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March 2006 – Stephen Skory

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Month: March 2006

Cal Poly Pomona

Cal Poly Pomona

Epic: Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size; Heroic and impressive in quality.
From Dictonary.com.

It's amazing this drug called cycling. The forecast for this weekend foretold homeric conditions - wind, rain, and even snow or hail. I knew what was in store for me, and I raced anyway. But now, I can brag that I raced up a hill as fast as I could go, in the frickin' snow! Can you say that? That's right, you can't. Well maybe you can, but probably not.

There's not much to say about a ~15 minute effort up a hill except that if I did the climb again, I could do it at least thirty seconds faster. I did scout the climb in the car before the race, but the finish line was moved about 1/2 mile farther up the road, so I had no idea quite where to do a 'finishing effort.' I'm not saying I wasn't hurting, but I could have hurt more, especially more intelligently. At this moment I'm not sure of my finishing order, I think it was sixth or seventh.

Getting rained on

What I'll remember about this race was the fact that the weather was terrible. It rained on us while we were preparing & warming up. We luckily had a pop-up tent that covered us, but not completely. The wind was strong enough for the rain to come in the sides at times. Going up the hill, only a few minutes into my race it started snowing. And I mean for real snowing, something this city-boy from coastal California doesn't often see. The visibility went down to roughly 100 feet. Luckily for my traction the snow wasn't sticking to the ground, but for most the climb there was snow from overnight storms on the trees and hillsides.

Right about when I crossed the finish line, the snow stopped falling and the view was incredible. The climb raised us over 300 meters above the valley floor, so there was quite a view. Even though I was rapidly getting cold, I pedaled up the road a bit farther just to see what there was to see. If it wasn't two hours away across the expanse of L.A. suburbs, I would like to climb this road again, but perhaps when it's a bit warmer.

Hey Kiff!

Zapp Brannigan: Kif, I have the captain's itch.
Kif: I'll get the powder sir.
Zapp Brannigan: No, the itch for adventure!

Before the parking lot crit on Sunday, Chris Nekarda and I rode through the Cal Poly Pomona campus to open our legs up a bit and discuss the tatics for the race. We decided that Chris would go for all the primes except the first one, while I would see what I could do if people were feeling frisky.

From the gun a UCSB rider took off and his two teammates were in the front blocking. After a couple laps I bridged up to the UCSB rider and we worked well together, holding off the peloton. As the first prime came, Steve Sperling from UCSC went for the third place prime points and manged to get away from the pack, and bridged up to us. For the next fifteen laps or so, we traded off pulling, but it was clear that the UCSB rider was suffering more than Steve or I. Mainly through a series of hard pulls Steve and I dropped the UCSB rider.

In the closing laps we could see we were close to lapping the field, which is something I've always wanted to do (I'm sure Steve wanted to do it too). With four laps to go I took the sketchy turn a bit too hot and slipped onto my left side. I wasn't hurt badly, and I could have jumped right up and rejoined Steve, but I dropped my chain and that took some precious seconds to fix. By the time I got my chain fixed and was rolling again, I was in third place as the UCSB rider had passed me. However, he was hurting more than me and over the next four laps I caught him and passed him. I didn't even have to attack him to keep him off my wheel as I went by him.

Second place isn't as nice as first place, of course, but I'll take it. It was cool to attack the field and have some genuine race tatics happen behind us, as all of our teammates blocked for us. It wasn't so cool to crash myself out, losing the possibility at first place. It was cool to get back up again, catch and pass the UCSB rider to reclaim the second spot I had earned before my crash.

UCSB Road Races

UCSB Road Races

After my less than stellar performance at the UCLA road race three weeks ago, I was determined to regain at least some endurance. Combined with being healthy, riding lots, and doing Swami's the two weekends between races has brought me a bit of form, I think. I'm at least encouraged by this weekends results.

It was an inauspicious beginning to my weekend when I missed the start for my Mens Bs criterium on Saturday morning. It's not completely my fault - the UCSB announcer said that the races were starting 10 minutes late during the first race. However, subsequent races, including mine, were brought back on schedule. No one bothered to let the people know in the parking lot that was out of ear- and eye-shot of the course. But I should know better than to believe what someone unofficial says.

Anyway, I rolled up to the start line about 10 seconds late, saw the pack sprint off, and did my best to chase them down. I looked at my heart rate monitor, and I did about four laps chasing at about 187 b.p.m., which is not a pace I can hold for very long. I never caught the pack and I was pulled. What I should have done was concede defeat and entered the pack on the backside - away from where the officials could pull me. So many rookie mistakes in such a short period!

