Friday, September 8, 2017

New Bike Day

I wasn't planning to buy a new bike. But sometimes the bike chooses you.

One of the women in the local 'cross scene posted her 2014 Crux Pro on the DC Used Bicycle Marketplace. It had a SRAM Red groupset, hydraulic brakes, and came with two wheelsets: an alloy clincher pair for training and a Roval carbon tubular pair for racing. She was selling it for a song, with extra chainrings, chain, and rear cassette that she had laying around for it. And it was 46 cm--my size. I couldn't not check it out!

So Emily was a little surprised when she came home from traveling to Chicago for business, because there was a new bike in the stable (there are now 5). I've spent the last few weeks setting it up for me: lowering the saddle and the stem, adding new pedals and bar tape, learning how to glue (and now re-glue) tubulars onto carbon rims . . . I've never worked with tubulars, SRAM, or hydro brakes, and I still have much to learn.

But after 2 weeks of tinkering, she's finally ready to race. Her name is Ethel (Fred is my pit bike). The carbon tubulars will need to wait until the next race to make their debut, because the front one flatted on Tuesday and I need to go through the process of pulling the old one off and then regluing a new tubular. I present to you Fred & Ethel, making their debut at Hub Labels CX this Sunday!
Heeeeere's Ethel!
Fred and Ethel, ready to race!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Going Tubeless for Absolute N00bs

There's a running joke in the local women's cyclocross scene regarding my riding style: I'm like a bull, strong but completely lacking in grace. This came about after numerous pinch flats and a fellow racer suggesting that maybe I should learn how to ride (she put it more graciously . . . I think she used the word "floating"). But I proved last year that if there is a rock, root, or sharp drop-off from pavement to dirt I will find it, bottom out, and pinch flat by riding the least graceful possible line. This is one of my opportunity areas this season; I'm working on it.

But while I'm working on my ability to float around the course while bleeding out of my eyeballs from the effort of producing my modest wattage, I also switched to a tubeless set-up. The bike I bought last year (2016 Specialized Crux) came with tubeless-ready wheels and tires. So last November I went to my LBS, bought some Stan's NoTubes sealant and valve stems, and headed to my basement shop to set myself up for a pinch-flat-free existence.

Four hours (and four days, TBH) later I was ready to pull my hair out.
These instructions . . . are not very helpful.
The only thing I've experienced in home bike maintenance more frustrating that trying to seat tubeless tires is internal cable routing. I have ultimately figured both of those things out. But as I've just mounted new tubeless tires for the season (I've been running tubes in the off season), I'd like to share what I've learned through hard-earned experience (and through asking friends on Facebook).

I'm assuming that you already have tubeless-ready rims. Tubeless rims are designed with an extra secure interface for the tire beads so they'll hook in as securely as possible. They also need to be prepped with special rim tape to keep air from leaking through and to get the beads of the tires as close to the edge of the rim tape as possible. If you don't have tubeless-ready rims, there are conversion kits and ways to DIY them. I've never tried either, and your mileage may vary. My bike came with tubeless ready wheels, and these are the steps I followed to mount them (successfully) this second time around.

