Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cannondale Supersix Evo - 1st impressions

Yes I know - I make fun of roadies ... they wear too much white, put funny hats under their helmets, and get upset when they hit bumps on the road ... so it is ironic that I should be posting a quick review of my new road bike!

Given that most of my training week is spent on the road bike, I thought it about time I updated my "training" bike. Yep - this is the bike to be used for lots of hill repeats, bakery bunch groveling ... and importantly commuter chasing on the way home after a full blown training session else where.

The weapon of choice is the Cannondale Supersix Evo Team ... a bike worthy of the Cannondale Liquigas team, so it should be up to scratch for my purposes.

Out of the box, the bike is just outright awesome. Full SRAM Red components, Mavic Cosmic Carbone wheels, lots of FSA K-Force carbon bits, and some FI'ZI:K bits too.

In true Cannondale style, the SRAM Red components are actually lime green - which coupled with all the other little anodized green bits make for an eye catching bike indeed.

The only thing I have added to this bike is the new SRAM Quarq Powermeter which fits directly into the native Hollowgram cranks. It simply replaces the default spindle, and off you go. This means that you can still run the awesome Hollowgram cranks, and you have the lightest power meter setup you can get.

And for those who are wondering, yes, the cranks make a huge difference. Having been playing around with the MTB Quarq on my Cannondale Flash 29er, I had to swap off the Hollowgrams for the MTB Quarq SRAM X0 cranks. Going back to the Hollowgrams, you immediately notice the difference in stiffness and power transfer. Not only are the Hollogram cranks light, but they are super stiff. The SRAM X0 and even to some degree the SRAM RED & XX cranks feel soggy compared to the Holllowgrams.

On a side note, it was great to see the new Quarq just easily slot in and work out of the box. The numbers it has given for my first ride match well with the Quarq on my old road bike - so that is really exciting. It is always a worry introducing a new power meter, and knowing that the magic numbers might be "apples and oranges" ... so when it gives the right looking magic numbers it is happy times.

Back to the rest of the bike ...

After just the first shake down ride, it is immediately apparent how well that rear end flex in the Supersix Evo's works. Canberra roads are pretty crap gravel wise, and I was impressed that I could remain seated in a lot of rough sections and keep pedaling. On other bikes you would need to be lifting your butt off the seat to get through these crap sections.

The ride is very smooth, and you really can keep the power down through crappy sections of road.

The stiffness in the cranks and bottom bracket area is noticeable. You can feel a solid power transfer underneath the pedals. This also allows for quick accelerations and being able to really punch out quick climbs.

The wheels felt smooth and consistent, and despite their profile were quite quiet and unaffected by cross winds. I look forward to really spinning these up on some long flats to see how they go.

The SRAM Red components (as always) are awesome. Quick, precise shifting - even under load. Quick to tune as well.

So yeah, that is my initial impressions - a fricken awesome bike!

Now I just have to wait for the next 3 weekends of MTB races to be over so I can take this puppy out to Bakery Bunch :)

A big thanks to Al from CSG for getting be hooked up with this bike!

Monday, August 20, 2012

STM Rd 3 - 7hr - Nowra

Singletrack Mind - Round 3 - 7 hr -  Coondoo Road, Nowra

2nd Elite Solo

16 laps / 153km / 7 hrs : 24 mins

It was back to the SCUM tracks around Coondoo Rd for the 3rd round of the SRAM Choc Foot / Singletrack Mind series.

These tracks are well known for their flowing single track, deep sandy corners and the odd log roll over.  The first few laps are usually about playing the game of "is that a berm of just a big pile of sand ... am about to find out ... !"

We had been told there was some new singletrack in the 10km course, but really this was just the result of some dude with a whipper / snipper making a random trail through some long grass. Maybe this will be new singletrack in another few months once it has fully bedded in ... but for the duration of the race it was just (literally) a pain in the arse!

Going into the race, Ed McDonald (the current series leader) was taking it all very seriously. A taper week leading into the race, and a new bike to break in. Meanwhile, Mark 'Tupac' Tupalski had been putting in some serious training (according to Mark, at least 5 hours / week) and was ready to give Ed a run for the win.

