Brian’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo Recap

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Our coworker Brian just completed Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Harrisonburg, VA this weekend. It has a reputation as the toughest ride on the East Coast, and with it’s combination of long distances, steep hills, and gravel, has been known to take even very experienced riders to their limits. Fortunately, Brian finished the gran fondo, and we’re checking in with him to see how it went, what he would do differently, and what advice he has for anyone wanting to attempt it next year.

-Hi Brian. Can you tell us a little bit about how you felt going into the gran fondo?

I felt pretty good going into it, but I think I could do better next year. My fitness was generally pretty good, but not having done it before, I definitely wasn’t ready for how difficult the gravel climbs would be, and they took their toll. I also made some stupid mistakes in the first half of the ride that almost undid me in the second half. Other than that, I felt pretty good on the bike, and was overall just happy to have finished.

-What was your favorite part?

Crossing the finish line to find my amazing girlfriend waiting with a bottle of Clif Recovery drink and a plate of food.

My favorite part of the actual ride was the descent off the first KOM section. Wide open highway, gentle curves, and high speeds. It was really exhilarating, and not something I get to experience too often. You truly get a feeling of flying, and it’s one of the most fun things I think you can do on a bike.

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Riders for the Gran Fondo, Medio, and Piccolo routes all started together

-What was your least favorite part?

I think the two gravel climbs might be physically the hardest thing I’ve done, but the last 20 miles was much more difficult, mentally. Even on a really, really hard climb like Reddish Knob you can still settle into a rhythm—you just accept that you’ll be pedaling until the top and get to work. The last 20 miles however was full of short and steep rollers that were just long enough and steep enough to be very mentally draining after so much saddle time.

-What equipment choices worked well?

I think the Gatorskin Hardshell is  probably the single most impressive piece of cycling equipment I’ve ever used. I hit some rocks (not gravel, straight up rocks) and holes that by all rights should have detonated a clincher tire, yet I never flatted the entire ride.

The compact was also a great choice. No, actually, it was the only choice. After the first road climb I thought maybe I should have gone with a 52/36 chainring combo instead of a 50/34. After the first gravel climb though, I realized I never would have gotten up it with a 36.

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The route passed through some beautiful Amish country

 

-What equipment would you change next year?

-I think next year I would definitely ride a cyclocross bike or an endurance road bike. Something like the GT Grade or a Fuji Altamira CX with bigger tire clearance, disc brakes and a lighter weight would have been perfect.

-25mm tires were fine, but next year I’m definitely going with 28mm or 30mm tires

-Lighter wheels. My winter wheels were chosen for their durability, but it didn’t take long before I started feeling the 2150g weight. Having seen the course, I would feel more comfortable using a carbon wheel next year.

- I’ll probably consider using a mid-cage SRAM WiFli rear derailleur with an 11-32 cassette instead of an 11-27, just to get that extra bail out gear.

 

-Would you do it again?

After I crossed the finish line I swore I would never do it again. But I woke up on Monday morning thinking about how I would train and set up my bike differently next time. So I guess the answer is yes, I will probably be on the start line next year.

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Crossing the finish line is usually the high point of the day for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

-Any advice for someone thinking about doing it next year?

-Spend as much time climbing as you can! I didn’t this year, and I definitely paid for it. Not immediately, but later in the ride.

-Take full advantage of all the aid stations. I didn’t spend much time at the first two, only stopping to fill up on fluids and that was a big mistake which I blame on race day excitement. I should have stayed a few minutes longer to eat real food and stretch, but instead I ended up bonking around mile 60 and really suffering up Reddish Knob and the last part of the ride.

-Don’t take the “pro pee break” at mile 15. The only people who will stop are the pro’s and super strong riders, so you’ll find yourself alone very quickly, with nobody to pace up the climb.

-Run the widest tires your bike will fit, and make sure you have new brake pads on your bike

-Don’t start all loaded down with your own food. The aid stations are really well stocked, and had Honey Stinger gels and mini Clif Bars you could take with you. I would recommend just having 1 or 2 gels in your pocket at the start, just in case, and then loading up at the aid stations.

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Jeremiah Bishop won. Again. You really can’t put a price on home road advantage.

5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of The Off Season

I guess we’re getting just about to that point of the year. The days get shorter, the group rides start to taper off, and the last of the gran fondos and event rides are just about over. For racers, the last road races of the season should be in a week or two.

