Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pain Face

Like him or don't like him, the above picture of Lance is a fitting one for my topic-suffering. Few bike racers in the last twenty years have suffered as well or as much as he has in the pursuit of athletic immortality. His grimace of absolute determination is something that to some extent all of us who ever clipped into a set of pedals and raced our bikes share. The fact that your pain face comes out 400 or 2000 watts beneath his is immaterial because inside your mind and body the pain feels the same.

Our individual expressions of pain are different. For my part I've been told that I my expression is rather expressionless. One of my teammates has gone so far as to say that my body and face don't betray the true extent of the pain that I am feeling. In his words my expression stays the same despite an ever increasing level of effort. To me it doesn't feel like it but I'll rely on his representation.

There is something inherently pure about athletic suffering. It has its own therapeutic properties. As the pain grows and your muscles scream out there is a cleansing. Maybe this is something unique to me but as my effort increases my perception grows tighter. My world pulls inward and my focus reaches a laser focus. What matters becomes more finite and easier to distinguish. The remainder of the world fades into the background and eventually all that remains is my will to push harder.

Tonight I found this highlighted even more. There is something distinctive about training in cold weather that heightens this experience. The juxtaposition of the cold world against warm skin makes me feel the moment...more. More distinctively, more strongly, more completely. As a parting note if you ever have any doubt whether Washington, D.C., is a beautiful city. Just take a quick ride around the Mall at night. It is beautiful and looks just the way a capital city should.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winter Training Update

One of the greatest privileges of my life has been to serve as a prosecutor in the District of Columbia. The police officers and the people that I work with make it all worthwhile and the cause of justice is one of the most noble that I have pursued in my life.. However, the workload is staggering. There were times in October when we were understaffed and I was easily working 12 hours a day. Even now with a full staff I work over 10 hours on an easy day and when I'm in court that time goes up and up.

This has left little ability for me to get out in the middle of the day as I had been accustomed. I tried and struggled to maintain that same pattern but about a month ago I threw that idea away and went back to a workout plan that I had grown used to back in Mississippi. Back then I rode in the mornings before work in the dim light of a dixie morning. I cannot do that now because I have to be at work early and I would have to wake up around midnight in order to do so.

So I've taken to riding in the pitch black of night after work. A small island in the middle of the Potomac River with a 3 mile loop that's largely absent of cars has become my destination of choice. So the moon, the river, a couple fox and myself have become well acquianted. Finally life has started to settle back into a predictable pattern. The repetitive nature of the route and the time of the day has limited the time that I can dedicate to training but Adam and I have worked out a solid program.

Riding at night does mean that I have to equip myself appropriately and the folks at Light & Motion make a great line of lights that I have been using. There is an additional serenity to suffering through intervals at night. The world seems to close in on me as the minutes and miles click by. There is an acute awareness of the details of my muscles that have helped me focus.

Bike racing is a social enterprise; however training is often a solitary task. Amongst moonlight and under the watchful eyes of Presidents and beneath the towering heights of the Capitol I push myself. All to prove that person can succeed at more than one aspect of their life at a time. The misson is simple but the path is hard. It begins now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Training When it's Dark, Cold and Raining

Most days of the week I am blessed with the opportunity of getting out on my bike during the work day. Normally I get to ride during or right after what is most people's lunch. The nice thing about being an federal prosecutor is that you don't have clients and when you work with law enforcement they work 24/7 so you can reach most of them at any time of the day. That allows for some flexibility in life.

That being said, I still find myself in a courtroom brawl every now and again which stops me from getting out, like today. Mother Nature's persistent rain didn't ease the situation either today. These are the days that I end up on the trainer fighting against boredom and trying to ride hard enough and long enough that I can make it to the next day outside. I'm not sure what it is about the trainer that makes doing intervals so hard on my leg muscles. Maybe it's the artifical resistance or the slightly different position but I find my legs fatiguing a long time before my endurance systems do. It's like a weight workout built into a cardio workout.

Adam and I are working through the growing pains of a new job, a new schedule and a new training regime. It's a painful adjustment but one that is working out. Life is about making choices. I know a lot of people say that they don't have time for this or for that, but there is always time. It's a matter of prioritizing and making a decision to make certain things important to yourself and then having the support of those around you to carry it out.

When I took this new position it was about gaining trial experience and getting comfortable on my feet in court. Those two things have definitely happened, but on top of that I'm learning how to prioritize things in my life as well. It's a hyper-focus that I hope makes me a better bike racer. Or at the least, I hope it can be proof to others around me that you can work 12 hours a day and still be an elite athlete. All it takes is persistence and a lot of good coaching.

Monday, September 07, 2009

What do I do Now?

One race left on the calendar and then it's all over for the season. My legs are done in from 41 previous races but my heart still wants to race. There will be no cross racing for me this year because despite my heart's desires, my wallet says no. So what do I do next? Normally my season ends with a flourish, in the past it was normally Gateway Cup or another multi-day race. However, St. Louis was a little too far away this year for me to go, especially with a new job that hasn't been fully broken in yet.

It's also a little too early to start thinking about next year. Maybe just the most preliminary thoughts about what big races to think about. However, these preliminary thoughts will probably change about 50 times before next month. Maybe, now is just the time to reflect on a good season and goals accomplished? Heck, I've been an athlete too long to think that contentment is a good feeling when it comes to getting better. So I guess now is the time to think about what I can do better. . . what happened this year that worked and what didn't work. Also, maybe it's time to finally fix my time trial bike so that it actually works the way it is supposed to work.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Overcoming Panic

It's been a month and a half since starting my new/temporary job. It's been an up and down ride and the transition has been...a transition. This has been a pivotal weekend for me and it feels like I've left the Belgian pavee for a little bit of Mississippi chip and seal. It's a welcome sight and my body can feel a more comfortable ride ahead.

After a rocky start to being a Cat 2 at Millersburg, today's race at Jason Gundel was a marked improvement. It didn't start out that well for me, when on the third lap I found the only unmarked pothole on the road, hit it, and turned my handlebars 30 degrees down. This forced me up to the pit. But I got back in the race and finally found my legs again.

The hill on the backside of the course at Gundel was of the type that normally would make my day unpleasant; today that wasn't the case. My finish was nothing spectacular but it was a finish. After peaking no fewer than a million times this season, my training as of late has been a consistent and I've been able to put together decent miles over the last month.

However, for about a month I've been in a state of near panic, my nerves have been at their peak and I've been having trouble getting back into a comfortable schedule. However, late this week I came to an understanding with myself and my job. I realize the two can be reconciled, which is itself a relief. As my fellow bike racers can testify to, by this point in time we've all drank the Kool-Aid. We've made the decision to sacrifice other aspects of our lives for the sport.

Those that love and care for us understand this point. However, explaining these things to an employer is a different story. Suggestions on how to improve are always appreciated. My position has always been that personal lives and professional lives have to be balanced. My grandfather always said everything in moderation. I'm not one of those guys who will work 60 hours a week for the sake of working 60 hours a week. I'm also not one of those guys who will shut down his computer at 4:59 PM just because I don't want to be late for the metro. The same with bike racing and being with friends and family. There is a constant give and take but finding that balance is a tough thing, especially at the start of things. So here is to week two of finding balance.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Story

In February of 2001 I raced my last 200 backstroke. That race ended nearly 20 years of competitive swimming. Following that meet I went through what could only be called a quarter life crisis. A huge part of my identity vanished and I struggled for a time to find something to replace that part of my life. I couldn't easily give up on being an athlete and my love of competition.

On a lark I went to a bike shop in Chicago and bought my first bike. As soon as I got it home I went for a 30 minute ride in my neighborhood in a worn out pair of shorts that I had used for weightlifting and a white t-shirt. By the end of that Summer I raced my first race, and crashed twice in a 10 lap crit. I joined the University of Kansas Cycling Team when I returned to school and made some of the best friends that I have kept to this day.

I went from a Cat 5 to a Cat 3 by May of the following year. Then inexplicably I left the sport. I started law school and somewhere on the journey from Kansas to Mississippi I allowed someone to surgically implant a giant pole into my body and lost my focus on those things that made me who I was. I flopped around in local races over but never made a commitment to racing like I had done while at KU. I graduated from law school and moved to DC where I continued to "kind of" race and "kind of" train. I had goals but no focus. I had dreams but no passion. I had ego but no commitment.

Then in April of 2008 the inexplicable happened again, I blew out a spoke on a brand new pair of wheels. Somehow this spoke represented a metaphysical snapping within me. I opened up the brakes on my rear wheel to keep it from rubbing too badly and rode McArthur back into DC. Along the way I opened up myself too and spent a long time thinking about who I am and what I was doing in my life. I made a real simple decision, rather than just fix the spoke I was going to buy a whole new wheel set, I was going to buy a PowerTap.