  1. Stretch the tires. When you get new tires, they come all folded up, right? We need the beads to lock into the rims as tightly as possible, and folds in the beads will prevent that. So before you add sealant or soapy water or do any inflating, first put the tires on the rims and let them sit there for at least 24 hours. I go a step further and put them on the rims with CX tubes (fatter than road tubes in them) with relatively high pressure (60-80 PSI) overnight. Inflating tubes in the tires will get one side of the beads to seat in the rims right away, and will stretch the tires out so they'll lock into place more easily. I speak from experience when I say that taking the step of stretching the tires before you do anything will save time and frustration. And sealant. After letting the tires sit like that overnight, unseat one side of the tire and remove the tube. Note: Be very careful if you're using tire levers to remove your tires! If you slip with the tire lever, you can damage the rim strip and ruin the interface between rim strip, tire bead, and rim!
  2. Install valve stems. Use a pair of pliers to screw the nut on as tightly as possible. That will pull the rubber part of the valve stem deep into the rim and help plug the valve stem hole more completely. These are a pain in the butt to get out, though.
  3. Add sealant. If possible, hang the tire so it's suspended with the valve stem at the bottom. Seat most of the tire bead around the rim but leave a gap down at the bottom where the valve stem is. Pour sealant into that gap (directly into the tire) then carefully turn the tire so the valve stem is at the top and finish installing the tire on the rim. I get the big bottle of Stan's NoTubes sealant, but they also sell a smaller bottle (theoretically enough for two tires, but I'm skeptical) designed for putting sealant in through a removable valve core. If you want to go that route, you remove the valve core (there's a special tool for that, but you can use a pair of pliers if you're careful) and squirt the sealant in through the valve stem. Having the valve core out also makes inflation easier, because more air can get in through the valve stem than through the valve core. Which brings us to . . .
  4. Inflate. This is where stretching the tire should pay off. Ideally, you use an air compressor for this step (you'll need valve adapters, probably), or one of these double-barreled floor pumps designed for seating tubeless tires. I've seen people recommend using a CO2 cartridge to quickly seat tubeless tires, but CO2 gets really cold inside the tire. It can freeze and break the beads (although that's the method advocated on the packaging of my Hutchinson tires, so maybe it varies by tire bead material). If all you have is a track pump, remove the valve core and pump as fast as you can. The principle here is to get as much air into the tire as quickly as possible so the tire expands all over and the beads push into place. If you're having trouble with this step, try using some soapy water (dish soap works fine) with a rag and wet down both sides of the tire. Not sure if it's lubrication that makes this work or if the surfactant in the soap changes how much air can escape, but it's a common trick to get tire beads to seat. Soapy water will also show you where air is escaping. I've also been able to sort of pull the beads into the rim with one hand to help ease the beads into place, but that only works if there are a few gaps. If none of these tricks work, I recommend walking away and having a drink or two then coming back and trying again. Or giving up and finding a new sport. If this ever turns into a blog about curling, you'll know what happened.
  5. Spin, slosh, and shake. Once the beads have seated, you need to shake the wheel around so the sealant sloshes into all the nooks and crannies. Shake the tire in every direction you can think of. Hold it in front of you like a steering wheel and push and pull it vigorously. Steer it side to side. Lay it on its side and spin it, then flip and repeat. Bounce it up and down. If you're losing air mostly out of one side, let the tire rest horizontally, that side down, so the sealant has time to flow into that side of the wheel and seal all the holes. At this point, I would lay them both horizontally (cardboard boxes work well for this purpose, so that the cassette/disc/end caps of hubs have a place to sit) and walk away for a while. Come back after a couple of hours and flip them over. Leave them overnight. Go to sleep and pray that they still have air in them when you wake up.
  6. Ride and check. The next day, assuming they still have air, inflate them to a little higher pressure than you'll normally ride them and go for a short spin. Check the air pressure carefully (digital gauge helps) before and after your ride.
Talking to a teammate/ex-mechanic, it seems like some tires hold air a little better than others, probably down to casing material; a more supple casing will deform better and give a smoother, grippier ride, but it will also be more porous. I had a helluva time getting my Specialized Tracers to hold air last season, but the Hutchinson Toros I'm running this season were no sweat. I'm probably better at the tubeless process, but I think the tires are easier, too.

If you're still having trouble with the tubeless thing, you can always just run tubes with some sealant in them. Or you can take them to your local bike shop and have them install them for you (although that costs more). If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I'll try to get back to you. Or visit my Facebook page and ask there! Good luck!

