XXX Racing-Athletico

Keep on keeping on

By John Neal | Jul 21, 2014

Race name: WORS/Palos
Race date: Sunday, Jul 20, 2014

Keep on keeping on

This is a report about two races with similar results

Race 1 July 11th at Cascade Mountain, WORS Short Track mountain bike (think mountain bike crit on 2 mile course)
I drove with the family on Friday afternoon to Cascade Mountain for the WORS Subaru Cup races (Short Track, Down Hill & Cross Country Race). This is a great venue, popular with WORS racers, popular with folks in the mountain bike scene not just in the Midwest but also, all over the country. This race occurs a week before nationals, so the draw is high.
This was my first short track race, I was definitely pumped to participate.  I had a great warm-up, was fueled up, hydrated, & my bike set up to hit it. My race started at 6:30 with 36 in my wave.  I was in the 4th row for the start and the place is just packed. (Lots of spectators, loud music, cowbells)
Within 45 seconds of the start I picked my way on the outside to the front with a couple passes next to the tape (the course is the width of a typical cross race so there’s plenty of room to make some decisions) Anyway, at the end of first lap I’m in the lead group, which are 4.  I’m completely thinking of all my fellow XXXr’s and the crit races I’ve watched this summer and could only have positive thoughts of ‘oh this is why people like it’. Laps 1 & 2 I’m in front, laps 3 & 4 I’m third and lap 5 I’m back at the front but it’s clear that the other 3 are waiting for their opportunity and letting me lead the way.  I make a decision that no way is that happening and I drop back to fourth and as I assess the other 3 I know there’s no way in hell they can beat me. I figure I’ll hang back and capitalized when the time is right. Well the music is loud, spectators are on the tape cheering and as I look at the digital lap counter I see it’s broken. I think “hey no problem I’ll hear the bell for last lap.” I’m still in a group of 4 and I’m still thinking “no way in hell I’m losing.” Getting ready because I think it’s the last lap and… it’s over. 4th. “What the??” I didn’t hear the bell, digital lap counter was not working and I completely coast across the finish line.
I was so focused on trying to win that the ever so slight details escaped me. There was a manual lap counter right next to the digital one. Had I been paying attention, most certainly a different result would have occurred. Keep on keeping on to the next race

Race 2 July 20 at Palos. I’ve done well here before. Gotten 1st age, 1st overall in cat 3’s, did well last year in my early goings of cat 2.  Goal for the race was 1st/1st. Pretty good start and I’m into the single track sitting 4th out of the 75+ in the wave. I know this course & trails well. I’m making my way to the front of my wave pretty quick and I’m catching the stragglers from the previous wave that went off 90 seconds before me. By the mid point or so of lap 1 of 2 I’m in good position, but I’m greedy and I don’t like people in front of me so I continue to pass on corners, up hill, down hill wherever there’s opportunity. I’m coming up to group of 3 to 4 riders and I think I can get them all. It’s a straightaway and I give the first guy a heads up “passing on your left can you slide over”. He slides but as I pass he moves back towards me and Kaa Pow I’m over the bars aka Tien Style (sorry Tien), still clipped in and I land on my side and arm. Amazingly after 2 minutes to collect myself and do an assessment and determine nothing is broken I’m back on the bike. Good News is I’m ok bike ok Bad News is 20+ riders pass me. Short memory is in this case a characteristic of mine that is working. I’m passing people again and although I don’t know if it’s the same ones who just passed me or ones I would of passed anyway is a mystery. After 10-15 minutes I feel good and I’m moving up. I hook up with an individual who is near my pace and we ride together, I pass and lead for a bit only to have.. Ka Pow II happen with another over the bars from a pedal strike on a rock. This should of never happened, I was catching a breath but instead of having pedals at 3:00/9:00 I had them at 12:00/6:00.  Details again ignored. This crash isn’t anywhere near as violent but it takes me out for 30-60 seconds and I lose the guy I was riding with. I end up passing one and getting passed for the first time in the race by one other rider (who happens to be our strong junior rider Jan Geirlach). I end up 4th in age out of 57 and 14th overall out of 160 but this was not what I was looking for as the outcome.

So what do these races have in common? In my opinion it’s the small details. In the WORS race if I just would of broadened my scope I would have seen the manual counter. At Palos I had 1st/1st but if I just would of waited a few minutes to pass in a better spot or pass one at a time and kept my head on straight about pedal position I would of accomplished my goal.

Aggressive riding is how I race but every once in awhile I think I need to just sit back and think a little more about the big picture. This morning, even though I’m beat up and sore I was on the LakePath for an hour, this afternoon I was at The Garden with my kids to work on some cornering with my cross bike.

Keep on keeping on

We were well represented at Palos- Juan V, Brian P, Mark B & Juniors Jan (1st age and 13th overall cat 2) & Pelle Gierlach all raced and did well, Which was great to see.

Weekend in Michigan

By Brian Piotrowski | Jul 13, 2014

Race name: Miller Energy Criterium/Michigan State Road Championship
Race date: Sunday, Jul 13, 2014

Kalamazoo Crit

Not having raced in over a month I wasn’t sure how my form was going to be. The weekend began with a crit in Kalamazoo. The crit is not difficult, a few right turns with a riser, then a slight downhill into the finish. The weather was perfect for the race sun and a light breeze.

As I lined up at the start line for my 8 am start time. I had a realization I was the only person I knew in the field. Since joining xXx I have always lined up knowing at least one other person in the field. Not today! I lined up last row with the intent of not doing any work or making a move for at least the first 25 minutes of a 40 minute crit.

The whistle blew and the surges happened quickly after the first lap. At 8 to go the race got interesting. It started with a crash on the backside of the course that I barely avoided. There was a gap in between the concrete and curb just big enough for a wheel to slide into. A racer’s wheel slide into the gap and ended up crashing himself and two others out. I ended up going over the curb into the grass to avoid the crash. I started chasing the lead group not knowing how many other people got caught-up in the crash. At about 6 to go I noticed the field was back together from the crash. About the same time Team CMS (which had about 10 people in the race) started to organize. I was watching them organize a lead out train with 5 to go. I immediately jump on the last wheel of Team CMS. With about 3 to go CMS’s lead out train started to be over taken by surges from the field. I followed the surges to the front of the field and noticed 5 guys had gone off the front and started to chase them down. 2 to go all together again. Now I just wanted good position for the sprint. I was getting swarmed and starting to get nervous. I’d love to see a friendly wheel but I don’t know anyone. I was probably 20th coming into the final lap. By the final corner I was probably sitting 10th in the final right corner. Take the corner the guy in front of me takes a bad line and I tap my brakes.  I had to start sprinting again out of the corner going up the slight riser I am not making up any time and got past by a few people since I had to tap the brakes. I finish 14th on to tomorrow.

Michigan State Road Race

Coming into this race I really wanted a win. I still haven’t ever been on the top step of the podium. Fortunately, I had a teammate in this race. Kevin Corcoran was going to race this with me. I had much of the same game plan as the day before do as little work as possible and be towards the front the last 15 miles of a 60 mile road race to cover attacks if they go off. 

The course was 4 laps of a 15 mile loop of rural Michigan. It had a few rolling hills but no major climbs. My first three laps I didn’t do much work, Kevin was at the front of the field taking occasional pulls. My concern at that time was that final corner into the long straight away. There was a long gradual decent into the last left turn then the sprint. I knew I had three opportunities to test the best line was to carry the most speed into the finishing straight. At the start of the 4th lap I realized a single rider had gone off the front and had about 40 seconds on the field. I was almost the last man in the field and starting to get nervous. I knew I had to get to the front. A few miles into the last lap we approached the first hill of the lap. Again, not a major climb but some of the racers were getting tired and gaps started forming where I was able to fish my way through the field up the climb. I was able to get myself 3 wheels behind Kevin. Probably 6 miles from the finish we caught the two off the front and I some how ended up on the front. I took a short pull and let someone else pull through. At the final climb of the day I was sitting about 15th. The rider up and to the right of me was tired and hurting. He stood up to power through the climb and tapped wheel with the guy in front of him. He crashed himself out and a few other people. I dodged left and avoided the crash.

Due to the crash there was now a 17 men off the front of the field with 4 miles left. I knew I had a real fighting chance now for the win. I just had to beat 17 people now and not 45. I had to be smart! We started our decent into town and I was sitting 10th wheel. I couldn’t give up that wheel! We approached the last corner, having taken the corner three different ways I knew the line I wanted to take. I was still sitting 10th and the 3 riders in front of me take poor lines and I was able to carry more speed around them. Now sitting 7th wheel and people are starting to pop with about 500 meters to go. I was gaining on the people in front of me and I knew I had to dig deeper and freelance off the wheel in front of me. I ended my sprint throwing my bike 3rd. Now, I was wondering if Kevin crashed. He didn’t crash but was slowed down by the crash.

Nikos and Johnny Win Nationals

By Nikos Hessert | Jul 1, 2014

Race name: Jr. Track National Championships
Race date: Friday, Jul 25, 2014

I came to nationals this year looking for vengeance.  Last year as many of you know I won the points race, but due to USAC rules, all juniors under 17-18 competed in an omnium of all their events.  I hung onto the lead for a while, but eventually was pushed down to third due to my inability to sprint worth a damn.  This year however, the stakes were higher, and not just because I’m pretty sure California cows are into some weird stuff.  Not only did the winner of each event get a jersey for that individual event, they would also have a chance to race with team USA at the Jr WORLD championships in South Korea.  So as I walked into the Velodrome on that faithful Friday morning, I knew what I had to do, and that I could do it. 

Unfortunately, nationals started off on the wrong foot.  My first event was the individual pursuit, and i was going in fresh.  When I got to the start line, the time to beat was a 3:34.8 or about 32mph over 3k.  Definitely a fast time, but given the times I had been able to run back home, certainly not unfeasible.  The starting gate opened, and I took off like a bat out of hell.  Sure enough, however, I went out way too fast.  My splits were almost a second too fast the first 2 or 3 laps, and my first kilo was 2 seconds faster than intended.  Unfortunately, soon afterwards my splits started to tank.  I died in the worst possible of ways, ending up with a disappointing 3:40 (30mph) and a slightly less disappointing 2nd place.  As I finished my pursuit, however, there was only one thought in my mind: “Crap, how do I walk again?”

After a slightly demoralizing loss in the morning, it was time for my last real shot at a jersey in the individual events.  My old standard, the points race.  Having won this last year, I was worried getting off the front would be impossible, but fortunately, no one works together at nationals.  I was able to roll off solo to grab the first set of points, but was then quickly brought back.  I sat in for the next set of points, then went looking for another breakaway.  Soon, I had found it.  A break of 4, with one guy hanging off the back.  We had to keep ourselves in the redline for a good while, and it felt more like a sprint than a breakaway, but soon we had half a lap and the field sat up.  I was in a bad position to contest the next series of points, and only ended of 3rd in the break, but soon after that we were in sight of the field.

As we neared the now fairly stagnate field, 3 of the 5 imeadiatly jumped right in, taking the 20 points available for lapping the field.  However, noticing that there were still a few points sprints left, i chose to remain just off the back, lurking in wait.  As the 5th man entered the group, i knew the race was now mine to win.  I remained just far enough off the back to remain the leader on track, but i had to keep a carefull eye on the field.  If they picked up the pace too much, or one of the origional breakaway started to lap again, i was done.  Fortunately, the field kept breaks in check, and never went too much faster than around 28 mph.  So, after sweeping up the last possible sprint, and ignoring many calls from the stands to lap the field, i jumped back in to take 20 points and the lead.

However, there was still one more sprint, and i only had a 5 point lead over 2nd place, the favorite to win, and almost impossible to bring back once off the front.  With about 5 to go, he attacked, and i waited for the field to jump on him.  When that didnt happen imeadiately, I put on my most athoritative voice and yelled at the field to chase him the hell down.  When that didnt work, i jumped after him myself.  Unfortunately, it was now clear hed take 1st in the last sprint, and that id have to get at least a point in the last sprint.  The final bell rung, and i hit the gas hard.  I was on the front, and soon, a rider came around me, then annother.  As we hit the homestraight, the 4th rider started to come around and i dug into every last bit i had.  I ended up winning the last sprint, and my first national championship with a bike throw for 4th place.  Needless to say, I was elated.  I recieved my first jersey soon after, and the next day, i was a part of team USA.

There was also a scratch race, but if im honest, it was hard to focus on a race id never done well at after having already accomplished everything i wanted.  So, when i found out one of my good friends from california, Chazmichael Morales, still needed a spot on the worlds team, i agreed to cover breakaways for him.  I figured id be doing that anyways since i cant sprint, and besides, im always willing to help out a friend in need.  So as the race wore on, it became clear that it was going to come down to a sprint finish.  Mostly because i chased down and broke the hearts of many people trying fuitilely to escape.  There were a few breaks that were extremely menacing, at one point, i ended up otf with the 1st and 3rd fastest pursuiters with a little over 3k to go, but NOONE took a pull.  Joke was on them, as the race hit 5 to go, my work was done, nothing was going to get off the front, time to sit in and nab a nice respectable 5th in the spri… OH CRAP where’d all of these people come from?!  In the few seconds that i relaxed, i was roughly shoved to the back, and fuitiley tried to make up some positions as the pack hit 40mph.  As we hit the last turn, i saw Chaz ignite his sprint, but get edged out by a bike throw by the race predictor favorite.  Still, since there were 2 spots on tea USA available, i got another friend for the LOOOOONG plane ride out of LAX. 

Finally, Nationals concluded with the team events.  We already had team pursuit in the bag.  3 of the to 5 were on our team, the other two didnt want to play.  The 4th guy on our team was another very strong rider who had been extremely competitive years past at road nats, just missing the podium on a few ocasions, but decided rightfully that track was better.  Our opponents were 2 average sprinters and 2 pursuiters that had failed to crack the last two places in the result.  We won by almost 40 seconds, having never ridden a pursuit together before.  One of my favorite moments of nationals was getting to see our 4th guy, Weston’s, reaction to winning his first national championship.  As i look back on it, being able to get 2 of my friends an offer from team USA and seeing the happiness on westons face was the proudest moment of vertainly this month, and probably my cycling career.  Winning a jersey was a monkey off my back, but it turns out what they say about giving vs receiving is true.  Then again, i didnt have to choose, so all the better!  After that, in the team sprint, we managed to take second on horsepower alone (we executed so badly it wasn’t even funny).  But i was able to get weston and i another medal, and on the last event of his last nationals as a junior, we got out 3rd man his first medal. 

This was by far the best week of my life, and as i write about it all the same great moments come right back to me.  I learned many valuable lessons, met even more great friends, and won a 2 jerseys most people wont be able to strap on once.  As always, I owe it all to my incredible team, Coach Randy who taught me nearly everything i know about elite track racing, my parents who everyone knows by now are the most amazing people ever, and every single person ive met along the way whos believed in me when even my oversized ego was starting to doubt itself.  I cant wait to get home and see all of you again, i certainly owe a few of you chipotle.

The Road to Chocolate Milk

By Tom Babinski | Jun 30, 2014

Race name: TOAD 35+ 3/4
Race date: Sunday, Jun 29, 2014

This year, I decided to race all of TOAD, in the Masters 35+ 3/4.  This is how it went down:

Friday, June 20th. 
Two hours at work, drive north, then park the car in East Troy.  Race a tight 6 corner crit in the midpack.  Try to move up in the last 5 laps, then die in the last 500 meters.  39th of 53.  A leg opener.

Saturday, June 21st.
Warmup on the trainer, no messing around today Grafton.  Ride in the front of the race or die.  Move up on the hill each lap.  Avoid a crash in turn 3 of 6 on the bell lap, bridge to the leaders on the downhill.  Did I really just hit the brakes on the last turn before the sprint!?!?  8th of 86.

Sunday, June 22nd.
A tight corner going from two lanes to one, and a drop-off going into a right-hander.  Try to stay upright!  Sprint for two primes at Waukesha, finish second in both.  Use whatever you have left to finish respectably.  25th of 73.

Monday, June 23rd.
At Beloit, watch the entire W3/4 field go down in turn 2 in Beloit.  Win a prime by accident.  Fight for position on the last 2 laps, but get no respect from 250lb dudes on bikes.  15th of 57.

Tuesday, June 24th.
Want a rest day, but Schlitz Park has a hill!  It’s Fox River Grove but a full 50 minutes.  Spend all warmup agonizing about the descent while the other 48 starters agonize about the climb.  Climb well, descend nervously.  By the 10th lap, consider giving up on TOAD and cycling in general.  Make my move on the last climb, but get passed on the descent.  7th of 48.

Wednesday, June 25th.
Really want a rest day, but Road America is a road race, on a race track, with hills.  Ride comfortably in the front of the field.  Climb well, corner well.  Baker appears from nowhere on the last lap.  We’re top 10 running in to the final uphill sprint.  He sprints, I sprint.  6th for him and 9th for me, of 84.

Thursday, June 26th.
Rest Day!  An hour of small ring joy.

Friday, June 27th.
Straight up 4-corner goodness at Fond du Lac.  Ride smart, stay in the front.  Caught behind a crash with 5 to go; burn a match to get back in it.  Burn another, and another, and another to move into position.  Put myself into the headwind to move into top 10 for the sprint.  Implode with 200m to go.  A tricycle with streamers and basket passes me.  I cross the line.  34th of 70.

Saturday, June 28th
Me, Hudson, and Tracy line up for Downer’s.  15 minutes easy riding, then lightening hits.  A 30 minute pause, then it starts again, as I watch from the sidelines.  1 lap to go, Hudson in the midpack.  Then crosses the line 9th.

Sunday, June 29th
Let’s get this over with already.  Wauwatosa, last race.  Warmup for an hour and twenty on the trainer, 93 degrees.  Roll to the line and study Hudson a few laps.  Outside line in all corners, and a sip from the bottle after corner 2 each time; I’ll do the same.  15 minutes in, time to move up.  Prime lap.  Rail corner 4 and jump early, uphill to the line.  Win $50 and a membership to a breakaway with the series leader.  4 laps of hell; get pulled in.  Recover.  8 to go, time to move up again.  Sit behind two teams as they chase a solo break 20 seconds up the road.  3rd wheel with 1 to go, behind the series leader and his still-chasing domestique.  Gap at 7 seconds now.  Rail corner 4.  Out-of-the-saddle now, still behind the cow jersey.  Hill kicks up, I kick hard.  Come around the series leader, then fly around the solo break.  Cross the line 1st and scream like a madman.  Drink chocolate milk and go home.  Hudson in 7th, of 63.

Ride report- 1st time dirt baggin

By April L Whitworth | Jun 30, 2014

Race name: Kettle Moraine trails
Race date: Saturday, Jun 28, 2014

This isn’t a race report to talk about how I won something…I didn’t, but I did win.

This weekend Jessica invited the WDP to join her up in Wisconsin to try mountain biking. I’ve been curious about mountain biking for a while, but never took the plunge….mostly due to what I consider to be possessing a dreadful lack of skills in cyclocross, I foolishly assumed my fate would be the same mountain biking. I was delighted to find out that I was wrong.

I rented a hardtail 29’er. Before this past weekend, I had no idea what that even meant. I learned that it means the bike has wonderful squishy love-fest in the front of the bike, and a stiff hard back end to keep you honest, but help drive your bike up steep embankments. 29’er refers to the size of the tires. I was most skeptical of this. I typically ride 650c tires on the road, and assumed that I would be an out of control mess on big tires. Boy was I wrong! Despite the fact that my ride looked like a frankenbike (tiny frame, huge wheels), it was an amazingly good fit. My 5’1” body loved this bike.

When we arrived at the trail-head, Mark B took us through some tips and tricks. We all in a little row paraded through the beginners course. No problem. Time to up the ante!  I’m not gonna lie, it took me a long time to “trust the tires”.  Before I knew it I was driving those massive rubber tires over rocks and branches, thick root systems, and deep mud and sand. WHAT LIBERATION! I felt indestructible!  I cruised down steep embankments, climbed twisty switchbacks, squeezed through tight spots, taking in gulps of breath while thinking the whole time “trust the bike! trust the bike!”.

I write this, not to say that I have discovered some untapped talent for being a great mountain biker (I haven’t), but moreover for the new people (men or ladies or juniors) who join the team: TRY IT ALL!  You never know what fun is waiting for you on two wheels. It was exhilarating and I will definitely be back.  For me, I’ve let fear stop me from doing some of the most fun things in life, glad this wasn’t one of them…who knows, maybe I’ll try the track after all…

XO,
April

Tomasz Pac Memorial Points Race

By Tyler George | Jun 27, 2014

Race name: Tomasz Pac Memorial Points Race
Race date: Thursday, Jun 26, 2014

Last night was the 100 Lap Tomasz Pac Memorial Points Race at the Northbrook Velodrome, certainly one of races each year that gets circled on the calendar. My track form each week seems like it’s been progressing, so I was hoping I’d be ready to give it a good go at this race. Last year - Tom, Randy, and I got off the front and hovered just behind the back of the field with Nikos playing spoiler as we mopped up all the points and got Randy the win. Yesterday however, with all those players absent, I knew it would be more difficult, but luckily I had an on-form Kirby to help in any instance I needed.

Randy always talks about preparation - well mine couldn’t have been worse yesterday. My workday was awful. Fire-drill after fire-drill left me leaving far later than I wanted to and more importantly I didn’t have a second to get up and grab lunch. I was starving by the time I left, grabbed some Potbelly, Divvy’d home, and ate roughly 1100 calories between the sandwich and a Clif bar in about 5 minutes in the car. Logically, I figured between not having eaten properly, not getting a warm up in, and feeling panic’d most of the day - I would not be feeling good during a 100 lap race with sprints every 5. However, I like to try to play mind games with myself before any race and trick myself into thinking that everything’s good, that I’ve done everything to plan, and that I’m just as prepared, fit, and ready as any other guy on the track when I step onto it. Well, here’s to hoping that has any value. I ended up showing up about 5 minutes before the start of the first race of the night which ended up being a perfect warm-up, a 25 lap scratch race, and I just sat in trying to prep for the big race later in the evening. Afterwards, I just sat around and tried to normalize as much as possible for the main event that would come shortly.

Everything below is what I *think* had happened during the race. It’s a long points race which can be a blur as so much tends to go on and my memory isn’t outstanding in the first place…so with a grain of salt…

——-

For those of you who aren’t sure how this race works, every 5 laps points are scored for the first riders across the line (5,3,2,1) and if you lap the field you are awarded a nice gift of 20 points. The most points at the end wins.

My goal for this race was to be in the move that lapped the field. If I did that, I’d be in a position to win. I let the first few sprints go in hopes of being a little fresher later on to make that move when people wore down. After the second sprint I tested out where the field was as I followed the sprinters and made a good dig. I looked back after a quarter lap to see what the reaction was. I had certainly had a gap , but could tell that the field was itchy, strung out, and I wasn’t going to go anywhere.

Over the next few sprints (laps 85-65ish to go) I stayed at the front and if points were there I’d take them. I ended up with maybe 6 or so points while saving as many matches for the big move that had to come later. I think it was around lap 60 where I got a nice run on the inside and decided this was a great opportunity to go and went. Almost as if it were timed, the heavens opened and Jason Garner (Garner), one of the fastest guys on the track, jumped from the high side down into the sprinter’s lane and I linked up with him using almost no effort. Immediately we had a big gap on the field. Brian Haas (PACT), another super fast guy, bridged up and three of us formed what would be the move of the race (each team was very well represented in the field too, another thanks to Kirby). We were able to stay off the front for what I think I remember to be 3 sprints, mopping up those points before deciding to make the junction and each grab our 20.

It was at this point where not only did I know I had a shot to win this thing, but I realized that I felt fantastic relatively. I tried to find another move and sneak away again off the front. Grzegorz Monko (WDT) and I went and got another nice gap on the field. Brian Haas bridged up again and we got several more points before being swept up by the field several laps later. At this point, like many of the guys out there, I could definitely start feeling some cramping sensations in both legs and was just hoping that I could limit the damage. Luckily, the next few sprints went to some of the other guys in the field and we approached the last dozen or so laps.

I could hear the announcer say that I had something to the effect of a one point lead with about 14 to go. A bunch of non-contenders had gotten off the front which was ideal as they’d grab all the available points. However, I heard that Chris Mosora (SF) was in the group about a half lap up and could be a danger man points-wise if he ended up connecting and getting 20. It’s tough to do the math on 35 guys, I had to trust what I was hearing and Kirby and I got to the front and set tempo. This also created a situation where Brian couldn’t get any opportunities to score since the guys off the front could potentially limbo out there for the rest of the race taking the rest of the points, a good thing for me.

Here’s where it gets tricky. 7 to go…for the field.

Mosora was about to connect, there was nothing I could do. He was in a group of 3 I believe, and I think I remember another group of two off the front. I was still pulling at the front and noticed him about to connect and decided to slow down the pace a bit, hoping that, if nothing else, he’d integrate just before he could grab those 5 points, so he’d only get 20, instead of 25. He connected right as we rolled off turn four and I rolled through the line first. Brian Haas set himself up for the sprint and nipped me at the line on the next lap. It appeared as if he’d taken the lead. I tried with what little I had left against the pure sprinters and fresher guys in the field, but couldn’t manage breaking into the top 4 for points on the last lap. I thought I had lost it.

As I rolled up, Jared was saying that I won…so was Kirby. The thought was that once the Mosora group connected we were actually on lap 6 at that point, a bell lap, and I had rolled through for points. The sprint lap that I had lost to Brian actually wasn’t a sprint lap at all. I wasn’t 100% sure until they said my name last at the podiums and it didn’t hit me fully that I had won until immediately afterwards (and to be honest I’m not sure it still has).

——-

It’s days like this that you dream of when you’re sitting on your trainer in the dead of winter or rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn to ride before a day of work. Each year rolls by and sometimes you get the results you really want and sometimes you don’t. It’s innately a tough and unforgiving sport. It draws in people who tend to give everything they have to be successful at it. The amount of respect I have for the guys that race out there is immense. From the guys who can just seem to solo forever to guys that can just sprint on another level and everything in-between. Those are the guys that force me to be on my trainer all winter. Those are the guys that make me work harder than I did the year before. It’s an odd game that develops us all and in those rare moments that you find pure success, it makes it all the more gratifying. There’s several more big races this season and I think with the team we have, we can continue to put up big results at the track…at every level. Really looking forward to the rest of the season!

Yearly borrow-a-bike-race, 2014 edition.

By Bill Barnes | Jun 23, 2014

Race name: IL Mountain Bike State Championship series, Jubilee Challenge
Race date: Sunday, Jun 22, 2014

So, it’s somehow become a tradition, that about once a year, Jessica talks me into borrowing someone’s mountain bike and going to do an off road race with her.  In the past, I’ve gotten 2nd during my first attempt (Matt Stevenson’s awesome carbon stumpjumper on a flat course), DNF’d my second attempt (Tom’s gigantic aluminum downhill full suspension bike in a hilly race), but managed to enjoy myself every time.

This time, at the last moment I wound up borrowing Brian P’s brand new, never ridden (since he’s been too busy being a roadie) 29’er hardtail, and drove three hours out to Peoria to meet the folks from PAMBA and get in a race since I was there.

Things I knew ahead of time:
1 - Jessica needed to do this race to qualify for MTB Master’s Nationals as a cat 1. I’m a cat 2, basically just because I picked that option after hitting the podium at my first attempt and felt like I had some innate off road ability (I was wrong).  So for me, this was my once or twice a year fun time, but for her, this was serious business.
2 - The bike I am racing on has never been ridden by me, or anyone else.
3 - I’m pretty out of shape, and at the end of a “Let’s force ourselves back into shape” block of training that’s left me pretty much unable to get up my stairs.
4 - This race starts on pavement for a long haul like a UCI cross race.

Things I didn’t know ahead of time:
1 - On a clear, sunny day, the folks in Peoria consider this course pretty hard.
2 - There would be lots and lots of elevation changes.
3 - It would rain enough that likely, if this were Palos, the trail would be closed, but since it’s not, that meant racing in mud.
4 - Brian’s brand new bike was REALLY brand new. (more on that later)

Anyway, off the races.

I pre-rode part of the course, and not being a regular disc brake user, noticed the brakes were a little on the grabby side, but was more focused on seatpost height and how comfortably I could manipulate the shift levers to think about this, then got in my position to start the race.  At the last second, I see Jessica’s wave, sans Jessica, about to start, and that she’s talking to another Chicago racer about eye-sight away.  I start waving around like an idiot, and eventually she notices me and my sign language for “You’re about to miss your start, we drove 3 hours to get here, so hurry up and get over here in the next 2 minutes” is received and understood by Jessica, so I watch her race over to the start in time to leave with her cat 1 group. (I would later find out she had interpreted this as “Do you think I’m running the right pressure?  Can you remind me again how people race without drafting?”, but the result was the same)

Knowing Jessica is faster than me on a good day when we’re not on road bikes, and faster than me on a bad day we’re on anything but road bikes, I was glad that her group was going off in front of mine, as it would spare me the historical indignity of her catching me and having to hear about that for a three hour drive home. My group ultimately started a few minutes after hers, and being a cat 2, I had only two laps of this 8ish mile course to do to her three, so I was already going to finish ahead of her and my masculinity would remain intact as far as anyone knew.

Or so I thought.  This course, in no uncertain terms, kicked the crap out of me.  I’m not sure why I continue to think jumping on a bike I’ve never ridden, on a course I’ve never seen, is a good idea.  Not to mention, apparently with new disc brakes one must “bed them in” meaning stop a lot to wear down the pads to make them even and get good brake modulation.  Something that a brand new borrowed bike hasn’t yet had done.

So, 20 minutes into my first hour lap, the brakes are finally starting to work good, instead of instantly locking up the wheels and making them skid all over the mud.  I am finally getting used to the handling of this new bike, with stock ultra-wide handlebars, at about the same point in the race where I’m pretty much completely spent.  Every climb is either a feat of sheer willpower or a rage-inducing walk up a steep muddy hill behind my other back of the pack companions who’ve unclipped at least a full second or two before I would have had to and thus forced me to spend at least a full second or two hauling the bike up a climb on foot.

I really want to blame someone else, at this point, but I’m starting to remember I don’t know what I’m doing here, am on a new bike, and also have no idea what I’m doing here.

Anyway, fast forward to about the 40 minute point, and I’m now able to modulate the brakes well, need to use them less as I’ve remembered the basics of riding a mountain bike, and kind of getting into the race.  All the while, my head is on complete fire as there’s no wind, no relief from climbing, and nothing but muddy, technical turns down rutted singletrack to remind me that even though I’m feeling better, I’m still really, really bad at this.  I am overheating badly, and sipping on the camelbak much more than I probably should be, but every single drink feels AMAZING.  When having a sip of water 40 minutes into a race feels that good, you can take note that you’re probably in a pretty bad way, hydration-wise. 

I decide to ignore that basic knowledge, since now I remember how to ride a mountain bike, and the brakes work, and I’m gonna catch the main field, and come back into this race.  Really, I am. 

Then there’s this one turn that I don’t anticipate, and in a split second I’m no longer burdened with this bicycle, but flying.  The lightness I feel is offset only by the last second realization that I’m actually supposed to be on a bike, and that tree ahead looks like it might break my glasses, so I should put my head down a littl….smash.  I’m suddenly no longer moving, and holy crap, please tell me that the brand new bike I borrowed is ok.  Dang, there’s a huge foam piece hanging from the sky right onto the front wheel.  Brian is going to be pissed.  Except, it moves with my head, for some reason.  And there’s nothing foam on the bike.  The bike is fine, there’s not a scratch on it, but my helmet is dangling in pieces from my head.  I stop for a second, take off my helmet after glancing around (I saw starship troopers, you must always think carefully before removing a malfunctioning helmet) and examine it.  The front of it is broken into several pieces.  I tear them off completely and shove them in my jersey pocket in the event that I might suffer some concussion later and some doctor wants to examine them.  This all makes complete sense to me as I hop back on the bike, ensure there’s not a thing wrong with it, and get going again.

I am soft pedaling and just waiting to finish lap one with my busted helmet and new found Completely Valid Excuse To End All Of This Suffering And DNF that it’s afforded me.  Then I hear a voice up ahead.  It’s a voice I know well, saying “yeah, it’s just a flat.”  Crap.  I’ve caught Jessica.  She’s just out of sight around this corner talking to the guy that just asked ME if I was ok.  She’s on lap one, I know she needs to finish this race well to qualify for nationals, and I know if she sees my busted helmet, she’s going to worry about me and quit.

So I do the only pro thing I can think of, and turn my head away as I pass her saying “You good?” after seeing she’s fixed the flat mid race and about to hop back on.  I probably come off as the most insensitive boyfriend ever not bothering to stop and check, but we’re racing, and this is me being a good team mate by making sure she doesn’t realize that my helmet is in pieces and I’ve crashed my head into a tree moments before.  I continue to soft pedal and once again turn to the right, hiding my broken helmet, as I pull over motioning for her to pass me on the left.  She does, and I’m finally safe to roll into the finish halfway through my race to quit and make sure my skull isn’t in similar shape to my helmet.  (It isn’t, and I’m fine - Helmets FTW)

Two hours later, her race finishes and I admit to the crash and DNF, showing her my helmet.  Her response proves what I’ve been thinking for the last hour:

“You really need to get your own bike.”

A Crit in Canada, Eh?

By Tom Babinski | Jun 16, 2014

Race name: Preston St Crit
Race date: Sunday, Jun 15, 2014

While the rest of xXx was riding 8 wide and crashing each other out on Sheridan Road this weekend, I was doing the same… but in the 3/4 field at Preston Street Crit in Ottawa.

It was about the safest looking criterium course I raced this year.  Four easy, wide corners, with no major road issues to speak of.  The racing, however, was anything but safe. 

A motley crew of cyclists took to the line.  There were 3’s, 4’s, juniors, and champions of such-and-such doing their first crit.  As I waited for the gun, I realized two things.  With the hills and closed-to-traffic roads at Gatineau State Park only a 15 minute, protected-bike-lane ride from the city, there would be some strong guys at this race.  Next, with hardly any crits on the calendar in a 100 mile radius from Ottawa, there would be some dangerous guys at this race.  Many would turn out to be both.

About 96 meters into the race, I joined an attack from one of the few well-represented teams in the race.  With a field as varied as it was, I thought we might separate wheat from chaff as early as possible.  About 1096 meters into the race, I realized I was wrong.

I took some time to recover, and watched in horror as guys overcooked corners, clipped pedals, and overlapped wheels with reckless abandon, all-the-while riding with arms stiffer than a 4-inch diameter aluminum down tube.  For no reason whatsoever, I was being muscled off a wheel, on lap two during a lull.  Someone was bunny hoping a curb after overshooting a corner at 23mph. 

I took the inside line on an inconsequential mid-race left-hander.  As I exited, a handlebar was in my hip, and a racer was now fighting an oscillating front wheel to keep himself upright, which he did, albeit barely.  I looked back and saw a junior, took back everything I was about to say, and instead, over the next kilometer gave him a stern but polite lesson on the safe way to take the inside line from someone in a race.  Which he later did.  To me.

Guys were tiring and I didn’t feel like being in the field, so when I saw a Canuck jumping hard from 6th wheel I decided to follow.  Well, apparently it wasn’t a breakaway attempt; rather, your typical out-of-the saddle, 120% effort to move from 6th wheel to 1st wheel during a meaningless moment of the race.  Well, I’m not really made for solo breakaways.  I’m built like a 13 year-old Kenyan marathoner-in-training and sometimes get knocked over when I turn on my ceiling fan.  But my girlfriend was watching and they were ringing the prime bell quite a bit, so….

It was the longest break of the race; I lasted some large number of laps, got my name and nationality called out by the race announcer.  And the prime bell finally did ring… right when I was caught.

Back in the field I was too concerned with the Brownian motion of my peleton-mates to be worried about the lap count.  But then I looked up:  two to go.  I moved into a good position behind a bigger guy that seemed strong.  Well he wasn’t, and his size blocked my view of the gap he allowed to open.  When I saw it, there was one-to-go on a 1k circuit.  No time for fooling around; I would pass him where I could: on his right side before the left-hand turn one.  I was mostly clear of him when he turned hard to the right and into my hip.  Yes, that’s right, there’s no typo here.  This was a left hand turn and he turned his bike to the right.  Perhaps he aimed to swing wide to take a wider line.  In any case, soon after his handlebars collided with my butt they did so with the ground.  I hate crashes, and my heart sunk for this guy, who was later taken away with either a broken collarbone, clavicle or concussion (those were the collective injuries on Preston St that day). 

Though I was dragging what was left of the field in tow, I had no choice but to give everything to bridge the gap.  I had little chance of out-sprinting the 5 or so ahead of me after I bridged, but I had zero chance of doing so if I didn’t.  I did, but was gassed, and a few guys out-sprinted me once we rounded turn 4. 

I finished 9th.  Not bad, eh?

A Good Race Gone Ugly

By Rob Whittier | Jun 12, 2014

Race name: Tour of Galena - Cat # RR
Race date: Saturday, Jun 7, 2014

Despite a rough start as a Cat 3 I went into the ToG TT with some confidence. I felt fit and a little climbing jam session earlier in the week with xXx’s mini-Schleck Ben O’Malley had me feeling dialed in. But this year I had to do the dreaded long course with its steeply descending left-hander and of course the painful climb up it on the return leg.  I made the decision to eschew the TT rig to roll with my (aero) road frame and clip-on bars with the idea that I could descend faster, carry more speed into the flats, and climb better.

The ToG long-course is tough, it’s too hilly to use your powermeter effectively so I had to go on PRE/heart rate and in the end I know that I went too hard trying to catch the guys ahead of me on hills back in and that hurt my time. I finished 17th and well behind some guys that I’m confident I could beat but I had to put that behind me to focus on what we were going to do as a team later that afternoon.

Nikos had, as I predicted, crushed the TT with a 2nd place behind Scarlet Fire’s Daniel Mackey.  I knew Daniel, really great guy and we’d chatted at some races (one thing about being a 3 is that you start to have a better idea of who you’re racing with) and I had an idea that the three laps and the climbs might be rough for him so now we just had one job to do, well maybe two. The obvious one was to work for Nikos, I knew that I could climb with almost anybody out there and could do a lot to control the race, but a prerequisite to that was to convince Nikos that he could win. Kyle and I set to work on the latter and we discussed a plan for the road race that was pretty different than what we’d bandied about in emails earlier in the week. The plan put simply was 1) Chase breaks with GC contenders 2) Keep the pace solid to discourage too many others but not so hard on the hills that we’d shatter our GC guy.

Things started off well enough, the moto was VERY tough on offenders right off the gun so after the neutral start I got jammed into mid-pack and was struggling to move up a bit. I tried the gutter but that was occupied and gravelly, I tried moving up the middle but it was early, the field was tight, and nobody was giving up much space. Finally about 6 miles in Kyle faded back and said “Bobo, we need you up there” and I realized I wasn’t doing a lick of good so I slowly worked my way to the left, asking riders for room and indicating my intentions with a point (this works in Cat 3, not as much in Cat 4/5). I made it to the outside and quickly worked my way to the front.

From there we put our plan in motion, a break happened almost right after that,Tracy pointed out that we had nobody in it and I noticed my old friend Mike Conroy, a climber, and a little runt from Hincapie, were in the group. Time to make the doughnuts; I dropped the hammer and took a long pull and bridged just to the start of the Winery Hill and up it a quarter of the way and then we all climbed as a group. Kyle pulled up to me on the climb and grinned and started pushing the pace and I could see Nikos and Del and Anthony and Tracy were all right there with us. From that point on Kyle and I alternated a lot of time near the front alternately controlling the pace to keep it comfortable for out track/TT/GC guy and chasing down small attacks. Nikos communicated well, pace was good, little less on the climbs, but he was gellin’. When we finished the first lap things seemed in control and I pulled the group up through the feed zone with (purposely) enough pace to let people know that I felt frickin’ awesome.

The xXx control continued through the first part of the 2nd lap, we alternated pulls with one or two other teams at a pretty deliberate pace. Mistake #1: In retrospect we probably should have gone a bit harder because we were just inviting an attack and then, at the second time at Ford Road just past the winery, it came.  Three riders including Hincapie and Mitsu-Laser hit it hard about 1/3 of the way up the climb but Nikos and I were sitting at the front and contemplated responding. “No” we decided, there aren’t GC guys in there. Mistake #2: The RR points are big enough that they can MAKE your GC.  By the time we were at the Guilfoil Rd. climb I still saw all of us in the group up that climbs but I could sense some of our dudes were fatiguing and it had become clear that we were going to have to be the guys to chase. I was just gearing up to try to organize that effort when it started.

A drop at first, then another, then a light sprinkle, then a mini-deluge. “This is fine”, I thought, “I’m fine with rain, but we need to get this chase going quickly”. “Hmm, I’ve never really done much descending with these Enves, I wonder what…what the, OH NOOOooo!”

On the first serious descent after the Guilford Road climb I realized my worst nightmare. I was bottoming out my brake levers and not…really…slowing…down…at…all. I had the right pads (Swissstop Black), I had my brakes adjusted (sort of, more on that later), but I was getting zero stopping power. I lost all confidence, my mind went into survival mode, I gave up on trying to finish well…I just wanted to finish upright. After that I started braking before descents even started and losing 50-100 meters on the field and then hammering it to catch up. I came extremely close to bailing after the 2nd lap but I thought maybe I can help out a little more and then drop off after a few miles but BEFORE the railroad tracks. I stayed with the field but was stuck on the back end, unwilling to enter the fray with my complete and utter lack of stopping power and when I came to the pre-track descent I was fully locked on, losing another 100 meters and crawling past Kevin and Ed shrieking “I have no brakes!”

I was mentally broken, scared, and starting to shiver, but by then it made no sense to turn back. I spend the next 15 miles on the back of the field being useless and cowering when I saw a descent and frankly at one point I thought I wasn’t going to be able to bridge but I did and when we finally came to the long, gentle rolling stretch into town and I knew I had made it I almost cried with relief. Just a few miles left, and the rain had let up. You’re with the field, this is a fine finish, just coast on home. Things started to heat up a bit with a half mile to go as rider tried to jockey for that first sharp right-hander into Galena but I was having no part of it. It’s 14 riders, it’s gonna get sloppy up there, you can’t use your brakes much, just coast on home…

As that right-hander approached things were pretty strung out and I was following the wheel ahead of me, with a little space to keep things safe. I saw that Nikos was in the fray, Kyle was up there too, I had done my job and lived through it. I sighed again, disappointing but…“oh no, why are you”? “Oh…no”. A Bonkers rider had locked up his brake and hit the deck HARD. He was right in front of me, squarely in my line and I was already leaned in and entering the turn, there was nowhere to go but…ouch.

In the end Nikos got 6th, enough to keep him near the top of the GC which he’d eventually lock down so I’m pleased with that. Kyle was 11th, that’s not bad either. And I walked away with nothing worse than a terrible hip pointer/road-rash and a strained hip-flexor and some damage to my shifters. I think John (Bonkers dude) was ok and that’s a good thing too. I learned a lot that day though, it’s just a shame that these lessons need to come at the expense of blood and carbon…

1) Practice riding in the rain on your carbon race wheels, better yet practice descending in the rain on them AND
2) Make sure your equipment is tuned for the conditions. I have a lot of flex in my front wheel so I run the pads a little loose. This definitely didn’t help AND
3) Make sure you chose the RIGHT equipment. I do own a decent set of alloy clinchers, I would have paid $100 to be able to swap to them mid-race. Whatever aero benefits I got from my uber-tubulars was more than eliminated by my lack of confidence in the wet AND
4) It’s awesome to work for a teammate, I knew I wasn’t in the GC but I felt like I had purpose up until my courage evaporated and I became a useless quivering blob AND
5) Bring your tegaderm with you, I leaked blood and serous fluid (thank you Erica Gaddy - https://www.facebook.com/erica.gaddy?fref=ts) all over my car…

A Good Race Gone Good

By Ben Cartwright | Jun 11, 2014

Race name: Tour of Galena, Masters 4/5
Race date: Saturday, Jun 7, 2014

Whilst putting myself at severe risk of stating the blindingly obvious, I must say that the Tour of Galena is a seriously fun weekend of bike racing. You all know that by now.  I had one of my best racing experiences to date, marked by fast, safe-ish racing with the masters group, brilliant XXX teamwork, and the overcoming of my own usual weaknesses on the bike (riding up hills) to secure a great final result.

My targets going into the race were to feature in the omnium, and perhaps go for the crit, where I usually feel confident with a half-decent sprint on a good day.  I wouldn’t have a chance in the road race (and was easily dropped by the lead climbers last year) so that would just be for fun or helping team mates…

The TT is short, and not so sweet.  I gave it everything on the way out and just tried to hold on to the pace as much as possible on the way back.  I was definitely well spent by the line, which I know is probably a good thing, and was delighted to finish in 6th place to pick up a few points. 

The Road Race was a surprise to say the least, and the result will be a happy memory that may last for a while.  A large front bunch mainly stayed together for the first lap or so, and XXX did a lot of work.  Adam, Kevin, and Jim set a good pace for long sections, with other strong riders taking long pulls as well.  I took a few myself and tried to push the speed on a few flat and downhill sections to mix things up a bit too. There weren’t too many mammoth attacks until the closing stages.  There are two key points for the Galena course which I kept in mind throughout, and used to good effect:

1) get to the front of the group at the start of the climbs so that you have time to fall back without getting dropped, and

2) make an early charge on the closing stages of the finish, before the sharp, difficult corners coming back into to town. 

I followed point 1 as much as possible on each climb, including the final ascent of the North Ford Road Winery hill.  The lead group did not hit it at a fast pace, and, crucially for me, nobody made a huge attack at the start of the climb.  I started the hill at the very front of the race and dropped back many places, but felt I was still in it as we crested the top, where a small group had gone off the front.  I could see it was a now or never moment and summoned a second wind to give an all-out chase to the lead group of about 6 riders.  One other rider tried to go too but didn’t make it, and I had just enough in the tank to bridge solo, joining just as we hit a long descent.  Myself and Mark Elsdon, of Great Dane Velo who eventually finished second, both sensed that the break could stick and screamed at the others to work together as much as possible to keep it going; we kept a tentative lead on the chasing group, which was still in place at the start of the final Guildford Road climb.  I have dreamt of getting into a bona fide break since I started cycling and loved every second of it: there would be no way I would allow myself to be dropped on the final testing hill.  I dug very deep and stayed in touch to the top whilst we shed two or three of the others, leaving a final group of (I think) four.  Fourth would be a great result for me on a race like this, but as we approached Galena I started to think about my potential as a sprinter, and focus on the strategy for the finish (Point 2 above).  The other guys were clearly much better climbers, but perhaps none of them had fully gone for it on the hills, so I had a chance to capitalize.  We had to keep working to maintain the break, and most were happy to pull, while the few lone attacks on the closing flat and downhill stretches were easy enough to hold on to.  As the town came into view I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Sitting in about second wheel, I bided my time as we took the left-hand corner downhill into Galena and attacked just before the tight right-hander, took the lead and gunned it up the small sharp hill.  I lead the race into the first left turn, and the second, went as fast as I dared around the final right hander onto the finishing straight, then stood on the pedals and opened both taps for the line.  A textbook Randy Warren Bike Throw just in case and the win was mine.  I still don’t know how far behind the other guys were, but I know that starting the technical final section in the lead was crucial.  Happy Days.

