Why I race

I was talking to one of my good friends, Jen, last week about what our motivation for bike racing is.  I honestly hadn’t thought that much about it but I know that I love doing it since I’ve been a competitive person for most of my life.  She said that part of the reason she likes to attack is making people suffer, which is interesting and slightly worrying for someone in medical school.

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Credit to Carl D’Agostino

Bike racing isn’t really something that people do casually.  To be competitive at some level involves a bit of dedication and hard work, which is magnified at the higher levels.  You can come out and get thrashed every week but people these days don’t enjoy having the notion that they suck at something reinforced on a weekly basis.  The level of dedication required for high level competition is displayed in this video on Justin Rossi’s second place at Amateur Nationals TT this year.  In order to be the best at something, you need to have something that motivates to you and drives you to be the best.

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Justin Rossi riding to the lead in the Little City Stage Race in 2014. (Photo credit to norcalcyclingnews)

I’ve had an extended winter break which has given me time to reflect on what I’m doing going forward with my life and why I’m doing it.  I want to be doing things that make me happy and willing to wake up in the morning.  Bike racing has been at the forefront of my activities for the past two years or so as more and more of my time has been committed to it.  Since I was old enough to stand, I’ve been involved in competitive sports: baseball, basketball, karate, soccer, ultimate frisbee.  Name a sport and I’ve probably played it at one point or another.

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Me attempting to sports in the younger years

In middle school, I started swimming and that’s where my delve into endurance sports and hard training started.  Previously, sports were just show up and play a game but swimming involves actual preparation and a separate day of competition. It was a real revelation in my life that there is more than just playing the game in terms of improving. I didn’t really get more serious about the training side until I entered high school, when I realized how much I enjoy the thrill of improving times, winning heats and moving up in state rankings.

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My second TT podium of the summer (photo credit to Hans Ruppenthal).

That is where the root of my journey in competitive cycling really lies: I love to compete, improve and win.  It’s something that I want to continue doing for the rest of my life, whether I’m doing it professionally or just as a hobby.

Goals for 2016

This past summer, while in the throes of bike racing and hating my job, I made a contribution to a Kickstarter project called the basics notebook.  This product is a notebook which has spaces to remind you to complete tasks that contribute to your goals and continue to work hard.  Being a college student is really not that difficult, being a club president is not difficult and training to be a high-level competitive cyclist is not that difficult.  However, combine them and add in a couple of personal projects and you’d better believe it gets difficult.

In the middle of the semester though, I felt like I was losing my vision and forgetting what I was really working for.  Each part of my life that I do work for has a purpose; I want the cycling club to prosper and for myself to prosper as a cyclist and engineer.  When you lose that vision, motivation can go out the door pretty quickly.

My family went on vacation to St. John a couple weeks ago and it gave me time to set out my goals for the year and really remind myself what I’m working for.  So, I set out four goals that I would like to fulfill and five habits that I would like to build up to over the course of the year.  By making each goal and habit quantifiable and establishing a basic strategy for each, I hope to make them easier to complete.    They are as follows:

Goals:

  1. Improve GPA to 3.5 by end of 2016 (from 3.35 at start of Fall 2015 semester)
    • Study at least 1h each day, even when there is nothing due
  2. Recover Spanish Proficiency to level necessary to take Spanish 303 by September 2016
    • Practice once per week on Duolingo in March (.5 hour)
    • Practice twice per week on Duolingo in April and May
    • Practice three times per week on Duolingo in June, July and August
    • Read two novels in Spanish
  3. Become UMD Cycling Coach for 2016-2017 school year
    • Take test to become USAC Level 3 coach by August 2016
    • Finish “Cyclist’s guide to the Galaxy” (my guide on cycling training) by February 15, 2016 (in time for a school contest)
    • Write barebones team training plan by September 2016
  4. Become part of an amateur elite cycling team by the end of 2016
    • Ride with one of my desired teams by start of race season
    • Improve P/W at threshold to 4.75 by May 2016
    • Podium a P/1/2/3 race by October 2016 (Nats crit would be fantastic)
    • Send consistent (once per month) email updates to teams

