Category Archives: Tour Divide 2018

Gear Inches and Granny Gears

On some recent climby training rides, especially when feeling effects of accumulated fatigue, I found myself wishing for a lower granny gear.  I’ve been riding a 28/42 crankset + 11-36 cassette.  With a 2.2×29″ tire, that’s roughly 22.5 gear inch granny gear (and 110.3 gear inches on the high end).  I’ve been riding this for a while now and it’s been fine for normal, unloaded riding.  Throw in back-to-back long/climby days and 20+ lbs of gear, water, food, and trying to ride at a more sustainable “all day” pace – a lower granny gear would be nice.

Back in 2015 when I trained for the TD I was running a 1×11 with a 30-42 granny – 20.6 gear inches.  I never considered that granny gear to be inadequate, but I didn’t like how I spun out almost any gradual descent.  The high-end was a meager 86.7 gear inches.

So I figure I have two options:

  1. Replace the 28/42 chainrings with 26/39.  That would change the gear inch range to 20.9 – 102.5.  A granny gear 7% lower than previously.
  2. Keep the 28/42 chainrings and add a 42T Wolftooth cog to the cassette. Gear inch range:  19.3 – 110.3.  A granny gear 14% lower than previously.

I opted for #2 and installed it last night.  It offers a lower granny gear without sacrificing the upper range.

Because we’re adding a new granny gear, a different cog must be removed – typically the 15T or 17T.  The downside is that it introduces a larger jump between gears: 11-13-17-19-22 or 11-13-15-19-22.  Of course, Wolftooth thought of a solution for this: replace the 15T and 17T with a 16T cog.  So the stack looks like 11-13-16-19-22.  Two 3T jumps jumps instead of a 2T and 4T jump.

And here it is, in red of course.  Very nice looking!

In the work stand everything sounds and works fine.  For the first time ever, I actually had to add links (just one) to a new chain for it to be the proper size.  We’ll see how it works in the field soon enough.  Mental notes to myself: how noticeable the lower granny gear is?  Has shifting crispness has changed at all? Are the jumps between the 13-16-19 cogs more jarring?

 

While on the topic of gear inches, I just had to figure out my granny gear of the commuter bike I rode on the Great Divide in 2010.  28/38/48 crankset + 11-32 cassette with 2.2×26″ tires: 23.1 gear inch granny gear.  So slightly harder than the cutthroat’s 28/36 granny.  Considering I had never ridden in mountains, inefficient bike position, a heavy bike, and a far more/heavier gear I don’t know how my knees didn’t explode.  On the high end, the 48/11 combo gave 115.2 gear inches.  Even with such a tall gear, I remember spinning out on various descents, wishing to be able to pedal to generate some warmth.

Tour Divide: Southbound vs Northbound

I put my name on the start list in early February as a Southbound Grand Depart participant.  After reading reports of above average snowpacks in Canada/Montana, and below average snowpacks in New Mexico/Colorado I’m starting to consider a Southbound start.

Reasons to Ride Southbound

I signed up as a Southbound racer for a few reasons: to be part of the Banff Grand Depart experience, easier travel arrangements (fly to Calgary, have family/girlfriend waiting in Antelope Wells), and more chance of companionship.  Ego, convenience, and safety in numbers.

There’s certainly an appeal to being part of the mass start.  Being mid-pack with other racers, lots of people on the route would know what we’re doing.  I remember riding into Cuba and having drivers wave at us as if they knew we were touring the GDMBR.  It felt good to get that recognition.

Travel arrangements are easier for me ending in AW.  My family lives in the Denver area, so for them to get to AW is just a 11 hour drive.  I imagine being able to arrange something roughly like, “once I’m halfway between Pie Town and Silver City, Drive to Silver City and wait there.  Once I hit Separ, start driving to the border.”

Companionship shouldn’t and can’t be counted on, but early in the race I think it would help to build confidence before settling into a routine.  Knowing that there will be 100 others around +/- a few days is psychologically comforting.

I think I would prefer ending the race in Antelope Wells, having completed the route the other direction.  A tour or TD race is such an experience that I want a chance to reflect on the trip.  The solitude of the desert and boredom of flat pavement would let that happen.

I remember riding up the Spray River Trail rounding a corner and suddenly being at the trailhead, my GDMBR trip finished.  I suddenly became just another tourist in Banff.  Instant culture shock.  Suddenly thrown into a crowded town that doesn’t match the experience of the preceding 2,700 miles.