I called up one of my best friends from KU, Adam Mills, who in the time since I had left school had become a cycling coach and one of the best bike racers in the Midwest. I told him that I was tired of it all and that I wanted to do something other than just finish Cat 3/4 races (actually I had been dropped from a PA race two weeks prior). I told him that I was buying a PowerTap and that I wanted to start training like I had when I was swimming. He warned me that it wouldn't be easy. In typical fashion I responded "I ain't scared."

I went down to a trusted bike shop and met with a very trusted friend, we shall call him Mr. Jones. I told him what I wanted to do and what I wanted to buy. He obliged and a week later I got a call that my brand new Mavic Open Pro's were in and ready for me. As fate would have it, I was getting ready to head out for work to Colorado and to LA. I packed up the bike and flew out to the mountains. It wasn't until I got to LA that I realized what was happening. In the middle of a ride out in Riverside, CA (which is nowhere near LA contrary to what I had been told) while going up a hillside I made a promise to myself that I had a goal and that I was going to achieve that goal. I was going to dedicate myself to training and racing and I was going to move up from Cat 3.

Adam and I spent the Summer pushing my limits on the bike. I followed Adam to a new coaching organization, Source Endurance out of Austin, TX, and made contact with some incredibly skilled and talented people. The folks at Source-E have opened my eyes to the fundamentals of the sport that I had overlooked or misunderstood, like nutrition. For those who think that good coaching doesn't pay off, well I hope that my example will show forth that it really does. Adam punished my legs daily with workouts that I often cursed him for but it began to pay off. I won my first ever race and a couple weeks ago I achieved my goal of upgrading.

It's been a tale of suffering but it's all been worth it. It was a goal that at times seemed inevitable and impossible. The statistics on what it took to get me to this goal aren't anything out of the ordinary. However, these are some of the odder statistics that I compiled along the way in the past 15 months since I set out on this quest:

1. Number of Miles Ridden in Training: 10086 this doesn't include races or the months of January and July 2009 when I sent my PowerTap back for re-calibration (Saris Cycling is a great company and I have tremendous respect for them and their product).

2. States that I have raced or trained in (including DC): 15: DC, VA, MD, SC, KY, IL, KS, CA, CO, AZ, WA, MO, OK, IN, WV.

3. Number of bike chains: 4

4. Avg. Calories Consumed per day: 3200

5. Mountains Climbed: Sugarloaf (MD), Mt. Weather (VA), Blue Mountain (VA), Naked Mountain (VA), Mt. Tam (CA), Cougar Mountain (WA), Random 6 mile 2000 foot climb outside of Eureka (CA), Mt. Mingus (AZ), Mt. Oread (KS)[ok, I cheated on this one].

6. Number of bike tires used: 3 sets

7. Number of crashes on training rides: 1

8. Number of times I fell off the bike while racing 3 cross races: 4, once into a brier patch

9. Most listened to song on my IPhone: Miranda Lambert, Gun Powder and Lead (I swear I put the thing on shuffle).

10. Number of curse words used in a single race: 1058, and all used while chasing down a breakaway at the Low Country Challenge Stage Race.

The act of purchasing a PowerTap wasn't the impetus of anything but rather the first step in making myself accountable, accountable to ultimately myself. There is no hiding when you use wattage, either you're pushing 300 watts or you're not. The data allowed me to mark and track changes and progress in a way that I couldn't do before, and it gave me many many many reality checks. More so, my coach Adam was my reality check. A steadfast critique of bike racing and tactics and a genius for understanding the minutia of training. I could not have done this without his guidance.

Along this path I relied heavily on the kindness of strangers, friends and family. My teammates were a constant source of strength and advice. My family was a rock of support and I found the most beautiful woman in the world who helped me along with gentle nudges and swift kicks. I'm confident that she doesn't understand this obsession of ours to deliver so much pain to our bodies, but she understands what it means to me and supports me throughout with unwavering strength. This has bolstered me throughout and has gotten me over the crest of numerous hills, both physical and metaphysical. For me that's all I need.

Monday, June 15, 2009

If Wishing Only Made it So

I spent last week in Charleston, SC, prepping witnesses and handling depositions (the picture is me across the way from Fort Sumter saluting my Union ancestors). After a week of that I thought I'd head on down the road to Beaufort and race a little bit in the Low Country. The Low Country Challenge is a stage race with three stages over two days and a total altitude change of 5 feet. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but it was flat and fast. I ended up 13th in GC and that's the end of that story. The Low Country boys can flat out ride fast in a straight line. They can't turn their bikes to save their lives. However, when you can jump like a gazelle you don't have to turn to well, unless you are being chased by a cheetah.

This weekend I felt more like a lone wolf. Someone would jump and I would accelerate and pull them back with determination and will. The spark wasn't there but the ability to turn myself inside out was. In the road race on Sunday I found myself in a group of about 20 guys that had left the rest of the field behind. A split formed in that group and I was behind the leading 7 or 8. Along with the help of a couple other guys I pulled it all back together. I tried to jump to the break but didn't have the power to make an instant gap so I had to do it the old fashioned way.

The break was pulled back but 10 seconds later 5 guys were up the road. The break was comprised of a lot of the horsepower left in the field and the big teams were represented. I knew I had to put myself there or else the race was over for me. I jumped across, got clear, joined a guy in nomansland and dropped him. The break had 5 seconds on me for about half a mile. I was riding consistently at more than 100-150 watts above my lactate threshold. I felt the fibers of my muslces shredding. I put my head down and prayed for any draft, just an ounce, just something to close those five seconds. Then it happened and I was on.

We spent the next 15 minutes rotating and after all that effort we were caught by the remaining 9 guys in the field. We rode the rest of the race almost in neutral but I was done. A Kansan told me that you can push your body beyond the point where almost anyone else would stop. He said that you can literally turn yourself inside out and then right back again. I'm not saying I rode harder than anyone else or that I achieved something superhuman. All I'm saying is that on Sunday I redefined what pain means to me. And now I'm stronger for it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Only the Strong Survive: Tulsa Tough

KC's Justin hit the nail right on the head when he described the deceptively friendly panda logo of this year's edition of Tulsa Tough:

"I think the Panda in the logo for the hospital and race is a perfect mascot for this 3 day race series. The image of a Panda lulls you into a false sense of security and then once you approach it it grapples your head and sinks its incisors deep into your jugular and rips your throat open, leaving you for dead."

For more you can always visit Justin's blog. Tulsa Tough is 3 days of crit racing in Oklahoma that become more and more deadly to its racers. At first it's just the heat, then it's the 125-guy fields, then it's the insane speeds that you average (all above 26 mph which includes several less than friendly hills) and topped off by the dumbest hardest river bluff climb (complete with kegs and oddly dressed spectators with flags and baby dolls).

On both Friday and Saturday I finished in the top 25, despite the valiant efforts of other bike racers to thwart my endeavors by throwing their bikes on the ground in front of me. There was an amazing number of guys in all the races who took insane risks but ran out of talent halfway through and ended up wrecking. Sunday was a mess and I ended up cracking on the hill with about 12 laps to go.
Over all it was a great experience, but still a little disheartening in the results. Saturday was definitely my day but I got a little boxed in, in the final sprint and had to sit down and then reaccelerate. I made several moves over several days but I'm not strong enough to hold off 100 other guys. The Stars and Bars did get called out at the line on two occassions. On top of the announcer being confused by the presence of a DCer, Venerable NCVC alum Scott Delaune was at the race on Friday and gave a shout out followed by numerous laps of heckling and calls for me to push the speed past ludicrous to plaid.
As the first of my focus events of the year, I have to say I am pretty psyched and that it bodes well for this weekend's Low Country Challenge in South Carolina. I've got the power courtesy of coach Adam Mills, now I just gotta get the big ring on.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sprinters Beware...

...RFK is the last of the bone-flat untechnical crit/circuit races of the year. Well, at least the last one that I'm signed up for in MABRA. From this point on out the road turns uphill and me and my lightweight cohorts are getting ready to throw down.

I won't retell too much of the story of RFK just to say that I tried to break it up. If I read my power data right, I threw myself off the front no fewer than 3 times. In the end an 11th place in a field sprint that was as organized as a Walmart opening on Black Friday.

Again, Amy Jones was there to capture a couple images. Thank heavens we not only have talented bike racers in MABRA, but also really good photographers and Joe Jefferson calling the races too. Notice the pain being displayed and the almost emotionless-where-are-the-white-elephants look on my face. Plus the uber cool argyle socks that I'm rocking.
I'm out in Kansas again chasing some leads and getting ready for a weekend of hardcore racing at Tulsa Tough. I've heard a lot about these races and cannot wait to see the best of Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas-- I ain't scared. This marks the beginning of a journey that has me racing 18 races in a row outside of MABRA in the next two months before returning for Coppi.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Are the Noon Time Rides???

