Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Form

We held another team practice today at the Dan Ryan Woods. In my opinion the parcours that we ride here is on par if not better than some of the races we will see this year. Everyone seems to be absolutely flying this year. Tony is just an absolute powerhouse, Elvis is as smooth as can be showing perfect form especially on the run-ups. Jorge is our sleeper, if you don't keep an eye out for him he WILL beat you. And Bob made a discovery today about gear inches and chainring sizes, give him a few days to adjust and he will be finishing top 20-30 no doubt. I feel good as well, lateley I have been able to really get on top of big gears and suffer no consequences doing so. In fact, I seem to recover a bit while pushing a 38x13 on the grass sections.

I hope to contact Ben this week to see if I can glean any inside info about DeKalb this Sunday. We have incorporated some singletrack as well as off-camber sections into our course in the hopes of preparing us for the race. I would love to find out what we can expect though as far as how technical it may be. Since I come from the dirt I am not that concerned, but the more we know the better.

As always we will be holding our weekly practice sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 5:30 pm at the Dan Ryan Woods.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ben Popper-Superstar!

He was able to hang with Lance for a few laps at CrossVegas on Wednesday then decided he wanted to have a little fun with the crowd. So PRO.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Words of Wisdom

"Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential"-Winston Churchill

In other words, don't give up because the other guy might be stronger or more experienced. Those that win do so because they want it more.

Its Official!

The reults are now posted and complete for the Illinois Cycling Associations Illinois Cup Series and our man Elvis Falbo has won the Masters 30+ 4-5 category for the 2008 road season.

While he did not race all of the ten races in the series, the 5 races that he did compete in he scored valuable points. Perhaps his biggest achievement of the season came early when he took his first victory at the 2nd Annual Vernon Hills Grand Prix. It was in fact this win that secured his place in the overall. Initially the ICA had recorded his points as a Masters 40+ 4-5, not the 30+ like it should have. This oversight would have placed him 4th overall. However a bit of detective work and a few emails later and Elvis was back at the top of the standings where he belonged.

Congratulations go out to both Elvis and the team for this great achievement in just our first year of racing.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


All Photos Courtesy of Eric Nelson

And with that the 2008 Chicago Cyclocross Cup is off with a bang. This is what we have been waiting for since last December, and Greg and the entire xXx Team did not disappoint. The weather was perfect, the course was incredible, both in a good way and an extremely technical way. I have to give thanks to everyone that worked on that course. The fact that this course was split up into two completely different sections was great. The front half was nice and technical with lots of twists and turns and all of the barriers, while the second half was a huge power section where you get on the gas and just let 'er rip. Bravo!

As for us the day went pretty well, all though it started out a bit rough for Jim. While warming up for the A race he managed to snap his chain in two. And being that the chain was Shimano he needed a new pin to repair it. After some scrambling about and some nervous moments Jim tracked down Rich Delgado from the Village Cyclesport Team who lent a helping hand. After that was over the nerves were calmed a bit, until we lined up for the start.

I knew I wanted to be on the outside of the first corner to avoid the inevitable traffic jam that occur on the inside. My start was okay, not great. I hesitated a bit to give Jim an opening ahead of us and lost a few places in the process. Tony however had no problem and shot out ahead. After we settled into a nice rhythm through the first non-technical sections I knew things would be good. I could still see Tony through the turns and Jim was just ahead, maybe 5-6 riders. I wasn't sure were Elvis or Patrick ended up, but I'm sure they weren't far behind.

The first few laps were pretty tame, Jim and I picked off riders and Tony was holding his position near the front. I caught glimpses of Elvis and Patrick behind me as the course winded around on itself. Then disaster nearly struck Tony as he torqued his rear wheel in his frame nearly locking up the wheel. It happened with about 2 laps to go and he began to worry about losing valuable places as he limped the bike around the course. Luckily for him I had put my Kelly in the pit as a sort of "team" pit bike since we all run eggbeaters and about the same size. Tony made the switch and only lost a few places in doing so. It was at this point, after having passed Jim who was having derailleur problems, that I caught sight of Tony just one rider ahead of me heading into the second half of the course with 2 to go.
I could see that he was having a hard time and figured that his early pace had been a bit too high. I tried catching him on the power sections but he stayed just ahead of me. As we worked through the technical front half on the ultimate lap i realized why he was faltering a bit on the bike, it wasn't his bike. I didn't see the switch take place, but was proud that he was on my bike and staying in the race. The only problem is that I set my bikes up completely different from anyone on the team. First of all I run my brakes backwards, and the levers nearly bottom out on the handlebar. I also like to run my tires really low, whereas Tony likes a firmer set up. At one point he nearly rolled a tire through the off camber section heading into the double barriers.

