Tag Archives: Cycling

The BaldBiker’s Book Review: Feed Zone Portables. Delicious energy on the go.

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Do you remember when the original PowerBar came out?

Aside from struggling with the Mylar wrapper in the late stages of a mountain bike race, I recall my first experience with so called “Sports Nutrition” as a pretty unpleasant experience. They were hard to get at, hard to chew and tasted horrible. But they did work. To a point.

Sports Nutrition has come a long way sice those early days. Bars and gels are easier to digest and deliver performance. The problem is, “Sports Nutrition” has very little to do with actual food. A quick glimpse at a wrapper will confirm my claim.

Biju Thomas and Alan Lim started a food revolution in the professional peloton when they began fueling up pro cyclists like the Garmin team with real food recipes that allowed cyclists to fuel their bodies with food and not food based products.

Thomas and Lim took their recipes to the masses with the Feed Zone Cookbook, a hugely popular collection of recipes for atheletes that focused on fueling up with a delicious and healthy menu.

Their new book Feed Zone Portables available from VeloPress takes that concept on the go with a collection of recipes meant to boost performance while on the bike.

A few years ago I had fallen into the same trap that millions of North Americans have found themselves in: I was eating more food based products that actual food. I was riding and racing but had gained weight and never really felt all that well.

After reading books such as Gina Mallet’s brilliant “Last Chance to Eat” and Michael Pollan’s “In Defence of Food” I had made a concious decision to change how I fueled my body. Since then I not only lost 20lbs, I feel better. At work, at rest and of course on the bike.

It was once explained to me that “performance is 20% training and 80% nutrition”. Feed Zone Portables gives you the opportunity to make the best of that 80%.

I love three things: riding my bike, cooking and eating. Feed Zone Portables offered an opportunity for all three so I was pretty stoked when my copy was delivered. 

Before we get to the 75 excellent portable recipes, the book explains it’s philosophy and how nutrition affects performance and why their recipes work. It’s detailed but not so much that you’d have to be a doctor to understand the concepts.

I got a lot from the chapters on nutrition and performance but what I really wanted was to get to the recipes!

Having a wife with a cookbook fetish, I’ve read more than my fair share of recipes and the recipes in Feed Zone Portables are easy to understand and the results are delicious and worth an extra couple watts at the pedals I’m sure. Each recipe also comes with detailed nutritional information for those who pay attention to that.

A week before getting my copy of Feed Zone Portables a friend gifted me a rice cooker. Good timing, if you’re cooking with Feed Zone Portables you’ll be using that bad boy a lot!

Rice balls are one of my favourite recipes in the book and there are lots of options. Two Bite Pies also offer some savoury nutrition that is easy to bring along on a ride. (My daughters bake so I get them to help with the crusts.)

ImageSweet Potato and Bacon Rice Balls have become a regular staple in my on the bike diet now. They are very easy to make, travel well and offer lots of energy. And bacon.

I’ve been using the recipes from Feed Zone Portables for a couple of weeks now and find them very easy to make, absolutely delicious and love the fact that I’m being fueled by real food. 

Here’s the best thing: my kids have been robbing my stash of pre-cooked goodies and I’ve found myself bringing rice balls, baked eggs and two bite pies for lunch at my Glamorous Day Job.

The best way to improve cycling performance is to improve what you put into your body. Feed Zone Portables is your guidebook to easy to prepare high performance fuel.

Feed Zone Portables is available from http://www.velopress.com and at better bookstores everywhere.

 

 

 

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Neil Symington vs. the Worlds

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17 year old Sussex, New Brunswick resident Neil Symington has only been racing bicycles for 5 years and this weekend he’s off to Kentucky to represent Canada at the World Cyclocross Championships. This qualifies as “off to a quick start”.

 

I’ve had the opportunity to be lapped by Symington several times at local cyclocross races and recently chatted with him about his love for cycling and what it means to represent his country on the international stage.

 

Symington hails from Sussex, a typical Canadian small town known for being a top dairy producer. It’s a place where you’d expect to see a local farm boy make it to the NHL. For some reason, Sussex has been producing quality cyclists. Sussex is also home to Christian Meier who currently rides at the top tier for Orica Green Edge.