Redemption for the day would have to be in the 4/5 UCSF crit, which I quickly signed up for after I left the Mens Bs race. Between races I ate lunch and took a bunch of pictures, some of which came out nicely. I still need to learn how to take good photographs of a moving subject with a telephoto lens.

Isla Vista 4/5 Crit

It's interesting that my tracks are offset slightly to the west. I think it's Google Earth's mistake, not my GPS. The track in red is mainly triangles because the GPS only stores positions every few seconds, and so straight lines are drawn across the course. I also think that trees affected my GPS differentially around the course. Click to see a larger version of this image, or this activity on Motionbased.

The 4/5 crit was my first USCF race in about three years. In that time I've become a much better racer in terms of fitness and skill. I was definitely sketched out by other riders during this race, but perhaps the velodrome has spoiled me. I started in the far back, a bad place to be, so I spent the first few laps moving up as aggressively as possible. I spent most of the rest of race in the top twenty, staying out of trouble. A few times a couple of the local teams tried to get a break off - and they all were brought back. I thought I saw one I liked with about 8 minutes to go (the race was timed) so I chased it down. I liked it because it had five guys in it, two of which from the same team (some local team). That team also had two guys at the front ready to do some blocking. When I got to the group I yelled "Hey you guys. There are two of you. You need to work. You've got blocking in the peleton, work!" They spent about 1/2 a lap with their thumbs up their rears while I jabbered at them. We almost got a rotation going, but the pack caught us.

The remainder of the race I just basically tried to keep too many people from passing me, and managed to stay up near the front pretty well. Jon Lim, also of UCSD, made an ill-advised attack with one lap to go, but besides that it was a straight shot into the final laps. I sprinted for the line on the inside, which had some unfortunate bumps in the pavement from tree roots. I think the bumps disrupted me enough that I fell from lofty 7th place to 8th place. It's a decent result considering the pack size was over 60, and I managed to stay away from the three or so crashes.

The highlight from the rest of day was my experience in the Jack in the Box on Main St. in Santa Maria, down the block from our hotel. We got to the hotel too early for dinner, but I was hungry, so I wanted a milkshake. While I waited for it to be brought out, I surveyed the makeup of customers in the restaurant. Besides the largely harmless Latino families, there were three mangy white men. The first was a homeless man, who seemed a bit drunk, who haggled with the cashier seeing what he could get for two bucks. The second guy was dead-on for Richard Kiel (except in height), the guy in Happy Gilmore with the shirt that says, "Guns don't kill people, I kill people." And the third white guy had two baseball caps on, one on top of the other with both hats on forwards. The top one said "Jesus Bless You." I guess he didn't want his head to touch his holy hat, or something.

That night at the hotel, we learned what sourdine means. Just ask Zack. We also watched Smokey and the Bandit on the Country Music Channel. That was probably the most time I've ever spent watching that channel. Breaker one, breaker one has entered my vocabulary.

Sunday was the Santa Maria road race. On Friday before I got in the car, I spent some time looking at the race course using Google Earth, tracing the altitudes at various points along the course. I wanted to have a good idea of the course before I rode it. I didn't realize until about 10 minutes into the race that I had already done this race course before, four years earlier.

There were five of us from UCSD starting the road race, Chris Nekarda, Dickson Fong, Byron Ho, myself and, new to the team but not collegiate racing, Brian Clement. We didn't really have a plan other than to go the first three or four laps (of a total six) and see where we stood. Each lap was eleven miles long, with a headwind section up a false flat, a two-minute climb, a fast descent with long sight lines, and a drop-your-chain dip and rise.

The first few laps were fairly unremarkable except for the breaks that tried to get off. I mostly ignored them, guessing (correctly) that they would be brought back in due time. There was one break I decided to chase down steady enough to bring the whole pack with me, because I didn't want a break to go off then. If it did go I would have to be in it, and I didn't want to be in a break. It was also the best time to chase a break down, on the main hill, where effort and speed are more linearly related.

On lap three or so, as I was going up the climb I saw Brian slipping backwards through the pack. I said casually "how's it going?" and he replied "horribly." It seems his crash from the day before hurt his back enough that he couldn't put out enough power to get up the hill. On lap four, I think, Chris Nekarda crossed wheels and crashed, not badly, but badly enough to not make it back into the pack. Byron and Dickson had simply fallen off the pace along the way, leaving me all by my lonesome, the sole UCSD survivor. So much for the two laps to go UCSD team strategy meeting.