Today I headed down to the Point to hammer!!! Ok, not really but I did go down to turn a couple of laps and to try to shake my muscles loose after a solid couple days of efforts. I had almost made it through my laps around before heading back to the office when the big guns rolled up in the midst of the hammer session. I was itching to get in there and mix it up with the likes of Chuck Hutch who has made a couple of my lunch hours painful when I was reminded that I couldn't do it today because I was trying to recover.

I did however notice my Mayor, Mr. Fenty, in the mix today which was exciting to see. It looked like he was handling the hammer session well. I've seen the Mayor out from time-to-time riding hard at noon in various places, with a small crew of guys who aren't on his DC Velo squad. This leads me to believe that there is either a planned or an impromptu mayoral-group ride, which I'd like to become a part of.

However, more generally, I'm curious what other noon-time rides there are in the area. I've heard rumors of a couple here and there that I'd really enjoy joining from time-to-time, especially on days when I don't have a focused set to do while training. So please, if anyone can help and write a comment on how long, when and from where these rides leave I'd forever be in your debt.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unofficial Poll...

I've decided to conduct an unofficial poll, so here it goes:

-- If I didn't race bikes I would . . .

I'll start off. If I didn't race bikes I would eat a lot of pizza, likely be very fat and drink way too much.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Lonely Miles

It was suggested to me that my legs may not want to race 7 weekends in a row. Seeing the genius of that suggestion, I ended up not racing this past weekend so that I could have a little break in the midst of the season. I took the opportunity to head out of town to the mountains for some long lonely miles. It's nice to be out among the hills and it's great to listen to nothing but silence. It's an odd reminder of where my own athletic life started.

What I found the hardest as a swimmer back in college was the silence of the sport. When you bury your head in the water pretty much every noise from around you fades away. As a backstroker my ears were deep in the water and with the noise that my arms made going right by head it was pretty much a guarantee that once I started that I couldn't hear anything. I did get the privilege of looking up at the heavens as opposed to down at the black line on the bottom of the pool but that was a minor escape from my watery shackles.

Riding alone amid the mountains I am back in the same place. Aside from the occasional car horn honking, it's just me and the wind. Even better while climbing, it's just me, the steady rhythm of the crank arms and my breadth. Cycling is a social sport and racing in the pack is a great feeling; however, the quiet moments of suffering by oneself remind me of the joys of my youth. It was a nice way to reminisce and pass the long miles while reloading for the next phase of the season.

I'm about to launch on my first set of focus races for this season. I am still ahead of schedule on my personal quest for this season but as of late that rate slaked a bit. This weekend is Murad and the RFK Crit which I'm using as a tune-up before traveling to Tulsa Tough and the Low Country Challenge the following weeks. I'm excited to see what my form brings me in these races.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Into the Wind

Toni Morrison once said "if you surrender to the wind, you can ride it." When it comes to bike racing, that is totally bull. I surrendered myself to a breakaway on Saturday and I all I got was the joy of dodging a couple crashes and 1200 watts in a field sprint. I watched the break go at Fort Ritchie. I wanted to be in. I tried to be in. I tried jumping to it twice. Both times I came back a little more broken then before.

If I couldn't be in the break than I wanted to bring the break back. I tried joining in the chase at the front of the field. The break was right there the whole time, it was just 15-20 seconds off the front. One or two more guys on the front and maybe, maybe, maybe. The tail of the tape is that I maxed out at 1200 watts and 36 mph in the race. I put in a lot of effort and in the end it wasn't enough to bring them back. However, it's clear that I can still turn my bike and that Ben Coles' old adage, that "there is always room on the inside," holds true.

A couple points emerged from 60 minutes of racing. The first is that if you come with me when I'm bridging up to a break, I'd like it if you'd help pull a little bit. It's great to have a buddy suffering with you to get up to a breakaway. It reduces the workload and makes it all so much better. However, if you jump me to finish off the gap then you better make it up there. I realize it's bike racing and people are going to do that, so I cool when it happens. It's part of the reason why you learn that lesson to always conserve enough energy for one more jump. However, if you jump me to bridge the gap and you subsequently fail to get to the break...well then...maybe you should rethink your strategy because now both of us are back in the field.

The second point is, when are we going to start pulling riders who are out of contention? This season has seen a lot of lapped riders in the field in a lot of different crits. About 20 minutes or so into this race the main field started catching lapped riders. Fort Ritchie is a 1.5 km loop with 6 turns in it. It was technical to a degree and the attrition rate was high. It was clear from the beginning that some of the riders weren't going to make it the whole way. I appreciate that the officiating crew likes to leave riders in as long as possible, but when they get lapped by the field, then it's just dangerous. Especially when while in the process of getting lapped these riders don't move to the sides of the road and end up going backwards through the field like a bowling ball down a mountain.

At some point in time the individual rider needs to admit that they are beyond their capacity and it is in his/her best interest to pull the plug. We've all done it before, I've pulled myself out this season. It happens and it is nothing to be ashamed of, it's just a sign that tomorrow will be a better day. However, if you get popped and stick around to get lapped and take someone down in the process of getting lapped...well then that's just a plain bad decision on your part.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Quick Look it's Something Cool!!!

Clearly one of the cooler wheel sets I've ever seen. It's proof positive that Christian Vande Velde rocks in many different ways. On a side note it is also a reminder that I have to get my TT bike up and running. It probably wouldn't hurt to work on my positioning too.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Banned from the United Kingdom

Unrelated to bike racing but related to my love of the law, big news yesterday was that the British Government banned Michael Savage and Fred Phelps from visiting the United Kingdom. They were included in a list of close to 20 others including fundamentalist, religious fanatics and leaders of hate groups. This is both a great and frightening thing.

If you don't know who Mr. Savage or Mr. Phelps are, I wouldn't be too surprised. I became acquainted with Mr. Savage while driving through rural Mississippi late on Friday nights and before I learned of the genius of Sirius satellite radio. My choice for radio entertainment was limited to local high school football games or Mr. Savage's radio broadcast. I would normally listen to his broadcast for about 3 minutes before he would say something so incredibly hateful or ridiculous that I would be forced to turn the station or I seriously feared that my ears would start bleeding from his rampant stupidity.

Mr. Savage is a reactionary radio host whose syndicated broadcast reach too far beyond the sound of his voice. In my brief 3 minute stints of listening to him I gleaned that he was apt to explosions of profanity, insulting his callers and basically lambasting any and all socio-economic, racial or religious groups that he just didn't like at that moment.

Mr. Phelps on the other hand, is an attorney from Topeka, KS, who spent way too much time on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Kansas, spewing hate towards homosexuals and anyone who didn't despise them as much as he did. He has been known to protest at the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and has argued that their deaths are God's punishment for the United States' tolerance of homosexuality.

Both of these men are clearly not intellectual leaders of any kind and the world would obviously be better served if they stopped talking. I think it's great that the UK banned these individuals because of their intolerant behavior and their calls to hatred of various groups. The ideas that they spew provide little to no value to the marketplace of ideas. Frankly, they are a bigger waste of space than anyone I can think of.

However, as much as I dislike reactionary nut jobs like Mr. Savage and Mr. Phelps, I truly love the First Amendment. The idea that the freedom of speech is protected against encroachment and that everyone is allowed to basically speak their mind no matter how ridiculous their words might be is the hallmark of liberty, which as John Adams said is "the soul's ability to breath." Any law student who has sat through their first semester of Constitutional Law can recite this country's seminal case law on free speech and the limits of the First Amendment including such judicial doctrines as "fighting words" and "hate speech." I believe those decisions are correct and see their inherent value. It is the limits beyond that which cause me concern.

I realize that the United Kingdom is apt to do what it may when it comes to its immigration and travel laws and is not bound by our Supreme Court's interpretation of the very basic civil liberties which we as Americans are afforded. As to the former, I can justify the British decision to restrict the entry of individuals especially when viewed under the prism of public safety and therefore, would never challenge their action. However, as the bulk of our common law jurisprudence comes from the same source as British common law; such a decision purely on the basis of restricting free speech gives me pause.

It places all of us in a conundrum where in civil liberties are often tested and the classic judicial proverb, "bad facts make bad law" is found. What a slippery slope do we find ourselves when we place limits on the ability of people to freely speak no matter how ridiculous or hurtful those words might be? While, most would agree that banning either Mr. Savage or Mr. Phelp's right to propagate hatred is a good thing, where would it stop beyond there? Would it extend then to others on extremes of the right and left?

The marketplace of ideas is one of our most sacred treasures; while it cannot be quantified or placed on display at the Smithsonian its value is beyond measure. Those governmental actions that impose limits on that marketplace must be beyond few and far between. The marketplace of ideas must be self-regulating. In the end, the best way to end the speech of men like this is to simply do what I did, stop listening to it.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Darn Wet

The following is a retelling of 75 minutes of pain and agony. Every season a bike racer has a couple races where he's just off. For me last year was the Tour of Washington County. This year it was the Bunny Hop. I'm hoping that there are no more days like this. It was 60 degrees and raining at the start. The field wasn't as stacked as normal but 30 person fields have a tendancy of being harder than others . . . there just ain't anywhere to hide.