For many, it means taking some well-deserved time off. For most though, it means it’s time to start thinking about the off-season.

Now don’t let the term “off-season” fool you—this is the best time of year for riding. But to rest, recover, and come back stronger next year, follow these simple tips for the rest of this year.

 

1. Long Steady Distance (LSD)

This fall, ride longer and slower than you normally would. This is the time of year for sprawling weekend rides in the little ring. And when we say steady, we mean slow and steady. Take it conversation-pace easy, ride with a buddy, and have a good time.

Why: During the high season of cycling most riders concentrate on high intensity work, which is great for building strength, but often neglect the slow burn work that builds aerobic capacity. LSD riding during the fall and winter will help you build a good aerobic base for the spring.

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Fall and winter are the time for slow, steady, meandering rides to take in the scenery, enjoy a mid-ride conversation, and build an aerobic base

 

2. Mix It Up

During the fall we normally introduce more rest days into our week. Normally we ride 5-6 days a week during the summer, but usually reduce it to just 3 or 4 during the fall, with half of those being mountain bike or ‘cross rides.

Why: Letting your body and mind rest by riding fewer days and mixing up the type of riding you do is incredibly important. The rest days give your body time to recover and rebuild, while varying up your riding routine helps prevent mental burnout.

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Mixing in some mountain biking can be a good way to keep from mentally burning out

 

3. Get Stronger

Run. Lift weights. Do core work. In short, try to work out the muscles you don’t use much during cycling.

Why: Cycling is a single plane exercise that only works a few muscles in specific directions. Running, lifting weights, and core work can help strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments to help prevent injury.

*If it’s been a few years since you last ran or lifted, go easy until your tendons, ligaments and muscles can adapt. Most cyclists are very aerobically fit, which means when they start running or lifting they can easily injure themselves by trying to do too much too soon.

For running start out easy with a half a mile once a week to start, then build in .5 mile increments from there.

For weight lifting we recommend consulting a personal trainer before you start. It’s worth the $30 or $40 it costs for a session if it avoids a more costly injury later from using too much weight or improper form.

Running and lifting weights can help you get in shape for 'cross season and make you more injury resistant next year

Running and lifting weights can help you get in shape for ‘cross season and make you more injury resistant next year

4. Stretch It Out

Last weekend we pulled the yoga mat out of the closet and started going to our traditional off-season classes again. With darker days coming, this is a great time to start doing some yoga or pilates that can help lengthen tight muscles, reducing the chance of injury and the inflammation that builds up after months or riding.

Why: Cycling can be very hard on muscles, and when overworked they often respond by shortening and forming adhesions and muscles knots. Dynamic lengthening exercises like yoga and pilates help safely stretch out those muscles, helping to reduce back, neck and shoulder pain, and make you more flexible, which also makes you more resistant to injury.

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Yoga and pilates are good ways to get more limber to help avoid injury

 

5. Mix In Intensity

We know we just said to go easy through the fall and winter. But make sure you’re doing the occasional high intensity ride that really pushes up your heart rate and makes you work hard. Try doing a hard intervals ride or a difficult trainer session once a week or once every other week.

Why: Low intensity is a good thing for recovery, but too much of it can lead to detraining, which is where you begin to loose fitness. Studies show that by doing occasional high intensity training, you can preserve your peak fitness by up to 15 weeks. Think of it as kind of like occasionally starting the engine on a car that’s been put away for the winter.

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Long and slow distance is the name of the game– but don’t forget to get some high intensity work in too

Brian’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo Prep

It’s that time of year again… time for one of our employees to put themselves to the test with Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. We’ve covered this event before in the past, where clothing buyer Zach, and others, have tackled this legendarily tough ride.

Starting in Harrisonburg, VA the ride covers about 105 miles and features over 11,000 feet of climbing. And just to make sure that it’s extra tough, the two biggest climbs are a combination of dirt and gravel.

It’s going to be a tough one, but well worth it to raise money for prostate cancer.

This year, Brian, our content and media writer, will be undertaking the challenge. He’s a fairly experienced cyclist, and has been training hard since May, after doing the Ronde van Vlaanderen Sportif in Belgium. He’s never done the ride before, but he says he’s feeling pretty good.

Find out more about his preparation and his equipment below.

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What made you want to do the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo?