All was not lost though as he managed to stay just ahead of me with only rider finishing in between us. However, because he accepted a hand up of water the officials saw to it to DQ him. After a brief discussion with the officials, all was well but their decision stood. I was scored at 23rd and because the results only listed numbers and not riders names I am not exactly sure where Elvis and Jim ended up. Patrick was having a good strong showing hanging near Elvis in only his second 'cross race when he flatted with just over a lap to go! I guess he will have to vindicate himself at DeKalb for that one.

As for the B race, we started Bob, Jorge and Sergio in a field of a bout 60-65. Jorge lined up on the front row, pretty fearless if you ask me for his first 'cross race. At the gun the start was fast but all three had no problems. Bob actually made a huge deficit right off the bat, passing 15-20 riders through the bottleneck of the first turn. Through the first lap it was Sergio, followed by Jorge and Bob was passing his way into the top 30. At some point during the second lap, Jorge managed to pass Sergio who was looking strong. At that point there was no looking back for Jorge, Sergio had a bit of a problem near the sidewalk, not sure what exactly but he lost some time and places for sure. Bob also had problems as a rider went down in front of him and he had no place to go. Also on the second lap Bob had a seriously loosening saddle which didn't help things.

As the laps counted down, Jorge help position and started to pass riders who went out too strong. Sergio was also looking good and maintaining position and Bob was making up time taking the corners aggressively. As it ended up Jorge finished his first race in 18th! I'm not sure of Bob and Sergio but I believe Sergio finished mid 30's and Bob just behind him. This was a great race considering the amount of time Jorge and Bob have been on 'cross bikes. If this is any indication of the future of the series, then things are looking good.

All in all the day went very well for us. While the DQ for Tony really sucked, it was nice to see him ride an aggressive race and even throw in a bike change. As for myself, I hesitated a bit in passing people at times and had to remind myself not to sit in, sometimes out loud. Elvis and Jim rode strong races and except for a mechanical from Jim finished well. We still need a bit more fine tuning to bump up our finishing positions, but overall I think everyone was satisfied.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Campione del Mundo


Thats right, Cover Your Ass. We all know that cyclocross is a demanding sport, but don't let all of the mounting and dismounting destroy your nether regions. A little chafing at the beginning of a race or even the start of the season is not only uncomfortable, but left untreated can become a more serious issue: saddle sores. So whether it is this brand , or this one, or even this one, a little goes a long way in reducing friction and keeping everything chafe free. Oh, and just a quick reminder, always wash your shorts after every ride especially when using one of the above products. Your teammates will thank you for it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Based on the current weather patterns, it doesn't look like we will be blessed with the same weather we were last year for the kick off to the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series at Jackson Park. With the hurricanes rolling in off of the ocean down south, the weather pattern seems to be stuck on repeat. And all of the record setting rain can only mean one thing MUD.

For those of you who don't already own a set of mud tires might I suggest you pay a visit to your friendly local bike shop and pick up a pair. You may have just enough time to learn how to use them effectively before Sunday.

There is only one good way to learn how to race in the mud, and that is to train in the mud. Very small deficiencies in technique can become amplified when racing in bad conditions. Using your front brake in the corners becomes a very bad idea, subtle weight shifts and trusting that your tires will work takes a lot of practice, but the time saved in each corner can be the difference between sprinting out of every corner or simply carrying your speed through it. If you do have to brake when entering a corner, make sure you do so before getting there. Almost any amount of front wheel braking in a wet corner will cause the wheel to wash out. Instead, brake before you get to the corner, lean the bike, weight the outside pedal, then accelerate out of the corner. Following this technique will almost surely keep you upright and in the race.

Learn to love the mud and inclement weather. There is nothing more to fear about bad conditions than there is about good conditions. In fact, if you have the attitude that you can race better in the bad weather, you just may be able to capitalize on someone else's fears. And besides, the way this weather has been lately, we may be seeing our share of sloppy courses!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tuesday Night Smackdown

As the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to fall, we have now switched our focus to cyclocross. In doing so, we have also begun a Tuesday night training series now officially dubbed the "Tuesday Night Smackdown". We will hold at least two practice sessions per week, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings starting at 5:30 pm. Each session will include 30 minutes of "racing" followed by skill drills, which can range from hill repeats both running and riding, start line sprints, low and high speed cornering and anything else we can think of.