 

Neil Symington leads the typical high school life, hanging out with buddies and engaging with epic ping pong battles with his friends on weekends. But outside of school and his social network, Symington has committed himself to the life of a cyclist. In five short years he has gone from an introduction to the sport to representing his country at the top tier. His life in cycling started at the age of 12 dirt jumping his mountain bike with local buddies.

 

“I started hitting jumps like all of the local kids and then was encouraged to participate in local group rides put on by Outdoor Elements our local shop.” Symington explains that once he experienced the camaraderie of riding in a group, he was hooked. “John McNair from Outdoor Elements led group rides up to the Bluff (a tough local trail) and I was having my ass handed to me. For some crazy reason, I started to fall in love with it.”

 

Symington races every discipline of cycling that is available to him. He’s had success on the road, on the track and as a mountain biker. Cyclocross is something that he has found combines elements from every corner of the cycling world. “I was racing mountain bikes at the Mike’s Bike Shop (Moncton) series and everyone was talking about ‘cross in the fall. I had no idea what they were talking about but I went and tried it on my mountain bike. I thought it was a really cool. It combined everything. It had the feel of road racing, some of the skills of mountain biking and it’s a short and intense event. It feels like a lot of stuff but it’s completely unique. From the get go I thought it was pretty cool.”

 

This year Neil Symington was invited to compete at the Canadian Cyclocross Championships as a junior where the field for the Worlds team would be assessed. He entered the competition with high hopes and good form but says he may have made a costly mistake in his preparation. “Oh man, I wanted to win. I really wanted the jersey but I underestimated the weather, a total rookie mistake. It was cold and wet and I wasn’t prepared for that. I led the first part of the race but I was in a bad way because I had the wrong gear. I slipped back and finished 5th because I was suffering. The next day they had a ‘revenge’ race against the same field and I was prepared for the conditions and won against the guys that beat me the day before.”

 

His performance on that weekend earned him a spot on the Canadian National Cycling Team to represent Canada as a junior at the World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend. Symington is looking for a good placing but training for the Worlds in the middle of a Canadian cold snap has meant he’s had to make adjustments in his preparation. “I’m pretty lucky to have a 2 acre backyard and my Dad and I built a cyclocross course for me to practice on. It’s got run-ups and barriers so I get to work on my technique. Once the snow flew I hit the trainer and the rollers hard. It’s tough but it has to be done.”

 

Neil Symington says he’s anxious to make a good showing in Kentucky and makes note that he wouldn’t be there without the support of his family, his sponsor Oakley Atlantic and National Cycling Centre Atlantic Canada.

 

Symington’s’ Coach Luc Arseneau feels the 17 year old is putting in the necessary work for a good ride. “I’ve rarely seen Neil so focused on a specific goal as he has been for this World Cyclocross Championship. He’s put some very good hours and has shown a constant progression throughout his preparation.”

 

Reflecting on his first opportunity to don the Canadian colors Symington is committing to putting in his best effort on the day and has set a personal goal for the event. “I’m taking it in as my first experience on the national team. Personally I want to be the best Canadian. It’s a truly great feeling to represent Canada and I’m going to be very proud to wear that jersey.”

 

At only 17 Neil Symington is committing to the life of a cyclist and may very well be the next rider to put New Brunswick, a seemingly unlikely place to find cycling talent on the map. He notes the success of fellow NB’ers Peter Wedge and Christian Meier as example of riders who, like him committed to the effort and saw results. He says he’s ready to follow in those wheel tracks to see where his two wheeled journey will take him. “Cycling is my life now. I don’t know where my spare time would be like without cycling. It’s going to be quite a ride.”

 

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The Bald Biker’s Book Review:Slaying the Badger – Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France

The 1986 Tour de France was a tipping point for professional cycling on the European continent and indeed the world over. Journalist Richard Moore revisits this edition of the Tour de France, one he deems as “the greatest Tour de France” in his book Slaying the Badger available from Velo Press.

The 1986 Tour is important for a number of reasons: the first North American to wear the yellow jersey (Canada’s Alex Stieda), the first American to ultimately win the Tour de France (Lemond) and new methods of training, coaching and tactics that would ultimately change bike racing forever.

