Training in the City

by Mark Swartzendruber in Cycling, Road Cycling, Train With Grain

I moved from the bike friendly University of Illinois community, Champaign-Urbana, IL to the mean streets of Chicago 2 years ago come Labor Day 2011.  This move was the source of a great deal of angst for me as I could not imagine myself being able to train with any consistency or effectiveness.  Despite the large number of racers I know who live in the city and that I’ve been racing with for years, I was used to the largely rural roads surrounding Champaign-Urbana where I could literally go on a 5 hour training ride and encounter only a dozen vehicles the entire trip.

I knew it could be done though and I was determined to not let the move to Chicago be the Waterloo for my competitive cycling days.  I have a good friend and former team mate who won the Masters Nationals 30-34 road race championship in 2000. It is possible to be an urban bike racer, and also be very, very good at it.  You just have to adapt to the environment.

Here are some bullet points in no particular order of importance that will help you if you are a racer based in a large metropolitan setting.

  • Find and use the bike lanes.  Most metropolitan areas have designated bike lanes.  I was pleasantly surprised after my move to Chicago by how many miles of bike lanes there are and how well most motorists pay attention to people on bikes.  True story – I was actually pulled over by one of Chicago’s Finest on a frigid February morning, on a snow packed road for driving 200 feet in the bike lane in order to get around the line of cars at a stop light so I could make a right on red.  No bikes were present, there was a blizzard going on, but the police officer made sure I knew to stay out of the bike lane with my car.
  • Pay attention and ride defensively.  Never assume that a motorist sees you even when you make eye contact.  Follow the rule of the road.  Don’t be one of those riders that weaves through traffic at stop lights, running through stop signs and rolling through red lights.  Remember you’re not a bike messenger, you’re trying to get somewhere you can train.  There is ALWAYS somebody in a car that will be pushing to beat the stale yellow light or attempting to beat the green turn arrow.  Relax, wait your turn and make your way to clearer roads safely before you begin to “train”.
  • Do not attempt “interval” training in heavy traffic. It’s virtually impossible to ride defensively when you’re riding on the rivet.  City streets are fraught with peril, bumps, pot holes, inattentive motorists in a hurry, cracks and pedestrians walking across the street while texting.  Your interval training can wait until you’re in the clear.
    Bike paths and bike lanes are NOT for training.  They’re designed for commuters and leisure riders.  Use bike paths and bike lanes as a means to get yourself TO your training roads, never AS your training ground.  I will ride occasionally on the Lake Michigan Bike Path on days when I need to go slow and recover. The path is notorious for attracting large crowds of cyclists, pedi cabs, runners, in line skaters, and tourist who despite the presence of 50 feet of concrete or grass on either side of the bike pack insist on standing in the center of the bike path to take photos of Chicago’s beautiful sky line.  Despite this, I am never ceased to be amazed by the number of athletes, riding full bore, head down in their aero bars trying to “train” in this setting.  I once witnessed a guy blasting down the bike lane plow directly into the back of another cyclist who had stopped to greet a friend who was riding in the opposite direction. The guy in the aero bars never saw the stopped rider. He was checking his computer for his wattage output or heart rate I assume. He certainly wasn’t looking where he was going. I also had a friend relate a story of how an angry cyclist yelled at his 11-year-old son who was riding on a Forest Preserve bike path.  Seems my friend’s son had made the mistake of getting in the way of this jerk who was “training”.
  • Try, if possible, to time your rides when traffic will be lighter.  You’ll practically never have roads completely to yourself but traffic outside of the city center will tend to be much lighter early in the morning and in the summer, after rush hour.  Midday in my neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago is also a pretty decent time to ride.
  • Find the most direct path out to the suburbs and use the lighter traveled roads for your training.  If you go on group rides, be safe and obey traffic rules.  Nothing makes motorists angry and aggressive more than a group of 50 cyclists “racing” on the shoulder of crowded roads during rush hour and blowing stop signs.
  • Use the urban sprawl to your advantage.  Try doing 20-25 pedal stroke jumps or seated “stomps” out of the numerous stop lights and signs you encounter on your way out of and back into town – but be wise about staying out of the way of heavy traffic when doing so and make sure all the cars at the intersection have stopped before you go. Pick a moderately heavy gear like 53×17 and do the first 20 pedal strokes from the standing start as hard as you can. A workout like this will help increase your acceleration for sprints and attacks.
  • The fact is, you’ll need to allow yourself more time.  When I lived in Champaign-Urbana, I could do a 100k training ride in under 3 hours.  In the city and suburbs, 100k takes about 20 minutes more due to the stopping and starting and another 10 minutes or so of stationary time waiting for lights to change.  Be realistic with your time and expectations when you’re planning your training time

It is possible to be a competitive cyclist at a high level if you live in an urban environment.  You just need to ride defensively to make sure you get to more open roads in one piece before you begin your actual “training”.  I know that the first and last half hour of my rides are going to be interrupted by stop and go traffic.  I have learned to adjust, and use the stop and go to my advantage to do stomps and jumps.  I also make plans once or twice a month to pack my bike and drive out to some place that allows me to go on long uninterrupted rides just to keep my sanity.

Good luck and stay safe!

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Mark Swartzendruber Google: Mark Swartzendruber
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Bike Racing

Race Day Etiquette

by Joan Hanscom in Cycling, Road Cycling, Train With Grain

Getting into bike racing can be an intimidating thing….speed, crashes, that waiver they make you sign that says “I understand that bike racing is an inherently dangerous sport..”, skinny racers with expensive stuff.   But it’s also really fun, social, great for staying in shape and exciting when you approach it the right way.