Last night we were joined by Mike Seguin from xXx who fresh off of a 2nd place finish at the palos Meltdown had no problems tackling our technical course. While we did make a few improvements to the course in the previous few weeks, we will be making changes this Thursday to make it even more challenging.

We plan on adding a single barrier to the bottom of the toboggan slide hill in order to force a run-up, and may also include a singletrack section to bridge between two sections of the course. The discovery of a set of stairs last night was quite intriguing as well, but after a brief discussion they were deemed a bit too dangerous as they would force a dismount on cement which can be slippery at times. Perhaps we could leave that section as a riders choice section letting them choose between the grass slope and the stairs. Incorporating the stairs would make for a very European style course, and perhaps this year we will see some stairs in the series.

As for last night, the racing was fast and furious from the start. After taking the holeshot (sorry Julie) and working through the first section of trees, I was dismounting for the double barriers when I nearly got taken out by what seemed like a flying bike. Turns out it was only Tony who I think missed grabbing the top tube or something. Memories of Montrose sprang back into my head and after remounting and standing the barrier back up, Tony and I chased back to the group. This wouldn't be the only problem Tony would see unfortunately. Somehow both he and I managed to get flags caught in our rear derailleurs, luckily no damage was done.

Everyone else was riding clean and had no problems with the dismounts or the off camber section. Tony did manage to rub wheels with me through that section and I won. He took a quick tumble, but as usual got back on and was able to regain his former position. Had it not been for Mike, that postion would have been first , but tonight it was only good enough for second .

Everyone looked good and strong, and the technique seems to be coming along great for both Jorge and Bob. Having only been on their 'cross bikes for the last few sessions, they both looked great and show a lot of promise for the upcoming season.

As always the practice sessions are open to anyone and everyone. We almost always have the park all to ourselves. The course is located within the Dan Ryan Woods Forest Preserve at 87th St, just west of Damen Ave. If you have any questions or would like more info feel free to call (312) 617-8663.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How To Race Smart This Season

Rest. It's easy to overtrain, particularly in 'cross. There are so many aspects to work on--running, power, technique, starts--that you could go hard every day of the week. Tip: Don't. Take a day off, frequently. Cyclocross is so intense that most people will do fine with just a weekly race plus one other hard workout during the week. If you rest up for your next race you'll feel the improvement on race day.

Practice technique. All your fitness is wasted if you burn energy fruitlessly with bad technique. Following up on tip #1 above: instead of going for a hard ride Saturday before a race, go for an easy spin and then work on some dismounts, runups and remounts, focusing on smoothness and efficiency. Remember that feeling of smoothness when you are in the race the next day.

Pre-ride the course slowly. When you get to the venue, you may be in the habit of suiting up and going for a couple hard laps of the course for a warmup. Tip: Try a lap or two, slowly. Examine each section carefully and look for ways to go faster. Get off the bike and walk difficult spots forwards and backwards. Watch other racers (the leaders, hopefully) to see what they do. Get on the bike and practice each section a few times, trying different approaches, dismount points, etc. Then go and do your hard laps.

Check your tires. At every race, there is an optimal tire pressure for your body weight, your riding style, the course and the conditions. Chances are that's not the pressure that's in your tires when you arrive. Take a couple laps at different pressures to check the performance in cornering, on the bumps, pavement, etc.

Guzzle water before the race. Handups are awkward and a waste of time, and you may not have someone there to give you a bottle. Instead, drink a bottle's worth of water just before the race, and that should be enough to get you through. Remember to try this in practice to acclimate to drinking so much water, before trying it in a race.

Don't panic at the start, especially if you're not a sprinter type. It's far easier to come back from a too-slow start than to recover from a too-fast one. Know your body and don't try to over-reach in the early going. Instead, stay alert and watch out for the inevitable crashes and jam-ups--you can gain plenty of time just avoiding those. Later you can find your best speed and pick your way through the field.

Attack the difficulties. 'Cross is hard work. It's easy to hit your max on the course and just stay there. When obstacles come up, it's tempting to coast a little before the dismount--and that makes it easier to dismount too, right? Don't do it! The real hard work in a race is all the accelerations after you slow down for those obstacles. So, if you need to rest a little, do it in between obstacles where the penalty is less. When you come to the dismount it's time to go hard and carry your speed over the barrier. This is especially true of uphill dismounts or rideable hills.

Watch your opponents. If you're fortunate enough to be duking it out with someone for a place in the top 10, top 20 or whatever, watch them throughout the race. Look for their strengths and weaknesses that you can exploit. Are they hesitant at the obstacles? Plan to attack them on a difficult dismount. Are they strong on the runups? Make sure not to let any gaps open. Do they have poor technique? Relax--they'll probably burn out without you having to do anything. Meanwhile, know your own strengths and weaknesses, and don't be tripped up by them.