The last lap and a half before the climb were pretty darned lazy, as everyone had figured out that the last climb would be the place where the fireworks went off. In fact, lap four took only 28 minutes, while lap five took 35 minutes. The average lap took a little under 31 minutes.

See this activity at Motionbased or see this image larger.

I made the mistake of being at the back of the pack going into the main climb. This meant that during the main climb, while I was weaving my way between riders going backwards, two riders snuck off the front, from Cal Tech and Stanford. By the time I got to the front group, I didn't realize there were riders away until it was too late to chase them down. Rob Dahl (from Berkeley) and I gave it a shot and got a gap on the field, but it was clear we wouldn't be able to chase down the pair. Going into the finish line I stayed at the back of the small pack (about 12 guys) and recovered for the sprint. I knew that the finish line was at a left turn lane, so if I stayed on the left side of the road, new space would open up for me to go through during the sprint.

The sprint was very fast, almost 70 kph, because it was at the bottom of a descent. I managed to weave my way up and got third in the field sprint, for fifth overall. This is a much better result than three weeks ago. Of course, the two courses are very different, but I felt completely different in these two races. Before I just simply got dropped. This race, I was going by people getting dropped and I had more to give. Yay me!

The main thing about this course is it offers ample recovery time, if you're in the pack. Looking at my HR data below (my HR monitior didn't mess up once during this race! Huzzah!), even as late as the sixth lap, I was dropping below zone 1, which I consider a great recovery HR. Also, all my forays into the pain box were short, meaning my legs were relatively fresh for the final climb & sprint at the end.

See full size graph.

The highlight of the trip back was a stop in a Ventura sandwich and burger joint that Zack directed us to. There really is something they put in the water in Ventura, at least for the waitresses there.

Photo Mosaics

Photo Mosaics

Lately I've been playing with a cool Mac OS X application called MacOSaiX. You give the application a photograph and a collection of photos, and it recreates the main photo using small photo tiles from the collection. The effect is at least somewhat artistic, and definitely cool.

Here's one I made using pretty much every photo I've ever taken. It's of me at Collegiate Track Nationals, 2005, during the points race qualifying race. I think it came out pretty good, except for the white barrier in the background, which is kind of dirty in the mosaic because I have taken very few photos of only white things.



The program can also scour Google Images for photos, using search terms I provide. Pictured below is Chris Nekarda (closest to the camera), Tona Rodriguez-Nikl (with the red jersey), Tyler Ofstad (on the right) and me riding a few warm-up laps. For this mosaic, I put in a few dozen cycling-related search terms, netting over 30,000 images returned. Not all the photos are cycling-related, which is the main problem using Google Images, but at least no porn snuck into the mosaic. I think this one has a more artistic quality than the one above, especially in the red jersey that Tona's wearing. I think this is due to the larger library of photos searched and the wider variety of photos - I tend to take my photos in one way and of similar things.



A third mode of the program is 'Glyph' mode, whereby instead of photos, glyphs are made at random and fit to the photo. I also chose the hexagon mode, rather than the rectangle mode of the above two mosaics. The program chooses two colors at random, and also a random character from a random font on my computer. It makes one color the background of the glyph, and the character the other color in the foreground. This technique provides a nearly limitless number of glyphs - I esitmate nearly 1019 different glyphs are possible. This is not neccessarily a good thing - the program will pick color combinations that do not exist in nature, and it will throw out that glyph. The photo below ran for about 200,000 glyphs, and I would argue that it doesn't have the same level of detail replicated as the photo-based mosaics. This could partly be because I used an older version of MacOSaiX which could have poorer matching algorithms, or a result of the limited complexity and too big color space of glyphs. Of course, to make the best comparison I need to make a mosaic of the same photo using Glyphs and photos with the same version of the program.



I have some quibbles about the program. First off, it's not a team player. It's a serious resource hog and the computer is almost unusable for other tasks while it's running. This means if I want to run it I've got to leave my computer alone for several hours. iDVD, for instance, will happily encode a DVD in the background while I use the computer for other things, and I would argue that that is no less computationally intenstive. Also, I wish I could go to a particular grid square and tell the application that I don't like the image it put there, and it would put the second best image from the library in that square. The user can place images by hand on the mosaic, but I'm not nearly as skilled at photo matching as the computer. What I am better at is having an opinion whether or not that photo is good for the mosaic.