For me, I was still fully blown from the 12 hour the weekend before. I had groveled / limped through my weeks training schedule and hoped I could hold on to those boys at least long enough to not look embarrassed.

That said, I was adamant I was not going to get screwed over in the self-seeding chaos this time around. After starting in the draining ditches at both Orange and Kowen, I was going to make sure I was up front. With the help of Gumby organizing the start line, I finally had a good position - and a much better view of the road to come, then the back of some camel back, flat pedals and baggy shorts.

The teams riders took off, and I jumped in on the back of one of the team's riders. The pace was quick, but not too bad (considering). Tupac was a few wheels up front, and really pushing it. I could hear Ed a few wheels back on me.

After the first few laps, Ed and I were together and Tupac was about 30 secs up the road. I decided to just sit in on Ed and see what he had today.

He seemed to be a little slower then usual - or maybe I was just still in tune to riding with English from the weekend before and in "flog my self" mode. Either way, I took an opportunity to jump past him, get a little gap and then jump onto the wheels of one of the fast teams.

This seemed to be working well, Ed was out of sight behind me and I was being told Tupac was just a little ways up ... and then coming up behind a train of riders at speed, I misjudged their speed (more the point their excessive use of brakes into a corner), and I went flying off into the scrub. In my best Russian gymnast style I did two forward rolls and even managed to be swearing whilst rolling! #skills

Luckily my bike seemed all ok, but my Garmin was a dribbling mess - yes, literally. The LCD screen was cracked and leaking. RIP Garmin.

I was soon back up and pushing hard - with no idea of my HR. Oh well, just have to do the "ride so it hurts" routine.

Later that lap I caught up on Tupac, and for the next few hours we traded the lead and little gaps. 

Mark sensed me back off a little around the 5 hour mark, and he took the opportunity to hit the gas.

I started to feel good again at 6 hours, and thought I may as well pick up the pace to see if I could catch back to Mark. You never know, he may be suffering up front. I was 3/4 through my 2nd lap of pushing harder (albeit through very thick traffic), and I caught the first sight of Ed since the morning! He was probably 30 - 40 secs back.

Oh shite ... I have just been frying myself, and now I may have to do another lap with Ed hot on my heels.

I jumped between team riders - who ever was going the hardest - and secretly hoped that I would come through transition at 6hrs : 59mins and Ed would not make that ... but no, it was 6 hrs : 57 mins - crap crap crap. Now I have to bust myself for another lap!

I set out with everything I had, and this time the lazy team riders were hanging onto my wheel! Lazy lazy. There was a few anxious moments as we got caught up in the slow single track traffic, and I was constantly looking back over my shoulder.

Thanks to one of the Jet Racing guys for returning my tow, and giving me a super fast run down the last big fireroad.

Finally, the last little hill came and I gave everything to get to the top as quick as possible - and with no Ed in sight it was a big relief.

In the end, Tupac was about 1.5 minutes in front of me, and Ed was a minute back on me.


That was a really good race - rarely do these races come down to a matter of minutes - let alone to have the top 3 all within 2.5 minutes!

As with the weekend before, I ran the Cannondale Flash 29er for the fully race. The big wheels are definitely and advantage over the soft sandy soil. They also make the few little rock gardens and rooty sections nothing to think about.

On the tire front, I had left on a Schwalbe Nobby Nick - thinking there would be bad weather - but it worked out really well for the sandy and loose conditions. The tire had heaps of bite, and a good predictable turn in on both the loose and firmer sections.

Schwalbe make a 29er version of the Nobby Nick in a Snakeskin (protection) version which is just a few grams more then Racing Ralph version. So, for these conditions it was definitely worth it. I will be pulling this tire out more often I think!

A big thanks to;
  • Robyn, Kylie & Anne for all the quick transitions and excellent race support. The girls also looked after Garry, Ed, McAvoy and Grantly, whilst also racing themselves in RAKs Racing! Very impressive.
  • Cannondale AU - nearly 20 race hours in 2 weekends on the Flash 29er - #flawless
  • Vie13 Kustom Clothing
  • Radical Lights
  • Choc Foot and all their sponsors for putting on another well run and great fun event - and for the ever tasty chocy feet!!
  • Cycology for hooking Robyn up with some cool new t-shirts and caps
  • Well done to Aaron Thompson (Tommo) for also finding some form, and smacking some of the big boys!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trans Alps 2012

Trans Alps - 2013

ok ok to my one avid reader ... so I have been slack in not writing up something about the most amazing race in the calendar year. 

