Another conspiracy-supporting data point

Last Saturday, I drove almost 300km west to take part in the "Great Prize of the Göllheim Community", a 28km time-trial in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz. While the gusting winds were, most likely, equally strong for all starters, I know my lack of confidence in my handling skills put me automatically in a disadvantageous position. I finished my run feeling it had been disastrous: my computer indicated almost 10% lower power than my ride in the Brazilian championships three weeks ago; I was unable to keep my aero tuck for significant stretches, as I fought to keep the bike upright against the strong side winds; and, finally, I was handed a time penalty for taking the wrong line in a turn, missing one cone and thus shortening my ride by a few meters. I went for a lacklustre cool-down and then left to shower ahead of the long drive back, convinced that I'd easily miss the top 10 and thus finish outside the money for the event.

But, coming out of the locker room, I was fairly surprised - so much, in fact, that I even missed the awards ceremony - to find myself ranked 3rd, just over a minute and twenty seconds behind former southwest German champion Kai Hliza (Möbel Ehrmann), and still ahead of many other names I had weighted as candidates for a podium placing, such as Rheinland's reigining state champion, Alexandre Boos (Bianchi-meinradshop.de).

Somewhat embarrassingly (?), the U23 lads which started after the Elites posted the fastest times of the day; if we were put together in the same classification, I would have finished exactly two minutes behind the Team Bergstrasse trio of Christopher Hatz, Harry Kraft and Hans Benning, the latter two, respectively, 2nd and 6th placed in the German U23 championships. The U23 vice-champion, furthermore, is (or was, at least) leading the Bundesliga, the prestigious national series. Definitively no slouch.

Doing the math: 3 seconds per kilometre behind Kai, 4.2s per kilometre behind Harry. On a bad day.

(At those speeds, the missing 10% power - which again suggests my run in Brazil was indeed not too shabby - would have yielded me speeds around 3 or 4% faster, translating into almost 90s time savings - enough to take home the Elite title, and probably only a handful of seconds behind the speedy U23s.)

My kingdom for some anti-doping tests.


Something rotten in Rio das Ostras

(An English translation of a post which originally appeared two weeks ago.)

The number 13 could imply that there was some kind of bad luck, but this would be an erroneous conclusion. I won't hold it as the best time trial of my life (a title shared between the 500 Millas prologue in 2008, or the Hirschbachtal time trial last year), but surely it was not the worst. I could say I was proud not only of my ability to keep the bike upright, but to do so while maintaining a relaxed, aerodynamic position. I couldn't keep my intended pace over one of the long stretches against the wind, however I was just a few watts below my target. At the same time, I think I managed to dose my effort pretty well between climbs and descents, overtaking four riders along the way. Upon finishing, I had the pleasant (?!) feeling of having completely emptied the tank - confirmed by the fact that, several hours after the race, the legs still felt the consequences of the effort.

It was then to my great astonishment that, when crossing the line, I found out I had not set the best time. Nor was I in a position to compete for the podium - I had but the seventh place, with just under half of the competitors still to complete the course. With the later arrivals including most of the most favourites, my name dropped a few more positions in the timetable. In the end, 13th. For someone who intended to fight for the podium, quite frustrating indeed.

Had I so severely miscalculated my own ability, or grossly underestimated my opponents? I still hold that, as I flew to Brazil, my form was certainly among the best I've ever attained. Unlike previous appearances, this year I had an enviable consistency - no colds, accidents or business trips that could have compromised my training, which was, since the first rides this year, directed specifically towards this time trial. I had at my disposal one of the best equipments available, and certainly the greatest attention to the smallest details - such as my positioning on the bike, or small changes we made in our uniforms to further reduce aerodynamic drag. In other races in Germany, I had the opportunity to compare my performance with other athletes who have shared their data - one of the advantages of a power meter installed on the bike is, precisely, the ability to objectively analyse these differences in performance - and we calculated that the sum of those small gains could provide me with almost 10% energy savings, when compared to other athletes who also have access to good equipment and reasonably well positioned in their bikes. Noting the position of other athletes in Rio das Ostras, as well as their equipment configurations, I was certain that alone in this regard I already had a small, but significant head start over my competitors.

