25 May 2011

Look back in anger

While the Positivo Espresso Japan Chapter was attending the Tokyo - Itoigawa "Race", all members of the Bremen chapter plus associated friends opted for a start at the Velothon Berlin Race 2011 last Sunday.

It is a good things to have fixed things in life. Just like the seasons are constantly changing, spring-summer-autumn-winter ( a much better and detailed description by Chancy Gardener can be found here), we welcome recurring events that provides us with reference points: Oh, it is already April and I forgot the birthday of my aunt Christa again! (February 28th). Last year in May I had already 4.000 km in my legs! Before the war everything was better and I was faster (Angola Independence Uprising 1976)! When it comes to cycling, my personal reference point was the JCRC Saiko race, held every year in early November close to mount Fuji. I attended that ridiculous race over a whooping distance of 20 km every year between 2003 and 2009. It was always the same: Riding in the grupetto for 19.8 km, then sprint for the finish. My best finish was 14th in 2008, followed by the celebration of the JCRC D class "serise" champion title 2008. The worst finish was in  2007 when I started under a pseudonym and crashed. Even if you cannot understand Japanese, that shouldn't be so difficult to find out.

Now living again in Germany, I have the pleasure to have found my reference point very soon: The Velothon Berlin Race. It is May, the weather becomes nicer and I travel to Berlin and stay with Kathrin, Fabian and her family in their posh uptown apartment. Even the Waldorf School scheduled their summer school party to coincidence with the race on the same weekend. Theoretically I could have visited the party as well, but I was there last year where the overall theme was fluffy and soft: No, I don't mean parents in human lifeforms as lawyers, therapists and CEOs of bio-software upstarts acting awkwardly in corduroy trousers and Levis jeans jackets behind grills, females of all ages, playing recorders (Blockflöte) of all sizes, no. I mean that last year the theme was to sell mobiles, aviaries and other self-made objects made out of wood and wool, whereas this year, according to Kathrin, the theme was wood and metal, which resulted in the promotion of many blunt and brutal objects: battle axes, flails (Morgenstern) and halberds were among the most sought after goods. Fine, but there was still no beer available on the school grounds which prevented a proper preparation of the race.

Another subject about I also wanted to write about and which doesn't fit into this post as well as in any other: When I was in the catholic Kindergarten in the late Sixties, the one that led me to the catholic primary school Marktfeldstrasse (you know, the one that shared the school ground with a municipal primary school on the other side, having a thick white line drawn across the whole yard in the middle and dare you bloody heathens from the other side to set foot on our scared grounds)....well, in this kindergarten the material of choice were wool and pearls. One of the few things I remember from this time is that for endless hours I worked on doilies and other handicraft stuff. We never ever had a summer party on the kindergarten grounds and to this very day I suspect that the teachers were supplementing their meager income by selling doilies made by innocent children.

Sorry, I got lost in the nooks and crannies of my life.

On Saturday morning at 6:30 AM, after a very long and exhausting week in the office in my new capacity as dean of international business at the HIWL, we assembled our family in Bremen, loaded our team car and headed out for Berlin. The female part of my family headed straight for the skating rink while the male part was dropped at the Brandenburg gate to register for the race. The whole organisation is quite impressive. Many bikes, wheels and spare parts are sold by mobile hawkers to desperate riders who seriously believe that better material would result in better race performance. Here we met Fabian and had French fries (terrible), a proven technique of essential fat-loading before any race.

We headed straight for the Kyllmann-flat of the B family where the kids were ready for the Waldorf school party. Fabian had flown in from Stuttgart in the morning and not content with the exhaustion of the race has chosen to a) sell ice cream at the Waldorf b) to have a rehearsal with his band c) play a gig with his band at midnight and d) manage a team of window cleaners in his apartment among other things. I tried to shift (a) to my son Henri as I believe he should gather some experience with "One Euro Jobs" in preparation of his adult life but I wasn't able to convince him.

We fixed all the bikes for the race and then Fabian was out on his rehearsal, so Henri and me went shopping at Bio Lüske, the fabulous  grocery where one can buy bio-bananas and protein bars for proper cycle racings. After that I rode to the Grünewald station to meet Fabians brother Anselm and his vZ friends for the proper Grünewald/Wannsee training ride. I was ten minutes late, but all others were even later. In addition there were some mechanical problems with the bikes (or cleats) and we discovered that Anselms Trek bike double-function as bucket, as it perfectly stores and discharges rainwater.

