When coffee, cycling, and a club meet on a Sunday morning

While I’ve used my Sunday morning long rides to test my fitness gains, such as hammering out a personal-best individual time trial effort around the Daang Reyna road loop, I’ve also learned there are instances where it’s nice to kick back and take it a little slower, for a change.

One chilly mid-January morning, I rode out to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) on an invitation from JP Cariño, he of Gruppo Veloce Sportivo, and an old pal from my car club days. He invited me to join the January 2018 roundup ride of the Manila Coffee Cycling Club after having seen me ride around his area while I ran an errand.

Caravan Black Coffee serves a pretty good flat white.

This was the first time I’d be joining them. Given that cycling and coffee tend to historically go hand-in-hand, and I’ve got a cursory knowledge of coffee drinks (I like a hot cafe americano, and take flat whites wherever they’re available)…this seemed interesting.

Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

I arrived at Caravan Black Coffee half an hour early, even accounting for the three laps around the block I took trying to find the cafe, as it’s actually sandwiched between Ascott BGC and the Net Plaza building. Fifteen minutes later, I got joined by a few other invitees as we rode around a few more laps around the same block to warm up.

Riding around with the Manila Coffee Cycling Club. Photo courtesy JP Cariño.

JP arrived on the hour. After assembling our little group, we rode laps around Uptown Mall and the International Schools road loop at a relaxed pace, while trying to work around the road closures due to a footrace that went on at the same time. Most of the guys were chatting away while riding, but I kept quiet for most of the actual ride. It was a combination of shyness and trying to make sure we were moving safely on the road. That’s just the bike commuter survival instinct in me, I guess.

Photo courtesy of Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

Attendees of the January 2018 roundup. Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

We returned to Caravan Black, dismounted from our bikes, and ordered up some coffee and chow. Due to conflicts with other events – the PruLife Ride PH 100 km fondo in Subic, most prominently – this roundup was a little small, but that was fine by me. Our motley group was composed of road cycling enthusiasts, a couple of bike shop owners (Glenn of Primo Cycles and Leroy of The Brick Multisport), cyclists in active competition, and blokes like me who were simply there for the ride.

Leroy’s silver Festka overlooking fresh coffee beans left out to dry in Amadeo, Cavite. Photo courtesy of Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

There we were, eating cake and pastries while talking shop about the UCI pro peloton and the local road cycling scene, discussing potential local fondo events and Chris Froome’s salbutamol overdose controversy. True to the club’s coffee theme, some of them had ridden to the town of Amadeo in Cavite the previous day, the so-called coffee capital of the Philippines, and they narrated just how windy the descent was. This was the kind of sharing and deeply informed conversation I enjoyed having.

Our bikes parked while we sip coffee. Out front is Lito Vicencio’s Colnago C60 with Mapei livery, equipped with Campagnolo.

Toys for big boys. Quite a number of us rode vintage steel this morning, here headed by Brian Sy’s resto-modded Schwinn Paramount. Photo courtesy of JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

Gone vintage: Glenn Colendrino’s Pinarello Treviso. Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

I thank JP for inviting me and all my new friends for the warm welcome, and I look forward to joining future roundups over hot cups of joe.

Rolling along 5th Avenue. Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

Waiting for a green light at St. Luke’s Medical Center BGC. Photo courtesy Farouk Ibrahim/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

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Challenge accepted: The Daang Reyna individual time trial

Sometime in November 2017, my VPx teammate Ariel Dumlao thought of creating a little challenge in order to inspire our teammates to become active again. He had our mutual friend Mario Ramos take care of the prizes, while he talked to me to write up a set of rules. What he had in mind was basically a couple of individual time trials, one in Daang Reyna, and another further south in Nuvali.

The idea struck my fancy. I’ve been riding a lot on the turbo trainer; except for a couple instances, all of my December riding was indoors. After all that time in the pain cave, I wanted to see how much I had improved.

But first, let’s look at the mechanics of the challenge.

Most cyclists would know about Strava by now – the website and app that lets them track their riding, route data, and various other statistics. One functionality peculiar to it is “segments,” which are highlighted routes in particular areas, and are subject to competition. Each segment has its own leaderboard, and the titles “King of the Mountain” and “Queen of the Mountain” reserved for the fastest male and female riders out of all participants for that segment.