Also part of the argument is a comparison of my race performances against those of two other friends: Fritz Meingast, a former teammate in Herpersdorf, and Giulio Focardi, my colleague in Magnesium Pur. In the German Time Trial Championships, held the same weekend as the Brazilian Championship I was taking part, Fritz was sixth, and Giulio, 9th. Leaving aside the winner - the phenomenal Tony Martin, reigning world champion and highly rated for Olympic gold - we can compare the times of my colleagues with second-placed Bert Grabsch - world champion in 2008, and together with his countryman Martin, considered one of the best in the discipline. Over a distance of 40.6km, Fritz and Giulio were, respectively, 2m11 and 3m07s behind the former world champion - or 3.2 and 4.6 seconds per kilometer. Giulio, whom I had managed to beat by 17s in a 22km simulated time-trial the week before my departure, said he had not delivered his absolute best. Making use of an extrapolation based on those races and training rides we did together, I could estimate that, had I had the opportunity to compete for the title of the Sauerkraut Republic, I would have lost between 4 and 5 seconds per kilometer. But, due to higher circumstances, I found myself racing, some six thousand miles southwest, in the Brazilian championships. There, at a distance of 29km, I was 2m28s behind the winner - or 5.1 seconds per kilometer. It would have been a perfectly appropriate deficit against some of the top European athletes - but, to my knowledge, none of the South-American medallists have ever figured significantly in any international competition.

I do not intend to exorcise any of my fellow competitors - particularly not without proper evidence. Still, there are facts - someone who has already returned a positive doping test was crowned champion, and at least three other athletes who made it to the top 15 have been cited, if not suspended, for violations related to controlled substances. It is a tremendous pity that no anti-doping controls took place in a race as important as a national championship - controls which could help our sport, unfortunately marred by so many negative occurrences, win back some credibility. If I am upset with this result, it is only because I didn't want my participation - which, as I put in previous posts, was only the celebration of a much larger process - to end up tainted by the sour taste of suspected widespread cheating. But for now, flying back home with most of the German season still to unfold, I am glad to leave behind my disagreements with Brazilian cycling. It's time to move on. Kette rechts!


The Greatest Fight

There comes a time one has to face a life-defining battle. And this struggle may come right in the maelstrom of a perfect storm: I've recently failed to accomplish one of the highest sporting goals I had set for myself, and find myself having to redefine what my next objectives will be, and how will they fit with my long(er) term plans. I'm rushing through the end of my Ph.D. , trying desperately to set my results straight and iron out deficiencies in the formalism I've been excruciatingly working on for the past three and a half years. Concomitantly, I'm sketching the early draft of what may be my second venture into Academia, perhaps a second Ph.D., attempting to combine my Physics knowledge with my passion for cycling. And also contemplating an investment here or a side business there, looking for other ways to make ends meet once my scholarship runs out by the end of the year. All while still trying to be a good friend, son, and lover, even if time seems often to run extremely short.

But right now, I have to face a much greater challenge - this very evening, and the next one, and the one following it. I have to ... sleep.

Last week, in an evening I went to bed expecting to sleep like a log, I was somehow caught off-guard and spent the whole night looking at the ceiling, painfully conscious of my own vigilant state, as I forgot how to do the one thing I've been doing effortlessly since my very first day in this planet. I did manage to catch some ZzZz's in the days afterwards, but only after bringing myself to the edge of exhaustion - and only to find myself, the following night, again unable to disconnect, as I was too aware of not being asleep. Flying back home with a five-hour time difference in the midst of this surely didn't help. With my terminal refusal to consider any sort of medication - I can't fathom the idea of having exogenous chemicals of the synthetic kind affecting how my brain reacts - I sought refuge in chamomile tea and the odd herbal medicine. It was perhaps only in the past evening that I could feel like I've fallen asleep in a somehow more regular fashion - still, not without a few interminable moments turning in bed.

I eagerly await the day - hopefully, not too distant - when I'll wake up and realize I've slept eight or nine hours straight. If anyone cares to join me in celebrating - there'll be mugs of strong, black coffee for everyone :)