I'd like to write about all the moves I covered or all the breaks I got into; but the simple fact is that when I did put myself in the wind I couldn't recover after the effort ended. I'd swing back through the field and I just couldn't recover. I kept waiting for the speed to slow down or maybe for my body to adjust but neither was happening.

I redlined myself any number of times in what should have been a simple enough race to sit in and wait for an opportunity to develop. With about 10-to-go the rain started coming down heavier than before. Even if I wanted to see what was in front of me I couldn't. Guys started throwing themselves off the front and the pace picked up. I'm not sure how many of our group had been thrown off the back by this point but that didn't matter, because I knew who would be next if I didn't move up.

The bell lap came and went. I rode in with the field. Here is the silver lining to an otherwise rain soaked day-- I was still there.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Back in D.C.

After a week-long trip to St. Louis and a few warm days of riding, reality kicked back in as did 50 degree temps. I must have been overzealous in the idea that Summer was coming because on Tuesday I did some massive Spring cleaning. In the process I took all my winter clothes out of the closet and put them into storage for next year. Thanfully I saved a wind vest, a pair of arm warmers and some light gloves just in case . . . .

Tonight I got to ironing and found myself watching a show on SciFi called Eureka. It's not the best show but it was a heck of a lot better than Dancing With the Stars, Idol or countless hours of CNN retelling the same story. Why can I not find bike racing on TV right now? But I digress, watching Eureka instantly got me thinking of my trip this past Fall to California's Wild Rivers Coast, tall redwoods and thick fog.

I in no way feel the need to break out the bike box and head back on out on the road; however, northern California has grown on me. It's not as beautiful as the green hillsides of the Virginia hunt country, but I can definitely see the charm of San Francisco, Sonoma and the wine country. Especially, the fact that you can wear a suit coat every day and not freeze or burn. Looking back on some of my other travels in the past year, I've really gotten to ride my bike in some cool places. Looking forward to my upcoming race schedule the next two months are all local races. That'll definitely save my back the pain of dragging cycling luggage around airports.

There is something great about riding in DC. The idea of leaving my front door in the heart of a real city and within 10 minutes being on an open road headed toward the countryside . . . well that's just a great feeling. I cannot thinmk of another place like it. It's fun to be a part of other cycling communities as a visitor for a while; which is why I wish I could figure out a way to bridge the gap between different communities. We seem to get so focused on our own district whether it be MABRA or LaMBRA (LA/MS) or MOBRA (Missouri) or whatever your home calls it, that we forget that there is so much else out there. Or just how plan fun it is to try some new routes or races.

I am extending an open invitation to all my bike racing friends from across the country to come here to DC and ride. I guarantee you that it's some of the best riding around and our races are legit too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tour of St. Louis: Carondolet Park

Stage Two (for me) of the Tour of St. Louis was the Carondolet Park Circuit Race. The course was created by adding an additional 3/4 mile of road to the Tuesday Night World Championship course. It's a course which features swooping curves, almost no corners and one steep descent followed by a quick rise back up. It also featured a swirling wind which bounced through out the park's trees. In fact it was so windy that water from one of the park's fountains traveled over a 100 meters and misted the riders as they went along.

Most of the early part of the race was uneventful. I took a few digs and bridged up to a couple breaks which were ultimately pulled back. The wind knocked a lot of eager breakaway attempts down and the speed of the ascent/descent made it hard to get away unless you were intent on just putting down a nasty tempo until everyone around you abandoned all hope.

Before the race started I was warming up with the boys from the Mercy Cycling Team and talking about how to attack this course. Joe Schmalz made a passing comment that if you took the slightly less than 90 degree corner at the bottom of the fast descent at 40 mph that no one would follow you. With two laps to go I put that theory to the test. Given the grade and the tailwind it wasn't that hard to push the pace up to 40s. I tucked through the corner and out the other side with only one guy on my wheel. I punched it up and over the first part of the hill and the other guy took it from there.

We had a solid gap on the field and it was growing quick. He went down into an aero tuck with his arms on the top of the bars and I put my head down and my hands in the drops and we charged off. I was pretty gassed from the effort going up the hill and had just about caught my breadth when he popped in the head wind. I came around him but a quick gust knocked down the mirth of my jump. At the start/finish line with one to go I got caught by the field.

I thought my day was over but surprisingly the pace really slowed down and I didn't get swarmed. I made a few aggressive moves to put myself back into the top 25% of the field going into the final couple hundred meters. I started my sprint too late for anything grand but ended up in the top 20.

Two top 20 finishes in a weekend is a good result but not something that I'm overly happy with right now. My focus is sharp and my form is on, but I'm not seeing the sprint the way I was a month ago. I made very simple mistakes in both races in the Tour of St. Louis, mistakes that I shouldn't be making at this stage in the season. What it comes down to is that right now I'm missing the sprint before the sprint or that time when you ramp your speed up to get good position to sprint. I've been sitting back for too long waiting to go. I need to remedy this mistake and then just let my sprint flow.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tour of St. Louis: Delmar-velous Crit

Stage one of the Tour of St. Louis was the .8 mile Delmarvelous Crit. It was four-corners, flat and crosswind filled. It started with more than 50 guys and finished with just about as many. There was nothing particularly hard about the race and none of the guys in the field were prepared to make it hard. That was trouble for me.

I jumped hard a couple of times but ended up bringing with me someone who was much weaker than me. I'd pull through and gap the guys who were in the break with me. I'd try to drop them but they were strong enough to stay with me. However, when I ended up alone I was not strong enough to fight off the entire field.

With about 5 laps left to go in the hour race I resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be a field sprint. I fought through swarm after swarm when the pace slowed down. I went into the final corner just too far back. In the 300 meters to the finish I passed a couple of guys but finished 17th on the day. It's a better result than I had been posting this month but still not what I wanted. I know where I made my mistake today and I won't let that happen again tomorrow. It's just frustrating to know that I was strong but not strong enough. Tomorrow is a new day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Live from St. Louis

I've made it in MABRA cycling!!! I thought I had made it when my blog was linked to by one of the area's fastest bike racers and someone who has dropped me on more 10AM rides than most. However, it's official now because I finally found my picture among Jim Wilson's photos this past weekend.

Notice the determined look; however, I still I think that I can use a new pair of sunglasses. As long as I can keep my photo off You Got Dropped, I'm happy.

Hayden and I packed up and left again.
This time to St. Louis for work and then the Tour of St. Louis this weekend. Anyone who knows me knows that I travel more often than most people. It comes with the territory of my job. I enjoy the opportunity to ride and race in new and interesting markets. Plus, it's fun to be an ambassador from a far away place or just a rogue rider in the peloton. My bike racing travels began about a year ago when I escaped the clutches of a succubi who threatened to suck out my very will to live much less my love of bike racing.

I've flown my bike to about 10 different cities across the US and on almost every major domestic carrier a couple times. The one consistency in those travels is the inconsistency in the fee that I have been charged. The prices have ranged from no charge on US Airways, from National to New Orleans; to $225 on United from LA to Dulles. It makes no sense.

Today was no different. Today I was informed that it would cost me $175 to fly my bike from Dulles to St. Louis (silently I was outraged). This was radically different from the last time I flew from Dulles that time to San Francisco on United in the Fall where I was charged $50. On the return flight from Seattle I paid $0 and with no explanation for the difference. Today I asked the gentleman behind the "Special Assistance" counter that I had been routed to by someone at a regular counter who said that they couldn't handle my bag, another first for me, why the difference in price. He was dumbfounded and couldn't come up with a good justification or answer. It took him 10 minutes to produce a rate sheet that showed the bike fee, which stated that it was effective as of 2008.

There was no fee charged for checking my wheel bag or my suitcase today. That was different than my recent flight from Kansas City to DCA on Midwest Airlines where I was charged $80 for my bike and an additional $40 for 2 excess bags (my bike box and my suitcase). That charge was again different than the $100 I was charged on the way to Kansas City on the same airline, which was limited to just the bike box. $80 is also what I paid when I flew from Denver to LA on United but $50 is what I paid when I flew from National to Denver.

This is just a few examples of how arbitrary these fees are. I honestly feel that it's dependent upon who checks you in behind the counter. When I flew to SF and was charged $50 it was by a uniformed employee from United. On the return no-charge flight from Seattle I was checked in by an airport employee who had no connection to an airline. When I wasn't charged when I flew to New Olreans on US Airways I was standing in line behind CNN's Wolf Blitzer so I'm sure the woman behind the counter was just star struck and forgot her standard procedures.