Habits:

  1. Call Extended Family once per week
  2. Write on blog twice per week (gradually ramping up from once every other week)
  3. Complete food consumed and feeling journal four times per week
  4. Stretch five times per week
  5. Practice Spanish three times per week (ramping from once)

I’m really looking forward to doing some great things this year.  A full off-season with my coach, Menachem Brodie, has begun to show some great improvements on the bike.  I’d really like to have a good collegiate season and cap it off with a podium at nationals but we’ll.  In addition, I have found a real job for the summer at Northrop Grumman as a Materials Process Engineer.  This has been incredibly exciting after a couple of disappointing summers and it will allow me to gain some awesome work experience,to grow my network and to support my racing ventures (fingers crossed for a cross bike this fall).

If you haven’t already taken time to consider what you’re doing this year, I would highly recommend it.

Spokes out.

Major League Cycling

Recently, I came across an online post about starting something called “Major League Triathlon,” (I’m going to abbreviate it as MLT) which you can find here. The overall idea is to create a version of the triathlon which draws in people from outside the sport to spectate and take part in an event.  The idea centers around spectator-friendly courses with 4-person teams (2 men and 2 women) competing in a mixed super sprint relay (swim, bike, run, run) combined with a weekend of amateur racing and a large festival-like atmosphere.  Each team is to be affiliated with a city so that each one has a “home city” and each city of those will host a race each year, to make people feel like they have a hometown team.

I have actually been thinking about the way that the top level of cycling is run for the past couple of weeks and have an idea for how to improve the format of the sport.  I promise that I’ll get back to carbon fiber eventually, this is just what’s on my mind right now

State of the Sport

The National Racing Calendar is and has been shrinking for the past few years; in 2007, there were 95 race days on the calendar (including the crit series) compared to 22 NRC days and 24 NCC days this past year.  The closest thing we probably have to “Major League Cycling” is USA Crits.  USA Crits is a series of criteriums around the country, some of which overlap with USA Cycling’s NCC series and it includes the Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium, which is estimated to get between 20,000 and 30,000 spectators each year.

As Jonathan Vaughters, Oleg Tinkoff and other high-profile players in the sport have said, cycling has a lot of important history but we need to start thinking about how to improve the sport and develop a stable platform for growth.  At the UCI and WorldTour level, there are a lot of dynamics in play that I am unfamiliar with, so I am going to discuss something that I’m a little more familiar with: the american criterium and how we can start to grow cycling’s appeal in the United States.

Major League Cycling (MLC)

I like the concept that MLT tries to introduce with assigning athletes to franchises in different cities and I think that in the future, cycling could be like that.  However, currently most pro cyclists will have obligations to pro or development teams so it would have to be an event-based things that make pro teams want to attend the events.  And what do pro teams like: Money.  The Abu Dhabi Tour proved this when they struck a deal with Velon to pay teams to bring their star riders in order to attract more eyeballs to the tour.  I doubt that Philipe Gilbert, Fabio Aru or newly crowned world champion Peter Sagan were jumping out of their socks to race in 50 C weather in October.

In order to make money, these races need to be more than just races, they need to be events that cities will want to host and that people will want to attend.  This is where MLT hits the nail on the head: beer garden, concert series and things that other people might want to participate in (like the Athens Red Bull Chariot Races).  Charging for things like beer, up-close concert and race seats and eventually, maybe even TV rights, will allow these events to have some level of longevity.  Duke University hosted a race called the Bull City Grand Prix last year and their report at our conference meeting was that businesses around the course were begging for them to bring the race back.  Many of them had record sales on the day.  That is the kind of atmosphere we want to foster, where communities want to host this kind of event.

