Why I Ride Junk Mountain Bike Stuff

When I did my mountain biking trip in the U.P. I actually wished I had a better bike.  Don’t get me wrong, my 2×7 drive train was adequate, my brakes stopped me, and I didn’t have any flats; still there were times I would have benefited from a faster shifting drivetrain with a wider range, a more responsive fork, and a lighter bike.  I had such an enjoyable time riding those trails that I actually thought about saving up for a better mountain bike.

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Last week I rode in the Shawnee for the first time since Spring with my pals Joe and Drew.  It sucked.  Normally this is when I start mountain biking again.  The woods dries up, less bugs, less poison ivy, less mud, more fun.    This is the wettest summer I think I’ve ever seen.  In the last 14 days the Southern Illinois area has received 5-8 inches more rain that normal.  The trails appeared to have gotten alot of horseback use and were in bad shape, they weren’t as soft and muddy as they can get in the spring, but a chunky chopped up mess.

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Looking on the bright side, while it was difficult to ride the trails, it wasn’t impossible.  If you could keep your speed up and avoid the deepest section of the chop you could power through many of the mud holes.  Clearing a section of chop was a great accomplishment.  We rode about 3 hours and probably covered 10 miles.  Many people wouldn’t even call this mountain biking, though I wouldn’t call alot of what some people do mountain biking either.

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So that’s why I ride junk.  There is no use for someone who mainly rides in the Shawnee to spend much money on a bike.  One of my smartest moves thus far was switching from a nine speed drivetrain to a 7 speed.  The SCUD was chronically breaking derailleurs and hangers because while in the first couple of cogs the derailleur was so close to the spokes it was getting caught by them.  The hanger on this bike is particularly wimpy, so if I brushed a stick or a rock it would get pushed a bit into the wheel then SNAP!

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Using the 7 speed cassette eliminates that problem.  The seven speed cassette fits on a normal hub with a couple metal spacers taking the space where the two largest cogs would be.  My first experiment was with a 6 speed from an old road bike where the largest cog was a 28.  It worked great, no amount of force could push the derailleur into the spokes.  I wanted a bit more on the low end and found another benefit of the 7 speed cassette is price, a new chrome SRAM 32-13 cassette was 9 dollars shipped.

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The 7 speed shifts with a Shimano thumb shifters.  The action is slower then  rapid fire, but I’ve found myself adjusting to it.  The rear derailleur is a Shimano “Light Action” and it shifts very well.  Seven speed has a larger space between cogs on the cassette and seems like its less prone to crappy shifting in bad conditions.  I’m using a 9 speed chain right now with the setup and it works fine, but I’ll buy a 7 speed when that wears out.

My enjoyment of 7 speed has me asking the question, why do mountain bikes need so many cogs?  Who needs tiny gear spacing on their cassette?  Who even needs a cassette?  I’m no where near as awesome as my buddy Joe who was riding a 10 year old Monocog that has equal amounts blue paint and rust.  His single speed bike has seen more trail miles then almost any and it’s still going strong.  Then there’s Moe who rides his single speed exclusively just about everywhere and seems to be faster on it then his geared bike.

The horrible condition of Shawnee trails, the mud, water, and sand make riding a nice bike here an exercise in futility.  Save yourself some headaches and cash, ride junk!

 

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Matt and Shauna Go to Duluth

After my successful van camping trip last month Shauna wanted to try and since Southern Illinois humidity was bringing us both down we went North to Duluth.  Why Duluth?  I really don’t know, it was Shauna’s idea, she liked their weather and the fact that there was several things there to do.  I liked that they had several area mountain bike trails.

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We packed up the van and headed out early Tuesday morning.  At some point I checked a Wisconsin Dells waterpark’s website and found they were doing a super internet sale of 5 dollar tickets.  Shauna said she was interested so I bought tickets for Mount Olympus.  She asked me if I packed my swim trunks and I said, “sure did”, then I glanced back and realized I’d forgot to put my bag in the van.  My bag with all my clothes, and all my bike stuff, including my bike shoes.  Oh man!

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There may have been some foul language followed by acceptance of a quick stop at Wal-Mart for some swimming trunks.  After I found some 5 dollar trunks I started thinking, maybe this is a trap.  The tickets are suppose to be 45 dollars each and I just got them for 5, this must be a trap.  Well I was right, but only in so much that water parks and amusement parks are designed as people traps.

We found the place and after driving though a maze like series of parking lots and were greeted with a 20 dollar charge to park.  OK, that’s not too bad.  We walked through a lackluster amusement park and arrived at the water park where we found renting a locker was 10 bucks, OK still not that bad.  We go to some kind of wave pool thing, Posiden’s Revenge or something.  We walk in and it’s not doing anything, I walk out into the water and then here comes a massive wave, it bowls me over and yanks my glasses off my face.  Let the good times roll.