Update (8/29/2017): A teammate of mine (whose cross racing palmares are extensive) offered these extra tips:

  1. Unless you really know what you're doing, don't try ghetto tubeless. Get tubeless-ready rims and tubeless tires. I know people who have made it work, but if you're an absolute n00b you probably won't and it will just frustrate you and drive you nuts.
  2. Ride your wheels right after you first get them to seat and inflate. That sloshes the sealant around and lets you know right away if they're holding air (or not).
  3. Eric seconds the recommendation for the Bontrager Flash Charger pump (one of the double-barreled floor pumps) and recommends using an air blow gun with a right-angle Presta chuck (often called a "crack pipe" adapter) if you have access to your own air compressor.
Additional note: I know that tubulars are better. They are also more expensive. Please don't leave comments explaining to me why tubeless is worth it because tubulars are so much better. This post wasn't for you.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Race Report: Dirty BikenetiCrit

Top step, baby! VWS goes 1-2!
Bikenetic's annual dirt crit is one of my favorite races of the season. It's flat, fast, dusty, and hot, with a few gravelly turns where it pays to have the right line and some great power sections. It's a good race for me.

All the women raced at basically the same time: there was a 1/2/3 race and a straight 3 that went at the same time with the 4/5 women following one minute later. I was racing the straight 3 with 4 other women and another 3 in the 1/2/3 race. The 4/5 field saw a great turnout, I think about 25 women!

We went off hot from the beginning, determined not to be caught by the large 4/5 field behind us (it's happened in MABRA crits before!). I sat second wheel and attacked on the first corner that required some technique. I waaaaaay overcooked the second corner that required technique and took a little ride through the grass. Then I stayed away for most of the rest of that lap, caught on the final straight before the finish line on the back stretch. From there I drifted to the back of the pack, which had dwindled to a group of a dozen, three from each race. I sat on the back for a few more laps as an attack or two went off and came back quickly.

My teammate was on the front riding tempo as we came through the woods in the front side of the course. As we came up on the one little rise on the course, I put in a big dig and went off the front. I floated through the best line, did not overcook the corner, and had a good gap when I first looked back. I've had a few good attacks this season, but I've always ended up doing too much too soon and wearing out. This time, I was determined to dole out my effort more judiciously so that I could stay away for the rest of the race. I think that happened with 6 laps to go.

I spent the next 4 laps by myself off the front. The moto came up to me a couple of times to give me the splits. "You've got 25 seconds!" He told me before I came around with 5 to go. "30 seconds with one in the gap!" on the next lap. I had an idea of where I could gain the most time (on the flat and downhill sections in the woods) and where I would lose the most time (uphill in the woods and the headwind on the final straight). I dug deep on the sections where I could gain the most and recovered on the sections where I would lose time anyway. I managed my effort well; I kept asking myself, "Could I do exactly this intensity for another 3 laps?"

With 2 to go, one of the women from the 1/2/3 field caught me. "You're in the 1/2/3, right?" I asked. She nodded. "I'm racing the straight 3, so we've got the wins locked up!" We agreed to work together and she gave me a pull through the headwind straight. We traded off that lap and into the next, but she was smart enough to stick me in the wind on the final straight coming to the finish line. I knew that was the right thing to do, and was pretty sure I could not outsprint her. I was still determined to try, though!

She jumped at about 200 m to go. I dug as deep as I could and managed to get back onto her wheel. As I started to pull to the left to come around her, she surged again--a double sprint! I'd already given all I had to get her wheel the first time, but I didn't give up anyway. I gritted my teeth and kept pedaling as hard as I could . . . and of course she beat me.

But I still got to stand on the top step of the podium! And I got some road upgrade points! And I got the congratulations and the "Nice moves!" of the 1/2/3 women, which is like a prize unto itself. My teammate was able to outwit the other cat. 3 in the pack for second place. In our race. We won a six-pack of beer and a mini pie. We had two other people racing from Veloworks-Spokes, Etc.: one won the 45+ masters race and the other got third in the men's single speed race.

Thanks to Bikenetic for putting on a terrific race (one of my favorites), and to our sponsor shop Spokes, Etc. for helping me get my Crux ready for world domination!

Also, in case you hadn't heard, CX is coming . . .

