Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Training at the Block Island Velodrome

No, there is no REAL velodrome on Block Island, but cycling the island’s 16-mile loop of smooth, gently undulating roads can feel a bit like riding on one. Block Island is one of New England’s true treasures. An exceptionally beautiful and peaceful 21-square mile spit of sand off the coast of Rhode Island, the Nature Conservancy has deemed it to be one of the “12 last great places in the Western Hemisphere." It’s also a wonderful place to ride a road bike. I’m fortunate to be a frequent visitor to the island since my wife’s family lives here year-round. This week, I’m spending spring break resting and catching up with family as I top off my training for the upcoming Connecticut River Double Century race this Sunday.

Steady 25-mile per hour winds have been ripping off the ocean for several days which makes sections of the island simply awful. At times like these, I am reminded of something I read by Dr. Bob Breedlove. Breedlove, the late RAAM record holder and endurance cycling god who was cut down in the prime of his life on a desolate road in the Midwest by two yahoos in a pick-up truck while competing in RAAM, referred to headwinds as “Quaker winds” because they are “friends” of the training cyclist. I like to remember, as I scream nasty epithets into each giant wall of wind, that at least there may be some gain from the pain.

In the off-season, Block Island is a cycling paradise. The roads are generally car-free with dramatic vistas in every direction. The island bears a strong resemblance to sections of the British Isles so it is not too hard to squint my eyes and imagine my upcoming L-E-L odyssey through the countryside of England and Scotland as I spin past lovely stone walls. During the high season, the roads can be jammed with day trippers, cars, scooters and bikes and it is HIGHLY recommended that the serious road rider get out before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. to avoid the knuckleheads. There’s more fresh ice cream available in the summer months, too, so it’s a trade off.

The paved roads on the island peak at 108 feet so the “BIKE ON CHEESE” signs are a bit of an overstatement. Installed for the faint of heart who may not have ridden a bike in over 30 years (a common species here in the summer months) these signs clearly identify the island’s three main hills. Don’t expect too much from these hills; with the prevailing headwinds, it was hard for me to surpass 30 miles an hour on descent so far this week. The roads are currently devoid of traffic and have only a minimal sprinkling of sand around the edges to slow a body down. I brought my Bianchi out this week with the compact 34/50 and 9-speed rear cassette, yet I would be perfectly happy with my single-speed or with a fixed gear track bike.

With Sunday's race in mind, I've shifted my training into a lower gear this week. Last Sunday, I rode 4x5 intervals into a 25-mile an hour headwind. On Monday, I decided to focus on “distance” and rode three laps at tempo pace which added up to 50 miles if you count the cool-down at the end. Today, I took a yoga class with my wife AND rode a gentle lap at recovery pace AND updated my blog. Ain't vacation grand?!? I really need to be sure to work yoga into my regular training routine when I get back home. It increases flexibility, focusses the mind and builds core strength, all of which are tremendously valuable on the bike.

While I have a great place to stay on the island, daily and weekly rentals are plentiful and ferries from several locations transport bikes and riders for a nominal fee. During the summer high season, boats run frequently from Pt Judith, RI, New London, CT and less frequently from Montauk, NY. Come for the day or spend a week. You won’t be disappointed. You can even leave your geared bike behind and ride the velodrome on your single speed and remember: the winds are good for you.

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