Make a plan for the end. This is a follow-up of #8. Once you know yourself and your opponents, do something about it. Don't wait for them to make the move if you are capable of attacking. The race isn't won by the one who rides the fastest all the time; it's won by the one who goes fast at the right times.

Engage your brain. If you didn't pick this up already, it bears repeating. Cyclocross is not a sport of just fitness, it's also one of skill and focus. Ride dumb and you will perform the same. Keep your wits about you all the time and you'll do well.

Ever Wonder What The Pros Ride?

Specifications: Tim Johnsons Cannondale/ Team Bike
Frame Cannondale Optimo CAAD 9 52cm
Fork Easton EC90X 1-1/8
Headset Ritchey WCS integrated 1-1/8
Handlebars Ritchey WCS Classic 44cm 31.8
Stem Ritchey WCS 4 Axis 100mm 31.8
Tape Fizik Bar Tape
Front Brakes Avid Shorty 6
Rear Brakes Avid Shorty 6
Crankset Cannondale Si Carbon Integrated 172.5
Chainrings TruVativ 46/42
Chain SRAM Force
Cassette SRAM Force 12-26
Bottom Bracket Cannondale Si Integrated
Pedals Shimano M-959
Seat Fizik Aliante Ti/Carbon
Seatpost Ritchey WCS Carbon 27.2
Brake Levers SRAM Force
Shift Levers SRAM Force
Front Derailleur SRAM Force
Rear Derailleur SRAM Force 31.8 clamp
Wheelset Mavic Ksyrium ES Tubular and Clincher
Tires Duagst Rhino 32
Tubes Salsa
Notes Tim switches from Ksyrium ES clincher and tubulars. He also has the choice of any tires available. For tubbies though he chooses Dugast Rhinos and Flying Doctors. The Flying Doctors are mounted on Mavic Carbones

In other words, nothing you or I can't run out and get at the shop. Now if I can only find a pair of legs to match!

17 Days and Counting


Tonight was an evening well spent in my opinion. The weather was perfect, the kids were already asleep, and I had tubulars to glue. There is something therapeutic to me about taking the time to glue a brand new set of wheels. Applying the first coats to a hand-built pair of wheels is like putting the icing on a cake. Sure anyone can go out and buy a pre-built pair of wheels, but there is something magical about taking a handful of spokes, a rim and a hub and sitting down and building a set of wheels.

While putting glue to rim I began to reminisce about all of the stories I had heard from two of the most influential people in my cycling life. Way back in 1994 and 1995I managed a bike shop, a little shop on Halsted known as Performance. I know some of you may scoff at the idea of calling Performance a shop, but I learned many lessons there, many of which have stuck with me through the years. I met two people while working there and still think of them often. They were both mechanics and they were good at their craft. Sure they could both be cranky, but they both took time out to share their secrets gleaned from years of experience.Both Frank and Scott were journeymen mechanics, Scott having worked at several shops since he was a teenager and Frank was a former Team USA mechanic back in the ‘80’s. Between the two of them I learned everything I know today about bikes, from frame geometry to fit, wheel building , and maintenance. Don't even get me started on gear ratios.

During that time I also heard many stories about the icons of the sport that we revere today. Stories about breakfast with Merckx, or stories about a French champion who preferred to be called Larry rather than Laurent, or Connie Carpenter wearing nothing but the Stars and Stripes jersey in the hotel the night after taking the national championship. All of these stories and the wisdom these two men imparted on me have stayed with me all of these years. Maybe it was the fumes from the tubular glue, but it was nice to step back 12 years as I spread the glue across the rim and remember everything Scott and Frank taught me about gluing wheels. I can even remember with almost crystal clear clarity the day Frank taught me to build my first set of wheels, tubular of course. His patience with me was reassuring and also refreshing. While life has taken away almost all of my time these days to do many of the things I want, sitting down to glue a tire to rim was a nice step back to when times were a bit simpler.

These two mechanics were the epitome of the word PRO before there was the meaning we have for it today as cyclists. From their tricks, to their stories, to their understanding of everything cycling. Everyone should be as lucky as I was to have been mentored by such great men. If you are lucky enough to have a shop that has great mechanics, watch them work, watch how they interact not only with the bike, but with the young mechanics that may only work there for the summer. Watch as a great mechanic can turn a wrench and tell a story with such ease. More importantly listen to what he has to say, he may just know what he is talking about.