Sunday, April 21, 2013

East Canyon / Echo Road Race...the weather lived up to expectations

A fine day for racing to be sure. We started off in the small town of Henefer, with overcast skies and reports of pouring rain at the top of the first climb at East Canyon. It's tough to plan your weather gear for a race like this; with a mixed forecast of snow, rain, wind, and dry spells. You overdress and get cooked going up the climbs but when the nasty weather hits you're already so sweaty that the extra layers don't help much.  Anyway, I ended up racing with a thin base layer, full length roubaix tights, and a winter racing jacket over my jersey. In my rush to get ready in the minutes before the starting bell, I left off my water resistant shoe covers, which I would later regret (I couldn't feel my feet at the finish line).

We started with the rest of the group at 10:40 AM. There was no warm up before the race hit the hills of East Canyon. Let me be clear. This is not the type of start that I'm suited for. I'm more of an endurance guy - there's probably not a fast twitch muscle in my body.  ...I quickly realized the pace at the outset was not realistic so I backed off a bit. Dave and Aaron stayed with the group until I was able to rejoin Dave halfway up the climb. Aaron stayed with the front group - he's a great climber and I knew he'd do well this race.

That group stayed together until the top of East Canyon when mother nature decided to unleash her fury. First light rain..then pouring rain...then sleet/snow...then stinging hail with strong winds. Nothing like a little sand blasting to the side of your face as you try to make contact with the guys in front of you.  Good times. 

At that point Aaron got isolated between a couple guys off the front and a group behind him.
I plugged away through the nasty weather, glasses fogged up, just trying not to loose sight of 3 guys up ahead that I wanted to join. Part way up the first climb Dave told me he was going to bump his pace down a bit to recover for subsequent climbs. I kept going and Dave eventually rejoined me just before the decent back into Henefer. We rode the rest of the race together, with the exception of the final miles of the last climb.

Anyway...Dave and I traded pulls for the next 45 miles, back down into Henefer, along Highway 89 and up Echo Canyon. Echo canyon was a very gradual, rolling climb - nothing very difficult at all. At the top of Echo, just as we felt like we were finally drying out from the wet weather in East Canyon, the storm hit us again. More rain, more wind, more cold. All Dave and I could do was do our best to trade pulls at the front, keep our heads down out of the wind and rain, and soldier on.

Finally we passed back through Henefer (again) for the final summit finish at the top of Hogs back. At that point I was just focusing on turning the cranks and keeping some form of momentum. I had long since lost any hope of looking 'proper' or catching anyone from the front group. Not sure if it was the wind, cold, or wet weather, but you get isolated in that stuff and it's hard to maintain a good average speed. I was soaked, cold, and couldn't feel my feet.
Finally, with the summit in sight I unzipped my jacket and limped across the finish over 20 minutes behind Aaron. Dave, who gave me the benefit of some monster pulls for a good part of the race, came in a moment later. I haven't checked the race results yet, so I'm not sure how I placed, but I do know there weren't too many that came in after me.  Aaron put in a solid race, staying with a very strong group of climbing specialists for a good part of the race, finishing somewhere in the middle part of the field.

The interesting thing about races like this: you're out there in miserable weather that no sane person would consider exposing themselves to while riding a bike; you're counting the miles to the finish, forcing yourself to eat, ignoring the cold, the wind, and the numb feet. Yet when you finish, suddenly all those sensations turn into a feeling of satisfaction at having done a solid day on the bike with good friends to share the experience with, through epic weather conditions. At the end of the day, it turned out to be an incredible day at the races, with some excellent learning experiences:

- Smart pace up the climbs. I am not a climbing specialist, but once I get warmed up, I can stay with the pack on the moderate stuff. I burned my candle too early in this race.

-Being very much a climbing race, I could have lightened my load a bit. My winter jacket is heavy, I packed too much food, and I could have lightened my repair kit pre-race.

-Even though the race had several climbs there were still lots of flats and rollers - saving some energy on the first climb could have given me the opportunity working with Dave and perhaps a few others to regain some time on the flats (or at least maintain any gaps that formed)

-Gotta 'spin' more on those climbs! Lower gear, faster cadence. I'm an old guy and my knees don't enjoy climbing in the 39/23 any more. Why on earth does my ego get in the way of downshifting?!?!!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

East Canyon Road Race This Weekend....looks like we'll have lovely weather (sarcasm)

And the weather forecast for this weekend's race is...drumroll...