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Sunday Edition (Boonsboro Time Trial and Williamsport Criterium)

Picture courtesy of Vladimir Sarkisov, a.k.a. first place's dad. That's her behind me!
I did not sleep well on Saturday night. I had trouble getting to sleep, and once I finally fell asleep (well after midnight), I woke up every hour or two throughout the night. I got up for the final time at 6-ish, packed up, and drove to Boonsboro.

My stomach was not happy. By the time I got to Boonsboro, I had to use the port-a-loos in an emergency kind of way. Not sure if it was something I ate; I think it's more likely that my body doesn't like hot, hilly road races and was rebelling against the previous day's effort. I started warming up on the trainer but had to take another couple of nature breaks. My legs felt heavy and unresponsive.

I used Best Bike Split to estimate the time I could do on the time trial. I had a pacing strategy that involved going hard on the uphills and recovering on the downhills. I don't have a power meter to monitor my effort level; I was going strictly based on feel. I definitely went hard on the uphills, and recovered on the downhills, but I don't think it helped. It took me to the halfway point to catch my 30 second (ahead) person, and as I made the turn-around I could see my 30 second and 1 minute (behind) person close behind me. They passed me shortly thereafter. The wheels started to fall off. I kept an eye on my computer, just to know how much suffering I had left to go. My 30 second person re-passed me right before the finish line. I stopped my computer and let out a sigh. My time was about 3 minutes slower than last year, and I felt like I'd given absolutely everything I had. I was gutted. Last year, I'd been able to do the time trial in around 28 minutes, and it was good enough for third place. This year, that time would have gotten me first, but I couldn't manage anything close to it. Last year I only did half of the road race, though, and I certainly didn't end up third in it! The increased stress of the previous day was enough (I assume) to ensure that I couldn't hold anywhere near my FTP for the time trial.

And I'm not trained for time trials, anymore. I've been training to my strengths over the past several weeks, which I now think are short, hard efforts--in other words, criteriums! But last year I had 10 years of steady-state training in the bank from triathlon, which gave me an edge in the time trials but I was at a disadvantage in everything else. This year, my time trialing prowess is considerably less, but I've gotten better at the other things. It all balanced out, at least in this race.

After the time trial, I headed back to my car to warm down on the trainer and eat my snacks. My teammates tried to encourage me, but I was feeling low. I stopped spinning after about 10 minutes, stomach still churning, and packed up the car. Back at the hotel, I took a shower and ate some more food, both of which helped me feel better. I packed up the last of my stuff and loaded up the car for one more race.

I set up the team tent (I had custody of it for the weekend) and all my stuff and started spinning right away to warm up. The race was running behind schedule, though, so I got off and walked around. I made a visit to look at the TT results and noticed that I'd fallen to fourth in the GC behind a friend who had taken first in the TT. Grr . . . I needed to gain 20 seconds on her in the criterium in order to keep my podium spot (but also, good for her for kicking butt in the time trial)! I still felt nauseous as I finished my warm-up. A teammate brought me a nylon stocking full of ice to stick down my back, and I can't believe how much it helped!

I got a call-up and started on the front row of the criterium! My start was textbook, too; I got myself clipped in on the first try without even looking. I went into the first few laps sitting third or fourth wheel and stayed there for a while. As the swarm came up around me, I let myself be washed back until I started seeing cat. 4/5 bibs. Some of the surges were hard, but I felt surprisingly awesome! Gone were the waves of nausea; gone was the feeling of deadness in my legs. Every time I demanded a surge in power from my body, it responded, and I was able to stay with the lead group as more and more riders got shelled off the back.

The course was fast with two punchy hills and one sharp right corner. It took me some time to get the hand of the hard right, but I finally found the right line and was able to carry speed through it eventually. The field felt safe and confident. It was some of the most fun I've ever had racing. I even kind of felt like I belonged with the cat. 1/2/3s!