If there was Emily Post guide to race day etiquette it would encourage you to keep it fun and competitive while observing these common sense rules for a fantastic race day for everybody:

DO:  Read the race bible or technical guide before you show up.  Plan accordingly.  If the flyer says registration closes for your race one hour before your scheduled start time – they mean it.  Give yourself plenty of time to get to the race, park, find registration.  Your race day will go much more smoothly if you can be relaxed about these preliminaries.

DON’T:  Yell at officials, registration staff, volunteers, race promoters etc. if you didn’t do the above.  They publish that flyer and schedule for a reason. It’s your job to know it. Yelling is never nice, but I see it a lot at races.  Something about the stress of competition can bring out the worst in people.  If you show up ten minutes before race time and the registration volunteers tell you that the race closed 30 minutes ago chalk it up to lessons learned and read the fine print next time.

DO:  Thank the volunteers, police, promoters.  Likely those volunteers have been standing in a corner keeping you safe for hours all for the glory of a bottle of water and maybe a race t-shirt.  But they made your day possible.  Make sure you let them know you appreciate it.

DO:  Before your first race, get experienced riding in groups.  Check out the teams in your area, look for local training races and group rides.  Getting used to riding in tight quarters before trying to do it at speed is really important and will make you much more comfortable when you are in an actual race.  Plus, you’ll make friends to go to the race with -making it WAY more fun and social.

DON’T:  Ride erratically.  Sudden “line” changes.  Swerving.  Braking in turns.  All of these things will get you branded as squirrelly or worse.  It will get you yelled at. Nobody in a race wants to get injured or lose a race because somebody decided to abruptly sit up in a turn – and when tension is high and people are in “race” mode they aren’t going to point out your mistakes diplomatically.   In other words, pay attention to your surroundings.  Every swerve, stop or sudden movement impacts those around you.  Ride with this awareness and you’ll be great.

DO:  Know the rules for bike racing and the type of race you’ve signed up for – there are differences.  You’ll have a choice between criteriums, road or circuit races and time trials.  For example:  Criteriums have a “free lap” rule.  Road racing does not.  This particular piece of knowledge can come in very handy if you flat or crash!  Crit racing also has rules about lapped riders working with race leaders etc.  It’s your job to know the rules before you come out to play.

DON’T:  Show up on a bike covered and dust and rust that hasn’t left the garage since 1985.

DO:  Make sure your equipment is race-ready before you line up.  I once lined up at the start of a race with a girl who knew that her front tire “had been going flat, but it will be okay….”  Sure enough two laps later and well established in the break her front tire blew while we were going through a chicane – taking all of us out.  Equipment failure happens so do your very best to make sure your gear is in the best shape possible before you stress it in a race.  You’ll race faster and have more fun too!

Finally, be a good sport.  When you win or have a great day, be gracious.  When you lose be gracious and live to race another day.  Recognize the good team work, team tactics and performance of both those who beat you and your own teammates too

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Joan Hanscom Google: Joan Hanscom
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Pancakes with Fruit

What to Expect: Preparation Tips for Beginners

by Joan Hanscom in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

I remember my first race like it was yesterday. Even though it’s more like 100 years ago now.   I was nervous.  A planner by trade, the more compulsive my pre-race checklist was the better I felt.  Happily I’ve relaxed a little bit over the years and I am a little less OCD with my pre- and post-race rituals but I’ve identified those things that made my race weekends easier and prevent me from totally stressing on race day.  Or from forgetting my bibs….

Thursdays:  I generally take it easy on the bike if I am racing on Saturday.  1.5-2 hrs easy spinning but no hard efforts.  Lots of hydration.

Fridays: On the bike – openers.  An easy ride that includes a few short, intense efforts to “open” the legs and get your heart rate up briefly. The idea is to go hard long enough to prime your legs but not to induce any fatigue.  Drink LOTS on the bike and off.

Pack your race bag early:  I’m a compulsive over-packer.  Unless it’s 90+ degrees in July, I’ve generally got riding gear for all weather permanently dwelling in my race bag; figure out what you’re going to need. But getting it done early reduces stress! Here’s my list of basics:

  • USAC License
  • Helmet
  • Shoes
  • At least 2 kits per day (jerseys, bibs, sports bra, socks)
  • Rain jacket
  • Long sleeve thermal jersey
  • Arm Warmers / Knee Warmers
  • Gloves (full fingers and half)
  • Spare Tubes
  • Mini Tool Kit
  • Mini First Aid Kit
  • Hat (for when the helmet is off)
  • Change of clothes
  • Action Wipes (in case you can’t shower right away after your race)
  • DZ Bliss Chamois Creme
  • Sunscreen (be sure you’ve got broad spectrum!)
  • Embrocation (just in case!)
  • Asthma Inhaler
  • Extra Safety Pins
  • Snacks (Clif Bars, Clif Blocks and gels)

When you really need to fuel-up, whole grain pancakes are a great start!

Make your bottles – in nice clean bottles.  I like to mix my sports drinks the night before and put them in the freezer.  Same with water bottles. Make enough bottles for your warm up, race and cool-down

Food:  I’m a big fan of peanut butter sandwiches (on whole wheat of course!) for post-race food.  Protein is essential in the recovery process plus it’s pretty easy on the stomach and packs well.  I’m also a BIG fan of Salty Oatmeal Cherry Cookies after my race.  The salt is delicious and the hemp protein and oats are great post-race nutrition in quick pick-me up style.  I also like to throw in some bananas and cokes (I know, I know – it’s bad for you but let me tell you, my last road race had an on-the-road high temp of 116 degrees.  An icy cold coke felt like a life saver after that race….)