After some time floating around the lazy river I talked Shauna into a doubles water slide.  This turned into a 40 minute wait trapped in line for a 15 second slide.  I should note that Shauna did not want to do this, and I promised her it was completely safe and nothing bad would happen.  As we were flushed from the tube into the pool Shauna banged her front teeth into the back of my head and I lost my glasses again.  When I regained my senses I realized the glasses were broke and the back of my head was not injured.  Well it’s not the first time I’ve put her safety in jeopardy for my own enjoyment.  On the plus side my broken glasses weren’t really a problem since they were worn out and I only really need them to drive at night, which I would be doing alot of.

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Why visit Deluth?  This is an example of how cool the town is, this is  under their public library. Ranma 1/2 up there with Catcher in the Rye!

After the waterpark I did a lap on some go karts in the amusement park.  Since I’m a “champion” bike racer and have spent hours on racing games I know how to corner, you know like apex and stuff.  So I was using my secret knowledge to make my go kart go a bit faster then everyone.  I was exiting a curve and a 8 year old kid and his Mom had their karts hogging the track.  There was a about half a go kart width between them so I just went for it and knocked them both out of the way.  Won my second race in as many weeks with that move.

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Well with the amusement over we were back on the road, we spent a pleasant night at the Eau Claire Wal-Mart and then hit Duluth about 9 AM Wednesday.  First thing was a train ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad.  This was great, a two hour train ride where we were free to walk around the train and check out all the different types of passenger cars.  Made me wish I was on the Empire Builder heading west.  After the train we wandered around the Duluth Skywalk which was a series of passages that connected several downtown buildings second stories and even crossed the interstate.

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Next we took in the Freshwater Aquarium.  The aquarium was nice, but not one of my favorite parts of the trip.  They did have this really cool huge model of the great lakes where you could put a toy tugboat in the west end of Superior and through a neat system of toy locks and dams your tug boat would end up going over Niagara Falls.  This may have been designed for 5 year olds but I loved it.  We spent the night at the very nice Jay Cooke State Park, which I think could have easily been a trip in itself.  We only scratched the surface of this park, walking a couple miles of trails.

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Our second day in Duluth featured a boat ride on the Vista Star.  It was a good time, the narrator was really very informative and funny, he kept the ride interesting with stories about the Duluth bay.  The boat ride offered epic views of the Aerial Lift Bridge and of course a really awesome trip under it.  After the ride we checked out Canal Park and ate at Little Angie’s where I had the best salad I’ve ever had in my life, like a salad to make all other salads pale in comparison.  Next up was the lakefont area with a really nice Army Corps of Engineers museum that was FREE!

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The lakefront area is home to Wheel Fun Bike Rentals and I talked Shauna into renting a bike and riding the Duluth Lakewalk trail.  It was nice, but very busy.  This was my only ride of the trip sadly, though without bike shoes SPD pedals are pretty uncomfortable.  The Canal Park and lakefront areas were teaming with active people, all manner of cyclists, walkers, joggers, and even inline skaters!  Yes rollerblading inline skater people, I wish I’d brought my skates, it would have been the ultimate.

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Next we checked out Park Point, which is a 6 mile baymouth bar, or essentially a big sandbar in the bay, big enough for it’s own small community.   The end of the bay is a big park and recreation area featuring a huge beach, and we had a great time there swimming and you know, just hanging out doing beach stuff.  Finally it was time to leave Duluth, having never ridden any of their great mountain bike trails.  Gives me a reason to go back.

After driving late into the night we overnighted in the fine Black Forest Wal-Mart in Wisconsin.  Friday morning we arrived early at The House on the Rock, our final bit of touristing on this trip.  House on the Rock is an oddball roadside attraction of epic proportions.  It’s like a museum, except that it has absolutely no historical context and most of it’s contents are fake.  It’s hard to describe The House on the Rock, it’s really just weird and huge.  It took us 4 hours to walk through it all.

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So our Duluth trip was great, and our camping van strategy worked perfect.  We saved around 200 dollars avoiding motels and had more time to see cool stuff and have fun.  Duluth is the place to go in the Summer, their hot days are like our coolest summer days, and the dreaded mosquitoes everyone talks about never really showed up.  Of course in the winter I think I’d prefer Southern Illinois, or maybe Florida.

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Great Egyptian Omnium Circuit Race

The Great Egyptian Omnium’s first day went off Saturday with a time trial in the morning and a circuit race following.  Attendance and participation was down from some of the previous GEO’s I’ve been too, which is to be expected since the race was cancelled last year and moved to a new venue this year.  I don’t know when the race was booked this year but I didn’t hear about it until June.  Considering the short notice I think it was a successful event.

