Monday, June 25, 2018


     Every year we come to Suches, Georgia and I ride the gaps.  This was a  bonus year, in that rather than drive home after racing in Augusta, we just booked an extra week at High Valley Resort.  Every year I start off my mountain riding by doing Woody Gap, Neel's Gap and Wolf Pen Gap on the first day and the same three in the opposite direction on the second day.  This year was different, in that I only had room for my racing bike and time trial bike.  I left the bike with the triple chain ring at home.  I was anxious to see if I could actually get up the mountains with only a double.  True, it had a compact crank, so I was only down two or three gears.
     As it turned out, I did have to use all of the gears and my cadence was slower, but overall time was exactly the same as the previous ten years.  I felt relief that I could get some good cycling in.  Another bonus, new asphalt for the five mile descent of Woody Gap.  Of course, the real test is doing Brasston Bald.  I test myself by climbing Hog Pen Gap.  If I can get up that, I try for Brasstown.
     With two days rest, Marilane drove me out to the top of Jack's Gap to begin my ride.  This consists of a descent of Jack's, up and down Unicoi Gap, transition over to Hog Pen, up Hog Pen, down, over to Wolf Pen and back to the cabins.
     I'm not a fan of Jack's Gap.  The descent going east is five miles long, but only the first mile and a half or so is fun, the rest is a meandering downhill.  As I started off, a line of motorcycles came by.  They were doing the speed limit or a little less and I fell in line behind the last one for a quarter mile or so.  I don't think he liked that and sped up a bit.  Shortly after the grade lessened and my speed slowed.  Soon enough the road ended and I turned to ascend Unicoi.
     Unicoi is the least steep of the six gaps and has the best descent of them all.  But today I struggled up Unicoi with the unpleasant realization of using all the gears.  Hog Pen was going to eat my lunch.  But first, the really great downhill.  It is nine miles in total, but the first four or so are steep, with sweeping curves you take at speed.  There was no traffic behind me for this part, maybe because I was doing the speed limit.  The rest of the way was also pleasant and I arrived at the turn exactly as planned.
     The transistion is lumpy, but once again I was dismayed in having to use all the gears.  Then came the turn onto the Russell Scenic Byway.  After climbing for a mile, 4 or 5% grade, you see written on the road "Start 10k KOM."  Dang!  The average gradient of Hog Pen is 7% with at least one ramp at 15% (my computer said 16).  I was in my last gear much more than usual, and working much harder.  I rounded a curve and saw the incline.  Nope.  Off the bike, let the heart rate subside, then start walking.  Once the HR dropped twenty beats I remounted and continued the slow slog up to the overlook and stopped for a Clif Bar and water.  But I still had three-plus miles to the top.  Two more steep ramps had me walking.  Eventually I got to the top and a short rest, during which time I texted Marilane to meet me at a grocery store before Wolf Pen Gap.  I was gassed.
     The climb up Hog Pen is devoid of scenic views.  But at the top, there is one spectacular one.  Also new this year is smooth asphalt on a really fast, non-technical descent.  With smooth asphalt and a new racing bike, I wondered how fast I would go.  I chickened out at 47.2 mph and braked slightly.  Again, no traffic.  The rest of the descent was rolling, but enjoyable.  Once at the bottom, it was turn left, do a short climb and a long downhill, another left for a mile or so, and the grocery store where I waited a short time for Marilane.
     After a day of recollection, I have replaced my despondency of failure to ascend with something a little more positive.  I'm thinking it wasn't, necessarily, the gradients, but that I was just having a bad day.  I base this on the Unicoi climb.  In the past I'd have two or three gears left on this climb, and have always been able to accelerate the last quarter mile up.  Plus, the other two days were not strenuous.  So, I'll do some more climbing on Woody and Wolf Pen, then take on Hog Pen again.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 22, 2018