Reasons to NOT Ride Southbound

  • Colder weather in Canada/Montana
  • Hike-a-bike due to large snowpack
  • Hike-a-bike through snowmelt
  • Hotter weather in New Mexico
  • Less surface water available in New Mexico
  • Greater chance of monsoons + peanut butter mud in New Mexico

Cold is one of my greatest fears. The 2014 race started with a week of snow and rain.  As someone whose feet sweat profusely and constantly has cold hands (poor circulation?), that sounds miserable.  Like quit-the-race miserable.  Walking through snowmelt runoff streams for the first few days – I imagine my feet would get numb and stay that way all day, regardless of clothing choices.

Then there’s the “unknown.”  Most rookies go into the race with no firsthand knowledge of the route.  I have the small advantage of having ridden S=>N once before.  I know roughly what supplies are available at various towns.  I remember some water sources in dry areas, and can remember roughly what much of the route looked/felt like.  If I were to ride southbound, my knowledge of the climbs would be wasted.  I had to hike up Fleece Ridge and suffer up the climb out of Radium, but I got to enjoy massive descents down to Abiquiu and Del Norte.  I don’t know what the experience is like in the opposite direction.

It’s typically stated that the route Southbound climbs gradually and descends steep.  I think my riding style now favors steep climbs and more gradual descents – the Northbound direction.

General Race Outlook

When I was sure I was racing Southbound, I mostly felt worried about prolonged wet/cold and being in bear territory on day one.  Plus, ending day one with a 3 hour hike-a-bike up the quad trail/river to Koko Claim is a bit daunting.

When I consider riding Northbound, it feels like a weight is lifted from me.  I’ve ridden that direction before.  I don’t have to worry nearly as much about weather.  Getting to Silver City and beyond should be a relatively simple first day.  Getting through the Gila to Pie Town and Grants will be challenging, but it can be planned for.  I’m accustomed to riding in mountains, unlike eight years ago.

I think I will gain a lot of confidence on days one and two if starting in AW.  I remember struggling on the “hills” between Hachita and Silver City.  I remember the first climb on gravel heading into the Gila, how I had to walk after a few hundred yards.  And also the climb out of Black Canyon 30-40 miles later.  From my journal:

The climb out of the canyon was absolute hell. It consisted of many miles of steep roads covered in loose gravel. It had me pushing my bike in no time. Even that was difficult.

After checking elevation profiles on Strava, the climb out of Black Canyon is a 2-mile 6-7% climb.  “Absolute hell” for 2010 Dave, but not a big deal at all for 2018 Dave.  I look forward to doing those climbs again and thinking to myself “hey, I can do this thing!”

In Summary

I’m 90% sure that I’m going to ride South to North at this point.  And if I do choose to go Northbound, the question then becomes: leave with the NoBo Grand Depart, or leave a day or two earlier, or leave a few hours earlier (daylight is more of a premium in NM)?

Southbound Pros

  • Group start experience
  • Not likely to ride completely alone
  • Easier pickup from AW

Southbound Cons

  • Cold, rain, snow
  • Snowpack = hike-a-bike
  • Flying with bike: possibility of damage
  • Heat + mud in NM

Northbound Pros

  • Drive to start: no bike reassembly
  • Cooler in NM/CO
  • Warmer in MT + Canada
  • Less chance of NM mud
  • Climb steep, descend gradual

Northbound Cons

  • Likely to ride alone the entire race
  • Sparse resupply immediately

Tour Divide Training: February – March 2018

February
I continued with TrainerRoad’s Sweet Spot Base II Mid Volume plan, which wrapped up on Feb 24.  I only did a total of three outdoor rides this month for a total of 73 miles.  It’s easy to look at that and feel unaccomplished.  I have to focus on the fact that I did 14 hard trainer rides, which are far more effective at building strength than outdoor miles.

March
March started with a recovery week after the Sweet Spot Base phase, then another FTP test.  This time I scored an FTP of 242 – up 4% from my previous test and up 10% from my first test.  W/kg: 3.68.  It felt good to achieve a higher number.

The next few rides I did outside, and I noticed that I felt unbalanced on the bike.  Riding outdoors (and actually moving) didn’t feel natural.  That was a bit disconcerting.  I decided that it was time to start riding outdoors more.

I attached all bags, bottle cages, lights, and gear to my bike in mid-March to start acclimating to the heaver load.  I’ve loaded about 95% of my gear (some kinks need to be worked out), and now always carry extra water for training weight.  I even did a night ride to start getting rid of the “dark trails are scary” feelings.

I ended up logging 402 miles over 12 rides plus another three trainer workouts.  I definitely need to step it up in April.

Tour Divide Training January 2018

What?!  Tour Divide training?  Official Letter of Intent coming in the future, but yes, I am committed to racing the Tour Divide this year.  I even added myself to the official unofficial start list.  I’m going to start recording my training (physical and otherwise) to help organize my thoughts and keep myself accountable to making it to the start line.