First and second place in the cat. 4/5 GC were still in the lead group with me, but when I looked behind me I realized that everyone else had been dropped and pulled. Going into the final prime lap, an intermediate sprint for bonus seconds, I lost touch with the back of the pack. I surged to catch back on, and spent a few laps chasing. There was one other woman behind me, and we tried to work together to catch back on. But my ice had melted by that point, I was overheating, I had the chills, and I had what I wanted--third place in the GC was in the bag. I pedaled just hard enough to stay within sight of the main pack, and managed to finish as the very last rider on the lead lap.

So I got third last year and third again this year in the Tour of Washington County, but it took a lot more work this year! This was my goal race, and as much as I would have liked to have won it, first and second place were stronger and deserved their spots. I feel like I've grown a lot as a racer in the last year. My legs have gotten stronger, sure; but I've also learned a lot about the tactics of the sport, how to ride in a pack, how to conserve my energy, how to move up or drift back as needed. I've learned some of my strengths and weaknesses as a rider, both in terms of natural and learned ability. Those were big goals that I had for myself going into this season.

But my biggest goal of the season was to move from cat. 4 to cat. 3. Tour of Washington County was my last race as a cat. 4. I submitted my upgrade request and it was confirmed this morning. I'm officially a cat. 3 racer now!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Saturday Edition (Smithsburg Road Race)

Since the women's road race didn't start until 10:30, I had the chance to sleep in a little on Saturday morning. My body woke up at 6:30 anyway, though, after a restless night of sleep. I took advantage of the hotel breakfast before packing up and heading to the Smithsburg High School for staging. I warmed up very briefly by riding around the parking lot a few times before lining up with one teammate for the start. The cat 4/5 men went off 5 minutes ahead of us, a decision that several of us women questioned; we were pretty sure that our race would be neutralized when the men inevitably caught and passed us. Somebody said something to the effect of, "You're the 1/2/3 women! Surely you can hold off the 4/5 men!" Uh, yeah. Sure.

This road race course is moderately rolling throughout, with three short but steep kickers at the end of each lap. Those three hills are probably the deciding factor of this race. The rest of the course is a cinch, comparatively, although the pace picked up on the first, third, and fifth laps for the sprint points competition. A series of attacks strung out the group going into the first intermediate sprint. My legs were already a little tired going into the finishing hills for the first time. I got dropped and figured that was all I would see of the pack for the rest of the race. I was very overheated, to the point of wanting to pull over and vomit. I unzipped my jersey all the way and tried to settle into a hard but manageable pace.

Then, naturally, our race had to be neutralized so the 4/5 men's race could come past us. I'd worked myself back within sight of the neutral support vehicle, but the neutralization is what allowed me to catch back on (I probably would have stayed off the back if not for that). It took a surprisingly long time for the men to get past us. I stayed way in the back of the group, following the lead of some more experienced women. I had no problem staying with that group until the second time up the finishing hills, when I got dropped again.

I worked hard to try to catch back on, though, and was able to tag on with a group of stronger, more experienced riders. A pair of women from Haymarket and one from Vanderkitten and I worked together (although it was mostly one rider from Haymarket) to get all the way back to the pack. I stayed in the lead group again until the third time through the hills, when I fell off for the final time.

Fortunately, I found a few other riders to work with, and a group of 2 to 6 of us worked together for the final 2 laps. We took turns pulling, although we never established much of a rhythm. I was half-hoping that we would get pulled after 4 laps, but instead we got the bell. We stayed together for the final lap, sweeping up a few more riders along the way, until the last time up the hill. On the final climbs, my right quad cramped so much that I couldn't pedal with my right leg at all. So I pedaled one-legged up the hill, shook out my right leg on the downhill, and that gave me enough relief to make it up the final two hills. The group I had been with rode away from me, including one other woman in the cat. 4/5 race. Since I couldn't pedal hard, I took the opportunity to eat the rest of my food and drink the rest of my water to start the recovery process for the next day's races. I made it up the final hill in a little over 2 hours, a few minutes back in the GC from first place and just seconds behind second place.