But what we remember most about that fateful edition of the Tour is the duel among teammates Greg Lemond, an upstart American cyclist and Bernard Hinault, the proud Breton patron of the peloton.

It’s a rivalry that on the surface started the year before when Greg Lemond slowed down on the climb to Luz Ardiden so Hinault, his boss would not lose too much time and eventually win the 1985 Tour de France when  Lemond himself had the opportunity to go for the overall win on that day.

Following that stage and on the podium in Paris Hinault, now a five time winner of le Tour pledged he’d be working for Lemond the following year.

Because we all know what happened at the 1986 Tour de France (instead of helping Lemond win, Hinault ultimately challenges him for it), Moore’s back story is what makes this book such a compelling read. So much of what had transpired between Lemond and Hinault needs to be brought into context.

Richard Moore takes the story back further than the 1985 Tour. In fact, he devotes almost two-thirds of the book to giving us the back story of the players like Hinault, Lemond, entrepreneur Bernard Tapie and enigmatic coach Paul Koechli who ultimately ends up stealing the story.

To go back to the 1986 Tour de France Richard Moore paints cycling as the “last bastion of feudalism”. Riders are paid next to nothing while race organisers and team owners make both the rules and the money.

Moore also helps us understand that this Tour de France is the most important Tour in the race’s history. Power is starting to slowly shift into the riders’ hands with the invention of teams like Hinault and Lemond’s powerful La Vie Claire squad. This is also the year of the invasion of the non-Europeans. 7-Eleven join the peloton as the first American based team, winning the yellow jersey (briefly)and a stage. Of course Lemond eventually wins but he’s flanked by fellow American Andy Hampsten and Canada’s Steve Bauer. the landscape is changing.

Moore paints the battle between Lemond and Hinault as a battle between cycling’s old and new guard. His interviews with Bernard Hinault give us into a glimpse of the past of professional cycling with its odd traditions, myths and rituals.

While Hinault was old world France in his approach, Lemond shows little concern for the sports’ unwritten rulebook. He eats Mexican food, has visits from wife and family and even; perish the thought, golfs on a day off.

It seems that Richard Moore’s plan for the book (which is a fast and entertaining read) is to bring us to the 1986 Tour de France knowing that this is going to be a Tour like no other. Two riders on the same team, each capable of winning. Each with different motivation: Hinault could win his (at then) record-breaking sixth Tour victory. Lemond could claim not only his first, but the first for a rider from an English-speaking nation.

As he takes us though the 1986 Tour he drags us through the tension within the La Vie Claire team which has ostensibly been divided split along the lines of a continental divide: the Europeans vs. the North Americans. Despite Hinault’s promise to assist Lemond in quest for his first of what will become 3 Tour de France titles, Hinault attacks his teammate both on the road and in the media.

What makes this book such a great read is that Moore’s interviews with Lemond, Hinault and Koechli give us three different versions of the same race. Was Lemond paranoid? Was Hinault out to break his word? Was Koechli simply “playing bike racing”? The answer is not clear but the read is fascinating.

The 1986’s Tour de France’s pivotal moment was Lemond and Hinault’s ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez. After destroying the both each other and the competition along the roads of France, the tandem climb a historic ascent of cycling’s most important climb, crossing the line arms raised in solidarity. Or so it seemed at the time.

So what really happened? Was Hinault trying to win his 6th Tour or simply making Lemond “earn it”? Was Lemond just in his paranoia? Or was Swiss coach Paul Koechli playing the strings like a masterful puppeteer while working with two uniquely talented cyclists?

Richard Moore does not give a clear answer and perhaps there are many answers to those questions but he gives us lots of fresh perspective on which we may form our own opinion. Nevertheless, the 1986 Tour de France was arguably the best ever edition of the race and Slaying the Badger is one of the best books ever to share the story of le Grand Boucle.

Slaying the Badger is available from Velo Press.

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KING OF THE COBBLES

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A day later I am still impressed by the display of physical and mental toughness that Tom Boonen treated us to at Paris-Roubaix.