First, some background.  Last year at the Senior Games Nationals in Birmingham, I came in second to Durward Higgins in the 10k time trial.  In later conversations, I found he had competed in the USAC Nationals in Augusta the week before.  Once I returned home, I looked up the results of those races.  Well, he was far and away faster than the rest of the field, but second place times were in my ball park, so to speak.  I also discovered that USAC had five-year age groups, something I didn’t think they did.  I had already determined I needed a coach to get better, so the goal was to get fast enough to be competitive for second place at this year’s nationals.
            Second, the lead-up.  I signed up early, then kept an eye out for who else was in my age group.  My first clue that things might not go as planned was that none (NONE) of the guys who raced last year signed up for this year, except Durward.  One new name popped up, Phil Needham.  I knew the name, but had never met him.  Well, I knew the name because he is a five-year national Senior Games Champion.  Ok, now I’m racing for third. My friend Carolyn, who was National Champion last year, described the course as lumpy.  Gee, did those guys who aren’t repeating doing so because the course is too hilly?  Hmmm!
            The pre-race instructions indicated the course would be open for pre-riding after 5pm on Wednesday (race was Thursday).  We arrived Wednesday afternoon, checked in and picked up my number, then checked into the hotel.  Around 6pm I drove over to Fort Gordon and prepared to preview the course.   Apparently the para-racers ran late, because it was after 7pm before it was open.  I had given up by then.  My friend Clif told me it was quite hilly, with one really long, steep one.  Great. 
            The first race was the time trial, 20k in length.  I warmed up using the available road, which happened to be the finish of Friday’s road race, so at least I got to preview that. Generally speaking, I do better in the longer time trials.  Both Durward and Phil started behind me.  I started strong but controlled.  The hills were challenging but I felt confident as I shifted up and down the cogs.  I passed my one minute man and had a second one in my sights.  We made the right turn on to McDuffie Road and into a head wind plus a wash-board road.  Perhaps wash-board is too strong a description, but it certainly wasn’t smooth.  I passed number three and number four.  Soon enough, I got to the turn-around and with the wind behind me, was able to increase speed and not bounce quite so much.  I made the left turn and now had the wind from the left.  About this time Durward blew past me.  I knew it would happen, so wasn’t discouraged.  The downer came in the form of two really steep, long hills.  I was in the 44-26 and struggling, both in strength and heart-rate.  My max HR is 164 and for most of this race I was above 156.  These hills got me up to 162.  The Garmin showed 6.9 mph just before the crest.  I managed to ramp up some rpm’s at the end and was rewarded with hearing the announcer say I was in third place.  As it turned out, I came in fourth, which was still a spot on the five-person podium.  I wasn’t close to Durward, but then, no one else was either.

            Friday was the 28 mile road race, two laps.  Our race started at 8:05 and I was warmed up and ready, although the legs weren’t up to the task.  This race was 70+ ages, so although we would be scored according to our 5-year grouping, we’d all race together.  That meant all I had to do was hang on to the back of the young guys.  We started off flat, made a right turn and came to a downhill followed by a really long, steep uphill.  I’d worked my way up to the first third of the group and was happy with my positioning.  Then my bike began to shake.  Various thoughts flashed through my mind: did I not tighten the front axel?, Did I have a flat?  This was an unknown experience.  Dang!  I slowed and raised my hand and came to a stop.  Nope, no flat, tires were good.  Neutral support guy came up and gave a quick check and we both agreed nothing was wrong with the bike.  Up I got and started pedaling.  No way could I catch on to the peloton.  I didn’t expend myself up the hill, but ramped it up after.  As it was, I passed four riders, who had been dropped.  This was another really hilly course and since I had no chance of podium, I considered the next course of action.
            We will now call this a strategic DNF.  My legs still felt the effects of the time trial and I’d be doing the second lap again by myself.  So, I pulled the plug, ran my hand across my throat at the finish line, and called it a day.  I had some regrets but will address those later.
            We had most of Friday and all day Saturday to rest and do a bit of touring in Augusta.  Sunday noon would be the criterium.  About ten years ago I entered two crits and was unceremoniously pulled in less than ten minutes.  To be fair, I was with younger, faster guys, but it still bruised the ego.  I hadn’t considered crits since.  Until now.
            Once again, it would be 70+ so all I needed to do was latch onto a wheel and hang on.  With crits they do call-ups, so me being a nobody, I was in the last group at the start line.  I quickly found out that as inexperienced as I was in this genre, there were guys who were less so.  You don’t brake in the corners, you hold your line.  I did well the first lap (.8 of a mile), and actually moved into a good position about a third back on the second lap.  The peloton slowed on the left-right-left corners for some reason.  Anyhow, I hung with the guys until they got serious on the seventh lap and put the hammer down on one of the corners.  Five yards, ten yards, and then they didn’t slow down at the corner and I waved goodbye.
            My coach, Owen, was at the start/finish line calling out encouragement and letting me know how I was doing.  Once I lost the peloton I could carve through the corners keeping my cadence and actually put time into those behind me.  With seven laps to go Owen advised I was in third place and something like thirty-three seconds up on forth.  I continued on and for one lap lost ten seconds.  I got lapped by the peloton, but that was a good thing.  For one, I latched on to the back for about three hundred yards so that upped my speed.  For another, that meant I had one lap less to race since the race ended on the lap of the peloton.  However, number four apparently also latched on to them for a while, because Owen advised I only had a six second lead with two laps to go.  I wasn’t worried, much.  No,  really.  Whoever was behind had to expend a lot of energy catching up while I was holding a little something in reserve.  My lap times and speed were very consistent.  If you go to my Strava page, the analysis shows just when I got dropped and how much less power I had to use.  Of course, that was why I got dropped in the first place.
            Enter Fred.  Fred Schmidt is 86 and can still beat me in a road race.  He caught up to me and I pulled him for half a lap, then he pulled me.  As we approached the finish he accelerated.  I considered just following him in but then figured this was a learning opportunity to see how much I could do at the end of a race.  I upped the cadence to 132 and pipped him at the line.  Mixed emotions on that, feeling bad about beating him, but glad that I could.  It didn’t matter about placement, in that he was first in his age group, and I held on to third. 