How it should work

So, this is what I am imagining: a 12-race series with enough prize money (maybe appearance fees) that the top racers and top teams, men and women, are able to be there each time.  Each one should be a circuit that has high exposure in a population center (not necessarily a big city) with local businesses that would benefit from a large event.  In order to form something of a “brand” like Ironman, it would be ideal to have equal prize lists between genders and start solidifying teams.  Like everyone on the WorldTour says, there needs to be a narrative through the season: is one guy having a hot streak?  Is there an amateur who’s been up there consistently with the Pros?  How many races can Hilton Clarke win?

The NCC and USA Crits are both bike bike race series but I feel like we need our sport to have more “events,” like Athens, in order to continue to grow the sport and make it more appealing.  There needs to be a big social media presence constantly touting the narrative, talking about the racers and the results.  Did you know who won the Rochester Twilight Criterium right after it happened?  Probably not.  I did, but only because I was there.  Even competitive cyclists hardly care about who is winning the NCC.  This is a huge opportunity to really capture the imagination of the amateur cycling audience and create a brand that makes people realize that cycling is not just a hobby for some, it’s a way of life.

I may just be some college student with a category 3 license and a big mouth, but I think that Crit racing has the potential to go big time if someone is willing to invest the energy.

Why do Bike Frames Fail? Part 1

I’m going to move from something that I really have no credential to be talking about (physiology) to something that is likely to be part of my career: material properties.  Alberto Contador crashed at high speed in the 2014 Tour de France, abandoned due to a broken tibia and somehow, one of the Tinkoff-Saxo bikes ended up broken on the side of the road.  Several stories came out of the crash but the final rendition featured the TS team car speeding past the Belkin team car, clipping Contandor’s bike and destroying it.  People often make light of the fact that “steel is real” and go bananas over the way carbon fiber sometimes, in rare cases, fails catastrophically.  Today, I’m going to explain how metals work and the failure mechanism that you would see in a bike crash.

In terms of analysis, strength and structure, metals are very easy to look at and explain.  Steel was used in competition bikes from their invention up to the early 90s, when aluminum and titanium began to come into use.  Carbon fiber was experimented with in many ways and was introduced into bike production in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Nowadays, all bikes and wheels in the peloton are made from carbon fiber.  However, there are still some in the cycling community who insist that carbon fiber is a disease come to slay us all via random failure.

Titanium, aluminum and steel each have different crystal structures, which is to say that the atoms are stacked differently, but the concept is the same: there is a large, regular lattice of atoms like in the picture below.

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The pattern above is repeated in perpetuity in three dimensions to form a large steel, aluminum or titanium structure.  Things start to get interesting when you pull on the lattice and begin to create strain, the measure of how much a component has been stretched.  Let’s imagine there is a force attempting to bend a steel frame tube due to a crash, like in the picture below.  You can see that the wall of the tube on the outside of the force will be pulled apart, so that is what I am going to model.

The atomic bonds in the above image of the lattice are straight lines but in reality, they are more like springs as in A below.  As force is applied, the bonds begin to stretch until they are straightened out (B) at which point, there is a slight yield as some of the bonds break (C).  After that, the straightened bonds are stretched until all of the bonds break at the Ultimate Tensile Strength (D).  Finally, the broken bonds are pulled until the structure is entirely broken (E).

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If the applied force is below the point reached at B, then the displacement is known as elastic strain, and the material can return to its initial shape and length, like elastic.  Beyond that point, the material enters the inelastic region and any strain beyond there will not be recovered.  The elastic strain will still be recovered though; it is only once you reach the Ultimate Tensile strength that none of the elastic strain is recovered.  The graph below is a data-based representation of the image above.  Stress (the y-axis) is the applied force and strain (the x-axis) is the amount of displacement from the original length or shape.

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The failure mechanisms for steel and carbon fiber are different and the speed at which it occurs is usually much different.  I used to ride an aluminum bike and although I didn’t break it, I now understand atomically what is going on when I rode it.  Next week, I will explain the structure of carbon fiber and why it fails so catastrophically on the rare occasions when it does.