Ever since I moved to North Carolina and came to work at Performance, I’ve heard stories about how hard it is. I love looking for long, challenging rides that really test my fitness and push my limits. As I’ve gotten older I’ve kind of lost interest in actual racing, but I still like to get competitive on a bike, and see how I stack up against other riders. Gran Fondo’s are a perfect opportunity to do that, whether you’ve raced in the past or are just getting into the sport.

What are you excited about?

Finally doing the Alpine Loop. I planned to do the Gran Fondo in both 2012 and 2013, but had to miss out for various reasons. Third time is a charm I guess. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to ending the season on a high note.

What are you feeling nervous about?

The big climbs. It was a busy summer for me, and I didn’t get a chance to go out to the mountains for some of those long, hour long climbs. Mostly this year I’ve done stuff like the Ronde with short, punchy, hills. I did a lot of Youtube trainer workouts for climbing though, so I guess on Sunday we’ll see if that was enough.

What bike will you be using?

Scattante Titanium. Anyone remember those? I was lucky enough to get my hands on one a few years back and it’s been my go to for long distance rides. Nice upright endurance geometry, and the titanium is excellent for handling road vibration.

I built it up with Campy 11-speed, and some burly handbuilt 32-spoke wheels.

Brian's titanium Scattante frame should be the right tool for the job

Brian’s titanium Scattante frame should be the right tool for the job

Did you make any special equipment changes for the Alpine Loop?

Yeah, absolutely. 100+ miles, 11K feet of climbing, gravel…that’s a long day on the bike and you need to be ready.

 

What equipment will you be using?

Brian's clothing and equipment choices for the Alpine Loop

Brian’s clothing and equipment choices for the Alpine Loop

 

There’s a lot of gnarly gravel sections. What repair items are you carrying?

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What else will you carry?

Even though the Gran Fondo will have food available, Brian is bringing plenty of his own, just in case

Even though the Gran Fondo will have food available, Brian is bringing plenty of his own, just in case

 

Thanks Brian, and good luck!

Check back next week for Brian’s Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo recap.

 

To learn more about how to prepare for your next big ride, check out these articles:

Training With Power

Over the last few years you have probably heard a lot about power meters and how cyclists are using power to train. We all know that cyclists produce power when we ride, but why is that useful to us? As an everyday cyclist, why is power important? And, most importantly, what is a power meter?

What Is Power?

Power is a measurement of the work the cyclist is doing, and it’s measured in watts. Power meters use small sensors called strain gauges to measure the amount of power, or watts, you’re putting into the bicycle to make it move forward. The sensors send this information to your cycling computer, which gives you a read out of your power stats. There are a few different kinds of power meters, and each have their pro’s and cons.

Power Meters

  • Real Wheel Hub Power Meters, which place the strain gauges in the driveside of the rear wheel. Generally this is the simplest type of power meter to install and use, since all you have to do is replace the rear wheel. They are fairly accurate, but generally can’t give you some of the finer points of power measurement, like if you’re generating more power with your right or left leg.

Rear wheel power meters, like our exclusive PowerTap G3 Reynolds Assault Wheelset, are an easy and convenient way to add a power meter to your bike

  • Crank Power Meters, which place the strain gauges on the crank spider. These power meters are a little trickier to install, since they involve replacing the entire crankset and sometimes the bottom bracket. They are also more expensive, but some experts argue that they give a more accurate picture of power output, since they are closer to the source of the power output (your legs) than the rear wheel.

A crankset power meter like this one from Quarg is a great way to add a highly accurate power meter to your bike

  • Pedal Power Meters, which place the strain gauges in the pedal spindles. These are probably the most accurate power meters available, since they can measure directly how much you’re pushing and pulling with each foot—and they can also tell you if you’re power output is unbalanced. Another advantage is you can swap them from bike to bike or travel with them fairly easily.

Pedal-based power meters, like the Garmin Vector, are the most versatile and portable way to get power readings

Why Is Power Important?

Power is important because it gives a more dependable measure of your fitness and your ability. Average speed is ok, but it’s too dependent on variables like wind, how hilly your route is, etc… and doesn’t really tell you how hard you’re working. Heart rate is fine, but again it’s too subject to variables. Don’t believe us? Try strapping on a heart rate monitor and then think about your heart rate. We’ll guarantee you it goes up. Heart rate also doesn’t really give you a complete picture of what’s going on, since a high heart rate doesn’t always translate into increased work. This isn’t to say that these training tools are without value. Heart rate and average speed are both very valuable indicators of your fitness, and have a place in any cyclist’s arsenal. But unlike these other, more mercurial, measurements, power is a raw measurement of how much energy you are putting into the bike at any given moment. Even if it’s a terrible day, with the wind against you, and some vicious hills that produce an average speed that makes you want to hang your head in shame, you will still get consistent power readings that will tell you the true effort you were putting into the bike.

