tool and loosened the bolt. Strangely the bolt was still pretty tight. The cable tension would not let me raise the derailleur so after loosening the cable I was able to lift the derailleur back out of the way. Upon a closer inspection I notice that the hanger bracket, that is attached to the seat tube, was loose. I never payed attention to how this bracket was attached to the frame but it looked like it was riveted on the top but nothing on the bottom. Then I noticed that the rivet was missing from the bottom. Big problem I thought.

Like any good rider, on a 30 degree above average temperature day, nothing was going to stop me from riding. I put the derailleur in the outer ring position and rode on making sure I did not shift out of the big chain-ring. Luckily it was a pancake flat ride.

Once I go home and was able to asses the damage closer. I noticed the bracket was bent as well as the rivet missing. My mind was racing as to how I was going to get this fixed. I had bought the bike used so there was no warranty and our local bike shop does not deal with Cervelo. There is a bike shop in Bettendorf that sells Cervelo maybe they could help. Then I kept thinking how long was it going to take to get the frame fixed, would they have to send it to the factory, and what was I going to ride while it was being fixed? When I bought this bike last year I stripped down my old Trek project one and used the parts to upgrade my wife's bike so all that was on the old bike was the seat post and handle bars. My only option would be riding my cross bike with some road tires. I have done that before and since I needed to get used to that bike before Trans Iowa that wouldn't be so bad. All these thoughts and more kept racing through my mind as I tried to sleep.

On my lunch hour the next day at work, I tried to search for repair hints on line to see if any other riders had solved this same dilemma. I was not having any luck. The closest I could find was a forum about a rider that wanted to remove the hanger and have it anodized when he repainted his frame. The suggestion was drilling out the rivets and then replacing them. It mentioned the rivets were 3mm. That still did not solve the bent hanger problem. After work I decided to see if I could gently bend the bracket back it to place. I was able to use a pair of vice grips with a board against the down tube and very carefully squeeze the vise grips until the bracket was back in place. It was pretty easy to do and I was able to see when the holes in the bracket and frame were in line. First step completed and I was feeling optimistic.

A quick trip to the hardware store to pickup a box of 3mm rivets and I was off to the bike shop to borrow a rivet gun. The rivet fit perfectly and the operation went off without a hitch. I assume they bond the hanger to the frame and install the rivets but there was no way to bond it back on so hopefully the rivets will hold. If I do break another rivet I still have 24 more in the box that cost me $3. It looks like my R3 will live to ride another day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Back to Posting

It has been a long break from updating my blog but I hope to get back to it. The 2011 cycling season ended with a fizzle after Paris-Brest-Paris. All the brevet's and mileage led up to one goal. When it is done the motivations seems to spiral downhill quickly. I did do some gravel riding in the fall and managed to keep a little fitness but seemed to gain a few pounds as well. The most excitement was getting bit by a dog for the first time while riding. 22 years and never a dog bite. The dog seemed so friendly right up unit he bit me. Even afterwards he stopped and almost had a sorry look on his face. Some anti-biotic for the infection and I was good to go. Now I have a really cool scar.

I ended the year with 13,000 miles, which was the goal. The 2012 goal is a little lower with travel for work and crewing for RAAM cutting into the riding. My mileage has been pretty high the last few years so cutting back for a year will be a nice break.

2012 has started slow due to the fact that I spent 5 of the first 7 weeks of the year in Northern China for work. The trips were two weeks then three weeks. I was able to ride an exercise bike at the hotel but the boredom, heat in the "gym" of 75-80 degrees and the poor quality of bike left me short on miles compared to previous years. I used some of my free time to do a little cross training. Some core strengthening, push-ups, some weights and a few other varied workouts. My goal was to try to offset the pounds I usually gain when my meals are paid for at restaurants. I managed to lose a little the three week trip. While in China I kept reading how nice the weather was in Iowa. With the mild winter I could have had more miles to start the year then ever before. Instead I had my worst January in many years. Now I have to try to catch up with my riding buddies. Oh well, life is good.