I'm proud of myself for doing well in this race. I don't think this course suits me; it's too hot and too hilly. In retrospect, I wish I would have used different gearing, too. I had a wheel with an 11-28 cassette on it in my car, but used the wheels with the 12-25 instead because they're a little lighter. I think having the bigger cassette would have been more helpful than a slightly lighter wheelset. Still, I managed a respectable third place in the 4/5 field, and gave myself a good start in the GC competition going into the weekend.

One of my goals for this year was to get better acquainted with my strengths and weaknesses. I trained steady-state for so long as a triathlete that it was the only real strength I had coming into bike racing. Now I'm starting to develop more of a sense of what I'm good at, as a cyclist. Hot and hilly road races ain't it, though! Criteriums, on the other hand . . . well, that's what I'll talk about in tomorrow's installment.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tour of Washington County - Friday Edition (ToWC Kick-off Criterium)

I just got back from a long weekend of racing. It'll make for a long read if I write it up all at once, so I'm submitting it to you in chunks. Chunk #1 is for Friday night, the kick-off crit in Hagerstown, MD.

I'm fortunate to have a job where I can take off at noon on a Friday to go race, so I left mid-afternoon to get on the road to Hagerstown before the traffic apocalypse that is Friday night in the suburbs of D.C. Even so, the drive took twice as long as usual. I was grumpy and out-of-sorts by the time I got to the cheap hotel I'd booked for the weekend. Also, one of the cats peed on my duffel bag, so I had that pleasing aroma to keep me company on the drive up. Add to that the fact that Emily had to stay home because of an appointment she had on Saturday, and I was having a day.

There was rain in the forecast. The sky was gray as I parked in downtown Hagerstown and got my numbers from registration. By the time I kitted up and started riding the course to warm up, it was sprinkling.

This was a women's open field and their regional championship crit, so I felt in over my head. I was there mostly to support a teammate, and I needed to keep my powder dry for the weekend and not crash. Tour of Washington County was my A race for the season, but the kick-off crit didn't contribute to the GC; it was just for fun. I told my teammate, who wouldn't mind having the championship jersey, that I would be there for her in the end if I could. We made tentative plans, then lined up for the start.

It was legit raining by then. The oil and grime was welling up on the roads. The corners were slick. I stayed near the back of the bunch, which was fast in the straights and ginger in the corners. Five corners, one more of a chicane, with a short, punchy hill on the back side made up the course. There were zebra crossings (stripes of white paint) and bricks on the corners. It only took one lap for someone's rear wheel to slide out on the chicane. Three or four women went down. I barely avoided a downed bike and hopped onto the sidewalk to get around the crash. It took a lap or two to chase back on, but I made it after 2 laps.

The pace was manageable for me, so I moved up into the top 10 wheels after getting settled. I followed an attack by a Charlottesville rider, then took the inside line on the chicane (which no one else took for the whole race, for some reason) to go off on my own. I didn't have any ambitions of staying away, but I wanted to get one tough effort into my legs for the next day's road race. I stayed away for about a lap, then tagged on to the back of the group as they caught me.

It was raining steadily, and the corners were treacherous. About halfway through the race, a rider from Baltimore Bicycling Club went down in front of me and I slid out trying to avoid her. One other woman went down and another dropped her chain trying to avoid us. No one was hurt, and no bikes were hurt. I'd torn my skinsuit, though, and all I could think to say was, "Aw man! This thing was $180!" In retrospect, I wish I would have said, "You guys okay? Let's go to the pits for our free lap!" The other three took off and I followed at a much slower pace. My brake levers were twisted in so much that I couldn't prop myself up on them. I stopped in the pit to have my brake levers fixed and because I could, but the other three were trying to chase back on. I assumed they didn't want to take the risk of being in the pack, but one of the women later told me she didn't realize she could go to the pit for a free lap. So again, I wish I would have said something about it instead of complaining about skinsuit damage.

