Drink of the House: Chartreuse

chartreuse

There’s a wonderful green liqueur called Chartreuse. It has an inimitable, complex herbal flavor. It somehow manages also to be both sweet and strong. And you can’t overlook the color. It’s such a marvelous color that we’ve named a color after it. Chartreuse is a genuine, multi-sensory pleasure to consume.

color code

With a minimal number of changes, varieties, and interruptions (things like the French Revolution, a landslide, and WWII caused small and brief disruptions), Chartreuse has been made according to a secret recipe by the same house of French monks since 1737. They actually started trying to make it in 1605, but didn’t feel like they’d really nailed the recipe for another 100 years. Four hundred years of practice makes perfect.

To this day, only two living monks are permitted to know the secret recipe at any given time. Since a total of two men oversee the entire global production of Chartreuse, it’s a rather rare and expensive bottle of liquor. There’s a VEP version which is quite expensive indeed: about $170 per bottle (I once tasted a sip of that VEP version at a cocktail lounge. It was sublime). Even the standard version is pricey enough, at about $60, to make it the most expensive bottle in my bar.

Because of its steep price, I tried for a while to avoid stocking it in my bar at all. I knew from my experience of Chartreuse that I enjoy strongly flavored herbal liqueurs, but for a while I tried to be satisfied with somewhat less exclusive herbals, like the Italian digestifs Galliano and Strega.

liquore-strega-vintage-ad galliano

These are quite pleasant liqueurs in and of themselves. But they’re not Chartreuse. Eventually, I broke down and bought a bottle. To be precise, I bought a bottle of Green Chartreuse. There’s also a yellow version, which is sweeter and somewhat lighter on the palate. I deal only in yellow. I think Strega and Galliano do a fine job of approximating Yellow Chartreuse.

I think Chartreuse is meant to be consumed straight or with a little ice, but to make the bottle last, I’ve gravitated toward using it in cocktails instead. Here are my top three.The first was a very pleasant surprise I ran across in the new Cambridge restaurant Puritan and Co. I was introduced to the next two by the eminent Boston cocktail lounge Drink.

Jump for Joy

This is a great drink for your friend who says that cocktails always taste too strong for them; using Vermouth as a base gives it a much lighter touch than a spirit-based cocktail. Don’t think of it as a drink for lightweights, though. It’s also simply a great drink, both smooth and complex at the same time. It particularly goes down well on a hot summer day; don’t tell anyone, but Steph and I have made a habit of bringing a thermos of it along with us on our trips to the beach.

  • 2 oz. dry Vermouth (I use Boissiere)
  • 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse (though this is one where you can sub in Strega for a somewhat different, but still refreshing, flavor)
  • Club soda to taste

Pour Vermouth and Chartreuse over ice in a glass. Stir. Float club soda on top.

The Diamondback

This one is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Jump for Joy. It’s for your friend who really likes their cocktail to kick them.  All of the ingredients have higher than average alcohol contents.

  • 1.5 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
  • 3/4 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
  • 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse

Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain.

The Bijou

A Chartreuse variation on the Negroni. 

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz. Green Chartreuse

Shake with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a cherry, but not one of those bright red ones you find in ice cream shops; use a genuine Luxardo cherry (or the far cheaper than Luxardo but far better than the bright red ones from Filthy Foods).

Enjoy!

Tour de France: the great individual team sport

The two or three of you who’ve stuck with me through this series on the Tour de France might have noticed that I have tended to talk about the competition in team terms, but the prizes in individual terms. Yep, that’s really how it works. Pro cycling is either the most individualistic of team sports, or the most team-oriented of individual sports; it’s kind of hard to tell which one. There is a prize for the team with the lowest combined time for the Tour, but that prize gets so little attention that I didn’t even bother mentioning it in my ‘How to Win’ post. All of the top prizes in the Tour go to individuals; but those individuals couldn’t possibly win without an entire retinue working its hardest to put them in a place to succeed.