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I didn’t make it for the time trial, but was all in for the circuit race.  I’d never heard of a circuit race before, and discovered it’s essentially a road race ran on a short loop, much like an auto racing circuit, which is an analogy I will return to.  Our circuit course was just shy of 3 miles. and was contained within the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

I did 3 laps of the course to warm up and was a bit freaked out on my first lap.  The road was a small oil and chip with lots of rough spots, a few water filled pot holes, technical downhill turns and some places where fencing came within a few feet of the edge of the road.  My first two laps were just spinning and I tried to do a third lap holding 20 mph.  I found that by taking an appropriate line through the corners I could rail though them without brakes.

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I was in the Cat 5 race along with 6 other riders.  7 is a good field for a race in my opinion, and I was glad to see that everyone looked like they knew what they were doing.  Our race was the first circuit race of the day.  The officials gave us a short speech at the line, he said that the center line rule would be in effect.  The center line rule states that riders are not allowed to cross the center line of the road and is always in effect during races that are not raced on closed roads.  Despite the fact that the circuit was within the fairgrounds the course wasn’t closed, there were people on the side of the road fishing, people jogging and the occasional car driving through.

The centerline rule is a good rule and makes perfect sense but on this course it was not really feasible. “These are one lane roads,” I joked with the official.  He explained to us that there would be vehicles on the route and we needed to stay on the right as much as possible, but that for safety we could use the entire road, and that given the nature of the road they wouldn’t be able to strictly enforce the rule.  Sounded like a good reasonable judgement to me.

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So our race was 55 minutes, they blew the the whistle, we clicked in and made our way off.  I started in the back and yelled, “How far to the first sag stop.”  A guy who looked by far to be the most experienced rider was calling out gravel, bumps, and rocks, which surprised me.  As I mentioned earlier the course was much like an auto circuit, after a chicane there was about a half mile straight away, then a small climb and a series of gentle turns before a hard right and another gentle climb that transitions two a rollercoaster like series of turns.

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It was on this second gentle climb that I attacked.  I really didn’t want to get away from the group, my concern was being on the front for the up coming turns.  I stood on the climb and went off the front then railed through the downhill turns like I had practiced.  When I looked back no one was coming.  “Oh God, I’ve screwed up,” I thought.  I didn’t see myself riding the entire race solo but just sitting up and going back to the peloton would be a pretty embarrassing waste of an attack.  Thankfully when I looked behind me I saw my buddy Shon and another guy coming across.  In a few seconds they caught me and Shon rode at least half a lap, strong.  I looked back and saw the guy in blue several hundred feet behind and the group several hundred feet behind him.

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The other rider that came across was Blake Girard and he took a very strong turn after Shon, probably pulling for half a lap.  I looked behind and there was no one in sight.  Eventually Blake waved me forward.  I went to the front and immediately slowed down.  I felt horrible about this.  I really wanted to contribute, but I wasn’t about to put myself in the red when it appeared that we had completely broke away from the group.  After maybe 30 seconds of my reduced pace Blake came back around.

I kept glancing at my heart rate and seeing that it was hanging around 177-173.  I was pretty sure that if I ever got it to 180 I would blow, in past experience I can maintain a mid 170 heart rate for awhile, but if I go deeper then that I will not be able to recover.  By the third lap I was hurting.  My body was screaming at me to stop.  I could see no one behind us, and yet these guys were hammering.  I missed a couple turns rotating through the line.  At one point I was maybe a couple bike lengths off of them and began to make plans to get off my bike and hide behind a bush.  If they had went just a tiny bit faster I would have been gone.

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Fortunately for me they didn’t, and I was able to get back on.  I recovered a bit and even pulled for maybe half a lap on the 5th lap, though at a reduced pace.  I could see our closest rival on the front half of the course when we were on the back half, we were nearly half a lap ahead of the field.  When I told the guys we were so far ahead Blake said, “Lets lap em.”  Oh God I thought.

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The bell rung for the final lap and Shon was on the front.  This is where it will hit the fan I thought.  Shon upped the pace and the adrenaline was flowing.  Shon was in a terrible position.  He couldn’t attack off the front and he was just giving us a free ride around the course.  As we rounded the back stretch Blake made his move, passing Shon with a powerful acceleration.  I knew that I had to stay with him and went well into the red to do it passing Shon.  I was on his wheel as we made the final turn to the straight finish.  He went wide in the corner and his rear wheel skipped bouncing off the road.

The finish line was around 100 meters away.  My instinct was to get as low and forward as possible so I rested my forearms on the tops and pedaled harder than I’ve ever pedaled before.   I was pulling away from Blake and crossed the line ahead of him for the win.