Good times.

Aaron, Dave, and I will be racing. The race has a lot of rollers, descents, with a few short climbs mixed in and a very gradual extended climb near the end. It'll be interesting to see how the group holds together over the course of the race. Perfect race for break-aways. The lighter guys should do really well on this course. I'm more of a diesel @ 180 lbs so we'll see how things play out. Aaron and Dave are both lighter so I think this course suits them perfectly.  We'll definitely miss having Mark with us, he's a tall guy, he can motor along with the best of 'em, but climbs very well. Weather will definitely be a factor. Bring yer cold & wet weather gear!

Race website:

The course is more or less a semi out-and-back course that retraces much of it's route on the way back to the finish. Hennefer up to East Canyon State Park, back to Henefer, up Echo Canyon, back down, through Henefer (as if the kind folks there won't get enough of us the first two times through...) with a finish halfway back up to East Canyon State Park on Hogs-Back:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Team bike spy shots

I guess you can't really call them spy shots when they were taken by the builder himself...

The Zanconato Racing Team bikes (Columbus MAX - a material that would make most plastic bikes --oops I mean carbon fiber-- run away, tail between the legs) are in-process and soon to be delivered.  Once we have them delivered, we'll ride them and love them, and they will be ours...oh yes...they will be ours.  I say that as I lean back in my chair, with my hands together, fingers spread apart touching at the tips.  Yeah most other local cats will be on their mass produced carbon bikes out of Asia (not that there's anything wrong with that), but we maintain that these bikes will be every bit as fast, hold a line better, and look prettier to boot.  It's all a matter of taste of course, but one thing's for sure: In ten years you'll be able to look at a bike with round tubes and you won't immediately think: "uh yeah..2013 called and they want their bike back".

Enjoy the shots, courtesy of Mike Zanconato's Flikr feed:

Down tubes.  The sharpie markings are initials & respecitve measurements for each team member.

Here's the front end of Mark's bike coming together (top tube, head tube, down tube).  Remember, these bikes will be painted Belgium Blue, with black accents everywhere else on the bike. They'll be outfitted with Enve forks, Campagnolo Chorus buid kits, wheels of choice, Ritchey components, Selle Italia saddles, and the cranks will be SRM / Campagnolo Super Record. 

  For more, see

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hell of the North Salt Lake (channeling Paris Roubaix)

  • Zanconato Racing places a rider in the top 10
  • Close call podium finish missed due to flat on the last lap
  • Roster: Dave Baker (#351), Mark Otterson (#365), Aaron Branham (#365)
  • Click here for race day pictures