Twenty-two nine-person teams start the Tour de France (when I talk about 200 riders, I’m rounding. There are 198 riders on the starting line the first day). I say ‘start’ because if a rider is forced to abandon the race due to injury or faces a time elimination, they aren’t replaced. The team simply has to do with less for the rest of the Tour. Sky, for example, is now down to seven riders.

astana

These teams are built on two different basic models:

  1. GC Teams–these teams are built around great all-around riders. The ultimate goal for any cycling team is, of course, to have one of their members win the GC. Going into the Tour, Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, and Astana were the leading GC teams this year; with the injuries to Froome and Contador, only Astana remains as a top GC team. We’ll see if anyone rises up to fill the gap. But many teams go into the Tour knowing that the odds of ending it with a teammate in a yellow jersey are slim to none. They just don’t have the personnel for it. Some of those teams therefore form around a completely different strategy, #2 below. Other teams take what I might call a ‘GC lite’ approach.
    1. GC lite–the best all-around rider on these teams is still developing, or is on the downward slope of their career, or is simply good but not great. For them, a GC win is realistically out of reach, but they choose intermediate goals on the GC spectrum. They might aim for a podium finish (top 3), or a top 10 finish, or maybe to wear the yellow for just one stage. I’d say Tejay Van Garderen’s team, BMC, went into the Tour with a GC lite strategy; they overtly stated that they’re looking for a top 5 finish. They’re kind of a heavy GC lite, and with those Froome and Contador injuries they could be setting their sights higher now.
  2. Sprint teams–these teams don’t have an all-around rider who is ready to compete for yellow, but they do have someone who can go very, very, very fast over short distances. These teams aim for stage wins, green points, or both. Marcel Kittel’s Giant-Shimano team, Andrei Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol, and Peter Sagan’s Cannondale team are the big sprint teams this year. Omega Pharma-Quickstep would have been as well, except that their leader Mark Cavendish was injured on stage 1. There’s also something of a ‘Green lite’ strategy, in which a team might focus on grabbing a stage win or two.

Both of these types of teams has riders in three basic positions. It gets way more complicated than this, but I’m drawing the lines crudely.

The Top Man

This is the guy you think can actually take the prize, whether that’s the yellow jersey, the green jersey, or a stage win. You build your whole team and its strategy around this rider. In the final moment of the contest, it’s all up to him.

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The Lead Out Men

It’s the job of the lead out men to safely deliver the top man into proper position to compete at the crucial moment. They do this in two ways:

  1. They protect–when things get sort of skittish in the peloton, the lead out men will actually surround the top man, to minimize the chance of accident or injury;
  2. They pull–pulling is allowing someone else to draft off of you, which–as I mentioned yesterday–keeps up their speed with a minimum expenditure of energy on their part. When it gets down to the business of the day, the lead out men will form a line in front of the top man, each taking their turn at totally blowing out their own legs to get their top man to the front or keep him there. Ideally, when the last lead out man uses his last gasp of energy, the top man is pretty close to the front with pretty fresh legs.

lead out

Team Sky is my favorite team because they are particularly good at developing and giving proper respect to stellar lead out men. Chris Froome was Wiggin’s lead out man. Richie Porte is Froome’s. And with Froome out, Geraint Thomas is rising into Porte’s place.

richie porte

Domestiques

Domestique is French for ‘servant,’ which pretty much captures the role of these guys on a team. They spend most of their time making deliveries: picking up water bottles for the rest of the team, shuttling rain jackets back and forth between the team car, sometimes passing messages along if there’s a problem with the radio. But it doesn’t stop at deliveries. Absolutely anything that would be helpful is within the scope of a domestique’s job. They will even hand over their bike to the top man or a key lead out man, if there’s a mechanical problem at a crucial moment without a mechanic nearby.

domestique

The lead out men and, even more so, the domestiques work very hard, often invisibly, knowing full well that they’re working to get the top prize for someone else. In exchange, they get the satisfaction of a job well done–oh, and the chance to make a living riding a bike. And occasionally, if not much looks like it’s happening among the top GC riders on a given day or there’s no sprint finish for your team to compete in, the lead out men and domestiques might get the day off from the normal duties. Those days, they have a little fun by going out in the break, or trying to win a sprint–or maybe even a stage win–themselves.