Load your car:

  • Trainer for warm-up / cool-down
  • Pump
  • Race Wheels / pit wheels / trainer wheel (or at least trainer skewer)
  • Bike  (cleaned, lubed, and given a good looking over first!)

Phew.  The hard stuff is done.  Relax.  Drink some more.  Eat a good dinner but don’t get all experimental – probably NOT the time to try the Puffer Fish….

I like to eat nice clean foods.  Pasta, veggies, salad.  Or quinoa with grilled vegetables.  The times I’ve strayed from the plan, I’ve regretted it.  I’m not much of a meat eater but the night before my last road race I went out with a friend for dinner – and decided to try the Bison Burger.  BIG mistake.  I thought it would be okay – lean and all that.  Suffice to say I won’t do that again – sticking to what I know, the tried and tested.

Put your legs up.  Relax.  Make sure you know where you’re going the next day and how long it takes to get there, where they want you to park.  Read the Tech Guide, know the race day schedule so there are no unpleasant race day surprises.  Drink more.  Go to bed early.

Saturday:  Race Day!!


Eat a good breakfast.  I have three race day breakfasts I alternate between depending on the race.  If it’s a short criterium I like whole wheat toast and scrambled eggs.  Eggs are super for easy digestion and lasting energy.  Alternatively I like Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats with walnut bits, dates and a little brown sugar.

For longer road races I try to load up on calories a bit more.  7 Grain or 10 Grain Pancakes with Blueberries and real maple syrup.  Scrambled eggs on the side.

Then it’s off to the races.  Leave yourself plenty of time for getting lost, for parking, for pit stops on the road.

Park, say hullo to your friends.  Go to registration and get your number.  Bring your license with you.  Be sure you ask what side they want your number pinned on.  Don’t be the person on the line that holds up the start of your race because your number is upside down or pinned on the wrong side.

Drop your wheels in the wheel pit or wheel truck.

Kit up and, working back from start time, warm up.

If you can, get out and pre-ride the course.  Look for bumpy spots in the pavement. How’s the wind blowing?  Roll through the turns at speed.  Get comfortable with the course.  Be optimistic, know where you want to start your sprint 😉

If it’s a short fast crit, you want to go to the line nice and hot.  The shorter the race, the longer and more intense your warm-up.  Get your heart rate up.  Get sweaty.  I prefer trainer warm-ups.  Safe, reliable.   For longer road races your warm-up doesn’t need to be as long or as intense, but you still want to go to the line ready to go.  For TTs [time trials] – where you are going as hard as you can for the entire duration of the race I like a long steady warm-up, opening you anaerobic pathways and getting HR up to race pace so your body is ready to go when you start. Drink the whole time!

RACE!  You’ll feel like you need to go to the bathroom a million times.  Leave yourself time for that before your start time. Have a gel.  Drink more.  Line up.  Make sure you listen to the officials on the line.  Often they have really useful things to say – like at which point in a crit there are no more free laps – or where there are dodgy sections on a road race.

Race your heart out.

After your race.


Drink.  Get some food in you as soon as your stomach can handle it – hopefully with some protein in it.

If you were in it, check the posted results.  Once posted there is an official protest period – so if they’ve totally messed up and you KNOW you finished second but they show you 10th or DNF make sure you talk to the officials right away.  Once the protest period closes it gets a whole lot harder to get the results changed.  But also be reasonable.  If you are SURE you were 49th and they have you scored 51st ask yourself if it really matters.  There’s no prize money for you. There are no upgrade points for you. Live to race another day.

Cool-down.  Don’t just stop.  Ride a cool down.  Take it nice and easy.  Small chain ring.  Roll those legs. Your body will thank you on Sunday.

CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES.  Nothing is ickier than people who hang out in a sweaty chamois all day.  Bad things will happen.  Saddle sores.  Worse.  Grab yourself some Action Wipes get yourself de-saltified and cleaned up.  Put on a nice, clean dry set of clothes and enjoy the rest of the day spectating.  Drink more.  Have fun.

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Joan Hanscom Google: Joan Hanscom
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June Race Report: Meredith Miller (Part Two)

by Meredith Miller in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

Last stop on the June calendar was the US National Championships in Augusta, GA. When we walked out of the airport at 9pm on Monday night and it was still 90+ degrees, we knew we were in for a HOT, almost cruel, week of racing. Luckily before the racing got underway, we had a couple days to get somewhat acclimated to the heat and humidity. We were pushing the fluids continuously from morning til night to replenish the sweat that would drip from our skin as we stood still just breathing.

The first stars and stripes jersey to be awarded for the week was for the time trial. The course was a straight forward 30km (18 mile) out and back trip that included several rollers along the way. I didn’t have high expectations for the time trial, although when we were pre-riding the TT course a couple of days before the race, I felt good enough that I thought maybe I could have a strong ride. We ride the fastest TT bikes out there, the Specialized Shiv, and mine was going so fast without even trying! I felt like I had no chain – it was that easy. However, on the day of the TT we woke up to lower temperatures but 100% humidity. It was absolutely suffocating. During my ride all I wanted to do was sit up to take a deep breath and peel off my skinsuit. I felt awful. I didn’t feel comfortable at all, but I gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could to the end. Needless to say, I didn’t have a great result. I’ve done well in time trials in the past, but I am by no means a time trial specialist so I didn’t let myself get too wrapped up in the result.

The following night was the criterium. We knew that our best chance of winning was for any one of us to get into a break to hopefully eliminate some of the stronger sprinters. From the gun we started throwing bombs to get the break we wanted. Then just 15 laps into the 45 lap race, imminent storms caused the officials to call out five laps to go. We immediately had to reel back a break that had snuck off the front without us, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been so threatening, but with only five laps to go we had to bring it back together right away.