Training With Power

Training with power is also an improvement over old methods, because it yields more consistent results. You can’t really train to lower your heart rate—it just happens as a natural byproduct of becoming more physically fit. But you can train to improve power. Training with power opens up a whole can of worms that will be the subject of future blog posts, but there’s some rough things to know.

When training with power, there are generally two important numbers to look for:  maximum power output and maximum sustained power output. Maximum wattage output is a measure of your all-out, everything you got power. Generally, you can’t sustain this for more than a few seconds—think the end of a sprint. This is the maximum amount of power you are capable of transmitting into your bike. The second number, maximum sustained power output, looks at how much power you can put out for a prolonged period of time. Generally riding at this threshold should be uncomfortable, but doable—think slogging up a long hill or mountain. There are specific tests you can do to find out each number, but we’ll get into that in another post.

No matter how long you’ve been riding, or what your end goal is, a power meter is the best way to help you improve your training. We have plenty of options for you to choose from, and for almost any budget.

Winter Training Tips: Using Music To Motivate

Listening to music on the trainer can help motivate you for a training session or a race.

Listening to music on the trainer can help motivate you for a training session or a race.

Have you ever gotten on the trainer, spun the pedals for about 3 seconds and then decided you just weren’t feeling it? You decide to slog it out, so you shift down to an easier gear and spin. After an eternity of riding in what surely must have been a multi-hour, 900-calorie crushing session you look down at your computer, to see that a paltry 6 minutes have passed. We’ve all been there.

There are many reasons this can happen. Sometimes, it might just be your body telling you you need a break. Winter is a good time to take a long rest, relax, and let the legs recover from a hard season. Other times, though, it might just be a lack of motivation.

The problem is that motivation can be very difficult to find from within. On those tough days, sometimes  motivation needs an external nudge to get going, and one of the best of these is music. In 2008, Sports Psychologist Costas Karageorghis found that by listening to music you can reduce your perceived exertion by up to 10% . Plus, we’ve all experienced that sensation when a good pump-up jam comes on. Suddenly we hear the song (we’re pretty partial to the Karate Kid theme…), you get a second wind, the legs seem strong, the form feels better. You just feel faster and stronger than before.

The secret though, is to find music that you enjoy, and that is tailored to your work out. Most indoor workouts should be roughly separated into three distinct phases: warm up, workout (base building, intervals, threshold, etc…), cool down. Building a playlist that helps you move through those phases with different types of music can help you pace yourself, and make the workout feel more natural. Plus, it’s fun.

To help get you motivated, here are a few employee trainer playlists to get you started (note, you must be signed into Spotify to listen to these playlists).

BrianIndie/Punk: Reformed skateboarder turned roadie.

  1. DIIV: Sometime
  2. Austra: Spellwork
  3. Naked Raygun: Soldier’s Requiem
  4. Black Flag: My War
  5. The Misfits: Skulls
  6.  Bad Brains: Sailin’ On
  7. Gorilla Biscuits: New Direction
  8. Bleached: Lookin’ For A Fight
  9. Minor Threat: Small Man, Big Mouth
  10. The Business: National Insurance Blacklist
  11. Beach House: The Hours
  12. Caveman: Old Friend
  13. Youth Lagoon: Posters

 

BobClassic rock: “If you ask me tomorrow it would probably completely different, but for today this is my riding list.”

  1. Band of Heathens: Jackson Station
  2. Janis Joplin: Piece of My Heart
  3. New Riders of the Purple Sage: Louisiana Lady
  4. Van Morrison: Jackie Wilson Said
  5. Shooter Jennings: 4th of July
  6. Led Zepplin: Hey Hey, What Can I Do
  7. Cheap Trick: Southern Girls
  8. Bruce Springsteen: Promised Land
  9. Phil Collins: Behind the Lines
  10. Procol Harem: A Whiter Shade of Pale
  11. Bright Eyes: Waste of Paint
  12. The Doors: LA Woman
  13. Allman Brothers Band: Soul Shine
  14. Paul McCartney: Instrumental (junk)

DevlinElectronic: One album, many rides

  1. Tycho: Dive (full album)
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