Tour de France: Anatomy of a Stage

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What we have above is a diagram of the placement of riders on any given stage of the Tour de France (except for the time trial, a completely different animal we will have to cover some other time). To be more precise, I’ve pictured a mountain stage. A flat stage will typically only have a break and a peloton; chases are rare, and no one really goes off the back unless they crash. On a mountain stage, we’ll definitely have a break, a peloton, and riders off the back; there will probably also be at least one chase.

Let’s look at each of these components of the stage in a bit more detail:

The Peloton

Peloton is French for ‘little ball.’ But don’t let ‘little’ fool you. The Peloton is the main body of riders; the vast majority of the Tour’s 200 riders spend most of their time in the peloton. They call it a ‘little’ ball because of how tightly packed together all of those riders are: dozens of riders all riding wheel to wheel at 30 miles an hour. Typically, the yellow jersey’s team will be at the front of the peloton, establishing the pace. Sometimes, another team will attempt to take over the front and change that pace. On a flat stage, toward the very end of the stage, the yellow jersey’s team will fade to the back of the peloton, making room for the sprinters’ teams to move up. We may have three or four teams lining up side-by-side, each trying to get their sprinters into position for their furious burst of speed in the last hundred meters.

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Kittel is in the lead in this sprint. Not so much when they’re climbing. See diagram above.

The Break

At some point in the first few miles of every stage, a handful of riders will take off in front of the peloton. This is a strategy that’s almost certainly doomed to failure, if you count success as winning the stage. Almost always, the break eventually gets caught by the peloton. That’s because of the wonder of drafting: if you ride directly behind another cyclist, it’s more aerodynamic, taking about 30% less energy to maintain your speed. If a bunch of cyclists ride in a straight line, the person up front makes it much easier on everyone behind them. A break only has four or five people among whom to share the harder work of being in front. The peloton theoretically has a hundred people to share the load. More realistically, the peloton ends up with about 15 people who take turns up front; that’s still three times as many people as the break. The peloton thus actually works less hard per person to go faster than the break; at some point over the 100 miles from the break to the finish, the peloton catches up, often without even having to work very hard.
Given the near inevitability of being caught, why do riders insist on breaking away in every single stage of every single bike race? There are actually a few reasons:

  • Almost never is not the same thing as never–every once in a while, a break produces a stage win. Maybe the members of the break are all so far behind in the overall standings that the peloton doesn’t even bother to catch up. Maybe infighting among the peloton slows down the peloton’s pace enough that the break can keep ahead. Maybe it’s a larger than average break who works together better than usual. The margins are slim, but sometimes just wide enough to work. We’ve actually had two successful breaks already this Tour; like I said it’s been a wild Tour.
  • Sprint and mountain points–the members of the break may fully expect to get caught, but they figure that they will scoop up as many sprint and mountain points as they can before that happens. Why not win a small prize or two and a little bit of glory while you can?
  • Attention–at the very least, if you’re in the break, you get your fifteen minutes–maybe even an hour or two–of fame. Your name is scrolling on the screen with the other members of the break, and every few minutes the announcers mention you, your team, and your country of origin. If you stayed safely in the peloton, you’d be invisible and anonymous. Even if you’re a professional cyclist, it’s kind of exciting to see yourself on TV.
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That blurry mass in the background is the peloton, licking at the heels of the break.

The Chase

Maybe you’re a green or polka dot jersey contender, and you get impatient as you watch the break take some of your points while the peloton takes its own sweet time catching up. Or maybe you sense that this is one of those days when the peloton will let the break take the stage, and you realize a little too late that you wish you’d gone with the break. In this case, you’d join or form a chase group, a small group of riders who tries to get across the gap between the peloton and the break. Frequently, the chase just forces action on the peloton’s part, getting quickly regathered by the peloton and, in fact, causing the break an earlier demise than would otherwise be the case. Almost as frequently, the chase simply fails to catch up to the break, admits defeat, and falls back into the peloton. Sometimes, the chase makes it across and joins the break; that could be one of those times when the break ends up with enough strength in numbers to hold off the peloton.