After we brought the break back, it was complete mayhem in the peloton. After what should have been 50km of racing, there would have been tired legs and probably a smaller peloton, but after only 20km of racing there were still a lot of fresh legs wanting a chance at the stars and stripes jersey. People were darting here and there to get in the best possible position for the finish. With half a lap to go there was a crash causing a little shakeup in the front of the field. Rides went down on both sides of me, which opened up a small gap that was too hard to close so close to the finish. My race was over, but several of my teammates were in the front still fighting all the way to the line. The stars and stripes jersey stayed on the back of defending champion, Shelley Olds, but we did the best we could given the situation.

On Sunday we lined up at 8:15am for the 75 mile road race in Fort Gordon. The mercury was already rising and it was only going to get hotter. We started the race with cold bottles on our bikes and panty hose filled with ice on our backs. Within the first two km of the race an attack went up the side of the peloton and one of my teammates was on it right away. Another rider tagged on and the three of them went speeding away and out of sight for three of the five laps. Having a teammate in the break took the pressure off the rest of us while other teams had to work hard to change the race situation to their favor. All we had to do was follow wheels to make sure that nothing went up the road without another one of us tagging along.

During lap four we heard that our teammate had been dropped from the break and there was one rider by herself, a very strong rider and time trialist at that. I dropped back to the team car to discuss the situation with our team director and he gave us instructions to take the gloves off and start racing as if we didn’t have a teammate up the road still. Boom, we hit the peloton left and right with attacks. The pace stayed high as many people were anxious to get going. Soon two of the riders from the break had been reabsorbed and there was only one rider out in front. At the beginning of lap five the lone leader was back in the peloton. It was game on for everyone.

Midway through the last lap there was an attack that I followed and before I knew it there were five of us motoring away from the peloton. The gap wavered between 20-40 seconds over the next 12 km. I was struggling with the heat and needed more water but was unable to get any from the team car. I started to feel goose bumps coming on, which was not a good thing, but I was able to hold the pace. Several kilometers from the finish, the gap was holding and we knew that the next road national champion was going to come from this break.

With just over a km to go we hit the last climb. I was expecting there to be attacks at the bottom of the hill but they didn’t come until about three quarters of the way up. I hesitated and missed the jump as three riders rode away to the finish about 400m away. All I could do at the point was watch how the sprint unfolded in front of me. Two years ago it was me who crossed the line with my arms in the air as the 2009 national champion. I knew what the thrill of winning this race felt like and now I was experiencing the disappointment. More than anything I was crushed for letting my teammates down. Not only did I want the win, so did the team. I have replayed the finish over and over in my head wishing I could go back and do it differently for me, for the team.

The past is past. It’s time to look forward to the next opportunity to win a race! July is another month jam packed with racing so there will be plenty more of them to come.

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Meredith Miller Google: Meredith Miller
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MillerJune RaceRecapPhoto1

June Race Report: Meredith Miller (Part One)

by Meredith Miller in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

June was a busy month of racing – I logged twelve days of racing in five different states. Rewinding to the beginning of the month, the racing started with a ‘practice’ race in Rockleigh, NJ to help us prepare for the biggest, most prestigious one-day race in America, the Liberty Classic, in Philadelphia, PA. After a few days at home, we regrouped the following weekend in Washington DC for two fast criteriums, which were part of the Air Force Classic. From there we hopped on a plane for Minnesota to race the grueling 5-day, 6-stage Nature Valley Grand Prix. Coming off a successful week of racing in MN, we jetted off to Augusta, GA to contest the time trial, criterium and road race at the US National Championships.

The Rockleigh Criterium is a weekly event that is held from May to August and is located around the corner from the Volvo headquarters, a Team TIBCO sponsor. As a way to open up our legs for the Liberty Classic and to showcase the team to Volvo, we jumped into this race alongside a bunch of men (we were the only women that night) to give them a run for their money. The race wasn’t easy by any means, but we were glued to any wheel that attempted to get away. Two of my teammates ended up being part of the 5-person winning break. They traded pull for pull with the guys and were only out paced in the final sprint. I’m pretty sure that night we opened a few eyes to how strong women are on a bike.

Three days later we were toeing the line in downtown Philadelphia for the Liberty Classic, one race on the calendar that I never want to miss because of the kind of energy and thrill that makes this race. We were amped up and nervous for this race all at once. Winning the Liberty Classic is a BIG deal for an individual and a team. Historically this race has come down to a field sprint more times than not, but we were hoping for a break to eliminate the chaos that goes along with a field sprint. The break never happened so all we could do was line it up for our sprinter in the last kilometer. We did our best to deliver Joelle to the line, but we ended up one place short of the podium. Despite the disappointment, the team raced well together and we were happy with our performance.

The following weekend in DC, we were hungry for a win. We came out at the Clarendon Cup firing on all cylinders. Attack after attack busted out of the peloton, but nothing stayed away so we set Joelle up for a sprint finish. She got a great jump out of the last, tight turn, turned on the afterburners and easily threw her hands up in victory across the finish line.

Winning the race the day before only made us more hungry for another win on day two. We raced hard, we gave it our all but came up one place short of victory. You win some, you lose some. We raced well, that counts for a lot. Plus, it gave us a lot of confidence heading into the next week of racing in MN.

The Nature Valley Grand Prix is a prominent and highly respected race on the national calendar, and this year the strongest peloton I had ever seen at this race was present. The peloton included the current road World Champion, former World Champions and numerous Olympians. There was no doubt we would have our hands full each and every day.