So for 8 days in mid july, myself and Jason McAvoy raced for over 600km and ascended over 21,000 vertical meters. The route took us from Oberammergau, Germany through Austria, Switzerland and eventually into Italy, with the finish in the beautiful lake side town of Riva del Garda.

Unfortunately, Jase got a dose of man-flu at the start of the race, and coupled with the altitude and distances he struggled. Of course, that meant that our pairing was a bit stressed - as Jase was in the box and I was idling and wanting to rip the legs off anyone and everyone.

Jase has assured me he will speak to me again ... one day :P

So rather then do my usual write up of events, I'll write up things a little differently ...

Firstly, this is an amazing race. I would recommend it to anyone (who loves being in the pain box on the bike). With over 1100 riders from all over the world, just making it out of the start chute every morning is an experience. Have you ever wondered how "on your left" is said in German, Italian, French, Swiss, Russian, Portuguese, South African, Korean, Japanese ... you get the point. Chances are by the end of Trans Alps, you will have heard all these versions!

Each day of the race loosely fitted into the same template. We would "roll" out of some quiet mountain village in a "neutralized" manner for about 5km. Over the PA system, the race would start with announcements in German, Italian and English ... and then they would play AC/DC Highway to Hell. I use the words "roll" and "neutralized" cautiously, as most saturday morning Bakery Bunch gallops are more tame then these starts. Really what the race organizers should have said was that it was a free for all, and just don't over take the pace car (which is doing 50km / h).

Side walks, drainage systems and anything you could ride over was fair game. Cars parked next to the road would lose their mirrors as the pack went through!

Assuming you survive the craziness of 1100 riders bumping bars on tight cobble stone streets, you then hit a climb which will be somewhere between 1000 - 1600 vertical meters. The climb will take up 2 hours to ascend.  Usually these climbs were on ski resort access roads, or up switch back mountain passes. They were rarely too steep, and a 2x10 granny was fine for grinding up the hills.

The top of these climbs were usually well over 2000m, with 2800m being the highest point in the race. Altitude aside, it is fricken cold up there and even colder as you make a 30km descent!

The European's have not grasped the concept of flowing single track. To get you back to groveling up a hill as soon as possible, the descents are either hair raising fireroads - with blind switch back corners over clifs, over loose rock surfaces or the descents are vertical rocky, rooty fall lines - in which your ears pop from the sheer altitude loss over a few km!

Either way, you very quickly descend.  At the start line I had wondered why some many people had 200mm rotors on their XC bikes. I soon found out why ... the descents are so intense, and go for so long that your arms and hands are soggy messes of flesh by the bottom. My brake rotors were scorched black from the intense heat. It was a common sight to see riders pulling to a complete stop on these descents, as their brakes literally boiled and they had to wait for them to cool before continuing!

So, back to a standard TA day ... so you have made a sketchy descent, and you are now at the bottom of some valley. Chances are that down here it is 20 or 30+ degrees C, where as at the top of the peak you just climbed over it was in the single digits, and possibly raining!  A Goretex jacket was a standard item for every rider, and we used them pretty much every day. Arm and knee warmers and under shirts were also needed for most days, at least for some point in the day. Many of the Euro riders took this to the extreme, with Goretex helmet covers, gloves, socks, and even pants. Apparently, the cool kids wear Goretex pants to keep their knicks dry ... I am not convinced. #harden_up

Once into these valley's there was often a nice 10-20km of flat which could be time-trialed, or on the more cruel days this would be a heap of undulations. Either way, it would take you to the next big climb of the day - usually another monster 1000-1500 vertical meter mountain. Remember that the average is over 3000 vert m / day!

Most of the towns we passed through had their streets closed down for the race, so there was always heaps of spectators and people cheering. Hop, hop hop, cow bells dinging ... and even dudes running next to us giving out bottles of water!

