My Next Vacation?

I’m sitting at work fantasizing about my next vacation. I’m thinking riding from Prague to Vienna sounds about right right. There’s even a trail, the Greenways trail that runs between the two cities, with lots of little towns and castles and places to stay and eat along to the way.
There’s a very cool interactive map of the entire trail system. Of course, there are many tour companies that run group tours along this route and many others in Europe. I’m leaning towards the self-guided variety where you are given a map and maybe a GPS and someone takes care of moving you luggage from one hotel to the next. All you need to worry about is getting there. This is sort of the middle ground between carrying all your yourself with absolutely no support, which I’d like to do eventually, but not now, and fully supported tours with trailing vehicles, guides and catered lunches, which I think I’ll save for retirement.
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Maybe when I have this trip under my belt, I’ll ride the Donauradweg, Europe’s longest trail running more than 3000 kilometers from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania.
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The Road to Paris

I discovered the documentary about Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Team, The Road to Paris, while I was reading Bob Roll’s Tour de France Companion. I had never heard of it. I went immediately to Netflix to order the DVD, but they didn’t have it. I was bummed. Then I tried You Tube and found the entire thing, split conveniently into 11 8 minute and 41 second vignettes. I love the internet.
Over the next couple of days, I watched all the episodes. The movie follows Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service for 27 days of training before the Tour de France. You get insights into both how a major cycling team functions on the inside, how they prepare for races, not just the Tour de France, but the entire European season, who does what on the team. You are privy to the internal machinations and the thought process behind training for the Tour. Finally you actually see Lance training in the rain and the snow and you get a sense of the amount of dedication it takes to win. It’s truly amazing to see.
Listening to Johann Bruyneel discuss what it takes to win the Tour, trust in the team, how difficult it is to wear and defend the Yellow Jersey and why it’s important not to have until absolutely necessary—all the demands, the media, the drug testing, etc, wears on the riders has given me new understanding for cycling and the Tour.
Here’s the first episode:

It’s a little hard to find the next episode once you’ve finished one, so here they all are:
1 Epiosde 1
2 Epiosde 2
3 Epiosde 3
4 Epiosde 4
5 Epiosde 5
6 Epiosde 6
7 Epiosde 7
8 Epiosde 8
9 Epiosde 9
10 Epiosde 10
11 Epiosde 11

Vive le Tour

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Congratulations to Carlos Sastre for taking the 2008 Tour title. Congrats to all the riders really. It was a fantastic Tour—the best in recent memory. Over 3 weeks of racing and almost every day was exciting. From the first stage in Brittany with Alejandro Valverde winning in an uphill sprint through the Massif Central, the Pyrenees, the Alps and all the way the Champs Elysees in Paris. The race did not disappoint.
Up until Sastre blew everyone away on Alp d’Huez, 6 riders were within a minute of the lead (Evans, F. Schleck, Kohl, Menchov & Vandevelde). The racing and attacking was fierce. And here in the States, the coverage by Versus was unprecedented in terms of the length, often going on air before the start of the start so we were actual able to see for the first time how breakaways are formed, established and nurtured. (My only complaint about Versus was Craig Hummer. Nice guy, but not a great commentator. What happened to Al Trautwig?)
In all, there were seven men in Yellow, including 2 from Luxembourg and even a Frenchman for day. The 4 Americans and the two American teams in the race acquitted themselves well. Christian Vandevelde exceeded all expectations finishing 5th and announcing himself as one of the top contenders in the peloton. Team Columbia took 5 stage victories—4 alone to British sprinter Mark Cavenidish and held at times early in the race, the Yellow, Green and Polka-Dot Jerseys. I would have liked to see George Hincapie do better. He almost won a stage in the Alps, but lost some time on the last climb and couldn’t quite make it up on the descent.

