Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Saratoga 12-Hour

I headed to Saratoga with M__ last weekend for the 2014 edition of the Saratoga 12/24, put on by Adirondack Ultra Cycling and its leader and race director John Ceceri.  We met Damon and A__ there, with D__ considering a reprise of his record-breaking ride in 2012.

Damon and I rode this in 2012.  I had no idea what to expect that year and thought 200 miles would be a pretty good effort.  The race went better than planned in 2012 and I rolled in at 227 miles and 6th place overall.  (Three of those ahead of me were record breakers -- including John Nobile, who after last weekend holds course records at both the 12- and 24-hour distances for this event, as well as Damon.  The fifth was in the "had I kept my head down in the last two hours I might have beaten him" category.)  But I was coming off a completed Super Randonneur series, including personal best rides at the 400K and 600K distances, and probably 3000 miles under my belt in the first half of the year.  It was also a uniquely perfect weather year.

2012 Results:

1.Matt Roy **39ArlingtonMA259.50
2.Damon Taaffe36ArlingtonVA255.50ALSO BROKE OLD RECORD!
3.John Nobile49GuilfordCT253.50ALSO BROKE OLD RECORD!
4.Victor Urvantsev33RiversideCT238.50
5.Donald Kjelleren47CharlotteVT227.50
6.Max Huffman39WashingtonDC227.00

In contrast, this year I was coming off of knee surgery in March, which followed a heavy winter of no cycling, and precisely 0 randonneuring rides.  I had a long "ride" of 171.9 miles in the National 24-Hour Challenge on June 14 (does it count as a single ride if the mileage was broken up by three naps in the sun?)  (Picture here.)

National 24-Hour Challenge Results:


(I'd include the ones above me, but the list is a tad long.)

What to expect on July 12, then?  Absolutely nothing!

The course is new as of 2013 -- John moved it into Saratoga Springs proper, from the original home in bustling Schuylerville, NY.  A few advantages of the move:  (1) Saratoga has more accommodation options, which helped largely because I doubt M__ would have enjoyed tenting in John's backyard; (2) the course was 40.5 miles instead of 32.5 miles, which makes for a natural (and in theory achievable) goal of 6 laps or 243 miles; and (3) course records were once again up for grabs.  (There were downsides, too, including two stoplights that created meaningful delays for anybody observing rules of the road.)

The 8 am start was warm and sunny, but not yet uncomfortable.  (Discomfort would come soon enough.)  One aww-shucks, which the below photo shows, is that the Saratoga 12/24 is drawing maybe 1/2 of its field from two years ago.

For reasons I do not know, understand, or care to dig into, the UMCA and RAAM are not including the Adirondack Ultra Cycling events in their calendars.  That leaves two of the storied ultra races (also the Adirondack 540) out of the mix for many big-time contenders.  (Query:  can't we all just get along?)

Having seen the success of riders like Damon and Matt Roy in 2012, I thought "why not ride the tri bike"?  Answer:  because it is uncomfortable.  (But you knew that, didn't you?)

It was a hot day on a course with significant exposure.  According to Garmin, the temps reached 102.2F.  A better guesstimate might be 95, but either way it was unpleasantly warm and humid to boot.

Ride data here.  I am amused to see as the day wore on that my peak speeds stayed about the same -- not a surprise, I suppose, as they came while coasting downhill -- but the valleys got dramatically deeper.  Thus, for the first 60 miles and most of the first century, every five-mile average was above 20 mph.  Only once after that point did a five-mile average (barely) eclipse that number.  Then, amusingly, the final kilometer registered a wicked 23 mph, in a desperate sprint to earn the final mile.

Per Garmin:

Distance: 205.65 mi
Time: 10:38:41
Avg Speed: 19.3 mph
Elevation Gain: 4,843 ft
Calories: 13,701 C
Avg Temperature: 83.5 °F

Just after the start I blew a turn and found myself playing catch-up to John Nobile.  John was third to Matt Roy and Damon on the old course in 2012, set the new course record here in 2013 at 255 miles, won the Adirondack 540 last year, and this year had entered the 24-hour race.  He was plenty willing to chat with a piker at the lights, and we swapped leads for most of the first century.  (John continued to hold that pace through the day and most of the night, finishing with an astounding 468.5 total miles in 24 hours.)

It was early in that first lap that three-time RAAM finisher Rob Morlock passed me.  Thanks to the lengthy out-and-back portion of the loop, I saw Rob going the other way twice on every subsequent lap; considering that the guy rode 243 miles on a hot day, he nonetheless managed a cheery wave every time.

Rob Morlock toward the end of the day.  Picture from the Saratoga 12/24 site.
An aside about these ultra events:  the bigger races may not be this way -- I frankly don't know -- but in a smaller field like this year's 12/24, you really are mixed in with the a handful of elite athletes.  Nobile and Morlock may not analogize to Alexander and McCormick (of Ironman fame), but they are fair analogies to I-AA triathlon pros.  And while nobody will ever accuse me of racing in their class, neither do they turn up their nose when passing me -- or even when I occasionally pass them.

I was a piece of jerky by the end of lap 3 and considered quitting at the end of lap 4, but a nap under the cold stream from a hose revived me.  M__, Damon, and John Ceceri were quite encouraging, in a "you drove all the way here -- why not ride?" sort of way.

Others fared similarly or worse.  The remaining ridership was decidedly lean when I pedaled my fifth lap.  But one racer, a triathlete from Bel Air, Maryland, rolled through the turn while I lay in the shade slurping a Coca-Cola, deciding whether to get back on the bike.  With encouragement I gave chase, but not in time to catch him.