Day one started with a double day – TT in the morning and crit in the evening. Let’s just say day one wasn’t our best day of racing, but we knew we had a lot of racing yet to come so we looked forward to the road race on day two.

Again, we raced hard and played off each other well all day long. At the end of the day we didn’t have a big result, but we didn’t lose anything either.

On day three we were one lap away from the end of the Uptown Minneapolis criterium, lined up on the front of the peloton ready to deliver our sprinter to the line. We were dialed! And then there was a serious crash that happened right behind us. Only 20 riders escaped the chaos, however so many riders and bikes blocked the road behind us that we were unable to finish the race. Bummer! But, at least everyone was ok.

The Menomonie Falls road race the next day was awesome! Three TIBCO riders made it into the break of seven and they helped drive it all the way to the finish, which catapulted Erinne into second overall. It was a fantastic display of selfless teamwork!

The final day of the NVGP is the toughest of them all – the Stillwater Criterium. It’s the single, hardest crit all year and it comes after four days of racing. Brutal. I had a complete brain fart at the beginning of the race, which took me out of the race, but Erinne and the rest of the team rode their hearts out. The team was extremely proud and happy to see Erinne hold on to her second place overall after an exhausting but exciting week of racing.

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Meredith Miller Google: Meredith Miller
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Behind the Scenes with Team TIBCO

by Meredith Miller in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

A short behind-the-scenes with Team TIBCO brought to us by Meredith Miller… see what the inside of a team’s trailer looks like during the season.


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Meredith Miller Google: Meredith Miller
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Pancakes with Fruit

Race Report: The Leland Kermesse

by Mark Swartzendruber in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

Disclaimer: (Feed)Zone exists in a world of hyperbole and the lines between fantasy and reality are smeared like the finger-painting of an artistically challenged 3 year old. All stories are mostly accurate if not actual…




The Feed(ZONE) wishes to thank the fine people of the Flantlandia Cycling Association for organizing, hosting, marshaling and all other duties involved with putting on a truly unique and wonderful bike race that is NOT another industrial park crit.  The weather was not your fault and no one who raced the Leland Kermesse this year and suffered mightily should be dissuaded from participating next year.

Spring time in Chicagoland is not as described in the folk lore “in like a lion out like a lamb”.  Spring in Chicagoland is an epic struggle between competing air masses, pressure zones, jet streams and gulf moisture; none of which are willing to surrender ground to the other.  It is violent, hostile, nasty and ruthless.  You may be enjoying a bike ride at 10:00 a.m. with 70 degree temps in a gentle breeze and sunny conditions only to face riding back from your turn around point into the teeth of a bitter north wind with thunder snow whipped into your face with an ambient air temp of 40 and a wind chill in the 20’s.

I knew the weather forecast for the race:  50 degrees, partly sunny following a morning of diminishing rain fall and windy conditions were predicted.  20 mph WNW wind with gusts to 35 said  I predicted via Facebook that I would dish out some pain at the race.  I was about to find out that pain would be all mine.

I got to the race venue in Leland IL, about 90 miles due west of Chicago.  Middle of Nowhere in La Salle County,  Leland is a town of 950 with a high school, a grain elevator and a Casey’s General Store.  I drove to registration at the Village Hall, a 400 square foot, 2 room metal shed on the outskirts of town.  The weather was indeed quite nasty.  The rains had diminished and the wind was as predicted.  The partly sunny skies were actually quite overcast but the temperature was indeed 50 or close to it.

Riders from the early wave of racing were finishing.  The winner of the Cat 5 race came to his car after finishing his race.  “It’s brutal out there” he said.  I laughed to myself as he said this.  Of course it’s awful.  You’re a lowly newbie but congratulations on your win.  Winning the Leland Kermesse will either help build you toward being a real bike racer one day or it will destroy your desire to race and turn you into a Century Clubber.

The Leland Kermesse is the best attempt we have here in IL at duplicating the small Belgian races that blast off every weekend in the Flemish countryside.  The roads are rural, the towns are small, the pavement is often cobbled, crusty or just plain farm roads. And, the racing is legendary for being brutally tough.  The Leland Kermesse captures this well.  The roads are essentially flat with small rises and false flats and each 25k lap includes about 8k of what the locals call “aggregate” roads.  Aggregate is not gravel, although there is some gravel.  It is a compacted mixture of hard packed clay and sand with some rock tossed on top from time to time to replenish what the tractors and combines take with them into the adjacent corn and soy bean fields.  When it’s dry these roads are dusty and when wet, the roads are slick and soupy.

The kid had clearly spent too much time following wheels, but he won his race and Druber tosses out large props.

After taking the photo above, I returned to the warmth of my car.

15 minutes before my race was scheduled to begin, I returned to my car from my 10 minute warm up ride and put a mid weight wind jacket on over the Patagonia Capilene base layer, arm warmers and mid weight wind vest I had underneath my long sleeved jersey.  I also, put my thermal leg warmers on over the light weight knee warmers I was wearing.  The temperature was dropping.

As the combined Master 30+ and 45+ and Women 1/2/3 fields rolled out, the jockeying for position and shelter from buffeting head wind began.  When the neutral rollout ended, the attacks followed immediately.  The Van Waggoner team had 4 guys who were bound to split the field early on and they were attacking and forcing the pace for the first 5 miles in the cross winds and head winds. I for the most part was taking a passive role. Those guys were in the 30+ field and I had most of the 45+ guys sitting near me so I just figured on letting the 30+ guys beat on each other while I watched it happen.