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Devilish Climb – Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo from Pinehurst
Mt. Diablo sits out in the middle of Contra Costa Country like a challenge to all cyclists. At 3879 feet, it’s easily the highest mountain in the area. It’s winding slopes are both daunting and enticing. It’s a hard enough climb if you start from the base, but today we started from Oakland (Emeryville for me) over 40 miles away.

Then there’s the final 100 meters where the gradual slope kicks up to a sickening 17% grade. To put that in focus the Col du Galibier in the Alps on a regular climb on the
Tour de France route is only 6.9% average. After 50 miles in the saddle, most of it uphill, hitting a 17% grade for any length of time will test the hardest of riders.
Caution Bad Road

There were probably 40 riders or so who met at the lake and were going to to complete the whole ride. The Light riders leaving from the lake were only going to the Ranger Station at the halfway. The intermediates had taken the BART to Lafayette and skipped the Oakland hills which look like nothing compared to Mt. Diablo on the profile, but can be quite tough.

We had three riders visiting us from some club in LA. I talked to them a little at the lake and on the way up Butters. They told me they drove the course they day before, so they knew what they were getting themselves into, but after Butters, I never saw them again. Maybe they abandoned?

The route starts out very similar to the Palomares ride, winding through the Oakland hills up Wildwood, past the Mormon Temple in Montclair, on Butters to Skyline and then down Redwood Road. Instead of continuing on Redwood Rd to Castro Valley, we turn right up the south end of Pinehurst and down into Moraga. From there it’s fairly straight down the base of the climb about 30 miles away in Diablo.

Typically, when we started the ride, it was nice and cool. About 3 hours later at 11am when we were ready to start the climb, the sun was out and it was starting to warm up, not a happy situation. I wanted it to stay as cool as possible for as long as possible.
17% Grade

Back when I first got my bike in August of last year, I had gone hiking at Mt. Diablo. That was the first time I saw cyclist on the mountain. Actually I might have seen them before, but I probably didn’t notice, since I wasn’t one of them. We drove all the way to the observation tower at the top and on the way down there was a cyclist in our draft. Eventually he passed us and was just gone. He could descend far faster than we could drive. It was scary, but also kind of cool. I thought, after our hike, I’d give it a try – at least see if I could get up to 1000 feet.

That day was seriously hot, over 80 and though I had little problem getting to 1000 feet, I had serious problems getting down. I was new to the bike, had no idea how to the descend and the steep hairpin turns and the cars really freaked me out, so much so that I had to stop a few times, clip out and get myself together on the side of the road. I eventually got down, but it wasn’t any fun.

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Let the Suffering Begin: The Marin Century

I just signed up to do the Marin Century on August 2nd. It’ll be my first 100 mile ride (if I survive). The profile is daunting:
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I was hoping for flat first century, but that’s just not in the cards. But it’s well supported with lots of rest stops and SAG vehicles. I’ll be riding with a group from work and some friends (and maybe some from the Yellowjackets?) so it should be a lot of fun. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and it will be a nice cool Northern California day. Keep your fingers crossed.
I’ve got an 88 mile ride coming up this weekend from Petaluma to Jenner and back, so that should be a good indicator if I’m up for it not. Either way, I’ve already paid for it and bought the event jersey, so I’m committed (or should be, rather).

Spin Baby Spin

These days, I don’t just ride outside, I joined the gym downstairs and have been taking spin classes for about a month.
The Spin trainer Rachel (who also owns the gym), is incredibly hard core. She’s in great shape (so much so that’s it no big deal for her to teach the spin class and then turn around immediately and teach the core class. She’s done Ironmans and ultra-marathons. Basically she’s nuts, but in a good way. Don’t beleive me? Check out her bio.
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Rachel also runs a serious state of the art fitness program for cyclists. It helps that there are so many Schwab employees who are into cycling and training for various rides. In class, we ride CycleOps Pro 300PT bikes. I know that doesn’t mean much, but just know that they are top of the line. The basic difference between these bikes and other spin bikes is that they tell you what your output is in watts so you can tune your training not to your heartbeat which is variable but to wattage which is testable. Each class is geared to your personal threshold. There’s a chart on the wall where you can find your 100% threshold and then see what output you should be at during various parts of the class.