About  1 1/4 hour to late we finally started to ride. We had a faint idea of where we could go, but we needed some shortcuts to find the proper road. For some reasons we choose to ride on sandy horse trails through the dense forest with our racing bikes. We had one sherpa from Berlin with us, but he also had clearly no idea where we were. Personally I wished that the Berlin wall was still standing to prevent us from riding incidentally into Poland (and perhaps starting a new war). But somehow we found a nice road were many other cyclists were doing the same thing as we did (riding their bikes, of course). We didn't exhausted ourselves, but when another middle age cyclist tried to overtake us on one of the few hills, we showed him his limits. There are things in life that can be accepted, if they have to, but this one was clearly one step over the edge.

Back home, we had a nice dinner prepared by 1/2 vZ, talked about the best strategies for race preparations and found out that all these preparations should have started at least two months ago so there wasn't too much we could do now. Henri wanted to see the soccer cup final on TV, incidentally hold in Berlin on the same day at the 1936 Olympic Stadium), so he escaped to the TV possessing figure skating part of the family.
Kathrin asked me, if I would prefer a fluffy, soft and big pillow (Version Waldorf 2010), or a hard, small and long one (Version Waldorf 2011) which double-serves as battle axe for the night. I have stayed in many places but never ever have I been asked this very sensitive question. When it comes to staying at place other than home, two things are extremely important for me: Fluffy, soft and big pillows and showers that emit hot water at high pressures. Thank you, Kathrin.

But even a nice pillow couldn't make me escape from waking up early the next morning and getting ready for the race. Fabian and me had breakfast, while the rest of the family was still sleeping. We met two of his friends, Christine and Dr. Kongo-Bob (aka as Bernhard R) at the station and rode by train into the city. The train was full of bikes and I had the opportunity to marvel at Christine's self made Iphone handle bar adapter which I am sure will be displayed at Bike-hacks one day. 
Dr. Kongo-Bob also owned a nice bike, Hercules brand (Hello Günther Sachs!) with Campa components, that was stored for centuries in a container in the jungles of various African countries and retrieved for this race. I wouldn't trust tubeless tires that haven't been used for 20 years, but hey, if they survived Lumumba and Kongo Müller, who am I to doubt?

mob, Christine, Fabulous Fabian and Dr. Kongo-Bob (f.l.t.r.)

Fabian, Christine and Dr. Kongo Bob attended the 60 km race that was started early, while Anselm, 2 vZ and me were scheduled for the later 120 km race. The riders are assembled in start blocks along the road (Strasse des 17. Juni I guess) and then led during approximately 200 meters of neutralized race through the Brandenburg Gate guided by roller skaters in front. If not many of them would crash into the pillars of the gate and ultimately destroy it, something that couldn't been achieved by armadas of T-34 tanks, but yes, modern carbon bikes can achieve that.

I had plenty of time to ride around and take a look at the sights of the city before lining up in the B block. It still amazes me how close is everything and how many famous buildings can be seen in such limited space. For some reason, perhaps because I am a civil engineer by profession, I still like this one best. As engineer of course, we like tragic stories and collapsing new and old buildings.

I rode to Brandenburg gate to cheer up my team mates when they did the first 150 m of the race and still needed any support they can get. I had already designed my supporting cheers:

"Don't give up now, Fabian! Stay on the wheels of Christine!" and
"It's time to slowly prepare for the finish sprint now!"

but I couldn't found them. After the race they repeatedly told me that they had attended, but still some doubts linger in my mind.

By the way, if you are interested in cycle racing, please start reading here. So far only bullshit.

Riders are divided into start blocks of about 1.000 attendants each by proving the assumed average speed of their ride to the organizers with their race applications. To avoid any misunderstandings: This is not the realistic average speed for this race or any average speed that one has achieved at this race in previous years. This is the average speed that one can write down in the application form in January when one still nurtures dreams of megalomania. Last year I wrote 36 km/hr which landed me in block D (A being the fastest, F being the slowest). This year I noted "faster than the speed of sound" which brought me in block B. Block A I guess are the "faster than the speed of light" guys.
These guys are are faster than a speeding bullet.