The Omnium table was very tight overnight, meaning Sunday was going to be fun.  Mark Elsdon and Peter Monko (of Spidermonkey) had finished behind me in the road race, but at the front of the TT, meaning they shared a 3 point lead overnight.  But I happened to fancy the crit, and there were tons of points on offer.  Still on a high from the previous day, the crit was such fun to be a part of from start to finish.  XXX set the pace for a good chunk of the race and I had some strong team mates to follow.  Andrew Lowe of Psimet Racing made a brilliant lone attack after an early prime and did a great ride to hold off the pack to the end: I was happy for him and he wasn’t an omnium threat.  In retrospect perhaps I could have tried to go with him for maximum omnium points, but it wasn’t an option if I wanted to feature at the end of the race too.  Nikos’ solo move on the sprint points to take the Cat 3 omnium was a thing of beauty, but there is only one of him on the team.

I tried to be as aggressive as possible in both the mid-race sprint and the finish, and teammates were right there as usual.  I went head to head with Monko for both: he beat me by a tire width for fourth in sprint, but Elsdon didn’t feature so I cut his omnium lead on me to two points.  The recovery was very tough but I managed to stay near the front as the pace ramped up again for the finish.  In the final two laps, the Barclay Wheel was a brilliant one to follow and pulled me right through the start/finish straight at the head of the race; just as Jim began to tire, Kevin came through perfectly and I surged to get in behind him.  Kevin pulled all the way round to the final corner at an amazing speed, and was very close to catching Lowe, who was still hovering out in the lead.  After some controversial maneuvering, a Got Wind rider attacked from behind us but couldn’t pass Lowe on the line, who held on for a nice win.  Behind them I was left to duke it out with Monko again, and this time beat him in the sprint to the line, finishing in third place.  Elsdon was too far back, so I overtook him for the second step of the omnium while Monko finished two points ahead at the top. 

A full set of awesome Bill Barnes original medals was a nice prize for a great weekend: bronze for the crit, silver for the omnium and gold for the road race.  Adam and Kevin both got top ten results as well, while Jim got the annoying 11th spot, no doubt as a result of working too much for others all weekend.  Saturday’s breakaway and win were a highlight of the weekend, as was flying round Sunday’s course on Jim’s and then Kevin’s wheels at the front of the pack on the final lap.  I hope I can return their awesome sacrifice sometime soon and can’t wait to help them in future races: perhaps I’ll mow their lawns and alphabetize their DVD collections as well. 

My good fortunate came whilst other far more talented team mates had some rotten luck with far too many nasty crashes over the weekend, and it was too bad to hear about the various falls and broken bones.  RIP Josie III, Long Live Josie IV.

A Good Race Gone Bad

By Tracy Dangott | Jun 9, 2014

Race name: Tour of Galena- Cat 3 Crit
Race date: Sunday, Jun 8, 2014

The Tour of Galena takes a lot to pull off. Volunteering, helping our race directors, AND trying to race took it’s toll and the weekend wasn’t so lucky for me. A crappy TT where my time was two minutes longer than last year. An abandoned RR after an a half lap in the rain just a few painful minutes off the back. A decent 9th place finish in my first crit. But the story happens in the second crit.

Second crit, Cat 3, last race of the day. The beginning of the race was dominated by a few of us disrupting the pack so Nikos could stay out in no-man’s land off the front. I’m not sure why no-one figured it out, but Nikos was sure-as-hell going for the mid-race omnium points, just like he said he would, and he got them. As soon as he did, he drifted back and I think that started a collective worry in the pack that the omnium had just been shaken up. Speed picks up, and the bigger field’s dynamics come into play. More bunching, more hurry up/slow down tactics. A few attacks. More aggressive moves up the outside in the straightaways. Each straightaway was at a jack-rabbit pace. Each set of corners was mobbed and multiple bikes across. We had ourselves a race, but everyone was riding like a gentleman.

With a few laps to go, Hudson and I start moving up and get into fairly decent position, with the plan being he’d be my lead out. I was ready. I had a series of crappy races to redeem myself for.

On the bell lap, we’re sitting in the top 10 wheels but I’m in front of Hudson. Oops. That’s not gonna work. Heading down the back straightaway, I see an opening to move up in the middle of the pack and slot-in behind Delabre.  Others are also trying to move up on the outside. I start to make my move for the slot behind Delabre when shouting from the left starts and a bike is quickly moving left-to-right, clearly past that point of recovery… past the point where you just know it’s going down. I start making my move left to cut behind the back of the crashing bike and I start believing I’m gonna make it. But then he hits someone and comes back left—- right into my escape lane! I get a sinking feeling in my gut and know I am so screwed.

I crash right into the bike, breaking my front carbon tubular rim. I launch airborne and land on my hands, then shoulder and start my slide. As I hit the ground, time truly slowed down and I thought, didn’t break color bone. Good. Didn’t hit head. Good. Sliding on shoulder and hands but not burning up a ton of skin. Good. Stopped. Whew.

As I’m ruminating on my excellent crash-luck, a guy behind me is hitting my just landed bike. Right as I stop sliding, the now airborne rider and bike crash-land. On… me. 

Dude gets off me. I lay down for a spell and catch my breath. Realize I’m still okay, just banged up. Someone helps me up and that’s when I realize the true damage… Broken front wheel. Broken top tube. Broken right pedal. I broke a pedal… snapped the front right off. Who does that?!? I was so upset about the bike as I carried it back to the start, I forgot that I was also hurt and bleeding. God bless adreneline.

In the end, Nikos took the omnium win based on his early race gambit and strong prior results. Delabre sprinted to third in the crit. I am walking with minimal road rash and a couple of bruised ribs (thank you base layer and gloves!). The next iteration of Josie will be here in a week and I’ll have another week from there to get into some semblance of shape for ToAD!

Even though it ended rough for me, ToG was a great weekend for xXx Racing and the Midwest cycling community. I received tons of positive feedback about the production value of the race, the friendliness of our team’s volunteers and the awesomeness of the course.

Great job, xXx Racing!

RIP Josie III.

I am not Superman!

By Randy Warren | Jun 7, 2014

Race name: Galena P/1/2 Circuit Race
Race date: Friday, Jun 6, 2014

As the Elite Team was planning our schedule for the season back in the winter, I committed myself to riding 2 bigger Elite races to help out our younger guys. Joe Martin, in April, was the first race and I did OK there. Galena was the second race. That meant that I’d be doing the circuit race on Friday for the first time.

I pre-drove the course while I was helping to set things up (and sweep some potentially dangerous spots on the road), so I was a bit familiar with the route. It looked TOUGH! I was glad that I’d be doing just 5 laps instead of the 8 that they did the first year that we held Galena.

The first lap wasn’t easy and I drifted to the back of the field on the climbs. Still I finished the first lap at the back of the lead group. Unfortunately, I got gapped off the back on the 2nd lap on the steep KOM hill and was chasing after that. I could see the lead group ahead of me and couldn’t see the guys who were behind me so I kept chasing hard. On the first lap, when I was with the pack, I felt that they were being way too conservative on the descents. I was kind of happy to get to descend on my own at this point as I was able to open it up and have some fun on the descents.

Unfortunately, I hit one of the descents (after Cemetery Rd.) a bit too fast and almost lost it. I was able to save it, however, and made a note to not go quite so fast around that corner on the next lap.

On the third lap I was still chasing and hit a downhill that had a bit of a decreasing radius turn that was also pretty steep. On the first two laps, when I was in the pack, I thought that we took this corner way to slow and I was certain that I could make up a bit of time by blasting through the corner.

Unfortunately, on this time around I discovered that the pavement was much bumpier than I had realized and the additional speed I was carrying really emphasized this. I was coming in too hot and had to break hard to scrub enough speed to get around safely. Breaking hard, my rear wheel popped up into the air over several of the bumps and locked up in the air. When it landed it skidded and washed out. With the road quickly turning to my left, I was sliding to my right and ended up on my side and in a ditch.

I was so surprised. I’m a really good descender. I really never doubted that I’d make that corner (or else I would have slowed down more). It just goes to show you that no matter how good you are at something, there is still a limit to what you can do.

Fortunately, Tracy was right there and was able to call for help. Brian came around and took me to bee seen by Tiber and Charles took me to the hospital. Sue drove my car to the hotel so that Kari and Matthew could get to the hospital. Thank you to everyone who helped me out!

Now, I’m left with three broken ribs and lots of road rash. My summer goal of the Open TT at Elite Nationals is in jeopardy. This is when the “flexible” part of my goal setting workshop comes in. I’ll have to re-evaluate things as I go through my next week (which was planned to be a rest week anyway). At that point I should be able to decide if I can still properly prepare for the TT at Nationals or if I need to look to a goal further down the road.

Fortunately, I’ve had these type of setbacks before (broke my collar bone and needed surgery at Galena in 2011), so I know that I’ll bounce back. It is a long road and it is challenging, but I can do it.

Thanks,
Randy

Race #2 on the way to Nationals ITT

By Randy Warren | Jun 7, 2014

Race name: Harvard 33.3k ITT
Race date: Sunday, Jun 1, 2014

I hadn’t been to the track yet this season, so I went there on Thursday, which meant that I’d skip Glencoe on Saturday. Matthew had an orientation for his Facets Film Camp either Thursday night or Saturday morning. This was a bit of a protest on my part of Glencoe making the masters 45+ do the short course this year. That was a serious sign of disrespect and I was OK missing the race this year to protest that decision.
  So, I headed to Harvard with Bill Barnes. Sue Wellinghoff and Ryan Fay were also there and we found a super windy but mostly fresh paved course.
  I actually placed worse this week than I did in Kankakee 2 weeks ago, was 3rd today v 2nd in Kankakee. I did, however, feel much better this week than last. My butt hurt after the Harvard TT, so I knew that I had done it right. Definitely another positive step in the right direction towards Nationals.
  Ryan won the P/1/2 category with the 2nd fastest time of the day. Once again, the fastest time of the day came in my 50+ category! Again, that’s fine as I am happy with my effort and I felt better in the TT position. I’m on my way to a good ride at Nationals!
  Thanks,
  Randy

That moment when time stands still

By Tom Perotti | Jun 2, 2014

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix
Race date: Saturday, May 31, 2014

I had been getting pretty excited about the Glencoe Grand Prix. I knew it was a big event in the area and that it was a well-organized race. In addition, I had been getting more and more confident in my ability to maintain good position, in my ability to corner, and in my understanding of race flow.

While I was bummed that the Cat 5 race was relegated to the non-technical four-corner short course, I also felt this played into my strengths - being a heavier rider with a relatively high threshold, a flat non-technical course suits me and allows me to carry a lot of speed through corners. I envisioned launching a late attack (2-to-go) from a few wheels back in the pack and then TTing to victory. I’m not delusional, and knew the plan had a slim chance of succeeding, but I thought maybe I’d have enough of a jump attacking from behind and enough energy saved from sitting in all race, that I just might be able to pull it off.

I ended up getting bib #8, which gave me the last spot on the front row of the starting grid, which gave xXx three total in the front row. Jim and Kevin were aware of my plan and were planning to launch attacks earlier in the race to string out the field, and then be ready to slow down the chase when I jumped with two to go.

From the start, things were a little uneasy. Approaching the first corner, I noticed the group bunching up 4 or 5 wide, and I didn’t think it would turn out well for me, as I was on the inside, so I immediately throttled up and went to the front, giving me a clean line through the corner. I kept the pace steady and eventually a couple guys came around and I found a wheel. We made it through turn 3 with no issues, but the pace slowed again and the group started to cluster again heading into turn 4. Kevin came up on my right, and there were a couple of others to the right of him, putting them way to the inside of the approaching turn. I commented to Kevin: “that’s not a good line” and had a bad feeling about the approaching corner. Kevin laughed in agreement, and in that very same moment, a rider to my left suddenly lost control and fell sideways into me (yes, we were still going straight at this point).

That’s when time seemed to stand still for a few moments. Several thoughts simultaneously went through my head:
1. well this sucks
2. I’m about to hit the deck at well over 20mph
3. this sucks
4. there goes my plan
5. hey, this is going to be my first bike crash!
6. this is really gonna suck
7. remember to tuck and roll!

As surreal and still as the moment seemed, before I knew it I was getting up off the ground and searching for my bike. One or more bikes had hit my body while I was on the ground, but I’m really not sure where they struck, because everything kind of hurt. I looked around, and spotted my bike, about 20 yards further down the rode. I ran over, my thoughts scrambling, not sure what to do. I picked up my bike and noticed I was missing a bar-end cap. Found it, plugged it. Then I saw my sunglasses, still intact, yay! Then I saw a Garmin on the ground, quick check, mine was still attached to my bike. Felix was spectating near the crash and yelled at me that my chain was off. I tried to simply use the shifter to get it back on, and per Einstein’s definition of insanity, kept trying to do that, to no avail.

I was in a lot of pain and kept telling myself my day was over, but Felix kept yelling at me, and I thought, no, I’m not done, I get a free lap. Still not having yet fixed my chain, I started running with my bike and for some reason thought I had to stay off the course so I ran through pit row back to the start. I finally got my chain back on there and rode to the wheel pit, just as the pack was passing. I yelled at the judge, “crashed out, free lap?” He said “where the hell have you been? it’s already been a lap.” I didn’t have a good answer for him, and never really stopped…I just asked over my shoulder “can I go?” I didn’t wait to hear his answer, I just hammered it and caught on to the back of the pack as they hit turn 1. (I didn’t get DQed so I guess I was ok!)

The back of the pack was being rubber-banded very badly and I was suffering as a result. I tried to remedy that by passing a couple riders on every straight, trying to work my way back to at least the middle of the pack - it seems most that I passed eventually got dropped, so this was good. I finally got to about mid-pack with two laps to go, and thought, “well, I could still try my plan,” even though I knew I burned through a ton of matches just getting back into the race. My justification was that at the very least, I could set up Kevin for a counter-attack, even if he didn’t know it was coming. So as we came around the final corner to hit the 2-to-go mark, I jumped, and jumped hard, passing the entire field from about 20 wheels back before turn 1. Having come from so far back and having already burned so many matches, I didn’t pass the front with as much speed as I had originally planned, but coming out of turn 1 I heard one rider on my wheel yelling “we got a gap, keep going!” I was starting to feel it and flicked my elbow hoping he’d come around and help us both break away, but he refused, I ran out of gas, and we were both swallowed up.

I found a wheel in about the same position from which I had launched my attack, but I did my job, the field was strung out. The pace slowed a touch, but then picked back up on the bell lap. I didn’t have much left, but managed to finish at the back of the field for 25th out of 52 starters. Not bad for a crash in the first lap, I guess.

In the end, I escaped my first crash with very little road rash. Decent sized patch on my elbow and a couple small scrapes on my legs. Overall I was just plain stiff and sore. I decided to skip the masters race and call it a day, and will soon take my upgrade to Cat 4 with the hopes of escaping such demolition derbies in the future (there were 3-4 total crashes throughout the race, one racer left in an ambulance).

Never Get Out of the Boat

By Jim Barclay | Jun 1, 2014

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix
Race date: Saturday, May 31, 2014

Glencoe Grand Prix 2014

“Never get out of the boat.  Absolutely g*dd&#n right.  Unless you were going all the way.”
-Cpt. Willard, Apocalypse Now
Translation: “stick to the plan”

Briney (v) - to relentlessly attack a field (sometimes with the aid of teammates) and in doing so keep the pace so high that other riders are shed off the back of the race, effectively neutralizing the competition.  Named for early 21st century Cat 2 bike racer Tom Briney, who is known to do this not only in races but also on training rides, AR trips to the grocery and possibly even while riding rollers alone in his basement. 

We had a plan going into the Glencoe Grand Prix and it made a lot of sense.  With five of us staged in the first two rows (myself, Ben Cartwright, Michael Baldus, Kevin Whitford and Brian Johnson,) and a very technical course known for crashes and few opportunities to move up, it made sense to keep the pace as hot as possible and not concede any position, ever.  Stay in front, attack and counterattack to keep the pace hot.  When one person gets reeled back in, attack again.  Baldus is riding really strong right now and we discussed the possibility of him making one of those attacks stick.  Glencoe is also a course where if you get enough of a lead the field will lose sight of you and a small break or even solo rider can make it stick until the end.  Failing that, we would have whittled down the field and set up Ben for a very manageable bunch sprint. 

The whistle blew and we set about putting this plan into action.  Kevin got off the line first and did, in fact, start us off strong.  Brian and I settled in behind him and traded pulls through the first lap.  Then the fun began.  A few other riders were mixed in with us at this point and Michael attacked.  I stayed top 3 and waited.  A lap later when he came back in I attacked.  This scenario repeated a few times and I could hear the announcers say we were single file as we came through the start/finish.  Damn—we were doing it!  Michael was getting good gaps but it didn’t seem like anything was really getting away—we were simply moving too fast and the east wind was pretty strong in the stretch before the final turn.  I looked back a few times around corners to see a completely thinned out field.  We destroyed it.  I mean, we Briney’d it!  I knew Ben and Michael were still nearby so this was playing out perfectly.

With 5 laps to go they announced a prime.  As we came through the downhill this little voice in my head said “hey, Jim, they offer really nice merchandize primes here.  You should go for it.”  It wasn’t, “the plan” but it wasn’t that big a deal, right?  I was 4th wheel as we ascended the hill and picked my spot to attack just as we crested.  I figured I might catch some guys sitting up.  I don’t know if I actually did or not but we turned left then right into the wind before the final turn.  I could see a shadow behind me and feel my legs getting heavy fighting the wind.  I should sit up, concede the prime, and get ready to finish this thing.  But that little voice spoke up again “like, really, really nice primes.  I heard Fay won a watch!”  With that I jumped before the turn, hoping to get a gap.  No dice.  Riders swarmed around me in the finishing straight and didn’t even bother to thank me for leading them out.  I looked desperately for a wheel to grab but they were coming by pretty fast and my options were dwindling.  Ben let me in but after turn one I was still not recovered and a gap was starting to form.  He and a remaining few came around me to form the lead group and I could only huff and puff and wonder what would have happened if I had played it “safe.” 

I solo’d the final 3 ½ laps and rolled in 16th.  Ben took 7th and Michael unfortunately crashed, spoiling a fine day of racing.  As the rest of the field came through and chatted on the cool down lap more than a few guys complimented our teamwork.  “You guys really shredded that field!”  We did.  We really did.  Our plan was solid and we executed it well.  I take a lot of pride in that but I’m left to wonder about what almost was.  The lead group was made up of names I recognize—and have beaten.  If I had played my cards right and not chased the golden ring (or watch or whatever the merch prime was,) I would have been there to help Ben.  I made a bad decision and it cost me places for both myself and my teammate.  Lesson learned.  Stay focused on the plan, especially when it is working.  Never get out of the boat.

The Snake

By Michael Baldus | May 27, 2014

Race name: Snake Alley
Race date: Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday May 24th, I was bitten by the snake.

In weeks preceding I had debated whether I would take on what many proclaim to be the toughest crit in the Midwest, but after some deliberation I made up my mind.  I took Jim Barclay’s registration and with that my date with the snake was set.

On the morning of my demise I awoke from a deflated air mattress on the floor of my sister’s Peoria apartment.  Feeling the lack of sleep from the preceding week, combined with 6 hours of sleep on a hardwood floor, Kevin Whitford and I set off to Burlington.  On the drive over Kevin and I were rather quiet, each a bit nervous of the test to come, yet poised slay the snake.

Upon entry to the Mississippi river valley intimidation set in.  From the gentle rolling hills of Southwestern Illinois we were greeted by things unbeknownst to those native to the Chicagoland; real hills.  We had made it to Burlington, found parking and found registration with time to spare.  Walking to registration and back to our car the extent of these “hills” really became apparent.  My nervousness increased, and I hadn’t yet seen the snake. 

Kevin was set to do battle first, so I made my way to the xXx tent at the top of the hill to watch my brethren set course.  At the top of the hill I was introduced to the snake, and oh what a lovely snake she was, paved with red brick and lined with brilliant emerald grass under the seat of scores of spectators.  This, I thought to myself, is what it’s all about.
Standing at the top of the hill with Brian, after finding a chicken avocado sandwich, minus the chicken- everything in Iowa has meat; we watched and cheered (well I cheered, he more-or-less kindly harassed) our fellow teammates as they climbed the snake.  The first couple laps the group stayed fairly tight, the faces looked relaxed and the battle against the snake seemed fairly even.  Yet, as the race progressed those faces changed and the snake started winning.  About half way through the 30+ 1/2/3/4 the field split, and the faces changed dramatically, the snake was definitely taking its toll.  The race came to a conclusion and I decided it was time.

I kitted up and took a run at the course.  Starting on the downhill of course, I looked for that rumored “perfect line” and quickly found that there were strategically placed manholes on each turn.  Making it down the backside, past the starting line my heart rate increased.  I could suddenly feel my heart pounding, thumping, faster, faster… and there it was, looking ever so innocent, ready to attack.  I made my way up the initial climb to the base of the snake and rode over the rough, windy brick road.  To my surprise, it wasn’t THAT bad.  I made it to the top, found my breath, and decided to take the decent again.

During my pre-ride I was thrown a bit of a curveball.  I saw a couple familiar faces, and a couple more that I didn’t expect to see.  To my surprise, my grandparents who live in Leighton, Iowa (about 2 hours away) had made the trip over to watch the race, so in total I had: Mom, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, Grandpa, and Grandma, all there to watch my race.  If I didn’t feel pressure before, I certainly did now.

After taking the course a couple times, I looked down at my Garmin and the time had come.  I made my way to the starting line and again my heart rate escalated.  Sitting there, anticipating the race, I tried to stay as calm as possible while remembering what I had read about the race; to get a good start and make it to the snake before everyone else.  Luckily Jim doesn’t procrastinate the way I do, and my positioning at the start line was in the front row, a few spaces down from Brian.  I sat on my top tube, said a couple Hail Mary’s and cleared my mind.  The whistle blew once….. nothing.  The first whistle was to be the signal for the lead car to clear the course.  Apparently the geriatric driving the car didn’t hear.  The whistle blew again, and again.  We all laughed nervously.  The whistle blew again and the car took off.  My heart beat, thump, thump, thump…. The whistle blew again and this time no one laughed. 

I clipped in easily and took the outside line into the first corner.  A couple young guns tried to sneak through to the front, but in general the pack stayed safe and upright.  I took a deep breath as our first round against the snake began; left, right, left, right, left, right….
Making it to the top of the first climb I quickly made my way to the outside left, about as close to the curb as I could get.  I took the line that I had practiced and fell in, about 3rd wheel.  With the intentions of not tapping the breaks I quickly found that I would have to, a downfall of sucking off the wheel in front of me.  We made our day through the streets of “downtown” Burlington, to the flats and the pace leveled out.  We made it through the first round.  I looked around and found that, as usual, no one wanted to pull.  I did my best and stayed 3rd, and 4th wheel back from the front.  11 laps to go.

Round two started similar to the first, with people anxious to find their place to battle the snake, but again no one really wanting to take the lead.  I kept my position and felt out the group.  I remained calm and again, left, right, left, right, left, right.  Making it again to the top of the snake I felt as though I was in control, that I had won round two and what, only 10 more? Easy. 

The second decent went much like the first, and I soon realized that it wasn’t just staying on the wheel that caused me to hit the brakes, I was also twice the weight of the little 14 year old Hincapie kid pulling.  We took another lap; I looked at my grandparents watching and again remained calm.  Going into the 3rd round against the snake, left, right, left, right, left, right… this time instead of pulling up and waiting for the group I just kept going.  I figured the little HIncapie kid wouldn’t do me any good anyway, so I put the pedal down, found my line and took the decent.  As the decent leveled out I had about 10 yards on the guy behind me.  Without thinking twice, I put the pedal down. 

As I turned the corner into the straight before the finish line, I checked behind and waited; didn’t see anyone.  I checked again, nothing.  Finally as I looked over a third time I saw the group coming around the bend.  There it was I had a break.

Though it wasn’t planned, I didn’t let up.  I took my battle to be between myself and the snake, rather than myself and the group.  I didn’t wait and kept the pedal down.  After the first lap off the front I was feeling great, I looked over and saw the lap counter… 8 to go.  I knew I had a decent break and all I had to do was not die, don’t die, but like a snake with slow venom it took its toll.

At points throughout the race I had about a 15 second break, or so my uncle had told me, but the venom caught me.  With 4 laps to go I was taking the decent.  That “perfect line” was much harder to find.  This time I hit every manhole cover, and at one point I felt the back end kick out.  I felt I was coming to my demise.  As the course leveled out, so did my gas.  I knew they were coming for me, and at this point the snake was doing the slaying.  As we passed the finish line I was swallowed up by a group of 6, which included Brian, the rest of the field had thinned and I did everything in my power to grab on.  I was able to hold on until we got to the snake.  With three to go the snake and I butted heads.  My legs were gone, and I wanted to quit.  Never before have I wanted to pull myself from a race like I wanted to here. 

I made it to the top and thought to myself, “two more!!!  I don’t think I can do two more.”  Cheers from the xXx tent echoed in my head and I did everything I could to get back up to the group, but I was spent.  I had to recover.  I made it around and at the base of the second to last climb I was seconds away from pulling up, from turning, breaking veg and buying a corndog like the spectator I should have been.  Then I heard my mom and aunt, cheering from the emerald grass which so beautifully highlights the snake; I had to go on, and I did.

I made it to the top and with that I made it past my darkest place, only one more to go.  Passing the finish line the bell went off, final lap, time to slay the snake one last time.  Surprisingly, this time was easier than the last.  I made it to the top, got in my big ring and found the line that I wanted.  Took it like the first lap and carried my momentum into the flats.  Looked around and gave it everything I had left, which wasn’t much, but I managed to catch one of those young guns and easily took the final stretch.  I finished the day in 7th, but with that took a lot of experience and proved to myself that I could push through the darkest depths. 

Waiting for me at the end of the race was my 82 year old grandma with a big smile.  It made the whole thing worth it.  I had battled that snake, given it everything I had, and though I didn’t come up with the win, I had emptied my tank and my grandma knew it. 
Though I was bitten by the snake, I lived to tell about it and I am stronger because of it.  I will definitely be back next year, and I look forward to yet another challenge.

-Mike Baldus

Track-tics

By Sue Wellinghoff | May 27, 2014

Race name: Northbrook Velodrome Thursday Night Racing
Race date: Thursday, May 22, 2014

While I am a roadie forever, last year I started heading up to the Northbrook Velodrome fairly regularly for the Thursday Night Racing series that happens May – September.  Track was always a challenge that I was trying to figure out; only one fixed gear, a bike with no brakes, and every race had some different way to win or math involved (bleh, math).  Even the shortest races could leave me wheezing and coughing (the infamous “track hack”) like I’ve never experienced in a road effort.  It quickly became something I looked forward to on Thursday nights due to the 3 chances of racing a night, as well as when you weren’t racing, the opportunity to sit in the infield with a group of fantastic teammates and cheer, talk tactics, talk non-bike stuff, laugh a lot, eat food, and watch a lot of really amazing bike racing.  Last year was fantastic for me as I learned so much from being up there, both on the bike and as a spectator.

The 2014 season has been awesome in that there’s been a regular showing of ladies up there, which makes an already great time even more fun for me as I really love having teammates to race with.  Though this past Thursday was only our second night out there, Courtney O’Neill, Katie George and I had an amazing showing of tactics and teamwork.

Race 1 – Devil’s Scratch

*this is a combination of a miss-and-out, where the last person each lap gets pulled, and a scratch race – basically a crit on the track: first over the line at the end wins.  In the Devil’s scratch, the “Devil takes the hindmost” as you do a miss and out to get rid of half the field, and then a 3 lap crit to determine the winner.

I haaate the miss and out. In usual fashion opening night, found myself boxed in and was pulled first, after only one lap.  So last Thursday I decided that would not happen, and set a fast pace from the whistle, pulling the entire group behind me.  It worked the first lap, and while people fought to not be last, I kept my ideal front spot and survived lap one.  While not the best tactic in a large field, our smaller field allowed me to keep up this plan and I didn’t even see what was going on behind me the rest of the first half of the race as I just kept the hammer down and crossed the line first each lap.  While this could really backfire on me in the latter portion of the race, at least it would get me to the scratch.  With one final pull lap remaining, I told myself just don’t get pulled, and then I could sit up and recover on the “neutral lap” before the 3 scratch laps started.  I crossed the line first and immediately slowed, trying to get my breath.  I then did a quick peek over my shoulder to see who was still with me. In our little group of 4, I was shocked and delighted to see that both Court and Katie had made the cut! It was now 3 vs. 1 for the scratch!  Excellent.

I happily took another slow lap and a half at the front, still trying to recover.  I knew the four of us were still in a line, and I definitely had a teammate on my wheel, so I thought with 2 to go, I’d jump and try to get away.  Lynn Rivier was the non-teammate in our group, and while I have lost numerous sprints to her as she’s really strong and a great track racer, hoped the element of surprise, as well as the fact she was so much farther behind me in the line would help me get away, or else she’d pull my teammates up to me and they could counter.  I jumped hard and got away, and created a great gap, while the girls blocked.  With ¾ of a lap to go, and my legs shutting down (track efforts are so different from road!) I tried to hold it as best I could, and crossed the line first.  And Katie and Courtney finished right behind me – xXx podium sweep!!!

Race 2 – 8 lap Tempo

*Tempo is where points are given every lap: 2 points for first across the line, 1 point for second, and nothing for the rest.  So it can make for a very fast race.

The ideal situation for a tempo is to have people off the front, winning all the points, while the field was kept in control.  We actually decided we wanted to attempt a 2 woman xXx break, and planned to try a singular attack before launching 2 people.  Katie was going to attack first, but Courtney found herself at the front with me behind her, and I suddenly saw Katie Paradis from Bicycle Heaven come flying by me in a strong attack.  With no one on her wheel. “Courtney!! Go with that!!!” I yelped and she took off, and immediately Katie George was at my shoulder helping block the field.  Courtney and K.P. took turns 1-2 over the line, scooping up all the points.  I was waiting for the field to shut this down, and as expected, Lynn came around with Hannah Goc and our pace exploded.  I reminded myself to just hang on and stay attached, and found myself third in the line.  Lynn pulled off for Hannah to take over, Hannah took a strong pull at the front, and then it was my turn and I settled back in to a slower pace, not chasing down my teammate.  This happened again, and then it was evident Courtney and K.P. would not be caught, so with one lap to go, Katie and I started thinking about third.  Katie jumped and while the field tried to follow, they were all pretty exhausted from earlier chase attempts.  I took a higher line up the track and managed to come around everyone chasing Katie, and followed her across the line to take 4th.  Which was a pretty amazing revelation for me – there are some strong women in this group, but tactics really work, especially when you’ve got Courtney doing a beastly breakaway effort for a full 8 laps!!

Race 3 – 9 lap Points Race

*In a points race, every X number of laps (perhaps every 4 laps in a 12 lap race) would be a points lap.  The officials will ring a bell, and the next lap the winner gets 5 points, second gets 3, third gets 2, and fourth gets 1.  The rest of the field gets nothing.

This race is a lost cause for me as there is a lot more math involved, and last year I’d usually just stick to the pavlovian response of “hear bell, go fast”.  But having teammates to help with attacks, I knew this could play out well for us.  We were told there would be points on lap 4 and the final.  Katie the beast being Katie attacked at the start of lap 3, and took off.  She got a decent gap, but the field also wanted points and was having none of Courtney and my blocking efforts, so it became an all out group sprint.  I watched our gap to Katie closing rapidly, and was worried she wouldn’t be able to hold it, but she managed to just claim the 5 points as Lynn, Courtney and I came screaming across the line right behind her, grabbing 3,2, and 1 point respectively.  I looked back and saw the four of us were now on our own, so called out “hey, all points for us if we can stay away”, and tried to set a faster pace.  But we were tired, and the chase group determined, and we were all back together within the next lap.  I was really feeling the drain of earlier races, and tried to sit in, and with one to go, the group took off again.  I again sat in trying to save myself as I watched Katie again sprinting away at the front, then saw Lynn closing in on her too with Courtney right behind.  Mustered all the effort I could to take a higher line and come around the group at the top, and started yelling at Katie to take my wheel and I’d lead her out.  I went as hard as I could down the final stretch and Katie stayed glued to me but couldn’t come around, and we finished just in front of Courtney and Lynn.  My 5 points on that lap put me in 2nd for the race, and Katie’s 3 points put her in first, with Lynn in 3rd and Courtney in 4th.  Another stellar effort.  I was bummed that we didn’t get Katie across the line first, but my wonderful spectating teammates said that was absolutely the right thing to do – by me grabbing the 5 points and reducing the max amount of points Lynn could take to 3 (though Katie won those and Courtney and Lynn took the remainder), I thus helped Katie win.  Cool!

Using our tactics, Katie, Courtney and I managed a xXx sweep of the overall evening omnium podium!  More importantly, we had a ton of fun working together and seeing how tactics really can make a huge difference, whether it be at the track or on the road. 

I really encourage people to come to the Velodrome on Thursdays, as in addition to the ladies, the cat 5, 4, 3, and P/1/2 races are also filled with very talented teammates that really put on quite a show and are amazing to watch.  And it’s just a really fun time.  It’s going to be a great year for xXx at the track!

Turn the Bike Around

By Jim Barclay | May 25, 2014

Race name: MOSH Criterium 2014
Race date: Sunday, May 25, 2014

MOSH Criterium 2014

I’ve heard of some cyclocross courses derisively referred to as “grass crits”—lots of turns but little else of interest.  The Midwest Orthopedic Surgery Hospital (MOSH) Criterium could then be called a “grass crit in a parking lot.”  Give it a minute…I swear it makes sense…There, you got it?  Good.

.7 miles.  11 turns.  1 round-about complete with manhole cover right in the middle of the apex.  A back stretch—IN AN ACTUAL PARKING LOT!—of turns made out of barricades and tape.  A few swooping descents into hard, curbed 90-degree turns.  “Serpentine” doesn’t begin begin to describe it.  This is far and away the most technical crit I have encountered.

Thankfully the masters ⅘ field was small.  Actually, all the fields were, relatively.  I can’t imagine 75 racers trying to navigate this thing.  Something this technical was plumb for a good crash or two so I wanted to stay up front. 

Of course I would have trouble clipping in.  Of course I would…
 
3 turns later I finally got my left cleat clipped in and started working my way through the pack.  Thankfully there were two longer straightaway sections (one uphill in to the finish,) that allowed such things.  I parked myself near the front and focused on figuring out which turns I could pedal through and which I couldn’t.  When the first of three primes was called I attacked through the start finish and by turn two had a decent gap.  I didn’t even care what the prime was for—I didn’t have much warm up and needed to wake up my legs.  I also wanted to see what the field would do.  I wanted to use the course to my advantage, knowing I could take the technical sections faster on my own than they could even as a small chase group.  I gave a few looks back and saw some chasers but by the time I was through the most technical sections in the back side of the course I knew I could hold them off.  I stayed off front for another two laps and then settled back in.  The second prime was called and I passed a few guys in the uphill sprint but was a bike length behind the winner, Jason Balden of Team Wisconsin. He kept on the gas and I thought for a second about going with him before deciding to settle back in.  Wrong decision.  He ended up staying away the whole race.  He was a strong rider but benefitted greatly from disorganization in the main field.  Rudy Zarate (the other xXx’er in this race,) and I spent a good portion of the rest of the race on the front keeping him in sight but nobody else would chase—despite me yelling at them that the gap was growing.  With three to go I knew it was a lost cause and started to think about the bunch sprint. 

On the bell lap I again went to the front.  I figured the odds of a crash were going up exponentially at that point and I didn’t want to get caught in it.  This time I drilled it pretty hard but took a wide turn in the back section and let two guys come around me.  I was 3rd wheel—set up perfectly—for the uphill sprint but we were overtaking a lapped rider right in the final corner and the 2nd wheel understandably hesitated a second.  That allowed the first guy to open just a bit of a gap.  I sprinted for 3rd with a solid bike throw. 

10 minutes later I was lined up for the Master’s ¾ race.  I am getting close to my upgrade I was anxious to see how I would compete with in the harder field.  Pretty good, actually.  The race started out much hotter but then settled into a pace I was comfortable with.  We were 4 laps into the 45 min race, I was 6th wheel going into the back half when a guy slid out taking me and another rider with.  The rider in front of me basically broke my fall (and his collarbone…sorry dude.) I realized I was Ok I jumped up and headed to the start finish.  The hot tempo, the corners and the crash all helped to fracture the field pretty well at this point but I kept calm and waited for the refs to put me back in.

”You are with the next group.”  and with that, off I went, grateful that I was rightfully inserted with the lead group. 

Except I wasn’t. 

A few laps later I noticed a profound lack of urgency in my little group of seven.  The pace was hot but not, “we have to stay away” hot.  I was getting suspicious and asked another rider where we were in the race.  “Definitely outside of top 10,” was the answer.  With that I broke off and used the next couple laps as threshold work and cornering practice.  A few others eventually caught on and we had a nice little group of four going into the bell lap.  Again I positioned myself well for the sprint—2nd wheel coming out of the last corner and this time there were thankfully no lapped riders in it.  At 100m I kicked hard and came around the leader to take…something…the refs gave me 12th but I’m not even sure they knew.  Whatever, I’ll take it. 

All in all it was a great day.  Since sliding out in a corner at SLO I have taken about 1000 turns in an effort to improve my cornering.  Practice helps.  A year ago a crazy technical course like this would have had me peeing myself.  Today I saw it as an opportunity to create scenarios and then used those scenarios to my advantage.

Coming Home

By Tom Babinski | May 20, 2014

Race name: Lucarelli and Castaldi Cup P123
Race date: Sunday, May 18, 2014

Last weekend I went back home to NJ to see my family.  Not liking the idea of missing yet another weekend of riding, I decided to bring the bike along.  A quick google search revealed that I could race in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, at the Lucarelli and Castaldi Cup.  Immediately, I was taken back 20 years, to when I raced as a junior on an aluminum Trek with downtube shifters and 8 gears.  I remembered my brother coming home from a long night out to find me eating breakfast at 4:30am the morning of one of these races.  And my Cranford Bike Team teammate, Dave Jussell, who would pick me up and drive me out to them, equipped with PowerBars, bananas, and coffee.

So I packed my bike and brought it to the airport.  $300 later in oversize and overweight fees later, I was unpacking my bike in the house I grew up in.  In store for me was a hard training ride on Saturday (intervals in the park where it all started), and then the P123 on Sunday morning at 6am.

The race was the same as I remembered it: a race for racers.  There are no spectators and not much more than a registration table and a line of duct tape across the road.  The officials spoke their piece and the 100 of us set out to race 45 miles.  The circuit around Prospect park is just shy of 4 miles and has one big ring climb of about 75 feet.  My goal was to finish and get in some good training; there weren’t going to be any podiums here with me being a lowly 3 and quite a few 1’s on 2’s on the start list.

I stayed in the front 3rd of the race and there were some attacks in the first 3 laps that didn’t stick.  Then, in a moment of chaos, there was a break.  5 guys up the road with a 5 second gap.  3 guys bridged, making it 8.  2 more bridged.  10 up the road.  This was serious.  I noticed the desparation in these guys as they bridged.  2 more went.  3 more.  I had to go, but I hesitated.  I didn’t know anyone in this field, and I was worried about wasting too much energy this early in a race where I was outmatched.  I should have trusted my instincts.  That was the winning break and I should have went with it.  P123 race or not, I could have latched myself to the back of that break and ignored the insults I would surely receive for doing no work.  16th place would be in the bag.  But I didn’t.

Eventually the field organized and chased for a lap.  The break got further away, and we gave up.  Well, now my goal was to work on one of my biggest weaknesses:  maintaining a good position without working too hard to do so, and having a good position going into the field sprint.  To my surprise, I did a good job at that.  I discovered that I race pretty well when there’s nothing on the line.

I started thinking about my position for the field sprint about 5 miles before the finish; much earlier than I normally do.  I surfed wheels pretty well and found myself around 14th position going into the last mile.  There was a key point about 750m before the line, just before a constriction and twist in the road.  I needed to be in a good position here, or make a surprise attack if the field was sleeping.  Instead, there was an acceleration quite a bit earlier.  I had a lot of energy, I felt good, and unfortunately I followed it.  Now I found myself 3rd wheel behind two guys who had just emptied their gas tanks, and there was still about 1k to go: not good.  Before the constriction, as anticipated, a big acceleration and a swarm to my left.  I fought to catch the swarm but I followed the wrong wheel and there was a separation.  8 guys in a line with a 15 foot gap.  I jumped on a chaser’s wheel.  15ft became 10ft became 5ft.  Almost there.  My chaser died, and I would close the final few feet.  But now we are in a full-on sprint, and I couldn’t.  The 8 guys took 16th through 23rd, a few came around me and I finished 27th.

It was nice to be home.

Going Uphills!

By Alice Sheu | May 19, 2014

Race name: PSIMET's Fox River Grove Criterium
Race date: Sunday, May 18, 2014

Absolutely love the course of the Fox River Grove Criterium.

<Spoiler alert: this report was written by a beginner, and is necessarily long.>

I registered for three races in the same day, per Sue’s encouragement. The first one was Masters 30+. I was happy that there were only 9 people in the race. Come the hill I switched to my lightest gear possible, and practiced getting out of the saddle, a new trick I learned last month from the sprint training. I stood up all the way through the climb every lap, but while it wasn’t too hard to pedal down I also wasn’t able to go too fast. I wobbled a bit throughout the climb, keeping my hands on the drop as in sprint practice. My chains jumped a bit between the gears. I was the last to get out of the first climb but I was able to chase down one or two women ahead of me in the later laps and only got lapped once by the end. I was feeling more mentally tired than physically tired. Finished #8, which, is the second-to-last place but hey, I was biking with cat 3/2/pro riders! Being able to bike with uber-fast ladies was sensational.

While waiting around for the Cat 4 race a friend told me that my gears were too light going uphills. He said that I didn’t look like I was suffering, and the fact that my bike was wobbling means that I had extra power that I was not utilizing. Really? I had always thought the wobbling was because my bad bike handling skills. I had more power? I had always thought the 3.2 power-to-weight ratio on computrainer was just a joke. What if I go into a gear that is too heavy and fall off my bike halfway through the climb? The “Big-ChainRing Theory” popular among the gentlemen most likely doesn’t apply, as normalization to my weight (~100 lbs) should be required. But since I have a triple, perhaps I could try move up a few notches in my rear gear and see how it works.

Had my chains worked on and tried biking on the flats down the road for 20 min before the second race to spin out my legs. And then the race started! The moment I started uphill I I felt the significant increase in the leg-response-time, and with it my heart sank. Nevertheless I was on the incline so I had no choice but to keep pedaling. I saw Gia and the other girls speeding away—“Damn it had I only had my legs in the first race!” But anyways I started focusing on my experiment with my gears. I cautiously went up 3 notches in my rear—and miraculously my bike became very smooth and stable. It felt good and I was able to go in a straight line, although every pedal stroke was hard, as I could clearly feel the lactose built up in my muscles. I had to sit down when approaching the no-climb point. I got up the hill behind two riders and wasn’t happy that I needed to brake when I followed them downhills.

My “moment” of the race then came, at the 2nd lap, when I “heroically” overtook the rider in front of me close to the top of the hill (at ~ 5pmh, suffering) and was able to descend without riders in front of me thereafter. The hill became increasingly harder afterwards, and I really had to push my cardio very hard, and just keep believing that I could keep pedaling until that yellow sign shows up. Once I left my big chain-ring up front and needless to say was having trouble pedaling down. But then I heard Sue cheering loudly and I thought “Come on! I couldn’t have deteriorated so quickly. This hill is not that steep. There has to be a mistake! I only fell off my bike going uphills once in the past and that was it, it will not happen again!” So I randomly played around with my left hand then, for a moment, enjoyed the newly found power released by a lower gear.

I was getting quite exhausted but wasn’t going to let go my first legitimate bid of not getting pulled from the race. I had a chance at the Monsters to finish with the pack, but crashed and didn’t know how to get my free lap and finished #30. I was determined, and when I made it up the last uphill I knew that I did it, because I know they wouldn’t pull a rider off the course now that she is already descending. I was able to put up a celebratory sprint towards the end.

I placed #9 in the Cat 4 race, just behind Gia—which was my goal! Although I probably would have been able to stay close to the leading riders if it were not for the first race, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to go faster Gia anyways. So yes, mission accomplished!   

Pulled myself out of the third race - although I love to have more hill practice but I wasn’t confident how much I would further deteriorate after another 2+ hrs. I was exhausted, but so thrilled about all the adrenaline built up towards that yellow sign halfway up the hill. Going downhill was sensational—my slow acceleration was compensated by gravity and spinning my legs out downhills through those sweeping wide turns was just mesmerizing.

I love the kind of the race that made me exhausted at the end, be it cardio, endurance, or mental strength. This race does it all. Love it.

Darien Dash 10k

By Michelle Edwards | May 19, 2014

Race name: Darien Dash 10k
Race date: Sunday, May 18, 2014

I am entering a run (SACRILEGE!) into race reports because I represented xXx in our awesome new triathlon kit. Tough run for me as my ankle was bothering me. I had a great team ride on Saturday but fear that effort in concert with my recent virus of the spring left me without much gas in the tank. Overall pace of 9:52 with Randy’s prescribed pace of 8:56 untouched. 4/6 in 50-59 Women’s. 1st place was 7:37. 8:56 would have netted 3rd place. Bummer.

Choosing the road less traveled

By Randy Warren | May 19, 2014

Race name: Kankakee 20K ITT
Race date: Sunday, May 18, 2014

Last year I decided to do the open ITT at Elite Nationals Road Championships since it was in Madison (close by) and several Warren Cycling and xXx Racing-Athletico athletes would be there. I used to be a pretty good time trialist, especially when I lived in California, but haven’t done a lot of TT’ing lately. Still, I thought, even without much specific preparation, that I’d be respectable, even finishing around 1/2 way back at this race at Elite Nationals.

My good friend Peter Strittmatter loaned me his P4 and I tinkered around with the position a bit and trained on it twice (both rides in the week before the race at nationals) and headed off for my effort, fully expecting to have a decent ride.

I didn’t feel good that day and I placed horribly, far from respectably (3rd from LAST and minutes out of the 50th percentile).

Knowing that Elite Nationals was returning to Madison in 2014 I began to think about coming back for a redemptive effort this summer. Until recently, I had not committed to this goal. Decision time is upon me as the event is now just 7 weeks away.

I still have Peter’s bike and I picked out 3 ITT’s in addition to our Galena ITT and committed to try for some sort of respectable finish for 2014. I no longer think that I can place in the 50th percentile (times were amazingly fast last year), but after placing 71st out of 100 at Joe Martin in the HCTT, I do think that I can beat 20 or so guys and do a ride that I consider respectable.

So, instead of doing Fox River Grove on Sunday (which I’ve won and placed 2nd in before AND a lot of teammates would be there) I decided to go to Kankakee to start my quest for respectability as a TTalist once again. Fortunately, Bill Barnes, Rick LaCour and Jared Rogers also wanted to do a 20K ITT, so it was nice to have some teammates at the event.

We arrived a bit late and I had a whole 6 minutes of warm up before starting in the absolute last spot available AND my Vector pedals were not reading correct wattage (much lower, which can be a bit discouraging in a TT) but I did a satisfactory TT for the day. I was 2nd overall but also 2nd in the 50-54 age group. Reed Oliff beat me by about half a minute but he is a good TT’er and I KNOW that I will be much faster as I move towards my July 4th goal. The 50+ age group is tough around here for TT’ing with Reed and Mark Swartzendruber both to compete with, but I’m OK with that. Tough competition makes you tough.

Now, I’m looking forward to the Harvard 33.3K ITT on June 1st. That will probably mean that I’ll just do the 45+ race at Glencoe (on the shorter course this year) the day before, but those are the sacrifices that you make when you set a goal, even when that goal may be a bit crazy. I mean, really, who focuses half their summer on getting 60 something place at a race?