Off the Back

Toward the end of a mountain stage or on a particularly long or steep climb earlier in a stage, the pace of the peloton will all of a sudden become more aggressive, as the yellow jersey contenders use the difficulty of the climb to test their rivals’ strength and to try to gain some time on them. When that starts to happen, the sprinters essentially concede the stage, fall off the back end of the peloton, and ride in to the finish at their own pace. Others too, as their strength runs out, start to fall off the back. It’s when you lose touch with the peloton that you start to lose serious time, putting whatever yellow or white jersey aspirations you have in real jeopardy. Yesterday, this happened to Andrew Talansky. He went into the day as a white and yellow contender and ended the day almost fifteen minutes back–an insurmountable gap. Even the sprinters, who, like I said, aren’t particularly trying to keep time on a climbing stage, have to be careful about dropping off the back. If you don’t finish the stage in a certain percentage of the leader’s time, you are cut from the race–not just the stage, but the race; your Tour is over.

 

Tour de France: How to win on the Tour

In a way, both of you are winners. In a more real way, Barney is the winner.‘–the Head of NASA to Homer Simpson in ‘Deep Space Homer.’

 

***SPOILER ALERT. This post contains information from Monday’s Tour stage***

There are several different ways to win the Tour, some of them more real than others. The most real of them all is the Yellow Jersey.

yellow jersey

The Yellow Jersey

Also known as the General Classification–or simply GC–competition, this is the big, classic, overall win. The GC winner is the rider who finishes all 21 stages with the lowest total time. From day 2 on, whoever leads in overall time at the beginning of the day wears–you guessed it–a special yellow jersey.

The Tour’s 21 stages take a rider over many different kinds of roads: flat ones, mountainous ones, straight ones, curvy ones, cobblestone-paved ones. The contenders for the yellow jersey are not necessarily the best at riding on any particular terrain; rather, they have to be very good at all of them.

The moment Chris Froome stepped into the team car and abandoned the race, all eyes turned to Alberto Contador.

contador

Contador displaying his trademark proof of obnoxiousness: the fingerbang.

Imagine an action movie franchise in which the villain, rather than the hero, stayed the same from movie to movie. Instead of James Bond facing Dr. No, then Goldfinger, then Jaws, what if Dr. Evil faced Austin Powers, then James Bond, then Jason Bourne? That’s what professional cycling has been like the past several years. Just about every year, there’s a new fan favorite in contention for the yellow jersey; and every year–except the year when he was banned for using banned substances, which still follows the theme–Contador has been that fan favorite’s main nemesis.  He’s cocky, and opportunistic, and above all very, very good. It looked like this was a year the villain would take the day.

Then, in a second major shock of the early stages of the Tour, yesterday, Contador stepped into his own team car. He crashed hard, and his frame snapped underneath him with a couple of mountains ahead of him, and with several minutes disadvantage. Despite a broken leg(!), he got on a new bike and tried to catch back up, but couldn’t do it.

Suddenly, we find ourselves with no clear hero or villain in the hunt for the yellow jersey.

The Other Jerseys

Because 21 days is an awful long time to wait for a winner, and to give riders with no hope at the yellow jersey a reason to keep on riding day after day, a few other competitions have been added to the Tour. Not only do these competitions make sure there is something of interest in every day’s stage, but they sometimes bring a wildcard element into the yellow jersey competition itself. GC contenders tend toward conservatism; to stay within shot of the yellow jersey, it’s more important to avoid catastrophe then to be especially bold. So, if there were just a yellow competition, it might get a little plodding. The other competitions keep that from happening by sometimes having ripple effects on the GC guys, forcing them to act more aggressively than they might otherwise choose.