Usually when climbing on the road bike, you don't get the chance to feel the sensation of just how quickly you are gaining altitude ... but when you literally go up switch back after switch back, and you look back over your shoulder you can actually get a feeling of vertigo. You realize just how high up 1000 vertical meters is, as the little valley town below becomes smaller and smaller.

Ascending those distances, you also see the terrain change. You start in lush valleys, with thick trees and shrubs. Soon you are into the higher farm lands, with the cows grazing and lush soil. Then you are above the tree line, with shale rocks and the remnants of old glaciers tumbling around you. Finally, you reach the snow line and it is just fricken cold!

The day would then finish in another quiet mountain village. Rolling in on the cobblestone streets, lots of spectators on the side of the road cheering - it was always a welcoming feeling.

Usually these towns would be surrounded by massive 3000m+ monster mountains, and you quickly realized that there would be no easy way out of this town.

The post race food quickly made up for any crappiness in the day. The food was always put on by the local town, and so there was copious amounts of cheeses, cold meats, panini, chocolate, coke, fruits, etc etc. You could stuff yourself silly before even heading back to the hotel!

The routine became, finish race, pig out on post race food, find hotel & shower, find pizza (round 1), lie on back to rest stomach from eating, find pizza (round 2), find dessert ... pass out in bed.

We (wisely) choose to go the hotel route for our race accommodation. The event organizers cater for this really well, and will transport your bags between your nominated hotels each day. The only down side of this was that you had to leave your bag in the hotel foyer by 7am, but with the race not starting until 9am, it meant you had to choose what clothes you kept with you wisely. It also meant sitting down for breakfast in full kit and trying not to leak chamois cream everywhere ....

The hotels in these small towns were great - usually around 120 euros, with buffet breakfast, internet and staff who would go out of their way to help out. Anyone who freely volunteers to wash my dirty kit after a day of riding in the mud gets bonus points in my book!  I got my money's worth in breakfast food eating alone!

In contrast, those who took on the TA camping option had the pleasure of sleeping on the floor of town halls, gyms or car parks - on thin mats, spaced close together.  These guys and girls often got to share one toilet and shower per 200 of their closest carb-loaded euro mates, and the whole place was a massive drying (stink) room of kits freshly "stomped" on in the shower.

So, some tips for you if you get a chance to do this race;

* Train for more hills then you can imagine. Then train some more. I thought that doing 15 x Mt Ainslie repeats was an overkill. Next year it will be 15 x Mt Ainslies at least 3 days / week!
* Take a good collection of spare parts - The small towns have limited bike shops, and although there are race mechanics and race support services you are sharing them with 1100 other riders. In particular take;
** Chains - given a few days of bad weather, take at least 2 x spare chains
** Spokes - there were a lot of broken spokes. Ever tried to get an ENVE spoke in AU, let alone from some small shop in an Austrian ski town with an old dude who does not speak any english. Take spare spokes!
** Brake pads - at least 4 spare sets. Given the epic descents, you could fry a set in a day if the weather was bad
** Bottle cages - Both my carbon cages were destroyed from the rough descents.
** Gear cables - Full length cable outers are a must, and if you do them right you should get away without needing to run any new cables. But always safe to have a few spare cables just in case
** Derailleur & hanger - Luckily we did not mash a derailleur, but it would be pretty easy to smash one. That said, I did burn through a lower jockey wheel during the week, so having spare of those is pretty useful
** Tires - not essential. Maxxis were providing support and had a big range of tires, tubes and stans related products.
** Valve extenders - Have you ever tried to get a long valve tube (for you deep dish carbon wheels), from that Austrian dude who does not speak English? McAvoy tried and failed. If you need long valves, carry valve extenders so you can at least use short valve tubes.
* Get to the stage start early - self seeding in your start group commences a good hour before the race start
* Pace yourself - there was quite a number of guys who smashed the first few days, and then were dribbling messes by midweek
* Recovery each day is essential - make sure your post stage priority is to eat, drink and sleep
* Keep your bike well maintained - there is no sag wagon, and you are in the middle of no-where. A mechanical issue could be a huge drama. Check over your bike each day and keep it running well
* Learn a little German ... more then just knowing beer names is helpful
* CO2 cartridges on planes is still a mystery to me. Their web sites say they are ok (if packed well, and 2 per person etc), but the grumpy baggage inspector in Dubai was not happy with them - which at 1am in the morning after a 7 hour flight, and they are delaying your flight to rummage through a bag is not cool