Upon hitting the first tail wind section the race surprisingly began to shred.  As the pace was amped, the guys who’d been struggling in the cross wind were allowing small gaps to form.  I closed down across a couple of gaps as we turned into the second strong cross wind section and found myself with only one 45+ contender in the group.  One more short tail wind section preceded the first section of Strade Bianche and as we turned on to it, I was blasted with a wind gust that pushed me off the clay road into the grass and nearly down into the ditch running alongside the road.  As I righted myself, I was gapped from the leaders with the 45+ rider ahead of me.  Knowing that this would be the race deciding section, here only 6 miles into the 100k race, I buried myself on the slick, muddy clay road passing the 45+ rider and 3-30+ riders on my way up to Paul Swinand who was riding away up the road in the fierce cross/headwind.  Paul and I had broken away in this same race together last year at the exact same time in the exact same section of road.  If you look back through my archives on Trusport you’ll find the report.

Paul is a retail stock analyst for Morningstar.  He’s a guy who shows up on Bloomberg or CNBC from time to time telling you if it’s a good time to buy Target or Big Lots or Wal Mart and whether or not the retail sector is a fair value or over priced or expecting a slump.  He’s also a damn good bike racer. Has been so since the 80’s.  He’s chatty.  Talks about the kids, former races, basically riding with Paul, you catch an un filtered stream of consciousness as it pops into his head it pours out of his mouth.

Paul was not wearing a jacket or leg coverings.  His hands were covered with tight fitting neoprene gloves – The kind meant to keep your hands dry but not warm.  As I caught up with Paul, he was jabbering about getting enough to drink, how his hands were cold but not to bad, how was I feeling and I’d need to be sure and write something funny on Truesport – suggesting that maybe the funniest thing about the race was that we two roadies had dropped a team full of cyclo-cross racers on the first section of aggregate road and so on.

Trading pulls with Paul, the two of us had 30 seconds on our poursivants upon exiting the first section of aggregate road.  We beat it hard in the tail wind and jammed hard through the next 2 mile section of aggregate in the cross wind.  The narrow lanes of rideable road made drafting nearly impossible.  You see, to avoid the soft and sticky center of the road, you need to ride on the traffic paths left by cars.  In a cross wind, one rider would be on the smooth clay and the other rider would be in either softer muck or gravel.  Thus, on the aggregate in the cross wind, it was every man for himself.  Paul was having a much easier go on the slick roads than I.

I was feeling peckish – over dressed, which Paul mentioned between other verbal tweets.  “You feel okay? You don’t seem like yourself, I mean you’re not tearing it up like you did last year, you feeling a bit tired? Maybe all that riding in California has you tired but you’ll be better in about June.”  If I wrote this like Paul said it, it would be a single run on sentence with no punctuation and no spaces between the words.

When we exited the second section and turned right to catch that tasty to but brief tail wind, I unzipped all my layers and let them flap in the breeze. I was cursing myself for over dressing.  I began to feel much better as I cooled down.  Little did I know that on the very next lap, I’d be zipping those layers back up after the rain and sleet started falling and the temps dropped as the wind coarsened.

Paul and I buried ourselves into the mighty head wind after exiting the last 1 mile section of aggregate.  You all know my TT ability.  I am not kidding you when I tell you that the best Paul and I could do in the fierce head wind was about 16 mph and often it was 14.  I’ll insert my Garmin file link of the race here to show you.  Note how high my HR is at the same time our speeds are the slowest.

Less than half way through the race we had an insurmountable gap on our chasers.  Thus as the temperatures dropped, the rain and sleet began and our task ceased being riding hard to stay away from the other racers but going as hard as we possibly could in order to end the miserable experience we were enduring. The finish line didn’t mean victory; it meant an end to the most ludicrous and miserable way a stock analyst and a financial advisor could possibly spend a Saturday afternoon.  We both have hot wives. We both have nice homes. Paul has young children.  I have a dog and a well stocked bar at home and yet – here we were.

I began to get concerned when Paul stopped talking.  He was obviously suffering the effects of hypothermia.  His lips were blue and he couldn’t feel his feet or hands.  I was having lower back spasms and couldn’t feel my hands inside the rain soaked gloves gripping the handle bars as we bounced along the washboard surface of the aggregate roads.  “I’m miserable, I wish the officials would shorten the race” I told Paul.  His response after a long period of silence was “Wwaa webber ib turbull.  Khan fee faiche.  Khan see straight, ubber body numm”

And yet, in the last 5 miles, he was riding away from me on the slick, muddy clay roads.  Clearly he is one tough man, and clearly he wanted to get back to his car more badly than I wanted to get to mine.  In the end, he crossed the line as the 30+ winner and I crossed the 45+ winner with, what some said, about an 8 minute gap over the next finishers.

Frozen, delirious, caked in sand and clay from the waist down, we both rode wordlessly to our cars flopped out bikes on the ground, got in and turned on the heat and seat warmers vowing never again…until next year.

Only 3 riders finished the Pro 1,2 race.

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Mark Swartzendruber Google: Mark Swartzendruber
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A proud finish. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Nadeau

Race Report: O’Fallon Grand Prix, O’Fallon, IL

by Joan Hanscom in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

I’ve had a rough season this year.  Between being a bit of a headcase about descents, a rotten winter for training and a rough work travel schedule, I have not been getting the results I’ve hoped for.  Early season goal races came and went with poor results and lots of frustration so I was heading to O’Fallon with the hopes of turning around the second half of my season.  I’ve raced this event before and I LOVE the course.  It makes me happy.