Setting goals is crucially important to being successful. As I always say, winning is doing your absolute best under the given set of circumstances. Sometimes that is crossing the line first. In this case, however, I will have WON if I do my respectable ride at Elite Nationals on July 4th.

Thanks,
Randy

That usual story; Different version

By Jin Choi | May 12, 2014

Race name: Monsters of the Midway Cat 5
Race date: Saturday, May 10, 2014

Going into what was my 6th race, my race preparation was less than “ideal”. I was feeling terrible throughout the day prior to the race, which quickly taught me an obvious lesson that no matter what time the race is the next day, GO TO BED. After drinking plenty of fluid and gathering myself, I rode down to the race.

With previous races I had learned a few things about my ability and developed this simple strategy accordingly. (All of which I heard many times over from our seasoned teammates but finally starting to become “my” knowledge)
1. I don’t have the power or the endurance (yet) to make any significant moves and hold it for a prolonged period of time
- Stay toward the front, HIDE and CONSERVE but do not fall back

2. It takes me longer than most to recover after considerable efforts so constant surges will have devastating effects on me
- Stay towards the front so I don’t have to go through constant surges that come with the accordion effect
- Pedal through the corners whenever possible, close that gap right away
(Bob Willems said, “few hard kicks will save loads of energy later)

3. I get to the limit of myself quickly but hold it there for a bit longer than most can. Ever so slightly but longer.

My goal for this race was to finish with the pack.

I made sure I had my wheels on the line and immediately from the start, there were three of us xXx’ers in the front. Ryan pulled, Dave pulled, then it was my turn. I really wanted to have the beer company team guy who was yapping in the back pull but I had no choice.
Then I decided I’m not going to do any favors for anyone and slowed down significantly,  looking from side to side to make sure I know when there is a group swarming from the flanks. Here I learned that the group will rather slow down than come to the front and become a shield, a lesson that I thought I may be able to use some other time.
As anticipated, there was that impatient guy who surged ahead with another handful of guys that decided to follow. I found a small space in between and started to settle in there.

Throughout the race, there were surges in pace here and there with a few guys making attacks that went futile.
There were few occasions I ended up out in the front again and pushed out to the flanks but for the most part, I made sure that I was hiding whenever I can, putting in small efforts to close down gaps immediately after corners, ensuring that I was on a wheel of someone as we bridged up to gaps. Until the last 4 laps.

With around 4 laps to go, which I wasn’t even aware by the way, I heard a bell and the pace started to pick up and the pack started shifting around. I was fairly confident that it was the prime lap but I wanted to make sure that if it was the bell lap, then I was going to be in a decent position.
Going into turn 3, I was sitting on a wheel of another rider who started to fade as we approached the line. I decided to come to the front and there it was; my first prime.

As I crossed that line, winning a prime lap which I did not want to or had planned to, I saw the lap counter showed 2.
Once again, as happened in Gapers, I realized I put in too much for a lap that wasn’t the bell lap; a luxury I can’t afford.
I was spent a bit, out in front and needed to fall back and recover. Like I did a few times during the race to fall behind a wheel, I slowed down but this time surges were coming from left and I was completely spent.
Without having made any recovery, I started falling back quickly in the echelon, deep in the pain cave, panting for breath. My abs were in horrible pain as I gasped for air. I wished the race was over, or I really wanted to quit. I went against everything I had planned for.
By the time I was able to regained my thoughts, I was far back towards the end of the pack, long line of riders ahead. I saw Tom and Kevin make surges and reminded myself that they are on their 2nd of back to back races and I better not get dropped here.

With my goal of finishing in the pack literally far out ahead of me, I figured fighting the pain would be futile and decided to sit in where I was and recover for a lap; without slowing down for turns. I remembered reading somewhere it may be worth it to go wide and keep the speed up than trying to nail the apex every time.
After about 4 corners, I was starting to crawl up towards the front again and learned that moving up the pack can be done without jumping into the pain cave. That toward end of the race, there are plenty of “ladders” that connect to the front and I can jump from one to another to get back up.
Finally on the last turn in the last lap, I was able to slingshot myself into the front of the group and started pedaling as hard as I can to the finish. Again, not having the ability to recover fast, I didn’t have the energy left to get out of my saddle to sprint but I pedaled hard. Couple of people passed me in the last couple of hundred meters and I passed a couple of people. Then it was over. 7th place.
My first prime, first pack finish, first top 10.

Again, boasting the status of unofficial weakest guy on the team, I put in everything I had in the shallow tank of mine and it was painful after the finish. But I also gained confidence that I can play my cards right and be competitive. Also learned that everyone is pretty spent at the end and it’s whomever that has that little bit left and/or that can endure the pain for extra ten seconds.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I hate pain but I’ more curious to find out if my plans will stick next time and how the race may unfold.
They say that’s part of the fun. They said that’s why one keeps coming back.
I guess they were right because I am typing this in lycra and will be going out to train for the next race as soon as I click on the “Submit” button.

Dear Scarlett

By Tom Perotti | May 10, 2014

Race name: Monsters of the Midway
Race date: Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear Scarlett,

We only met a few days ago, and only got to spend some real quality time together for the first time this morning, a quick stroll around the block a few times, but after our performance at Monsters of the Midway, I already feel we have a winning relationship on our hands. We just seem so in-sync. When we dance around the crit course, I feel as if we are not two, but one. I feel confident leaning left, as I know you’ll dive into the corner on just the line I picked for us, and you’ll remain steady throughout. It’s as if you anticipate my every move. And when I stand to mash the pedals, I feel you roar to life below me as my heart races.

In the cat 4/5 race, we worked together to maneuver around two crashes. Your snappy response was key. We managed to say near the front, and when I decided it was time to attack into the wind on the second-to-last lap heading into turn 3, you were quick to oblige as we provided a lead-out for Brian and Kevin, sling-shotting the former into position for a top-five finish. I feel bad that I didn’t have the energy to keep going, but we did our job, and you were there when I needed you.

In the cat 5 race, I didn’t really feel ready for a 2nd round so quickly; usually I need a good 30 minutes to recoup, but we didn’t have much of a choice. The pace was fairly steady for the first half of the race, and it gave us time to get back into our groove. Once again, we stayed near the front, and as we came into the start/finish to start the second-to-last lap, I had a mental lapse and thought I heard the bell for the last lap, though I missed the lap counter (turns out it was a cowbell in the crowd). You didn’t question me as I maneuvered us toward the front, nor again when I ramped up the pace coming out of turn 4 in first position, only to see the lap counter showing 1 lap left and hear the real bell ringing. Alas, I was once again out of gas, and we cruised to a back-of-the-back finish.

I promise I’ll make better decisions in the future, as long as you continue to respond with the same snap and nimbleness I have so quickly come to love. If we both hold up our end of the bargain, I have no doubt we will soon climb atop the podium.

Love,
Tom

Hillsboro-CAT4

By Kevin Whitford | Apr 30, 2014

Race name: Hillsboro Roubaix
Race date: Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

This was the first time for me to do this race, and second road race ever so was excited for it.  Me, Mike Baldus and Ben LaForce drove down that morning and for once made it with more than ten minutes before registration closed/race started so that helped not feeling rushed.  Race started off smooth, I was next to Mike for the beginning with Aaron and Brian close to the front along with some other of our teammates. There were some familiar faces in the race, Tuxedo Thunder guys, Half Acre and a few others who I had raced with before so confident in the group.  Everyone seemed to hold their lines well, never experiencing any close calls for the most part. Someone’s wheel exploded at one point going up a hill, not sure what happened but when we rode by him his spokes were everywhere.  By about mile 15 I was toward the back too much so starting to feel the affects of the yo-yoing when people ahead would slow for the corners so made moves to get back closer ahead.  Was with the group all the way until about mile 35, where the pack starting picking up chasing the solo rider out in front.  we dropped quite a few riders, Aaron, Brian and Mike doing work in the front.  I again made the mistake of drifting back too far to the end and by mile 45 couldn’t hang on any more so dropped.  Overall was happy with the race, the team did great.  Aaron getting 4th, Mike and Brian doing work in the front and I learned a lot in regards to positioning and my fitness.  If you aren’t going passing people you’re getting passed which was definitely true in this case.  Looking forward to next year.

The path to the finish: pavé with good intentions

By Kevin Corcoran | Apr 29, 2014

Race name: Hillsboro-Roubaix Cat5
Race date: Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

I like to think that xXx has a group of strong riders in the Cat 5’s, which has made it all the more frustrating that none of us has seen the podium so far this year.  With mandatory upgrades to the 4’s looming on the horizon for many, the 29-mile road race of Hillsboro-Roubaix presented a good opportunity for one of us to take a top three before moving on to race in a more seasoned field. 

Coming into the race, there were three factors that inspired confidence that this would be our race: 1) with 5 of us making the trip, we fielded the biggest team in the race; 2) we had the collective wisdom of many teammates who’d raced Hillsboro before, and WE ACTUALLY TALKED TO THEM ABOUT IT; 3) personally, I was feeling well-rested and ready to go to work. 

With respect to point #2, I need to thank Adam Herndon, who answered a bunch of questions on the forum.  I also want to give a shout-out to Tracy Dangott and Erik Didriksen, who over Reubens at the No-Lycra Lunch the day before the race dished out some sage advice as well.  Their collective wisdom:

1) The first race of the day is for staging.  Be up front.
2) Stay near the front.  The roads are narrow and the field is big, leaving little room for forward movement. 
3) Don’t go for it on the final hill.  You’re more likely to blow up than to drop anyone.
4) The brick section, though relatively short, is rough and will beat the crap out of your legs.

Armed with this knowledge, Tom Perotti, Jin Choi, Felix Rosen, and I got to staging early and lined up with our front wheels on the line.  Jin, Tom, and I pulled the field for the first 8 miles of the race.  This may seem like a lot of work, but it served a purpose: set a manageable tempo at the start, avoid any mid-pack mayhem (I heard later there was a crash on the first corner…), and be one of the first through the hairpin left at mile 8.  Not surprisingly, the other 60+ riders were content to let me sit up front and set a pace that knew I could keep up all day, and the peloton quickly settled into the race.  Coming out of the turn at mile 8, I was able to slide back to 4th-5th wheel, settle in, and take a welcome break.

Tom and Jin had pre-driven the course that morning and had decided on a good spot to make a move.  Just past 14 miles, Tom pulled back up to the front with me and we conspired to ramp up the pace around the next corner.  We made a right turn into the wind and cranked it up, stringing out the pack and dropping even more riders.  Riders from other teams began to take up the mantle as well to keep the pressure on.  Out of nowhere, Jin made a furious move around the left, catching everyone by surprise,  quickly opening a sizable gap and inciting panic in the field.  Tom and I tried to put the brakes on the peloton, but the others weren’t having it.  The one rider that had managed to go with Jin flamed out, and the now surging peloton caught them up. 

After the rush to chase down Jin’s break, I found myself sitting around 15th with 8 miles to go.  We turned onto the one wide, well-paved road in Montgomery County, and it was off to the races.  A small gap opened in front of me, and when I turned around to see who was there to help me bridge back up, there was only one rider behind me.  We had shed 75% of the field.  The bad news was that I’d be bridging the gap on my own.  I lit another match, threw up in my mouth a little bit (not kidding), and made it back to the pack before the climb into town.  A crosswind had us strung out in an echelon across nearly the entire road (yellow line rule be damned), making any more forward movement impossible.  We hit the hill hard, but I maintained my pace, insistent on leaving something in my legs for the finish.  Back down the hill, onto the bricks, and my legs were starting to feel the effects of having spent so much time in front.  I managed to pass a few more riders on the way home, could not match the sprint of the rider who’d been sitting on my wheel, and crossed the line…unhappy that I missed the podium, but still satisfied at having made a plan, kept to it, and finished in the top 20. 

It was only later when Tom, Jin, and I were recapping the race that Felix let me know I’d taken 10th.  Given the size of the field and the work it took to get there, that was by far my best finish yet.  And with the way we worked together as a team, both in preparation for and during the race, I’m confident one of us will be standing on that podium in the next few weeks.

Breakin’ Too?  Electric Sprintaloo.

By Jim Barclay | Apr 26, 2014

Race name: 2014 Whitnall Park Spring Classic
Race date: Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

First things first:  xXx must attend this race in the future.  In great numbers.  It’s 90 minutes away, a great course and an excellent opportunity to come in with a large team and do some damage.  There were some glitches in the organization (more on that,) but I highly recommend you put it on your calendar next year.  There are lots of categories and easy to races multiple times in a day.  I reg’d for three back to back—4’s, masters ⅘ and masters ¾.  It promised to be a long day!

Now then, on to the races.  This course has a lot happening for it tactically.  It’s a 1.1 mile loop around a state park and features a hill that encompasses most of the 2nd half of the course.  It’s actually three hills strung together with a false flat between #1 & 2 and a slight downhill before 3 which climbs the final 350m to the finish line.  [yeah, I know I’m mixing standard and metric measurements but that’s American bike racing, isn’t it?] 

The 4’s race was a lot of fun.  It was a hot pace with a few breakaway attempts.  Nothing really stuck.  Early on I picked up that a Belgian Wercks rider, Steven Trebatoski, was strong and knew what he was doing tactically.  At one point we chatted and considered a move together.  We both had concerns about the wind stifling anything through the start/finish but he agreed to go with me if I felt the urge.  Going into the bell lap I attacked up hill #3—through the start/finish.  Alas he and most of the peloton went with me and and as I neared mid-course I was swallowed back up.  I knew there was no slowing the pace at this point so I did my best to not fall past mid-pack and “will” myself to recover for the inevitable sprint finish.  I mentioned “glitches in organization.”  Well as the pack rounded the final downhill turn into the finishing climb we were greeted with at least 6-7 riders across the width of course warming up for the next race.  I’m pretty sure there were a few lapped riders thrown in also for good measure. With a pack of amateur cyclists going hell-for-leather trying to win Clif product/upgrade points, it could have been a disaster.  I started into my sprint early weaving in and out of riders and managed to take 8th.  Trebatoski took first and thanked me for “thinning out the pack.”  In hindsight my attempt at a solo flyer was my undoing but at least I stayed upright and was ready to race again…10 minutes later.

The masters ⅘ race started out decidedly slower and I instantly could sense a lack of bike handling skills amongst my fellow racers.  Hey boy and girls, the handlebars curve downwards for a reason.  Get in the drops!  After two laps I considered either dropping out for my own safety or attacking to try to string out the pack.  I chose the latter, except I didn’t go all in.  There was a lot of racing left and I knew I wouldn’t stay away which was fine.  It did string things out but the paced slowed back down again after I was caught.  It pretty much stayed that way the rest of the race.  It became a pretty textbook master ⅘ race—guys would be riding strong then vanish, then reappear.  Some guys rode like idiots.  Some guys yelled at other guys.  Mostly it was guys riding like idiots yelling at other riders for riding like idiots…sigh.  Nothing much happened tactically until the bell lap.  The pace picked up and after the first hill a rider whom I hadn’t seen all race launched a blistering attack on the right side.  I mean, it was strong—the guy took off like a shot and two Team Extreme riders just barely jumped on his wheel.  I was boxed in and had no hope of getting to them which was unfortunate.  The original attacker was fading but the Team Extreme guys were working together and that was a real problem. They had enough of a gap that it would be hard for the group to catch them with less than ½ the course to go. The pace was picking up but I decided to concede 1st & 2nd place to Team Extreme: my chances were better sprinting with the pack for 3rd than trying to bridge up.  I also decided I was going to win the damn field sprint.

I sat second wheel as we went through the final corner and into the uphill sprint.  Attacks came from both left and right as I saw riders jump right out of the corner.  I wisely just got on their wheel.  Predictably they started to flame out and once we hit 200m I launched.  For the first time in my cycling life it felt easy.  I picked off the remaining 4 sprinters and told myself not to let up until the line.  I sensed there was no one close but I threw my bike anyway just to be safe.  My first podium spot and a box of Clif bars were mine! 

As I rode my cool down lap I did a quick check-in with my body.  My legs felt tired but good enough to race again.  After a quick podium photo I changed into a different jersey with the masters ¾ number.  I was zipping up as they said “riders ready.”  Sure I am. 

Or not.  As soon as we hit the hill in lap one I cramped up in my right leg.  I soft pedaled a minute but by then the pack was 150 up the road.  I knew I couldn’t close that gap nursing a twitching quad.  I considered whether I wanted to ride solo for another 40+ minutes and decided I had had enough.  I pulled out at the start/finish and chose to call it a day.

And I will call it a good day.  I rode thoughtfully and tactically but, when all that failed—as it so often does—I had the sense to improvise and the strength to gut it out.  The year is still early but I feel like I am already seeing a lot of hard work come to fruition.

First Field Finish

By Tom Perotti | Apr 6, 2014

Race name: Spring Super Crit
Race date: Saturday, Apr 5, 2014

I spent the week of Super Crit learning how to race in a pack, which I quickly discovered is much different from riding in a pack. Gapers Block Days 1-3 were my first crits, and were quite a learning experience. Here’s a brief summary of those three days before getting into Super Crit. 

Day 1: I realized in the first turn that I was clueless as to how to take a corner at 24mph with 30 of my closest friends all looking for the same line. I quickly fell to the back of the pack and survived the rubber band for two laps before it finally snapped and I was pit out the back. I eventually got lapped and got spit out again, but I finished.

Day 2: After learning in Day 1 that I didn’t need to break into the turns, I was a little more confident about my cornering ability - I lasted three laps with the pack this time and then soloed to a new 20-min power record and finished without getting lapped - small victories.

Day 3: Confidence growing, I made it five laps with the pack, even spending some time at the front. Once I got dropped this time, though, the first two days of soloing caught up to me and my legs refused to do it again, DNF.

Onto Super Crit: My confidence grew throughout the week, but I was still nervous about riding in my first real crit of the season, with a larger field and arguably more at stake. Lucky for me, the Blackhawk Farms Raceway has very forgiving turns and this race would be a great opportunity for me to simply work on my handling in a race pack.

From the whistle, I made an effort to get toward the front (but not on it). I have heard that most problems, especially in a Cat 5 race, occur toward the middle/back of the pack so it’s a good idea to stay up front. This lesson was, unfortunately, reinforced early in the race; before we even finished the first lap I had a crash right behind me and later learned some poor bike handling by an unknown rider had taken out four of my teammates (Kevin, Will, Jim, Felix). There was a lot of poor bike handling going on with several riders appearing to not have ever even done a group training ride. One guy bumped forearms with me and immediately started shaking his handlebars back and forth, which sounds very similar to what happened when Kevin was taken out in the first lap. Additionally, there were several riders that could not hold their line in a straight-away, let alone a turn.

After the lap 1 crash, the race was rather uneventful. There were a few attacks here and there, and if they were on my side of the group, I would try to grab a wheel, and if they were on the other side (and didn’t include xXx), I would yell it out to the front group to make sure the attack didn’t go unnoticed.

As we came in for the bell, I sense an attack coming up my left side and I timed the acceleration perfectly to hop on his wheel. He pulled me straight to the front and I was sitting 2nd wheel headed into turn 1. Soon after my chauffeur puttered out and I glanced left to see another train coming up on the left. I tried to slot in and get out of the wind, but wasn’t able (or wasn’t aggressive enough) to do so. I was quickly back to mid-pack but finally found a wheel. I rode that around to the back half of the track and into the last turn. i took the turn wide and resisted the temptation to launch a sprint as many others were doing since it was a LONG finishing stretch. Instead I found a wheel and got myself a lead-out, then sling-shot around for a final effort (not a sprint so much, I wasn’t in contention). I managed to move up about ten spots in that final stretch to finish 17th.

It was the first time I managed to survive the whole race with the pack and finished top-20 in a starting field of 55. Feeling pretty good about it and confidence is still on an upward trajectory, but the technical corners at Lincoln Park next week or going to be a whole other ball game.

First Race

By Tom Perotti | Dec 24, 2013

Race name: Afterglow
Race date: Saturday, Dec 21, 2013

I started doing the xXx team rides this summer to mix up my triathlon training and really enjoyed the dynamic, so I decided to join the team with the plan to try bike racing in 2014. After getting some encouragement from Rob Whittier at the team banquet to try cross, however, I thought “why wait for 2014?” and signed up for the Afterglow. So thanks to Brian Piotrowski and Ryan Fay I had a cross bike to ride and a jersey to wear. My cross “training” consisted of one 30-minute session on a Tuesday night after work riding through the snow and around trees over by soldier field.

Race day: got there early to get in a few practice laps and after only one did I start to think I was in over my head. The soft terrain and ever-changing course topography took way more out of my legs and lungs than I anticipated. But I had fun. Did three practice laps in total and it was a different course each time as it continued to deteriorate throughout the day.

By the time the 4/5 race rolled around it was a sloppy mess but I was excited to see how I’d do. I had two goals, make through the whole race and don’t finish last. I lined up near the back as I didn’t want to be the noob that screws up other people’s races. After a very long and cold wait they finally started us. I had a slow start but made it through the first few sections without incident despite the large pack, I even made a few passes. The race quickly spread out and I spent the first lap riding with a group led by a junior girl named Ella who supposedly was going to get a $1 for every adult male she beat. I finally passed her at the end of the first laps, along with a couple other guys in the group ahead of me. I felt I handled all of the course great except for the barriers - my attempt to remount and clip back in was painfully slow all three laps due to their and snow; I’d always get passed by people I had picked off and would have then have to try to pass them again.

I made it through almost the whole race without incident and had made several passss that stuck. Coming back down to the start/finish area, I got passed by a dude with blue hair. I followed his wheel down the hill and into the sand trap, where he suddenly got stuck. I slammed into his back wheel and went ass over tea kettle into the ground. Luckily it was a soft landing, but I may have dropped an F-bomb nonetheless. Everyone was ok so I quickly hopped back on the bike and got going. Blue hair made the mistake of running his bike over the ensuing mud pit and I was able to pass him back just in time for the finish.

I ended up 36th out of 53 finishers. Not bad for my first go at it. I had a blast and can’t wait to do some more cx next fall (and some road in the spring). Now I just need to convince my gf I need a 4th bike..might have to buy her some hardware first.

A Bridge Too Far - The Lowell 50

By Rob Whittier | Oct 27, 2013

Race name: Lowell 50 - 57 Miler
Race date: Saturday, Oct 26, 2013

In my short time racing bicycles, I’ve already developed a love/hate relationship with gravel racing. One of my best results was in the Cone-Azalia gravel race this spring but I knew going in that the Lowell 50 gravel race had the potential be as hard as any race out there – physically and emotionally – and I was right. Eight xXx’ers made the commitment to this little sufferfest in Southeastern Michigan and I think we all had unique but great experiences so here is a little bit about mine.

The prologue: One unique challenge of gravel racing is gear selection – road bike or cross bike (or mountain bike!), which tires, knobbies, grasstreads or road tires (but that would just be foolish), what cages will hold bottles best, skinsuit for warmth or jersey for pockets for the possibly critical tubes and CO2. I had good beta on this course from Bill Barnes and Jim who had done it the year before on CX bikes but it sounded like having road gearing was a possible advantage and that there was a lot more hardpack dirt than “gravel” so burly 25mm road tires run at 90 PSI might work. I thought a lot about this and decided that since my CX tires were full on mud tread (Clement PDX) that as long as it was dry, the road rig with the Conti 4-Seasons was the ticket. It was NOT dry, it rained all night and was raining in the morning when we woke up…

Another bit of intel that was shared with me was the importance of getting up in the lead group from the start as a few hundred riders of very different abilities would start en masse and make their way pretty quickly to one of the more technical hills with a lot of loose gravel, sand and mud. Well I didn’t do that very well either…

Lining up mid-pack as I’m prone to do in road races where I’ll usually have time to sort things out I quickly realized just after the start that a complete messy cluster was developing in this huge pack of riders on slick mud and gravel and I started working my way toward the front but as we hit the aforementioned hill I realized I was already in trouble. Riders started losing traction and going down, some weaving their way up this short steep slowing everyone down and I saw up ahead that a lead group was getting away. I grunted and SAT DOWN to maintain traction on my skinny tires and by the time we crested the rise I had moved up 20 or more spots but the damage had been done, things were stringing out already with a few small packs at least 200 meters ahead and I had work to do.

We hit a flat and I dropped the hammer, putting in what I have to believe was one of my hardest 5 minute efforts in a race to date (Powertap didn’t sync), I passed some teammates and urged them to grab my wheel but I may have been moving a little fast for that with late notice and soon I bridged up to a small group pulling 3 or 4 guys with me. Within a minute I realized that this group wasn’t organized or going fast enough to catch the lead group so I grunted again and pulled out and put in another one of my hardest efforts. I guess I passed a couple more teammates who later shared that wished that they had made the move with me but my head was down and I didn’t notice much except my breathing and the pain. It felt like a TT for another 4 minutes or so and when I bridged up to the next group, a couple guys that I had dragged thanked me for the effort but I was utterly cooked and couldn’t say you’re welcome. I sat with this group for a few minutes but I could still see a lead pack of 5-6 riders a few hundred meters ahead and gaining distance on us and I knew that I had to act. I waited another minute to recover then worked my way up to the front and dropped a cog and made one more desperate attempt to bridge to the lead group. This time one rider came with me and the two of us made a hard push for the next 8-10 kilometers, swapping pulls and giving it everything we had to bridge to the lead group but I felt heavy legs coming on and we weren’t gaining ground so I made a decision that I’m convinced kept me in the top 10. I looked back and saw 8-10 riders from the last group I had been in two minutes or so back so I sat up and let him pull away, I took in food and water and I lived to fight another day…

The next 50k or so I worked with a good, strong group of riders, all of whom were from Michigan teams (Einstein, Bissel, Haggerty) and had done the race before. We caught the guy that I had tried my last bridge with and he joined us for a bit but was too gassed. I imagine I would have been too. But I regained my legs and with about 20k left a couple guys started to push the pace and I felt good enough to help them. One-by-one we started cracking riders and when we hit the hills again we dropped another few guys and my wolfpack was down to three. I was mentally and physically beat but I knew now if I could hang with these two hardmen I’d be close to a top ten. The next 10k were among the toughest I’ve done; a mix of sticky mud and hills and cold weather and fatigue and these very strong dudes had me deep in the pain cave but I took my pulls and we never saw those guys behind us and when we rounded the final corner onto the asphalt I took one last hard pull and then stood up to sprint beating one guy and just missing the other by a few bike lengths for 8th overall and 5th in the 30+. USAC tells me that both those guys I jumped and stuck with race Cat 1/2 so I’m sure not ashamed about that and all of the guys ahead of me in 30+ were all Cat 1/2 as well so there’s that.

Lessons learned – 1) Take the advice of those that raced before you 2) When you decide on a setup, commit to it and don’t second guess yourself when the race starts; adapt on the course if you must 3) Go with your instincts and make the hard move, if you hesitate you might not get a second chance 4) Know your limits and when it’s time to change strategy commit to that too 5) Go like hell and believe you can hang with anyone; who knows, maybe you can…

First Race / First Break

By Michael Smith | Sep 21, 2013

Race name: Fall Fling Criterium #1
Race date: Saturday, Sep 21, 2013

So today I competed in my first race after joining the team (I have done one other race… but didn’t finish it due to a crash) with Kevin.  I was very excited about the course for the first crit of the ABD Fall Fling series.  It is basically an oval.  There is only one turn that could possibly be called a corner and it was super super wide.  So coming into the race, I was confident I would at least finish and not get taken out in the last corner on the last lap again (sigh). 

The only notable course feature was that there was a pretty wicked cross/head wind on the second half of the course.  We knew this was going to make the race a lot slower than it would have been otherwise.

There were 31 riders in the Cat 5 race.  I saw a few familiar faces from the Wednesday night CCC rides but that was all.  Anyway, now for the race..

The start was very, very tame to say the least.  There were a couple of have hearted attacks in the first couple laps, but each was quickly reeled back in when we hit the wind on the backstretch of the course.  I got squeezed out to the outside for the first couple laps so I couldn’t really draft off anyone, but the pace was so slow I didn’t really mind.  On I believe the 3rd lap the pace picked up a fair amount when we hit the tailwind and I realized it too late and fell to nearly last place.  I started to accelerate to maintain contact at the same time that everyone else was hitting the wind on the backstretch and slowing down accordingly. 

I decided to just go for it.  I stayed on the left, maintained my pace, passed the entire group, and went alone off the front.  I was a little concerned coming around the last turn as thats where the worst of the headwind was and my heart rate immediately spiked.  For the first time during a race I switched my bike computer to show my power numbers so I could start pacing myself. 

I assumed that I would immediately be chased down as it seems Cat 5 racers always chase, but I think a combination of the headwind and Kevin blocking kept the group at bay.  I got a decent gap pretty quickly and decided to just dig in and go for it.  I rode 3 or so laps solo before another rider bridged up.  Soon after, another rider bridged and the 3 of us rode most of the remainder of the race alone. 

This is where I made a really significant strategic error.  I kept getting suckered into taking my pulls on the last turn, where the worst of the headwind was.  My break started about 6.5 minutes into the 30 minute race, so each of these pulls really added a lot of work for me.  The guy that would eventually win the race took almost all of his pulls where we had the tailwind.  I should have either made him work more in the wind or attacked again to make him work to close the gap.  Live and learn.

By the point we got to the last lap I was pretty gassed.  I tried to sprint at the end but couldn’t really do anything.  Someone managed to bridge at the very end of the race and apparently beat me at the line, so I ended up fourth rather than 3rd like I thought.

All in all, I’m happy with how the race went.  Who knows really what the race would have looked like had I not started the break as I did.  I don’t think that ~25ish minute threshold power is really where my edge is right now, but I’m glad I gave something different/hard a shot.  It is definitely motivation to do threshold work in the offseason.  I’m also excited to have Kevin and other teammates racing Cat 5 next year so we can work together to get some good results.  I think we will be very strong. smile

My garmin file is visible via the team garmin connect page, if anyone is curious about details.

Lead out trains in a 4/5 field? That’s crazy talk!

By Jim Barclay | Aug 12, 2013

Race name: Vernon Hills Grand Prix
Race date: Sunday, Aug 11, 2013

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take these out of order—starting with the 3/4’s race that happened later in the day and ending with the 4/5’s from the morning.  Partially because I’d like to get the “bad” out of the way first and partially because, well, it just makes for a better story arc.  It’s called artistic license, see.

So the Vernon Hills Crit is actually my one year anniversary of racing.  That’s right: the 2012 edition was my first ever race so I was excited to see how this year’s compared.  The 3/4’s race was all-in-all a very solid race.  With over 50 on the start line it was the biggest field of the day and we were lucky to start 6 xXx jerseys.  The one true 90º turn unfortunately yielded a crash that took out teammate Brian Johnson about mid race but he took his free lap, got back in and finished strong.  Do you know why?  Because he is a hard man, that’s why!  (Unfortunately he later discovered a crack in his frame so if you know of anyone selling a 56 cm hook him up.)  My race was going very well and with 3 to go I was right where I wanted to be—4th wheel and feeling strong.  Going into turn 4 I felt the rider behind me nudge my back tire but other than the faint smell of rubber it was all very benign.  Or so I thought.  After the turn the tempo picked up and I went to match it but felt myself really fighting.  “Fighting” is putting it mildly.  I was falling back like a rock.  I looked down, saw I was putting out good power numbers and wondered what the hell was going on.  As the peloton rode away I reached back and flipped my rear brake quick release and immediately pedaled freely—somehow the wheel bump had cause my brake to rub hmmm.  Unfortunately I was now a good 20m off the back and never really could get back on.  I finished 36th and was none too pleased about it.

But enough of that…let’s talk about the 4-5 race.  I was really excited to see how this race would go, not only because I now had a full year of racing under my belt but we also had a good quartet lined up: myself, Tien Nguyen, Rob Whittier and Brian Johnson (he, of the 56cm frame needing Johnsons…ahem. Help a brother out, will ya?) The race is a big open course surrounding an athletic park.  There is only one really sketchy turn (#3 which narrows somewhat unexpectedly out of the exit,) a few little rises that could hurt those less-fit and plenty of room to move around if the pace wasn’t too crazy.  Our pace was fast—avg 25.6mph for 45min—but not brutally so.  Going into it we had the strategy to take turns launching attacks in an effort to wear down the field.  However, a couple of Leadout racing guys seemed to have the same plan so we just let them do it for us and the field thinned nicely.  The second part of our plan was to stay in communication and start to group up in the final laps.  Easier said than done but the course lent itself to movement and you’d be surprised at how simple words and phrases—”Jim, it’s Rob at 6 o’clock,”—helped in that effort.  It was also nice to have friendly wheels in the mix.  Moving up or catching onto a swarm is much easier when you have a teammate willing to let you in.  I experienced this from both sides—as the one yelling “get in, take that wheel on the left” and the one who another time—thankfully—heard, “Jim, let’s go! On me”

On the bell lap we entered the long start/finish straight and I was moving up on the outside, intending to slot in when I could.  However, I soon noticed that all 3 of my teammates were lined up at the front.  I decided right then to be a leadout man.  I positioned myself in front and started ramping it up.  Through turn 1 I felt good but the pavement was rising and I was going all out.  Pretty soon the road would start to descend into turn 2 and I would get a bit of a break but I knew to keep hammering.  Turn 2—a 90º turn but, hey, I don’t have to worry about being boxed in, I’m on the front.  Go.  Set up wide, exit wide.  Another rise in the pavement.  Red lining.  Burn the last match.  Fire the last round.  Exhaust the last cliche.  Whatever.  Out of the turn I muscled my way up the rising pavement until I was cooked.  I pulled to the right and let Rob, Brian, Tien and the rest of the field come by me.  As soon as I had regained any lung capacity I heard myself shouting “go go go!” 

A crash in turn 3 allowed me to recover slightly, get by some guys and make up some spots. I took 20th which, given the way things unfolded, I was fine with.  Brian took 7th, Tien 10th and Rob 14th.  Could it have been better? Sure. I question myself:  did I start my leadout too early? Could I have gone a little faster?  A little farther?  Maybe.  Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.  Andrew Santos, who won, is a fast mother scratcher—I give him a lot of credit.  Regardless, I take a huge victory in what we did accomplish: we communicated, rode strong and did what they say couldn’t be done:  organize a lead out train in a 4-5 race.  Several others in our race actually complimented us afterwards on our organization.  Rob put it best—if we keep doing that, you will see a lot of xXx jerseys on the podium in 2014.

Gold, but no jersey.

By Nikos Hessert | Aug 8, 2013

Race name: Usac Jr. Track Nationals
Race date: Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013

Track nationals has been the biggest target of my season since mid-last year, last year, i went and wasn’t able to manage anything more than 16th.  Immediately afterwards, i decided when I went back, I’d be on the podium at some point.  this year there were 52 other kids, including kids from specialized, garmin, and hincapie.  So lets see how it went:
DAY 1:

Sprints:  This was the first event of the week, and it definitely let a bit of air out of my tires.  In the 200 meter qualifier,  it all stated off well. I was the second man out, and set a pr time, and one that would have qualified about 5th last year.  As the better sprinters started to leave the gates however, it became painfully obvious i was not going to qualify for this event.  i ended up 12th.  Fortunately, i had a points race coming up to distract me.

Points:  This and the pursuit were clearly outlined as my best events.  Where else can you win with little or no sprint?  i easily qualified for the finals, then after some words of encouragement from my parents and Jon Fraely, i took to the start line. I made sure to line up at the front, knowing that for the first few laps, the pack would spread out over the whole track and move fairly slowly.  I still got boxed in, but i managed to sit second from the front on the rail, behind a hincape rider.  the pack was a solid wall up the track until the first sprint, and when it engaged, i stayed calm on hincape kid’s wheel, and let him drag me to the front of the group.  i came around him with 50m to go to snag second in the first sprint.  I receded into the pack for a few laps, then with a few to go until the next sprint, attacked.  I very quickly realized my legs were not completely recovered from the previous heat, so after snagging the points, i shut it down.  For the next few sets of sprints, i sat in the pack, leaving it to specialized and Hincapie to cover any moves.  then, sensing a lull in the speed, i wound up another attack, and flew off the front.  Sam, who was sitting on the front, saw my attack, and threw a hard block, shutting down any kind of chase until i had a safe gap.  I looked up at the lap counter, and realized that 1. i had no idea when the next sprint was and 2. my legs didn’t feel any better on the second attack.  Using a lot of “shut up legs” and a lot of HTFU, i crouched into the t-rex position, and set too it.  way too many laps later, the bell for points rang, and lucky me, i was still solo off the front.  i swept up the points easily and pulled up the track.  Unfortunately, there’s no rest for the wicked, and soon after i got back to the group, garmin went on the attack.  i followed, and was joined by two specialized kids, both with multiple national titles.  we soon formed one of the hardest breaks I’ve been in, even dropping garmin.  Specialized stayed at the front of the 3 man group, controlling it, until, with half a lap to points, they both mysteriously pulled up-track and let me sweep up another 5 points with no fight.  soon after, my supply of jens magic ran out, and specialized started to gap me.  Fortunately, that was quickly replaced by Italian intimidation, as Emanuele yelled at me from the side to get on.  I reattached to the group with help from a bridging rider with 4 to go in the race.  we got on soon after, but this time, specialized meant business.  they led out their man Gage Hecht, who has a reputation for winning everything.  I ended up with 3rd in the last sprint.  As we crossed the line, i had no idea where i came, so i asked Emanuele as i rolled past on the cool-down lap.  His look filled in what i couldn’t hear.  I had won by 8 points over my nearest challenger.  I spent the rest of the day getting hugs from everyone i knew in the infield.  Unfortunately, since USAC does not do individual events, i did not receive a jersey, and would have to continue winning events to receive my precious.  i did get s shiny medal though!!!!

Day 2:

Pursuit:  the individual pursuit is a 3 km tt on the track, where two people start opposite each other, in opposite directions, hence the pursuit.  I got the last heat, which as you know, means you’re the most bad-ass rider in the event.  When the gun went off, i made sure not to go out too fast, and indeed, my first kilometer was the 10th slowest on the day.  But i soon made up the time, finishing in 2nd, 2 seconds behind specialized’s Gage Hecht, and only half a second ahead of third.  The top 5 or 6 riders were all within a few seconds of each other, proving that indeed, aero is everything.  with a pair of gloves, or a 50mm instead of 90mm front wheel, i would have been 3rd or 4th instead of 2nd.  Fortunately, me and my aerodynamics were still leading the omnium by a precarious 3 points.

Scratch:  This event has always been my weakness.  Its the most simple race on the track, first across the line wins.  “its just a crit on the track” Bill Barnes and many other people told me, problem is, IM NOT THAT GOOD AT CRITS!!!!!!!, that’s why i do track.  Oh well, as i took the line, with the velodrome playing “lose yourself” i decided i was going to be good at track crits.  As we went out, it was clear i would not get a breakaway.  If i went without specialized, they chased me down, and if i went with specialized, they shut down the break so Gage could make up ground in the omnium.  finally, i was attacked-out, and decided to trust the pack to chase anything, and the sprinters to beat Gage.  besides being body checked into the apron (held it up!!), the middle of the race was pretty uneventful, until gage attacked.  I was too far back to get him, and specialized immediately used their whole team to shut down any chase.  I tried to jump for 2nd with one to go, but got swamped in turn 3, and ended up in tenth.  In the omnium, i was tied for second, with the best 500 racer in the nation, going into the 500.  Johnny Khufal grabbed 3rd however, so we still had something to celebrate in the CVC tent.

Day 3:

Team Events:
-Pursuit: There were 6 teams in our field, a pretty good showing, especially since they didn’t combine age groups this year.  I led out our team, and everything went really well.  Sam held the speed, Johnny didn’t accelerate like crazy as soon as he hit the front, i took double pulls, and Luke had a great last lap, that got us the fast time with one team to go.  Unfortunately, that team was specialized, and they wasted no time winning the event, even without their fast man Gage.
-Sprint:  Someone foolishly gave me the responsibility of registering our team, so when Shrek and Friends took the start line, we had expectations of a medal.  mostly because there were 5 teams and 5 medals.  Unfortunately, Samuele unclipped twice, and we were not allowed to ride.

500m TT:
this was the final event of the omnium, and i was all but locked into 3rd.  to move up, id have to get 1st or 2nd in my worst event by far, and to move down, the guy in 4th would have to do the same.  Due to rain, it was 10 before i left in the second to last heat.  Sure enough, i slotted into 16th place, ahead of 4th place.  The next heat, the top sprinter in the field, Domonic Suozzi blew away the field to take the win in the 500 and the omnium.

I was a bit disappointed to not get the jersey, but i still got 4 medals, and beat some very strong jr development teams.  Overall, it was a great cap to an already amazing track season, and with a few big races still to come, hopefully it wont have to be the cap.

Consistency

By Jared Rogers | Jul 26, 2013

Race name: Northbrook Velodrome Track Races
Race date: Thursday, Jul 18, 2013

“One more time, just one more time” is what I was thinking.  I had just finished sprint number two and there was only one more to go and the last race of the night (a 15 lap points race) would be over.  One of the Half Acre riders was right on my wheel and then I caught the other shadow out of the corner of my eye.  “Crap..” Jason Fergurson countered my sprint and was off for a 5 lap tear until the last sprint and there was no one to chase him down.

This is how the last race of my track upgrade campaign was shaking out.  All I needed to do was win this omnium and I would have enough points to submit.  I had finished second in each race before this one so if I didn’t finish first in this race then I wouldn’t win the omnium.  I got knocked out of the first sprint which means I had 0 points on the board until I won the second sprint.  But I HAD to win the last sprint as there was no chance anyone could top 10 points; that is unless Fergurson took it.

Anyone who races track will tell you that it is a hard discipline.  The races are sometimes confusing and each night either favors the endurance riders or the sprinters.  Me?  Yeah, I’m a self proclaimed sprinter and I had to come to terms with the fact that I would have to be better at the endurance races (like the points race) if I was ever going to move up.  Throw in the mix that upgrade points are awarded based on how well you do in all 3 races (the omnium) each night and you can see that a track upgrade can take forever.  I’ve been a Cat 4 on the track for the last 5 years.  Last year I was seriously on the upgrade hunt, but after a broken wrist and a pack of hungry competitors, my upgrade hopes faltered during the late season.

Fergurson had about a 100M gap and I had the Half Acre rider in front of me.  He was doing his best to keep pace but it wasn’t enough to make up any time.  Sure, I could come around him now and risk blowing up, but I figured there might be someone behind me who would get itchy and close it down for me.  No sooner than I thought that, one of the recently upgraded Cat 4s pulled in front and started to go to work.

The one thing about 2013 is that I had been consistent from just about day one.  I revisited my training log and rode the same base mile schedule I rode in 2011 when I got my road upgrade.  Every race I just tried to be in the top 3, usually winding up 2nd and occasionally sneaking out a W.  I worked hard on my endurance and even made sure I did the FCTT course every other week just so I could keep my threshold efforts fresh.  But would it all work?  Would I be strong enough?  Did I have enough in the tank to finally get this done?

The bell rang.  One lap to go.  I’m sitting 2nd wheel and this kid is motoring to get Jason.  Fergurson has about 50M on us and I know if I wait too long, I’ll never get him.  Out of turn 2 I start to hear the Half Acre rider start his wind up.  “You’ve got to go now or it’s over” is all I thought.  I come around my leadout and put all I have into it.  Once clear I swing back into the sprinters lane hoping that I can catch any tiny vapors of Jason’s draft to help me cut the distance.  Turn 3 and I’m passing him on the outside.  Turn 4 and I’ve cleared him.  Back into the sprinters lane and I pray that I don’t get caught.

Today at 10:44AM my phone alerts me to a new email.  “Dear, Jared Rogers,  The following request to change your Road category has been approved and processed.” 

I just smile and nod my head.

Thanks to everyone at the track who cheered me on, worked for me in a race or just wished me luck before I rode.  Part of this belongs to you.

Un Jour Sans

By Ben OMalley | Jul 10, 2013

Race name: Junior 17-18 Nationals
Race date: Sunday, Jul 7, 2013

Time Trial: In most cases, the strength of your legs trumps any little aero advantage or a bit nicer equipment but not in most time trials. The course was shaped like a lollipop with an out then loop and back in on the same road, and was pretty flat other than a fair amount of rollers thrown in. Average speeds were extremely fast for the entire day and our races were no exception. Neither Kyle nor I would use a TT bike so we were at a major disadvantage. We both headed out and gave it our all but ended up a few minutes off the winners pace. Oh well. Next year I will be much better prepared equipment wise… anyone have a 56-58cm TT bike to loan?

The Road Race: I came into this race with some high expectations. The course was a 12 mile loop around Blue Mounds State Park with a lot of climbing and fast technical descending. Every lap we would tackle the Blue Mound climb which was about 3 kilometers with pitches maxing out at 20%. The last lap extended the climb for another 1 kilometer to the very top of the park. It was my dream course.  Not only was this the hardest course I had raced on so far but this would also be my hardest competition. I was up against the nation’s best juniors, who are also some of the nation’s best riders! I was sooo nervous during the morning of the race. I usually have butterflies before every big race but this morning was extreme. I could hardly eat before the race which would not help me later on. My race started at 8 so we arrived at 7:15 thinking it was enough time to complete my final preparations and warm-up.  Its 7:30 and I start to spin around for my warm-up when all of a sudden I hear the announcer cracking jokes with the Garmin Junior Development Team about lining up. What! 30 minutes before the race and kids are lining up already? I rushed over to the starting line with a half an hour still to go and was 50 kids back already. I decided to stay in line and figured that I could warm up during the race since the first 9 miles are either downhill or flat. I ate a Clif Shot and eventually we were off! The race was supposed to be neutralized for the first 1k down the mound but that didn’t stop kids from trying to move up through the pack, myself included. You know how everyone blames juniors for being sketchy? Imagine 150 of us in the same race. Yes, it was very sketchy. The pace car rolled off and we instantly went from 10 to 50mph in a few seconds. The 2k downhill felt like a scene in any action movie fighter jet or car chase scene. One by one, kids would just fly off the side of the road. Instead of the usually explosion in the movies, all we could hear is the dreaded sound of crashed carbon. It was absolute chaos but I survived. I was about 40 riders back now and tried my best to move up but it was almost impossible. We took up the entire road. Kids were trying to ride up on the grass shoulder at some points. I wasn’t willing to make some stupid move and instead waited for the climb to try and move up. Our group hit the climb and right away I knew my legs were not 100%. I got caught behind a crash midway up but managed to make it back onto the peloton at the bottom of the descent. I sat in the field for the rest of the lap trying to brace myself for another assault of the mound. We hit the climb a second time and instead of making my way through the now broken up field, everyone else was going around me. My legs felt fine – no cramping, not sore – but for some reason I just couldn’t go any harder. Kids who I had raced against and beat in the early season were now pedaling away from me with ease. It was frustrating to watch the front of the pack ride away and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I thought my tires were flat or my brakes were rubbing. They weren’t, my legs just weren’t working. It was Un Jour Sans or “a day without”. I spent the next lap in a 15 man chase group but was dropped from it after the third time up Blue Mounds. I hadn’t eaten anything since my pre-race shot so now my legs and body began to work against me. I was picked up by one final chase group before the final time up the climb and hung on for 101st place. I was both devastated and destroyed. Sometimes you just don’t have the legs and frustratingly, today was one of those days. Live and learn. Next year I will have another shot at this race and will be much better prepared and know what to expect.

Fortunately we were given a rest day after the Road Race. USA Cycling put on a college night specific for cycling which we all went to. Nikos and I also got a taste of being pro and went on a ride with the Predator Carbon Repair Elite Cycling Team. Pretty cool!