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I felt elation followed quickly by a strong dose of shame.  I had probably done 10% of the effort that kept our group away from the pack.  Blake and Shon had shared the workload and then Shon and just performed an entire 1 lap leadout at the fastest pace of the race.  I was the weakest rider of the group and only won because of a combination of luck and taking advantage of my breakaway companions.

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Then things got weirder, a guy came running over with a big camera, “That was great, that’s going in the paper tomorrow.”  He was a reporter for http://www.thesouthern.com and started asking us questions about the race.

So after being awarded our medals and getting a podium shot Shon and I went for some really excellent food at St. Nick’s Brewing Company, who also sponsored the event.  We returned back and I took some photos of the ongoing cat 1/2/3 race going on.  Then the cat 4 race where my friends Brian and Pat were racing.

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I want to take a moment to thank all the volunteers, sponsors and organizers for getting the event together.  It’s a huge undertaking and they deserve alot of credit, especially the volunteers.

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I also want to thank my new pal, Blake Sabo.  He was at the race volunteering, I handed him my camera and said take pictures.  He did a great job and well over half the pictures from the race are his work.  You can all of our pictures from that race on my flickr account.

 

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Knockoff SPD-SL Cleats: You Get What You Pay For

I have only one problem with my Shimano SPD-SL pedals, the cleats wear out every year.  Shimano cleats are made of plastic so it’s not like they should last forever, but at 29 bucks they are some really expesnsive plastic.  I used Look pedals for a short time and while I much prefer the SPD-SL, one benefit with the Look pedals was cheap aftermarket cleats.

I was happy to see recently that aftermarket cleats are now available from Exustar and unnamed manufacturers.  Since I’m super thrifty I bought a cheap set from ebay for 10 bucks.  You can get them cheaper direct from China if you want to wait a month, but these were from the US.

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They arrived in about a week, oddly another bike part I ordered on the same day came in 3 days from California.  They came with the required mounting hardware and a bonus 4mm hex wrench.  Only real surface difference I could tell between these and Shimano cleats were the screws, they are longer which is a good thing if you use cleat wedges.

No surprises attaching the cleats, and no surprises clicking in.  They work identically to Shimanos.  The yellow rubberized plastic which is included for grip is definitely not as soft as Shimanos which I thought might be a good thing.  The reason these cleats wear out is damage from walking around.  Yes a person could use cleat covers when walking, or avoid walking in their shoes, but I that seems silly to me.

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After about 4 rides with the new cleats I thought to check them out, to my surprise on the left foot the yellow front plastic was gone, it had just fell off.  In probably 10 sets of Shimano cleats that has never happened.  It should be noted that this plastic seems to have no effect on how the cleats actually work, the shoe still clips in and out the same, and I can’t really tell a difference walking, though I’m sure if I stepped in a slick spot I would notice.  I’m also worried without the yellow plastic the cleat will wear out much faster.  I’m going to keep using them, but keep an eye on it.

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So you get what you pay for, Shimano cleats can now be purchased for 20 dollars online or at your bike shop.  I would go with the genuine cleats and avoid the knockoffs.

I have said many times that I can be very lucky.  The first night I used these cleats I took off for a short ride to test them out.  A couple miles out of town I took to the rail trail to return home.  I had a pinch flat, I had also recently changed saddles and forgotten to reattach the saddle bag where my patch kit and pump are located.  Oh and I left my phone at home too.

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I removed my brand new shoes and started walking, after a mile of walking on the concrete bike path I was back in town but still 2 miles from home.  I saw the truck of my parent’s neighbor who rides the trail most nights.  I said to myself, “Self, it should would be nice if she was done with her ride and could give me a lift home.”  Before I’d even finished my thought here she came down the trail and she was happy to give me a ride to my parents where I could patch my tube.  What luck!

 

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Tour de France 2016 Final Thoughts

For me the best part of July has always been watching the Tour de France and I always feel a particular sorrow when it’s over since the end of the Tour bodes the end of Summer.   This is a tour I’ll remember for a long time, thanks to Chris Froome’s two unconventional maneuvers.  One thing I won’t remember this tour for is exciting GC racing, no one even came close to challenging Froome and Team Sky, luckily there was more to follow then just the GC.

How do you watch the Tour?

I’ve never had satellite TV, so for years I watched the Tour by paying for the NBC sports online package.  Which meant I listened to Phil and Paul, commentate, they did a great job, but honestly they are showing their age. The last few years I’ve been downloading stages to watch later in the day.  This year I went with ITV’s nightly 45 minute highlight show.  ITV has Ned Boulting and new for this year, David Millar providing color commentary.  Millar contribution was great, having only retired last year and being a prolific writer of his cycling exploits, his comments were informative, relevant and insightful.  The highlight show is really the perfect format for cycling since sometimes hours can go by where nothing really happens.