I admit that my bike box at 53 lbs fully loaded weighs more than most luggage, barely. I don't like the fact that I have to pay an additional fee to check my bike but I'm willing to do that because I realize that's just how the game is to be played in our world where airlines feel that they can oversell flights and cut the quality of their service to almost nothing. However, I live by a budget. I budget everything because that's how I have determined I can best manage my money and afford those things in this world that I enjoy, including my addictions to bike racing and nice suits. Budgeting however is made difficult when you cannot predict how much you are going to be charged for a particular service. When the baggage fees appear arbitrary it's hard to budget for it. When I can in the future I think I'm just going to drive to a few more places rather than fly. At least I know how much it's going to cost me to put my bike in the trunk of my Jetta and roll.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Syn-Fit Criterium

"At least it was a good day of training," it's totally an excuse or better said a way you justify a hard day of racing with no results. It's also how I've felt about my races in April. I doubled up again today for two crits out in Chantilly, VA. My first race, the cat 3 swerve-a-thon, was a testament to shaky riding and inept attempts at breaking away.

My teammate, Karl and I spent our day at the front trying to start or join breakaways. Our efforts ended up being in vain and the race turned into a field sprint with no good result. I rolled up for the 1/2/3 race with a different and looser attitude about things. I'm very focused on bridging the points gap and becoming a 2. I'm closing in on it and a good result should put me over the top. So I've approached my two MABRA 3's races with tension but when it's a 1/2/3 race I've been looser and more free because I'm playing the role of a supporter. As a result, I'm having much more fun.

I started the second race on the front and stayed there.
(remember the goal is to look tough because cycling is all about the tough guy image). I covered break after break for the first 10 laps. I sat up after putting in a good effort and rolled back about 10 spots to catch my breath. A few guys got up the road and I thought to myself, "that sure looks like a good break to be in." I didn't chase as I was gassed and they were sure to come back. As luck would have it they didn't come back. Even though the break got so close a couple of times. One of my teammates was up in the break and that's a solid bonus for me.

The pack chased for a long time and I spent the rest of the race following wheels and wondering when the next big effort would come. I went after a pream but wasn't able to come around the last guy in front of me. With 13 to go the officials decided that the lead group of about 10 was going to lap the rest of the field and gave us 3 laps to go. With no money left in the race I rolled in with a set of weary legs.

I had joked before the race started with DC Velo's Jason Meidhoff that I was sure he had peaked for this early season race. Well, it might not have been a season focus for him but he had a great ride, dropping the hammer on the break and soloing away for the win for at least 10 laps. My teammate in the break finished solid in and among the district's big sprinters. Now on to a little rest phase and the Tour of St. Louis.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Belgian Days

Today is already a wash. I declared it a no riding outside day a few minutes ago. It's in the 40s, it's raining and there is no sign that it'll be stopping any time soon. To say the least, I'm not pleased. I hate riding the trainer. I dislike everything about it.

I rode yesterday in the two-hour break in the weather that we had. Winter feels like it is holding on for a little too long this year. It's not that it's been cold or snowy or anything like my boys out in Kansas have been dealing with. It's just not getting warm. Riding in 40-50 degree cloudy and rainy weather just wears on you after a while. Especially here in DC where there air is almost always filled with just a little bit of humidity. It gets through your wind vest and clings to your base layer like a lobbyist to the teat an omnibus spending bill.

April has been a disappointing month for results, especially following on my March results. I've got four more starts left this month and I'm gunning to turn things around starting this weekend. May is on its way and there is going to be some mad racing in May. I'm just hoping the weather starts to cooperate. I dig Belgian style beer and Belgian style racing but I'm losing my love for the Belgian weather.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hunt Country Easter

I had a great plan for a bazillion base miles on Saturday out in the Blue Ridge. Mother nature had some other plans. It rained all day long and I was only able to escape around 5 o'clock for a couple hours of riding before the sun went down. Topeka-rules say that you don't ride outside in the cold rain. The logic is that the worst thing that can happen to fitness is getting sick, so one weekend of bad riding is just sacrifice.

With very little bike racing this past weekend my Monday abesent of Gam Jams distractions and reading up on other people's blogs. Thank heaven that next week there will be plenty of bike racing to recount. On Sunday I spent some time at a hunt point-to-point; as such a recounting of horse racing could be in order. However, I have no idea what steeple chase is and I'm befuddled by horses and any description of what was going on is fruitless.

Despite that fact I had a great hat. If my grandfather's stories are true, I am genetically predisposed to wearing fedoras. There is no fear that I will trade bikes for horses any time soon.
Just a pleasant diversion for a Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Spring Time in DC

Today was one of the nicer days that I've seen in a long time. My legs have been slowly coming around after this weekend's festivities and I've had two days in a row of solid interval work. Coming back into to DC around noon time today I was confronted with a wall of traffic. I have no idea where it all came from and no idea why it was there. There was a traffic jam in Georgetown all the way from one end to the other. At least a good mile of cars. I've come to expect that on weekends or during rush hour but at 1PM? I blame it on the ideal weather and people's truant disposition today. Let's hope the good weather stands for awhile longer. Winter has held on for a bit too long this year.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Tyson's Corner

Double-up Sunday for me-- two circuit races and I paid the price. My legs were fresher than most given that I had only done two hard laps at Walkersville the day previous before my bike decided that it didn't want to race anymore. I was focused on revenging that performance out in Virginia.

Tyson's is a long crit/short circuit race. It's a little over a mile in length and features a long downhill and quick uphill. There really is nothing more to the course than that. If five focused guys get it in their mind that the race is going to be a field sprint then they can make it into one. That's pretty much what happened in both races today.

My first race was solid. Greg Faber got up the road in a break that was looking like it might actually stick. Suddenly the break imploded and we saw guys stringing out the back in pairs. When Faber left the break, Drew Armstrong went to the front of the field and didn't leave it until he had nailed back the remainder. At that point in time I should have jumped, but instead of doing it right then when the pack was relaxing I waited a lap.

I jumped hard but might have gotten five meters off the front before I was tagged. I pulled the plug, and as it was 4 to go, sat back in for the sprint. Karl and I were in good position going into the final lap but the downhill was too quick and we got swallowed up in the surge from behind.

Race two was a lot like race one but faster, longer and harder. I dug early and got to the front of the field and stayed put. A few early breaks tried to establish themselves up the road but nothing was happening. One of the stronger Harley riders was riding right in front of me and jumped when a couple other guys went at about the midpoint of the race. I tagged on to his wheel and went. It wasn't the acceleration that hurt me but the fact that the acceleration never seemed to end. I clawed onto the back of his wheel and prayed for mercy.

Mercy didn't come because down the backside of the course the pace got even faster. I had hoped that once, maybe just once, that the pace would let up on the hill so that I could catch my breath. That didn't happen. No sizeable gap formed between the group I was in and the field and eventually it was all back together.

The hill would take it's toll on my legs and I had little left at the end of the race. I rolled in very pleased with my fitness and the knowledge that I can do more than just hang on when the big guys throw down. It's just gonna take some extra work to make myself a player in those fields.

I've got three weekends till my next race at the Tour of St. Louis. Perfect time now for some miles and a little regrouping.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


On lap two I had a mechanical. I was able to fix it quickly but not quick enough to keep up with the pack. I chased for a lap and then I retired. Time to fight again tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Since my first race in February I've had 11 starts. In that time I've had 4 top tens and 1 win. I've also had 2 DNFs and the rest were pack finishes. By the end of this weekend I'll add 2 more starts to that total. Then I'm taking two weeks off of racing and gearing up for a long set of May and June races. By Memorial Day I'll likely have done more races than I did all of last season. I'm on a quest this season and I'm not stopping until I succeed in that quest.

I recently joined a new coaching service-- Source Endurance. The link to their web page is to the left. It's a great organization and I'm impressed with them. Coach Adam is one of their newest coaches, so it was a no-brainer to join up. I was looking through my training schedule for the week and noticed that it said "time to regroup." It's great to have a coach that is on the same frequency. It's almost as if I don't have to say the words out loud, he just knows instinctively.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Jeff Cup

It's an amazing thing to be a part of a field that shrinks from 125 guys to about 30 guys over the course of 70 miles. This was my first run at the Jefferson Cup in Charlottesville. In the past, I've either been in trial or afflicted with a vicious disease of some kind; as such everything was new to me. The course is a fairly typical Mid-Atlantic bike race and the field was full of all the usual team kits. A couple of hills and some fast twisting roads were the major challenges. The wind also tossed in a challenge or two.

I found myself kind of light-headed on the first two laps. I really don't know what was going on with me but I plowed on and into the third lap when things got nasty. Going up the steepest and longest of the hills that day someone set a hard pace. I was riding about 30 guys back at the time so I couldn't see what was going on but I could feel my legs slowly coming a part. We crested the hill and right into the headwind. I plunged down the steep twisting descents determined not to lose grip on the field. To be honest that grip was tenuous at that point and I was well above my lactate threshold praying for the speed to let up just a bit.