Crit: The Criterium was the classic downtown Madison Crit. The course is a four block square running counter-clockwise around the capital building. The course was not very technical but contained numerous potholes and crack which combined with high speeds made for a very dangerous race. Like most crits, staring position is key. Kids were lined up at the opening gate an hour before start with their trainers set up. Again, I made it there with a half an hour before the start and was lined up very close to the back of the field. This time I got in a really good warm-up before though. I was expecting the race to be fast from the gun. The gates were opened and a flood of kids started sprinting for the starting line! Full on 30mph sprint just to get to the starting line and the race hadn’t even begun.  I found myself closer to the back than I would have liked so I had a ton of work to do to get to the front. I just wanted to test myself against this field all the while staying safe and upright. The whistle is blown and we take off! The first few laps were pretty hectic as expected. Only a few laps in and one kid ran his handlebars into my side. I didn’t budge and somehow we both managed to stay up. With our speed never dipping below 30, it was difficult to move up on the inside. The inside lines in the corners seemed to contain a few more potholes than the outside too so I made my way to the outside of the pack. Most of the kids were braking a bit before hitting the outside lines of the turns and the road always widened up a few feet before entering the turns too. I would jump around to the outside right before the turns and take a hard aggressive line. Almost every turn, I would make up between 1-3 spots. This strategy continued to work until about 15 laps in. Coming around the final turn before the finish one rider hit the barricades and all of a sudden I smacked right into another rider and hit the deck. Luckily my bike was fine and so was my body. I rushed over to the start to get my free lap. Actually I was pretty happy that I went down. I got a few minutes to catch my breath, drink some much needed water and recharge my engine with a ton of adrenaline! I jumped back into the back of the field and just went all out. I took every chance possible to get up to the front and within 5 to 10 laps, I found myself right up in the front row action. Now was my chance to attack and possibly bridge up to a lone rider off the front. The pace lulled and I hesitated for one second too long. Another kid jumped, the field reacted and I was swarmed. Missed opportunity. I spent the rest of the race maintaining my position in the mid-front of the field until 10 to go. Going through the final turn again, one kid got a few spokes ripped out of his wheel from riding into another’s derailleur and I lost about 15 spots while moving out of the way for him having to drift back through the pack. I found the wheel of local rider David Lombardo and followed him to try and move back up the pack. We started to gain some ground but suddenly a crash with 5 laps to go caused me to come to a dead stop. I never went down but there was no way I could bridge back up to the blistering fast field. I gave it my all in an attempt to not get pulled but with 3 to go, I was done. Dave ended up with a top 30 so I knew if I never went down, I could have gotten a respectable result. Even though I got screwed in the end, I couldn’t be disappointed with my race. I gave it everything I had and rode a strong race against the best field I had faced all year.  I got some personal redemption for the weekend and learned so much for next year.

Thank you so much to my family, especially my Dad for the endless support that I have gotten this weekend and the entire season. I couldn’t do anything without their support. Thank you to Coach Randy for giving me the legs and lungs to compete against these kids and for coming up to Madison for the weekend. Thanks a ton for everyone else who has helped me, given advice or kicked my butt this season!

To Go Or Not To Go

By William Pankonin | Jun 18, 2013

Race name: O'Fallon Road Race
Race date: Saturday, Jun 15, 2013

I engraved the O’Fallon road race onto my calendar last January.  Since then, I have been planning for it to be my last race before a long period of rest and recovery.  If all went according to plan, I would be going good for Galena and would then taper slightly for O’Fallon, the IL Championship masters’ road race.  I wouldn’t participate in the omnium so that I could save everything for the road race and hopefully bring home the championship jersey.  I wasn’t alone in that thinking.  No other IL rider raced the TT the night before.  I know.  I was there spying -I mean watching.

We would race for two and one half laps or a mere 54 miles.  The first lap was pretty tame.  My only concern for it would be to make sure nothing rode off the front early.  We were a small field of 12, with six racers from IL.  This made maneuvering and watching quite easy, but I still wanted to make sure I kept near the front.  There were three guys from Gateway Cycling Club, and one of them smoked the TT for the W, so I marked him.  I figured he would be their guy to win.  The MO riders guessed that the IL riders would be most aggressive, so they were content to sit in towards the back of our little field.  Before the end of lap one, I had ridden at endurance pace on the front for a few minutes, chased down two guys while dragging the rest with me, and probed with some tempo while on the front with strong crosswinds.  No real fireworks.  One of the Gateway racers strung us out for a while.  My legs were getting warm and ready as we approached the end of the 22 mile lap, and the only real significant hill.  It was not Galena significant, but it was sharp enough to be a race factor.

I marked this moment as an opportunity to make my first move.  I didn’t want to attack, but wanted to charge up the hill fast enough to inflict some damage.  My hope was to shed riders and possibly get myself into a move that contained a strong Gateway racer.  If their fastest guy marked the move and we got away, and he had better legs than me, it wouldn’t necessarily mean my losing the jersey, but would mean that we would be able to stay safely away from the group, which was the objective.  So I hammered up the hill, got over the top and glanced back.  The only rider on my wheel was an IL rider.

Bicycle Heaven racer Marc, who won the ToG road race, was glued onto my wheel.  I heard teammates screaming at us as we whizzed by the Athletico tent.  We turned and looked back.  We had stretched the gap significantly.  I continued for a few minutes and flicked my elbow.  Marc pulled through, and we exchanged a few words of encouragement.  We were now committed.  Do or die.  Game on.

As we worked together, I thought about how this was now a tad harder than I had planned.  Two IL guys riding for the championship meant second place was not an option.  I would need to now figure out a way to win.

As we finished the second lap, I went up the hill faster than I had done previously, wondering if I could shake my partner.  Up the hill we went.  It was now late in the day, and hot, and as we reached the top of the hill for the second time, I could see his shadow all up in my business.  There was no shaking him.  This was concerning.  Previously, my partner had shown a few signs of fatigue, and I was convinced he was tiring after riding hard that second lap.  But now however, I was beginning to believe all that was wise bluffing, and that he had used me as a launching pad and then wind shield.  Also, anytime I went hard up a rise, I never gapped him. Oh the trickery!  We went through the feed zone and he told me he was going for water.  I was fuming.  We left Kyle road and headed out again for the half lap.  I flicked my elbow; he didn’t pull through.  I had been played.  This guy was planning to rip my legs off.  I flicked again and he pulled through.  Our pace slowed significantly.  It was the first time we had dialed down the intensity.  This was mentally taxing, because when you’re in the break, if you’re not riding until it hurts, you’ll get caught.  Was our gap large enough to continue at this slower pace? I didn’t know.  I looked back.  The coast looked clear.  We were in good shape, for now.  10 miles to go.

Maybe Marc would miss the half-lap cut-off road? I could leave him on the front until then. I decided to go with that plan for the time being.  But no, that’s no way to win.  We crawled up a hill and I let out a few dramatic breaths.  I could play the bluffing game too.  I was ready to go if he attacked me.  I sat on his wheel, thinking.  He seemed to be ready to race.  At the top of the hill, I shifted back to the large chain ring.  He stayed in the small.  He drank some water.  His head dropped slightly.  What’s his game? Wait…no; he was tired!  Should I attack now?

Sometimes racers just know when to attack, and they do without any hesitation.  This has often been the case for me.  This time though, after the idea of an attack came to mind, I reconsidered.  Should I go? I could hear my voice in my head second guessing myself.  I moved slightly to the left of his wheel.  I gripped the drops.  He was still in the small ring and on the hoods.  I got out of the saddle and launched my last nuke of the road season.

It worked.  By the time I needed to sit back down in the saddle, breathe and clear the stars, I was all alone.  I would now need to settle in at threshold and stay there.  I approached the last 8 or so miles like I do our team’s fitness check time trials.  I would save nothing and go to my limit.  I had already eaten, drank, and stretched out a bit and would now be locked into a tuck position for the remainder of the race.  My PSIMET wheels hummed along over the 100+ degree asphalt.  At one turn, I thought I heard a marshal shout something about someone being right behind me. Really? I looked back and could make out four figures beyond the previous 90 degree turn; they were no more than a mile back! Oh no! I pedaled faster, but now I had to be concerned about blowing up and losing too much power.  I had been going along at 91 percent, and as I glanced down occasionally, I saw 92, 93, and even 94.  This was dangerous.  I hit the 5K to go sign and looked back.  Nothing.  I entered the woods before the hill.  Still clear.  I passed other riders broken off the back of different races.  500M to go.  I got out of the saddle and brought myself to within 100M.  I looked back.  Nothing.  I zipped up, and crossed the line with my arms held high.

I’d like to thank the race organizers and all the officials and all the volunteers who helped out.  Marc, it was a pleasure riding with you, dude! As the fellas told stories and chatted about the race, I learned that Marc had been caught by three chasers.  They caught him shortly before our half-lap cut-off turn.  Actually, they reeled Marc in soon after I had attacked him.  How soon? I was told that they saw me make the attack!  The hardest part in winning this championship was not pedaling around the course.  No, the most difficult aspect was the preparation. This win was months in the making.  All I needed to do was try my best and have fun.  Sometimes, we absolutely destroy ourselves for the victory; often times, that is just the way it goes.  At O’Fallon, however, the hardest part entailed the training and planning, and the self-imposed expectation of only winning this race.  The winter months, focusing on rest and recovery, those tough 3rd and 4th build weeks, the rain, the super tough races you do, the driving, and all that time alone! Man, this bike racing stuff really doesn’t get any easier.

Attack and Release

By Rob Whittier | Jun 12, 2013

Race name: Tour of Galena - Road Race
Race date: Saturday, Jun 8, 2013

Attack and Release* (The Fool on the Hill**)

March 12th was a tough, tough day for me. That wasn’t the day I hit the deck on the Cuesta grade at 40+mph. It was the day I left SLO on a train to LA and my flight home with 10 hours alone to think about when I might be able to ride again. I’d only done one crit in my life and this was supposed to be my first season of racing. A well-meaning teammate has tried to cheer me up earlier saying - “Think positive, you can definitely make it back racing by cross season.” “No way”, I told myself, I’m gonna make it back for Galena…

The next few weeks were rough as I managed to get on the trainer a few times and then slowly but surely I was back up to my pre-SLO trainer routine. The broken wrist still hurt too much to hold on to a bar but the legs worked fine and a nasty Chicago spring and Netflix made the trainer tolerable. Shortly afterwards, three important things happened: 1) In late March, I watched Cancellara destroy Sagan on the Paterberg 2) In a momentary lapse of reason I decided that a good 2nd race back from a wrist fracture would be the Cone-Azalia gravel race and I eked out a 2nd 3) After a day on the Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier, I caught a terrible fever and woke up believing that I was a climber.

Fast forward to June 3rd – After the team meeting I chatted with Will Pankonin up about my plans for Galena. I explained that I’d never tried any sort of attack in any race but thanks to a decent May and Giro infused delusions of grandeur I explained that I was going to attack Pantani style at the base of the first big climb. “That’s pretty early”, he reminded me, “but if you do it, commit; do it all the way…”

The TT was a blur. Literally, I had one of Galena’s now famous gnats in my eye and it was watering for the entire course but when it was done and my little aerobar experiment was over I was in 5th place and that did nothing to temper my foolish bravado. The next morning I warmed up for a few laps with Jim Barclay, rode the short kicker at the start of the course. The climb was fine but then we turned back for the short descent the reality set in that I hadn’t been over 40mph on a downhill since…the Cuesta Grade. So with that pleasant thought and a half-baked plan (but a plan nonetheless) I headed to the start.

At the start, I recognized a few guys from Spider Monkey, The Bike Haven and Half Acre and it felt great to have Bob, Tiber, Kevin, and John near me. If I imploded, maybe one of these guys would take pity and nurse me home? We started off and rounded a few corners as we left Galena in the neutral roll out, nerves settled and then we turned left to climb the short hill and as I watched a few guys struggle with short 11%(?) pitch, I gained a little confidence that an attack on the hill might work. Commit, I reminded myself.

The next 20 minutes went by quickly as I stayed close to John Mitchell who was riding well near the middle-front of the pack. It was early and my experience in Cat 5 races (all 6 of them) had me confident that nobody would attack with any conviction so my strategy was to sit in and being safe. But then we hit the descent to the railroad tracks and a little hell broke loose, I heard squealing and screaming (and bullwhips cracking), smelled brake pads and saw a rider go off the road and I remembered in horror that I was in a Cat 5 race with some huge descents coming up. This only strengthened my resolve; get away from these guys before those descents, I’ll actually be safer too.

As we wound our way onto N Ford Rd, the pace slowed a little as the pack prepared for the first real ascent and, sitting about 7th wheel, I took a look back for John and Kevin who I’d seen a few minutes before, took a deep breath and thought one more time - commit, don’t stop, do it all the way from here till you finish or drop – and I went.

The next ten miles were unquestionably the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike. My attack on the 3 mile Ford Road climb felt good, I hadn’t looked back the entire time and when I crested the top, I had created enough of a gap where I couldn’t see the riders behind me so I looked ahead at the pace car and pictured Tracy Dangott grinning and laughing and though I never crushed the pedals on the downhill and peaked at about 44 mph, it all felt “right”. The next seven miles of down and up felt awesome, I know I was grinning from ear to ear even on the 2nd climb as I set a new power curve (as a caveat, it’s a new Powertap;). I’d attacked for the first time in a bike race, it seemingly had worked, and I was riding Galena’s amazing hills without hesitation or fear.

At mile 21 reality set in as I approached the bridge and I realized that a rider had closed the gap, but just one. Did I have enough left to work with him to get the two of us to 1 and 2 on the podium? He shot by faster than I’d like to admit, I buckled down and surged up to him and we agreed that we’d try it. That worked for a few miles at which point he called out that we had three riders closing and that he thought we’d get caught so we softened up a bit and my wolfpack had become five. Five riders with nobody else in sight with about a mile left to Galena. In the end I couldn’t do much when we got into town, I was gassed and as we rounded the last little turn to the finish I couldn’t muster up much of a sprint but I knew I was going to get 5th place, my best finish in a field of this size. As far as I was concerned, the attack, my first, had done its job.

Confidence high, I went into next day’s Crit thinking that an Omnium podium was in reach with a top 10 finish and after hanging in mid-pack for most of the race I started to formulate a plan here too. “Tough to get around guys on that last turn”, I thought, “This thing will be won by positioning into the 3rd turn”. I can’t explain how much it helped to see our team at the Marshall stations, for some reason seeing Fay and Briney at #1 and #6 just made me feel like I had to step up. The pace picked up at the bell lap but it was nothing too brutal and I moved to take the inside line at turns 1 and 2 to position myself for a jump on the back straight. About halfway down the straight I was sitting 5th wheel in the pack and I knew it was time; I attacked (2nd time now) and I heard a yell behind me “he’s going”, “go, go, GO!” I came into the 3rd turn 1st in the group and got the line I wanted for the final turn. I came out of the apex and stood to mash as hard as I could and managed to skip my front wheel off the ground but with a big grin I refocused and drove as hard as I could to the finish to a 2nd in the sprint, 3rd overall and a 3rd in the omnium.

I can’t really sum up how much this weekend meant to me; with a little grit, some luck, and great teammates I got some confidence back and was able to salvage a decent first season of bike racing. I’ve got a few more road races on the calendar this summer and I’m sure that Cat 4 is going to be challenging and humbling and a lot like starting all over again. But, to be honest, I can’t wait…

*”Attack and Release” is the property of The Black Keys
** “The Fool on the Hill” is the property of The Beatles

Flat Tire, Flat Heart

By Jim Barclay | Jun 2, 2013

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix 2013
Race date: Saturday, Jun 1, 2013

I remember going to the 2012 Glencoe Grand Prix as a spectator.  I was new to the team, new to any form of competitive cycling and really just there to drink it all in.  What I saw blew my mind.  It was like a cool street fair with food and music and happy people all around.  On top of that, every few minutes a group of cyclists would come screaming by at speeds I couldn’t even imagine on a bicycle.  At the time I really wasn’t sure I would ever race at all but I knew that if I did I wanted to race here, in this atmosphere.

Fast forward a year.  Not only did I decide to race but I kinda fell down the rabbit hole with it (I’m not the first, I know—many of you probably have a similar story.) Here I was, lined up for my first of two races on Saturday.  First up was the Master’s 4/5 and I was really happy to be in the 2nd row.  Side note: I really like the staging format they used.  I much prefer that to cutting my warm up short and lining up 15 minutes before the whistle just to get a decent starting position. 

The race itself was way hotter than I expected.  There was constant movement and more than a little “argy bargy” as Phil Liggett might say.  Positioning is probably my biggest weakness right now—I’m still learning the finer points of reading the race, anticipating movement etc.  As touchy as the race was, I found myself braking into corners more than I wanted and spending way too much energy coming out of them.  As we got into the final laps I could feel it taking a toll on me.  Aaron Delabre, Ben Cartwright and I were all near the front in the final lap but a few swarms and a particularly angry crash coming into the final turns had me too far back to really contend for much in the sprint.  Aaron was up the road and would eventually take 5th.  I knew Ben was close behind me so I gave it everything I could into the last corner to lead him out.  It was a satisfying consolation to see him come around me and then pass a few others to take 11th.  I ended up 15th in a field of over 60 starters.

At this point I couldn’t imagine racing a second race.  I was spent and just wanted to gather my things and ride home. 

The ability of the human body to recover is truly a remarkable thing, though.  Just as remarkable is the ability of the mind to go from not wanting anything to do with bike racing to getting psyched to do it all again.  After a little rest and some great strategy talk from Adam Herndon, I found myself lined up for the 4’s race.  I didn’t have a particular plan for this race other than to communicate better with my teammates and try to make something happen.  The 4’s race had a completely different feel to it.  Fast, no doubt, but much more in control than the Master’s.  My cornering was much stronger this time and I found myself emerging from corners right on the wheel in front of me.  [slaps forehead] Bike racing is much easier that way!  I was feeling really, really good and took half a lap at the front early on just to push the pace a bit. I then dropped back knowing that I had several matches yet to burn.  I found Patch Cebrzynski and we quickly formed a plan:  sit in until 3 to go, then move up together to form up with Aaron for the finish.  This was turning into the kind of race that I had only read about: one where fitness is a given and tactics and teamwork are what win the race. 

Then all hell broke loose.

With 4 to go I was about 15 back and headed into the long, straight descent before the hill.  As I tucked into the right-hand turn I looked up to see—right in my line—two guys on the ground and two more about to be.  I have no idea how I didn’t hit the deck but after about 1000 micro shifts of my weight and much fishtailing of my back tire I was able to barely stay clear.  I then did what any smart cyclist would do:  gun it to take advantage of the break in the group.  As I turned the corner into the hill I heard a BANG and knew immediately it was me.  One too many fish tails perhaps?  Whatever it was, any hopes I had of getting into the small break that would eventually contend for the podium were shredded along with my rear tire.  I clipped out and ran to the neutral wheel pit where I was promptly told that, yes, they had a wheel for me and, no, there were no more free laps. 

“Do you still want the wheel?”
“Yes please”
“You have to chase”
“I know.”  At least those were the words that came out of my mouth.  In my head I’m thinking “just give me the g@#d&*n wheel and let me finish my race!!!!” 

Sadly, this is not Breaking Away and I was not Dennis Quaid.  I TT’d it for a lap and ½  before getting pulled.  Heartbroken, I got to watch a much-fractured race finish from the team tent. 

For me this is a year of firsts:  first time racing, first time for mistakes and first time for successes.  I did a lot right this day. One guy actually came up to me afterwards to say “great save—I thought for sure you were going to end up in that pile up.”  I have all my skin and I have a lot to feel good about but that’s not what I left with.  The results don’t have an asterisk next to my name.  It doesn’t include the footnote that explains how strong I was riding or how my teammates and I had a good plan—that I was betrayed by a failing rubber tube.  It just shows 54/59.  This day was, unfortunately, a new first for me: first time catching a bad break. 

And yet for almost two entire races I was one of those guys that—a year earlier—I couldn’t imagine being, tearing around the village of Glencoe really fast on a bicycle.  So I take away from it everything I can and see the rest as cruel fate. 

Change my tire.  Recover my body.  Reset my mind.

See you in Galena.

New City

By Jake Buescher | May 9, 2013

Race name: New City Time Trial
Race date: Wednesday, May 8, 2013

New City

I’ve been doing a local time trial southeast of Springfield, IL (my hometown) for the past five years now.  It’s not sanctioned, you get nothing for winning, and results are posted without placings.  Similar to our FCTT, New City is truly you against yourself.  The course has been used for decades now and measures out to an exact 10.85 miles.  Strava says 10.9, but you’re wrong Strava.  It’s an out and back course that’s about as flat as a pancake besides a very slight rise after the turn around.  The only marker to where the turn around is located is a bright pink “X” painted in the middle of the road.  You have to be pretty vigilant or you’ll fly right by it.  You don’t pin any numbers on, but rather write your assigned number on your hand with permanent marker so you can yell it out as you cross the finish line to help timers.  It is about as grass roots as a time trial gets.

As a matter of fact, New City was the first “race” I ever competed in back in 2009 when I was just getting into cycling.  I showed up riding my mom’s old 1980 Cannondale road bike, with gym shorts, hairy legs, and tennis shoes on.  I think I threw down a wicked fast time averaging 18 mph or something.  As I got into triathlon and riding more, my dad started letting me borrow his TT bike and I eventually got my own.  I’ve now ridden with the exact same equipment (maybe a change in skinsuit here and there) since 2010.  Besides some variation in weather, everything has been constant.  For the past three seasons, it’s been the best way for me to see how fit I really am compared to the past. 

I threw down my best time back in 2011 when I had just decided to focus on road racing and stop all that silly running and swimming.  Ideal conditions that day left me coming in at 23:37 at an average speed of 27.5 mph.  It was a fast day for sure.  While I didn’t do New City a lot last season (living in Chicago for the summer), I never came close to that personal best.

Now, I come into 2013 feeling great.  I actually have a training plan, a coach, and clearly defined goals for the season.  Sadly, these are three things I hadn’t really done in the past.  However, my spring target race, Joe Martin, didn’t go as planned.  My time trial was purely mediocre.  While I did well finishing with the main group on the 110 mile road race on Friday, the third stage was a disaster as I missed the time cut and was promptly cut from the GC, not allowed to race the criterium the following day.  It was a bummer, to say the least.

After Joe Martin, I was kind of in limbo.  I had come into the race with aspirations for a top 10 on GC and surprisingly watched the peloton ride away an hour into the third stage.  I wasn’t really sure if I was as fit as I thought.  So, I turned to the testing grounds I had used for years:  New City.

I went out there on Wednesday night with my dad and rode a personal best, something I hadn’t been able to say for a couple years.  It was the same crowd that I’ve gotten to know over the years, really nice weather, and that same TT feeling of “I want to curl into a ball and die”.  I came in at 23:11, averaging 28.1 mph, 26 seconds better than my PR back in 2011.  Power was a tad lower than I expected coming off of a cold, but I couldn’t be upset with the result.  Better yet, I’m now 35 seconds off the course record.

With an up and down spring, physically seeing that I’m the strongest I’ve ever been is a true confidence booster.  This is one of the reasons why I love time trialing, especially on a course you’ve consistently competed on for multiple seasons.  Your performance truly dictates if you’re stronger or not.  You might pay attention to times of guys you’re usually close to, but for the most part you’re solely focused on if you’ve gotten faster or slower.  There’s no luck involved with time trials and there’s no drafting.  It’s purely a race against your own mind and body.  As Bradley Wiggins has said, “keep turning the screw until it breaks… you never know how high you can tighten something until it breaks.”  My target race for the season is U23 TT Nationals in Madison, WI.  Time trialing is certainly coming around for me this year and last night at New City only reaffirmed this.  Here’s to a good summer of racing.

Jake

Perfect Weekend, 3 for 3

By Nikos Hessert | Apr 14, 2013

Race name: Lincoln Park & John Fraser Memorial TT
Race date: Saturday, Apr 13, 2013

3-for-3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGXzlRoNtHU

Let me say first and foremost thank you to my teammates, specifically Aaron Delabre and Byron Knoll (sorry if I misspelled that), and also to Adam Herndon and Rob Curtis for being the best announcing team ever (Rob’s wheels aren’t half-bad either).  Now without further ado, lets get race reporting!

Win #1: Juniors 15-18: It’s a Trap!!!!
It was a very small field, probably due to the snowy, Milan-Sanremo-esque conditions (yes I have now unofficially won a spring classic).  It ended up being 6 xXx juniors Vs 2 from our rival gang, the 87th street Chicago Velo Campus (little did they know they had fallen into a trap).  The race played out very quickly.  Ben attacked and got away, CVC chased hard for a bit, but unable to catch Ben “the fighting Irish” O’Malley pulled off, then I attacked and bridged.  The next lap we got Kyle with us and about a minute gap on the CVC, we all sat up (CVC too), and discussed who would win the race.  All Ben wanted was a podium sweep, and we had that, so I gave Ben and Kyle each a prime and took the win. as Rob Whittier told me after the race “thank you for the most boring finish ever”.

Win #2: Cat 4: Shrek Wins!
Ahhhh, the NikosAttack(tm) possibly the most stupid and yet somehow effective tool in my arsenal (and the only one).  It’s pretty simple: I attack from the gun….and that’s it.  Anyway, that’s what I did in the fours race.  I had a hole shot worthy of any cyclocross race as I took off with the fury of Shrek after Donkey tried to make waffles in his ogre hut.  Anyway, I had a good gap after lap one, and won the prime Adam had decided to put on the first lap before the race “so Nikos will be able to win something” Aaron Delabre and Byron then got up to the front and blocked hard.  Delabre ended up then winning the $50 field prime announced on the second lap, and my gap was already up to 30 seconds.  As I rode deeper and deeper into the pain cave, increasingly having to remember rule #5*, I was encouraged by a very ecstatic Ben O’Malley, and my personal photographer for the day, Max Ryan (who later complained I never gave him any chance to get shots of the pack), as well as a more and more excited Adam Herndon, even more motivating with a microphone, and every single course marshal.  Thanks to Delabre and Byron blocking back in the pack, there was no chase whatsoever, just me avoiding many opportunities to use my other tactic: crashing badly for no apparent reason.  With 4-5 laps to go, I had about a 40 second gap, and by two to go, I was fist pumping the air as
I went by the spectators.  As I came across the Finish line, it still hadn’t hit me that i had won.  It wasn’t until halfway through the cool down lap that it struck me: “holy s***, i just won in a solo break from the gun”.  As I finished my cool down lap, I saw Ben and Max running toward me from the pace car.  I immediately grabbed both of them in an overenthusiastic bear hug, accidentally backhanding Max’s very nice camera (yes, even in my moments of glory i’m still Shrek and a huge klutz, at least the camera was fine).  I repeatedly thanked my teammates, cooled down, and consumed approximately 45.6 billion donuts, which Ben had knowingly grabbed immediately.

Win #3: John Fraser Memorial TT: Wait, I Thought I Just Did This Yesterday!

This time however, I had a much more well equipped bike. In a huge (some might say ill-advised, given my history with the ground) show of confidence by my amazing mentor, Bill Barnes lent me his rocket ship of a tt bike.  At the tt, having never ridden an actual tt bike before, I was shaky in the huge crosswinds, but still managed to easily take the 4’s by a comfortable 18 seconds over an only 9.3 mile TT course (a time that would have put me 5th in the 3’s).  Bill’s bike went like a bat out of hell though.  I felt like a fighter pilot the whole time, and I definitely didn’t make machine gun noises when I passed riders ;(  Thanks to a tailwind over the second half, and the coolest not-my-new-tk1 bike I’ve ever ridden, I had a great day, and rounded out a great, undefeated weekend.

(why can i write this effortlessly, but cant get an essay done to save my life?)
*Rule #5: HTFU (Harden The F*** UP)

Aw, baby’s first crit!

By Dana Kotler | Apr 9, 2013

Race name: Gapers Block Crits
Race date: Tuesday, Mar 26, 2013

[modified from an article originally written for tinyfixbikegang.com]

Gapers Block Criterium is a 4-day series held at Calumet Park, hosted by Half Acre Cycling.  This year marked the 5th anniversary.  The races are open to everyone, new and experienced, and are held at the beginning of the season to give newer racers a chance to get their feet wet, in these so-called “practice crits.” 

Tuesday Night:
I missed Monday’s races due the commemoration of my people’s exodus from Egypt (Passover), and started with the Tuesday night race.  Here’s how it went.  I retrieved my bike from the office where I had stashed it, and made my way down to Calumet Park (95th St) by about 5:20.  I changed into my riding gear, and jumped on my bike to check out the simple rectangular course.  Tuesday night it was a counter-clockwise loop, starting and finishing on the west side of the loop (Avenue G).  I bundled up (it was in the upper 30s) and pedalled around the course 5-6 times, taking note of the wind, and obstacles including rough road, potholes, cracks, manhole covers that might throw me during the race.  Then I stopped to register at the tent and pick up my number. 

The women’s race was called for 6:50.  I watched the men’s Cat 5 race, and then took a few more practice laps.  I lined up, they gave out a couple of raffle prizes, then the whistle blew and off we went!  My goal was to stay with the pack, which I was able to do for about 1/3 of the race.  In the straights and going into corners, I would catch the riders in front of me but then would start to drift back as the group sprinted out of each corner.  As I drifted to the back of the pack, it required more and more effort to hang on after each corner.  About 2/3 of the way through the race my legs were feeling the effort, and I was off the back, so I decided to ride as hard and fast as I could to finish without getting lapped.  I was able to do this for a while, but long story short, I did get lapped, first by the ridiculously strong Annie Byrne who had broken off the front of the pack to earn herself a HUGE GAP (amazing!), and then by the pack, but not until the last 2 corners.  It happens.  Not bad for a first crit ever.  I had planned to watch the men’s race, but unforunately the city of Chicago decided to turn off the streetlights in Calumet Park, so the Cat 4/5 men couldn’t race.

Wednesday Night:
To shake things up a bit, Half Acre reversed the direction of the course.  The warmup and preparation for the race went the same or better, I was feeling good, practiced a couple of sprints.  A couple of XXX teammates showed up for the women’s race too.  The goal for Wednesday was the same as last night’s had been, STAY WITH THE PACK.  Whistle blew, off we went.  This time I directed all of my energy to staying in the middle of the pack, rather than at the back.  I took every opportunity to coast or pedal easily behind someone in order to have enough power in my legs left to sprint out of every single corner.  And guess what? IT WORKED.  I stayed with the pack for the entire race, finishing the half hour race with an average of over 20 miles per hour.  YES!

Thursday Night:
So, I tried to figure out the difference between the Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s races.  Was I faster?  Or just smarter in my riding?  Or was everybody going slower?  I asked around and according to others who had been in both Tuesday and Wednesday’s races, Wednesday’s race was appreciably faster, so I guess I rode smarter.  My goal of night #3 was to repeat night #2, to make sure it wasn’t just luck.  April and I were the only 2 women racing for XXX on Thursday, with the exception of the remarkable Sue Wellington, who raced with the men’s 4/5s (and did GREAT), so we were aiming make the team proud.  My start was horrendous.  I was in way to hard a gear, and I fumbled clipping in (and I could swear I heard someone laugh at me), but shook it off and took the same strategy as the night before, stay with the other riders.  This time, though, I took every opportunity to move up within the pack.  If I saw a gap in front of me, I’d put myself there.  This took more confidence in my bike-handling skills than sticking to the back, but was worth it.  I was never off the back of the pack, and mostly somewhere in the middle to the back end.  Again, I took every opportunity to save energy by drafting.  The race was quick, there were some fast accelerations,and I felt strong, with energy to spare.  I kept my eyes peeled for people speeding up, listened for gear changes, and made sure to be in a good gear to sprint out of each corner.  In the last couple of turns the pack spread way out, and I was towards the back (but I knew I still had a few people behind me).  Since I didn’t have any riders right next to me, I took a good line throught the last corner, and sprinted as hard as I could for the finish.  I saw a rider in front of me, and I was determined to pass her.  And I did.  AND THEN I PASSED THE RIDER IN FRONT OF HER.  And then I was neck and neck with another rider; I have no idea who crossed the line first (since they only ranked the first 12 finishers and the rest of us got 13th place by default), and I don’t care.  The improvement I made over the 3 days of racing was mindblowing.

THANK YOU HALF ACRE CYCLING, YOU ARE AWESOME.  I CAN’T WAIT FOR LINCOLN PARK.

breakaways and Russian Roulette

By Nikos Hessert | Apr 8, 2013

Race name: Burnam spring super crit
Race date: Saturday, Apr 6, 2013

Juniors: The rise and fall of the Is-corp empire
This past Saturday i raced in the Spring Super Crit, along with most of the other juniors on the team.  Weeks before the race, Ben O’Malley had been going over tactics for the race.  I thought we should take advantage of the long straight and our superior numbers to launch Kyle (short Kyle) to a sprint victory.  He thought i should attack from the gun, and make it look like a joke (Only an idiot would attack so early).  Being said idiot, i decided “why not” and in the first corner, flew off the front.  The first thoughts that ran through my head were “don’t look back, Jens Voight always says never look back”, and “no way i can hold this off”. the evil Empire, or is corp, started a chase, but Ben and Kyle (only half acting) loudly pointed out that I’m an idiot who does this all the time, and that id soon get brought back.  by the second lap it was clear the only problem id have would be looking cool coming across the finish line in first.  with a 90 second advantage, and Ben Sam and Kyle blocking what was left of a shattered pack, i easily won the juniors race, while Ben came in second.

Cat 4’s: the empire strikes back
The fours race started out normally enough, with a few bumps and a few jokers, but quickly descended into utter chaos.  The race soon became about survival.  at the end of the race, i rolled across the line somewhere around mid-pack, happy to have finished without crashing.  i felt liked i had survived 45 minutes of Russian roulette.

Barry-Roubaix, Spinal Tap Style

By Jim Barclay | Mar 24, 2013

Race name: Barry-Roubaix
Race date: Saturday, Mar 23, 2013

“This is like riding through peanut butter,” yelled Didi. 

He was right.  Skippy Super Chunk, to be precise.  We were doing a short recon ride Friday night and the Killer Gravel Road Race was looking like it would be a Killer Mud Fest.  The truth is, I don’t like mud.  Or, more to the point, I don’t know what to do with it.  I’ve never done a ‘cross race, never even been on a mountain bike and the one gravel race I did last fall was so dry it might as well have been pavement.  Nonetheless, here I was with my newly built ‘cross bike out for her debut race.  The course starts out in town but turns to a dirt (i.e. mud,) road about 3 miles into it.  Almost immediately you hit three progressively steeper climbs—the Three Sisters.  Here we sat atop the Third Sister.  My pulse was racing and I was aghast to find it took every gear I had just to get here. This was my first race of my first full season of racing and I wanted it all to start well.  Instead, it looked to surely be a disaster.

The morning of the race was colder than forecast—well below freezing—which meant that one could expect little thawing of ice in the early waves.  I was lucky (?) enough to be in wave 5 of 16.  Each wave was separated by 3 minutes.  Still, my age group was huge—144 men age 40-42 and most of them starting in that wave.  We launched out of town on the firm pavement for a few miles and I made sure to move up near the front of the pack. If I was going to sink into the mud I wanted to be one of the first to do so. 

Then a strange thing happened.  We turned off the pavement and on to Yeckley Road and I looked up to see thick, hard-pack dirt.  I don’t know if it was groomed over night or the cold just hardened it up but I realized it wasn’t peanut butter any more. 

This is different.  I can race on this. Game on.

Without hesitation, I opened the throttle into the descent of the first Sister and before I knew it, I was up and over the Third Sister still in mid-cassette.  Thank you SLO, and thank you adrenaline!  I was passing everybody.  While it was a huge field, it was also very spread out and I realized I wouldn’t stay with any one group for the duration.  Nonetheless, I thought I should find a buddy to at least share some work.  Without any xXx’ers around I found the strongest, most agile rider nearby and followed his wheel.  He took good lines—maneuvering through the mess of bone-shaking potholes, icy patches, fallen riders, slower riders and about 1000 dropped water bottles.  We traded a few pulls and then he fell off.  Again I was on my own but that was OK.  I felt strong—really strong—and with the constantly undulating terrain, the downhills would offer me an occasional break.  I knew I could keep this up for a while if I had to. 

About that terrain: Don’t think that just because the dirt was packed that it was easy.  It was not! Parts of it were definitely more chewed up and some sections were very icy. I saw riders going down all around me and had a couple of skids myself but managed to keep it upright. At least twice I got a “nice save” from nearby riders.  I guess 25 years of playing the drums have taught me something about balancing on my butt.  I kept moving up and getting more confident—about my fitness, about my bike handling, about my choices.  Spending a week in SLO did wonders for my climbing but also my shifting.  Some of of the rollers were manageable in the big ring but others definitely were not.  I didn’t want to fatigue myself in too big a gear.  On this day I seemed to be hitting all my shifts perfectly—keeping my cadence right where I wanted it, moving to the big ring as I crested and sometimes “shifting with my legs” to just power up over hills that others were falling back on.  On the steepest grades I was hesitant to get out of the saddle too much for fear of skidding but it didn’t seem to matter.  Most of the people I was passing now were guys from the earlier waves on mountain bikes and, with the drier roads, I flew past them on the rollers

About 12 miles in I hooked up with a fairly strong rider in an orange kit.  He was riding a ‘cross bike and pushing an enormous gear.  I think it was a compact but might have even been a 52: always down in the cassette and at a very low cadence. We traded pulls on the paved sections but it was uneven.  He would ride strong and then fade.  He would fall off and then, a few miles down the road, he would show up again.  In the dirt we’d hit the rollers and I’d drop him. Then on the flat sections he would appear on my left kicking a steady 70 RPM.  Still, I was happy to have a wheel to be on for a bit.

With about 10 miles to go I started to sense I was doing pretty well.  The race was chip timed so I couldn’t really gauge it by the pack.  Still, my unscientific analysis was that I was passing many, many more people than were passing me.  Now I started to think about staying upright—I was one pothole or icy patch away from ruining what was turning out to be pretty good race. Also, was it just me or were my bars rotating down ever so slightly?  All of this bumpy terrain had me thinking I should have checked my stem bolts with a torque wrench.  I was glad when we hit the final stretch of pavement leading back into town.  I wasn’t so happy to see that Orange Kit guy had managed to crawl his way back and was now a bike length in front of me with a little over a mile to go.

Here’s one more thing about Orange Kit Guy:  he had enormous legs.  The dude just looked like a bike racer.  I had no idea what wave he started in or if this was going to end in a sprint but I wagered that with his gearing and his quads he would probably out sprint me.  I also new that he would push that big gear until he was tired and decided I would attack when I saw him start to fade about 1 mile from the finish.  Sure enough, I got a pretty good gap on him but I had jumped too soon.  There was just too much road left and he recovered to pull ahead of me going into the last turn.  The finish line was closer to the corner than I had expected but I gave it what I had.  I jumped again.  Not happening.  I saw I wasn’t getting around him.  I was pretty exhausted and hoped the chances of us competing in the same age group and wave were relatively remote.

No such luck.

Out of 144 riders in my age group I came in 11th with a time of 1:54:29.  Orange Kit was #10 at 1:54:28.  However, rather than get down about 1 second, I choose instead to paraphrase that great guitarist/philosopher Nigel Tufnel: while most top 10‘s only go up to 10, mine goes up to 11.  It’s one better than 10. 

Which is to say, on that icy, technical course and that huge field, I’m extremely happy to start my season with that result!

Masters CX Worlds

By Chris MacFarland | Feb 15, 2013

Race name: UCI Cyclocross Masters World Championships - 40-44
Race date: Friday, Feb 1, 2013

So 2012 was the year we were blessed with the addition of little Owen to our family, and subsequently, one that would see me not do a road or track race all year, with the exception of Barry Roubaix. So it was the Masters 40+ of the CCC that was calling me and which comprised my season. It was all cross this year and it was fun!

When Worlds were announced, I initially only bought tickets to go watch the elite races over the weekend. I kept telling myself I didn’t have the fitness to race Masters Worlds. But the idea kept gnawing at me and I finally decided I would be crazy NOT to race. So I registered and booked a hotel that was literally a 3 minute ride to the venue. So close you could do your trainer warm up in the hotel room and pedal over for staging. (Something I wish I would have done actually.)

As it’s getting closer to the date, I nearly bail on the whole thing. The demands of having an infant in the house were taking more and more of my time and my training into the winter really declined. I was really beating myself up over the fact that I wasn’t going to be at my best for Worlds. Not that I had any illusions I would be racing for a top 10 or whatever, but it was a high level race and it’s only natural to want to be at your best. But with support from Melody and a series of “getting stoked” texts with John Boggs, I kept my head straight and decided to stay in the race. I would race as hard as I could with what I have and leave it at that. My goal is to race in the final.

Tuesday night at Louisville. Rain. Tornado sirens. Rain. Little sleep. My qualifier is at 11:30, course opens at 8:00 for pre-ride. Even as I approach the absolute disaster area that is the race course, it didn’t dawn on me that things might be delayed and off I go to pre-ride. Much of the course is under water and It’s a mucky mess. I ride two laps and I’m soaked, covered in mud. We then get official word of the 2 hour delay. I get my bike power washed and head back to the hotel and wait for my race, getting in a quick nap.

Top 24 in my heat make it to the final. I’m staged in the 4th row. I look up to see Melody and Owen at the start line. This makes me happy. I’m glad I’m here. Off we go and as we move off the pavement and hit the muddy water, it was like hitting a huge puddle with your car. Spray everywhere. It was kind of funny actually. I was afraid of people going down at that point and pulled off the gas a little bit. But we all managed it safely, at least as far as I could tell. Once we were in it, the mud was relentless, a deep river mud that sucked on your wheels. It felt like riding though sand with some joker holding onto your saddle the whole time. After riding clean in my pre-ride laps, I thought I could manage my lines. But in the scruff, I go down twice on the first lap, dropping my chain on the second crash, losing precious spots as I curse my Paul chain keeper. I’m back on and ride cleanly through the rest and take back a few spots, but fall short of a qualifying spot and finish 30th.

That was the hardest 2 laps of anything I’ve done and now if I want to race in the final I have to do it again, in 2 hours. I briefly consider bailing, but quickly drop that idea and mentally prepare to race again. The top 8 from the Repechage round will make it into the final. We’re racing for the last row!

I had my bike power washed between races, so it’s looking good. I, however, am not. Off we go and it’s much the same. I know what to expect and how to get through it, which was nothing more than grinding it out and staying upright. No other race tactics come into play in these conditions. I ride clean. A group of us quickly separate and we were being told by some spectators that we were in the top 8. That was a relief and I was really hoping they weren’t just messing with us. I was with 3 other guys and we kept going back and forth. It was actually kind of fun and we were pretty confident we were all in the final as nobody was close off the back. On the second lap, I lost my shifting and was stuck in my easiest gear. I lost a little ground on the flat, extra muddy sections as one click down was the ideal gear for me, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference. I come down the hill on the final lap to someone yelling “you’re number 7” to me. And so I’m in the final. Relieved.

The cold rolls in, which I’m happy to see. Anything to harden up that course I think. I’d rather deal with frozen ruts than that muck. But the morning’s races, sunshine and warming temps into the mid 20’s quell those hopes. I pre-ride a few sections and quickly realize that conditions on Friday are actually worse than Wednesday. The course is 1/3 frozen and 2/3 muck. The slow speeds from the mud made the ruts hard to maneuver through, no momentum. I finish my warm up on a trainer in the big tent and see pit crews running around trying to gather materials to clean the bikes. Guys are running out to gas stations and hardware stores for supplies. Windshield washer fluid seemed a popular choice. (The power washers had been left out in the cold and were now frozen and useless.) At this point I’m realizing just how bad it is out there.

I line up, number 79 of 80, checking in! I’m wearing my spiffy new skin suit and feel bad for what I’m about to subject it to. Off again with a little less of a splash this time. Within a 1/2 lap, I realize that my bike is getting very heavy. Everything is sticking, immediately freezing to the bike and building up at an alarming rate. The brakes are practically useless, but somehow I can still shift. By the second lap, my bike is barely ridable and I knew that would be my last lap. I saw the pit crews frantically trying to clean bikes as I hobbled by the pits. As I approached the last steep descent before the finish, I decided to run my bike. I had ridden the hill every time before, but my bike was in such poor condition that I didn’t trust it and there was no way I was risking a downhill crash at this point. I was happy and disappointed to be pulled. I placed 67th out of 80, gaining 12 spots from my staging position. After my race I grabbed some tasty Frites with mayo and a Sierra Nevada, and chatted with a couple from Colorado who came out to watch for the week. By this point, my bike is completely frozen up. Nothing would move. I throw it up on my shoulder and walk back to my hotel, satisfied with my result.

In the end, I am very happy I decided to go through with racing at CX Worlds. I learned a lot about personal expectations, balance and preparation. It has me motivated to try some higher level, regional CX races this year. I have to say that the people there were the friendliest damn people around, both the racing crowd and the locals. I encountered some of the most supportive and friendly racers I’ve seen, nothing but smiles and encouragement. That says a lot about our sport and I’m proud to be associated with it. Louisville is a great town and I look forward to heading back to race the USGP event there. You should go!

Master’s Worlds

By John Boggs | Feb 8, 2013

Race name: 2013 UCI Masters Cyclocross World Championships
Race date: Friday, Feb 1, 2013

Not having the greatest road season in 2012, I decided to focus more on cross in the fall and have fun with it.  Back in October, registration opened up for the Master’s Cyclocross World Championships.  The races were being held in Louisville, not too far away, and I think should I?  I chatted with Coach Randy Warren about it, and he was like why wouldn’t you.  So decision made, I register and started focusing on worlds. 

Fast forward 3 months or so, the bike is all cleaned up, things are loaded up, and we’re ready to head south to Louisville.  Two other teammates, Andy Anderson and Chris MacFarland, are racing as well, and we’re all looking to have a great time in Louisville.  Tuesday afternoon sees rain in Chicago, delaying getting on the road and getting down south later than expected after forgetting my toiletries bag and a few other things.  That night torrential downpours set in to the area, topped off with tornado sirens a little after 4 am Wednesday morning.  Not exactly the best lead in for my qualifying heat.

Wednesday morning after a short sleep, I’m up early with both boys, and tired.  Decided to skip the 8 a.m. pre-ride session and grab breakfast.  Light rain is still falling from the sky.  Andy and I head over to pick up our race numbers.  While picking them up, we hear about some of the damage the storms have done.  The whole course was supposedly under a couple inches of water and starting races were delayed 2 hours.  Silver lining to the storm clouds though, through the random draw, I’d be the 3rd rider called up for my heat.  So we drove over to check out the course.  Organizers and volunteers were hard at work doing what they could to get the course in a ride-able shape.  There was a lot of water on the course, and it was sure to be a sloppy, muddy, good time.

After some good time in the pool “relaxing” with the boys, we headed back over around noon to check out the course.  The amount of mud and slop was really indescribable.  I’ve really never seen a course like that.  With the conditions, not wanting to spend time cleaning the bike twice in one day, and multiple racers advising to absolutely not do it, I opted out of the pre-ride.  Heat races had also been cut from 3 laps to 2 laps to make up for the delay in the morning.  Got in a good warm up, seeing several pros riding around the area, and then rolled to staging on my sweet new PSIMET tubulars.  Top 24 in the heat advance to Friday.  I haven’t had many front line starts in cross, but I could definitely get used to the view up there.  Unfortunately my awesome wife was lugging 2 boys around in the mud and missed the great photo op.  Whistle blows and we’re off.  The start is on pavement for 65 meters or so, into a pond of mud.  Water and mud everywhere (just like when your mom told you not to ride in the rain), it was good to be in the front here, and shortly into it is where the pace slowed.  It was like riding through sand the whole lap, and though only 2 laps long, one of the hardest races I’ve ridden.  I finished 14th, so I was in and very happy about it.