The Green Jersey

Also known as the Points competition, the green jersey is awarded for sprinting–that is, for very fast speeds over very short distances. There are designated sprint lines on the course (always the stage’s finish line, and usually one other) at which riders gain points for winning or placing.  A GC contender might not care that much about crossing a stage’s finish line first, as long as they don’t lose much time to their closest rivals. The green jersey riders always make sure that there’s some excitement at the finish line. Since Mark Cavendish crashed and abandoned the race in stage 1, the big German (he weighs 190 lbs, while the typical GC contender weighs 140) Marcel Kittel has been the dominant pure sprinter; he’s won three sprints for stage wins. Interestingly, though, he’s a long way back in the green jersey standings. Peter Sagan is wearing the green jersey. Kittel and his main rival Andrei Greipel are boom or bust guys; they may very well win the sprint, but there’s also a very good chance that they won’t even be close enough to the front to try. Peter Sagan hasn’t won a sprint yet, but he always places; and that strategy has put him pretty far ahead in the green jersey competition.

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The Polka Dot Jersey

The Polka Dot Jersey is worn by the best mountain climber, known as King of the Mountains. Similarly to the green jersey, certain points are awarded for being among the first riders to get to the top of a mountain; the longer and steeper the climb, the more points are given. Just like the green jersey ensures excitement at the finish line, the mountain jersey makes the top of every mountain an event. We’ve just hit the first set of mountain stages in the tour; so the mountain jersey is very topsy-turvy right now. It’s changed hands every day.

The White Jersey

The White Jersey is a like a junior version of the yellow. It’s worn by the best rider under 25 years of age. It’s a way to give a little bit of exposure to lesser-known, up-and-coming riders. Often the wearer of the white jersey is near the top of the standings, though not usually in first place, for yellow as well. In fact last year, one of my favorite pro riders, Nairo Quintana, ended the Tour with the White, the Polka Dot, and second in Yellow. He’s not racing in this year’s tour, but let’s not talk about that.

In protest for him being held out, I show you Quintana's 2013 jersey

In protest of him being held out, I show you Quintana’s 2013 jersey

Stage Wins

tony martin

Maybe all four of the jerseys are out of reach for you; there’s still one more way to win at the Tour de France. If the conditions are right–terrain that suits you, the GC contenders all too worried about one another to pay you much notice, a good break–you could win a single day of the Tour. Crossing that finish line first on any given day wins you a bit of cash, and quite a considerable amount of glory. Teams will base their entire race strategy on getting a stage win for one of their guys. It may sound small compared to the transcendent glory of being the GC champion, but winning just one stage of the Tour–even better, somehow managing to wear yellow for just one day–brings with it enough bragging rights to last someone an entire professional cycling career.

So, let’s hear it for all of this year’s Tour de France winners!

Tour de France: an introduction

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Do you suddenly find yourself looking for an international sports spectacle to fill that major-sporting-event–of-which-Americans-are-usually-oblivious shaped hole? May I suggest the Tour de France?

You’d be joining in a week late, but there are still 2 weeks to go. There are plenty of exciting finishes, soap opera story lines, interesting characters, grueling mountain climbs, sudden crashes, and pretty shots of abbeys, cathedrals, fields of flowers to come.

What, exactly, is the Tour de France?

The Tour de France takes arguably the most physically demanding major sporting event in the world and places it in perhaps the most picturesque setting available.

Looking at it one way, the Tour de France is just that: a tour of France. You spend 3 weeks following bicyclists as they gradually take a tour of all of the best parts of an obviously lovely country. You take in medieval walled towns, snowcapped Alps, famous vineyards, and world heritage sites. You hear about what happened in this town or that field during Napoleon’s time, or the French Revolution, or one or another of the World Wars. And then you end your time in France with a procession down the Champs-Élysées. The Tour de France is a leisurely travelog.

But while you’re admiring a field of lavender or the red tile roofs of Provence, the 200 cyclists are pushing themselves to their utter physical limit, as they travel 2300 miles in 21 stages in 23 days. They’re climbing those Alps, bouncing along cobblestone streets, and zipping through those medieval villages at 35 mph. And then the next morning they get up and do it again.

Do you like beautiful travel locations? Extreme endurance sports? Both? If so, the Tour de France is for you.