This time there was no national anthem played so the start of the race caught me somewhat unprepared. Alain Raposo has taught me the proper technique for using elbows and shoving my way to the front. So even with the neutralizing zone I found my way to the front of the B group. Once the race was on, I used every occasion to jump on the fast trains. The speed was awesome, this race was much faster than the D block last year. At some points we were speeding with more than 50 km/hr through the city. I felt pretty good and I was happy to see the head of our group. Definitely we were the first D group so it was now a matter to stay with this group for the rest of the race to achieve an average speed of more than 40 km/hr and stay below 3 hours riding time. Within 20 minutes I identified two or three riders who seemed to have the same performance levels as I believe to have. I kept them as benchmarks, so when I lost contact, I accelerated to bring me back into their range. After 20 minutes or so we entered the Grünewald training ground from the day before and encountered the first small hills. The group was fast in the flats, but on the slopes the speed decreased to 25 km/hr and I had no problems to stay with the fast guys.

The first crash happened to my left on an uphill slope. I guess that a rider got out of the saddle to give more punch, but then the pace decreases for a moment before the punch kicks in then. Other riders behind that were cruising on probably touched the back wheel and crashed then. I was lucky to escape because it happened just in front of me to the left. The guys in front then never get slower so it is important to circumvent the crash site and accelerate immediately in order not to get lost.

But I could close the gap again and was almost in front when we rode along the Drake Street close to the Kyllmann block. I expected to find Kathrin and the kids waving and shouting support from the side, but nobody was there. Instead some drum bands were lined up on the sides of the road and their rhythm led to another accelerating of the about 100 rider strong grupetto. Also not bad. After a while we came into suburban Berlin and the roads got wider and better. Still there were many traffic islands that provided ample opportunities for crashes. But overall at this point I have to say that the B group riders were much better disciplined than the weaker D group riders last year.

After an hour I noted that I got weaker and I was wondering if I could stay with the fast field for the whole distance. We had covered much more than 40 km within the first hour so we were clearly on a good path. Again, one had to be constantly on the alert to stay with the field and sprint to the front when one was at the end. The speed was also very fluid, sometimes the grupeto was moving at 36 km/hr and it was very easy to ride, then suddenly one was moving at 45 km/hr without any clear reason. The constant accelerating and gap closing slowly took it's toll (missing "Tempo Härte). It was a very similar situation to what I have experienced one week before at the cycling marathon in Bremen where I could survive for 130 km. But here the speed was even faster and my heart rate was frequently above 170 BPM.

After about 1:10 hr we arrived at a roundabout where the street width was very limited. The whole gruppeto alomost came to a stand still at the entry. There was no danger although as the stop was advised well ahead. Suddenly I noticed that somebody hit my back wheel with brute force, but because of the slow speed I didn't crashed and stayed on my bike. However I immediately noticed that something was wrong with the bike and I shouted in frustration "Hey, who was that as***le that hit me from behind?" Nobody came forward, I moved to the side and when I inspected the bike, I noted that the rear wheel was completely untrue, not only rubbing with the brake pads but also with the chain stays. Ludwig may recall our very last trip when I tested and destroyed my Shimano Ultegra rear wheel - similar situation. That was actually the reason that I bought this strong, conventionally built, 28 spokes 3 times crossed DT Swiss wheels (in European white !). To no avail: I didn't had a spoke nipple wrench with me and I could ride on like that. After trying to find out with the organizers where a service station or wagon could be found, I was told that the next one would by about 2 km away in a village called Nudow. So I took my helmet off, opened the rear brake completely and rode on the pedestrian walk with speed of 15 to 20 km/hr. The B field was long gone. Other groups from the C block, then from the D and E blocks overtook me as I continued to ride for about 11 km until I finally arrived at the entry to Nudow. I even saw one of the St. Pauli stealth riders again, that were attending the cycle marathon in Bremen. Perhaps there were even three, but they are so well camouflaged that you can be lucky if you notice even one of them.

In Nudow I stopped at a corner and asked a steward if he knows where the service is located. No idea, please ask the police. I asked the police, no idea as well, so I rode through the whole of Nudow (87 meters) without finding it. Very frustrating. I had lost so much time that by now even not so fit looking riders from the E block had overtaken me. I resigned myself to finish the race riding 20 km/hr when I saw a larger manned post by the end of the village. Again I asked a steward: Where is the service point? He had no idea. Another guy next to him said, but perhaps this guy can help you? Turned out, this was the service guy, positioned with a tool box, a repair stand and a flag with the logo of his bike shop (Stadler) just 3 meters away.