A sprint at the end got me to the 5-mile mark, just past 207.5 race miles total -- which rounds up to 208.5 (you always get the next fractional mile).  Our Maryland triathlete earned second place, and the age group course record, by finishing one mile ahead of me.

Last Weekend's Results:

1.Rob Morlock *50DanburyCT245.00
2.Mike LaFiandra43Bel AirMD209.50NEW AGE RECORD!
3.Max Huffman41WashingtonDC208.50

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Surprising first place in the customer service category

I spend my summers sitting in front of my computer at home, which means I spend lots of time on the internet looking at bike equipment deals -- and pestering vendors with questions like "can you match such and such a price?" or "will that take 28mm tires?"

Lots of vendors have real-time customer service -- chat windows and the like -- but rarely are they populated with knowledgeable help.  I recall once asking, one of the online gear megastores, whether a particular telemark boot would work with my setup.  The chat window response?  "We can offer that at 10% off for you today."  I learned from that exchange never to buy online without expressing some sort of concern first.  So it's "good service" but not "helpful service.", by the way, now owns Competitive Cyclist.  Competitive Cyclist has knowledgeable staff, but they can be jerks.  I asked about warranty replacement on my Cervelo frame, which I bought there and recently cracked when (not) installing a headset.  "Contact Cervelo," I was told, although I had bought the frame at CC and CC makes a big deal of covering its customers.  (I gather CC is peeved to have lost that dealership, presumably when Cervelo stopped allowing any shipping of orders.)

Merlincycles does pretty well, considering the time zone differential. I usually get a response in 24-48 hours.  But I'm peeved at Merlin.  Why?  Currently I am fighting a debt collector over a customs charge UPS tried to foist on me for a Merlin Cycles order.

Manufacturers are in the normal case dead last.  I'm still waiting to hear from Hed about bearing replacement on an older wheel.  Felt never responded to my question about the Z3.  Too frequently I am told to "call the dealer."

One clear exception is John Neugent and his firm Neuvation -- now Neugent Cycling -- who can be very helpful, and is unfailingly gracious, by e-mail.  Sam e-mailed for advice on brake pads before we left Portland on our eastern Sierras road trip in 2013.  By Redding, California, we knew what to buy for our ride into the mountains west of Redding.  Same with advice on squeak and bearing replacement for my C50 wheelset.  On the other hand, John is a one-man customer service department and can get behind on his e-mails, and on a few occasions I've felt as if I offended him by asking for a discount.  (To be fair, I was probably being a jerk.  "How about <$3000 for a Red build on that sweet carbon rig?")

My surprising first choice for customer service?  Kevin Pak sends responses to my e-mails in hours, not days (yesterday it was minutes); the responses are topical; I even get follow-ups when I send my "thanks" e-mail ("No problem!" or the like); and all this from an enterprise that serves as the true bottom-price clearinghouse for industry overstock.  And I'm unqualifiedly being a jerk in my requests to Pricepoint. "Can you go sub $2K for a Litespeed with Di2?"  (Answer:  not on the one I asked about, but the 2013 Ci2 is now $1999.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Neugent Cycling

As he promised, John Neugent has returned to the black-label component market six months after he shuttered Neuvation.  Enter Neugent Cycling.

John's business this time is limited to wheels.  He appears to be making what were his top alloy and carbon wheels, having jettisoned the builder spec versions.  Pricing has stayed about the same as before -- in the range of $500 for a sub-1500gm alloy wheelset; $900 for a sub-1500gm carbon wheelset; with substantial savings if you are prepared to go tubular and a slight up-charge for a "big and tall men's" (my phrase) build.  He is also offering a Powertap wheelset for approximately $1000 built and, keeping up with the current fad, is offering wheels built with disc hubs.  ($549 for a set of 1420gm tubulars with disc hubs is a hugely competitive price point.)

I like the level of detail in John's description of the wheel-building process.  The insider know-how and gossip has always been half the fun of following John's business.  Shopping his web-site makes you feel like you are sitting on the counter in the shop chatting with the wheel-builder while he is putting the finishing touches on your new hoops.

At HBC we had good but not perfect success with Neuvation wheels.  P__'s wheelset on the FC600 I bought her last fall have held up perfectly and both ride beautifully and look beautiful.  My C50 carbon clinchers worked fine for a race wheel, although they needed occasional truing.  They have now become eye candy on a wall-mount build.  And the custom-made Powertap rear/White Indus. front with Hed Belgium rims I ordered from Neuvation have been great training wheels. Sam has had at least three pair of Neuvation wheels through his garage over the years.

Commenters on prior posts have been uniformly appreciative of the quality of Neuvation products.

My summary assessment is that for the price and weight Neuvation was the best deal in wheels with the very occasional exception of a true fire-sale on a top-end Mavic.  Were I in the market I may shop around for a short while, but I would finish any search at Neugent Cycling.

A side note:  Neuvation used to advertise all its wares at discounts -- it was one of those pricing strategies that suggested everything was constantly on fire-sale.  Neugent Cycling is not (so far) doing that.  I wonder if that had something to do with the abrupt close.  Consumer protection regulators have sometimes seized on false discounting behavior as a basis for deceptive advertising claims, and California (where Neuvation was located) is known for aggressive consumer protection regulation.  If so, that's too bad.  Say what you will about pricing practices, nobody ever got taken advantage of buying from Neuvation.