Tuesday, May 29, 2018


     Actually, it is more like a correction than a contradiction.  Recently I wrote that anytime you are cycling you are having fun.  That isn't necessarily true.  My friend Byran has a defintion:  Anytime you come back from a ride and nothing is broken, then you had fun.  But I've had several rides that fit that definition and definitely were not fun.
     2011 was THE year.  The one where I came off the tracks, so to speak.  The one that sticks in my mind the most is the no-longer Walburg ride.  It used to be a well-attended kick-off to the road racing season and folks would race Walburg on Saturday and Pace Bend on Sunday.  That sounded good to me, so I sorta trained up for it (did some mileage) and entered.  Several things were against me.  The age group was 60+ and I was 68.  See previous post about age categories.  The course was two twenty-four mile loops.  Well, I could ride forty-eight miles but racing them was another story.
     In any case, I got behind in the neutral ride up to the rolling start line and the guys in the front lit it up, accelerating before the line and going full gas from the get-go.  Down the hill, turn right, turn right, go uphill.  I was behind some guys who let a gap form on the uphill and I never could catch back on.  I'm sure three of us carried on for awhile, but my recollection of this ride is that I did a lap and a half by myself.  About five miles from the end I was told I was the last rider and would I like to just sag in.  I knew there were two or three behind me, so I said no.  Besides, I was fuming at the organizers for having us old guys do long mileage.  It may have been misplaced anger.  Oh, the the guys behind me actually dropped out on the first lap, so I was indeed last coming in at two hours thirty-seven minutes.  So, yes, this ride was not fun.
     To top it off, I had foolishly signed up for Pace Bend.  I showed up Sunday and prepared to race.  The start line was about twenty yards ahead of where I thought it was, so once again I found myself in the back.  Then I misplaced my foot and wasted two seconds getting clipped in.  Again, the young guys jumped off the front.  I chased for about a mile up and down the hills.  At the end of the first lap, I gave the hand-to-throat signal to the timer and called it a day.  Another day of non-fun on the bike.
     But stupidity didn't stop there.  Perhaps I should call it experimenting rather than stupidity.  The following week I was in Mineral Wells for a time trial, road race, and criterium.  I did two criteriums before giving up on them.  Once again, the age group was 60+.  Once again I managed to get behind a rider who couldn't hold a wheel.  I wasn't all that far behind, but got pulled after two miles.  That wasn't fun.
     Later, same year, my friend Tom enticed me to enter the Tour of Austin, another crit.  I managed a fourth place finish but again was stewing.  As opposed to Mineral Wells, this was a little more laid back, to the extent that the third place guy had a "mechanical" with two laps to go and was allowed to sit out a lap and jump back on.  He was behind me when he stopped and ahead when he started up again.  I was gassed, and pissed.
     But time heals all wounds.  I gave Walburg another chance.  Didn't let the front get away from me at the start, hung with them the first two hills.  Did the rest by myself.  Again (two hours, forty-two minutes).  At least this year I didn't sign up for Pace Bend.  By the way, you know all the gorgeous pictures of the very pretty CD4 that get posted?  I'm pretty sure this is the year someone got her with a frightening snarl as she wound it up for the finish line at Walburg.  That, too, sticks in my mind.
     I've ridden the Walburg roads by myself and others and had lots of fun.  Racing by yourself is not.  Somewhere in the archives I've written about some others, specifically when I've hit the ground (two involved vehicles).  So there you have it, years of cycling and only a handful of not-fun rides.    May your future be as bright.