For the VPx challenge, participants will be performing an individual time trial (ITT) of five laps along the Daang Reyna loop – a 20.7 km effort all in all, and already conveniently possessing a segment under its name.

It was only on January 7th, the first Sunday of 2018, that I was able to get on the saddle for a proper long ride. As usual, I would be riding the 25 km from my house to Palazzo Verde, near the end of Daang Reyna fronting the irregular rotunda leading to MCX. In preparation for the time trial effort, I took it easy, but still at a pretty brisk 22 km/h average pace. I would wait for my other VPx teammates there, then set off.

After spinning a light gear while sitting on the wheels of the VPx paceline, I upped the pace and started the ITT effort after the U-turn at Palazzo Verde. The challenge rules discouraged drafting off other riders, and I intended to respect that, so I acted as a solo breakaway.

The outbound leg of Daang Reyna leads to a small rotunda nicknamed the “Lollipop,” which branches off to roads leading to San Pedro in Laguna. This outbound leg is also a “false flat,” set slightly uphill. Push too hard here and you sacrifice performance on the faster downhill inbound leg, so I used to restrict myself to a 25 km/h limit.

Today, though, I would not be having any of that. Outbound, I kept a pace of at least 28 km/h, spinning a light gear at very high cadence in order to avoid prematurely burning out my legs.

Lou Mendoza of VPx on the inbound leg of the Daang Reyna loop.

Once the Lollipop approached and I leaned over for the U-turn, I put down the power as steadily as I could, and gradually built up speed for the inbound leg while keeping as low and aero as possible. A crescendo to 40 km/h within the final 500 meters before the Palazzo Verde U-turn was my target…where I had to do my strategy for the outbound leg once more, and repeat the whole cycle for five laps.

The Palazzo Verde U-turn is the main uncontrollable factor along Daang Reyna. While it is part of the segment, sometimes stopping here is inevitable while waiting for crossing traffic to clear, so this area will have an effect on the segment time.

On the saddle, I felt surprisingly strong. Keeping this blistering pace before would have seen me give out after two laps. Yet here I was, putting the hammer down even harder, and I had a lot in reserve, although I felt the familiar burn of built-up lactic acid beginning in my thighs.

With subsequent laps, I seized my moments and raised my speed to 29-30 km/h toward the Lollipop before looping back. By the fifth lap, though, I was starting to fade slightly. I went one cog easier to avoid succumbing to side stitches and calf cramping, but summoned what I had left to muscle my way inbound at 41 km/h.

After the U-turn at Palazzo Verde, I was spent. I limped along and spun very easy gears at 18 km/h as I completed my cool-down lap back to the Palazzo Verde parking lot to recover. I still had at least 25 km to ride going home, and another 8 km to ride for an errand.

So, what was the result?

I posted a new personal best, beating my previous effort by almost two minutes.

A few VPx teammates sat on my wheel for the first two laps of my ITT, but peeled off. They told me I had become stronger as a rider.

I’m four minutes down on teammate Patok Dormiendo, who is VPx’s current leader around the segment and a powerful rider in his own right. I don’t mind, though. My “fast bike commuter” mindset was always a little different compared to the VPx folks, who are generally more interested in training for cycling events, duathlons, and triathlons.

Personally I’m just glad to see that I did make some gains after all. On the ride back home, even badly surfaced concrete roads couldn’t stop me from cruising 3 km/h faster than normal. I may have gained some weight, but I can feel a significant portion of it was muscle.

I actually goofed with the segment; I just recently learned its start/end point is actually at the Lollipop and not at the Palazzo Verde U-turn. All the more reason to try the five-lap ITT again and see how much better I can do.

Movie review: “The Program”

Chances are, if there is one person you will be able to connect to cycling in the last 20 years, it’s Lance Armstrong. For better or worse, his name is indelibly linked to road cycling.

The (in)famous Texan was, at one point, a seven-time winner of that most prestigious of Grand Tours, the Tour de France, and popularized a never-say-die attitude and a high-cadence pedaling style as he climbed up the formidable French cols (mountain roads). He was also busted for blood doping, finally coming clean on public television in 2013, losing his seven wins along with many of his sponsors.