After about 10 minutes of chest-on-to-top-tube riding the pace slowed enough to catch my breath. At that point in time any light-headedness I was having was gone. I had made the split and the field had shrunk to less than 50 guys. I finished out the 3rd lap in relative peace. A teammate rode up to me at that point and asked me to shadow him and make sure he kept contact with the field. He's a much better sprinter and given the conditions of the day it was likely that the race would come down to a field sprint; so the answer to the question was pretty simple. Implementation proved fatal to my bike racing on the day.

I couldn't get him forward into the field and spent a couple of hard minutes keeping him in contact. A slip up in the feed zone on lap 5 proved to be the undoing of a bunch of people. Someone at the front put the pace down right then. I found him and put him on my wheel. He was solidly attached to my wheel as we went up a several mile long false flat which proceeded the biggest of the hills. We turned the corner and I made it my mission to make sure he got up and over the crest. When he did, I popped...hard. After trying to fight into the head wind for a mile or two I sat up and rode in.

I'm a little disappointed in how I fared. I had a lot of momentum coming into the race and wanted to keep it going. Plus, I was inspired by the idea of finally having teammates in the field. It's a good feeling not being the only guy wearing the stars and bars. However, given that I survived longer than a lot of people who last year beat me senseless a couple weekends a month, including some pro riders, I feel good. Had I not have been in the role of helping a teammate I may have survived but I was cashed and would have been of little use in the field sprint that ended the race. Another teammate, Jeff Dickey, had a solid performance and an 8th place finish to lead our squad. Greg Faber also had a great race and out lived the madness.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Plo-ha my version of the phonetic spelling of the Russian word for bad, poor, ick or just generally how I've been feeling for much of the early part of the week. I'd say I bonked hard on my ride on Tuesday but that would subscribe to a theory for the cause of probably one of the worst rides that I've had in...well...forever. Suffice it to say, I was unhappy. On Wednesday I tried to pick up the pieces of shattered body and it worked a bit better. Then I jumped on a plane and went south.

I flew back to DC today from my Thursday trip down to Ft. Lauderdale. The sun and warm air was a nice change. I jumped on the bike for my noon-time training ride and set out to do a little recovery loop around Hain's Point. I don't like the "Point." I go down there to do one lap and then get out. I don't turn laps down there or join in the noon ride. I don't have anything against anyone that does, I just find it mind-numbing going around the same 3-mile loop when I have access to miles of beautiful open roads elsewhere to train on.

Well, in my leisurely pace around the Point, I acquired a kling-on. You know, the guy who rides up behind you and starts drafting off you and just sits on your wheel without saying a word. The same guy you wouldn't even know that he is there unless you looked behind you and then you ask yourself "how long has he been there?" It would be one thing if I was going fast and it was the 10AM or an actual race; but I was on a recovery ride. I would have had no problem if this guy had ridden up to me and rode along side with me and chatted. I enjoy the occasional bike ride random chat with a dude that I don't know. Bike racing is much more fun when you have people to talk to while doing it.

What irked me is that he just started drafting and he was intent on sitting there like this was his personal version of Paris-Nice and I was leading him out for the world's slowest sprint. At first I hoped that he would come around me and go away. I even slowed a bit to facilitate this event. However he just stayed there. I swerved a bit in the lane to take him off my wheel but undeterred he stayed there. Then I started riding slalom down the dashed white lines- back and forth and back and forth. That finally broke him of his kling-on-ness.

Here is the moral of the story. Don't ride up to a guy you don't know and draft off him without at least saying something. A simple "hey how you are doing, do you mind if I sit on for a second?" would have changed this entire episode from an annoyance to something acceptable.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Here at the End of the Beginning

Two weeks in Kansas and 7 races later I have come home prepared for the start of the MABRA season. The last stage of the Perry cross-wind-a-thon was a powerful illustration of the fact that my team kit sticks out in a crowd. About 3 laps into the race a break of two got up the road. Neither of them threatened my position or anyone else's in the GC so they were let go. A third rider attempted to bridge and recognizing him as the Bike Shack rider who had solo'd away with 5 to go the previous day I jumped to catch him.

I looked back and saw nothing but a long train of red and white jerseys from KC's Team 360. I was a marked man and they let me know it. I resigned myself to riding in the field for a couple more laps. The third rider never made it up to the two leaders in the break and spent a long time dangling out in front of the break. One by one the field shrank as the crosswind took its toll. Only in Kansas can one design a race course that has absolutely no tail or head wind, only cross wind. Eventually the field was down to 10 guys with all the GC riders still left.

Team 360 was the motor in the remaining field as they had about half of it. It was easy to spot the one rider on their team that they were riding for as he was typically the guy who would latch on to me when I jumped. And I jumped repeatedly one lap in the cross-headwind section underneath the dam. I didn't know this at the time but those jumps appear to have hurt him. On the final lap his team threw it in the gutter hard. The strange thing about it was that their GC rider was back behind me and I was sitting about 4th wheel virtually riding in the grass. I slowly let a gap open between me and the rider in front of me and a couple of guys jumped around to get back in the draft. I tagged along and got back with the group but without the GC leader. His own team had dropped him with their gutter riding. A pair of them dropped back to try and bring him forward but by the time he rejoined the group we were at the base of the final climb and he finished well behind the winners.

Benn Stover from GP Velo Tek lead out the final sprint by ramping up the pace at the base of the climb. We quickly tagged him back as the road flattened out a bit then the final attack came quick. In the final sprint the field caught one of the riders who had been in the break with about 100 meters to go. He was shattered and couldn't respond. I came around Benn who finished right behind me but I was overtaken at the very top and finished 6th overall. I was blown up at the end of this one; much more so than the week previous. Two straight weeks on the road was just about all that my body could handle. So back on the big jet airliner and home to a soft bed and a good night sleep.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Kansas Racing: Schmalz, Medium and Large

Today's race is dedicated to Joseph Schmalz, one of the fast and most down-to-earth 19 year-old bottle rockets I know.  In short, he's fast and only getting faster.  My last weekend in Kansas and my second-to-last race before the start of the MABRA season left me in a good spot.  Another one-mile four-corner crit out at Clinton Lake.  We did 30 laps with three sprint points before the final sprint.  

As I was signing up for the race a little kid came up to me and saw the stars and bars on my shoulder and said "hey you won last week, how did that feel?"  I was taken by the fact that he remembered me and what I did.  It reminded me of when I was swimming and the meet in British Columbia where a local kid asked me for my autograph.  That was the one time I signed an autograph in swimming.  Today, I didn't sign any autographs but I felt really good about myself and my team.  

My field of 35+ riders started out slow, especially compared to what we had been doing the previous weeks.  I'm not going to complain because I was not feeling it early on.  I tried to hold back my urge to jump the field early and did a good job until 23 to go.  We slowed to a snails pace and I jumped just for the sake of jumping.  I got clear and was solo up the road.  After half a lap I looked back hoping to see someone or anyone coming across the gap to me but I was definitely alone.  

I rode solo by myself for two laps before the field caught me.  I was holding between 300-350 watts during that time just trying to stay smooth and praying that maybe the field would lose interest in a solo rider.  That was not to be today.  I'm not going to lie, when I got caught I was definitely down a few matches.  I let the second and third sprint points go by.  I tried to contest the 3rd one but found myself woefully out matched by someone who outweighed me and had a better lead out train than I.

After the 3rd sprint point a GP Velo Tek rider rolled off the front.  I rolled with him.  He didn't get very far before two guys from Bike Shack rolled even faster off the front.  Bike Shack again had numbers in the field, I'd say a good 7 or so of our 35.  I was a little gassed but I said to myself, "oh heck why not."  I grabbed onto their wheel and let them pull me around the course for a lap and a half.  With 14 to go I looked back and found that we had been joined by 4 others and had a bit of a gap.  The 4 other guys started working and I joined in. 

Our gap slowly increased to about 40 seconds and as all the major teams were represented it looked like it was going to stick.  In fact it did stick and thus ended my drought of not being in a winning breakaway in a crit.  With 5 laps to go one of the Bike Shack riders jumped the field. I was afraid that this would happen and the cohesiveness of the break would fall apart and we'd be caught.  I covered the jump and brought the break back together.  

Another lap went by and I took my turn at the front.  As I rolled off the front Bike Shack attacked again.  The number two man in the pace line did not cover and he got clean.  We were never able to pull him back because no one wanted to work for it.  The gamesmanship started to get bad with 2 to go.  Everyone was looking at everyone else and the field was gaining on us.  I went to the front and tried to jump off but got pulled back.  I was countered and held on.  With 1 to go I tried to take a flyer but got reeled back and sat on the front until the just before the second-to-last corner. 