Monday, May 28, 2018


     A few days ago my friend, Dani, posted on FB about a conversation (she used the word "interaction" which connotes a slightly different encounter) with someone from the cycling community.  It was at The Driveway while watching a criterium race, so I'm also assuming it was someone who raced.  Now Dani has only been involved in cycling for three years, but it has been an impressive three years.  That's her story and not the topic for this entry.  But this person informed her that they would not encourage or help anyone to start cycling, especially women, because there were already too many cyclists.  Boy, did her post get lots of comments. 
     But my post is taking the devil's advocate position.  Too many times, when I was trying to make a point that sounded great in my head, what came out of my mouth was totally asinine.  For the sake of argument, maybe the brain was thinking "racing" but the mouth mis-interpreted.  Of course,  even that is a stupid thing to say, but it is a segue.
     Some of the races at The Driveway have upwards of seventy competitors.  Probably only a half-dozen have a real chance to win, so why are the other sixty-plus folks racing?  Well duh, it's because they like to race!  Maybe they're racing to make top-twenty, which gets them recognition (the rest get nothing).  Maybe this race is just a hard work-out for other cycling activities and placement doesn't matter.  Maybe it's practice riding fast in a group.  So, if this person is desirous of making top twenty, but is only a fifty percentile racer, then they would benefit if only forty people raced.
     Or, perhaps they were a good actor and was really just jerking Dani's leg.  I've met a person like that, and it wasn't until a mutual acquaintance clued me in that he "spun tales" did I stop believing anything he said.  Then again, maybe the person is just a jerk.
     Actually, just recently I had a similar thought.  Not about discouraging anyone from cycling, but too many cyclists.  It was at a Shoal Roll several weeks back.  There were about twenty-five riders, which is great for a parade but causes even laid-back motorists some agitation.  Fortunately we broke into several manageable groups and came back together at the finish (sort of, the faster folks having a longish wait).
     If you do charity rides, maybe you have had unkind thoughts run through your mind about unskilled cyclists who are really dangerous to be around.  I still remember one lady who stopped and  fell over in front of a vehicle while going up a slight incline.  Even worse is the strong, fast rider who changes lines and darts in and out without regard to those around him.  We must remember that charity rides bring out charitable people who want to challenge themselves while contributing something to the cause.  Judge not lest you be judged.  I dislike a snob of any sort, but especially a cycling snob.
     Of course, if you really want to see "too many cyclists" take a trip to Amsterdam.  Everybody is a cyclist.  On a recent trip to London I was surprised at the large number of cycling commuters.  In either city it is a grave mistake to walk in a bike lane.  Sadly, Austin is a long way from that worry.  Meanwhile, I'll do what I can to encourage folks to get into their exercise of choice, and if it's cycling, so much the better.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