Sprinter in Yellow

He's back

He’s back

Often times the Tour starts with a prolouge time trial to sort out the riders, which usually sees a TT specialist or a GC rider getting the yellow jersey.  Some years the Tour starts with a classics style stage that finishes with an uphill sprint, but this year it started with a pure sprinters stage meaning a guy like Mark Cavendish could lead the Tour de France, at least until it goes uphill.  In the past Cavendish won sprint stages at command, though he hasn’t performed well in the last few Tour’s.  This year after training on the track for the Rio Olympics Cav was firing on all cylinders and won 4 stages proving himself in a class of his own.  He passed Kittel so fast one stage that the sonic boom almost knocked the German off his bike.

Sagan the Star of the Show

Peter Sagan makes winning the green jersey look easy but the truth is that he’s working hard for it every day.  Since he’s not the fastest sprinter he has too.  He’s going in breaks nearly every day up the road and gaining points on hilly and mountain stages where the other guys just can’t compete.  To put it in perspective you could double Marcel Kittel’s points and he still wouldn’t beat Sagan.

Sagan is easily the strongest overall rider right now, and one of the greatest personalities in cycling both on and off the road.  His crazy videos are hilarious and awesome and his finish line wheelies and bike handling skills are the stuff of legend.  Besides winning green, he spent time in yellow and he won 3 hilly stages this year.

Sky and Emperor Brailsford

Sky is compared to the Empire in Star Wars, their team bus is called the Deathstar.  They may wear black but they’re not evil, just really meticulous and prepared.  Did you know that Sky has personnel that go into the rider’s hotels each night to disinfect their rooms and replace the linens and mattress with the riders personal ones.  When your team budget is millions more then most, and ten times that of some you can afford things like that.

Sky is criticized fairly for strangling the race, especially in the mountains.  The team is so good that they have 4 riders on the front setting such a strong pace that no one can attack. It definitely takes some of the excitement out of mountain stages when the few attacks that happen are reeled in so quickly and easily.

Froome Attacks!

It looked weird but it worked!

It looked weird but it worked!

You can’t criticize Froome this year for being boring.  Yes he dominated the race, often times sitting behind his team, but he also did the unexpected.  His downhill winning attack on stage 8 was epic.  Quintanna was caught completely by surprise while Froome blasted down the hill.  I’ve seen lots of riders sit on their top tubes but I’ve never seen anyone sit there and pedal.

Of course Froome running through the crowd on Mount Ventoux will ultimately be what this tour is remembered for.  It was such a surreal sight to see a rider running along the road where we usually see crazy fans running beside the bikers.  I’m surprised a big group of fans didn’t start running with him.

Anyone else notice how many fans were wearing animal onesies along the road?

Anyone else notice how many fans were wearing animal onesies along the road?

 

On stage 19 Froome tried another downhill attack in the rain going for the stage win.  He crashed when he slipped and went down hard on a wet road bringing down Nibali behind him.  The rest of the peleton were several seconds back.  He finished the stage on a borrowed bike.  This mistake could have lost him the Tour.

OH we can’t forget Froome’s viscious attack of a fan who got a bit too close with his flag.  I can’t believe that stuff doesn’t happen more often the way some of the fan’s act.

The Competetion?

American TeeJay was just along for the ride until he wasn’t.  He was hanging in there for the first 2 weeks but was obviously spent by the last mountain stages and fell off the GC.  His teammate Richie Port was happy to jump in as team leader though I think he thought of himself as team leader for the whole race, but he definitely proved himself the stronger rider.

Quintanna was more or less just sitting on the bus, he did great, but his attacks were few and lacked any power.  Of course we covered how hard it is to get away from the Sky train.

Contador crashed hard on the first stage and just never really seemed to recover, though his crash was completely his fault.  Didn’t look like his heart was in it this year, he threw in the towel early.

The Irishman Dan Martin, who I don’t think I’ve ever really seen race for a GC was there, attacking and riding really well.  It seemed like he was surprising himself.  The young Adam Yates was definitely impressive, as was Frenchman Roman Bardet who I’m hoping can bring the French their first victory since the 8os.  I think the French deserve to win their own race once a decade at least.

Lost History

I’m fascinated with how years of Tour de France history have been selectively edited.  Of course I’m talking about Lance 99-05.  It’s funny how everyone around the race seems to pretend that never happened.  In one short video segment a reporter was asking Tour organizers and veteran racers if they’d ever seen a team as dominate as Sky.  Well obviously US Postal, who just like Sky put everything on the line for GC and was legendary for their preparation.  Oddly no one mentioned Postal or Lance, it’s like it never happened.