That luckily was a pro guy. He worked very fast with the spoke wrench and had fixed most of the untrueing within very short time. Nevertheless he told me that the rear rim was beyond repair. He trued the wheel as good as he could and re-adjusted the rear brake. At least the bike was rideable again, although the braking performance wasn't very good any longer. It was clearly dangerous to ride in a group without full control of the bike.

I started to ride again at about 30 km/hr but not very motivated, when a fast F group overtook me. All the fast B to E groups were long gone, so instead of hanging around with the losers and straddlers of these groups, a fast ride with a F group was very much appreciated.

The speed was fast but not too fast, about 36 km/hr average I would guess. Four guys with orange jerseys from team globetrotter were leading the pace and easy to identify. Amazingly during the following kilometers I saw lots of crash victims, ambulance cars and riders lying on the road. As it was very hot, I guess that some of them also suffered from heat strokes. Some of the crashers were lying where the road was perfectly straight, not the typical danger-points such as roundabouts, traffic islands or curves. Strange.

I stayed with this group for the next 40 km or so, overtook hundreds of riders, until we reached the Tempelhof airfield. I looked at my speedmeter and noted that even without counting the breaks, my average speed was down to less than 33 km/hr, so I definitely wouldn't reach a finishing time of less than 3 hrs. Combined with the strong wind on the runway and the effects of not haven eaten properly so far during the three hours I collapsed completely.

I decided to ride on my own, take some photos and to generally take it easy. I had also back pains. Later at home I noticed that the handle bar had started to rotate in the stem fixation. Normally I ride with my hands gripping the top of the brake hoods. Due to the rotation of the handle these have moved downwards so that my body was positioned much lower than usual. That hurted. So the last 15 km or so I rode at a leisurely 25 - 30 km/hr pace, got overtaken by some faster F groups and some single riders and then I was on the long last road leading to the Brandenburg Gate. 

This is probably the part of the race that I like best. I asked one of the others not so competitive riders to take a photo of me and then rode through the finish, rode through the Brandenburg Gate and then to the event area to get organized. Later I learned that my time was 3:40 hrs, which is about 45 minutes slower than last year. My team mates in the 120 km race started in F and G and finished about the same or faster. At least they had more fun. So in this respect the race was a little bit disappointing. I checked the wheel in the meantime and if I need to buy a new rim, I can still reuse the spokes and the hub so at least I don't have to buy a complete new wheel. Probably I can do the lacing myself with the trueing stand I have bought, although the rear wheels are a little bit more tricky than the front wheels.

But otherwise it was a very nice trip to Berlin again. Later we sat in the garden of the Kyllmann block, played with the children and reflected about the day. After the stress and the tension of the race it was so relaxed. Obviously it is an important part of cycling to make a physical effort, than do the same spiritual effort to reflect about to achieve a balance of the body and of the mind.

Well, this being said, it is nothing special anyway, just cycling.

Next year, we will all assemble again in Berlin to set a new reference point. I am very much looking forward to the event. Only the Transalp is in the way now. So in fact, this is not a look "back in anger", but a look forward with much joy. However, site access research has shown that titles referring to popular themes or words provide so much more hits. The most popular PE post is "A tale of two towers": So, dear students of the dramatic arts, excuse me for luring you onto this site. And start cycling nevertheless.
Sport against violence - Scherz Dental (dental joke): Coolest jersey award
Eisenkampfschweinkader wasn't bad either.
Just now after checking facebook, I learned that Positivo Espresso member Marek attended the Velothon as well, 60k version. Join us, next time, Marek.


David Litt said...

It must surely be another sign of the success of Positivo Espresso if we are now so global, so huge, that two members can show up for the same race and not even realize they are both there until reading the after-race reports.
Congratulations upon (1) not getting injured, and (2) a very fast first 1 hr 10 minutes.

Manfred von Holstein said...

A belated congratulations on finishing safely. Flat races are simply dangerous - more hilly ones help to separate riders more and tend to split the more experienced from the less experienced. They are just harder... Good luck at the Transalp!