Going into the race as the clear favourite we knew we’d see the Belgian make a bid for victory but never imagined the winning move would be made alone, nearly 60km from the finish.

Boonen’s form was widely recognized. Seven days earlier he won a 3-up sprint to take the Tour of Flanders and earlier in the month won the sprint to take E3 Harelbeke. A cobbled triple was forseeable but nobody knew just how perfectly Boonen has timed his form on Easter morning when the peleton rolled out of Compiegne.

Up until the start Boonen had made no secret of his confidence and even sounded like he was talking smack. Come the cobbled sector at Orchies, Tornado Tom let his legs do the talking.

Paris-Roubaix 2012 started out in typical fashion with the early “suicide break” forming at 70km. The group of twelve didn’t contain any true contenders but Canada’s David Veilleux (Europcar) was riding strong at the front so as a Canadian, I had something to keep me interested until the real racing began.

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As always the Arenberg Trench played it’s role in the race and the early break of 12 was whittled down when a particularly nasty crash sent riders to the ground and one to hospital.

A minute and a half or so after the breakaway left Arenberg, Boonen first displayed the form he’d brought to Paris-Roubaix by leading the peleton through the forest with an incredible head of steam. It was in the Arenberg that Boonen asserted himself as the strongman in the peleton and that if you were going to beat him on the day you’d better start attacking.

So they did. Soon after exiting the trench a 6 man group that included Ballan, Flecha and a very scrappy Turgot who would be attacking until the final meters on the day. Boonen’s Omega-Pharma Quikstep team chased down the break and countered with French national Champion Sylvain Chavanel taking along Turbot (again) in an ill fated attempt cursed with mechanicals and a lack of converted effort.

After the race Boonen had expressed frustration noting that nobody really wanted to work so at Orchies and with team mate Nicki Terpstra to help, Boonen decided to make his move with nearly 60km to go to the Roubaix velodrome.

Flecha and Ballan didn’t take up the chase because well, who attacks with 60km to go when there are still horrible sectors of cobbles like Carrefour de lArbre to traverse?

Boonen gave his answer as soon as he attacked. Terpstra, riding with Boonen to help him grow a gap before letting him loose couldn’t hold Tornado Tom’s wheel less than 2kms into their attack so exiting Orchies it was going to have to be all Boonen.

Following the race live in several languages and on Twitter as well I heard professional cycling commentators and weekend warrior cyclists alike cast doubt on this bold move. “Too soon” they all said and I have to admit, I thought 60km alone was a long way to go.

The next 60km was an incredible display of physical and mental stamina. Boonen chraged across each sector of cobbles with a face as hardened as the granite he rode across. Boonen’s stone faced expression did give away how suffering an escape like this causing. We knew this was a supreme effort but Boonen’s expression did not change until he rode into Roubaix knowing he’d conquered the cobbles and tied fellow Belgian Roger DeVlamminck as the only person to win Paris-Roubaix 4 times.

How strong was Boonen on the cobbles? At each sector of the stones and despite a concerted effort by Team Sky to reel him in, he would gain 5 to 10 seconds on his chasers every time he crossed the pave. At 20km to go with a gap of a minute it started to become apparent. If Tom Boonen did not meet the Man with the Hammer, this bold move was going to pay off.

The chasers never really organised and Boonen continued his march toward Roubaix and history. Finally after crossing the 2km to go banner Boonen turned to the moto camera, cracked a smile and pointed at the lens, later waving 4 fingers at the camera to acknowledge that he was about to win the Queen of the Classics for a record tieing 4th time.

His solo victory yesterday was one for the record books and one for the history of the race. It takes a hard man to win alone from so far out and Boonen left no doubt who the hard man of the day was. It was a simply awe-inspiring performance.

After the race Boonen commented that he may be perhaps the best ever on the cobbles. I’m sure some former Belgian champions may have something to say about that but he has rebounded from a nightmare 2011 season to take the cobbled triple and enter into the Paris Roubaix record books.

And guess what? I think he may have one more Paris-Roubaix victory in him before he retires.