Wednesday night and all day Thursday a cold front moved in to the area.  There were some good snow showers passing through the area, but not accumulating.  That afternoon, we rode over to check out course conditions.  Temps were dropping throughout the day, and the course was still sloppy with temps hovering around freezing.  We picked up our numbers for the championship that afternoon, I had 42nd in the callup after times from all 3 heats were tallied.  Went to bed hoping for the course to harden up overnight.
 
Friday morning came and woke up to a light dusting of snow.  I drove over to check out the course shortly after breakfast.  The course was frozen solid for the early races, with ruts everywhere and ice where puddles of water were the day before.  Unfortunately with the forecast of mid-20s and lots of sunshine, I didn’t think it would last.  After lunch, we headed over to warm up and get ready, and as I had suspected, the course was back to a slow, grinding slopfest. Got a good warm up on the trainer under the tent out of the elements and then headed to staging.  Starting in the middle of the pack I planned to get as far up the front as I could after the whistle.  A slight chilly delay in our new, slick Pactimo skinsuits, and then we were off.  Immediately off the pavement into the slop, a guy goes does right in front of me.  Through some luck I squeaked by.  The slop seemed to be even slower than Wednesday.  Rounding a corner into the hole shot, I hear another crash beside me, and then another one behind me.  I’d made it through all of those safely and started focusing on the next rider in front of me.  About 1/3 of a lap through, I dismounted to run.  Some sections were faster on foot that trying to pedal through the wheel sucking mud.  I thought wow, this bike seems really heavy.  The mud was piling up at an alarming rate, and freezing hard as concrete to the bike.  My brakes were frozen stiff with the mud and I had to dismount to go down the couple hills.  Things only continued to get worse as the second lap came to an end and I was pulled.  I think only the top 10 riders actually finished the whole race.  The guys who were still out there had pit crews working feverishly, and were changing bikes twice a lap.  Without that kind of support, there was no hope to finish.  Final results had me listed at 55th, which although a little bummed due to the conditions, I was very happy with that finish.  I was more focused training and preparing for these races than I ever have been and very satisfied with the level of fitness I’d brought to the race.  Sometimes the intangibles have a different plan for your day.  Hey, that’s racing.

New Year’s Resolution

By William Pankonin | Jan 7, 2013

Race name: CCC New Year's Resolution
Race date: Saturday, Jan 5, 2013

The first section of the New Year’s Resolution course reminded me of a criterium.  The race is categorized as a UCI C2 race and starts straight and into a strong headwind on pavement with a little turn followed by a slight rise, a sharper turn on a paved path, and finally a sweeping “S” turn before leaving this pavement section and onto gravel.  The starts of these types of races can be compared to how a crit often finishes –thrilling or horrifying, depending on what you like.

On Saturday, the rest of the course was frozen hard and fast.  I received a good call up in the front row and chose my spot.  After a lot of hard work in a grueling CCC series, and a couple of good results, it was nice to have my work pay off with a good Crossresults ranking.  After pre-riding the course a few times yesterday, I knew I wanted to be towards the right because I felt the right side offered the smoothest and fastest line.  I waited for the whistle in silence with some really fast racers, including the Flatlandia guys, Gatto, and Euro-crosser David Lombardo.  We were off and with a good start, I was able to maintain position and get clear of all the elbows and handlebars.  By the time we exited the beginning of the course, we were single file with me sitting around 6th wheel.  We approached the hill full throttle, bounced our way down, and sailed across the course in the jet-stream tailwind.  The course and our speed began the stretch out the field.

The first move came within the first lap and saw Lombardo and Miller gain some separation on five or six of us.  I passed a rider and attempted to cover the move going into the headwind dragging three along, but I was unsuccessful as the two leaders now smelled blood in the water.  They increased their speed and worked the course so that their gap increased.  We now became a chase group of four during laps two and three.  This is my favorite type of course because I’m able to keep the pressure high for a long time, and I did so for two whole laps remaining mostly in the front trying to catch the leaders and trying to drop one or two of our group.  Mr. Haupt once flicked his elbow in the headwind and I had no problem pulling through as hard as possible.  I began to realize, however, that I would need to change plans as we began lap four with around three to go, because my pressure was having no effect on my competition.

I managed to pull off the front and get on a wheel to breathe a little and assess the situation.  The two leaders were now gone, and the four of us were now fighting for the third podium position.  We all took shots to the gut and face as the three of them punched and kicked with all their strength.  We covered attacks and counters, and used all our might to concentrate on the few little technical sections like the triple zig-zag double-barrier.  We all rode it once, ran it later, and one time some of us ran it while others rode it.  One of us rode the high line through sand, the same line Powers would later ride in the Pro race.  On one of these laps, Mr. Haupt flicked his elbow with me on his wheel, this time though, I did not pull through.  I could hear Busteed over the speakers illustrating our tactics to those watching.  While coming up on one lap to go, I began to feel fresh again.  I was second wheel into the headwind through the start/finish with the last lap bell clanging.  We rode up the little paved rise, turned and prepared for the “S” curve.

I have a lot of experience on this course, and there was one race last year where I found myself in a group of four with one to go.  During that race, I waited for one late moment to launch an attack in hopes of winning.  It didn’t work.  Thanks to Warren Cycling, I know my strengths and weaknesses with sharp clarity, and I knew I couldn’t wait for the end today.  I would not make that mistake again.

As we approached the “S” turn, the rider in front eased up and looked back at me.  I attacked into the turn.  It wasn’t pre-planned; it just felt good.  The others would now have to decide whether or not to use risky speed in the turn in order to defend the move.  I knew that this would be a good first place to begin a series of attacks with constant high pressure.  You couldn’t go full gas through the turn, but you could after you exited, and that created a good gap for me.  They closed it slightly while going into the next technical turn, but it hurt them.  It hurt all of us.  I attacked with everything I had up the hill and buried my chain into the small cog on the way down.  Another gap now grew, and it stretched slightly.  We hammered and camp up on the far side of the wheel-pit, where I was absolutely shocked to see Lombardo running with his bike on his shoulder.  He was waving one arm trying to flag his pit person.  Really sorry about that David, but holy smokes! We all realized that there were now two UCI podium spots up for grabs with a half lap to go.

As we maneuvered through the zig-zig, through blurry vision, I was able to see that there were still racers behind me.  This was okay though, because my plan was to hurt myself enough throughout the lap, so that by the end, my three competitors would not be able to beat me sprinting.  After I remounted I delivered my final attack, which I held until I could see the pavement of the start/finish.  I heard Kirby yell something about sprinting for second! I got out of the saddle and with my hands in the drops, I sprinted as hard as I could, which was probably tantamount to the attacks I had previously delivered during this last lap.

A little bad luck for one guy is often someone else’s good luck.  Last Saturday, I had the good luck.  My tactical racing prevented a four person sprint at the race’s end, which I would have probably lost.  So tactics with a little luck had me throwing my bike at the line for second place.  I never looked back, but know now that Mr. Haupt was strong enough to chase me down after the zig-zag, and smart enough to use my slipstream to beat me at the line.  I was very happy to share the podium with him, and congratulations to Mr. Miller on his well-deserved win.

                                                  *

Coach Randy often reminds athletes to always try to imitate in practice what you will experience in competition.  So on Sunday, I lined up for the earliest race, the 8:00 40+ masters race because that is when I’ll start my race at nationals next weekend in Verona.  In the morning, we found the start/finish area and entire beginning straight-away covered in smooth, slick ice.  I would never dream to practice on anything like this, and would instead avoid it at all costs! But, we lined up anyway and calmed ourselves by deciding to not go hard over the ice.  A few racers even announced a neutral start until safely over the ice.  It was funny to begin a cross race in the saddle.  We all stayed in the saddle because you would slip and fall if you shifted any weight and disturbed your delicate balance.  We went hard though, and still took some risks.  I managed to maintain a good position at second wheel.  After the leader’s back wheel slipped dramatically in front of me, we all lined up and rode the safest line off the ice.  Whew!

I stayed second wheel until we left the first off-camber section.  With the hill straight ahead, and with good ground under our wheels, we were now free to fly.  I passed the leader and pedaled up and down the hill and through the straight-away as hard as possible.  I had caused some damage.  Looking behind me, I saw only two riders on my wheel.  I eased up a bit, still keeping it fast, but not fast as possible, or not “Met het hol open,” if you’re familiar with the Dutch version.

As the three of us carefully rode a couple laps, I thought about how to win the race, or actually, how not to lose the race.  The ice was my main concern.  One fall on it could result in a missed podium or worse.  I weighed the risks with USAC cyclocross nationals next weekend, and it was easy to decide that I would not take ANY risks.  Nationals was my main concern.  But how to win?

If we remained together by riding at this pace, then eventually, someone might attack, taking a risk, and maybe causing a slide-out.  Or perhaps the slide out would happen while covering the attack.  I didn’t want to be a part of quick and sudden attacks, nor did I want to attempt to out-sprint a racer on ice, so I decided I wanted to be away off the front, even if it meant riding alone for three laps.  Also, I did not know these guys, but I knew they had fast legs, good skills and crafty tactics.  On the next section of safe ground, I applied high pressure and kept at it for a lap until I had created a gap.  It is hard to ride solo because you might be tempted to ease up on the throttle.  I did my best to gauge the time gap, and I heard someone yell out that I had ten seconds.  I wasn’t too comfortable with that, so I tried to race even faster, except over any section that was covered in ice, and there were plenty!

With one to go, I knew I would win the race, barring any mishaps on the ice.  I managed a careful post-up, but even that made me nervous because I was thinking about not being able to race in Verona because I took my hands off the bars on ice!

Thank you to Chicago Cyclocross Cup, the Indian Lakes Hilton, USAC, ICA, the announcers, all the volunteers, all the clubs, all the hecklers and shouters and to everyone who came out and helped make the 2013 New Year’s Resolution so fun and memorable.  See ya in Wisco!

Skinsuited

By Bill Barnes | Oct 28, 2012

Race name: Lowell 50 gravel Road Race
Race date: Saturday, Oct 27, 2012

A few years ago, when I started playing bike racer in my spare time, my typical pre-race prep looked something like this:

Hear about a race.  Register for a race.  Go to a race. 

Finish in the middle or quit because I’m angry I got dropped.

I’m sure somewhere along the line, the sheer amount of times I’ve done it have made me a little better, but one thing I know has helped has been changing my pre-race prep to something like this:

Hear about a race.  Search internet for previous year’s race reports.  Look at the course.  Decide if course is suited for me.  Register regardless.  Plan out attire.  Pre-ride or pre-scout the course.  Race. 

Finish race in the middle, or the front because I felt particularly great that day.  Occasionally get dropped or quit because something broke.

It was with this new and slightly improved strategy that I heard about the Lowell 50 gravel grinder from a teammate, started scouring the internet for blog posts, and read a few.  One theme seemed to be somewhat recurring.  Since this is a mixed mountain bike/road bike/cross bike type of race, mountain bikers have a different take on racing than us roadies do.  I read more than one race report complaining of “skinsuit wearing roadies” showing up to this race, and complaints of wheel sucking and drafting.  So basically, road racing. 

So, I did the only prudent thing I could think of, and showed up with a perfectly clean cross bike that matched my long sleeve skinsuit perfectly.  Our team’s reputation had apparently preceded me, as we overheard someone say “Oh look, xxx is here too.” with some modicum of either respect, annoyance, or worry in their voice, on our way to registration.

I lined up near the middle behind all sorts of racers.  Mountain bikers, road bikers (with 23c tires and 53/11 cranksets), tandems here and there, you name it.  As one big mass start event, I knew I’d have little trouble moving up to the front before I needed to.  At the airhorn’s signaled start, I decided to just get up to the front immediately, which took very little effort at all.  The pavement rollout seemed to be neutral by consensus, if not officially.  By the time we hit turn one I was around 6th wheel or so.  Turn one was a short climb, and right about there, the group started to fracture into the different races within the race.  About a mile later the first real gravel climb of the day came, and knowing that I climb like uh, facebook’s post-IPO stock price, I got in the front to limit the damage.  Turns out I wasn’t really in deep trouble like I would be in a typical road race.  The few folks on road bikes got some separation, and the guys on mountain bikes started fighting their suspensions as they stood up.  We crested the climb and the terrain turned back into pavement.  This was dangerous as the smooth tire crowd ahead had about three seconds at this point.  At this point I was realizing that I’d brought a knife to a gun fight, and what I thought was going to be gravel was really just very, very hard packed dirt.  Absolutely nothing you couldn’t manage on a road bike.  Note to self for next year.

I decided that letting the road bike group get away was a bad idea and decided to bridge up to them.  This was probably the biggest effort I put in in the entire race, and it was no more than 15 minutes in at this point.  I started to doubt my ability to hang with this group for the rest of it.  Regardless, I made it up, and took a solid group of 10 or 15 guys on various bikes with me in the effort.  One of the smooth-tires attacked again within seconds, and I fell back to 5th wheel or so to hope someone else would chase.  They did, and we let him dangle out there for probably 5 miles or so.  At this point I look back and realize there’s only about 25 or so folks left in the group, so I know I’m in the group that’s going to finish in front.  This group is too big to fail.  I’m in a good place.

Attacks happen from this point here and there, but nothing is really allowed to get away again after the first smooth-tire guy stayed off for so long.  I’m really happy that the group I’m in all seem to be very good riders, even the few mountain bikes that have made it with the mostly cross-bike crowd we’re in ride like they know what they’re doing.  I start to make talk where I can, asking ages, starting to try to decide who’s a threat and who’s not.  The overall finish is a possibility, but I know I can’t outsprint the smooth tire guys without a lot of luck (the finish is long and on pavement), so I’m aiming for age group victory at this point.  As we got closer to the finish, things heated up a lot.  Several times I was in my max gear of 46/11, spinning out on tailwinds and slightly downhill spots.  Kudos to anyone on a mountain bike who managed to stay at this point.

We made the final transition to pavement and the all-in race finishing moves started.  None but one looked very dangerous to me, but the one that did I got blocked from following.  So much for the overall with 500 meters to go.  I looked around and realized I could probably salvage a top 5 or so, and got on a good wheel into the finish.  A guy I would later find out was my only 30+ competitor left at the finish.  He seemed to blow up right before the line and I came around him with inches to spare and did a textbook bike throw to pip him at the line. 

After the race, chip timing would show him having beaten me, and gotten second.  I thought this was a pretty good result, and felt good about the day.  The announcer mentioned something about reviewing the video, but I wasn’t sure it applied to me or not.  Turns out it did, and as the race is scored on wheels, not chips, I barely edged out my competitor there for first.  It was a good hour or so before podium ceremonies, and 3rd place had gone home, but I knew I had one thing to do before I left: 

Get a picture of a skinsuit wearing roadie on the top step of the podium.

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In Pursuit of an Olympian

By Liam Donoghue | Oct 11, 2012

Race name: Elite Track Nationals Individual Pursuit
Race date: Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

The first year I went to Elite Track Nationals, it was purely for the experience, and never once did I consider results an important component to the trip. I entered the omnium (six events over two days, decathlon-style), as well as all the individual endurance events, and pretty well got destroyed in them all. This was 2010. I didn’t even qualify for either the points or scratch race final. I was happy just to get some national-level races under my belt and see how far I still needed to go in both fitness and tactics.

2011 was a small improvement; I qualified for both the scratch and points race finals, where I took 11th in both. I also did the individual pursuit, and got 11th. Consistency, I guess. But saying definitively that I was the 11th-best endurance track racer in the country left a sour taste in my mouth, because I thought surely I was in the top 10.

They say the third time’s a charm, so I ate a bunch of Mallow Oats (generic knockoff of Lucky Charms) in the weeks leading up to this year’s race, just to be safe.

I came in with what could easily be considered lofty goals: Win a national championship by beating everyone in the points race, and get 2nd to Bobby Lea in the pursuit. A silver in that event, I said to several people, would be my equivalent of the gold medal, since Bobby is currently putting down times right around 4:30. No one but Taylor Phinney has gone faster in the last six years.

So there I was, Thursday morning, warming up for my first event, the pursuit qualifier. The top 4 move on to the finals, where 3rd place races 4th for the bronze medal and 1st goes against 2nd for the gold/silver. I wanted to qualify for the finals in the individual pursuit, but secretly wouldn’t have been happy with 4th or 3rd. I wanted to know what it felt like to lose to an Olympian. I’d somehow convinced myself over the preceding couple months that this was a legitimate goal.

The pursuit is a straightforward event. Sixteen laps of the 250-meter track from a standing start, with one guy starting from each straightaway. Hence the name: you’re chasing that other guy. Nothing to it but getting out of the gate, riding really fast and pacing oneself. The pacing ultimately comes down to sticking to a set schedule, and the schedule can be estimated by previous times over 4km, as well as known five-minute power. The previous month I had put down my personal best at Omnium Nationals in Rock Hill, SC, with a 4:46. I can easily shave a few seconds off that, I told myself.

That time in Rock Hill was good enough to make them seed me 4th in the qualifiers, which means nothing, really, except that I raced in the penultimate heat, and was able to see the times of everyone who went before me. The idea is that the people in charge roughly estimate who has the best chance of putting down the fastest times, based on previous national-level events, so that the times get progressively faster until the last guy, who’s the previous year’s national champ. The two guys to go after me were Bobby Lea, who would undoubtedly go faster than I, and Dan Holt, whom I beat by an insurmountable margin of 13 seconds at Rock Hill.

All I had to do was beat everyone who went before me, as well as Zack Noonan, the guy starting on the opposite straightaway in my heat. Noonan was one of the ten dudes who beat me last year.

When it’s your turn to go, they place your bike into the starting gate, and once you climb onto it, the countdown begins. Fifty seconds to get inside your own head just a little bit more than you already have for the past few weeks or months or years. Not that many people showed up to spectate at 8am on a Thursday, but the whole place gets fairly quiet, and you’re able to hear your own thoughts. Jobs are forgotten, girls no longer matter, and you can almost taste the pain you’re about to inflict upon yourself. A metallic taste, like swallowing a pill.

The pursuit is straightforward, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to master. Every velodrome is different, so a 4:46 at one place may correspond to a 4:43 at another, because of wind conditions, humidity, whether the surface is wood vs. concrete, etc. The only constant from one effort to the next is how much power you’re applying to the pedals.

Chris Hoy talked about how at the 2008 Olympics, he sat and watched all the guys go before him in the Kilo, and he saw guys set lightning-fast time after lightning-fast time. It didn’t phase him. Not even when, if I recall correctly, Theo Bos put down a new Kilo world record. Hoy just kept going through his warm-up routine, thinking, Well OK, now I just have to go faster than that. Textbook confidence.

Fast, German, recently naturalized U.S citizen and all-around nice guy Stefan Rothe was in the heat previous to mine, so as I sat in the chair trackside waiting my turn to ride, I watched him put down a blistering 4:43. The new fastest time. Dave saw me watching the scoreboard and tried to divert my attention, tried to keep me focused on my ride, because he knew what time I was aiming for. But he didn’t realize I needed to look at the scoreboard, needed to see Stefan’s fast time, because this piece of information changed everything: I still knew I’d set the second-fastest time and get to race Bobby Lea in the finals, but in setting my own schedule at 4:43, I’d sold myself short. With my form, I now knew I could possibly go sub-4:40. Only question is: would Noonan do the same?

Once the race started, I knew I was flying. I was going one- to three-tenths of a second faster than my schedule every lap, and at one point even held back a bit for fear of blowing up and losing time at the end. Quick mental calculations done while on the absolute verge of complete body shutdown doesn’t always yield calculator-accurate results, but I knew I was going as fast as I needed to in order to set the new fastest time. Every lap was so much faster than I’d anticipated. Dave was yelling splits for me, and I could sense his giddiness at how fast I was going. That was a really cool feeling, in a race that’s normally as eerily solo as can be, to hear my teammate, the guy who’s been perhaps the most instrumental in my budding cycling career, feeling the speed and feeding on the power. I quickly got Noonan in my sights. He was never in fear of being caught, but I knew I didn’t have to worry about him beating me. The laps counted down, and I ended up saving way too much for the final couple laps. Whoops. I stopped the clock, now four kilometers after takeoff, and and saw the scoreboard read 4:40 and change. I had beaten Stefan and set the new fastest time.

Bobby would beat my time in the next heat, I knew, but I had gotten second place. I’d race an Olympian later that night in the gold medal final, lose to him, and win myself a silver medal.

But because just losing to an Olympian isn’t quite cool enough on its own, I decided, with the help of Randy, to try to put a good scare into Lea. In the gold medal final, I went out on his schedule, set on both making him nervous when he realized after 1.5km that he was level with me, and also making sure to force him to race all 4km to earn his gold medal. I promised myself I would not get lapped.

Tom was calling splits, and also giving me a hand signal each lap to tell me whether I was up, down, or level with the olympian. For the first three laps, we were level. After the fourth lap, I was ahead. Ha! For a split-second, I told myself it was possible to beat him, to win gold. Then the split-second ended, and my legs laughed maniacally at my silly wishful thinking. We were level for a couple laps after that, but then my lap times plummeted, and the second half of the race hurt. In the final kilometer, with the race already well-decided (and not in my favor), I could sense Bobby was on the same straightaway, mere feet behind me. I was determined not to get lapped. I think I felt his breath on me during the final lap, when I just barely squeaked away from him as he crossed his finish line. A half-lap later and I crossed my finish, somehow putting down a 4:39 despite the fact that I felt like I’d never ridden a bike slower for the final 2km. New PR, and mission accomplished.

A silver medal in the first event of the weekend, only losing to a now-13-time elite national champion.

In other words: complete success.

No Room for Mistakes

By Heidi Sarna | Sep 23, 2012

Race name: 2012 Duathlon Elite World Championship
Race date: Saturday, Sep 22, 2012

The 2012 Duathlon National Team leaves Nancy, France with unfinished business.

Our race strategy was to send one runner out with the main run group and have the rest of the team stay within sight, and group up immediately on the bike to work together.  We executed our team strategy to the best of our ability, but we didn’t have time for any mistakes.  The bike course was only 4.5K per lap and the lead pack was gaining speed as we fought to stay within the lap-out distance. We were organized and taking the technical turns aggressively, but crash and then a flat took us out of the groove.  With only 2 laps to go, we were left with only one US contender.

Day two gave us the opportunity to redeem ourselves with the mixed relay, two men and two women from each country racing on a sprint course.  I was selected as the third leg.  We decided to put our fastest runner first, but she had to pull out due to an injury, so our team was unable to continue.

Thank you for your support!  I’m looking forward to some fall riding.

Them’s the brakes

By Luke Seemann | Sep 16, 2012

Race name: Jackson Park Cyclocross
Race date: Saturday, Sep 15, 2012

30+
I had tempered expectations heading into the first Chicago Cyclocross Cup of the year. My fitness wasn’t where it had been in previous years, there were many strong and skilled riders in my field, and the course, ingeniously designed as it was, was one that would shine a klieg light on my weaknesses (read as: steering, turning and handling). Mostly I just wanted to finish in the top eight, as that would guarantee a front-row call-up in the next race and hopefully beyond.

Fortunately I had a new set of Psimet wheels beneath me. This would be the first time racing with tubulars of my own. Turns that on clinchers I would take slowly and gingerly I could now bomb like a sweeping turn in a criterium: fast and worry-free.

Before the race I studied the starting chute. There were quite a few holes I knew I’d want to avoid. It looked like the best line would be on the far left along the fencing.

I lined up next to top-seed John Gatto, who shrewedly lined up on the far left. Behind him was Eric Drummer, who appeared to have also scouted out the fast line up the left.

Unlike me, Drummer has a great start, and before I’d even gotten on top of my gear he sped by. But he was so far ahead of the rider behind him that I could slip into his draft, thus getting a free ride and avoiding the danger spots en route to the hole shot, where I breathed a sigh of relief: I was still with the leaders and had not lost much ground in the start’s argy-barginess.

A half lap later I took inventory. A group of about 10 had made a clear separation from the back. Teammate Chris St. Peter was hanging on at the pack. This was perfect. If I could just hang on to this group, I had a good shot at my goal.

I started taking aggressive lines in the corners to pass people. The Psimet wheels performed admirably, letting me take turns I wouldn’t have ever tried before. By the time we hit the U-Turns for the second time I was in second place, just behind Gatto. Now my eyes were starting to get big—could I win this race?

Just then I was brought back to earth—literally. On the final U-Turn I hit a hidden sprinkler head and wiped out. I got up quickly but now I was chasing.

A lap later I made contact with a chase group of four. I recovered for a bit, then attacked as we hit the start/finish. These straightaways are my strength, and in the distance I could see Gatto and Drummer, now the race’s sole leaders, starting to play some cat-and-mouse. I put my head down and caught up to them by the time we hit the barriers.

It would be the three of us for the rest of the race, closely tailed and occasionally joined by Mike Heagney, one of the area’s strongest masters riders. We each took turns leading, but it was clear we were all holding something back and sizing one another up, working just hard enough to keep any chasers at bay.

With two to go I put in a few attacks in the straightaways, and then as we hit the start/finish for the last time I put everything I had left into one final dig. I had a good lead heading down the starting chute. I was hoping that Drummer and Gatto would start battling each other instead of chasing, but they were on my tail by the time we hit the double barriers. The effort had drained me. In the U-turns that followed, they took advantage of my exhaustion and raised the tempo enough to drop me.

But I still had a podium finish in hand—or so I thought. On the final barrier, Heagney came from nowhere to pass me, then took a brave line through the trees. For a moment I was certain he was going to go straight into a giant tree, and when I, following him closely, clipped my shoulder on said tree’s trunk, it was game over for me. I wouldn’t get within 30 meters of him again and would have to settle for fourth.

It was hard not to think of what could have been—a podium, or maybe even a win—but it easily could have been a lot worse. And now I can look forward to a prime starting position in two weeks in Dekalb.


P/1/2/3
I had no business in this race, but I needed to build up my fitness, so I doubled up. Somehow I was the eighth seed in this race, giving me the final call-up in the front row, but that meant the farthest to the right, where the turf was bumpiest. I immediately considered lining up in the second row to have the better line, but it was already two late.

My start wasn’t terrible, but just as I got up to top speed, the rider in front of me hit a bump and wiped out. I T-boned him, hitting the ground hard and then getting run into by at least one other rider.

After the scrum cleared out, I inspected the bike. The handlebars were about 20 degrees off-center and refused to budge, the chain had dropped, and, most serious, the rear brake cable had snapped.

An official was stationed there and asked if I was going to drop out. I shrugged. I certainly couldn’t ride, but I might as well run for a lap and put on a good show. Onto my shoulder the bike went and I proceeded down the course.

At the hole shot a spectator asked what had happened and I explained the broken brake cable.

“What do you need brakes for?”

She was right. What did I need brakes for?

I stopped to remove what was left of the brake caliber, remounted the chain and started pedaling again. Except for the handlebars, everything worked fine. Might was well get a workout in. That was what I was there for anyhow, right?

And it turned out to be a perfect drill. What better way to practice not braking in turns? An hour later my technique had improved greatly. Thanks to my new wheels and halving my braking power, I was darn near fearless.

And despite my much-delayed start, I didn’t even come in last!

A Day in Yellow

By Jake Buescher | Aug 9, 2012

Race name: Tour of the Valley
Race date: Friday, Jul 13, 2012

I decided to make the trek out to Youngstown, OH for an omnium race called the Tour of the Valley July 13-15 chasing upgrade points.  I was trying to secure the majority of the points through a high GC placing, but was also really gunning for the hilly road race.  The opening time trial also suited my abilities—short and flat.  I was racing along side Mr. Andy Anderson, a native to the area who grew up only about an hour south of Youngstown.  My dad made the trip with me too. 

We left on the Thursday before the Friday night TT to get all the driving done in one day and have a day to relax before the prologue.  I ended up getting some cassettes swapped around and a wheel true from a shop in Youngstown (Cycle Sales Co.) who did all the work on the house!  Was a great first impression of Ohio never having been before the race.

Time Trial

We got to the TT course and I was able to scout it out with Andy before hand.  Besides the course being flat and mainly covered by overhanging trees, the only technical part was a 120° turn.  It was an out-and-back “J” looking course, so we’d hit that sharp turn twice. 

I got a great warm up in—was drenched in sweat and slobber before the start.  That’s how you’re supposed to get warmed up for a short TT, right?? I got my countdown and dropped out of the start house full steam.  I navigated the hairpin the first time with ease.  I passed my 30-second man at the turn around which definitely gave me a mental boost.  Coming up to the hairpin with about a mile and a half to go, I even passed Andy—my two-minute man.  I though either I was killing it, Andy was having a bad day, or a combination of the two.  I skirted around Andy, took the turn way too gingerly, and cooked it for the last mile with a nice little tailwind.

I hit the line and just collapsed on my bike.  It was one of those feelings where shifting into your granny gear takes all the effort you have.  Subsequently turning over the easiest gear on my bike took about two or three minutes for me to accomplish.  I probably coasted for a half mile.

I saw Andy and we both said something like “Sdsfa jklasdfj seein’ stars man asfjkaieqifj”.  I ended up getting on my trainer and spinning out all the gunk while my dad, Andy, and I discussed.  I had timed myself at 19:27 for the 8.88 miles and my dad said he didn’t see anyone close to finishing 30 seconds behind me.  So, as of then, I figured I had bested a third of the field or so.  I was thinking top 5 would be satisfactory, but a win would be absolutely amazing.

We waited for results for about an hour.  When they came out I had been timed at 19:35 and sat 6th.  Whaaaaaat?  Protest time.  It turned out they mistimed me, and the top two guys had completely incorrect times.  I ended up getting slotted into 4th after everything was said and done.  I was happy, but the 4th place was bittersweet as 3rd beat me by one second and 2nd beat me by two seconds.  I had fourteen omnium points, some cash, and sat nine points off the lead after stage one.

Road Race

The road race was right up my alley—two laps of a 27-mile loop and 3300 feet of short, pitchy climb after climb.  The yellow jersey sat on the shoulders of someone from a team in New York.  They had five guys in the race including the yellow jersey and were the most stacked team in the omnium.  There was a team GC competition that they ended up winning.  Andy and I couldn’t compete because we were one teammate short!

The yellow jersey squad lined their men up at the front of the start line.  I sat in the second row and was just focused on the task at hand—a top five.  I looked at the weekend like this:  consistency, consistency, and more consistency.  Most likely three top fives in a row would win the omnium with how the points system was set up.  I know I can fare well in a bunch sprint.  I might not have the Cavendish kick to oust the field by 10 bike lengths, but I can manage a top five in a road race field sprint for sure.  So, that was the plan.  I wasn’t going to try a ‘one-or-none’ move.  Any placing outside the top 6 or 7 meant the yellow jersey was probably out of reach.

The race started off somewhat oddly.  TBS (the New York team in yellow) launched a solo attack at mile two or something crazy.  I tried to figure out why.  With five guys in the race, that was a very expensive bullet to launch.  I can see doing something like with a full squad of eight or so, but it seemed like a waste of a resource for them.  He ended up getting gobbled up right at the start of the ten-mile kicker section anyways.

The climbs were great.  You’d put in a 3-4 minute tough effort, get a one minute breather descending at 40mph+, then repeat. We got through the first lap all together with a few getting shelled off the back.

To try and paint a visual, the second lap went a little something like this.  If you can imagine the peloton as a fisherman and the attempts at breakaways as fish, I was the baited hook.  With so much team representation, no one was willing to chase down attacks because every forming breakaway would have a guy from teams at the front in it.  I had to start taking things into my own hands and try to keep the peloton together.  After all, I was looking for this to end in a sprint.  Bridge efforts would usually only be a minute or so and I always seemed to find the pack closing down on the break a minute or so after I had bridged.  This process repeated three or four times: two or three guys would launch, I would wait for an ascent to make a move, and then I would bridge.

We got through the kicker section all together again.  With about four miles of flats left, I felt great.  There was an antsy rider who kept going for solo shots over and over again.  They were usually easy to counter as myself and two or three other guys would take turns chasing him down until he tired out.  This repeated until about a mile to go.  All of a sudden, the pace just came to a stand still.  Everyone at the front didn’t want to be there that early so we lulled to about 17-18 mph.

As we were rolling along at a crawling pace, the 1k sign pops up and someone dropped the hammer.  All of a sudden we were racing again 30mph+ barreling into an open course finish.  When the pace lit up, I was probably a half second slower to react than I should have been.  I wound up sitting at about 15th wheel or so boxed in on the far right of the road.  I picked a super tight line and got around a slower rider in front of me by darting around the right of him just before the barriers started at the 200m sign.

The rest of the sprint, if you can call it that, was like a game of leapfrog.  The pack never got strung out and it was more of a positioning battle rather than actual leg strength.  It wasn’t until about 50m to go that I actually looked up to see enough room in front of me to get into the top five.  I went from probably 8th or 9th to finishing 4th in that last 50 meters, finally seeing some daylight in front of me.

Whatever.  Not ideal, but I was pretty sure that I was going to be in yellow with back-to-back 4th places.  The yellow jersey was nowhere to be seen at the finish and guys I had marked in 2nd and 3rd were nowhere as well.  After about an hour wait for results again, it was official: I was sitting in the GC lead by four points and was to wear the leader’s yellow jersey for the criterium in downtown Youngstown the following day.

It was a pretty surreal moment.  I hadn’t been awarded a jersey for anything until then.  I had came so close in a lot of omnium competition but never actually got a hold of the coveted leader’s jersey.

Criterium

The criterium course was about as ideal as I could ask for.  Four corners, a gradual downhill section, and a significant pitchy ascent before the finish line was appealing to me.  The gradient on the climb had to be 10%+, but it was only 30 meters long at most.

Things started out hot and I had a similar game plan to the road race—chase down attacks, bring it together, top five in the sprint, GC win!  If I were to make any attacks, they would be chased down immediately because the GC race was so tight.

So, that’s how it played out.  I chased down countless attack after attack, always advanced my position on the climb, and stayed in the top ten spots—out of trouble but not putting in a lot of unnecessary work at the front.  Everything was going according to plan until about seven laps to go and the sky let loose with a torrential downpour.

I was a little nervous having been in a few crashes already this season, but everyone seemed to be navigating the slippery downhill left very cautiously.  There was a lot of pack communication, no one was tacking dodgy lines, and everything was shaping up well.  Free laps ended at three to go.  I made note of this at I saw “4” on the lap counter coming through start/finish.

We took the downhill left and BOOM; the rider two spots in front of me hit the deck.  The rider in front of me tried to keep a steady line and veered right.  I locked up my brakes, ended up sliding out, and came down on my right side with force.  I went from cloud nine, racing in sunshine wearing the yellow jersey, to wet, bloody, and on the ground.

I got up and winced.  My whole right side was stiff and sore as could be.  I picked my bike up and had to just drape my head and assess whether I was in the right condition to finish the race.  Then it dawned on me—I still had a free lap!!  At that moment, the pain went away.  I fixed my front brake which had gotten knocked around, opened up both calipers all the way assuming my wheels might be a tad out of true, and hopped on.  OWWWW.  Every pedal rev was a decent effort with my right leg.

I made sure shifting was all right and sure enough, it wasn’t.  I couldn’t shift into anything left of the middle of the cassette without hearing a tink-tink-tink of the rear derailleur skimming my rear spokes.  Looking down, it seemed that the rear hanger had gotten bent pretty well to the left.  Oh well, looked like it was going to be a mash the rest of the race.

I was given first position in the pit for getting pushed back into the race—perks of the yellow I guess.  Everything for the next three laps was pretty crummy.  Every time I hit the climb I would be over geared and hurting pretty bad.  On top of everything, I had this mental block with the downhill left where I had crashed.  I took it so easily to avoid wrecking a second time that I might have ruined my chances at a good placing.

I ended up hitting the final climb at about 70 rpm, not gaining any ground and not losing any.  I rolled across the line in 10th and just dropped my head.  There was no way I was keeping yellow with only two omnium points gained in the crit.  I was both mentally and physically toasted. 

Sure enough, I lost the yellow jersey to a kid who got 2nd in the TT and won the crit.  Another rider who was sitting in second before the crit stayed where he was and I was slotted into 3rd on the GC.  What can ya do?  I was definitely bummed, but made sure to wear that yellow jersey until I was certain I had lost it.  I hobbled around to the medical tent, was given some Advil by a random woman, threw on my XXX jersey for podium pics, and got engaged in several conversations with whoever wanted to throw in their two cents.  I’ve learned that if you show up to a race in a leaders jersey, you’re going to make some new friends.

Even though I lost the yellow, I had gained 10 more upgrade points through the road race and GC placing.  I was 1 point short of my upgrade.  I contemplated racing the next weekend, but could barely get on the bike with my right hip deeply bruised.  I decided to put in the upgrade request and hope that my TT results from the past year would suffice for being one point shy.  They did and I about screamed like a little girl when I saw the green checkmark on USA Cycling denoting an approved request. 

If I had a nickel for every times I said “what if ________” after the weekend, I’d have a few quarters or something.  I tried not imagining what could have been, but it was hard keeping my mind off how close I truly came to a GC win.  What if I had navigated that corner a little better in the TT and made up those two seconds?  What if I had reacted a little quicker in the road race and won the whole thing?  What if it hadn’t started raining during the crit?  What if I didn’t crash?  I could ponder these scenarios forever, but it didn’t matter anymore.  My end goal for the season was an upgrade and I had achieved that.

All in all, this was my best result so far for a full weekend of racing.  I remained relatively consistent despite a heartbreaking final stage.  I really owe a huge thanks to Andy and his family.  Andy ended up dropping from the crit and every time I hit the climb during the race I heard his whole family screaming my name.  It definitely kept me motivated.  Most of all, a huge thanks goes out to my dad.  He’s been with me since my first triathlon in ’09 and it was great for him to be there and see me cap off my time as a cat 3 racer.

Next race up: Gateway Cup.  This should be fun.

Back to the third grade

By David Heckelsmiller | Aug 5, 2012

Race name: Galena GOATS Ride
Race date: Sunday, Aug 5, 2012

Since I began cycling competitively several years ago, I have had a great many memorable experiences while out riding. In many cases, such anecdotes have arisen from the heat of racing. However, from time to time, there is a training ride that is especially worthy of note. It is this latter event that has driven me to compose a race report today.

This morning, I had an opportunity to visit Galena. The circumstances that motivated me to make this visit are inconsequential, but suffice it to say that the primary reason I hit the road this morning at 4am was not to go riding, although that definitely was a consideration.

At this point, the GOATS (Go Out and Tour Somewhere, http://www.goatscycling.com/) cycling club of Galena come into the picture. Each Sunday, they mass somewhere in the vicinity of the town that formerly served as the residence of Ulysses S. Grant around 8am and embark on a ride to parts unknown. Quite honestly, the destination is inconsequential, because regardless of the direction- North, South, East, or West- one is assured to encounter hills, cows, corn, and breathtaking pastoral awesomeness. This morning, I had the pleasure of joining them for this ride. It was terrific in every aspect- the route, the scenery, the weather, and the company.

However, these aspects are characteristic of a great many rides, and alone do not suffice to distinguish this particular experience from the rest. When I left home this morning, in my haste and half awaken stupor, I brought all the essentials except for one crucial element: my pedals, which were attached to my TT set-up from the Bryce Master 19k the day previous. Of course, despite the sneaking suspicion I had forgotten something from the get-go, I did not realize this critical error until just past Rockford.

It is with this that I arrive at both the solution to my dilemma and the meaning of the title of this report, “Back to the Third Grade.” While still in transit (7am), I touched bases with Duff Stewart, a key figure in the GOATS, native of Galena, and integral member of our Tour of Galena team. By 7:30, after calling God knows how many people, he had found a pair of pedals.  However, instead of typical Shimano SPD-SLs, these were your typical clip-less, basket-less stock pedals- something I was far more accustomed to in Elementary School. Suffice it to say they worked- sans upstroke- and in spite of the SPD-SL cleats that were still affixed to my shoes, and a great time was had by all. Thank you Duff and thank you GOATS. I look forward to riding with you again- and with the right pedals.

Now, off to Germany. Yee-haw.

Mt. Bachelor

By William Pankonin | Jul 27, 2012

Race name: Cascade Cycling Classic
Race date: Friday, Jul 20, 2012

I flew to Oregon to race the Cascade Cycling Classic.  For the U.S. professional, the event in and around Bend is arguably one of our country’s most prestigious events.  For the amateur, it is –well, really hard. For a guy from Flatsville Illinois, it is –well, even more hard.  The first stage, the road race, consisted of one seventy mile loop around the Bachelor Mountain ski resort at about 6100 feet above sea level.  To begin the race, we would descend approximately 2000 feet, race over a few elevated bumps on the valley floor, and then climb back up the mountain’s base for a total race elevation of roughly 3300 feet.  Randy, Taylor and I pre-rode the last ten up-hill miles of the course the day before, and we discovered its steepest pitches to be around seven to nine percent.  Most of the climb, however, was a gradual four to six percent grades, not exactly the best type of climb for me.  I would have preferred something to force people into the small ring for the entire ten miles.  Snow fell from a patchy blue sky as we prepared to pre-ride, and I immediately wished I had warmer clothes for our initial descent.  The ride would be ten miles down and ten back up.  The landscape offered views of snow-capped mountain peaks, crystal blue lakes, lush green forests and lots of large deer with massive antlers.  After we turned around midway into our reconnaissance ride, our hopes of warming up wile climbing dissipated as an ominous cloud let pea-size hail fall all over the road and onto us.  Randy and Taylor jumped into the van before the worst of the squall, but I began to enjoy the climb so pedaled on.  Fifteen minutes later, I was off the road taking shelter under a rock overhang.  The van came along and I scrambled in.

110 guys queued to start; impressive as the Cascade amateur events are not held under a USAC permit and only organized by the Oregon Bike Racing Association.  I felt like I had rolled into another dimension here on Mt. Bachelor, and with all the racers coming from Colorado, Idaho, California and Utah, it didn’t take me long to convince myself that these guys would be “Forte.”  The last time I had climbed anything over 100 feet, or anything of significance, was this past June at the Tour of Galena, which was also before a stuff-my-face-with-French-pastries trip to Paris with my wife.  I had one block of training in my legs since Paris, and now I could only hope that it would be enough because the whistle just blew.  We plummeted down off the base of the mountain.

Coach Randy told me to make sure I was at the front fifteen miles in, where the road leveled off, turned, and then narrowed.  As we neared 50 mph through the twists and turns, I waited for a moment where I could complete my first task.  The pack was fluid and comfy, even as cross winds hit all the deep dish wheels.  While looking up into the pack, I could see racers’ elbows flap with precision adjustments according to how the wind blew at the bikes.  The peloton sailed swiftly down the mountain, the wind roaring, wheels droning in the background, eagles watching from above.

As riders echeloned to the left, I used the right side to position myself within the top fifteen.  The road turned and narrowed as we funneled in and proceeded deeper into the forest.  The pace was high, but not high enough to dissuade attacks.  As individuals attempted these, one and then two riders would always immediately grab hold, with more guys grabbing hold of them so that eventually the front of the race resembled a human tow rope pulling a mess of men and carbon.  For roughly 20 miles this happened with me sitting often in the top ten positions.  On occasion, I was the third or fourth rider to follow attacks.  It’s definitely more efficient to sit in the pack while the attack game is played, but then if an attack sticks, and racers break away, you have less control over the race’s outcome.  In the event of a break getting away, I don’t enjoy being in the pack waiting for teams to chase, if they chase, and nor do I like being one of the racers to organize the chase without teammates.  In any case, my actions were such that if a break occurred, I would make sure I got involved sooner before later, and as an aggressor, not the chaser.  As the race wore on, we encountered a few hills, but nothing that required anyone to expend lots of energy.  I remained alert and rode with restrained aggression, until after we approached the last right hand turn of the race course, where four racers did manage to put a sizable gap on the bunch, which is also evidence to show that my nose was not out in the wind for too long of periods.  (As further evidence, and as I attempt to convince myself that I was racing smart, another small group had snuck away in front of them, unbeknownst to me.)  Lead group; chase one; peloton.

The bunch turned right and continued down a long stretch of flat, straight highway, and we could see the little group ahead drift further and further away, so that eventually, the lead vehicle swung left to allow them to pass, and then floated back into the right lane, dropping a curtain and stopping any visual contact.  I was the third wheel at the moment, and was becoming increasingly nervous.  I looked around as folks ate and drank.  I looked behind and ninety or so mirrored lenses stared back.  Presently, I did not have an awareness of my feelings, but I missed my teammates.  I missed having someone there to tell me to relax and not worry, to come back into the fold.  The peloton sat up and the pace slowed.  I had instinctively moved into first position, but seemingly not by much intentional effort; am I in control? Without increasing too much power, I noticed I began to float off.  First it was a bike length, then five meters, then ten.  I looked back and without much effort, had gained twenty meters on the bunch, which meant the front of the group was not concerned about my move at the moment.  They were currently not concerned with the break, and also not concerned with anyone who might feel obliged to bridge the gap.  I got out of the saddle and pushed down the throttle.  Lead: chase one, me, peloton.

As my distance between them grew, so grew the distance between the lead car and pack as it remained in front of me.  Also, like before, as I reached the appropriate distance away from the group, the car swung left to allow me to pass, and then ducked in behind me.  I liked this as I was now out of view.  The car would now slow and drift back to just in front of the group.  The group could now no longer keep track with certainty my advantage; I could once again just make out the group of four.  I pedaled harder.  Another bit of information I did not know at the moment, was that there were two lead cars for our race, and one of them held its position at the very front of the race, in front of the true race leaders.  As I drove on, I occasionally looked back, monitoring how the vehicle became smaller and smaller, and also, how another rider had flown the coup just as I had done.  I eased up slightly and after a few minutes was joined by another racer.  We traded pulls, but I did most of the work by pulling longer and harder.  One time he slipped off the back of my wheel.  The group in front was now near, but the road also began to twist slightly.  The minutes passed and when I looked back again, I was surprised to see yet another group of four coming on.  Lead group: chase one: chase two: peloton. 

I had been out for ten miles now and was grateful for the extra help upon their arrival, even though it meant pedaling hard and holding intense concentration.  The few times I glanced over my shoulder, I could not see the lead car or the group.  The break in front of us was nearer and it was no longer a matter of “if” but when.  We caught the break, and I was informed of the other break up the road, the lead.  We organized and rode well together.  I never missed a pull, and each pull was as strong if not stronger than the others.  There were eight or nine of us, but some riders did not do their share of work.  The road began to undulate, reminding us that before the race ended, we would have to climb over 2000 feet within ten miles.  I was thrilled.  Focused on the job at hand, I forgot about the pack and the first break.  Being a part of the break gave me an independent and dark type of faith in our work and its results, and I willingly experienced the pain with indescribable pleasure.  I remembered reading once somewhere that the bike racer must be categorized in one of two ways: as one who most enjoys making others suffer, or as one who most enjoys hurting himself.  We would arrive at the feed zone soon.  For the past sixteen miles, my heart rate had averaged 180 beat per minute –very deep into my threshold.  Soon after the feed, we would be on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor, where I would need to continue this same effort, and even go deeper.  To date, my longest climbing effort had been one hour averaging the same heart rate.  Today’s race, upon a hypothetical and successful completion, would be more than twice those efforts.

Randy’s brother Dean, and Dean’s wife Ginger were waiting for me off the side of the road with water bottles.  After the feed, we drilled it up an incline.  186 bpm.  We went single file and I slipped back after a pull.  In two miles, we would begin the real climb.  One of our allies attacked us, but presently I’m not sure why.  We stretched out but still held together.  Then another attack; I was delirious and off the back.  I tried to reattach –out of the saddle, mouth gaping wide, legs filled with crud.  They were looking back, as if assessing whether or not I had been dropped.  I didn’t understand.  I was confused.  These moves were our last moments of breath –our death throes.  They didn’t care about me, they cared about the tsunami behind them; the storm known as the peloton, ready to sweep us aside, wiping the road clean of trouble.  Lead group: peloton.

