Monday, July 20, 2009

So what is this London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) business anyway?

On Sunday, July 26, 600 riders from over 34 nations will set off to complete the 2009edition of the 1400K London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) randonee and I will be one of 13 American riders in attendance. Not technically a race, LEL is a timed endurance event (or randonee) with a maximum time allowance of 116 hours. Modeled after the fabled Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) ride, which has was first run in 1891, LEL is put on every four years by Audax UK. As with other randononeurring events, the emphasis is on self sufficiency. Riders must carry all that they need with them as they follow a prescribed route on back country roads stopping at about a dozen checkpoints (or controls) along the way. In addition to serving as checkpoints where riders will have their “brevet” cards stamped, controls offer food and drink and a place to rest (or sleep) along the way. I hope to return to London within 100 hours (in fact 90 hours would be gravy), yet weather and sleep needs will largely define my prospects.

At this point, my training is what it will be. The Saratoga 12-hour race last weekend was my final long ride in preparation for LEL and the two weeks leading up to next Sunday’s start have been filled with shorter training rides and interval sets to boost my speed and keep my legs fresh. This week, I’ve also been dialing in my equipment, assembling gear and ironing out my travel plans to ensure that I show up to the start with everything I could possibly need for four days of hard riding. Today, I got my bike back from a final tune-up at the Bicycle Depot where Geoff discovered that a frayed cable was the source of my rear derailleur trouble. This is a huge relief as my shifting has been twitchy for several weeks and I was a bit worried about what might happen out on the moors at 3:00 a.m. when my shifter gave up the ghost completely.

I had LEL in mind last year when ordering my new custom Independent Fabrications Club Racer. The frame set is designed to accommodate fenders and wider tires, both of which will come in handy on an event of this type. Next week, I’ll be riding with 30mm Grand Bois high performance road tires. These are a full 5mm wider than my standard 25mm Conti GP4000 tires and will be inflated to only 85 psi rather than the standard 100+ psi typical of thinner tires. The difference is immediately noticeable in the suppleness of the road feel which will theoretically be amortized over the four day duration of the ride. A study of rolling resistance undertaken by Bicycle Quarterly determined that wider tires are not slower tires. A comfortable rider is a happy rider, though. My LEL set-up also includes a lovely pair of 43mm aluminum Honjo fenders. These sturdy fenders won’t rattle and weigh less than similar fenders of the plastic variety. In addition, this winter I had Peter White build me a new front wheel around a Schmidt dynohub to power my new Schmidt Edeluxe LED headlamp and B & M Seculite Plus taillight. Look ma, no batteries! Finally, I’ll be packing all of my necessary gear into a Detours seat-post mounted rear pack.

So on Thursday night, I’ll fly to London to spend a few days acclimating to the time change and prowling London’s streets for a cultural fix. Then on Sunday morning, it’s off to the Lee Valley Youth Hostel on the outskirts of London where I will join 599 other cyclists on the big journey north. God willin’ and the creek don’t rise; this should be an outrageous adventure. I plan to post periodic updates during the ride via cell phone to this blog. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Saratoga 12-hr Race: A Podium Finish (Almost)

It had been a full year since I last rode in Saratoga at the 24-hour race last July, but the roads were still fresh in my mind. With L-E-L two weeks away, though, I decided that the 12-hour race was more in line with my general training plan. It would provide me with a final long ride, some speed work and a great day of fun out on the road. The other truly exciting part of the plan was that I brought along my first ever crew for support. I may not be cycling in the Tour de France, but with Eli, Izzy and Jessie mixing my drinks and passing me bottles, I felt like a rider on the ProTour (minus the EPO). What a difference a support crew can make. In this case, I was able to stop only twice for a total of maybe 7 minutes off the bike in 12 hours. I also feel like I showed up to the race in good form, having followed UMCA Director John Hughes' advice on tapering to the letter by really keeping the miles down over the past week with a few intense days of intervals to sharpen my speed and keep my legs fresh.

The Saratoga 12/24 is held on a lovely 32-mile course with gentle rolling hills, smooth, well-paved, low-traffic roads, and only one little nasty climb and a few miles of open fields and river which seem to naturally generate headwind. This year, the weather forecast wasn't too promising. It looked pretty definite that rain and thunderstorms would hit by late afternoon. As it turned out, the rain held off until around 6:30, so I only faced a downpour on the final lap. The nasty lightning even held off until the drive home. The headwinds were vicious, though, thoughout the day on the "back 9" side of the course with gusts up to 30 mph.

In all, this was a very successful race for me. I got out in front early and held onto third position for most of the day. Throughout three or four laps, RAAM veteran Rob Morlock and I rode at an acceptable distance away from one another in this non-drafting race, leapfrogging each other from time to time and chatting a little bit as we passed. Rob is an awfully nice guy who rode with the support of a crew that leapfrogged him at various spots along the route. It was a pleasure to watch their well-oiled machine in progress and I definitely learned a few things about racing from the experience. Later in the day, when the rider in first position dropped out, it seemed like I had third place sewn up. It wasn't until the final lap that I was passed in earnest by a rider on his fixed gear bike who went on to take third place overall and first in the fixed gear category.

always learn something about training and racing with every event. What I learned from this race was:

1. Tapering is very good.

2. Regular speed and hill work are good.

3. Long base miles ridden during the winter seem to pay dividends.

4. Carrying more than two bottles on board the bike should be considered if and when I race without a crew.

5. Racing with a crew that leapfrogs and passes off nutrition and such through pedestrian hand-offs is the next horozon.

6. The race isn't over until its over.

It was such an honor and a pleasure to have my family along for the adventure. I'm sure I enjoyed it much more than they did, but I'm so glad that they have this little window into why I love being an endurance cyclist. I hope to include them in more interesting ways in the future. More immediately, though, I look forward to adding this result to my UMCA UltraCup standings, which have been languishing a bit since my last ultra race in April. With luck, I will finish strong in London and hope to ride at least two of the four laps at the ADK540 in September.

Next year's goal: to qualify for RAAM at one of the 500-mile races with a full crew.