Why is this year a good year to jump in?

sky

The past two years of the Tour have been dominated by Team Sky, a relentlessly disciplined team with a winning strategy that they’ve executed to perfection. Sky’s Chris Froome, in particular, had two flawless Tours. In 2012, he safely delivered his team leader Bradley Wiggins to a Tour win, while incidentally winning second himself–an unheard of feat. In 2013, with Wiggins injured, Froome took charge himself, not just of Sky but of the entire Tour; through a combination of skill, strength, endurance, smarts, and luck, Froome smoothly rode to a championship.

This year, Froome’s luck, at the very least, ran out. He crashed 3 times in 2 days. With one hand and the other wrist broken, try as he might, Froome just couldn’t control his bike anymore on the rain-slick cobblestones. He abandoned the race in the 5th stage.

froome

It was a singularly sad moment when he limped to the team car, closed the door, and ended his Tour.

And yet, it’s led to a very interesting Tour for everyone else.

While Sky’s dominance the past few years has been quite impressive, it’s also been a little dull. It’s like they’ve written a script, showed everyone the script, and then performed exactly what’s in the script. There have been absolutely no surprises, and everyone–not just on Sky, but in the entire Tour–has known their parts. Now, without Froome to anchor the team, Sky can no longer impose its will on the Tour. All of a sudden, no one knows their part. Challengers are wondering if they’re now the favorites. Also-rans wonder if perhaps they’re contenders. And now that it’s no longer Team Sky versus Everyone Else, people can’t really figure out who their friends and enemies are. Suddenly, the Tour is wildly open. It’s even possible that an American will win–something that hasn’t happened very often or very recently (since Lance Armstrong has been struck from the record books). Sure, they’re long shots, and it’s likely that they will fall just short at the crucial moment. But Tejay Van Garderen and Andrew Talansky both have puncher’s chances; that’s something that definitely wasn’t in the Sky script.

Don’t you want to see what happens?

Coming up: How to Win the Tour, Notable Riders, and Anatomy of a Stage.

What to Wear

During my sabbatical, this is my primary clothing outfit most days:

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With how little I have planned for my days besides riding my bike, and with how informal those other things tend to be, I could easily spend the rest of the time wearing this:

I think the TV on in the background is apropos.

I think the TV on in the background is apropos.

I know that spending three months wearing nothing but sweatpants and t-shirts sounds like a dream to many people. Sadly, I’m not one of those people. I’m sorry to complain–and I should be clear that in the main I’m enjoying my sabbatical very much–but my least favorite part of my time off is that I have no reason to ever get dressed.

First of all, not getting dressed makes me feel too much like I’m an outcast. I’m so far out of the normal rhythms of society that I’ve lost touch with the usual conventions, like what to wear in public. I’m a strange sort of hermit who, instead of a brown habit, wears blue and green lycra. I don’t want to be a hermit. Getting dressed makes me feel like I’m entering back into civilization.

Furthermore, I’m the kind of person who prefers dressing up to dressing down. I look for excuses to wear a sport coat, and I’m thrilled by the opportunity to wear a suit. I wore a tie to high school–a public school with no dress code. My current office dress code is also firmly on the casual end, but whenever I can somehow justify it I put on a tie or jacket. I consider the triumph of business casual a complete disaster. I still remember a quote from the ’80s detective show Remington Steele, which featured a foppish Pierce Brosnan: ‘Respect, Ms. Holt. Respect is all I ask for. Well, respect and a good Italian suit every now and again.’ I’ve often used these as words to live by. So, spending my time in cycling kit or sweatpants is pretty much unbearable.

At first, I addressed this problem by getting dressed even if there was no real occasion to do so. But even I felt a little silly wearing a tie or even a buttoned shirt just to sit around the house, knowing full well that that’s all I would do all day. It felt a little bit like playing dress-up; I was just pretending to be the kind of person who needs to get dressed.

In the end, I’ve learned that the key to my sartorial happiness is scheduling at least one thing in the day–apart from a bike ride–that requires me to get out of the house. Maybe it’s going to a coffee shop, or doing some shopping, or just picking up the dry cleaning. And perhaps I go beyond the bounds of necessity in terms of what I wear for the occasion. So, if I meet you for coffee looking something like this,

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you can guess that you’re my reason for getting dressed that day.