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SF to Stinson Beach via Tiburon Headlands

Bridge Fog
Today was the first of the many Schwab training rides leading up to the Waves to Wine 150 mile ride in September. I met 6 co-workers at the Sports Basement at 8:30am after taking the Transbay bus across the Bay Bridge from Emeryville and riding up the Embarcadero from the Transbay terminal.
It was cold. Really cold. And foggy. When I first arrived around 8:10, I couldn’t see the bridge for the fog. I t started to burn off and I took the above picture, which is not a black & white image despite appearances. I didn’t have a jacket because I didn’t want to have to carry it when the sun came out. My arm warmers kept the worst of the morning chill off, but it was still cold.
We took off about 8:40 at a very leisurely pace across the Golden Gate Bridge. At that hour, there wasn’t much much traffic on the bike path. But there was this one mountain biker who was giving some of our riders shit for what he called “breaches of etiquette. He told Peter he shouldn’t be using his Aerobars on the bridge and he made some comment to another guy, Phil, which I didn’t quite catch.
Meanwhile, this guy is riding with two iPod ear buds and whistles to people when he’s going to pass them instead of saying something. When Phil pointing this out, the guy asked if he wanted to fight. What a prick.
The sun was starting to peek out as we made our way off the bridge and down into Sausalito. From there, it’s onto the San Francisco Bay Trail for a few miles, up to the tiny Camino Alto climb and around the Headlands to Tiburon. It was really nice ride though I did pass two turkey vultures fighting over a deer carcass which was was fairly disgusting and very inauspicious.
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At Tiburon, which is only about 20 miles from the Sports Basement, we broke for brunch. I had a great omelette with avocado, fontina cheese and ham. Exactly the fuel I needed to for the next leg of my trip from Tiburon to Stinson Beach.
After about a 45 minute break, we were back on the road. I continued with the group until we hit Highway One where I peeled off and headed up the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais on my way to Stinson Beach. Almost immediately the road starts to wind up the mountain. It’s a narrow two lane street with barely a shoulder. Super freaky. I used to see cyclists coming up and down this road all the time when I was headed up for a hike or going to the beach and I thought they were insane. Now I was one of them.
The worst part was going around a right hand turn in places where the shoulder narrowed. I could hear the cars screeching around the corners behind me, knowing full well that they had no idea I was just ahead of them. It was nerve-wracking.
The first part of the climb to the fork that head up to the summit of Mt. Tam wasn’t bad in terms of grade. The funny thing is that I thought I was done with the climbing. Oh no. Not even close. The worst of it was still ahead of me.
I dropped through thick fog to Muir Beach on the most hair raising descent of my life. It’s not just the windy roads, the fog and the cars. It’s the grade and the speed. It’s just almost impossible not to go fast. You just have to white knuckle it and hang on for dear life.
There’s a short flat section past the Pelican Inn, but then it’s back into the steeps for the hardest part of the ride. There are tons of false flats and every time I thought I had reached the summit, there was another hill ahead of me. It was tough, but at least the fog kept me cool.
When I did reach the summit around noon, it was so socked in with fog it was hard for me to believe that it was going to be a nice beach day, but a couple of riders heading the other direction assured me that the sun was shining at Stinson. I had to go up and down a few more hills before I reached the scenic lookout above the beach.
Andrew @ Stinson
Dropping into Stinson was brilliant. The sun was out. The road was nice and smooth (and relatively straight) and I knew I wouldn’t have to ride back. Jennifer met me in Stinson. We had a great afternoon sitting on the beach eating the picnic she brought and hanging out. It was a great way to wrap up the three day weekend. After 199 miles and 14 hours in the saddle over 4 days, it was good sit my ass on the sand and do absolutely nothing for a few hours.

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