Race day dawns and it’s hot. Crazy hot.  100 degrees and we aren’t even racing yet. Start drinking.  Pin numbers on. Keep drinking.  My teammates and I head out for a very light warm-up and review of the last 2K of the course. Because I like the course so much, I was not nervous about it – which was refreshing.  A first for the season and it had me in a good mental place.  But it’s a long circuit – two 25 mile laps and there’s a question in all our minds – it’s so hot what to do about hydration?  Carry bottles in jerseys in addition to on the bike?  Can we find people to take care of us in the feed zone?  Finally, yes.  Frozen bottles on the bike, frozen bottle in jersey.  And high hopes that one very kind man will be able to handle the feed for three of us.  We’re going to need it.

As both the Women’s 1/2/3 and 3 fields were small so the organizers decided to combine us into one field (scored separately).  That’s always a bit of a game changer.  We get instructions in the shade, roll to the line and with the least amount of time ever waiting for the start BANG we’re off.

I mentioned it was hot?  Nothing compared to the pace off the line. My chain falls off (WHAT? that never happens)  I am chasing at 27+ miles per hour and I’m not 50 meters into the race yet.  This is not going as planned.  Now usually in a long road race, especially on such a hot day, the racing is not full gas off the line. It’s not a crit and usually we get a little bit of a roll out before racing is full on.  Not today.  I regain the field and settle in to the very high pace, thinking “this can’t last, it’s TOO hot”.  Ten miles later, I’ve made the first little split and the pace is still high.  The chip and seal pavement is coming apart in the heat.  The road has gooey sections and you can hear “ping ping ping” as the chip portion of the road keeps breaking up and pinging off our wheels.  But my head was in a good place.  I was watching the right girls and feeling that it was all manageable at this point.  Then we hit a little downhill section.  Not scary.  Just nice and swoopy.  Fast.  And for the first time this season I’m not on the brakes.  I’m determined that I am NOT going to get dropped on the downhill as I had so many times this year.  All going according to plans.

Until I feel the back end of my bike fishtailing.  I hit an oozy section of pavement swooping through a curve and my back end is sliding out.  ACK.  The thing I fear the most.  Images of Joseba Beloki and his career ending crash in my head.  In reality it was likely not that dramatic.  But I was fighting not to crash, not to over-correct.  Heart rate and adrenaline through the roof.  But I stayed up.  “PHEW.  Now, CRAP time to chase back on.  Chase chase chase.  Back on.  NOOOO don’t attack now, PLEASE!!! Let me catch my breath first. No? You really want to hit it now, on this hill? Are you sure??” And off they went.  Time to chase again.  This is not how it was supposed to go.  Chasing once again this season.  But I am not quitting. I can still see them, they aren’t opening up a bigger gap.  The hot wind is making it impossible for me to close it down but they aren’t getting further up the road.  It’s going to be a long second lap in the heat alone, MUST KEEP CHASING.

The wheel truck whizzes past me.  Up ahead I can see them pulled over, wheel change!! Opportunity is knocking.  Her terrible luck is my good fortune.  She’s back on her bike – chasing.  I keep thinking.  “Turn around. I’m coming,  sit up and we can work together.”  But she’s full on.  I’m full on.  Finally she relents just a little.  Many miles of chase have passed.  But I’m on her wheel.  Introductions are made.  Do we want to keep racing the second lap?  HELL YES, we’re here we are racing.

And so we go, rotating.  Speed stays high.  We can still see the remains of our field but it’s blowing apart.  We roll through the finish.  Feed zone.  YES one empty bottle jettisoned.  New frozen bottle on board.  One fresh bottle is not really enough but it will have to do.  We see another girl up ahead.  We catch her.  Now we are three.  The road has gone from gooey to almost wet.  We can hear the oil from the road whooshing under our tires.  Ping Ping Ping.  Silently we are all rotating. Taking our turns, keeping our pace high.  We are still chasing.  Then suddenly, “my dad lives a mile from here. I’m going to his house and getting a ride back to the finish.  Anybody who wants a ride can have one.”  Oh. “No.  We’re racing.  Bye.”  “good-luck.”  And we are two again.  Ahead another body. She was in our race too.  Covered in salt.  Bottles and food are offered.  Are you okay?  No.  Advice is exchanged., “see the corner marshal ahead, they have shade and water.  They will help you.”  And we are two. Again.  The wind and the heat is taking it’s toll.  We keep telling each other that we are glad for the decision to keep going.  But it’s getting harder.  We are still working with each other.  We pass guys on the road who have given up.  We pass guys sitting in ditches on the side of the road, “yeah, I’m okay, just resting….”   2K to go.  Bottom of the hill. The end is near and my calves WANT to cramp up.  My race mate jumps out of the saddle and flies up the last little hill.  I don’t react.  Nothing left.  I would have loved to race her for a fun finish, TO RACE.  But my legs had no play left in them.  Up the hill, roll through the line. Fling my bike to the ground.  Collapse in my teammate Laura’s tent. She hands me an ice cold Coke.  Sweet nectar of the gods. She came in second. Amazing. Great result especially on such a hot day.   Turns out we did keep it close with our determined little chase…just not close enough.  Bodies keep crossing the line and collapsing.

In the end, the average temperature for the day was 106.  Low of 102 and, according to my Garmin, high of 116 on the road.  I didn’t get the result I wanted and I wasn’t able to help my teammate Laura get a win…but I did gain valuable confidence on the descents.  The second time through the swoopy downhill I didn’t even think out the first lap and my Beloki moment.  I rode right through it.  This is a positive takeaway.  And for my doggedness I was rewarded by finishing in the money.  That night back at the hotel in the blessed air conditioning I passed out at 8:30 pm.  I slept through rowdy wedding revelers and my teammate Margie calling hotel security in the middle of the night.  I did not stir until the alarm clock went off and it was time to get up and do it again.