10,000 miles: June Report

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June was another great month for riding. I didn’t get quite as many miles in as May (about 50 short). But the weather was fantastic, the riding was great, and my tan is very dark.

Here are some of my facts, figures, and thoughts on the month:

  • Total miles for the month–1568.82;
  • Average speed of the month–15.8mph, a slight uptick from last month’s 15.7;
  • Fastest ride of the year–18.8mph, on the very last day of the month. A beautiful ride on Cape Cod;
  • Slowest ride of the month–9.7mph, on a very short commute;
  • Milestone of the month–on the 21st, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, I went over 5000 miles. More than halfway there, with a handful of days to spare before the mid-point of the year;
  • Most miles in a day this month–A little more than 200 kilometers. That’s 124.78 in miles;
  • Least miles in a day–3.56. There were also 4 days I didn’t ride at all;
  • Feet of climbing this month–27,111;
  • Ideal miles per week–400. I discovered that if I go more than 400 miles in a week, I start to get tired legs, and it feels too much like work.  Right up to that 400 mile mark, though, it’s a ton of fun. There were a couple of weeks when I didn’t pace myself well; I had 300 miles by Wednesday, and had to take it easy the second half of the week.

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Why Cystic Fibrosis?

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As I mentioned a few posts ago, in a few weeks I’ll be riding in the Seacoast Safari, a charity ride along the coast of Maine that benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I’ve participated in this ride the past five years. Quad Cycles, the bicycle club to which I belong, puts an emphasis on riding our bikes for the benefit of others, and the Seacoast Safari is our primary charity ride of the year. I’ve never put too much thought into why exactly we’d target cystic fibrosis. It seemed like a good enough cause to me; and the fact that 20 of my teammates were doing it was a strong enough reason for me to jump on board.

A few months ago, when I got together for coffee with the development director of the Northern New England chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, I learned something new which helped me understand why we ride to fight cystic fibrosis.

What I discovered is that cystic fibrosis is–or at least was–what’s called an ‘orphan disease.’ None of the pharmaceutical companies had ‘adopted’ the cause of curing it. Cystic fibrosis is plenty deadly. An inheritable disease which causes an overproduction of mucus, cystic fibrosis makes digestion difficult to do and lung infections easy to catch. This combination of a weak body and susceptibility to infections meant that into the 1950s, sufferers of cystic fibrosis were not expected to live long enough to attend school; even now, life expectancy remains only in the 30s. Despite its devastating effects, no pharmaceutical company took on the task of fighting this disease because it’s a relatively small one. Worldwide there are only 70,000 people with cystic fibrosis; that’s too few people to make the large initial research costs profitable for the drug companies.

That’s where the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation comes in. The CFF essentially operates as a non-profit venture capital firm, providing pharmaceutical companies enough initial funding to make research into cystic fibrosis cures attractive. Because of the CFF’s funding, new drugs are being discovered all the time that make life more livable for cystic fibrosis sufferers and that put a cure for cystic fibrosis within sight.

Quad Cycles started riding in the Seacoast Safari several years ago when a young man with cystic fibrosis joined our club. Before the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation started its work, this young man would have had very slim chances of attending grade school, not to speak of riding on a cycling team while in college. Now, this young man has graduated law school, is married, and almost annually sees his expected life span grow. That seems like a cause worth riding for.

If you’d like to contribute to the work of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, click here.

 

Drink of the House

The Southside

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It’s summer cocktail season, and nothing says summer to me like a good gin and tonic–except maybe a good mojito. But why choose? Just imagine how summery your cocktail would taste if it could combine what’s best about a gin and tonic with what’s best about a mojito. Well, that’s just what the Southside does. Take the gin from the gin and tonic and the mint from the mojito, shake, serve over ice, and there you have it: summer refreshment in a glass. Since my  friend Dan introduced me to the Southside about a month ago to celebrate the first hot day of the year, I’ve been in the mood for little else.