UK Dominace

Christopher Prudhome wants 8 rider teams next year, and though he didn’t say it the idea is to weaken super teams like Sky.  I think this is a good idea, though I doubt it will make the race more interesting.  I’ll freely admit that I didn’t complain about the race being boring when US Postal was dominating it.  The way to make the racing more interesting and competitive are the other teams being on a more level playing field.

British Cycling is now a powerhouse, British riders, won 1/3 of the stages this year and the overall.  British cycling and team sky are well connected, Dave Brailsford is the leader of both organizations.  It’s safe to say that Team Sky benefits from this relationship.  British cycling is funded by UK lottery money.  If other teams were as well prepared, supported, and funded as Team Sky then maybe the playing field would be more level.

2016 was a tour to remember and I’m already looking forward to next July!  Viva le Tour!

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Get Ready for the Great Egyptian Omnium 2016

Great Egyptian FlyerThe Great Egyptian Omnium (GEO) is the only cycling race in Southern Illinois so I was sad to see it canceled last year.  In all honesty I didn’t expect it to come back, it was a great event, but we don’t have a big cycling community in Southern Illinois and putting on a multi-day event is a lot work.  I’m glad to say that the event is back thanks to the good people at St. Nick’s Brewing Company and the Bike Surgeon.  As in previous years there will be a time trial, road race, and criterium events taking place over the last weekend of July, but they’ll be hosted in a new location.

The new location is the DuQuoin State Fair Grounds, the road course and crit both stay within the fair grounds while the time trial ventures off the grounds.  This location lacks the hills around Stone Fort and Creal Springs of previous years, but it comes with many big benefits.  First all the racing will be staged from one single area, the fairgrounds is a perfect place to host events and more importantly this area will be closed to traffic.  No traffic means much safer racing and the race will not be crammed onto just one lane.

The crit is totally flat and the road course has some very slight elevation changes this  will be a fantastic course for riders like me, big guys!

If you haven’t raced before let me tell you, it’s something you’ll never forget and this will be your only chance to race in Southern Illinois.  Come out and support the event and spread the word!

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Colorado Adventure

Guest Post by Moe

I have been wanting to get out to visit Luke in one of his adventurous locations for a couple years now. Last year he was in Arizona, now he is in Colorado. This year, I finally made it happen. A few months ago I told Luke to get me his work schedule as soon as he knew it. From there, I could clear my schedule here at home and check flights to see if it would be possible for me to go out and ride with him. He is in Grand Junction right now which is a much more expensive flight than Denver. So, we decided that if I could make it happen, I would fly to Denver and he would pick me up there to save on flight cost. It was determined that we would ride the front range to save travel time since I would only have a few days to ride. Once he received his work schedule for July, he sent it to me and I got to work looking up flight prices and making sure I didn’t have any prior engagements for the dates I wanted to go. A few text messages back and forth with him and boom, dates were locked in and flights were booked. I would leave early on Wednesday morning and since Luke had to work Sunday, return Saturday night. Other than telling him that I didn’t want to ride much over 10,000’, I left all of the ride planning up to Luke.

Fast forward a couple weeks and I’m sitting in Luke’s van on my way to Big Ring Cycles to pick up my rental steed. Get the bike, a couple tubes (my 29r tubes wouldn’t work), a few gels and we are on our way. We headed up the hill, then partially back down the hill in another direction to end up in Winter Park. Luke had reserved a room at the “Vintage” hotel. We were skeptical due to the name of the place, but it was a great place. While checking in, two guys ride their bikes right into the front door and hop off to walk to the elevators and go up to their rooms. I thought, “dang, this place is pretty bike friendly”.

After carrying all of our gear up to the room, we take off looking for some lunch. There is a gondola/ski lift that runs from upper Winter Park Resort to lower Winter Park Resort. It was a great way to shuttle back and forth and avoid a 700’ climb back to the hotel each time. We had some lunch while noticing there were no other cross country type riders there. Everyone was wearing full face helmets, flat shoes, full shin and knee pads, full forearm and elbow pads and what looked like a set of football shoulder pads under their jerseys. Luke joked that maybe there were people hiding along the trails with spears and tridents trying to knock you off of your bike and that is why everyone was dressed for battle.