I knew to sit in and get ready to climb.  I was in the middle of the front of the bunch.  I needed to switch gears because the one I was in was too hard.  After switching, my cadence went too high and I lost speed, slipping back in the bunch.  I shifted back down, but was not able to maintain speed.  I lost more places.  I did this gear dance once again, all the while losing places.  We were now officially climbing; it was time to race.  Panic filled me as if I were having a nightmare; it’s that one where you try to run from evil but keep falling down.  I tried to stay in the group but could not.  I was slowly dying.  When I looked back, I found myself with the pieces of other shattered racers.  I saw the long team vehicle caravan; I looked down at my bottles and shoes.  I looked at my cog and chain.  The sun was out, and the pines were gorgeous.  I heard the wind whisper threw them.  Complete beauty.  I recognized where we rode yesterday on our recon ride.  They left me.  I was hyper-sensitive to this real reality, but I had no more panic, no more alarm bells.  There were no back-up plans while in this deep.  I had been under too long and was in need of breath.  I breathed.

There’s always next year

By Ben OMalley | Jul 16, 2012

Race name: Maple Hill RR
Race date: Sunday, Jul 15, 2012

My season started with two podiums on my first night of racing at Gapers and killer form from SLO. Wow, this was going to be easier than I expected. Well, I never did reach the podium again this season, but was hoping for one more chance this year at The Maple Hill RR.

The start finish was only 10 miles away from my Grandparent’s house and my whole family planned on watching the last few laps. I couldn’t disappoint. No butterflies, no nerves, fresh legs. I was there to get the job done.

The course consisted of a few moderate inclines but a 300 meter drag to the finish, totaling in 52 miles of racing. A few riders attacked and stayed off, but I knew that the race would end in a sprint. Two Michigan teams started fighting for position at the front with about 10 miles to go and reeled in all the late attacks. I found the sprinter of one of the teams, and was on his wheel with 4 to go. As I sat on the rider who would soon end up second place, another rider suddenly swung left and put the rear of his bike into my front wheel. I was hoping to contest the sprint and put on a show in front of my family. I now sat on the side of the road with a damaged bike and bloody body. I was pissed off at everyone and rode the last 4 miles contemplating my entire season and this race. I ended up finishing in front of my worried family and paranoid grandma. Things happen but this was a bummer. 

I have now unofficially ended my racing season and am looking forward to team/group rides, state tt and embarrassing anybody who will be wearing a team sky kit in the next few weeks. Like myself and other cubs fans, There’s always next year.

Welcome Back Rogers

By Jared Rogers | Jun 30, 2012

Race name: Tour De Villas 30+
Race date: Saturday, Jul 28, 2012

Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out. Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about.

Well the names have all changed since you hung around, But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.

Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya) Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)….

9 months since my last crit and I’m finally back. Kinda feels like coming back to school after a long summer break.  First day and I’ve got 8 periods in the Tour De Villas 30 plus? Andy, Rudy and Tom were all in school as well.  Let’s do it!

1st Period – History
What do you get when you have 4 teamates and a bunch of solo riders? A slow race!  How do you combat that? Line up the train at the front. How do you break spirits? Jared gets on the front and drives the pace.

2nd Period – Gym
Field flies by and xXx goes back to work. Rudy has been riding with us at the track and is not shy about doing work.  He showed that here as he tried to keep the pace up and make others work.  Tom also did a good job as well.

3rd Period - Physics
There are 20 riders in a field. Andy takes a flyer and brings three riders with him. They are riding at 27 mph and the field is riding at 24.  If the remaining riders increase their speed to 26 mph, but the wind increases to a NNW 5 mph crosswind, at what time will the sun set?  Jared: I don’t care for this question so I’m going to respond that when Andy gets caught I’m gonna take a flyer!

4th Period – Calculus
About half way in I go all in.  Why?  I have no real idea other than it was the instinctive thing to do when your teammate gets caught.  Gap goes up quickly.  I’m not known as a breakaway artist so I know they are letting me dangle.  But I also have 3 teammates back there so I know Andy and crew are making them work to catch me.  2 ½ laps off and I get bridged to with the field only like 100 meters behind.  A Panache rider bridges and rockets past me and I have no answer.  Time to get sucked back up.

5th Period – Recess
They call for a preme of pain relief cream.  I don’t think I need that but Andy apparently wanted it.  Fun and games and good times.  Too bad he got nipped at the line.  Counter attack launched and the field is breaking apart.  I’m on the wrong side of this gap, but I solider on and eventually get back on.

6th Period – English
Subject Verb Direct Object: Race is slow. Next class please!

7th Period – Spanish
Como se dice “Go faster or I’m going to sleep” en Espanol por favor?  Unfortunately things wouldn’t pick up until about 3 laps to go.

8th Period - Drivers Ed
You and two vehicles are in the fast lane doing a decent pace.  Three vehicles make an illegal pass on the right.  What do you do? A) blow your horn and tell the head vehicle (Rudy) to go faster. B) Go with the illegal move and hope that the cops aren’t around. C) Do nothing and ride it out?  Umm, I think I like B as this is 2 laps to go and the end of the race!

Unfortunately, the move was a little too much for me with the work I did earlier and my “limited” form.  I held on for as long as I could but when we hit 1 to go there was nothing but vapors in the tank. C’est La Vie!

I set my goal for this race as simply “seeing where my form was” as I had no idea where I stood in comparison to last year.  Ultimately, I think I’m decent but still a ways off from being where I could be.  No worries, it will come back with time.  Our guys rode hard and that is something I’m more proud of.

Toad Day 2

By Adam Herndon | Jun 23, 2012

Race name: Grafton
Race date: Friday, Jun 22, 2012

This was a race I would have won. Nice drag race finish just like Super Crit. Small little climb and forced acceleration prior just like Lincoln Park. Only difference between this race and others was that I didn’t flat both wheels in those races.

Once again I had Jake in the race and Chris St. Peter came up to get his feet wet. The plan was for them to string it out during the final lap so that I could position myself and not get swamped by other riders. This would have worked great except my 2nd flat came at the end of lap 6 and the end of free laps. So no dice.

Tomorrow will be another day.

Some of the better things.
We started the day with a nice spin around Milwaukee to move the legs. Nice open streets with no traffic, made for a nice refreshing morning.

I’ve also been able to read a good amount. One book, the third of the hunger games, has bothered me with one question; where are other countries? Is the world so messed up that they are ok with a country killing off it’s kids?

Toad Day 1

By Adam Herndon | Jun 22, 2012

Race name: East Troy
Race date: Thursday, Jun 21, 2012

Day 1, Cat 2/3. 50min crit with left inside 200m from the finish.

The biggest part of this race was you can sense how nervous people were. No team wanted to take control thus the race became chaotic. Lots of silly crashes(one 30secs after the start and one 30secs from the finish).
Staying near he front and out of danger was the key. Jake joined me in the race but was caught up in the crash at the finish.

Overall it was a good start, 9th plus one of the larger primes. And no one likes singing on the line apparently.

Some free advice; If you crash don’t try to spread out your body as much as possible. Instead ball up. Practice it. As I almost had to make a choice between a rider’s head or neck.

Toad Day 0

By Adam Herndon | Jun 21, 2012

Race name: Tour of America's Dairyland
Race date: Thursday, Jun 21, 2012

Tomorrow begins ten straight days of racing, 8 crits and 2 road races, north of the cheese curtain. There are about 30-35 people signed up for all ten. All of whom planned in advance, made housing and travel arraignments, and said good bye to someone. Chances are none have made those plans just to see what will happen and maybe do ok. They are not coming from California and Colorado just to see if it is an interesting course.

And so like them I have planned, plotted and prepared. I have taken off of my actual job so that I can live for a week like riding my bike is my job;
Check in at 2.
Check out an hour later.
Repeat the next day.

Coup d’étape

By Liam Donoghue | May 24, 2012

Race name: West Michigan Stage Race
Race date: Saturday, May 19, 2012

Part One. The Time Trial.

“I want a photo of you, just the way you are,” Peter yells at me across the road. I’m staged in the time trial start house, maybe five minutes before I go off. He mentions my lightweight (for 2006) aluminum climbing wheels. He laughs at my clip-on aero bars atop my six-year-old road bike frame. And the idiotic mutton chops I decided to sport for the occasion. Compared to the guys in front of and behind me, as well as the masters racers who were already cooling down on their trainers nearby, I looked the part of the Cat 4 racer who hadn’t yet amassed enough equipment to compete properly at this level. Except for the $200 skinsuit with thumbholes. That surely made me look fast. But to Peter — pontificating on the dichotomy of how fast I am versus how fast I look, seeing my lack of fully aerodynamic gear, like a big red sore thumb in the company of nine perfect digits — it’s as if I’m rocking a Schwinn hybrid amidst tens of thousands of dollars of deep-dish carbon fiber. I’m the hairy-legged dude who shows up to the race with a Bert & Ernie Primal Wear jersey. Bet you $50 I pass at least two guys, I think to myself, and laugh.

I spend the next 15 minutes trying to dodge the wind. I could only avoid it so much. I screwed up the pacing, didn’t scout the course to know the exact point of the turnaround, and planned for a 17-minute effort when the course was shorter and faster than last year and ended up a 15-minute effort. Whoops.

I was 8th on GC, Peter was 10 seconds behind me in 10th, and two Bissell/ABG/NUVO riders were 1-2. Not cool.

Part Two. Criterium. New. Improved.

Important things to note: four 10-second time bonus primes would be given out throughout our 60-minute race, in addition to 30-, 20- and 10-second time bonuses for the top three placings at the finish, respectively. Coolest thing: turns! A course like Sherman Park works when it’s a standalone event, because breaks will be allowed to get off. But in a stage race where 90 seconds separates first place from 20th place, a circular crit course will end in a bunch sprint, sure as you’re born. Which is how it played out last year. But this year there were turns!

As is to be expected in a stage race like this, everyone was extremely close on GC, so those time bonuses would inevitably shake up the classification. Meaning each one would be hotly contested. Knowing how I fared in them last year (poorly) I deflected all potential time bonus dreams to HVAC Slinger and Future Cat 1 Peter Strittmatter. If I could somehow rack one up, I’d move up to 6th on GC, and if Peter could rack one up, he’d move up to 8th on GC. If he wins two of them… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

The plan was essentially if he or I were near the front when they called a time prime, we’d give her a go. Preferably with me leading him out or moving him up. But otherwise, I was just thinking try to be near the front late and give Peter a shot to sprint for the mega 30-second bonus. Wishful thinking.

Prime one comes along and Peter is near enough to the front that he goes for it. I am not involved. Poor clip in means I took a few laps to get anywhere near the front of the race. Peter gets pipped at the line, and the group comes back together. Several laps later I pull alongside Peter as the prime bell is clanging away to signify another 10-second bonus and ask him, “You want to go for it?” I believe his exact words were: “Ehhh.” OK. Save it for the finish.

Prime two is nabbed by Nate Williams, the Bissell/ABG/NUVO rider who was in 2nd on GC coming into today. I wonder to myself if this is all part of Bissell’s plan; perhaps Nate is the better sprinter of the 1-2 Bissell combo and they plan to pass the leader’s jersey off to him via time bonuses? When he would later win a second time bonus sprint, moving into virtual GC leader, I knew this was the case.

For whatever reason, maybe just to see if I can, maybe because I feel I won’t have a chance in the inevitable bunch sprint finish, I decide to put in a monster dig for the 3rd time bonus prime. Rather than sprint for it though, I decide it’d be much more fun to go from well over a half-lap out. So I do.

Last year, the course was just a big circle around the Kent Intermediate Schools, with two almost-turns. This year, it was the same circle, but with two pie chunks taken out; two separate left-right-lefts into and out of the parking lots. In my head, all I could think was genus edition.

image

Which meant it was more technical than last year (i.e. there are more than zero turns), and more chance that a solo rider could go on a ¾-lap flier and hold it off for 10 glorious seconds of time bonus. I take my chance. About halfway around the orange Sports & Leisure wedge (how appropriate), I attack, and don’t look back. I’m lying. I look back many times, to see how close all the other guys are to stealing what’s rightfully mine. I gain a second on the chasers in each of the left-right-left parking lots, generally taking the turns better and faster than the groups behind me. I make the final left turn and pedal furiously toward the finish line. I look back and see I have enough time to slow down, catch my breath, take the time bonus (success!) and try to hop on the Bissell Express that’s coming through.

Lots of times a prime can be the cause of a split in the field, as the peloton stretches out and people hit their limits, so anytime you’re attacking for a prime you must be aware of this possibility. I miss the first group, as I’m gasping like I just won the race (nope, still 10+ laps to go!), so I wait for the next group of three and hop on. I suspect at this stage in the race, Bissell may be willing to go for it, having a big group of teammates working the field over back there, and knowing we all get the same time even if there are time gaps (always read the race bible carefully). So long as no one goes a lap up, everyone gets the same time as the winner. But hopes for a seven-man breakaway with four or five Bissell guys is not in the cards, as they all immediately sit up. So it goes. Everyone is back together. But I’m up 10 seconds!

A few laps later Williams easily takes that second time bonus I alluded to earlier, and the race is on full-gas. We have maybe six laps to go, and Jake Rytlewski, former Kenda, current Astellas, strong dude, is right behind me. This is a good time to jump. Surely he’ll go with me, maybe we can make it stick, I can magically outsprint him in the end. I jump. Rytlewski follows. We have a very small gap. Small, but not negligible, at this point in the race. Bissell and others are not content to give us any kind of leash. After maybe ½ a lap, I give up and go back while Jake plods on for a couple hundred extra meters. I was upset it didn’t even come close to working, especially because I didn’t feel particularly good while putting in the effort. Again: not cool.

Five laps to go. Bissell comes to the front, setting a hard tempo. With nine of them in the race, and most of them in the top 20 wheels, it feels claustrophobic. So many Bissell guys. This must be how a dust mite feels when it’s about to get vacuumed up. Four laps to go. I’m trying to stick to the front 10 wheels. Three laps to go. Now two. A green train zooms along and sets up at the head of the race. It’s three guys from Priority Health, and one guy from Carbon Racing. Do not confuse the two teams, despite their exact same neon green and black kit color scheme. One has thin grey pinstripes and the other doesn’t. We take the final left turn and know we’re going to hear the bell for one lap to go. I’m sitting sixth wheel, behind Bissell’s Alex Vanias, winner of the time trial earlier that day and the GC in the Cat 1-2 Joe Martin Stage Race last month. In front of him is the aforementioned train of green. Peter is slotted in several guys behind me, 11th wheel to be exact. Priority Health are setting a hard pace at the front, trying to lead out for their sprinter sitting a comfortable third wheel, but coming around the yellow History wedge portion of the course, they seem to slow down, or maybe my brain just wants me to think they’re slowing down and that I have a chance. We’re strung out single-file on the right side of the course, setting up for the left turn. I attack on the left side, about 800 meters to go to the finish, sprinting as if the left turn coming up is actually the end of the race. I take the turn inside-out — on that turn, one could keep speed and just swing out wide — and continue to hammer it.

This time I don’t look back. I’m through the turn and behind me I hear a gunshot. Someone just got shot with a massive revolver, like shot dead with whatever the opposite of a silencer is. I imagine gallons of blood splattered everyw— Oh, that must have been Peter’s wheel exploding. Call it women’s intuition, but I just knew it was Peter involved in something catastrophic. No time to think about that, though. Task at hand, Liam. Task at hand.

I set up for the slowest turn of the course, the last right-hander. The course doubles back on itself enough that I can sense, without directly looking for them, how close the Priority and Bissell guys are, but there’s still 400 meters and one turn to the finish. I take the turn, and have a gap. From here it’s just aggression and desire and multiple repetitive circular movements of my legs. I hold off the charging pack and win, jubilantly throwing my arms in the air like a crazy person, immediately asking the other guys if it was Peter who went down.

image
[Photo courtesy Julia Williams]

As I ask, I realize Peter’s tire exploding may have taken a significant impetus out of any riders behind him at the time, and it may have slowed the field down just enough to secure my escape. And surely he moved up from 11th wheel by the time he made that turn. I get confirmation that it was him, but that he kept the bike upright. I can’t be fully happy, as I know if he hadn’t blown a tire, there may have been two of us on the podium. Bummer. Still very happy, and glad he didn’t go down.

The win gives me 30 seconds of time bonus, and the extra 10-second sprint I won meant I was now 2nd place on GC, in a Bissell sandwich: five seconds behind Nate Williams in 1st place and five seconds in front of Alex Vanias in 3rd place. Oh, what a painful road race it will be tomorrow.

Part three. Road Race. Another surprise? (Hint: No.)

I spend the majority of the race thinking about how awesome I would be if I somehow get a time bonus at the line (again 30-, 20- and 10-second bonuses up for grabs at the finish), beat Nate, and steal 1st place from Bissell. I’d probably be the coolest person I knew, and I know that guy from the Dos Equis commercials. Similar to how I daydream about what I’d do with millions in lottery winnings, I think about how many babes I would get, how brilliant my race report on the xXx Racing website would be, how many millions of dollars in sponsorship money I would make, and how many sets of Podium Legs I would buy from Phil Gaimon.

Then we raced, I didn’t do much, tried futilely to attack near the end, finished with the main bunch, 10 seconds or so back from a small break that had a few Bissell dudes in it (who won, obviously), finishing right next to Nate, hanging on to my 2nd place overall.

Ask Peter how his race went, though. He was up at the front all day, working like a dog, trying to get into a bunch of early moves to cover my GC position, then recruiting other teams to help bring moves back, then hanging tough at the end when things started heating up on the flat run-in to the finish. “That was the hardest race I’ve ever done,” he says, immediately after the finish. He rode a lot harder than I did to protect my GC, and for that I’m grateful.

We managed to pull off a stage win, a 2nd and 11th place on GC, and two top 10s in the time trial. Not a bad weekend.

I’ve heard, from numerous sources, that it is ill-advised to bring a knife to a gunfight. Luckily Peter and I stopped at the gun shop on the way out of town. BOOM!

They say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Luckily Peter and I prefer cats. SCHNAP!

What did one bike-racing earthquake say to the other bike-racing earthquake? It wasn’t my fault! Hooooo, that doesn’t even have anything to do with anything!

Big, big thanks to Al, our gracious host in Marne, MI. Much appreciated.

Chapeau to Bissell for generally slaying it over the course of the weekend. Hope to see them (and every human reading this) at Galena June 8-10 for some more stage racing action!

On the up and up

By Luke Seemann | May 22, 2012

Race name: Tower Tour/Fox River Grove
Race date: Saturday, May 19, 2012

This season has been hit-or-miss for me. Monsters of the Midway was particularly bad, one of my worst days of racing in years. So this weekend I headed where any climber goes when he needs a confidence boost: the hills. Wisconsin hills.

Tour Tower
I’ve always loved the Baraboo road races, and somehow the courses get more fun each year. This year’s edition was no exception. Each 15-mile lap had about 1,000 feet of climbing, including a steady, milelong rise into the start/finish that was right in my wheelhouse.

William Pankonin joined me for the expedition. We had about 30 riders in our field. ISCorp and Trek Midwest had 4-5 riders each. After a solo escapee had been brought back at the end of the first lap, Will and I both traded attacks, but we weren’t too committed to any of them. My hope was just to probe the field and soften it a bit. I fancied that if they saw enough of my attacks going nowhere, they would react poorly when I would put in a real attack later on.

My opportunity came at the end of the second lap: I was surprised to see we had successfully isolated all the teams. Other than us with two and Trek Midwest with three, no team had more than one rider. That usually bodes well for a breakaway. I shared the news with Will as we rode comfortably near the front.

As we started the main climb into the finish, a rider was about 15 seconds down the road. Quietly I got into position and into the right gear and then burst off in pursuit. Someone yelled “Up!” but I had successfully flown the coop alone. I stayed out of the saddle for most of the climb, scooping up the escapee and, hearing him wheeze behind me, urging him to stay on my wheel. I would need him.

We recovered on the descent and quickly got into a good rotation. The key would be to stay out of sight in the flat portion, and for the next five miles it was looking good. Unlike my previous bluffs, this time I was all-in.

But then the heat set in. Did I mention the heat? It was hot, and my colleague and I were exposed in the sun like ants under a magnifying glass. After 20 minutes at threshold, I could suddenly barely muster my endurance power.

Soon we were no longer out of sight, and unfortunately for me the catch came right before the steepest climb on the course. At this point my arms had goosebumps and I was a bit dizzy-headed ... I decided not to chance it. I pulled off and accepted water and strawberries from some generous course marshals.

My race was done. I’d gone all-in, but my rivals had called, and today they had the nut. That’s racing. At some point in every single race you gotta put all your cards on the table. Sometimes they’ll stand up. Usually they won’t. But you’ll never rake in a pot if you never raise the stakes.

After a long respite in the shade I made my way to the finish to await the sprint. I felt bad leaving Will alone in the field, because my plan had been to lead him out for the sprint.

Sprint? Ha! I was expecting to see a small group behind the pace car, but instead there was only the distinctive black and red of XXX. Will had broken away and was riding—with nobody in the picture—to a classy win.

Respect.

Fox River Grove 35+
This is one of the area’s most fun and challenging criteriums, so I was excited to stay over at Will’s and join him for the masters race in the morning. The field was about 25 riders, split between 35+ and 45+, including more than a few Enzo’s riders, who surely would be hoping to secure omnium points and defend their successes from Saturday’s races in Elgin.

One of the keys on this course is to always be in the lead group. Unlike other courses, breaks do not often get reeled in here. If you’re not in the lead group, you’re in a losing group, and never the twain shall meet.

So I was happy to see Will and Dave Hudson shoot off the line and surge up the hill. This meant I could take it a little easier, knowing that if a group formed one of them would be in it.

By the top, Will and a few Enzo’s riders had a gap. Riders were chasing, so I tucked in and enjoyed a free ride. On the second or third time up the hill, we were not far behind Will’s group, so I kept it in the big ring and charged up the hill. Meanwhile, the Enzo’s riders were attacking at the top to get the hill-climb sprints. I kept my momentum, passed them and went over the top alone with Will.

I gave him a quick respite on the downhill, and then let him float away. Meanwhile, three riders had made their way to my wheel and were happy to be there. At least one of them didn’t even know Will was down the road. Even better, they were all 45+ riders.

Only one of them was willing to do any work on the descent or flat, so Will’s lead ballooned as we toodled our way around. I, of course, was pushing it hard on the climb, and with one to go I was finally able to shake the others and cruised in for a solo 2nd place.

I’d never gone 1-2 in a race with a teammate before. It’s pretty awesome, even better than winning. And in this case the win couldn’t have gone to a more deserving and hard-working teammate.

Fox River Grove P/1/2/3
Adam Herndon, Dave Moyer and I lined up for this one against a pretty solid field, including Enzo’s A-Team and UCI rider Alex Bowden. We’d have our work cut out for us.

Herndon got to work right away and went off the front on the first lap. It may have cost him the race, but it was a useful rabbit to have early, and it made it known that we were here to control this race.

I didn’t think I’d have an entire race in my legs, so I made it count when I could, trying to attack any time there was a lull on the hill. If I wasn’t attacking, I was “accidentally” letting gaps open in the flats and forcing oxygen-starved opponents to sprint forward to close them. I wanted to make enough riders hurt so that we could isolate the other teams and give Dave a better shot in the sprint.

Finally the right split happened. After one of my attacks I got caught at the base of the hill. Naturally it would have to happen on a points lap, so a handful of riders rocketed by me. I told Dave to “go get them,” hopefully conveying the fact that I was pretty useless at this moment, and get them he did.

It was here that the final groups formed: Dave in the front group with four others, all isolated, and me in the first chase group of four. Since three of us had teammates down the road, we had zero impetus to push hard. And with payout going 5 deep, there wasn’t much incentive to challenge for 6th.

I tried to escape a few times on the hill, but the legs were pretty shot. And when the attack came on the final lap, I couldn’t even be bothered to answer. I excused myself and casually rolled in for 9th—or so I thought! As I coasted down the hill, my mind on dinner and a nice long shower, two riders I had long ago left for dead sprinted by me. Blast! Always sprint for the line, friends!

Fortunately Dave did a better job of keeping his focus, getting 3rd place and give us the last of what were quite a few podiums on the day.

On to Galena!

13 times 180.

By Bill Barnes | May 12, 2012

Race name: Matt Wittig Memorial Criterium
Race date: Saturday, May 12, 2012

As anyone who knows me may tell you, I have a fondness for craft beer, and a lack of restraint that goes along with my fondness.  That, and a generally sedentary winter have me now sitting at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life - 180 pounds.  At San Luis Obispo team camp, this basically meant sitting off the back of most of the big nasty climbs for a week.  Not that camp wasn’t an amazing experience - it was - but suffice to say, gravity is a constant and all those winter beers have been haunting me lately on anything vertical.

So, I did what anyone else would do and signed up for a crit with a 100 foot climb every lap.

A bit of back story here.. I’d actually pre-registered to race monsters of the midway today.  It’s a nice flat oval with only one real significant turn in it, almost tailor made for a bigger guy like myself.  However, I’d heard some rumblings about this race, and that XXX has won the cat 4 race two years in a row, so I thought it’d be a pity if we didn’t even show up to defend our title.

Fortunately, I wasn’t alone in the race.  I rode up with Ben O’Malley - one of our ultra-light climbing juniors, and Nick V was at the race as well when we rolled up.  This was good, as I’d seen Ben in action at camp when it came to going up, and he’d had some good results in races with climbs recently.  Nick was our climber on back side of the wall day, so I was starting this race optimistic.

The start of the race faces up the second part of the stair step climb.  It’s quite literally an uphill race start.  I knew we were racing for 40 minutes, and started doing the math in my head as we stood there awaiting the whistle.  I’d done one warm up lap as hard as I could to get the lap time, which was a bit under 3 minutes when I did it.  So, we were looking at 13 or 14 laps.  That meant that I only had to get up this little hill at most 14 times, and I was good to go.

Lap 1.  The whistle goes, and I’m in the second row.  Perhaps because it was uphill, many racers, myself included, bumbled the clip in a bit.  I got it sorted long before the guy ahead of me did, and charged up the hill to settle in 10-12 wheels.  At the crest of the hill almost immediately the road levels off for a moment, then heads downhill into the single turn of the race.  A very wide, slightly rough right hander that could be taken at full speed.  We of course did not take it at full speed lap one, as I think some of the guys were a little afraid of that turn until they got comfortable.  As we reached the start/finish, I was in about 3rd wheel…

Lap 2. Which is where from experience I know I need to be if there’s a climb.  I’m going to move backwards on every hill.  It’s a given.  Now, if I move backwards from 3rd wheel, to mid pack, I haven’t lost much in the way of position, but if I move backwards from the back of the pack, I’ll be chasing on when the group accelerates at the top.  That’s bad.  So, reading reports from years past, I know that both Will P and Ryan F have won this race on the downhill, somehow.  I decide to see what the deal is with this, and take a flier as hard as I can.  Which gets me about a foot on the pack.  No, there’s no breaking off today - this race is going to end together.  This pack isn’t letting anyone go, so further attacks may not be a great idea.  One thing this does do though, is put us through the turn at the full speed I want to.  Perhaps this woke the rest of the pack up, because we wouldn’t have too many more slow downs into the turn for the rest of the race.

Lap 3.  Now I hurt a little.  That attack wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done.  The lap counter still isn’t set, so I have no clue how many more times I have to get up this hill.  I drift back a little far for my liking and get back on the group on the downhill.

Laps 4-6. The race settles into a groove here.  It’s go hard up the climb, coast, go hard down the hill, slow, turn, fight back up to the front,  move backwards, fight up to the front on the rest of the lap.  It’s starting to get ugly when I climb the hill.

Lap 7.  Lap counter is in action now.  7 to go as we cross the line.  So it’s going to be 13 laps.  The fact that I have one less lap to climb makes me happy.  I begin to start talking to myself in my head.  7 more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 7 more times.

Lap 8. Six more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 6 more times.

Lap 9. Five more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 5 more times.

Lap 10. Four more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 4 more times.

Lap 11. Three more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 3 more.. Crap, too far back, move up again or you’re doing this for nothing.  Where’s my team?  Nick doesn’t look happy, but Ben’s 5th wheel.  Move up to talk to him.  “When are you gonna go, Ben?”  “I’m not strong enough to go.”  Ok, then I suppose I’ve just become the de facto sprint finisher for the team.  I start to hope it’s going to slow up as the final laps start.

Lap 12. Two to go.  Noone’s attacking.  The field wants this to end in a sprint.  I’m feeling better going up this hill at this speed.  Contrary to every other crit I’ve done, I know I want to be first wheel across the start / finish (for the reasons mentioned above).

Lap 13.  This is it, last time up this thing.  And it’s a charge.  The climbers have let loose, the sprinters are moving up with all they’ve got, and I’m.. going backwards.  It’s ok though.  Don’t panic.  This is why you wanted to be first into this lap.  You’ve heard rumblings from wisconsin teams to each other about first one out of that turn is the winner.  You know they are wrong.  It’s 600 meters from that final turn, on very wide, open roads.  Noone is going to take that to the line in this race.  Not when it’s flat for 450 meters of it.  You’re safe letting them fight this out to the corner.  And they do.  We overtake some dropped riders through the corner and up front I see panic and chaos.  That’s not my fight though, It’s not my fight until.. now.  After the last corner I start my long slow rev up to speed.  I’m heavy, and my sprint is not what anyone would call explosive, but give me a long enough launch pad with enough room to move, and I can hit 40 mph in a straight no problem.  37 today.  I moved from near last and overtook all but one man in the field.  I feel like a rocket amongst firecrackers for a brief moment.  You’ve all made the mistake of giving me time to get going, and now I’m going to win.  Well, except for this UofW rider who’s done the same thing and I can’t hold his wheel.  Crap.  Oh, and look at that, my legs aren’t really responding to my commands anymore.  That’s because we’re going up now.  Another guy sprints past.  I’m overgeared for this, but if I stop fighting and shift, I won’t have a chance at the top ten.  I muscle through and mash my way to a photo finish bike throw for third place.  My legs nearly completely give way as we cross the line, but I don’t want to be that guy who causes a wreck in front of the field, so I push it far enough to get half way up the hill and then the glorious downshift to get the searing pain to go away.  I audibly grunt when I can finally let up. 

And I’ll take third, happily.  I put my 180 pound behind up that hill 13 times, and while I couldn’t hold our streak, at least we can say we’ve been on the podium three years running in this race.  This race ended playing textbook into my strengths, and made me fight it every single lap.  I hit 193bpm in the sprint, which is apparently a new max heartrate for me by a beat.  I’m not sure I would do anything different, other than maybe going one gear lower in the final sprint, but then, that might have put me further back anyway.  I exploded at the finish, so I can’t say I had anything else to give that race.  Perhaps being mid pack instead of rear pack when I started winding up?  Probably would have just led someone out then.  Anyway, that’s Bike Racin, as Luke would say. And Bike Racin is fun.

“First” Part 2

By Sue Wellinghoff | May 7, 2012

Race name: Leland Kermesse
Race date: Saturday, Apr 21, 2012

Leland. 

My first experience at Leland was in 2011 – the year of legend.  When people were freezing to their bikes, and polar bears were attacking, and all that.  I shouldn’t joke, the conditions really were dangerous and awful, but luckily I went early in the morning before the temps really dropped and the sleet started.  I just had to contend with the gravel-paste, the nice clay we had to bike through for 40% of the race.  It was freezing, windy, cold and I hate gravel of any kind, but it was a real mental win for me last year when I powered through it, a lot of it alone, and finished 5th.  And I had a really good time in the process for some reason, so I had been looking forward to returning this year.

You know when you just feel it – those days that you are on, and everything goes perfectly, and you know you’re invincible?  That wasn’t today.  The previous week I had spent dealing with my swollen Popeye arm (what some people were calling it, sigh) from my Hillsboro crash, as well as two business trips in 3 days.  I was absolutely exhausted when I got home Friday, and when the alarm went off Saturday morning before the sun even came up, the negative thoughts started creeping into my head: “you’re a crit racer, and this is a gravel road race – what are you doing?”

For those who don’t know Leland, it is a 25K flat course with 3 significant gravel sections.  That plus the winds almost guarantee that the race will absolutely shatter.  My race would consist of two laps of this and then a left turn down a long stretch to the finish. We got there nice and early and conditions were dry, chilly and windy.  But it was sunny, and that almost seemed too nice for the battle ahead.  I was just happy the gravel was dry.  I had volunteered to take Tamara’s registration spot since she was still injured, and she was sending me the ever encouraging texts that I could eat this gravel for breakfast.  We saw Ellen (our newest cat 3, hooray!) off in the W1/2/3 race, and then I went back to my car still completely confused about what to wear.  I didn’t want to freeze, but I didn’t want to overheat either, and settled on just a jersey, arm warmers and vest.  Not going to lie, my warm up consisted of me riding around in the parking lot for about 5 minutes, I just wasn’t feeling it.  My plan was to camp out near the front but not on the front, and just keep my eyes open.  This race can blow up in mere seconds.

We took off and were neutralized down the sprint stretch approaching the start of the lap, as groups from earlier races were coming around and they wanted to safely merge us in.  Once on course, our lead car honked once to signify the start of racing, and the fun began.  This was not Hillsboro – people were on the far side of the road in the other lane, ignoring the center line and trying to charge ahead.  On top of that, things were a lot more physical in the pack.  Moving all over the place fighting for positions, and I was on full defense mode protecting my bars like Randy teaches in skills clinics; exchanging some elbows and shoulders. This was enough to make up my mind that I would happily burn a match or two to get into that first gravel section near the front of the pack, not to attack but just for safety.  Until then, I was quite content to move near the outside and grab Kristi Hanson’s wheel, a solid Spidermonkey who I know and trust as I couldn’t find Jess and Sandra in the chaos. 

We had a few attacks, one strong one coming from Eleanor Blick, and I took off to go with her.  We made a turn and both soon realized that what we thought was the start of the gravel section was actually farther down the course.  She had the same plan as I – get to that gravel first.  We tried to compare notes before getting lost in the pack, and a mile or so later, I started to recognize the course and knew exactly where we were.  No time to mess around - I took off as hard as I could, only looking back once to see if everyone came with.  I felt a wave of relief as I realized I was going to hit that gravel first, and thus could choose my line and my speed going in.

I hit the gravel and tried to steady myself.  Gritting my teeth and trying not to stiffen up too much, I was cursing myself for choosing a shaky gravel race for my first race back after a crash.  Ok, just breathe, keep going, this isn’t so bad.  I was wondering how our resident cyclocross champion Sandra was doing behind me, and didn’t have to wait long to find out.  People always seem to advise that the key to winning Leland is being first into the gravel.  I’m sure that is true 99% of the time.  I was pretty pleased with myself for being first in until the entire contingent of the Chicago Cross Cup blew by me.  “Freaking cross racers!” I thought in my head, and tried to pedal faster.  Ellie, who I am learning this year to be one of the nicest people in bike racing, cheered as she zoomed by “great job Sue! Keep it up!”  Sigh.  Doing a little evaluation, I realized I was seriously feeling not well and started worrying that I wouldn’t be able to even finish this race with the pack.  Trying to shove those thoughts aside, I transported myself back to Gapers when I thought I was completely done and then still managed to pull off numerous attacks and a crazy sprint, and kept forcing myself to keep up.  When you don’t think you can go on – you can.  So do it.

That section of gravel seemed to go on FOREVER.  I was getting so tired of it when we finally hit pavement.  Thank goodness, I quickly got back into my normal position near the front and found we still had a great deal of people with us.  I overheard Ellie saying that she thought the third section of gravel would have a tailwind, and that would be the place to attack.  Most of the attacks were either dying out on their own or being caught.  We hit the second gravel section in what seemed to me like only moments after we left the first, and this time I noticed had a strong tailwind pushing us along.  I made note of that too, and quickly looked for Ellie, curious if she would attack here.  Back on the pavement, we were a bit more strung out and then it was into the third gravel section.  I was about 8 or 9 wheels back, and we were all in a line.  There wasn’t a tailwind, but I looked up and saw the front girls charging away.  And the girl in front of me, who had kept up the rest of the time, started letting a large gap open.  I sat there a few more seconds seeing if the attack would die, and of course it didn’t.  Reality hit me like the Hillsboro pavement – this is it.  That is the break, and you are being dropped.  You now either dig deep and put in everything you’ve got to catch those girls, or you will be racing for scraps.  And I charged.

I chased the rest of the gravel section.  I saw people falling off, I felt my legs burning, but I kept going, carefully picking my way around exhausted riders.  We finally hit pavement, and to the lead ladies’ credit, they did not slow down.  Neither did I, and I just kept fighting and fighting both physically and mentally.  I kept telling myself just GET there, get there, and you can rest, and enjoy a draft, and it will be ok, and for as close as I was, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.  But I refused to give up and put in another hard effort, and I suddenly found myself at the back of the four remaining attackers, and what riders at that. 

Eleanor Blick, who won the Gapers overall and who I’ve spent time with in a break before.  Excellent.  Kristi Hanson again, a strong rider who definitely knows the way of the rotating paceline.  Christina Peck, who I don’t have much experience racing with but I know she is well respected in the Cat 4 peloton, and Mara Baltabos, probably an unknown rider to most of the Cat 4 group but who I have lots of experience with as we battled for the overall at Fall Fling last year.  She is solid, and that girl has NO fear of sitting on the front of a group driving the pace.  I could not have had better breakmates and looking over my shoulder, knew that if we organized, there was no way we would be caught.  Kristi vocalized this immediately and called us to a rotating paceline to take quick strong pulls and then recover.  No matter what the experience level in our little break, everyone picked up on it quickly and we worked extremely well together as we started lap #2.

In the gravel sections, completely unplanned, we worked out a nice little system where someone would take a long pull at the front, drop off to the left into area a bit more compacted from the left tires of car traffic, and move back over to get in back.  I know bike racing can be so strange, where you work together with these wonderful people just to know you’re eventually going to have to turn on them to try to win, but we were a pretty cohesive unit.  I think everyone was just happy to have the teamwork getting us through the race, and it was further improved when a strong junior named Carson joined our paceline (we could work together because we started at the same time).  He was with us for a while and then took off in the third gravel section, and I was curious to see if anyone would go with him, but we all stuck together, content with the company and worn out.  I started mentally talking myself up for what was to come: this was going to be a sprint, and I like sprinting, and if I position myself right…

Approaching the final turn where confusion has happened in the past, Mara was on the front.  I thought this might be her first time racing Leland, and yelled “Mara, go left” as some riders make the right to go back into the feed zone and do another lap.  I believe she rotated off as we turned and I prepared for pain, but no one went yet as we were still far away.  I was either 4th or 5th, and it was perfect – exactly where I wanted to be.  I stayed close and Christina was on the front, not wanting to be there but none of us would go around.  She kept waiting, and waiting, and we all were waiting and waiting, and I could see the two little neon orange dots in the distance that were the parking cones on each side of the finish line slowly getting bigger.  Patience…steady…in the drops…

The next part happened so fast, and it was just instinct taking over.  Christina went into the drops, and as I expected, Mara came flying past me all out, causing Christina to really drop the hammer.  I was ready for this and jumped on Mara’s wheel, and then it was a blur. I can’t remember exactly but I remember the cones, I remember the line, and I remember thinking – it’s a ways out still, but you must go NOW.  I stood up and went around, and just kept going as hard as I could.  I was waiting to sense someone on either side of me, but I didn’t, and the line was still getting closer.  In my all-out effort, all I could focus on was that line, and getting to it, drowning out everything else around me.  In the final seconds, I remember thinking “I might just pull this off” when I saw motion to the right of me as Ellie pulled into sight.  NO! Just…a few more…AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHH.  I was actually yelling from the effort at this point, and knew a bike throw could be crucial, and next thing I know I crossed the line.  First, by about half a bike length.  There were a few seconds of absolute shock and disbelief “I did NOT just win LELAND?!?” and then suddenly it hit me.  Screaming at the top of my lungs, fist pumping down that entire stretch, almost tearing up from sheer emotion.  Normally the first thing I do after the finish line is look for my teammates, or my breakmates, and congratulate everyone, but today, I took a liiiittle extra time for myself to shout like a crazy person down that long stretch. Then I stopped, turned, and the five of us met for congratulatory high fives and appreciation of all the hard work everyone did during the race.  It was finally starting to sink in when Sandra came barreling across the finish line not too far behind us, and asked how I did, and I just raised one finger.  She looked at me and more screaming commenced. 

Of course Tamara was the first person I called to let her know I did her registration spot proud, and it was so fantastic to spend the rest of the morning celebrating with all the xXx men and women who braved Leland, as well as get our traditional women’s team group victory photo after the podium.  Leland is such a fantastic and unique race that everyone should experience.  I may always hate gravel, but I will always love Leland.

Coming out of retirement party, cowpie for all!

By Ishel Quintana | May 7, 2012

Race name: WORS#1 Iola Bump & Jump
Race date: Sunday, May 6, 2012

I had a party to celebrate my first mountain bike race in 6 years (8 years since I was competitive in citizen class - don’t laugh!)

It rained, it poured, it was cold and it was muddy.  Oh the mud, we all had so much fun in the mud.  Highlights-  I passed a man in the first lap, that is always the true highlight of my races, how many men did I pass?  I also made a racket of noise with my bike, clickity clack but no shifting, oops

Oh I almost forgot , Don Edberg got me a present, he shouldn’t have.
No really, he should NOT have, but non the less I got a medal and the 5th podium spot in my age group (5/6 age group 10/21 overall)

My next party will be June 17 in Rockdale, WI.  WORS#4

Matthiessen Mountain Mudfest

By Brenda Culver | May 6, 2012

Race name: Matthiessen Mountain Madness
Race date: Sunday, May 6, 2012

I survived. That’s the best way to start this report. Probably the worst conditions I’ve dealt with since I started mt biking last year.  This was only my second race ever.

Arriving at 9 am, I had plenty of time to pick up my number and pre-ride the course.  After picking up my registration stuff, I headed back to the car to kit up. To my surprise I heard my name being called and met two other xXx members behind me. They introduced themselves to me as Mark and John. Great guys! Very encouraging and made me feel like part of the team already!

The three of us headed out to check out the course. The trails were a little slick but firm. Not bad at all. My legs were getting warmed up and my nerves calmed a bit. Also, made me feel good to hear the nice compliments from the guys behind me on my riding style. Thanks, guys!

So, we went to line up for the CAT-3 race when the heavens decided to open up. Heavy downpours with pretty intense lightning postponed the start for about a half hour. We all huddled under one of the picnic shelters until the rain let up. They called us to the start. Seriously? After all of that rain? Anyway, in my haste, I left my riding glasses and gloves on the picnic table. Stupid. I realized it about 30 seconds before the women’s division started.  Oh well, live an learn.

There were about 10 women total, all over 30 years old. We started behind the men’s Cat 3s. All I kept thinking was how bad the trails were going to be. I was right.

The first lap consisted of a lot of stops as people were piling up in the corners and walking the hills. I got past the slower mens riders (who started a minute ahead of us) and finally got some open space. Man, was it slick out there!  I caught the first two girls ahead of me and stayed on their wheels for the first half of the race.

Then lap 2 happened. As I was descending into the rock garden across the creek, my wheel slipped to the left and I nailed a log and performed a lovely dismount over the bars.  After pulling the weeds out of my bike and myself, I realized my bars were twisted to the left. I yanked the bars back in place and tried to get up the hill but my drivetrain was so caked in mud, I couldn’t shift! Great. Meanwhile the number 4 rider passed me. After slipping and sliding on foot up the hill, I attempted to clean out the mess that was my drivetrain. I managed to finally get it shifting and it cleared out a bit. Lap 2 almost complete and I was thinking “I have to do that again???” 

I sucked it up and pushed on to the grass flats near the start, passing the rider who had passed me earlier.  One more lap. I can do this. By this time, the field had spread out and I had clear riding ahead and behind me. My goal at that point was to make it through without another wipeout. Smooth and steady was tough with 6” ruts and roots and rocks slippery as ice. I made the turn out of the singletrack and saw the finish line. Hallelujah.  I pushed forward, keeping a steady pace as I noticed there wasn’t anyone around me. Finish line. Yay.  What a mess!

Mud was caked into every part of my bike and me as well!  Mark told me I finished 3rd which made my day.  Found out later that only 5 of us finished on the lead lap. Several DNFs and the other riders who were almost a lap down completed only 2 laps.

This was a race that taught me to persevere and not give up. I so wanted to stop after that second lap but I think wearing the xXx kit gave me that extra incentive to finish.

All in all, I’m very happy with my 3rd place result! 

I’m not sure if the mud is ever going to come out of my kit, but we’ll see.

Special thanks to Ken, Mark and John!  Glad to meet some teammates!

Brenda Culver

“First” part 1

By Sue Wellinghoff | Apr 23, 2012

Race name: Hillsboro Roubaix
Race date: Saturday, Apr 14, 2012

So one of the best decisions I made thus far this year was racing all 4 nights of the Gapers Block series.  It was nice snagging some early upgrade points, but more importantly Gapers became a testing ground for me to try some things out and learn about myself and how I’m feeling so far this year.  Learned some great things about how long I can (or cannot) solo off the front, that my matchbox has a lot more matches than it had last year, and how I race when I show up to the line exhausted and sick.  On top of all the personal measures, it also gave me some good tactic lessons, such as what to do (or in my case what not to do) when you are in a break of 4 people, and one of those people is your teammate.

All these things I collected in my little mental suitcase, and perhaps because of that, went into Hillsboro calm as ever.  We had, no doubt in my mind, the firepower to podium this race, if not win it.  My goal going in was to work with the girls to keep this race under control, deliver Ellen safely to that final hill, and let her do what she does best – climb like a goat and win races.  I was hoping I could hang in there and grab some upgrade points for myself in the process, but Ellen on that podium was my target.

Target #2 quickly became to safely survive the conditions.  We spent the night in Litchfield listening to the thunder and hearing the rain pound down on the hotel windows.  I slept unconcerned, figuring “good, it will get it out of its system and clear up for the morning”.  No luck.  It was a complete downpour until after 1pm.  I knew everyone was a bit jittery, especially about wet cobbles, so I made sure to ride them in my warm up and test out how slick things were.  I heard them announce the 10 minute warning and call the Women’s 4 field to the line.  I was heading up the stretch to the line when something just felt wrong.  “Oh no, I think I’ve got a flat” and jumped off my bike to find a half full rear tire.  Awesome.

I ran up to the line, grabbed an official to let them know I was going to change it (in under 5 minutes, of course) and was immediately swarmed by teammates.  I know I always say I’ve got the greatest teammates in the world, but it’s times like these when these ladies continue to go above and beyond.  Meg grabbed my bike and started reassuring me I had plenty of time, no worries.  As I pulled the back wheel off, I felt a tap on my shoulder from another official: “Excuse me, where is your time chip? Did you not get one?”  Oh yeah, my time chip.  Which should be around my ankle but is actually back in my car.  D’OH.  I had a sudden flash of doubt that I could pull this off, and no, I couldn’t.  But a team of awesome people could!  Immediately Jess took my bike, Meg grabbed my wheel and instructed me to go get my chip, they would handle the flat.  By the time I charged back to my car, got my chip, and ran back, Meg was finishing getting the tire back on my wheel and with a quick CO2 inflate, I was back in business.  Timing chip on and the official gave me a pat on the back and said “relax, catch your breath, a minute to start”.  We did a quick check of where our other ladies were, and I was thrilled to see Ellen in the first row, right next to Daphne K from Cuttin’ Crew.  Without knowing the locals, I would have put money on that being the 1-2 of the race. 