Training Plan

When I trained for the TD in 2015 (but didn’t get to the start line) I just rode my bike a lot.  Long days in the mountains, hill repeats, etc all with my bikepacking gear.  I think what I did would have adequately prepared me to complete the race, had I shown up.  It wasn’t very efficient, though, and I have no idea how strong I was at the end of training compared to the beginning.

That is going to change this year.  I like plans, numbers, and measurable results.  I finally bought a power meter and dedicated trainer wheel for my Cutthroat – it was long overdue.  Armed with power data and a TrainerRoad subscription, I have one goal for now: increase my FTP as much as possible until Spring.  I would be very happy to be in the 275 to 300 watt range prior to the Grand Depart.

Here’s the high-level physical training plan:

  • Sweet Spot Base I (complete)
  • Jan 22 – Mar 3: Sweet Spot Base Phase II Mid Volume (in progress)
  • Mar 5 – April 28: Sustained Power Build Phase (doing increasingly many rides outdoors with gear)
  • May: More logistical rides (multi-day rides, set up/break camp in rain, specific elevation/mileage goals, night riding, etc.)

Progress So Far

Last November when I started training I took my first 20 minute FTP test and achieved a result of 220.  At 145 lbs that put me at 3.34 W/kg.  Pretty solid, I think, for having never trained with any structure beyond “I feel like riding today.  I’ll go…there!”

I started with TrainerRoad’ Sweet Spot Base Low Volume I, but found myself wanting a bit more work during the week.  Halfway through I switched to Mid Volume I to add an extra hard workout to weekends and a mid week low intensity endurance ride (this one I often skip, because BORING).

Near the of January I started Sweet Spot Base Phase II and took my second FTP test: 232 and 3.53 W/Kg.  Immediately after I finished I realized I could have gone bit harder.  My 5 minute splits were 237, 245, 245, 254.  I certainly suffered, but not nearly as much as during the first test.  I think upping my cadence from low 80s to mid-90s helped a ton as well – gotta burn fat and save that sugar!

As of the end of January I am in the middle of the second week of Sweet Spot Base Phase II.  It’s certainly type II fun, but I really enjoy being able to feel worked after 1-2 hours.  If I were doing 1-2 hour rides outside I wouldn’t get nearly the same quality of workout.

I really looked forward to my second FTP test and still feel the same way about my upcoming third test.  Being able to measure improvement is so motivating!  I hope to see even more improvement in my next FTP test than my second.  High 240’s would be great.  250+ would be a nice milestone to break, too.

What I’ve Learned

Learning about FTP, power zones, and pacing has been eye-opening.  Same with the instructions that display with TrainerRoad workouts.

I’ve been pedaling incorrectly this whole time!  Prior to TrainerRoad my natural cadence typically fell in the 80-85 range, probably lower on climbs.  What I didn’t know is that puts my fuel consumption further into the sugar side of the spectrum than ideal.  Spinning faster allows the body to burn more fats instead.  Spinning a cadence of 90+ now seems very natural.

In the past I thought there was value to doing long or hard rides with minimal food to train your body to do without it.  I now realize that improper nutrition gets in the way of training effectively.  I still think there is value to pushing through those discomforts on purpose occasionally, I see them as destructive session rather than constructive.  Rides like that might make you mentally tougher and unlock some “I made it through that, so I can get through this” attitude, but might not contribute to physical fitness effectively.

I also now understand the concept of power zones and their physiological tolls.  Most importantly right now: an all-day pace that an endurance rider can sustain is in the range of 60-75% of their FTP.  Obviously a person with a higher FTP can put out more power all day than another rider with a lower FTP.  Additionally, higher FTP means you can stay in your efficient zones for more time.  Take two riders with FTPs of 200 and 250.  Both can sustain 175 watts for a time, but it will be far more taxing on rider one.  175 watts falls on the high end of tempo whereas it is solid endurance zone for the stronger rider.  Short bursts into the 225 watt range would put rider one into anaerobic zones whereas rider two stays aerobic.

When I look back on the Great Divide, I realize how much fitness I lacked.  I was constantly miles behind the other guys and had to work hard to not be too slow.  I was likely riding well above my endurance pace, taxing my body more than if I rode consistently at my all-day pace.  I imagine that my fitness was in a state that so many of the climbs put me far into the red and robbed my of any semblance of sustainability.  Oh how I wish I had a power meter back then, so I could compare myself then and now and “forecast” future results.

Well, that’s it for now.  I gotta hop on the trainer and knock out a 3×16-minute over-under interval workout.