After lunch, we suited up and took off on ride #1 from the hotel. We hopped on the “Green horn it” downhill trail to drop to the bottom of the resort area and get on the trails that would take us away from the downhill area and to the XC area. The ride started with a nice descent followed by a couple short steep ups. A little flat section followed until about mile 10 there was a 2 mile climb that kicked me right in the lungs. There were many trails in this area and we hit several that local riders had told us about. They were all great fun. Mostly short connectors or loops that would have been really nice to follow a local through, but we made the best of it while stopping often to check out maps. We headed downhill and popped out at the town of Winter Park. There is a really nice paved bike/longboard/walking/running/rollerblading path that runs from Winter Park to Winter Park Resort. It is about 4 miles between the two. It turns out that this bike path is a pretty serious climb all the way to the resort. I was expecting more of a mellow cruise through the woods. Nope, just another 450’ climb to get back to the resort. Once back at the resort, we got cleaned up and headed out for pizza. https://www.strava.com/activities/640229764 

Thursday started with heading to the bike shop in Frasier to add some air to the rear shock on my rental bike. The bike I had rented was a Cannondale Habit 3 Carbon. It was a really sweet bike, but very different from what I’m used to. Honestly, I wanted a XC full suspension, but nobody had those for rent. Everything was more all-mountain or Enduro. Since I usually ride a rigid single speed, I’m not used to riding a full suspension and not even used to climbing too much in the seated position. I found it absolutely impossible to climb standing on the rental bike and it just didn’t climb very well seated either. Of course, part of this was my poor ability to climb in general compounded with climbing actual mountains about 8500’ higher than where I usually ride. The bike was riding like a pogo stick. On the other hand, I could descent like a rocket. The thing was stable and handled very well at high speeds going downhill. While at the shop, one of the guys gave us some great route intel while the other researched the shock on the rental bike online and found out that it is not a very good shock. Pumped it up way higher than it should need to be and headed out the door to ride. We took off right from the bike shop for a nice big loop.

The ride started with a nice mellow 3% grade road climb for a few miles. We then hit the single track entrance and the grade picked up to an average of 8% for over 3 miles. Luke dropped me like a bad habit going up this climb. This is where I first started to get worried about being eaten by a mountain lion or a bear. Weird thoughts start filling your mind when you are in the pain cave and have no idea how much longer you will be there. Or, if you will ever see your friend again…. About that time, a turkey explodes out of the brush about 3’ from the trail and 2’ in front of me. I nearly ruined my shorts. Apparently, the ole’ girl had a nest next to the trail. She ran down the trail pretending to be hurt so I would keep following her and not mess with her nest. What seemed like hours later, I finally reached the top and saw Luke there waiting for me. From there, we hit what I was sure would be an incredible downhill. We were FLYING down this thing and bang, a large rock had hit my rear tire which was not setup tubeless. Shortly after that I get the feeling of the squirmy flat tire followed quickly by the totally flat tire with rocks banging the rim. I yell to Luke “FLAT TIRE!!!!!” and hit the brakes hard (I didn’t want to have to replace the rim or tire on the rental bike). It seems that Luke heard me and was hitting the brakes as he rounded the corner also. I get stopped and can clearly hear Luke continuing down the mountain. No problem at all, except Luke has the CO2 and the inflator……

I figure that he will get to the bottom, wait a bit, then assume that I’m dead and go on into town. So, I go ahead and swap tubes in the tire and put the wheel back in the bike. All I need now is air. Hopefully someone else will come by and have some type of inflation device. About 15 minutes goes by and I hear someone coming up the hill. Luke had waited a couple minutes at the bottom, then climbed back up to bring me the CO2. He didn’t seem to upset about the extra climbing he had to do. I don’t think he even cracked a sweat. I inflated the tire, and off we went. We bombed down the rest of the hill, hit several more miles of single track and then popped out on the road for the descent back into town. A great ride other than the flat tire and taxing first climb. https://www.strava.com/activities/641118419 FRASIER SCENERY AND CANNONDALE HABIT 3 PHOTOS

Ride #3 would be in Buffalo Creek. We parked at the top of the trail and headed out for the “Big Loop” ride. Luke expressed how this trail is one of his favorites. It sure seemed sweet at the start. It was super flowy, fast and just roller climbs. I could keep momentum and just stand to shoot up the short steep rollers and stay really close to his wheel here. I was loving it. The trail was very solid with what was a crushed limestone type top layer. It was loose and slick, ensuring you kept your focus on the trail. We were really cruising and knocking out the miles. Before long we popped out at the top of a very large valley that looked like a forest fire had wiped it clean several years ago and things had not grown back yet. The trail was beautiful and fun down through there. Things were getting quite sandy and loose in the trail though. Going downhill this just added a few sketchy places where you had to do a nice two wheel drift through corners. Going uphill, this SUCKED. And SUCKED bad…. I was in the granny gear and crawling through what was more than 1” of loose sandy crushed rock. Literally climbing in quicksand. Climbing is not my strong suit, and climbing in loose deep sand is embarrassing slow for me. Once at the top of this, we hit some more sweet flowing trails that somewhat erased how bad the climb was from my memory. Then we emerged from the nice flowing shaded single track into the open valley again. 