We took off, and I had to smile as I already heard Meg expertly yelling commands from behind me, telling me to get up the side and get in position (near the front).  Which I did.  The pack as a whole did a great job of following the center line rule, something that was not the case last year, and communicating about turns and trying to keep everyone safe.  Within the first two miles, I kept moving up, then saw the familiar red and black in the first spot and knew it was time to do my job.  I let Ellen know I was coming to the front and advised her to stay on my wheel and let me take the wind.  She replied laughing “I know, I know…but I’m restless!!”  I looked down at my computer and started thinking….3 miles in…could she do 26 miles herself?  YES, I have no doubt, but we wanted to make sure she was as rested as possible as there were some talented ladies in our midst.  Just take it easy, patience, wait for the right time and right breakmates.  Not yet.

I spent a lot of time at the front, just drilling away, thinking about all the time I was in the same position at Gapers and how I knew I could do this.  I knew people were going to sit in the whole race, and they’d probably get to the sprint a lot more rested than me, but we HAD to protect our teammate.  Sandra joined me near the front and we started plotting and actually got Ellen and Daphne a bit of a gap with some blocking until enough people decided to chase.  Again, once all together, I told Ellen to rest and recover.  It became apparent that everyone was quite content to let me pull, as even when I slowed to try and get a rest for myself, no one would come around.  So on the front I remained. There were a few attacks, and I was starting to wonder if this group of ladies would ever let a break go.  I finally went to the side of the road, knowing I would be useless to everyone if I couldn’t even hang on the whole race, and the pack went by.  I tucked myself in to rest a bit, and there was another surge from an attack.  I looked up to see black and red on the front again.  “ARGH, Ellen, I haven’t had enough time to rest!” I thought, but then saw it was Jess taking charge at the front!!  With Ellen close behind.  Man, I love racing with such a great team. 

The next big attack came from Katie Tomarelli, who took off like a missile with several strong girls.  “Ellen! GO!” but she was already on it! I smiled and watched as the group started getting a gap, and thought “this might be it”.  And then I noticed TWO pink jerseys in that group – both Daphne AND her strong teammate, Marie Snyder, both amazing track racers.  Flashback to Gapers – when Ellen was forced to sprint against two girls working together because I didn’t think I had it in me, and I just heard my brain say “NO, I will NOT leave Ellen to deal with this solo”.  I shot around the pack and chased as hard as I could, and approaching the group of about 7 girls, was screaming “GAP!  GAP!  KEEP THE PACE UP LADIES, STAY AWAY!” There was definitely suffering near the front, so I went up there and tried to pull as hard as I could.  “ROTATING PACE LINE!!  QUICK PULLS, C’MON!”  Sometimes I wonder if people get sick of me yelling in a race.  The girl who pulled after me dropped to the side, and next up: Ellen.  Who with her “strong pull” managed to ride us all off her wheel.  Even while struggling to keep up, I had to grin, she’s a beast.  Eventually the group caught, and we were back together, but slightly thinner in numbers.

The rest of the race went by pretty fast.  Marie Snyder took a long turn up front with Daphne on her wheel and put in some impressive efforts.  I had already told Ellen that if we were with her at the end, we’d do our best to lead her out.  If we weren’t with her at the end, she needed to stick to Daphne like glue as I assumed that would be her best lead out. 

I finally looked ahead and saw that huge climb approaching.  Happy knowing it was near the end of the race, happy we had gotten Ellen safely there, happy Sandra was close by me and I knew she was anxious to attack that hill too.  Without hesitation, Ellen took off, drawing a few other girls with her and the rest of us chasing.

I couldn’t stay with that group but settled in with the fallen riders behind and started gaining spots on the hill.  I wasn’t too worried as another big piece I learned at Gapers is that I’m starting to have confidence in my sprint and can make up a lot of spots in a short time.  That was what I was banking on; unfortunately I didn’t have the chance.  We were all beyond soaked at this point and the rain still hadn’t stopped.  Approaching a 90 degree left turn, I heard the rider on my left start yelling in panic and I called out “you’re fine!” as we turned into it.  She was heading in a diagonal line over to my side of the road. I think in normal conditions she could have saved it but not today.  BOOM.  She went down hard right in front of me and in the seconds before impact, the two thoughts going through my head were “oh no, I’m going to crash, there’s no avoiding this” and then “oh NO, I’m going to run RIGHT OVER HER”.  And I did.

My left forearm took the full impact onto the pavement, followed by my shoulder and then a loud thud of my head.  I have to credit my college volleyball career as diving and rolling is second nature to me, and I still don’t know how I didn’t break anything (besides my helmet).  I was completely shocked and could hardly focus on anything but the pain in my arm, but our bikes had gotten tangled and as we were trying to get them free, I saw several riders go by.  Finally the bikes were untangled, and after asking if I was ok, she took off.  I was SO frustrated that all my hard work had come down to this, and was in so much pain, that I didn’t know if I should throw in the towel and wait for help or continue on.  After doing a quick evaluation of the rest of my bones and my bike, I figured I needed to suck it up and get my tail to the finish, as there were still a lot of people who hadn’t gone by.  I quickly realized my arm was swelling and I couldn’t extend it to reach the bars, so it was a cautious one armed ride back to the finish, where I crossed the line 15th, still in the top half.  I made a beeline for the ambulance, and as they were patching me up, again, I was swarmed by my teammates who immediately sprang into action to help. I know crashing is part of bike racing, and I don’t have any others to compare it to, but I think this crash became a lot easier for me to handle when I learned my teammate took FIRST PLACE! Ellen never looked back in her attack, and when the others reached the top of the hill and attempted to recover, Ellen just kept charging.  All the way to the finish line, second place not even close.

So that was Hillsboro, and I am so thrilled for such a huge win for our women’s team!  Even more honored to be on a team with such awesome people on and off the bike.  Sandra, Meg, Jess, Ellen, April: THANK YOU so much for taking such great care of me after the race and making sure I was ok with dry clothes, food, good company, everything.  You girls are the best.

Bricks Aren’t Just for Triathletes

By Jake Buescher | Apr 17, 2012

Race name: Hillsboro Roubaix
Race date: Saturday, Apr 14, 2012

Hillsboro—a race I knew too much about for not having competed in it until a few days ago.  Growing up in Springfield just about an hour away from the race, I remember my dad telling me about it while I was a freshman or sophomore in high school.  I had no interest in cycling at that time.  Him telling me about a race where you ride your bike as hard as possible for 60 miles, bunched up with 100 other cyclists, riding through the worst roads in Central Illinois sounded like a terrible way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  However, after starting to compete in triathlons my senior year, I began to understand the aura of this “classic” of the Midwest.

I decided to quit competing in triathlons after a couple of years and focus all of my energy on cycling.  I spent the entire winter of 2010-2011 on the trainer in preparation for my first season as a pure cyclist.  I watched Fabian Cancellara (like I assume all of you did as well) complete the Tour of Flanders-Paris Roubaix sweep about 20 times.  I can probably recite the entire 6 hours of commentary by Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett from both races if you want me to.  The excitement of those races and the solo attacks from Cancellara sent chills down my spine every time I watched.  I think the reason those races intrigued me so much more than the Tour, Giro, or Vuelta was because the classics looked so familiar to me.  Granted I have never been on true cobblestone roads, but the flat countryside is where I’ve always trained and I enjoy it.  We Midwesterners embrace those classics races in Europe because we can relate to them so much better than the grand tours.  Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to Colorado for huge climbs like Mt. Evans and Vail Pass, but nothing really compares to racing on familiar terrain in front of friends and family.

So, fast-forward a year and a half to last Friday night.  I’ve had Hillsboro on my calendar since the middle of November as a race I wanted to do well in.  My training had been primarily focused on improving my endurance and being able to compete in these long road races.  Going into the race, I was definitely confident with my ability to be able to stick with the lead group throughout the race.  However, I did not know if I had the form to put in an effort worthy of a podium finish.  With this mentality, I decided to let my teammates know this beforehand and to just let things play out.  My thinking was to stick near the front quarter of the peloton, and put in work if the opportunity presented itself.

Waking up to a forecast of rain the entire day oddly made me happy.  I’d raced in rain before at races like Snake Alley and Tour de Grove and it was scary.  I did not feel confident cornering or descending.  So, your guess is as good as mine as to why I was creepily smiling on the hour-long drive through a drizzle from Springfield to Hillsboro.  Maybe it was the idea that this was “classics weather”.  Not only was I going to be racing on the crummiest roads in Central Illinois, but also I got to do it while soaked to the bone the entire time!  There’s really no way of rationalizing a jubilant attitude like this going into it…

I parked, got kitted up, small talked with teammates and other racers I knew, and then warmed up.  Rolling to the line, I felt a sense of calm.  So many times last year I would roll to the start line and feel very nervous.  I did not have teammates usually, so I’d get to the start line and usually keep to myself.  Hillsboro was different.  I rolled up with six other XXXers whom I had trained with for a few months and talked to a handful of other races from around the area.  It was a relatively relaxed environment, considering we were about to essentially ride into two and a half hours of cold, wet, hell.

The first lap went smoothly.  Besides a near collision on a downhill at mile 15ish, I came out of the bricks about 20th wheel and was holding position well.  I tossed a full water bottle not wanting to carry the weight on the next lap, shot a GU, and was feeling great.  The whole team was there and I tried to stay near a teammate whenever I could. 

As with any race, the fun started near the end.  We hit a section going due south and two riders about three spots in front of me started to lock handlebars and shoulder one another.  The rider on the right went down and I swerved to the left in order to keep from being taken out myself.  I ended up running into the guy on my left and nearly crashing.  I remember my front wheel zigzagging its way all over the wet pavement and somehow keeping the bike up.

Flats seemed to be occurring about every five miles or so.  Around mile 45ish (never actually looked down at the computer so these are all very ballpark figures) I saw a XXX rider go off into the ditch, keep his bike up, and signal for neutral service.  Andrew informed me that the rider was Will (our pre-race hopeful) and that he had flatted.  Without Will in contact with the peloton anymore, tactics changed.  I decided that if I were to make a high placing I would need to advance my position on the tailwind section heading North, hold until the bricks, then get up in the top five in order to lead out Adam or put in a sprint myself. 

So, mentally I was there.  We were about to hit the downhill that goes into the tailwind section on the highway, when I blinked and my left contact fell out.  Vision is certainly a key sense you want to have control of in a race like Hillsboro.  It didn’t help that I knew the finishing circuit was all left turns.  So, I made a mental note to blink very very carefully as not to lose the other contact and have to pull out of the race completely.  I squinted and tried my best to simply hold my line and keep position. 

We came into the stretch right before the last hill and I heard someone say, “This is where the fun begins!”  About ten seconds later, with police trying to bottleneck everyone to the right side of the road, a rider on the left went down.  I skirted around the carnage and ended up in about 20th position with two slower climbers in front of me and no way to get around them.  There was a gap opening in front of them and it was getting larger.  I decided to take a risky line and cut it narrowly close to the centerline cones and accelerated hard to make contact with the group before the descent. 

The move worked and I was faced with my first tough left-hand turn, without clear vision in my left eye.  I figured I would simply try and take the exact line as other racers and hope that they picked a good one.  This idea worked, and I got onto the descent upright.  I do not think that many of the racers grasped the fact that pedaling on a downhill section was an option.  Before the very steep descent began, I noticed that everyone seemed to be coasting already.  I decided this was a perfect opportunity to go ahead and move up six or seven spots.

After that little acceleration, it was time to hang my butt off the back of my seat and stay upright for the 40+ mph descent on a wet, bombed out, brick road.  Everything went fine and I was able to follow another racer’s line taking the tight left onto the long brick section before the finishing straight.  This was where I knew moving up in position was possible.  With the centerline rule was no longer in effect, I darted up the left side of the road around the 15-20-rider group.  To my surprise, someone else had the same mentality as me.  Last years cat 4 winner, Jostein Alvestad, darted around me and continued to pull to the front of the pack.  I passed Nick (putting in a superb effort off the front) who shouted words of encouragement while Alvestad pulled me all the way to the end of bricks.

Alvestad peeled off and I took the left-hander onto the finishing straight in first position.  From warming up and a recon down to the course in December, I knew that this corner could be taken at speed.  I got through the turn fine and started my sprint.  So, with 500 meters to go, I had my first “duh” moment in the race.  I was out of the saddle putting in a pretty hard effort and looked up to see the finish line almost a quarter-mile away.  I had gone out way too early.  I sat down, decided to lull a little to see if I could let someone else lead for the last 400 meters.  Looking back, this was probably a mistake.  Had I simply put in a full 500-meter effort, I might have been able to hold everyone off.  Who knows?  I ended up seeing a couple wheels on my right out of the corner of my eye starting to advance.  By the time they had gotten in front, we had hit the 200m sign and I had to just dig deep.  I put in a pretty ugly sprint and managed to roll through the line in second or third (couldn’t tell at the time).

I collapsed on my handlebars and was just glad I made it through Hillsboro unscathed.  Adam was right behind me and put his arm around me saying I had done well and managed a podium spot.  We rolled through the intersection before the climb and I pulled over to the side of the road.  The ensuing round of high-fives and “nice jobs” was awesome.  I had not had that feeling of team camaraderie before and it was great to be able to celebrate a podium finish with all the cat 3 guys.

Meanwhile, my mom and sister had come down to catch the last lap of the race.  Both of them had not spotted me coming through town after the first lap or the second.  My mom assumed the worst and my sister later told me that her recent Google Maps searches included “hospital”.  Needless to say, my mom was a wreck.  I rolled up to her and my sister with a beaming smile saying something along the lines of “I podiumed at Hillsboro!”  My mom broke down mumbling the classic “I was worried about you” speech and I gave her and my sister a big hug, reassuring them I was okay.  It was a pretty touching moment.

I don’t think I quit smiling the rest of the day.  I ended up calling my dad, girlfriend, grandparents, and told them the same story.  I walked away with a new pair of socks, $75 for a nice celebration dinner with my girlfriend that night, and a brick from Hillsboro.  While it wasn’t a win, it felt pretty good.  I cannot thank my teammates and family enough for supporting me.  I’m looking forward to a successful season and hopefully an upgrade to cat 2 by the end.  Until then, I’ll be out every weekend busting my butt to try and put an XXXer on the podium.  Leland, you’re next.

Since Kyle Wiberg wanted race reports and I don’t especially like them but I guess I should.

By Adam Herndon | Apr 15, 2012

Race name: Burnham Supercrit and Hillsboro
Race date: Saturday, Mar 31, 2012

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” Sun Tzu

I didn’t win the Burnham Racing Spring Super Crit on 31st.  The race didn’t even start on the 31st, that’s just when it ended. The race started months before, early in the morning in a small little room on a trainer watching other races and after work isolated in a gym doing a workout that would look strange to others. The final lead out didn’t start on the final lap, it started weeks prior on Highway 101 in California as we ran into town. And “I’ is not the correct word, it should be “We” or “The team.” Those are the times when I knew the team would win Burnham Racing’s Crit and we did.

“You’re a good kid, it’ll come to you.” Kyle Wiberg

I didn’t win Elk Grove. And the “I” is the right word. I provided the opportunity for others to win, it was tactical error, a wrong spot, a sprint to soon. After the race Kyle said that to me, and as I played the race through my mind, I came back to that line, “it’ll come to you”.
And so I worked to meet it.

“To fully learn, one must have a teacher, a colleague, and a pupil. So that you can replicate, practice and then teach. That is how you master something.”  Adam Herndon (I forgot who said this, so I did. I’m pretty sure that’s how quotes work.)

The Cat 3 squad that lined up at Blawkhawk farms was not just 8 strong, motivated teammates. There were the Cat 1’s and 2’s that we had been learning from and the Juniors and teammates that we had been learning from us. Tom can beat me in a sprint, but after each sprint against him I know that I can beat anyone else. 2nd to Tom is 1st in my races. I can beat Daryus in a sprint with him going full out. But I relearn cycling each time we ride by teaching it to him. I have a team of not only racers but of scholars and students.

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

In the winter months, I refocused my training. Each workout was won. Each sprint was a win, each effort stayed away. Winning became a habit. I had no bad workouts. There was something good about each one if not many things. If something went wrong it was not a stumble or setback but a way to improve.  Because of this I entered Blackhawk farms knowing we would win. I’ve had harder, longer, faster workouts. I knew that the team around me was confident and strong. Being able to race with that knowledge made for the calmest race I had ever entered. The nervousness that had been there previous years was gone. That’s when the race was won. And it wasn’t just the seven guys lined up next to me, each of who could have been first over the line, it was won by a team 200 strong.


Hillsboro Cat 3.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |“At one kilometer of the line you get into a cocoon.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |The automatic pilot takes over all movements.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |The brain is turned off and you react on instinct.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |Sometimes you do everything like you should,
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |you shoot the bullet at the right moment.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |There is nothing I can do anymore at that moment.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |Just hit the pedals till the line.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |When you pull the trigger,
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |the only question is if it will hit the target or not
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE | And as a rider you know it immediately.
YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE YELLOW LINE |I immediately felt it: ‘All, wrong. Badly timed’.

But the bullet was shot and my chance was over.” Tom Boonen (rearranged)

That sums hillsboro up.

Sorry for the mustache and vest.

In a World of 1s & 0s, are you a zero, or The One?

By Liam Donoghue | Dec 6, 2011

Race name: Montrose Cyclocross - State Championships
Race date: Sunday, Dec 4, 2011

Years ago, the Oracle told Liam Donoghue he would find The One. For many years, he’s been searching.

It’s the night before the Illinois Championship Cyclocross race at Montrose Harbor, and William Pankonin is just 18 points away from winning the Chicago Cyclocross Cup Category 3 overall. He has to beat Flatlandia’s Jason Wagner by three places, in order to make up those 18 points. Surely the prophecy laid out by the Oracle will come true. Liam has no doubts. But he knows William has questions. William needs to meet with the Oracle. Only she can give him the confidence to know he is indeed The One.

In a cozy apartment complex on Chicago’s West Side, William enters the Oracle’s domain. He hears her in the kitchen as he makes his way into a room full of small children, all focused intently on the objects in front of their laps. He sees a boy bending spoons with his mind. Next to him is another boy standing beside a bike. The bike is not moving forward or backward, but it is balancing, seemingly like magic. Though it stays put, the wheels suddenly start to spin. Slowly at first, then faster and faster until the wheels become a circular blur. The sibilant whirring drowns out the other boys’ and girls’ conversations, louder and louder. Faster the wheels spin. So still the frame remains. Suddenly both brakes jump inward, grabbing the rims. The wheels stop spinning. The noise dies instantly. The boy looks confidently up at William.

“Do not try and spin the wheels fast. That’s impossible,” the boy says. “Instead, only try to realize the truth.”

“What truth?” William asks.

“There is no bike.”

“There is no bike?”

“Then you’ll see,” the boy continues, “that it is not the bike that goes fast, it is only yourself.”

The Oracle summons William into the kitchen. She looks at him for a few seconds, silently, then turns and flicks the oven off. She stands up from her stool, and offers him a cookie. She knows I’m going to take it, William thinks, but is that because she knows what I’m going to do before I do it, or is it because she knows I’m a cyclist and I obviously love cookies? William takes, and eats.

“You already know what I’m going to tell you,” the Oracle says.

“I’m not The One,” William suggests, through a mouthful of cookie.

“Sorry kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.”

“What?” William asks.

“Your next race, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.”

William turns to leave, past the spoon boy and the bike boy, to bring the news to Liam. But when he arrives at Liam’s house, he looks into Liam’s eyes, and thinks about all the times Liam has mentioned the prophecy. All the times Liam mentioned what the Oracle told him. That he would find The One. Liam believes.

William keeps his prophecy to himself.

“Montrose is a system, William,” Liam says. “That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Business men, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to defeat. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be beaten. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on cyclocross, that they will fight to protect it. Were you listening to me, William, or were you looking at my red bike?”

William shakes his head sorry, and Liam continues.

“I spoke to the Oracle, William. She told me. You will win the state championship jersey. Wagner will finish fourth. The CCC Overall will be yours. There will be celebration, tears, hugs, Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. All of Zion will rejoice!”

William pretends to agree, all the while thinking of his own prophecy. For he is not The One.

It’s the morning of Montrose.

Liam turns to William, blue raspberry Gu in his left hand, red strawberry Clif Gel in his right. “You take the blue Gu, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red gel, you stay at Montrose, and I show you how deep the pain cave goes.”

William contemplates, glances at each, and knows he has come too far to give up. He grabs the red gel and squeezes it into his mouth.

Liam takes a warmup lap and immediately realizes that the first lap of the race will be especially crucial, as any changed line or tapped brake while in any of the sand pits, sand dips, sand traps and sand turny-up-and-overy-dos will mean getting off the bike, and losing valuable time and places. He goes back and runs through a couple tricky sand areas. William plods on. Tank Seguin already uploaded several cyclocross training programs into William’s head the day before, with specific focus on the course characteristics. William is prepared.

It’s 11:45, and Fowkes is standing beside the Cat 3 bunch. He blows his whistle. Clicks, stomps, grunts, whirs. Chains clunking, heavy breathing. This is good, Liam thinks, slotting into second place. This is so good, I should try this not-sucking-at-the-start every single time I race cyclocross. William is close behind.
 
Agent McVey, in a black suit with sunglasses on and an earpiece in, on an all-black bicycle (which is also wearing sunglasses) passes Liam in the second sticky turn. Remembering back to the mayhem of these first couple sand dips, Liam takes a line to the right of McVey, giving the dangerous man some room just in case. As Liam enters, McVey hits the dip in the middle, and goes end-over-end, faceplanting in some soft sand. Liam groans, and several racers join in an echoing chorus behind him.

Liam is now in 2nd. Agent Cole is in first. Liam seizes the earliest opportunity to pass, and quickly darts around Agent Cole. Liam now has the luxury of picking the lines he wants, when he wants them. He leads the bike race. Ergo, all is well. Concordantly, parents and friends cheer him on as he reels off lap after lap, putting time into everyone on the power section up Cricket Hill. His gap grows to 10 seconds, and stabilizes. Ergo, the race is Liam’s to lose. He is the one with the choice. Or so he thinks. Behind him, the real game is being played out.

William finds himself in no man’s land, in 4th place. He chases after Agent Cole and, more importantly, Agent Wagner, the man who stands between him and first place in the overall. William destroys himself for several laps, inching ever closer toward the chase group, toward a victory for Zion.

“Why do my legs hurt?” William barks out.

“Because you’ve never used them before,” Tank Seguin says.

On the third lap, William catches the two, and sits and waits. Ahead, his teammate Liam acts as the carrot, and the Agents hunt Liam down with William in tow.

Exiting one of the sand chasms, Liam falls on his left side, and the agents are nearly upon him. He picks up the bike quickly. He remounts, and notices his knee did not absorb the whole of the impact as he originally thought: his left shifter is pigeon-toed in. This pulls the brake cable just enough to cause some rubbing for the remainder of the race. He looks back and sees William struggling with the two agents.

“Stop trying to get up to me and get up to me!” Liam yells.

William, still in fourth place, speaks softly to himself. “Hey, fourth place is pretty good for the championship. I mean, I’m not The One. I’m not supposed to win this race. Will Liam win?”

“William, win already!” Liam yells, at no one in particular.

Agents Cole and Wagner continue to batter and bruise William, forcing him to take pulls. Two laps to go. William knows he must attack. One final effort. He puts his head down, throws all his body’s power into the pedals, and looks behind him. This is the penultimate time up the mythical Cricket Hill. Then William sees it. He has separation. He is successfully outrunning the agents. He is going at a normal speed, but behind him, Agents Cole and Wagner move in slow-motion. Tank watches from the sidelines and cannot believe his eyes. That’s impossible, he thinks, still decked out in a ridiculous Roman gladiator outfit. William comes to the start-finish straight, in second place, Liam just barely ahead, within reach, the two agents just barely behind, still chasing. The pieces of the prophecy are falling into place. William approaches the finish line and knows he has just one more lap. The bell goes off.

All color disappears from William’s world. Trees and bikes and spectators and sand are all replaced by green 1s and 0s against a black background, contoured lines of ever-changing code arranged in easily-definable cyclocross shapes. Everything moves slowly. Everything, that is, but William.

“You have the sight now, William,” the Oracle’s voice, both everywhere and nowhere, booms in William’s head. “You are looking at the world without time.”

“Then why can’t I see what happens at the end of the race?” William asks.

“We can never see past the choices we don’t understand.”

“Are you saying I have to choose whether I win or Liam wins?”

“No,” the Oracle says. “You’ve already made the choice. Now you have to understand it.”

“No. I can’t do that. I won’t.”

“Well, you have to.”

“Why?” William asks.

“Because you’re The One.”

William, near-blind by the perfection of his pedal stroke and the wattage he is outputting, gets closer to Liam. Fourth place thoughts are but a distant memory. His mind no longer remembers that it once expected something other than sheer, dominating victory. William is no longer tired. There is no bike. He moves like a ghost over the course, floating over the double-barrier section, and comes up to Liam.

“Jason’s in fourth,” Liam says to The One. “Just go win and it’s all yours.”

Through the sand pit. Around the tree. Run through the bunker. Remount. Around the other tree. More sand. Pavement, up-and-over sand, slow turn, muddy downhill, through the tunnel, mucky run-up, over the barrier, through the wood chips, up Cricket Hill, down Cricket Hill, back through the tunnel, down the home stretch.

Victory. Zion is free. I am The One. Will, I am.

Stay Hungry

By William Pankonin | Nov 14, 2011

Race name: CCC Indian Lakes 1 & 2
Race date: Saturday, Nov 12, 2011

“Are you ever less hungry after a win?”
My question makes him look up from his smart phone.
“No. It’s the opposite. I’m hungrier because now I know how to do it!”

My race day mornings are a repetitive ritual.  Every little detail must be repeated in the same manner -no question, no deviation.  The brief dialogue above only confirmed what I must do on Sunday in order to repeat what happened Saturday, and also what must continue to happen as Montrose nears.  Not only would physical acts become sacredly repetive, but mental processes would be duplicated as well on this windy, November Sunday.

After the race Saturday, the racer who lined up beside me told me, “You were making these weird [growling noises] as we started, and I thought ‘Dude, go ahead if you want it that bad.’” It’s like Randy says, to not have a top five spot going into the hole shot should be “unacceptable.” It can’t happen. So the noise I make is a primal sort of grunt, kind of like what I imagine the sound would be of a weight lifter maxing out.  And when there are 70 animals behind you going as fast as possible, one’s fight or flight instinct sort of kicks in, drawing out the grunt to more of a…moan/gurgle?  To return to what Luke says about repeating and staying hungry, on Sunday, I would duplicate every emotion that goes into and comes out of the Hole Shot.  As the whistle was about to blow on Sunday, I whispered to my line-mate, “Ignore the growling.”

His reply, “I expect it.”

What happens when the South Chicago Wheelmen team up with CCC on a golf course, for two days? IT AIN’T GOLF! But it does involve a lot of…... Nevermind; I digress.  As usual, great organization, super friendly, highly competitive, and overall a very professional day.

Day 1:

I liked this year’s clockwise rotation better than previous years.  The long grass / pavement 200 meter start with sweeping turn suited me and was much like the Campton start.  The whistle blew and the horses left the gate.  I almost overcooked the turn and nearly ripped through the course tape.  Fortunately for me and those on my left, I held it together and found myself on Andrew’s wheel.  A good start indeed.  We had no problem negotiating the next left turn, little hill, and sand pits.  Andrew mashed the pedals with me fighting to hold his wheel.  There were a few more turns followed by the first tacky mud section, after which Andrew made a little space for me to pull through, which I did directly.  I got out of the saddle and continued the pace he had begun.  I soon noticed there was growing a ten to twenty meter gap.  Upon leaving the triple barrier section, I noticed the gap had grown, and my next concern was whether or not I could hold this pace solo for another five laps.  I shrugged off that notion, punched the clock, and got straight to work.  I pedaled the next few laps as hard as possible and completely clean.  As the laps ticked away, I was fueled by the shouts of encouragement.  More so, I was even more motivated when called the “S” word.  Someone called me “Liam!” YES! Thank you! With two to go, I eased up a bit.  As the bell rang out on the last lap, I dialed it way back and began to think about my post-up.  I thought, “It’s my second win and coming off a bad race, and it’s a statement.  I’m ready to finish this season strong.” I absolutely love how every guy on that front line is a total beast.  They are ten wheels I would follow with my eyes closed.  Respect.  As the finish came into view, with my cross tires humming along the pavement, I brushed off my hands and raised my arms.

Day 2

Thanks to Warren Cycling, I had no doubts concerning my endurance or power coming off yesterday’s effort.  I lined up with the other mono-maniacs with the same idea.  I would attempt to duplicate Saturday in every sense.  The only thing that differed from Saturday, was that I did not eat an egg.  I had cheese instead of the egg.  The whistle blew and just like yesterday, I found myself second wheel after the sweeper.  Bryan hammered through the left and put twenty meters on me and 80 other dudes going up the grass hill that leads into the sand.  “If he keeps that up, no way anyone catches him,” I thought.  But the hill was developing a slippery spot right around the middle, and when his wheel hit the spot, the wheel couldn’t hold and slid out.  Argh! Glad you’re okay! I cut a line on the inside and led through and out of the sand.  The wind today was stronger and would play a larger role.  Just as I did yesterday, I pedaled A.H.A.P through the first lap.  Today, however, would be different.  As I looked back I saw concerning company, and some not-so-concerning company.  Jason and Chase were glued on my wheel.  Uh oh.  I breathed a little easier when I saw Liam was with us! The group wasn’t too far behind.  I was following Chase with Liam behind me as we finished the first lap (i think).  Jason was fourth.  I made a motion to Liam, who immediately hit the gas and went by Chase on the inside.  It made me a little nervous, not being a track guy and all, but for no reason as Liam went clear and put on a huge gap.  I think I then bridged up on the starting pavement, Chase right behind me.  Liam remained strong, and I couldn’t hold his wheel.  Away he rode.  “Nice,” I thought! I was second with Chase and Jason behind me.  Liam’s distance increased; he had totally detached us from the pack.  Someone behind me said, “Go around him.” When they did, I caught a break from the wind and then began assessing this situation.  For now, I would follow and allow them to catch my teammate.  If caught, I would certainly go with a counter attack or make the move myself.  I cannot remember where or how, but our group reformed as a foursome, and then became a threesome.  Liam had fallen off a tad, but was beginning to make his way back to us.  I was tiring, and would have to save an attack for later.  Once, I did not take my turn pulling through because my teammate was so close.  I made the mistake, however, of verbalizing my intention.  Don’t show your cards! As Chase and Jason picked up the pace, I had to follow as the three of us -the three CCC overall leaders- worked our way through the course.  We were very patient and worked the course clean and smooth.  At one moment, we almost stalled as nobody wanted to be in the wind.  We then became twitchy.  I needed to make a move.  As we approached the big hill, Chase increased the pace slightly.  Smart, because this is where I was planning a move.  He either was also planning to attack or was keenly anticipating mine or Jason’s.  I attacked up the hill, but Chase saw it coming.  I couldn’t get by.  He also closed off my line and made the turn smooth and tight.  To seal the deal, Chase killed the little down-hill section and rode a fast, perfect line around the tree.  It was over.  He and I would each sprint out the last 500 meters, but the gap had been formed.  I was lucky to hold off Jason for second place.  Liam came in securely holding fourth and in the money.

It was a great weekend of racing. Congrats Chase.  Thanks to everyone who contributed to the weekend: the promoters, organizers, directors, the Hilton, the tweeters, the hecklers, and officials.  And thanks to all the Cat 3 Warriors.  See ya next time!

Every roadie has his day

By Luke Seemann | Nov 8, 2011

Race name: Psy-clocross for Life
Race date: Sunday, Nov 6, 2011

On Saturday’s team ride, Nick asked me what it would take to beat Lou Kuhn, one of Chicago’s cyclocross statesmen who has been demolishing the 30+ field this season. If you can beat Lou, you have probably won the race.

“I think it can be done,” I said, “but absolutely everything would have to go right.”

I’ve had some modest success this season, but each race has followed a familiar pattern: First I’ll have a terrible start and lose a lot of positions in the argy-bargy rush to the hole shot. Then I’ll kill myself for a lap in order to catch up to the lead group. I’ll hang for a lap or so, tongue hanging out, then bobble a corner and get dropped, doomed to spend the rest of the race cutting my losses.

Sunday’s race in Woodstock was no different. Despite a front-row start, I was maybe 20th heading out of the hole shot. Fortunately the course had great, wide-open lanes and some climbs that suited me, so I was able to navigate through the field until reaching the front group of about 10.

By this point, Tim Yuska of Iron Cycles was setting a blistering tempo at the front, and this group was getting stretched out like saltwater taffy. One by one riders fell off the pace, opening gaps for me to jump across.

When we hit the steep downhill for the second time, there were only five or six of us, and it was here that Lou skidded in a corner and slowed. I took an aggressive line and passed him. “Hot damn!” I thought. “I’m ahead of Lou!” In eight races, this had yet to happen.

(Why on earth was I ahead of Lou? Only because he had a flat tire—and was a long, long way from the pit. Nonetheless he would finish 7th. Respect.)

Soon the elite group was just three: Yuska, Tim Boundy from Verdigris, and some roadie on clinchers—me.

I sat in and measured my efforts. Many times I have found myself unexpectedly in the elite group and gotten greedy: My eyes would get bigger than my legs and I would attack or ride too aggressively, only to crash or red-line and crack. (See an example of this at the 3:45 mark of this video from last season.) So this time I let the others do most of the work,  chipping in only when I felt chasers were gaining ground. I was also concerned that Boundy was easing up in order to let his teammate catch up.

During this time it was great to get so much support from the sidelines, especially the live coaching from Randy and Seguin. Of course Yuska and Boundy were getting lots of encouragement, too—and since they were both named Tim, every “Go, Tim!” counted double. I was being two-Tim’ed! Not fair!

With two to go, Yuska had a mishap on a tricky barrier, and Boundy and I were able to exploit it. Now it was just the two of us, and like the final 10km of a successful breakaway, it was time to stop being friends and start figuring out how to win this thing.

I let Boundy pull for the final lap and a half. We were safely out of the reach of 3rd place, so I had more to lose than gain by helping him. That’s racin’.

This much was clear: This mustn’t come to a sprint. In seven years of racing I’ve won exactly one sprint. Indeed, in both the two previous weeks I had lost sprints by the width of a tire. (Perhaps I should just get wider tires?) To avoid a sprint I would have to put in an early attack at some point. The question was where.

Earlier in the race, one of the Tims had put in a hard effort on the tough dirt climb on the backside. I had been able to mark it and then put in a dig of my own on the paved climb that immediately followed. Although I didn’t keep it for very long, it yielded a good gap. It seemed likely that this scenario could repeat itself.

Sure enough, on the final trip up the dirt climb, Boundy put in a huge acceleration. He got a gap, and it was bigger than I was counting on. I still hadn’t closed it by the time we got to the second hump, which is where I had been planning to counterattack

I gained some ground on the descent and almost caught back up. The mistake here would have been to sit in and recover. Yes, I was at the end of my rope, but as I am fond of quoting Tim Krabbe: “Shift, when you’re really, truly at the end of your rope, to a higher gear.”

We made the fast, sweeping turn into another long, paved climb. I shifted into a higher gear and went all-in.

First I regained Boundy’s wheel. Then our front skewers were even. Then I pulled ahead. Then I pulled away.

I resisted the urge to brake and flew through the next two chicanes. I glanced back. Boundy was maybe 5 seconds back. Good. Now to hold it for the remaining half a lap.

I continued to take risky lines in the corners. Luck was on my side and I took them clean. I focused on the fundamentals, including following Adam Myerson’s advice to jump out of each turn like it was the final corner of a criterium.

Boundy continued the pursuit. He seemed to be closing in as we hit the final barrier. Knowing that it was followed by a slight downhill, I shifted up before the dismount so I could mash a big gear as quickly as possible following the remount.

Finally I was in the home stretch, and only here did I feel secure enough to zip up my skinsuit. Never did I expect to ever win a cyclocross race, so I had never given a second’s thought to a clever post-up. I resorted to the traditional “Pointing to the team logo with both index fingers.”

Everything had gone right. The course suited me, I managed to go a record 45 minutes without a bobble, and I had strong rivals driving the pace.

And of course there was the matter of Lou’s flat. That’s never how you want to see an opponent fall behind. I’m hopeful that there will be another race where everything goes right for me, and I look forward to seeing how we size up on such a day.

Iceman 2011

By Brian Parker | Nov 6, 2011

Race name: The Iceman Cometh
Race date: Saturday, Nov 5, 2011

It started out easy enough, but when my dad’s van started to squeal and stink we knew we had to pull over. Right away, we knew the trip with this vehicle would not be a good choice so we called in reinforcements. We pulled into the pits, and had a car change in about a half hour. Pretty close to record time. Finally rolling, we were still on track for an on time arrival, so no real worry for missing the race.

Once we got to the race, I gathered my gear and got ready to go. In between the embrocating and the tieing up of the loose ends, I saw the “rainbow stripes” of World Champion Catharine Pendrel riding around. It sent a little shiver up my spine and a grin to my face. The image of that jersey riding around in northern Michigan was very powerful, and it again reminded me that I was doing the Pro race today. Because, those stripes are only worn by pro’s, and I am not a pro. One of my goals was not to let the World Champion catch me, as the women started a couple of minutes after the men. But, to be honest, if the women’s cross country World Champion is going to pass me in a race, I don’t have a problem with that at all. But I never even got to see the “stripes” go by while I was tending to my bike in a crash and a mechanical. I’m pissed I missed the “stripes” go by, it was the only spectating I wanted to do during the day.

After botching the start and lining up at the back of the pack, I looked around and noticed a few Chicago riders in the field, it was good to see some familiar faces in the main event. The race began just like a cross race, full gas and eyes rolling into the back of your head to keep up. I began to advance in the pack on the paved residential run to the first section of dirt. Suddenly, there was the unmistakable, hollow echoing boom of a mailbox getting hit. I glanced to my right and a racer had run full speed into a mailbox 200 yards into the race.  What an awful, awful noise… We got into the dirt, and I continued to advance, and maintain. Until a sandy section that was very close to the sandy section I crashed in last year. My seat was twisted, and a brake lever was pointing straight up. So I punched my bike a few times and everything was back in order. On my way again I quickly caught up with the group that had just ran over me. Feeling good, having more fun than usual in a bike race, I plowed ahead big ring in full effect. Until a weak sauce rise in the course had me changing to a smaller chainring, and all of a sudden the chain locked. I looked at the cranks and my heart sunk. The chain had wrapped around an extra half rotation and was just locked in place, it looked like the end of the race for me, and my bike. With no choice but to slam on the cranks to release it, or walk for untold miles in the woods all alone, I slammed away and the chain finally freed from the chainring’s grasp. The miles ticked off at dizzying speeds that are well beyond what the normal mountain bike race averages.

As the end of the race approached you could hear the announcers and the spectators cheering, you knew you were getting close. Until the course did a 180 and the crowd noise disappeared. And it’s so frustrating knowing the finish is just right around the bend and another bend and another bend. This year they added another climb in the final 2 miles that was a special punch in the mouth. The final hills were stacked with people screaming, spilling beers, ringing cowbells, and clanging bonebells. It was made abundantly clear to me from the spectators that I was being beat by the World Champion. The wall of noise was unlike any other race I’ve ever done before. It’s amazing having that many people scream at you while you ride by. It gives you wings and you float up hills that would otherwise demoralize you. In the end I finished 8 minutes faster, on a course that was a little longer than last years edition, it was an awesome day.

V is for Victoria!

By William Pankonin | Oct 31, 2011

Race name: CCC Campton CX
Race date: Sunday, Oct 30, 2011

At our Jackson Park race, I pre-rode the course before the 3s race began with Liam, and as soon as the staging area cleared, we grabbed our rain jackets and food, and staked out our spots a full fifty minutes before our race began. Really? YES!!  We weren’t the only ones.  Soon, eight to ten other racers lined up within minutes after us, including the winner of that race.  A good number of racers who would go on to finish in the top ten were standing in staging under a rainy sky.  What’s the point? You do what you gotta’ do with 100 thirsty category 3 CXers.  That includes all the little races before the whistle.  I fixed my eyes on watching the official, because I knew he would call us up to the line, and a person could easily lose his or her spot in that quick moment.  As soon as he made the motion for us to proceed, I raced to the line, and made it safely.

Because it was the first race of the series, Victoria was drawing names from a little sandwich bag of pre-regged racers.  My name was drawn third! What luck! This was HUGE! Being on the front line ahead of mishaps makes all the difference.  If a person makes one mistake in a packed cross race, they can count on losing spots.  I like to think of it as a 1:3 ratio.  Make one mistake, watch three people go by.  Maybe that mostly applies to the little mistakes, but if you’re behind them, you’re in trouble.  I did well at Jackson Park, getting my first cross podium.  Also, Victoria, that race and call-up set the tone for the rest of my CCC series.  Thanks, Victoria!

Since Jackson Park, I have been holding my own by consistently earning a call-up.  But after a few 4-10 place finishes, I began to wonder if my form was fading.  Nonsense! Listen to Coach Randy, people! Do your base miles and drills during the winter and obey the rest week all year long! A racer doesn’t need to “lose fitness” and not be competitive.  We can be fast all year and fastest during two or three planned periods.  Randy also helped me by reminding me to make sure I have a plan to beat the competition if riding together on the last lap.  For example, the top three finishers at Sunrise Park all made moves to earn the podium.  I was there with them, but only followed along matching moves.  You gotta’ make the move when it comes down to the finish.  Even though you taste puke and feel like you’re totally dying, and the thought of attacking is ludicrous, “You gotta’ die for twenty more seconds.”

So that brings us to Campton:

This is one of my favorite races in the CCC series; the Campton Cross race was well organized, offered racers interesting challenges, and was simply loaded with fun.  Thanks Mr. Kelley and Bicycle Heaven for working hard to provide us with such an exciting day -and extra payout!  I should also give a shout-out to the CCC director(s) and ALL the CCC promoters.  Thank you!

While pre-riding the course with teammate Liam, we rode up the stairsteps side-by-side.  I hopped my way up on the left and he rode up the far right side.  When I got to the top, he was waiting for me, so that little experiment decided which side would be fastest.  If you raced this course as a cat. 3 last year, you may remember a guy getting off his bike and shouldering it on the first lap, in an idiotic attempt to run the steps.  That was me.  My chain fell off, the group left me in silence, and childish temper-tantrum ensued.  Stick to the plan, man!

I also noticed that three of the turns were somewhat misleading, because if you lined up the turns’ valleys and peaks, a racer would be able to cut a nearly straight line right across the entire section.  That equates to going faster.  Also, while planning with teammate Luke (who is having a solid CX season breaking legs in two races every Sunday) he told me to line up on the packed gravel as it would be faster than the grassy side.  Done.

I lined up next to Austin, the winner of ABD’s Sunrise Park race, and who I have had the privilege of chasing around this fall.  Just thinking about these top guys who line up are enough to give me the hibby jibbies.  The whistle blew and my bars inched forward slightly beyond the chaos.  Then I noticed my bike had space, and I knew I had nailed the hole-shot.  I pedaled harder through the sweeper and braked hard for the hairpin turn.  Because of the hole-shot, I was able to choose all my lines going through the woods.  After the barriers, I put my head down and scraped together more power.  After the double barriers, I was able to look back.  They were all there and I thought we would soon form as group.  Until then, however, I would continue to pedal A.H.A.P.

During the second lap, I noticed David had glued himself to my wheel which gave me additional confidence.  The two of us had widened the gap between us and the sharks.  David has been crushing all of us in many of the races, so I thought if I was riding with him, I was doing okay.  He gurgled some advice to me through turns, and you better believe that I accepted and followed through.  As we approached the barriers, I dismounted and jumped while David levitated and sailed over the barrier.  It was amazing.  By the time I had climbed back up upon my bike, he had twenty meters on me, which meant I had to chase him down in the wind.  On the next lap, he did the same, but only a tad slower.  Once, David reminded me to work together, which I wanted to do but had just led through the woods and uphill barrier section.  I reminded him of that and he took the lead into the wind.  I was really tired and thankful David pulled on this windy section.  He surly didn’t have to.  My plan took on a slightly devious tone when I looked back at the next rider coming.  Liam.  I had my teammate closing in fast.  I would sit on the wheel and wait for a while.  Our pace slowed slightly, and when we turned around the soft-ball backstops out back, I told David I would come through and pull.  He agreed.  “Hup, hup. Here we go,” I managed.  I thought that if Liam hadn’t joined by then, we would have to pick it up -on account of the shark pack.  Chase, our impressive overall leader, was also breathing down our necks.  There have been several races now where he went by me like a laser; for a while, I thought this race would be no different.

We went through the woods and I begin to feel better, going through the finish line area as fast as possible.  I rode the last two laps alone easing up a bit in order to concentrate and take no added risks, as Luke reminded me while racing.  I hit my pedal on a tree on the last lap, and also snagged it on the grass while turning.  I was also down to one contact lens.  I received a ton of encouragement as I approached and passed lapped riders.  Thank you!  As I rounded the final sweeper the last time, I looked back just to make sure.  No sprint needed. I turned the bend and raised my fists.

Cherry Republic

By Jared Rogers | Aug 17, 2011

Race name: Cherry Roubaix - Traverse City MI
Race date: Saturday, Aug 13, 2011

The season is winding down which is a good thing; too much more racing and I think my legs will stage a mutiny.  But save it to say, thus far they have managed to hang in there so I can have a little fun.  Case in point – The 2011 Cherry Roubaix.

This race has just about everything a rider could want with the exception of a TT.  Friday features street sprints in downtown Traverse City.  Saturday is a 6 turn crit with a 1 block sector of bricks.  Sunday is a hellacious road race (Michigan RR State Championships to be precise) that has some of the toughest hills I’ve dared to ride outside of California.  So with all this action going on, there’s no way that I won’t make the trip; especially considering that it’s in the town where my parents moved to.

Street Sprints
Pretty simple concept: get on a start ramp, get your count down, sprint hard for 150M and beat your competitors.  Venue is cool and Michigan former Pro Frankie Andreu was there as guest announcer.  Top prize was also pretty cool; a flat screen TV donated by the good folks over at Max’s Service.  There were four categories competing – men, women, juniors and fixed gear.  Last year I ran two categories but rule changes this year limited riders to only one.  Seeing as I view myself as a pretty decent sprinter, I took my chances where I fathomed I had better odds and less competitors.  So off to the Women’s category I went!  Okay, so I didn’t ride with the women but instead chose the fixed gear route so I could rock my black and gold Obey.

So fixed gear had a total of 6 riders competing.  We would do two qualifying rounds and then our scores would determine who would advance.  From there it was sudden death eliminations in the Semi’s and Finals.  Go hard or go home as they say!  My first run I managed 2nd but quickly determined that my gearing (48/17) while it allowed me to spin up quickly may be a little too light.  So during the trip back through the run off I asked the rider who got 1st (Brian Crosby – Black Line) what he was running (47/15).  Based on this I switched to a 48/15 which would put me over, but close to his gearing.

Round two saw me matched with two new riders.  I managed to get a good start out of the ramp and I was able to spin up pretty quick.  For whatever reason, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if they were gaining.  Frankie saw this and all I head was “You better stop looking over your shoulder, you haven’t won yet!”  Apparently MJ jumped into my body while I was riding because this was my response.