I have been having wicked trouble negotiating the final corner all day.  I've ridden that corner maybe 70 times in last 3 weeks but I just cannot figure it out.  It's off-camber slightly less than 90 degrees and with a little bit of a hook just past the apex.  I ran the wrong line again and ended up being gaped.  So my good position was blown and I had to open up my sprint too early.  I wasn't able to pass anyone and got passed.  I rolled in 7th in the sprint.  A solid race and a good springboard into the MABRA season.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On the Path

So at least I know that I'm on the right way now. Who would have thought that this would be in St. Louis.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Carondelet Park A Legit Training Race

After my laywerly duties concluded today I suited up and went down the road to St. Louis' Tuesday Night World Championship training race in Carondelet Park. It was a legit race. It's a quick little loop with a tough hill. When Coach Adam, Joe Lafico and I rolled up to the start line we were joined by 50 other guys. Like I said, it was a legit race.

I've done training crits in a lot of places and most of them are pretty tame and not well attended but tonight was not the case. It was 50 minutes + 3 laps and there wasn't much time to sit back and relax. because the racing pretty much went from the gun. Again, the stars and bars on my team kit were recognized at the start line. It's really entertaining how many people recognize a DC-based team when you're not in DC. It's really a boost of confidence that folks have the respect enough to acknowledge NCVC/Inova Health System.

Coach Adam was a marked man pretty much from the jump. He tried a few moves early on but was instantly countered. I spent the first half of the race curbing my nasty tendency to...well attack in the first half of the race. I've been consciously trying to make my attacks more focused and less desperate this season and a big part of that goal is to improve my timing. We were turning laps at about 1 minute intervals which made the first half drag on for a while.

After the 25 minute mark I started to play a little bit more. Adam got up the road with a group of about 6 guys. They were working together pretty well and fighting off the field. I jumped across to try bridge as we headed into the downhill. Two guys tagged on and I pulled them about half way there. I signaled for one of the guys to pull through but instead of pulling through he jumped both of us. This made me just a touch angry and sent me back into the field.

Adam's break eventually came back and the field began in earnest attacking itself. I bridged up to a group of two who had established a move off the front. The moment I arrived the two of them just quit racing, which led to a little more anger and then me quickly being caught by the field. The race ended without much more from me.

I was really impressed by how the entire training race was run. It was smooth and professional and everyone took it serious. The pace never really slackened and overall it was a great workout.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bike Riding in St. Louis: Creve Coeur, MO

Ok, the name of the town is just cool. The riding here isn't anything special, in fact I only road for an hour today and all at recovery pace. It's just a town with a cool name. However, what was really great about today's ride . . . it was in the 70s and I didn't have to wear winter clothes!!!
I found some more pictures from yesterday's bike race:

This is the four-man breakaway going up the hill with one to go. Who says that bike racing isn't fun. I was having a great time, riding above my lactate threshold and even got to shoot the cameraman the thumbs up.

A few seconds later. It looks like a smile, but in reality it was a grimace. The result of climbing out on the West Coast and hours going up the Blue Ridge has made me much more comfortable when the road turns up. Still, there is nothing like a Kansas headwind to make you feel small and your legs feeble.

That's Tom Price in the blue and orange Lincoln kit. This is lap five going up the hill and he is setting a killer tempo. Tom finished the race with a solid 3rd place. The GP Velo Tek rider is right over my shoulder. It was right at this point that I realized that the race was about to get painful and we were about to get our sprint on.

I realize now that I need to get cooler sunglasses.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In the Saddle in Kansas

Day 4 of bike racing on my two-week long work trip to the MidWest and I'm back racing the Perry Road Race. The ride out today was a lot more pleasant than last week when Coach Adam, Jason Knight and I fought a 25 mph headwind for an hour and 15 minutes. Today we did the same ride with a couple of extra fresh legs in 55 minutes and never once saw our power go above 250 watts. It was definitely a better way to warm-up for a race and didn't leave me blown before the start.

30 guys lined up for a 5-lap road race. The first lap was a "mountain goat" lap which had the added bonus of providing a few series points to the first three finishers. My legs weren't feeling fresh on the flats or in the crosswind sections but going up the half-mile climb they felt great. On the first lap a rider from GP Velo Tek got off the front at the base of the hill and the guys from 360 immediately went to the front. However, instead of countering or trying to bridge they just rolled up the hill. I jumped around a couple of them to steal 3rd and a sprint point. The leader was quickly caught after the crest.

The second lap proved entirely uneventful. A few cheap breakaway attempts but nothing stuck. On the third lap going over the dam another GP Velo Tek rider rolled off the front. I remembered him from the day before and since no one seemed to care about him being up the road I lept across to him. I got there clean in about 20 pedal strokes and we were off. Tom Price joined us about 2 minutes later and now our break was 3. Tom and I had put in 2 1/2 laps worth of a breakaway the week before so I knew what he was capable of doing and I also knew he had a motor. A fourth guy joined us later that lap just before the turn onto false flat leading into the climb.

We were taking 30 second pulls and working good. My fear was that we would come apart on the hill and that someone would try to attack. I told my breakaway mates to keep it steady and then went to the front and laid down a 350-watt tempo up the hill. The pace got nasty going down the other side of the hill and onto the dam but the field was nowhere near us. I kept expecting to look back and see someone on the front chasing but there was no organization in the field.

One of the guys in breakaway started to stumble a little on a small rise on the lower portion of the dam. He had been a serious motor on the flats and I was content to let him pull because he could hold a hard tempo. I began to get concerned as we neared the right-hand turn up onto the false flat before the base of the hill. I remembered the week previous and how my lead had evaporated instantly on the climb. I was not going to let the pace slow down so I went to the front and set the tempo high. Tom joined in and we pushed on.

We hit the base of the hill with Tom in the lead, me second and the GP Velo Tek rider third. We made it up and over the first rise without incident. I kept waiting for something to come. I knew that I had the legs and the power to sprint the steeper last 100 meters but I didn't want to be the one who lit it up first. The false flat came and it was clear that Tom wasn't leaving his position on the front. I faked a jump to get the GP Velo Tek rider to go but he didn't bite. The road turned steep again and it was time to go.

I jumped hard but not at a full sprint. I half thought someone was going to come around me and wanted to be able to reaccelerate if I needed to. I took 6 hard pedal strokes and a quick glace back. It was me and the GP Velo Tek rider and he was 10 meters behind me and wasn't gaining. I dropped it into the next gear, went en banc and dug for the crest of the hill and the finish.

In the end my jump proved too much and I rode in for the win. It's a relief to get this win. A lot of effort and sweat was rewarded and more than that the pressure of getting things going again is gone. I've got my first win and now it's on to the next challenge. The win and the sprint point has thrust me into contention for the series which concludes next week.
(photos courtesy of Alyson Abel)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Well Heck

A quick flight back last night to KC from Northern Kentucky where the bourbon flows like water. Two sprint depositions exhausted me which was just exacerbated by the flight back and the greasy pizza from Johnny's. I actually passed out in my clothes later that evening from exhaustion, and not from drinking. I woke up 7 hours later, realized I was still wearing my jeans and then passed back out again without taking them off.

Today was the Spring Fling crit, 29 laps of one-mile fury. It was identical to last weekend but this time there was no wind, which in Kansas means less the 15 mph. All I gotta say is "seriously, what does it take to break a field?"

Thinking back now I realize I have never been in a breakaway in a crit that has actually stuck for the win. I've made the selection and ended races in small fields, but never off the front. Five times today I rolled off the front. Five times I found myself attacking the field. Five times they dragged me back.

The professed theory of bike racing, at least n the Midwest is that the 3rd attack will be the one that sticks. Three attacks in a row and the field will let the third one go, at least for a little while. It's what you do when you get up the road that matters.

I made my first attack at 21 to go when the field slowed after a sprint point. It was a lame attack in the neighborhood of 500 watts, but it got me up the road. I took a couple guys with me but we were dragged back 20 seconds later. My second attack was when a group of four established a break. Each big team was represented and before they got too far away I knew I had to get to them or else my rogue racing self would spend the rest of the race chasing. I made the juncture bringing one guy with me. Somehow, my presence in the break was too much for the field to bear and they dragged us beak half a lap later.

My third and fourth attacks were close in time to each other More than anything these attacks broke the will of the largest team to attack the field in a coordinated manner. For the previous five laps they had repeatedly assaulted the field. One of their guys would get up the road and then the field would chase just long enough for them to launch a counter attack. It was a pretty sweet plan until I put them on the defensive. They stayed there the rest of the race.

Another guy from a KC team came to the front and laid a nasty tempo down. It started as a breakaway attempt but he was swept up quick. He slowed up after two strong efforts in a row and then I made a jump for it. It was about 5 to go and my jump wasn't powerful. I only hit mid-400 watts but then I stuck my wattage between 300-350. I know I can hold that pace for ten minutes. I know that if need be I could stay there for the final 5 laps, heck maybe someone would jump to me.