     The races have been held in Hempstead for the last five years.  Since I'm familiar with the course and like to sleep in my own bed, I've taken to just driving down, do the race, drive home, repeat on Sunday for the team time trial.
     I set the alarm for 3:30am and plan to have breakfast and leave no later than 4:30.  It is a two hour drive.  With a start time of 7:40,  I worked backwards from that giving myself thirty minutes of warm-up plus ten minutes of fudge-factor in addition to packet pick-up etc..  I hardly ever need an alarm and Saturday morning was no different.  My eyes flew open at 2:45, wide awake.  Pook!  Had I gone to sleep at 8:45 instead of 10:45, that wouldn't have been so bad.  As it was, I had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast and a non-scheduled shower and still leave at 4:15.  Unsurprisingly, there were only a handful of cars on the road.
     Ten years ago, when I first acquired my Felt B-2 time trial bike, I left it in the car while I warmed-up on my road bike.  When I dragged it out to race it created quite a stir.  Besides the surprise factor, this eliminates getting a flat right before you start.  This is now part of my routine.
     My warm-up didn't go well.  I had the devil of a time getting my heart-rate up and my quads were telling me they wanted an hour before being ready to race.  About twenty minutes of riding and the HR finally topped 110 and started moving into zone three, topping out at 135.  The legs were tepid at best.  Neither boded well for a good race.  Plus, we had the wind in our face on the outward leg.
     I switched bikes, went potty one more time, strapped on the aero helmet, and checked in at the start line.  On schedule, so I had one more warm-up loop to make before getting in line.  As last year's winner I had the privilege of going last.
     Richard can beat me like a drum in a road race, but hasn't concentrated on time trials.  Bob and I are closer in abilities, but he is definitely the stronger.  Just not in the time trial.  I've written about Fred lots of times, another strong road racer but not a time trialist.
     My strategy was pretty simple: higher cadence, lighter gear on the way out and higher gear on the way back.  I followed the strategy, but envisioned 90+ as my high cadence and 85 as a low.  Turns out I was closer to 85 out and 80 back, with a fair amount of time in the 70's.  But the speed was good.  I did a lot of gear shifting although I don't think I used more than three gears after the start.  It took about a minute for my HR to reach 140, but the average of 148 with a top of 153 indicates I held 90% of max for thirty-one of the thirty-three and a half minutes of the race.  Ah the legs.  I pampered them for maybe ten minutes before applying power.  They were much happier when we hit the turn-around.
     I had no idea how I was doing compared to the others.  I caught Fred, my one-minute man, before the turn, but was too busy fighting the wind to see if I made up any time on the others.  Truthfully, I figured I'd earned third place.  But there is one spot in the race I thought I could make up time.  At about the 10.5 mile mark, right after an intersection, the road turns up, just topping at 3.3%.  Rather than fight to hold speed, I took it easy and gathered myself for a last push.  Once on flat road my speed picked up, HR held steady with just a beat or two tick upwards, cadence was steady until the finish line was in sight.  A classic finish, top speed and cadence.
     I took about a ten minute cool down, got everything back in the car, re-hydrated, then waited for the awards ceremony.  The hour and a half or so wait allowed us old guys to stand around and talk.  The younger age categories have new people coming in, but us old guys rarely see a newcomer.  Therefore, we all know each other.  Richard and Bob had to be introduced to each other, but I'd known each of them for several years.  Bob had gone online and found out I'd won, with him second and Richard third.  That was a pleasant surprise.
          Medals in hand (this is a race within a race, so we got two medals), I retreated to the car, drove home and prepared to do it again on Sunday.  First we start with attitude.  The Sunday team time trial had us up against the young guys: 70+ rather than 75+.  There were two teams of these guys and all six of them posted times faster than me.  The only other team was comprised of beginners.  Therefore, we were pretty much assured of third place no matter what our effort.
     Speaking of beginners, my team had verteran Dean and Bob.  Dean is 79 and Bob had never done a team time trial before.  We went over a few basics, but let him learn on the job.  Our start time of 8:28 at least let me sleep in.  Warm-up went well.  We had no incidents, fought the wind on the way out and cruised on the way back.  We dropped Dean with a couple of miles to go, and Bob had to lead me in the last mile.  Yesterday had caught up with me.  We weren't close to second and fourth was a distant fourth.
     I have a few weeks before Nationals.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


     If you clicked on this thinking it described idyllic, gentle cycling in bucolic, scenic settings you've come to the wrong place.  For that you should check out Bicycle Journeys with Jerry or Gotta Go! Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations.  No, this is primarily about going fast in age-category races.
     We do what we can to fight off the effects of aging but there is no denying that young folks are faster and stronger.  Yes, USA Cycling has a 35+ Masters Division, but for us old guys that is laughable.  I'm talking about 50 and up.  Which is why I like Senior Games.  They have five-year age categories.  There are a few other races where the organizers have ten-year categories, like 50+ and 60+ and that at least narrows the field to a more manageable size.  But unless you are super strong, if you are in the upper age range you are just in it for the exercise.  The exceptions that I know off the top of my head are Fred Schmid of Waco, Durward Higgins of Chattanooga,  Deb Barton of College Station and Linda Margraf of Fort Worth.  This post isn't about them.
     Generally speaking, and especially after 65, you are competitive the first two years of your age group, maybe competitive in the third year, and hopeful in the last two years.  Being in your last year brings joy that you are getting older and that next year you move up to a new category.  Senior Games Nationals are every two years, so if you manage to qualify (top four) at, for instance, age 74, then you will be the youngest (75-79) when you race Nationals. That worked well for me in the time trial. USAC Nationals is every year and there isn't any qualifier.  I guess they figure if you have the courage to show up, then you won't embarrass yourself.  This is my first year to attend.  I was unaware that they had five-year categories until too late last year.
     The title suggests having fun.  Anytime you are on the bike you should be having fun, but training and racing are a different "fun" than just tooling around.  In previous posts I've expressed my chagrin at finishing last in a road race.  And I repeat, there is no shame in being last, someone is for every race.  But for me it was a wake-up call that something was wrong and changes needed to be made.  Therefore, for the last two years there has been less of one type of fun and more of the other.  I'm almost to where I think I should be.  Ah, but that's the rub.
     As a result of my success at being stronger and faster (plus getting older), my definition of "fun" has widened.  Whereas before I eschewed criteriums because their age grouping stopped at 60+, thus leaving me to be pulled from the race before I even worked up a sweat (a serious waste of money), I'm now thinking maybe I can hang around until at least halfway through.  Or find races that are a little more lenient.  Mountain biking and Cyclocross have also crossed my mind.  Gravel grinding is a distinct possibility.
     I haven't given up cycling vacations.  They are an integral part of staying in shape, especially if mountains are involved.  In one previous post I demonstrated (somewhat facetiously) that guys who raced and took cycling vacations placed higher in their races than those who did not.  So stay tuned as to what sort of trouble I can get myself into.