I got a push from the mechanic and got back in with the main pack, now down to 10 riders. I had no trouble matching their pace, but I was skittish in the corners and kept getting gapped. The bell rung, the race announcer shouted, "$10 prime!" and I though, "I don't want to crash and die for $10!" The pace hotted up a little, I was still getting gapped in every corner and surging to catch back on, and eventually I said, "Screw this, I have to race hard all weekend" and dropped myself off the back. After two or three laps on my own, I got the hang of the corners and was able to take them at speed, but I don't regret dropping out of the group. One of the more experienced racers, a woman I respect very much, pulled off to the side and DNFed after the first crash. She has little kids. She didn't want to risk a dangerous crash like what had just happened. I respect that very much. It was safer for me and for everyone else around me to drop back and finish the race on my own terms.

I did several more laps on my own. Eventually, on the finishing stretch, I looked around to see the pace car turning the final corner just as I went through the start/finish line. I knew that would probably be my last lap. I got pulled on the next lap; I think there were 2 or 3 to go at that point. Two women got a gap in the final prime lap, probably just before I got pulled, and held it to take first and second. My teammate attacked into the final corner and held her sprint all the way for third place.

There was one woman from NCVC who was taken out on a stretcher after that first crash. Fortunately, she was discharged from the hospital that evening and went on to win second in the women's open GC for the weekend. All of the women made it out of that race safely, but there were a few of us who left with a little less skin!

Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment in my Tour of Washington County weekend!

Monday, June 12, 2017

When Cycling Makes Me Grouchy

Emily never takes me seriously when I get grumpy because she says I look like this.

This year, I've developed a new warning sign for overtraining: when I'm under a lot of training stress, I get really grouchy.

I've noticed a greater tendency to react negatively and aggressively to motorists (and other cyclists) late in a long bike ride, when I'm tired and hot and hungry. Sometimes I make stupid mistakes. Sometimes I'm rude. Sometimes I grouse in my head and complain to myself for half an hour. Sometimes I have enough presence of mind to short-circuit my responses before they get out of hand, but other times it's not until I'm home, showered, and fed that I realize, "Oh right, that guy did have the right of way!"

This problem is similar to one that a continental pro cyclist addressed in a recent article in Peloton magazine: she was tired on the second day of a tough stage race. Her fatigue led to a poor handling mistake, and she went down with a broken collarbone and concussion. I've had that experience of feeling my handling and decision-making skills disappear over the course of a hard workout, to where I'm scared to ride in a pack by the end of a tough race.

This article is less instructional than observational, but I do have some suggestions for how to cope with this phenomenon. First off, be aware that your mood and reactions can be an indication of fatigue and hunger, and use them as an excuse to take it easier through the end of a ride or stop and have some extra food and drink.

Second, in race or group ride situations, be aware of how your fatigue level may affect your responses. Be slow to swear or yell at other riders or motorists, especially in race situations. If you feel that fatigue is affecting your ability to handle your bike or respond quickly enough to the moves of other riders, move towards the back of the pack to put yourself and others out of danger. Perhaps you can even recover and eat back there, so that you can eventually move back up and into contention. But even if you can't get back into contention, better to finish at the back (or off the back) of the pack rather than risk bodily harm to yourself or others.

You can also practice developing mental acuity when you're already fatigued. I listened to an interview with Ryan Aitcheson where he talked about practicing math problems and critical thinking late in difficult trainer workouts. Choose a venue where you'll be safe, wear yourself down for a bit, then force yourself to think and make decisions.

Finally, be aware of changes in your overall mental and physical state. Have you been extra snarky to your spouse over the past few days? Maybe it's time to take a recovery week and let the stress clear from your system. Be familiar with your base state, and be prepared to skip workouts if needed to avoid making your friends and family members hate you.

That's my spiel for this week. I'm coming off of a week of recovery and going into a taper week for the Tour of Washington County next weekend, which is my A race for this season. It will also likely be my final race as a cat. 4! I'll tell you all about it when I get back next weekend!