Wayne didn't race (home on kid duty) but both Aaron and Dave wrote up some excellent race reports. First we have Aaron's account:
Hell of the North - Circuit Race, with its long gravel section and rough farm roads, it is Northern Utah's nod to the Spring Classics.  The prior day's rain worked to our advantage this year by keeping the dust in check and the leftover puddles were manageable.  The course is an elongated rectangle with the gravel section taking up all of one side.  The wind was out of the South which meant we had it at our backs while in the gravel, which encouraged fast riding through the sketchiest part of the race.  The other added variables are the possibility of flats from the pot-holed farm roads or the nasty goat-head thorns that plague all Utah riders.
Here is how the race played out for us (Mark, Dave, and myself): It began with a neutral start where we all rolled out slowly together for a mile beginning at the registration area through the Start/Finish Line, and then...Game-On!!  After a ¼ mile of straight the first right hand turn introduced the run through the gravel section and the group put the hammer down.  This accelerated early pace worked everyone and created some separation. Two more right hand turns brought us face to face with a brisk headwind that slowed things down and brought the group back together for the remainder of the first lap.
Throughout the ride our team generally rode within the front group of 10+ riders, taking a turn or two pulling the bunch.  The second time through the gravel section was again fairly intense, and this served to break things up further into a couple smaller groups.  I held close to Mark’s wheel as he hammered furiously in step with the two lead riders in front of him.  The bunch did not come together as before on the return trip, and outside of a couple breakaway attempts, we all settled into a moderate rhythm through the next two laps.
The bell lap brought the race to life.  The pace was much faster passing through the start/finish line and the higher speed into the corner leading to the gravel created some nervous chatter.  It also set the stage for a fantastic sustained acceleration that blew apart the lead group.  Rocks were ping-ponging off spokes as we all spun hard to keep up.  But, only 8 riders were able to hang with that pace and they began to form together after about 200 yards. Mark was a solid part of that new lead group.  I felt a sense of desperation as I saw his Belgium Blue jersey pull away with the others; a decision on my part had to be made immediately.
I’m guessing most riders go through this gut-check/self-assessment experience while racing, attempting to determine if they have what it takes to sustain an increase in pace, answering an attack, wondering if they have the reserves to keep from completely blowing up, and calculating future opportunities for recovery.  I cannot quantify the amount of mental gymnastics my mind went through in that instant, but I made the call to attempt to grab the wheel of another guy who was also getting gapped.  This rider had shown strength and consistency throughout the race so far, and I quickly sized him up and his pace as something I could hang with.
The challenge was that he was 50 feet in front of me, and I could tell he was intent on attempting to make his way back to the lead group.  I buried myself and got his wheel, but after a few seconds in his draft I discovered that I was unwelcome company.  He attacked and I responded.  I needed 15 or 20 seconds to get myself together, so I stayed on his wheel, and got the desired rest.  The flick of his elbow that followed indicated that he had done some sizing of his own, and we began to trade pulls.
As we approached the end of the gravel with only ½ a lap remaining to my horror I saw Mark stopped on the side of the road looking down at his tire.  I yelled at him, but no response; it was a race-ending flat.  He was so strong today; I know he would have made top three.My race continued, and I soon realized that the combined pace of my reluctant partner and I was still insufficient to bridge up to the remaining 7 leaders. 
While riding into the headwind our twosome expanded to 5, and so it was time to leverage some learning from my prior two crits.  I don’t have a strong sprint, and I’m better off to break early with hopes they cannot sustain the pace.  With this in mind, at 1/3rd of a mile out, I made my brake away attempt.  It turns out they were not far behind, and my move served more to tow the other 4 for a few hundred yards.  Coming around the final corner three of the five riders soon accelerated around me.  Two with real power, but the other could not hang with them.  I squeezed out the remaining gas in my tank and pulled pass this guy for a 10th place finish.  Dave rolled up shortly thereafter, finishing strong with his usual big smile.
It was a great day with two lessons learned.  More interval training is needed to help match accelerations, and we need to invest in some bullet proof tires for Mark our strong man.

Race Report on The Hell of the North Salt Lake 2013...or...My View from the Back of the Race
 As homage to the true Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix, today's race certainly lived up to its name.  And although the weather conditions weren't severe enough to produce Flanders Facials or Flemish Tan Lines (, there was still plenty of agony to be dispensed.  The course for Cat 5s was 25 miles on a 5-mile circuit situated northeast of the Salt Lake Airport.  The west side of the circuit had a 1.5 mile section of gravel and dirt for an approximation of the cobblestones of northern France. 
 Aside: Properly 40.23km with 5 sections of gravĂ© (as opposed to pavĂ©).
 Mark, Aaron, I and 26 other riders had a neutral rollout on the east side of the circuit, and a rolling start across the start/finish line on the south side.  The pace was brisk, yet comfortable.  Once we turned the corner to the gravel section, the pace immediately went full-out.  I think the look of panic on most riders' faces was the realization they and/or the person in front of them had no discernible control of their bicycle.  Three times I felt my front tire nearly wash out, and my rear tire wasn't faring much better. 
 I remembered hearing how the pro riders push a big gear along the cobbles in order to keep enough pressure on the pedals.  I was already in the big ring, so I clicked over two cogs and immediately felt the bike settle down.  I had followed Mark and Aaron to about the middle of the peloton when the reality of what I had done began to take hold.  Normally I spin a high cadence, and although pushing a bigger gear gave me more traction, it was like bounding up a flight of stairs two or three steps at a time, when being accustomed to taking one step at a time.
 By the end of the gravel section, my lungs were burning and I had fallen back a bit.  As we rounded the corner onto the pavement of the north section, we got hit with a crosswind.  I wasn't positioned well, missed the echelon and found myself fighting against the wind, lungs still on fire.  I latched onto two other riders and we made it back to the main group about half way through the east section.  As far as I could tell, Mark and Aaron were staying close to the front.
 When we came around for a second pass at the gravel, it was more of the same torture.  It was too big of a gear for a sustained effort, while anything less meant slowing down to maintain stability, but I kept trudging forward.  At the end of the section, the main group was still in sight, but pulling away.  I tried staying with a couple of other stragglers, but despite my best Jens Voigt, the legs were winning the shouting match.  Even though I had fueled sufficiently, I thought I had bonked. 
 On the east side of lap 2, a rider passed me and suggested I jump on his wheel.  I was doubtful but willing.  He pulled me through the rest of that lap and the entirety of lap 3. At one point I thought I was pedaling squares, but given the name of this event, I may have been pedaling pentagrams.  By lap 4 I felt better and stopped the wheel sucking.  My legs were back and I could breathe steadily.  I pulled for the first half of lap 4 and most of 5.  Gravel, crosswind, headwind: I was taking it all on by this point.
 By the time we rolled across the finish line, Aaron had been kicking back for 7 minutes, having finished in the top 10.  Mark's race was the most agonizing.  He was positioned for a podium finish when he flatted with half a lap to go.  Argh!  In fact, of the 29 starters, there were 7 DNFs.  For such a short race, it took its vengeance.
1. Build leg power to push a bigger gear when needed.
2. More practice riding at tempo.
3. Be sure to get into the echelon.
4. Already looking forward to next year.
5. The pro riders are not normal
Ride on.