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CHRISTMAS EVE FOR CYCLISTS

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Theo de Rooy: “It’s a bollocks this race! You’re working like an animal, you don’t have time to piss, you wet your pants. You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping, it’s a piece of shit…”

John Tesh: “Will you ever ride it again?”

de Rooy, not hesitating for a second: “Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

That quote, from Dutchman Theo de Roy after abandoning the 1985 edition of Paris-Roubaix was the moment I fell in love with “the Hell of the North”.

That year’s race was a particularly tough edition. The cold, the wind, the rain and the mud took it’s toll on the field and de Rooy in particular. Seeing a physically and morally devastated Theo de Rooy at once both curse the race and profess his admiration for it hooked me.

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And so, every year since that myself and who knows how many other cyclists watch the calendar and the weather forecast with anticipation as each edition of Paris-Roubaix approaches.

This being the day before the Queen of the Classics, can be thought of as Christmas Eve for cyclists. Except we won’t wake up to see presents wrapped in shiny paper. Our presents will be wrapped in mud, dust and cobblestones.

Paris-Roubaix is a race from another time. Would a race organiser pitch the idea of a 256km race that included over 50km of sectors traversing cobblestone paths built to carry Napoleon’s army I think they’d be told that they are out of their minds.

Yet Paris-Roubaix stands to this day and invites the hardmen of the peleton to try their luck on her harsh roads. What makes Paris-Roubaix a unique spectacle is that despite the advancements in traning and technology since it’s inception in 1897 one thing has remained constant. The men will do battle over the same roads that have challenged their predecessors for over a hundred years. The riders get faster, the bikes get better and the stones have stayed the same.

It used to be said that a cyclist cannot lay claim to greatness without winning Paris-Roubaix. That was in a time when cyclists raced everything. Grand Tour winners would try their luck at Paris Roubaix. Eddy Merckx won on the cobbles as well as in le Tour. Today cyclists have branched out into specialties and you wouldn’t see a Grand Tour contender like Andy Schleck try his luck on this dastardly course. So a special breed comes to this race ready to suffer and battle.

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This year’s race is going to be an interesting one. With Fabian Cancellara out with the broken collarbone he suffered in the Tour of Flanders the race is going to be a bit more open but no less difficult.

Tom Boonen has been looking both strong and confident in the days leading up to Paris-Roubaix. Winning last week at the Tour of Flanders he may be on form to tie fellow Belgian Roger de Vlamminck into the record books with a 4th win at Paris-Roubaix and he has a tide of Belgian support.

Boonen may be the marked man on the day and his victory isn’t guaranteed. He’s had bad luck on the cobbles in previous editions. Italy’s Phillipo Pozzato is looking particularly strong as is Spaniard Juan Antonia Flecha. I’m expecting tomorrow’s race to be one for the ages.

With showers in the forecast for northern France, the cobbles may play an even larger role than in previous dust filled years. The rain brings the mud and manure up from between the cobblestones raising the risk of the brutal crashes that have made this race so famous.

Back in the 1980’s I remember waiting for weeks for CBS sports to bring a packaged report on the race. Those early programs introduced us to Phil Liggett (yay) and John Tesh and his cheesy synthesisor music (boo) and reporting on cycling has changed vastly since then.

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Now with the rise of the internet there’s no more waiting and we can watch live from France as the race unfolds. I suggest the excellent http://www.cyclingfans.com for the latest on links to live streams in several languages. Following the conversation on Twitter allows us to share the experience with like minded cyclists across the globe (we’re not alone in our oddball passion).

Enjoy!

 

 
 
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Spin Class

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe because most of what we resolve to do, we should already be doing anyway in terms of health and human decency.

What I am a fan of however, is goal setting. As we roll the odometer over to 2012 I’ve set a few personal and professional goals of my own. On the personal side I have decided to return to recreational bicycle racing, not to win races (though that would be nice) but to be competitive and enjoy the health benefits that accompany such a pursuit.

In my twenties I raced both road and mountain bikes to varying degrees of success. In terms of any type of sporting activity it was the last time I actually competed and I find myself missing that sense of purpose and drive. I’ve continued to ride my bike but that’s all I’ve been doing, just riding with no sense of purpose and no goals set.