Back in 2015, I was pretty excited to hear from road.cc of a biographical drama film about the events leading up to Armstrong’s rise, cheating, and eventual downfall. Having joined the sport well after the scandal died down, I was eager to see just how British filmmaker Stephen Frears would treat this subject matter.

“The Program” stars Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong and Chris O’Dowd as whistle-blowing journalist David Walsh, whose book “The Seven Deadly Sins” became the source material for the film. Beginning in 1993 and chronicling until 2011, Armstrong meets such pivotal characters as Johan Bruyneel, a retiring competitor cyclist that later becomes the US Postal Service cycling team’s sporting director; Dr. Michele Ferrari, the sports scientist and architect of Armstrong’s training/doping program; and Floyd Landis, the super-domestique teammate who later testifies to the US Anti-Doping Agency against Armstrong and Bruyneel.

Walsh interviewing soigneur Emma O’Reilly. O’Reilly gave first-hand account of how methodical the US Postal Service team was in its doping.

I remember O’Dowd as one of the regulars on the British sitcom “The IT Crowd;” I was pretty curious how he’d handle the role of Walsh, whom I’ve seen on some old GCN videos is a rather stern-mannered fellow. On the whole, he comes off respectable as Walsh, although the script doesn’t give him much to do, other than become the object of ire for Armstrong once he delves into the many fishy circumstances and actions of the US Postal Service cycling team.

Armstrong talking down another cyclist for speaking out against doping to the media.

Ben Foster’s performance as Lance Armstrong, though, is quite good. He practically carries the whole movie on his well-defined shoulders. The facial likeness isn’t perfect, but the demeanor, physical presence, and manipulative big-bad-bully tendencies all shine through. There is always a tiny hint that you’re never really sure of the sincerity of his actions.

Armstrong being helped by a nurse to a wheelchair while in hospital.

Armstrong being overtaken uphill by a casual cyclist.

Even at Armstrong’s physical weakest, while battling testicular cancer, Foster delivers. Weakened by repeated chemotherapy, he doggedly tries to regain his pro cyclist form despite clearly not being up to it.

Dr. Michele Ferrari holding a syringe of EPO.

Armstrong and a retired Bruyneel shake hands.

The supporting cast has star turns as well. It’s hard to imagine anybody else but Guillaume Canet portraying the controversial Dr. Michele Ferrari, and Denis Menochet does good as Johan Bruyneel. Jesse Plemons has to take top honors as Floyd Landis, however. “The Program” reveals Landis’ strict religious Mennonite childhood and how it served as a stumbling block for him to pursue a professional road cycling career. Yet, at the eleventh hour, it is his upbringing that leads to his redemption. Plemons shows Landis’ internal conflicts as a professional cyclist all over his tired, weathered visage, never completely comfortable in his place as a cog in the US Postal Service team machine and its shenanigans.

Floyd Landis, Lance Armstrong, and Johan Bruyneel in a room while blood doping.

A disgraced, crestfallen Floyd Landis answering doping allegations at a press conference in 2006.

This being a film about professional road cycling as a sport, “The Program” delivers in that regard. It recycles a lot of existing news and sports footage, in documentary style, but Frears also shoots a lot of his own bike race footage for the film, coordinated by retired cyclist and repentant doper David Millar. Foster and Plemons are largely believable in their roles as Armstrong and Landis on the saddle, and the cinematography of the Tour de France mountain stages is very well done.

Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis, drafting for Ben Foster’s Lance Armstrong.

 

Some of the film’s most powerful moments involve Foster’s Armstrong in solitude: pondering post-retirement emptiness while walking in his Texas ranch; mentally reaching out to a beleaguered Floyd Landis as he deals with his own doping scandal on live television; and finally dropping himself into the lake at Dead Man’s Hole after making his own confessions to talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

For all of the mediocre critical reception this film got upon release, I don’t think we can fault Frears and his dedication to making this as good of a cycling-related “crime film” as he can. It’s not meant to be definitively factual, as some accounts are fictionalized, but “The Program” is a pretty damn good cycling film.