Friday, April 5, 2013

RMR Criterium, Saturday March 30

Aaron Branham scores a 2nd place for Zanconato Racing!

Nice Weather. Good to be working the cobwebs out of the legs a bit after a few days off the bike. This is a local training race, but it's still fun to don the racer boy spandex and play make believe...for the Salt Lake City "World Championships"!!  Everyone's a rock star right? :) Anyway, Aaron pulled out a few stops and easily managed a podium 2nd place finish, just getting pipped at the line by a guy he towed around for the last two laps. Nicely done Aaron.

Mid race, coming around for yet another photo op, a bit of a break away going on here. Aaron in light blue Zanc kit (we're anxiously awaiting delivery of the official black team Zanconato racing kit...back in black baby!). That's me in the "see no evil, hear no evil 90's" Motorola jersey.   -Nothing exciting going on here folks...just move along.

Aaron coming in for the Sprint finish...lost first position by a matter of inches. Next time time...

RMR Criterium, Tuesday April 2
Mark Otterson scores a 1st place for Zanconato Racing!

Sorry, no pics this time... It was Dave Baker, Mark Otterson, and myself. This time the race was in the evening. I decided to ride to the race course after work from downtown..a short 11 miles. Problem is, procrastinator that I am, I put off leaving work until the last minute and had to hurry it up on the ride out. A good headwind didn't help matters. Rode up to the start line just in time to say hi to Mark and Dave.

We had the usual suspects in our flite - starting to recognize faces now. Absent was the big clyde who seems averse to ever riding in the hoods or drops, taking pulls, or even getting into the pace line. He just seems content to sit out there to the side while the rest of us rotate in the pace line. Weird. The thing is...he's pretty strong and I won't deny that I've taken a few lazy breaks behind his wheel. He breaks a lot of wind (no, not that kind silly) Moses parting the Red Sea.  Ok, I digress. Back to the race. 

Anyway, Mark pulled for a lap or two, I took a few turns at the front, and so did Dave. Mark did a good job settling things down from the get go. Big wide sweeping out for that storm drain in the middle...back stretch...a few pot holes, but more or less uneventful until you get to the s-turn (I call it a "chicane" because it makes me feel euro-cool). Post S-turn there's another straightaway, then a sprint around that hair pin turn I mentioned in a past post and every one re-groups for a nice recovery ride into the headwind. Rinse-Lather-Repeat. Second to last lap, a skinny guy (i.e., not me) took off and Mark responded. Mark is a strong rider...don't mess with him.  Heh, just kidding -he's the nicest guy in the world...unless you are cheeky enough to attack when he's in the same peloton you are. So that pretty much ruined any semblance of organization going on with several others trying to follow, lots of gaps, others sitting in (like Dave and I...but I won't kid anyone, I couldn't follow if I tried). It was  pretty clear Mark was going to own this thing so Dave and I went into 2 person TT mode to bridge up to the chasing group. We just wanted to get back on before the final stretch. Thanks to some incredible pulls by Dave and taking a few turns myself, we were able to do just that, so I'll count the race as a success for all of us.  I have no idea where we placed...but what matters is Mark's nice win!