A proud finish. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Nadeau

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Joan Hanscom Google: Joan Hanscom
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Safe Riding Tips

by Meredith Miller in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

The freedom and spirit of riding a bike is a beautiful thing, whether it’s used as a means of transportation or a way to stay fit, but regardless of the reason you ride, there are things to consider to keep yourself safe.

  • Wear a helmet. Helmets aren’t just for kids, they protect adult heads, too. Find a helmet that fits snug and sits on the top of your head.
  • Be visible. When riding at night use a white front light and a red rear light. Wear bright clothing at all times.
  • Use hand signals. Make sure other cyclists, pedestrians and motorists know your intentions.
  • Make eye contact. When stopped at intersections make sure cars know you are there before proceeding.
  • Follow the rules of the road. Don’t expect motorists to respect you if you don’t obey the rules.
  • When riding near parked cars, give yourself a 3ft berth to avoid car doors being opened in to you.
  • Learn basic bike maintenance. You don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road because of a simple flat tire.
  • Don’t wear headphones while riding. It’s important to hear when traffic is coming up along side you so you can anticipate any potential danger.
  • Don’t ride against traffic, cut through parking lots or ride on sidewalks. Know where the bike lanes and paths are in your city/town. Many cities have spent a lot of money and resources to put them in place to protect cyclists, so take advantage of them.

Cycling is a wonderful activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages in cities and towns across the world. Take the time to understand the rules of the road, invest in a good helmet for everyone in the family, and be visible to other cyclists, pedestrians and motorists to get the most out of your cycling experience.



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Meredith Miller Google: Meredith Miller
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Hydration Tips: Cycling

by Mark Swartzendruber in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

I could get very scientific and write to you about mitochondria, electrolyte uptake, and homeostasis.  But, as a wise person once told me, just because you “can” doesn’t mean you “should”.  Besides which, I am a layman, not a physiologist so I don’t have the initials after my name to be taken seriously if I were to attempt to bore you with the science of hydration.

With that I will keep this simple and to the point.  DRINK PLENTY OF NON ALCOHOLIC FLUID WHEN YOU TRAIN.  Are we clear?

Listen, your body is roughly two-thirds water.  When you exercise, your body releases a lot of that water to keep you cool both inside and out.  If you don’t replace the fluid that your body releases in the form of sweat and vapor (as you exhale) very bad things will happen.

Several years ago, I had a brain fart and decided that I needed to do back to back 50k time trials on a hot day in July.  I don’t generally take a water bottle with me when I time trial as it’s virtually impossible to dehydrate in an hour or so.  Thus, I normally drink plenty of water and sport drinks ahead of time and I’m fine.  That is to say, if I were only doing a single event.  This particular day was very warm and humid and I was sweating prolifically during the first time trial.  Before the second time trial, I rushed back to my car and drank a bottle of water that I had waiting for me but it wasn’t nearly enough.  A sweating athlete should consume about 24 oz of liquid per hour of exercise.  I was at about half that level and sure enough, about 20k into the second time trial, the dehydration cramps set in…badly.  Every pedal stroke was greeted with cramps that shot from knee to pelvis along the groin of both legs.  To make matters worse, I didn’t have a water bottle on board.  Needless to say, it got worse from there. Eventually I was even cramping in my intercostals (muscles between the ribs). The time trial was a complete flail.

But – not only did my negligence of proper hydration ruin that time trial, the damage that I did to my body that day stayed with me throughout the remainder of the season.  Whenever I needed to make a hard effort in a race or if I raced in temperatures over the mid 80’s my body would reject the notion.  Shut down.  I couldn’t get my heart rate elevated and my functional threshold was effectively about 30% diminished.  I had to call an early end to the season to recover from what I had done to myself.

Water or Sport drinks?

Your muscles and connective tissues are stimulated by electrical impulses.  Without adequate electrolytes (calcium, potassium, magnesium) you will either function below optimum level (be slow) or malfunction all together (cramps).  So, it’s a good idea to find a sport drink with electrolytes to keep you going.  That said, too much of a good thing will give you some pretty nasty side effects.  Remember – electrolytes are also used in laxatives.  Over do it with the electrolytes and you’ll be facing some pretty severe stomach and gastrointestinal distress.  Not pretty.

Personally, if I’m carrying two bottles on my bike during a race, one is a sport drink and the other is plain water.  Some racers prefer to carry two bottles of diluted sport drink.  You’ll need to find what works best for your body and stick with it.  I’ve found that some brands of sport drink mix that my team mates swear by give me an upset stomach. You may experience this as well.  Don’t believe all the hyperbole tossed out by the marketing departments about the efficacy of one brand over the others.  The real benefit of sport drinks are that they contain WATER with some electrolytes and pretty much all of them do.  If you’re well hydrated, you will race better regardless of the brand of sport drink you end up using.

I’ll conclude with a few bullet points

  • Your body is roughly 2/3 water.  Replace that fluid when you sweat
  • Your muscles need adequate amounts of potassium, magnesium and calcium to properly react to the electrical impulses sent by your brain through your nervous system.  You lose electrolytes when you sweat.  Replace those electrolytes.
  • Don’t over do it with the electrolytes – Most laxatives are simply “overdoses” of electrolytes
  • 20-24 oz of fluid needs to be replaced per hour when you’re sweating.  This of course will fluctuate with weather but even in the winter, you need to maintain proper hydration.
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to begin drinking.
  • Get into the habit of maintaining proper hydration throughout the day, not just when you’re training or competing

Good luck!

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Mark Swartzendruber Google: Mark Swartzendruber
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