So this year, at what will be 48 years of age by the time cycling season rolls along I want to get back in the mix and race not just to show up (save that for running a 10k) but to be competitive. I probably won’t win, but I don’t want to be dropped either.

Being a cyclist on the east coast of Canada means you have to adjust your schedule and training regime to the weather and lack of sunlight that winter brings. This means heading indoors.

Turbo trainers, mag trainers, whatever you call them provide perhaps the best approximation of cycling. Hook it up to your back wheel, throw a towel on the floor and grind away. Here’s the problem: you’re pretty much on your own and some of us find it hard to be motivated spinning away in a dark corner of the basement. You iPod and old Tour de France videos can’t mask the fact that pounding away on your own is really, really boring.

A couple of years ago Spinning Classes started to grow in popularity across North America, eventually landing in our neck of the woods. I had looked into it and immediately looked down my nose at it. It was all too cheerful for me, happy instructors clad in a mix of cycling clothing and Lulu Lemon chirping out encouragement and dopey lines like “we’re climbing that hill now, let’s race over the top together!”.

Give me a break. I’m a cyclist and you’d never catch me nor any of my cycling friends in a mirrored room with these poseurs. Cycling is about suffering, you never saw Eddy Mercxk smile when he crushed the competition. If a spin class wanted to be anything like cycling they’d pelt you with sleet and have your instructions yelled at you in Flemmish.

Last winter, faced with no other choice and a growing post Holiday middle section I caved in and tried a spin class. You know, so I could tell my cycling buddies that it’s a joke. I mean c’mon, look around the room, how many of these people to you think actually ride bikes? And I’ll bet none of them have ever raced. Amatuers, pfft.

My first class was to be my last. I just wanted to prove to myself that spin class couldn’t possibly benefit my cycling. So I picked my bike, got the saddle position set up and spun a nice and easy 100 rpm while I waited for the the foolishness to begin.

Some kind of techno music rolled us along as we warmed up together, adding more and more load to get the muscles warmed up and ready for work. Once we were ready the instructor announced we were going for our first “race”. Get serious, a “race”? This is a joke but I’ll play along. The tempo of the music picked up, we grabbed a bit more gear and upped our RPMs into “race” cadence.

“This is so dumb.” I thought to myself. “Nothing like cycling. Cycling’s tough. This…..is…not….hard….at………………..”.

Okay, so I was huffing and puffing a little bit, that’s just because I had been off my bike for awhile. I’ll grab some active recovery between “races” and laugh this whole class off. Then came the next sets of work, there were speed intervals to drive the heart rate crazy. There were periods of hard work where thighs and glutes screamed for mercy. Maybe it wasn’t a joke.

About halfway through my first class, the varying levels of intensity started to remind me of the ebb and flow of effort during a criterium or relatively flat road race. This is turning out to be hard work.

I came back for a second class and for class after class after that eventually becoming a regular. As an experiment I brought my heart rate monitor along and was peaking out around 188 bpm. Everyone around me, no matter what their fitness level and no matter whether or not they were actually cyclists seemed to be working at their personal target level as well. That’s when I started to understand that spin class isn’t about cycling at all. It’s about boosting your cardio and giving everything you’ve got in the allotted hour and I was starting to enjoy it.

As the winter passed I left my cycle snobbery behind and made acquaintances with several of the other regulars, even sharing words of encouragement and congratulating each other after particularly hard sessions.

Eventually, the Spring returned and the ice and snow left the roads and it was time to start back on the bike and guess what? My leg speed was significantly higher. I’d always had a bad habit of pushing too large a gear and now, after over 25 years on the bike I was spinning efficiently at about 20 rpm higher than before. I’d also changed my saddle position, my cleats and foot positioning to help me spin more smoothly than ever before. With my new increase in cadence I was also climbing better and not using big muscle groups on climbs that eventually would fill my legs with lactic acid.

Don’t tell any of my cycling friends but spin class actually helped me become a better cyclist.

Now as the New Year starts us all with a clean slate, I’ve set a goal to rejoin the peleton. Along the way, I will lose weight, boost my Vo2 Max, put more wattage to the pedals and regain the spirit of competitiveness. And I’ll be using spin class to start me on that path.

But you’ll never catch me in Lulu Lemon.

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