Saturday, May 5, 2018


     My friend, Dan, posted a lament (comment, observation, whatever) yesterday about racing as he approaches 50.  The gist of his content was that he is new to cycling, six years, and is racing against guys who have been doing it for decades.  Each year he is getting stronger, faster, and feeling better than he did when in high school and college.  When will he hit his peak and will he know it? I gave him a short answer but immediately knew I'd be posting a rambling blog to cover the topic.
     I'll answer his last question first: yes, you will know when you have peaked.  There will be several peaks.   What you do is fight off the initial peak, the subsequent peaks, and then gracefully accept the final peak.
     Let's flesh out the strength part.  There is a reason very few pro cyclists race after 40, and many after 35.  They don't have the strength to compete against youngsters.  Not that they are slow as compared to us mortals, they're just not fast enough to hang with the peloton.  So, Dan, apples to apples, that train has already left the station.  Yes, you are faster than a lot of young guys, but that isn't apples to apples.  You are stronger and faster than you were in college because you are training more, and developing your cardio vascular system better (and probably have a much better diet).
     Cardio is key.  I have a mantra: trust your muscles, protect your heart (which includes lungs).   That is, assuming you have trained properly, you can over-work your legs in a race and they will forgive you, but if you over-work your heart it doesn't matter how much leg strength you have left.  Ergo, cardio should be the last thing you push over the edge in a race.  You told me the other day about how Zwift really pushes you to be better.  That's a really good cardio workout.
     Experience counts.  Here, you are behind the curve, but probably not as much as you think.  Being cerebral, you have already picked up on most of the nuances in racing.  Each race will give you a new insight.
     Ah, training.  Let me digress into my own history.  When I first started racing, it was merely something to do when I wasn't off on a cycling vacation.  There were only a few races per year.  After the first year I started getting medals, tokens of my improvement.  I concentrated on time trials and just did road races for training.  Continued podiums kept me looking for more ways to get better.  I went to the gym in the off season and worked on my legs.  Then, two years ago I finished last.  I had seen the signs coming but ignored them (see previous posts).  Something had to change.  I changed my diet.  Immediate improvement.
     After last year's Senior Games Nationals, I decided I wanted to branch out and also do road racing.  But for that, I needed to get better.  Enter a coach.  I no longer go to the gym.  He had me doing drills that instantly improved my strength, cardio, and confidence.  One more thing: equipment.  I also acquired a really fast, new bike.
     About your bell curve, the shape really is a quick (relatively) ascent to the peak, then a gradual descent.  Let's talk about peaks, which is really just a recap.  When you feel you have peaked it is time to see what you can do to get faster.  A new bike?  Gears?  Change your training?  Get a coach?  When all else has been done, then accept the inevitable gracefully.  BTW, it has been eight years since I realized I'd peaked.  But that didn't mean I stopped trying to get better.
     One last thing, I didn't know where to put this.  You have picked a healthy lifestyle that will keep you healthy.  Many folks blame getting older for lots of their ailments and lack of energy.  You are maybe fifteen years removed from that, but if something is wrong with how your body is working, look for a reason other than age.