I was all alone and 50 meters ahead of the field. I looked back and the big team I had put on the defensive sent a guy off the front to bring me back. I sat there at above 300 watts undeterred. I broke him. I broke him like he was a little girl. The field recoiled and I dove through another corner faster and stronger. I had been off the front for a lap. Down the little hill and up the hill again and a second surge from the field came. This one came up within 10 meters of me before the surge slowed, but they were too close and a couple guys lept across the gap and tagged on.

I wasn't about to bury myself any more to pull them around the course so I sat up and they swarmed me. I stuck it out in the field and was in position to take the final sprint until I got chopped in the final corner and found myself going in reverse quick. I was out of position and just rolled in. So another field sprint and a 1700 calorie day. Tomorrow back to the uphill finish.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lawrence: Paisley and Black

I was out to dinner on Sunday night with Col Randy, Kathi and Kanak and the topic of life in Lawrence was brought up. I had met the mom and pop part of the family back in 2001 when I was still a student at KU. We subsequently all found ourselves living in DC together in 2006 before they moved back to Lawrence. They love it here and who could blame them.

We were discussing me moving back to Lawrence and whether or not I could see myself living here. As I ride around Lawrence these last couple of days I realize that I could move back and that I would enjoy certain aspects of it just like the old days. However, I paused when I thought about my life, the dream house I wanted to build and how things here were just foreign to my "vision" of myself.

I enjoy wearing a suit and tie everyday, I enjoy the hustle of the Metro and the warm smells o f stores in Georgetown and I dream of one day owning a house that looks like a plantation home of old. These things are foreign to most in Lawrence. Given it's laid back nature and Midwestern farmhouse appeal, these parts of me would probably appear a little out of sorts. At least that's what I stressed to the other members of my foursome at Free State Brewery.

Kathi shot back however with a genius thought, nothing in Lawrence ever really looks out of place. Anything goes here and that was part of the charm which drew her back. It makes Lawrence the equivalent of paisley and black. Absolutely nothing goes with paisley and everything goes with black. In some sense that is just what Lawrence is, it's the place where things make sense even when they don't make sense. Maybe that was the allure that guided my ill-formed thoughts to chose this place for college. Who only knows what I was thinking about at that time. I'm glad I did.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Kansas Field Trip: Weekend One

It's on like donkey kong here. I've come back to the place where the home fires burned to get in a series of races before Jeff Cup. It looks like between then and now I'll probably race 8 times including a pair training races. The adventure began with the Spring Fling, which is a four-corner crit with a short downhill and a short uphill on the finishing stretch.

Terrain is not biggest obstacle in Kansas racing, the 20 mph wind and the gutter however do cause some troubles. I'm a rogue rider here but my kits stars and bars are easy to see in a field and led to me being marked. The race started quick but I started in the front and after learning my lessons at Valley of the Sun, I didn't relinquish that spot.

There were 3 strong teams in the field and they kept taking shots off the front. I kept leaping to the breaks and the field kept coming with me. I found myself in a break of two which was working but my cohort let me drag him around in the tailwind section and then jumped me in the head wind. This of course drew an expletive from me and I sat up and let the field catch me. A solo rider is not going to survive in this wind.

Somehow a 3-man break got up the road about 5 to go. It was one of a bazillion breaks but this one somehow stuck. So the field was sprinting for 4th and I was determined to fire it up in the sprint ala NCVC days of old.

The finishing stretch was in a head wind and down a slight hill for 300 meters and then up for 100 meters. I hit the final corner in the field in about 5th wheel and drafted down about 250 meters. The guy two in front of me jumped and we rolled with him. I put my sprint down and jumped. I ended up passing someone right at the line and finishing 3rd in the field sprint and 6th overall.

Day two of the weekend featured the Perry Dam Race. Nothing like warming up for your race by riding for an hour and twenty minutes into a 30 mph head wind. The race is only about 15 miles from Lawrence and we always ride out to it because the route is bone flat and along the Kansas River. Today the wind was blowing right into our faces and I was in a group of 3 going 300 watts and holding 14 mph.

The race itself takes the shape of a golf club and goes along an Army Corps of Engineers dam. You head along the top of the dam and then take a sharp right hand corner down a quick hill to a parallel road right underneath the dam. That road then heads left and then right into the club part of the course and into the kicker...a short steep stair stepper.

It was a 4 lap circuit that in total took us about an hour to do. The field was a combine 1/2/3 field and there were a couple boys from Mercy Cycling team. That didn't bother me because one of them was Coach Adam. Lap one was uneventful but saw a third of our field get shattered on the stair stepper.

Lap two was were I put myself in harms way. I had been riding behind Coach Adam, who was a well marked man, and I was content to wait until the hill again to shatter some more of the field Under his breath, or at least I think so, as we are heading down the road under the dam I hear him say "go now, go now." I jumped and got clear of the field. One of the local 3s jumped across to me and we were gone.

We crested the hill and then down onto the dam with the tailwind. We spent the entire lap 3 off the front and just at the crest of the hill Mercy boys joined us and plunged us down across the dam again. From stories afterwards I found out that one of the local squads put together a lap long coordinated effort to catch us in the break. After the catch, they were never seen again.

The lead Mercy rider was holding 450 watts across the dam and we were gutter riding anyone that could stay on, the outside of my foot was literally scrapping the guard rail that separated us from the abyss and I was the 5th rider. The pace let up as it was clear that the field was back together.

Coach Adam then started unleashing repeated attacks and was dragged back each time. One, two, three, four attacks came and it was clear no one was letting him go. The field let up after it caught him a little over 2 miles to the finish. I jumped the field right into the head wind. They let me go. I got up a head of steam and they just let me go. I turned back to look and I was clear.

I couldn't believe it, my stupidity of just throwing myself off again and again. was working. I began the climb and I was spinning and spinning up. I reached the false flat in the middle of the stair stepper and I was still alone. 300 meters to go and I had it in hand. Then from the back right I hear the most unpleasant sound in the world . . . shifting gears.

The field swallowed me hard and spat me out. I wanted to accelerate and jump up the last of the climb. I wanted to launch an assault that would end all assaults, but I didn't have it. My legs were fried my body was dumped. I was 300 meters from winning in a solo break. 3 out of 5 times I would have won.

I spent the better part of half the race off the front either in a two-man break or by myself. If the finish had been flat it would have been over. If I had jumped into a cross wind rather than a 25 mph head wind it would have been over. There were 3 times in the race that I thought I had broken the will of the field. Damn bike racing, when will I learn.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A New Adventure

Tonight I head back down into the storage closet to get Hayden's luggage. We are preparing to head back out on the road again for what is going to be my most ambitious travel to date. Work has called for me to spend the next two weeks in the great Midwest and I'm taking full advantage of this opportunity.

I'm heading this weekend to Tulsa to race with Coach Mills in what I want to be a breakout performance for this season. I echo statements made by Mr. Tilford recently in which he recounted a race down in Texas and draw encouragement for it. My performance at Valley of the Sun was good but my results didn't match what I was hoping they would be. I felt fit and I was in the mix but it didn't click when I needed it to. It's a great sign for my fitness but it's time to take that fitness and make results out of it.

I reemerged at the end of last season after about 5 years of moping around. I put together my first set of top ten results since returning to the sport in earnest and I want to continue this trend this year. It's time to stick my nose in the wind at the finish line. I've got a sprint and I'm determined to use it.

After Tulsa we are headed back to the bastion of cycling in Lawrence for a couple of days of hard riding followed by a solid race that weekend in St. Louis. The weekend afterwards will feature my return to racing on Kansas soil in the Spring Fling and Perry Races. A set of races that as a rookie I used to catapult myself up the ranks and out of being a Cat 4. These races are nothing fancy and the scenery pales in comparison to the epic mountain races to come or the crits on Pennsylvania Ave. None of that matters to me. What matters is that I drop the hammer and get this season going the way last season ended.

The MABRA season starts at the end of the month and the Jefferson Cup looms like a dangerous thunder cloud on the horizon. By the time I reach that race I should have 8 starts in my legs and a dangerous head of steam. All that remains is to keep the focus up. Pictures and race stories are sure to follow.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Red Rock Country

After Phoenix Hayden and I, along with a special guest, road up to the high desert. The scenery was beautiful
and the riding was great. Sedona rests above the Verde Valley among the most beautiful red rocks I've ever seen. I spent most of my time absorbed by how different it is from Virginia's green hills. On day two of our time up there I rode from Sedona 2000 feet down to Cottonwood at the base of Mt. Mingus. Half way up the mountainside lies the town of Jerome. A mining-ghost town that was turned into a tourist trap. Cottonwood lies at 3300 feet and Jerome was at 5200 feet. About 30 minutes later a sickening sign popped up on the side of the road indicating that I was crossing 6000 feet and apparently the snowline. It was sickening because I knew that the summit was at over 7000 feet.

I climbed for over 100 minutes. By the end I had climbed higher and longer than I had done previously. Timie for the next step.