Finally, some handy tips on being in Europe;

* Money in most of Europe is the Euro
* Money which they laugh at when you tender it in Switzerland is the Euro
* Places where pizza, pasta and sausage is all dirt cheap and really tasty - Europe
* Places where pizza, pasta and everything is fricken expensive - Switzerland
* All the top riders at the race rode 29er hard tails
* Place where we were told that "29ers are too heavy and have floopy wheels. They are only used by flat landers" - Switzerland (I guess they have no seen the 2013 bike catalogs ...)
* Places where the toll roads are quite expensive - Europe
* Place where the toll roads are crazy expensive - Switzerland
* Place where the Garmin was adamant that we were to drive over a historic pedestrian wooden bridge- Switzerland
* Place where the road signs include speed limits for tanks - Germany (30 kph in case you were wondering)
* A Tupac line is called an Euro line (and they love to take them)
* Putting chamois cream directly onto your team mates butt is the Euro thing to do
* Wearing white knicks on a rainy day is Euro
* Fluro is still quite fashionable in Euro-land
* Standing around with your jersey off, bib / brace off your shoulders and knicks pants pulled up to show off all your massive legs - being Euro
* Having a choice of 6 cheeses and 10 cold meats for breakfast - Euro breakfast

So will I be going back - hell yeah!  I am accepting offers from potential riders to pair up with ... man up JD, that means you!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jet Black 12hr

2nd Elite Solo

252km / 12hrs

This weekend it was back to Dargle Farm for the annual Rockytrail Entertainment / Jet Black 12hr.

Dargle Farm is one of those great hidden venues, which is only opened up once per year.

The track itself is built around two valleys of farm land, and has a good mixture of singletrack and fireroad - as well as a couple of nasty pinch climbs and little rock gardens to keep you awake at night.

This year, the track had a few modifications from years gone by, which meant a little more fireroad but did introduce some interesting hidden long grass singletrack.

With the modifications, the fastest guys would be hitting sub 20 minute laps, and for the solo guys sub 25 min laps were on the cards.

The race started with the usual team riders taking off like stink, and thank fully Jason English did not immediately jump onto their tail.  So the first lap was a pretty cruisy lap with fellow solo riders of English, Bellchambers and Chops (James Lamb).

Heading to the pinch climb at the start of the 2nd lap, I jumped in front of Chops and stomped it. This was a little pay back to Bellchambers for doing this to us all last year.

I was able to get a useful gap, and it was until well into the 3rd lap that English came across.

Despite a solid head wind, I was happy to set the pace for myself and English - and we kept a solid pace for first 5 or so hours. However, when the fast team riders came through I was not able to make the jump onto their tail - and that was English gone.

I figured that would be the last I would be seeing of Jase for a while, so I settled into steady and consistent laps - with the intent of lapping Bellchambers sooner rather then later.

I came across Brett a bit before the 9 hour mark (just on dark), and we rode around for a lap together before he sent me on my way.

I figured I would take it easy for the last 3 hours, and settled into a lower tempo pace to see out the rest of the race.

The night was welcoming, as riding under lights always adds a new dimension to a race - new lines emerge and it is like riding a new track.

Finishing a minute or so after the 9pm cut off, I was not too upset not to be taking on another lap - 12 hours was long enough for today.

For the race, I rode the Cannondale Flash 29er - yes, a 29er hard tail. The course is definitely a 29er course - with the big wheels flying over the bumpy double track / paddocks and also easily rolling over the rock gardens.

Tires for the day were the Schwalbe Racing Ralph Snakeskins - more then enough grip and fast rolling.

As always, the Radical Lights were bright and gave awesome definition. I also gave Brett a good scare by turning the lights right down as I came up behind him and then turning them into full brightness ... he has seen the light!

A big thanks to all the Team Radical Lights sponsors, and also a huge thanks to Robyn for coming up and providing excellent support to myself, Garry and Tommo.

Well done to Garry on getting 1st in Super Masters, and Tommo for a solid ride also.