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.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Racing in the Valley of the Sun

Hayden and I have done it again. We packed up and winged out of DC for greener pastures. Well, in this case it wasn't greener but was definitely warmer. The Valley of the Sun is a three day, three stage race in Phoenix, AZ. It marked the beginning of the season for me but not for the boys in the desert.
Life is going to be tough when you roll up to the line and the guys around you are talking to each other saying "dude, I haven't seen you all season." By the time I went to this race I had put in about one week worth of intense efforts so my top end was still developing. The desert boys have been putting in top end efforts for well over a month longer. To say the least, they had access to power that I was only just beginning to understand. I guess it's the price you pay for our season running into September and their season ending long before then.

I finished in the top 50 on the GC largely because my time trial, while better than normal was still weak. My time trials need to improve. The big action came in the 79-mile road race. An amazingly simple triangular course of a little over 16 miles that we did four and a half times. The course featured a 3-mile 400-foot climb. The finish line was a little over a km after the crest of the climb. The field was geared up and over 90 guys.

I found myself in a spot of trouble on the second lap going up the climb. Somehow I had let myself get behind a few too many people and got gapped off the back as people sprinted for one of two king of the mountain sprints. The gap had dropped about 30 guys off the back of the field and I was one of them. I chased back on for 3 miles and then reintegrated. As soon as I caught I rode right up to the front and stayed there for the rest of the race. I was determined not to get caught behind any more guys with jerseys from Utah.

I followed a couple breakaways up the road which I thought might catch the field off guard but got quickly swallowed up. Our average speed on the flat sections was just too fast for a breakaway to develop unless it's members were dedicated to destroying themselves. The last climb was were the race turned into a twisted mess of carbon and aluminum.

One of my teammates had come down from college in Colorado and was determined to show his climbing prowess. Russ jumped at the base of the climb and the 50 or so remaining guys struggled to stay on his wheel. Russ couldn't get away and he couldn't get the field off his back. He jumped again and the field dragged him back. The efforts proved too much for Russ and the field swallowed him whole and spit him out the back just before the crest.

I had been riding in the front half but a surge on the opposite side of the road pushed me way too far back to make a go of things. Especially since the race officials decided that the final km was not going to have an open road. So 40 guys were sprinting down a slight hill on a one-land road. You know what happened next. A couple guys surged on the left side of the field with about 500 meters to go. Some other guys saw an opening and wanted to join the train only to run smack into other guys moving up. Wheels touched, handlebars locked and bodies hit the pavement.

I jumped around a wreck barely missing the outstretched limbs of one guy and landed up on the white line ofnthe wrong side of the road. I looked up at the field about 5 meters in front of me and saw it literally explode. I didn't bother to stick around and find out what the total count of guys involved in the wreck was. I finished with the same time as the field and ended up 34th, which is pretty good given that I had to dodge bikes in the last half km. A pretty good start to a season.