As with most cocktails, there a bunch of variations on the recipe out there. So, look around and try some out before landing on your favorite. Here’s a pretty typical one that I use as my base:

The Drinksmixer.com Southside

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 pieces of lime
  • 2 mint sprigs
  • 3-4 oz. soda

Muddle one sprig of mint with the lime pieces, lime juice, and simple syrup in the bottom of a bar glass. Add gin and shake well. Pour into a goblet over crushed ice and stir until the outer-glass frosts. Top with soda water, garnish with remaining sprig of mint, and serve.

Like I said, I use this as my base, but I do make a few minor variations:

  1. I find that the mint doesn’t need to be both muddled and shaken. The shaking alone brings out the mint sufficiently. So I muddle the lime and simple syrup, add the mint, gin, and ice, and shake. I use about 6 leaves for that first ‘sprig,’ by the way.
  2. I think they suggest too much soda. Steph prefers her without any soda at all; I like to add a much smaller top of soda.
  3. I agree that it tastes best over crushed ice, but I’m too lazy to do all that crushing. I use cubes, and it still tastes pretty great.

Finally, may I suggest that you grow your own mint. It’s easy to grow in a backyard or even a window box (as Steph and I do), and two plants will give you all you need for your summer cocktail needs.

Enjoy!

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Riding a Century

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Riding a century–that is, 100 miles–is a rite of passage for a cyclist. And even after you’ve ridden many centuries, as I have, a century ride remains a special day. During this sabbatical of mine and this 10,000-mile push I’m in, I routinely ride 75 or 80 miles, and it feels like just a normal day of riding. Somehow a century, even at only 20 miles more, still feels like a holiday.

And Stephanie and I had a great century day this past Sunday. We rode in the Kennebunk Tour de Cure, a charity ride for the American Diabetes Association. We raised $879 toward preventing diabetes (thank you, donors!), and we had a fantastic ride.

100 mile

The first 40 miles were lovely, flat, picturesque miles along the coast. It felt like we were flying. That flying sensation didn’t last. The next 60 miles were still quite a good, pleasant cycling route. But the flats were replaced by rolling hills, and a few that we couldn’t quite roll. And it was very hot–one of the first truly hot days of the year. Both Stephanie and I are good hot weather riders, and that showed true on Sunday. And yet, even for us, over 100 miles, the heat became somewhat taxing.

The keys to a good century are water, calories, and electrolytes. At some point over the 100 miles, your body simply runs out of calories it can burn and liquid it can sweat. You need to keep drinking, keep taking in calories, and keep taking in salt, or you first lose speed, then start to cramp, and then lose the ability to keep pedaling altogether. Sunday, we were working so hard in such hot weather that it was hard to keep up our appetite. At a certain point, we just didn’t feel like eating or drinking anymore, but we knew we had to, if we were going to finish strong–or maybe even finish at all. Thank goodness for Shot Bloks, little gelatin cubes with just the right concentrations of sugar and electrolytes to keep you going. When we just couldn’t get ourselves to eat another quarter PB&J sandwich or half banana, the Shot Bloks still did the job.

shot bloks

After completing one at all, the big milestone for a century is what we call a ‘sub-6,’ or finishing the ride in less than 6 hours of ride time. All told, once you add in the time a bicycle computer doesn’t count–rest stops, mechanical problems, 100 miles’ worth of stop lights, and any other time your bike is completely stopped–that actually could mean something more like 8 hours of total time. Still, even when you consider those 2 hours of stoppage, maintaining the necessary 16.7 mph pace over 100 miles in such a concentrated amount of time is considered to be something of a feat. Steph is the only person I know who actually sub-6ed on her first century, at another charity ride 3 years ago. She totally blew past the 6-hour mark, finishing in 5 hrs 34 mins, at an 18 mph pace. On Sunday we beat that: 18.2 miles an hour, finishing 38 seconds under 5-and-a-half hours. It was a personal best for me too.

When we finished, we collapsed on the beach. After a few hours of semi-consciousness, we made our way to the nearest restaurant to try to replenish some of the thousands of calories we’d burned.

kennebunk-beach