We were near the top and had an awesome descent through the valley, then through some timber, then more valley until we arrived at a FS service road at the very bottom. From this point, it was just one large climb back to the car Luke says. He takes off like a rocket while I start working my way into it. I make it a few hundred meters before clicking to the granny ring on front. I spin and I spin and I spin seemingly going nowhere up this hill. Watching my garmin elevation reading I see 100’ go by, then 200’, then 300’. I wonder to myself where did we start? Was it 7000’ or 8000’? It turns out that it was nearly 8000’. This climb started about 6800’ and the car was at 8000’. Oh boy…. I’m in trouble.

I climbed and climbed and then climbed some more. The entire time I’m exposed to full sun and feeling like it is baking me. There was a breeze that felt nice often, and the temperature wasn’t crazy hot, but I was miserable. My body decided that the only thing I wanted to drink was cold water. Well, I didn’t have any of that. I had a few ounces of water left in my camelback and a half bottle of sports drink. Nothing sounded good to eat either. I was bonking and bonking hard. I sat down on a log along the trail at one point and was hoping this would end soon. I took breaks every couple hundred feet of elevation. The trail was sandy and loose, and when only moving about 3mph, the bike was very hard to keep on track and in the trail. I was wandering back and forth across the trail and having a difficult time staying upright. I did come across a mule deer that wasn’t even concerned with me being there. Likely because I was moving too slow to spook it. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it back to the van. Luke had been there for nearly 40 minutes waiting on me. I told Luke that I was done, and possibly done for the weekend. I wanted to die… BUFFALO CREEK BREAK TIME AND MULE DEER PHOTO

 

It took me nearly 15 minutes to get the bike on the rack, and get into the van. I felt sick, hot, tired, and somewhat embarrassed that I had let myself get into this shape. With the A/C full throttle I tried to cool down and just couldn’t get cool or comfortable. We pulled over to check out a campsite and I got out of the van and sat in the shade along the van in the rocks. Within 10 seconds, I was laying in the gravel road trying to get my body to cooperate with me and not puke or pass out. Luke remembered that he had a Gatorade in the van and gave that to me. I chugged down 32 oz in about 30 seconds hoping that would help. It took nearly 10 minutes, but I started to feel better. We got back into the van and headed towards civilization. We pulled into the first gas station we saw. Both of us ended up with chocolate milk and a Klondike bar. It was delicious and brought me back to life. https://www.strava.com/activities/642222775

We made it to Golden and had a great burger at Bob’s Atomic Burgers across the street from the Coors brewery. 

Grabbed a hotel for the night in town and I was still unsure if I wanted to ride anymore. My spirits were broken from that last climb. After a night of rest, I woke up feeling pretty good and wanting to ride one more time before I had to go home. We decided to hit North Table Mountain near Golden. There was a 14 mile loop that we should be able to knock out in a couple hours. The climbs looked mellow and there wasn’t a bunch of elevation change. We arrived at the trailhead about 8:30 am and hit the trail.

The trail started with a fairly steep climb on a paved trail. I was feeling much better than expected. We reached a flat area and saw a single track heading off to the right. It was really worn in single track, but the weeds were tall along the trail. I thought “is this the right trail?”…. We continued on and the trail turned downhill after a mile or so. When I say downhill, I mean the most technical chunky, rocky boulder ridden descent of the entire trip. We really ripped this downhill at a pretty good pace. After popping out at a lower parking lot we found a trail at the other end that went back up. Well, it seemed that we should have brought backpacking gear to strap our bikes to. This climb was absolutely impossible to climb on a bike, and even impossible to push a bike up. We had to carry our bikes. GPS data shows this trail was near 30% grade. We climbed for about 15 minutes, then saw rock climbers another 1000’ above us. At this point, we retreated and headed back down. Once back at the parking lot, we took the road back to our original starting point and tried this trail again. We rode it the other direction this time and found it to be very fast and nearly flat.

Speaking of flat…. This is when I pinch flatted again. It seemed odds were against us for this last ride. But, I swapped the tube and we were back at it. We knocked out 4 more miles or so before we needed to be back at the van and get the rental bike back to the shop. https://www.strava.com/activities/642873850

After loading up our gear, we headed to town. We dropped the bike, then hung out at the whitewater stream in Golden to clean up before I needed to get on an airplane. We had lunch at the farmers market, then headed to the airport. Luke dropped me off, and I waited for my plane to arrive. Several hours later, I was back at home and ready to rest up.
It was a great trip and I had a blast. Luke gave quite the tour of the front range on trails that I hadn’t been on yet. I plan to try to catch up with him again in the future at one of his adventurous locations.

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