Based on the two previous runs I was moved into the Semis.  Unfortunately I drew Brian Crosby; he got a bike length on me pretty quick and that was the end of that.  But hey, the guy is a Cat 1 on the track so I can’t necessarily be too upset.  Maybe next year I’ll get the TV?

Criterium
So the good thing about this race is that it was only 35 minutes.  The bad thing about this race is that it was only 35 minutes.  What that means is that while it was shorter than many of my races as a Cat 4, the Cat 3’s don’t “surge” as much but instead tend to keep a fast and constant pace.  Thus, this was more like a 35 minute time trial with some bricks and turns just to keep it interesting.

As this race has become more popular, more Chicago riders have made the trip to participate.  So in my race I had the luxury of having John and Evan up from Rhythm.  I also had my man Dave Racine from Hampshire Cycling Club (WI) up.  With 4 unknown riders who all knew of each other, it was going to be good times!

Typically when you are at the start of the race, you’re sitting around while the officials go through all of the instructions.  This time we were all sitting around and the instructions were loosely coming from the stage.  So when they turned it over to the official she just blew the whistle!  “Umm, are we supposed to go?”  Needless to say none of us were prepared so we quickly clipped in and took off!

I got a good start and my line into the first turn set me up pretty close to the front.  I was able to stay there pretty easily until a break of two went off.  The peloton didn’t respond immediately so the gap got up to about 15 seconds before they decided to reel it in.  I was able to see Dave at the front doing some work who was shortly followed up by John.  Me? Trying to hang on to an ever increasing train of riders in front of me!

At about 12 minutes in the break was caught and true to textbook, Evan immediately launched a counter attack.  During his assault they rang us for a $50 prime which he handily won.  I somehow managed to get back up to the front (by taking an aggressive outside line through the turn exiting the bricks) where I was able to see John sitting 2nd/3rd wheel blocking.  Evan was caught around 27 minutes in at which time John countered.  But with less than 10 minutes from the end, it was pretty hard for him to stay off as the pack was having none of it.

As we came through Start/Finish with two laps to go I see a rider go streaking off on the left and I quickly jump to get his wheel.  We managed to get a slight gap on the field but it was going to be hard to make this stick.  As the lead rider slowed down I was forced to make a decision: do I 1) slow down and get absorbed with just a little over one to go 2) try and ride solo being pretty confident that I can’t make it stick all the way to the finish or 3) take a flyer to force a train to chase me and then try to hop it and attack out of it towards the finish?  My decision was option 3 and this is how it played out: got boxed in when the train slowed and could only sprint for 9th when it opened up.  Next time I’m picking option 2 – it may have resulted in the same placing, but I’ll never know until I try.

Road Race
Yeah right – who are we kidding!  Maybe next year when I shed another 20 pounds and get a mini motor installed in my bike.  Now it’s time a few weeks at the track and then the last omnimum of my season – Gateway Cup!

Pressure Cooker

By Liam Donoghue | Jul 22, 2011

Race name: West Michigan Stage Race
Race date: Monday, Jul 4, 2011

Watching Edvald Boassen Hagen’s win the other day in the Tour de France, coupled with Steve Tilford’s recent blog post about performing under lots of, or a lack of, pressure made me think I should write something up about my road race in Michigan at the beginning of the month.

Let’s cut straight to the chase: the decisive move of the weekend for me. We were 5.5 miles from the finish line in the 90-mile road race, on the third and final day of a TT-Crit-RR stage race. The second of two successive solo moves had just come back, and I joked with a rider from Leadout Racing that his team should perform its namesake and “HTC” it at the front to bring us to the line quicker. Then immediately after doing that, and, despite the joke, still getting that rider to come to the front and pull, I realized it was the perfect time to go. Little bit of a lull right after a long, hard effort. I waited patiently as the terrain, pace and my position all combined into the perfect moment. I sprinted full-out, put a good 30 seconds of effort into the bike before I even thought about seeing if I had a gap. When I realized no one had come with me, and that the gap was indeed sizable, I figured, ‘Ah, what the hell?” Spent the next 12 minutes off the front, much longer than anticipated.

I hadn’t even wanted to race that weekend, especially not with 3+ hours of travel, only did so because Tom was looking for some company/upgrade points and he marketed the weekend well: free place to stay in-town, with a bed, home-cooked meals, the beach, oh, and we’ll race bikes, too. I was sold easily.

The weekend, then, at least in my mind, was more about leisure and vacation and getting out of Chicago than it was racing for a result. So it was that I entered the last 15 miles of the road race, content and excited to lead Tom out for a possible bunch sprint victory. He hadn’t necessarily believed in himself to get over the hills and make all the selections, but here we were on the relatively flat run-in toward the finish, pack whittled down from the mid-20s to about the high teens. The three guys to watch were obviously Jake Rytlewski (Kenda), Chris Fisher (Priority Health) and Brian Sheedy (leader’s jersey, unattached). Sheedy, an ex-pro, had won both the crit and the TT. Dude can TT, dude wins the bunch sprint, he’s trouble. Rounding to the nearest second, Fisher and Rytlewski finished the first two stages with identical times; only an extra 10 seconds of time bonus in the crit for Fisher separated those two. Surely no one was going to get away in the last 15 miles, everyone wanted to lock up his GC spot, and mass bunch finish would ensue. At least that was my thought. Guys and teams rotated through to catch a solo break off the front, and I was contributing, as I was gunning for Tom. At one point, pace picking up to catch said solo rider, I see Tom wince as I drop back into the group. Didn’t say anything, but I knew it wasn’t good. I pull up next to him - this is long after he unsuccessfully attempted to sell his bike mid-race to the race leader Sheedy - and he tells me something to the effect of “I’m cramping, not good,” but perhaps with fewer words and more facial contortion. I could sense him suffering at one point, sitting on my wheel, as I tried to lead him back on to a small group that was breaking away at the front. We’d have to make do. Pace would slow, surge, slow down again, etc. Eventually we reeled the solo rider in and immediately another guy goes off. Could have been Mr. Aggression, Joey Iuliano, who probably rode off the front more than he did in the pack that day. When he was brought back, that was when I went.

I had no pressure at this point. Rarely do I have pressure from teammates that is nearly as forceful as the pressure I place on myself. There was no pressure for me to have gotten into a break earlier in the race, no pressure to make said break stick, and there was even less pressure now. Maybe that helped me ride better, maybe not. Surely as I think about the heaping plates of macaroni and cheese I consumed at John and Donna’s (two in an incredibly long line of extremely gracious xXx Racing hosts), the massive ice cream, the cloudy-but-not-unbearably-hot day at the beach, I know racing wasn’t the main focus here. Or maybe it was. Eh, who knows? No pressure, at least.

I was in 6th place on GC. Not terribly stressful. Again, no pressure. After riding 85 miles through some hills in Michigan, I really did not want to go for it alone from such a long way out, I’d even told Tom mid-race that maybe I’d give it a crack at 1 or 2km to go, but I didn’t want to actually think about that fact too long, or I wouldn’t have attacked in the first place. In bike racing, you gotta think a lot, but overthinking tends to do more harm than good. And like I said, with no pressure to succeed, I didn’t necessarily care if I failed spectacularly. I’m also a firm believer in having extremely loose plans and letting the race dictate the exact details. Plan was to go from 2km out? Race told me go from 5.5 miles, and I obliged.

As I soloed away, the group looked at each other, over and over, unsure of who was going to chase me down. I kept a steady pace; I was still operating under the assumption that the Triple Threats, all wanting to win either the GC or at least today’s stage, would expend enough energy in catching me in the last kilometers to enable Tom, who had been getting a free ride the whole time, to come around them and post up. Leadout Racing, which hadn’t gotten great results in the two prior days, would also surely be working hard to bring it all back together. Minute after minute passed, and I kept stealing glances back to make sure what I was seeing was real. I had well over 25 seconds as I crested a smallish hill. The gap continued to go up. My brain danced a 180 and I realized not only do I now have to win this thing, but I have win enough time back to leapfrog people in GC, and maybe pull off a top 3 overall. So I kept up the pace, made it into the town of Lowell where the finishing stretch was, heard Tom’s wife, his parents, his parents’ friends/our hosts, yelling for me, and knew I was going to win. But I also knew the 30-second gap had all but vanished, and the peloton was bearing down on me. I gave it everything to the line, unable to give any sort of victory salute until I had gained every possible valuable second for the overall. It was strange to win, having come into the race with zero expectations for myself. Surely this lack of pressure played to my own mental advantage.

So all in all, a great weekend. A 4th for me in GC (was able to leapfrog a few, but 7 seconds off of 3rd place Rytlewski’s time), a 4th for Tom in the crit, and a win in the RR. Considering the only people to beat me on GC and beat Tom in the crit were either on Saturn at one point in their careers or raced the Tour of California, I can say it’s not a terrible thing for us both to lose to such elite company.

Check Please

By Jared Rogers | Jul 10, 2011

Race name: Geneva Grand Prix & Homewood Cycling Classic
Race date: Sunday, Jul 10, 2011

Geneva Grand Prix
One goal – finish 4th or higher. This is something that echoed in my head when the race would get hard. This is what I tried to stay focused on. This was all I needed to cash my check into the 3’s. 

Nick, Jacques and I were all there were in terms of xXx, but then again that was more than enough.  Omniums attract the best individual riders from all around.  But with more individual riders in the peloton than teams, the dynamic often becomes “why should I do work and sacrifice my result?”  So with 3 riders out of a field of 61, that was more than enough firepower to do damage.

Whistle blows and because of a pre-race issue with my cleat, I get a bad clip in.  Luckily, the field didn’t go too hard for the first two laps so I was able to make my way back up front within 3-4 laps.  When I got there Nick was at the front grinding out a nice pace and Jacques wasn’t too far behind.  Shortly thereafter there was a prime and Jacques was pretty quick to react to it.  I was sitting maybe 7th wheel so I decided that once this was all over, I’d try to work the field over and test out some lines (turn 4 was a slight downhill into a tight road and I needed to know just how fast I could take it in the end).

The prime riders get caught and with 17 laps to go, I get my head low to the bars and start my grind.  They let me go.  I go sailing through the turns.  Turn 4 has a dip in it on the apex – need to watch that at the finish. They’re not coming?  Ramp up the pace.  Okay they’re chasing. Make ‘em hurt – out of the saddle getting my speed up as high as I can.  They are closing and this hurts – but someone has to whittle this field down.  2 laps is all I was off and I was happy when Patrick Meyer (PACT) bridged up to me.  So we worked the field over some more and then it was time for me to rest.  Jacques and Nick would come back up to the front, but unfortunately, Jacques would blow a front tire in a turn and have to visit the wheel pit (but hats off to him for keeping it upright).

Fast forward.  Field is down to maybe 45 riders and we’re at 8 to go.  I’m sitting 15th wheel and the pace slows for a brief minute.  Despite not wanting to eat wind and REALLY wanting take a rest – I take the opportunity to move up to say 5th wheel because I know if I don’t get it now, it will be WAY harder later.  Split second after I hit the front, pace ramps up – glad I moved when I did.  Front three are Tristan Petsch – Horvath (Mack), Bevan Brookfield (Half Acre) and Chris Lombardo.  Tristan is killing himself on the front trying to keep the pace high and Bevan doesn’t want to pull through when Tristian wags.  6 laps to go I say “Come on guys, it’s too early for cat and mouse. Keep it [speed] up.”  Chris hears me and replies “go and take a pull buddy.”  Don’t mind if I do my friend.  As I shoot Tristian I tell him to take a rest on my wheel.  I pull off and Chris acknowledges the effort.  Back to say 7th wheel for a quick rest.

4 to go and the guys in front of me are slowing.  Now is not the time to get swarmed!  I hear shifting on the right and I see a rider in a plain blue unaffiliated kit about to rocket.  I quickly use the gutter and shoot left around the riders in front of me and hop his wheel.  All aboard the p-A-in train!  We are cruising and creating major gaps – one problem, I am burning WAY too much jet fuel too close to the end to keep this pace hot.  When we hit 3 to go, I pull off and gap the other rider to force the field to chase him while I slot into 6th wheel for a quick rest.  Hey, I do work, you all better do some too.

2 to go comes and as we go past start finish a Vision Quest rider (Lorenzo Cervantes) comes streaking past me like a freaking hellfire missile!  The reaction is quick but he already has the gap.  From this point on it’s just me marking the wheels in front of me and trying to keep it upright.  At one point in turn 5 my rear wheel skipped (running too high PSI) but all I was focused on was staying on the front.  Bell lap and it’s game time.  Lorenzo is going, going, GONE!  In turn 3 I managed to pick off 5th place and that moved me into 4th.  “Don’t let anyone around you” is all I could think.

We hit the final turn (slight uphill) and then we’re dumped off for the 150M sprint.  I pull past the rider in front of me but I see the challenge on the right.  Shift.  Dig hard for the line and throw .  Left the door wide open on the left and got beat by a wheel length on the line by Matt Boseman (Method).  Dang it!  But hey, I got 4th?  Check please!

Homewood Cycling Classic
Cliff notes:
•  No real goal other than to instigate a break and get a check.  Even talked to Patrick, Lorenzo and Boseman as they were some of the few riders who wanted to work the day before.
•  Nick, Jacques, Eric, Tracy and Nikos all took to the line with me.  Reassured Nikos that he would do fine and to hang on as long as he could.  Nice job man!
•  Break goes with Jacob Shilling (Mack) and some other riders.  Tracy works his tail off to bring it back when Seegs tells us to work.
•  Break changes and is replaced with Tristian, Tracy and Patrick.  Mack riders and myself patrol the front.
•  Break disntergrates and Tracy comes back (did too much work chasing).  Seegs is screaming time gaps and they hit 22 seconds.  If I don’t go to work Seegs is going to shove a fire hose down my throat later!  I try to bridge.
•  Seegs yells at me to commit.  Headwind on the front stretch is too draining and I don’t think I can get across.  You choose the story plays in my head – “You can either 1) see if Jared can bridge to the leaders or 2) send Jared back to the peloton to try and enlist some horsepower for the chase.”  The reader chose option two thankfully.
•  Boseman tries to bridge, gets there, but has to come back.
•  Ask Lorenzo how he feels. He’s okay.  Asks when I want to try and break.  I say 5 to go.
•Solo Mack rider keeps hitting the front with textbook soft peddeling.  Gap hits 25 seconds. NOTE - one rider can make a difference and this rider did.
•  Lorenzo and I jump the Mack rider and go on rod & reel for 3-4 laps.  Gap falls to 15 seconds.  “Is no one else really going to work” he says when we hit five to go.  “Pull the plug man, I’m not draggin’ them around.  Kick their butts in the field sprint” was my reply.
•  3 to go sitting 10th wheel, we are flying and in turn 2 due to some bad placement of manhole covers and water barriers that were leaking water on the road, I skipped my back wheel something horrid.  I touch nothing or no one, but a wreck ensues behind me. I feel bad.
•  Move up in the final laps and sprint for what is left.  Take 7th place and a check.  Tristian beat Patrick in the sprint and they go 1,2 respectively.
•  Props to Lorenzo for all his work – can’t say that we just rode around in circles today!

So several riders kept asking me when I was upgrading.  Guess I’m “that guy” now huh?  Well, with Geneva done, that was all I needed in terms of points.  I pushed the button a few hours ago boys.  It’s been fun, it’s been real.  Enjoy the rest of the season and I look forward to racing with you all in the 3’s someday down the road – unless of course I miscalculated my points!

Tough ToAD – Take Two!

By Jared Rogers | Jun 29, 2011

Race name: Tour of America’s Dairyland (TOAD) series
Race date: Sunday, Jun 26, 2011

Last year was my first year racing the Tour of America’s Dairyland (TOAD) series.  For a recount of those crazy exploits, you can have a read right here.

This year my primary goal of the series was to finish a Cat 3 upgrade campaign that seems to have taken way too long.  My secondary goals were to come away with one of the coveted cow print jerseys and place reasonably well in the overall GC.  Based on how I had been racing earlier this year, I felt that all of the above were well within my grasp.  But just when you think you’ve got things figured out, somehow a monkey wrench gets thrown in your direction (like a reshuffling of the course order to make it harder).

Similar to last year, I want to get a few acknowledgements out of the way before we get started.  First, serious thanks need to go to the promoter – Midwest Cycling Series and their premier sponsor, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Thanks for running a top notch event; you always find a way to raise a pretty high bar even higher!  Second, all the folks at registration and results also deserve a word of thanks as their hard work made the daily check in and getting paid a breeze.  Third, thanks to all the USAC officials who did an excellent job keeping it all together and keeping track of where we all finished. Forth, SRAM neutral support is quite possibly the most valuable asset of the series.  You hope you never have to use them, but you’re sure glad they are there when you do! Fifth, to all my teammates that raced with me on various days (Bill, Nick V, Dave, Bob, Nick A, Owen, Jaques, Charley, Tracy) thanks for the company and strong riding.  Lastly, to all the riders who did the entire series.  You guys didn’t make it easy on the old man, but when I say that I raced some of the best in the region, I mean it.  Thanks for a fun 10 days!

Stage One – Theinsville Extreme Ski & Bike Cycling Classic
• Course was a six corner affair that had a chicane between 3 & 4.
• Race started off fast with us routinely hitting 30+mph on the front stretch for the first few laps.
• Going into turn one about 12 mins in I remember thinking “we are way too wide for this corner.” Sure enough we were and I almost got caught behind the crash. Unfortunately, Bill did get caught behind it and had to chase.
• A few riders went off the front for a while (Carter Crowe – Ritte Cycling & Theo Loo – IS Corp) but were eventually brought back.
• In the finale, it got really hectic.  A crash in the chicane with 2 to go took my lead-out rider Hudson out.  Going into the last corner Carter blew his rear tire which caused a little chaoticness as we were lining up for the sprint.
• Got pipped at the line, but still managed to get 6th.  GC hopes were looking good at this point and I got my first check of the series!

Stage Two – Giro D’ Grafton Criterium
• Six turn course with two slight uphills, wide open lanes and a long 350M finishing straight.
• Race went ballistic from the gun. Shawn Delk (Project 5) and I quickly found ourselves in a group of 7/8 with a gap on the field but were brought back within 2 laps.
• After getting caught, Owen and Nick A. went to the front and started to hit the field with a classic xXx rope-a-dope one two punch.  I found it extremely hard to move up during this time, especially when they primed the field for 3 laps in a row!
• Hooked up with Andrew Zens (Rhythm) and Jaymie Sanchez (Half Acre) and started to train our way up to the front.
• Pace appeared to go ultra hot for the last 6 laps which pushed me into LT+ and sent my hamstrings screaming for the sidelines.  It was during this time that I was too far back when Owen made the 3 man break with Carter.
• Almost got driven into the rails during the sprint as riders blew up 50M from the finish and sat up.  Took 18th but our guy Owen almost pipped Carter at the line because he started celebrating too early.

Stage Three – Carl Zach Cycling Classic
• Course was a six turn gear grinder that had a slight uphill drag between one and two, a rollercoaster drop off into turn 5 and then a downhill run into a sweeping turn six and a slight uphill drag to the finish.
• The pace was “mellow” for the first lap (which at ToAD means it was only 23mph) but quickly got back to “normal” as the heavy hitters tried to crack the back of the field.
• Konrad Witt (ABD) took a flyer and stayed off for a while.  They then primed us 3 places deep ($75,$50,$25) and I decided to take a crack at 3rd as Konrad was well up the road.  Went too late – no cash this time.
• I pretty much stayed tucked away safely in the main group, but a few crashes kept us on edge most of the time.
• The man to watch (Carter) flatted (again) going into the last turn.  Me?  I ran into a wall of riders (again) and came across the line 18th (again).  It was at this point that I started to reevaluate where I was riding within the peloton, especially with me falling down to like 19th in the GC.

Stage Four – Greenbush Road race
• Last year this race was Stage Seven and my legs felt it from the beginning.  This year, I vowed to not get a bad spot in the back as I did not want to be out of position when we hit the climbs (considering that I don’t typically climb as fast as the billy goats).  So myself, Nick V, Bob and Dave all got lined up pretty close to the front.
• Going into the 1st lap of climbing, I somehow found myself pulling the field up the climb.  Not what I wanted to do but it ensured that I didn’t get dropped!  So for almost 2 miles I stayed at/on the front until I almost had to blackmail other riders into pulling.  You’d be surprised how many riders just want to sit around and ride in circles!
• Got pushed back during lap 2 and was not in the optimal position to SAG climb.  By the time I looked behind me on the climb, there was nothing but an ant trail of riders.  The peloton stayed within eye shot until I hit the climb the 3rd time and was forced to give up the goat.  It was on this lap that we saw Carter on the side of the road in another spot of bother (broken chain).
• Rode with Shawn for the rest of the race and he gave me a nice leadout to take 41st (only 6 minutes behind the leaders).  Unfortunately, there was a crash in the last corner that took Nick from 10th to 20th in a matter of seconds.

Stage Five – Schlitz Park Criterium
• I was warned about this course beforehand and when I looked at it on Google Streetview, it only looked worse.  Two blocks of 7% and 5% grade followed by some nice descents with one that really required you to be on your game.  Unfortunately, this course would not be fair to myself, Nick V or Bill.
• My legs were not liking this race from the gun – particularly after four days of inclines that kept getting longer and steeper.  No surprise that I was early finished after 6 laps for 41st place.  But I did get to get some rest and catch Cool Hand Luke do it up in style.

Stage Six – Ripon Time Trial
• This was a 13.7 mile time trial that had to be done Eddy Merckx Style.  Given that there weren’t many riders other than those doing the omnium signed up for this race, it was one in which I felt I could move back up in the GC.  Too bad it 1) wasn’t flat (it had 4 climbs in it) and 2) some crazy strong non GC riders decided to show up just for fun.
• Bill was back after a few days of rest, which was welcome as we had to drive about 40 minutes from Fond Du Lac.
• Long story really short – Carter was 1 minute behind me and caught me about 3 miles into my run.  I marked him as “legally” as I could and at 6 miles in I caught my 30 second rider Konrad but we’d end up battling back and forth until after the final climb where I got a slight gap on the final 4 turn technical run into the finish (during which I almost took out a race flagger when I overcooked a turn).
• Finished 18th (yet again) with a time of 37:38.  Carter caught 5 (yes, you read it right) to take 2nd with a time of 34:54 but even he couldn’t best Travis Jass (Fort Dodge Trisport) who rode a blistering 34:31.  At this point me hitting top 3 in the GC was just about numerically imposible, but with 4 flat(ish) stages coming up, I figured I could claw my way back from my 29th standing.

Stage Seven – Sheboygan Harbor Centre Bike Race
• Fast and flat four corner affair with a nice a long 400M finish.
• This was a rainy day with lots of guys hitting the deck in the turns.  By my count there were at least 3 crashes prior to the “big one.”
• We were mostly being pretty cautious in the turns, which meant that I had to close tons of gaps in the straights.  Riders like Carter and Doug Callies (Davies Rock Star) were just drilling it in the straights which was doing a good job of cracking the field like chestnuts exploding on an open fire!
• Was moving to the front with 8/9 to go when Carter went down right in front of me.  I had nowhere to go and hit the deck, slid across the road and then watched a wall of riders come flying towards my head.
• Got back on a free lap, but there was some confusion on when to get back in so I wound up chasing and then getting pulled with a few laps to go for a 25th place finish.  I was pretty livid after the race, but this is what sent me over the top .  From this point I was like a raging bull with only one thing on its mind; total annihilation.

Stage Eight – Fond Du Lac Grand Prix
• Four corner crit with a tailwind on the back stretch and a massive headwind on the 350M finishing stretch.
• Got lined up on the front and pretty much didn’t leave the top 15 all race.  Used most of my pent up anger to ensure that the pace didn’t get too slow and that anyone not deserving to be on the Pony Express got dropped off on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
• About 25 minutes in they called for a $25 prime and me and an O2 rider got a gap on the field going into turn 3.  It was here that I got to practice slipstreaming a rider into the headwind for the finish – which did net me the $25.
• Coming to the closing laps I just tried to stay in the top 5 and wait for the move.  Going into the final lap Carter got a gap and Doug and another rider got a gap on me and the rest of the field.  All four of us were blowing the doors off the field on the back stretch and I knew I was good when we hit the last turn ‘cause the riders behind me were screaming that it was over.
• Unfortunately I lost my 2nd place spot by less than ½ a wheel length when I got pipped at the line by Karlton Larson (Team WI/KS Energy Services), but I still got to do this!

Stage Nine – ISCorp Downer Classic
• Triangle shaped course with a potentially tight second turn.
• Aaronita and Pilar came up to watch along with some family from the Milwaukee area.  Needless to say, I was motivated to race well.
• The man of devastation, Carter Crowe, took an early drive back home to California so it was now a free for all in terms of who was going to be marked.  Atleast I had my man Charley (#999) up for some fun.
• Race went all ToAD from the beginning.  So I just tucked in the first 5 wheels to try and stay out of trouble as we took that >90 degree turn like a pack of wild banshees.
• There were some primes that were awarded and a few riders laid down some attacks but nothing really stuck.
• Going into turn 3, Aaron Zulke (West Michigan Coast Riders) took off.  By the time all of us responded the gaps were pretty much set and nothing would change when we hit the line.  I rolled in for 5th, but my buddy Konrad managed to get 2nd!

Stage Ten – Madison Capitol Crit
• Four turn 0.6 mile course with a stretch of 4-5% grade that dumps you off into a 100M sprint.
• This was my last chance to get a cow print jersey and I felt that I had a pretty good shot at it.  Tracy was up for some of the fun, so I figured it would be a good day as this guy is a beast on the front of any peloton.
• Race saw Karlton making numerous attacks off the front as he was only a few points away from taking the red leaders jersey from Tony Kaatz (LAPT CC) who had held it for a stretch of almost 5 races.
• Pace stayed hot most of the race but nothing could get away.
• Going into 1 to go I kind of got distracted by arguing with another rider when I should have been focused on moving up more.
• Finished 10th in the race, which solidified my 10th place in the overall GC .  Tracy bested me and got 6th.  But my guy Konrad did us all +1 and brought home 3rd GC to Illinois!  Watch for him in the 3’s soon.

All in all it was an extremely fun series and I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone.  This was some of the best racing in the Midwest and doing a stage/omnium race is just plain fun.  Not to mention, you can take home a pretty nice haul like this one!  Now it’s time for a little rest and then one/two Superweek races to put the finishing touches on my upgrade points.  Here’s looking forward to the next level and some good end of season racing!

3’s A Charm

By Ryan Fay | Jun 29, 2011

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix
Race date: Saturday, Jun 25, 2011

I’ve moved up to category 3 on the road in my third season of racing.  In my third criterium win of the year, I earned the distinction of being the champion of Illinois.

Before getting into the detail of Glencoe, I’ll recap my first win as cat 3 at The Quad Cities Criterium on Memorial Day.  The course in downtown Rock Island is made for pure speed with wide turns forming a figure 8.  This would be the third year at this race for me.  I wanted a good result as my results at Snake Alley (18th) and Melon City (30th) didn’t go as well as I had hoped they would.  My Dad, Aunt, Uncle, Sue, and a big crowd lined the streets on a hot, sunny, windy, and absolutely beautiful day.  I told Andrew Truemper, my only teammate in the race, that “I felt like getting a breakaway going today”.

Our race would be 24 laps.  It started off at a brisk pace with the 63 riders fighting for position near the front of the peloton for better lines through the turns.  Just as the pace seemed to settle in, I came around the last turn to see what looked like a couple of riders dangling off the front to make a move.  I quickly accelerated out of the group and blasted past the leaders.  After a 30 second surge, I looked over my shoulder to find myself alone and with a sizable gap.  I came around after 1 lap with a 20 second advantage and 17 laps to go on the board.

“Nice job, idiot” I thought to myself.  I had almost zero faith in my ability to hold this gap for the rest of the race.  I kept plugging away at the pace, hoping that I would pick up a prime and give my Dad something to cheer for.  The laps kept counting down and my lead stayed consistent.  I thought of all of the terrible things that might happen to me in the race.  It seemed like a classic example of the field letting the breakaway waste away at the front while they bide their time to make the catch with a few laps to go.  I also thought of positives, like Jens Voight who has said things to the effect of “you’ll never know if you don’t try” when attacking a race.  I thought of all of the successful breakaways that I have watched in cycling.  I thought of how much I love the suffering that accompanies the time trial discipline.  Sue is there screaming time gaps and ringing cowbell at me every time I go by.  The huge crowd gave me tons of encouragement.  Jonathon Atwell, who had convincingly won the previous day at Melon City, tried to bridge up solo with little success.  Then a group of 6 organized to try and chase me down to no avail.  The laps counted down. 10 to go.  Keep it up.  5 to go.  Is this real?  3 to go.  Gap is still good.  2 to go.  They aren’t catching me.  1 to go.  The field has no chance.  I win with a 30 second gap.  I sit up after the last turn and take it all in.  I’m the only one in the picture.  I found my dad and gave him a hug.  Then I got up to the podium for a very pro presentation with podium girls, flowers, and a sparkling grape juice spray.  I walked away from the race with my first win as a cat 3, a HUGE payout of $361, and a very heightened sense of what I am capable of doing in a race.  Minus a few tweets after it happened, I kept details of this result quiet as I didn’t want to tip my hand any more than I already had before bigger races to come at Galena and Glencoe.

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Fast forward a few weeks to the Glencoe Grand Prix.  In the week leading up to the race, the cat 3 squad and I made a plan consisting of me getting into a breakaway early in the race.  The rest of the guys would do their thing to keep the peloton in check.  We thought that I would be a marked rider.  Earlier in the day, Mark French from 708 introduced himself to me and asked me about Quad Cities.  That confirmed our suspicion.  We also expected that I would either be chased down quickly by teams looking for a sprint or joined by other riders looking for their chances in the break.  I was mentally and physically prepared for whatever was to come.

The race kicks off and I felt ready to attack the field from the start, but exercise patience.  The race had predetermined sprint laps and king of the hill laps.  The top 5 finishers on those laps would receive 5 to 1 points, depending on their position in the sprint or at the top of the hill.  The winner of each of these competitions would win a Swiss Army watch.  At about 15 minutes in, the bell rang for the first sprint.  I had planned on making my move after the this sprint, however, the pace slowed after turn 1 with nobody wanting to push it.  That was all the hesitation that I needed.  Now was the time for my move, before the technical turns on the course.  I made a gradual, but steady acceleration away from the field where I would find myself once again alone and with 45 minutes left of the 60 minute race.  I won the first sprint lap and quickly opened up a gap of 15 seconds.  Now it’s up to me.

The race continues on and my gap grows to about 30 seconds.  The minutes ticked down but there was a LONG way to go.  I got to 30 minutes to go, then down to 15 minutes.  The lead was still solid and I still felt fresh.  I had been getting time checks along the way from the race announcers and teammates on the roadside.  I used those time gaps as my barometer for how much effort I needed to put in.  I settled into a solid rhythm that kept the gap consistent.  I had faith that my teammates were doing what had to be done to keep the field in check.  I was comfortable with my lead hovering at around the 30-35 second mark.  The time and the laps ticked down.  With 5 laps to go, I knew that I was going to win the race.  I had paced myself perfectly.  I started to lose a touch of speed through the longer straight sections, but I continued to carve each of the 8 turns per lap with surgical precision.  The field was racing for 2nd place.

The last lap was surreal.  I gave a fist pump at the top of the hill.  I looked over my shoulder to see nobody in sight except a race official on a motorcycle and a SRAM neutral support motorcycle.  I was in good hands and about deliver a state championship jersey for xXx.  I came through the last turn to a LOUD crowd in downtown Glencoe.  As I had started my last lap, Randy had advised me to think of a good post up - I put both hands up as I rolled in.  Once again, I was the only one in the picture.  The field sprint came in 34 seconds later headed up by Mark French from 708 Racing and Kyle Selph from Tower Racing.

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After the race, I found Kyle and the rest of the team at our team tent.

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Then there was the podium for the Glencoe Grand Prix winner’s jersey.  Along the way through all of this, I had locked up both the sprint and king of the hill competitions for the watches - bonus!

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And finally, the podium for the Illinois State Champion jersey.  Far and away, this was the best moment of my cycling career.

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After interviews and photos with sponsors, I enjoyed a handful of Goose Island Green Line beers and watched the pros throw down.  Moyer was impressive (as always) in finishing 9th in an insanely fast and aggressive race to repeat as cat 1 state champion.  Liam would be the Illinois runner up.  Those guys are strong.

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As usual, the organizers of this race have set the bar very high for professionalism.  It has everything that a racer could ask for from SRAM neutral support, rider accommodation tents with food, fantastic atmosphere, great payouts and prizes (the sprint and KOH competitions were a very welcome addition), and an outstanding course.  I hope to come back next year to win again.

In case this wasn’t enough, another recap of the race can be found on the Glencoe Grand Prix blog at http://glencoegrandprix.com/blog/?p=508

State Champ 2.0

By Dave Moyer | Jun 28, 2011

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix
Race date: Saturday, Jun 25, 2011

We knew what had to be done.  We emailed for a week prior to the race, talked about it on long car trips to other races and mulled it over during the warm-up.  The plan could be very simple or enormously complex.  The simple version: make the break.

The context of the plan is a little more nuanced.  The riders on the elite team realized that Glencoe was actually going to be several races in one.  Two dozen pros were in town to earn NRC points and thousands of dollars in prize money, but there was also the typical group of locals there to win the state championship.  Our race was unusually small, and it was clear that the pros would try and drop every last one of the amateurs in the early laps.  If you made the break as an amateur you’d likely get a free ride around the course, and hopefully you’d get pulled away from the rest of the amateur competition. 

It’s an interesting experience to have a strong representation of pros in your field.  In some ways I know they’re just regular guys who race bikes for a living.  Many of them are similar in age, and we’ve probably raced some of the same races in the past.  On the other hand, there’s a whole other language, code of etiquette and brotherhood amongst them that you quickly realize you’re outside of when you’re in the race.  They race together throughout the summer and know each other intimately, which makes them skeptical of the amateurs amongst them.

An example came in the middle of the race Brad Huff asked me “Are you with us or are you lapped?” and in my glee of Brad Huff talking to me I responded “I’m us.”  Brad Huff ignored my unintelligible response. 

That question snapped me out of my singular focus on making the break and I suddenly realized I’d done it.  I’d worked hard to stay at the front and had tried to follow accelerations when all the major teams had riders up the road.  The early laps were fast; fast enough that I questioned our collective ability to hold the lines we were taking into the corners.  But I realized I should probably trust Jeremy Powers’ lines in a technical crit.

Just as suddenly as I realized I was in the break I began to look around and found that I was likely the only Illinois Cat 1 rider in the move, basically assuring me a state championship.  It was a little surreal—I began asking the couple of other amateurs whether they were from Illinois, and they all laughed and shook their heads.  After that I settled onto the back of break—there wasn’t much work for me to do as the three pro teams in the move alternated attacking and bringing each other back.  When the group was together I’d pull through, and pretty soon we lapped all of the small groups left on the course. 

I kept my low profile until the end, knowing that it would get very hard in the final couple laps.  Luckily things were relatively tame until the last kilometer when the pace really jumped.  I clung to the back of the group, but had no real chance of coming past any of the sprinters.  I stood on the pedals anyway and passed some of the leadout men for 9th place.  Being in the top ten was a nice surprise, but most importantly I had the pleasure of donning the state championship jersey for a second consecutive year and sharing the podium with Liam, who was the first finisher not in the initial break.  Needless to say it was an absolutely wonderful day—except for the “I’m us” comment.  What a ridiculous thing to say.

Planning pays off

By Luke Seemann | Jun 22, 2011

Race name: Cobb Park, Greenbush, Schlitz Park
Race date: Saturday, Jun 18, 2011

One of the best ways to start our season is Randy’s season-planning workshop, where we learn how to structure our season so that our physical peaks match our racing goals.

Typically I peak early for the May road races, but without any on this year’s calendar, I plotted a later peak, and our May camp in Asheville was the perfect way to put the finishing touches on spring’s training. Sure enough, I’d enjoyed some quality racing to start June, and I was looking forward to carrying that good form this weekend with four races in four days.

Cobb Park 30+ 1/2/3
Cobb Park is a great event, small and low-key but with a great atmosphere provided by our friends of the South Chicago Wheelmen. The course is fantastic, too, with a slight elevation change, just enough to benefit me. I won here last year, and all week I’d been visualizing how I could do it again. My goal was to race aggressively, get in a small break, and then continue to race aggressively until it was a break of one—me.

Riders started attacking right away. By the third lap, a group of about six was about 10 seconds down the road and starting to look dangerous. At the top of the climb, I bridged across, dragging one rider with me.

This was a good group of eight, but there were two Bicicletta riders present. I’d need to isolate them.

Organization was failing, and some of the original six were already a little gassed. Looking back, I could see more riders coming across. The last thing I wanted was for this group to get bigger, so I launched a preemptive attack. Only one rider, Andrew Rizzo from Bicicletta, came with me. A lap later, Scott Pearson was able to bridge across. Perfect: These were two experienced breakaway artists. We worked together like clockwork, maintaining a comfortable 20-second lead for the next 30 minutes.

But now it was time to win.

Last year I attacked the break with two to go and snuck away. I was afraid Scott and Rizzo might be expecting that, so this time I attacked on the hill with four to go. Unfortunately they were both able to cover it, and now that I had so rudely opened hostilities, the cooperative spirit was snuffed out.

One wrinkle in the dynamic is that Scott and Rizzo were friends and former teammates. I had to consider this a 2-on-1 situation. I maneuvered into the rear to suck wheel. Sure enough, as we started our final lap, I heard Scott say to Rizzo, “Just let me lead you out.”

This is a teachable moment. Then you’re 2 against 1, and the 1 is sucking wheel at the back, there are two ways to win. 1) One teammate can provide a leadout, as Scott was offering to do for Rizzo. Or 2) With the lone rider sucking wheel in 3rd position, the rider in 2nd position can let a gap open up, allowing his teammate to float away. This forces the lone rider to close the gap, after which the 2nd teammate can attack, or keep letting gaps open until the lone rider tires and gives up.

Scott and Rizzo’s problem is that they were trying to do both! As we crested the hill, Scott was in 1st position, riding at 90% and preparing to lead out the sprint. But meanwhile, Rizzo was riding at 60%, letting a gap open up between himself and Scott.

I wasted no time in taking advantage: I attacked at 100%, getting the jump on Rizzo and, thanks to the gap he’d created, passing Scott at a speed that prevented him from jumping into my draft.

But I still had 600 meters to go. I sprinted down the hill, then coasted through the sweeping turn to ensure I took it cleanly before getting out of the saddle to sprint for the final 150 meters.

In my peripheral vision I could see Scott’s SRAM wheel advancing on me. Oh, no! This was going to be just like “The Rider,” in which his foe crawls back inch by inch to win the sprint! I got out of the saddle one more time to give just a few more hard kicks—and crossed the finish line first. Phew!

This was historic: This was the first time I’ve ever won a sprint of any sort, and Scott and Rizzo certainly made me earn it. In addition, after seven years of throwing my bike to finish every race—usually well off the back—this is the first time it’s ever carried any consequence.

It’s kind of fun. I should try it again sometime.

Cobb Park P/1/2/3
An unfortunately small field for this one. Only 15, and just about everyone had already raced, most of them in the 3’s race directly previous, including Andy and Robert, with whom I’d have the pleasure of racing.

Knowing so many 3’s would be pooped from their race, I tried to break up the field early. I attacked after a few laps, and a young South Chicago Wheelman rider came with me. After a few laps, however, he couldn’t hang on any longer and retreated to the pack.

A lap later I saw Tony from Beverly Bike bridging up. I waited for him, then commanded him to hold my wheel. After he recovered, we traded pulls, but soon he was showing fatigue, too. (Small wonder: This was his third race.) “Don’t red-line on me, Tony!” I yelled. I was happy to do most of the pulling, but I needed someone with me to provide occasional relief.

Alas, Tony also fell back, leaving me by myself with 30 minutes still to race. I went into time-trial mode, but finally I was reeled in.

The finish came down to a confusing sprint, including several riders sprinting a lap early, and I bungled the leadout I was hoping to give Rob, but he and I were able to hang on for 4th and 6th respectively.

Greenbush Road Race 2/3’s
I had high hopes for this one, a fun, rolling course that I would do with Seguin and Pankonin. There were some larger teams present, including several that were shooting for the overal, but depending on how those dynamics played out, I figured Will or I had a good shot at getting in a break if we were patient. Failing that, this was an uphill sprint right in Seguin’s wheelhouse; all Will and I would need to do was work to deliver him to the final corner.

After 25 miles, I was getting my head into attack mode. Next time through the twisty climb, I’d launch, counting on people to be tired by this point. Alas, my mind was on this and not the road, and I hit a nasty section of potholes dead on, resulting in a front flat. The SRAM car and motorcycle each attempted to motopace me back, but we just couldn’t make it work, probably owing to my own lack of motopace experience.

In the end, Will was able to set Mike up in a good spot into the final corner, but a junior led him off-course, and we were left to wonder what could have been had I been there to give him shepherd him through safely. Rats!

I left with a stomach full of peanut butter, jelly and anger. I would have my revenge.

Schlitz Park 2/3’s
This was a great venue when it hosted a Superweek race last year, although the ToAD version would be a little different, with a much more technical descent: A fast left turn, followed by a fast sharper-than-right-angle right turn and then an S-curve into a short finishing straightaway.

Anyone who has waited at the bottom of a mountain for me knows that descending is not my forte. I was nervous about how it would hinder me here.

After watching Mia’s astonishing win and a few other races, it was clear that this was a course that could a shatter a field as early as the first lap, not unlike Snake Alley. Other riders noticed this too, and dozens of us lined up 20 minutes before our race in order to scramble to the start line, the ol’ race before the race.

Fortunately I was able to secure a spot on the front row, on the left, just where I wanted so that I could take the first turn wide. I was expecting a full-on cyclocross sprint for the first corner, but a funny thing happened: I was the only one contesting it. Perfect. This let me set a brisk tempo up the hill, which in turn let me be among the first into the descent, where I could take it on my own terms and not risk being elbow-to-elbow in the pack.

Second time up the hill, I attacked, which let me take the descent all by myself. Good thing, as I took it way wide and nearly ran into the curb when I freaked out at the wet pavement, still drying from an earlier squall.

I stayed off a lap or two, then was reabsorbed. Soon I attacked again, this time earning a $25 prime, but the field wasn’t quite shattering yet, and I was caught again. This time a Geargrinder rider counter-attacked and got clear, building up a 15-second lead.

I sat mid-pack and recovered, preparing to attempt to bridge. But again I bungled the descent, hitting a recessed manhole head-on and blowing out my rear tire. This was right before the hard-left turn, and there was no way I could turn with my tire flapping in the breeze. I had to bail, fortunately taking nobody else out as I headed straight into the curb and crashed onto the grass.

Body felt fine, bike felt fine. Off to the SRAM wheel pit.

The mechanics were quick to change my wheel. I took a gel as I regained my composure, and just in time a spectator brought me the sunglasses I’d lost in the crash.

I got reinserted, but my legs had gone cold. I struggled to keep up at the back of the pack. Meanwhile, two riders had snuck off the front and were bridging up to the leader.

A few laps later, I was feeling better, and I was noticing we were shedding riders on the hill. This was my cue that the conditions were ripe to make my own escape again.

At the top of the climb, I kept up the tempo around the corner and into the flat ridge. This is a great spot to attack on a course like this: Everyone expects the attacks to come on the climb, but then they relax once the road flattens. With just a little bit of effort at the top, you can catch them off guard and too pooped to chase.

Sure enough, I was able to get clear. The leaders’ gap was about 25 seconds, which I cut in half, but although tantalizingly close, I couldn’t close the deal—and there were still eight laps to go! My time off the front in Cobb Park was the longest I’d ever been solo in a crit—but now I’d have to do it for even longer.

But thanks to the encouragement from Mia, Jared and others, I soldiered on, concentrating on the descent to lose as little speed as possible. By the final few laps I wasn’t even feathering the brakes. Small miracles.

With one to go, I gave 100% up the hill one final time to stay out of reach, then took a conservative tack down to the finish. The sprint behind me was gaining quick, but happily I stayed clear for fourth.

Nonetheless, I of course still did a bike throw. You never know how close someone might be.

I

By Mia Moore | Jun 22, 2011

Race name: Schlitz Park
Race date: Tuesday, Jun 21, 2011

Schlitz Park is turning into one of my favorite races.

Last summer, I did this race-in it’s Superweek form-as my first race on a carbon bicycle. I was able to create a breakaway with two strong local riders, Jannette Rho and Stacy Appelwick, and the woman leading the series, and we ended up lapping the field. This was a huge accomplishment for me, even though I finished last out of the four in the sprint. This year, I really wanted to win. Like, I REALLY wanted to win. EYE OF THE TIGER!

In the car ride up to the race, I hectored Luke for strategy, and he was all like, “don’t attack first, wait a bit, let some other attacks get chased down before you make any moves” and then while I warmed up he was all like, “so, in the final lap, you have to get to the last corner first for the sprint”. OK!

The race starts, and a woman from Kenda attacks immediately, so I follow her. The course goes like this: start flat 100m, right turn into a long block of 9 percent grade, it is big ring short kicker of a climb, but certainly significant, a block of false flat, right turn, one block of headwind, right turn, downhill into a fast left turn, a short block, fast long curved right turn in to a chicane and a left onto the finishing straight for 100m to the start finish. When we came through the start, we had a small gap, maybe 3 seconds, so I pulled through and jumped up the hill thinking she would be on my wheel, but she fell back. Well, here I am, I may as well try to make this work. The race is only 35 minutes, this may be my best chance. I pushed as hard as I could up the hill and through the false flat, and the unrelenting yet subtle headwind section. I took all my lines clean in the corners and saw that my gap was growing, I kept pushing it hard on every climb and pedaling as much as I could on the downhills. Luke gave me my splits every lap, which was really helpful because after about a 13 second gap, one is out of sight of the pack. I must have confused the pack by staying off, because I gained on the five chasers every lap, and lapped the rest of the field. This was a great way to win! Next year,  I will try my hand in the much faster 123 field and see how I stack up against the pros. But for now, I will relish the cow print jersey.

The ToAD races are really well done, and they certainly know how to do a podium. This course was challenging and fun, and I will be back!

I like chocolate milk, it’s the best.

By Kyle Wiberg | Jun 20, 2011

Race name: Tour of America’s Dairyland Giro d’ Grafton
Race date: Saturday, Jun 18, 2011

Tour of America’s Dairyland Giro d’ Grafton 2011 Masters 35+ 3/4

I’ll start with, ToAD is pro.  Primes galore from excellent sponsors.  Swiss timed schedule.  Huge turnout from racers and fans.  Next Grafton is a great little community that throws a great big race.  The town, the crowds, and the spirit is incredible.  And in case you were wondering how it feels to don the cow print jersey and chug chocolate milk out of your new trophy, it’s great!  Perfect! Highly recommended!

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a race I thought I should write about.  But this race is a nice little pint of chocolate milk for me.  It represents completion of another lesson of my trial by fire method of racing.  Since I became a cat3 road racer I quickly recognized that the breakaway was an “art” or “way” that required attention and discipline in order to become a successful student of bicycle racing.  My first race as a cat3 was at Sherman Park where I endured the surging pace brought on by the continuous attacks until a break was established.  I eventually bridged across only to find that “The Guillotine” was not accepting applications for breakmates.  Searing lungs sent me backwards as I pondered lesson #1, chemistry.  Thus, I turned that chapter for awhile and went to lesson #2, how to establish, block, and protect the gap for my teammates up ahead.  This second lesson in the book of Luke has many points of interest and can be quite rewarding. 

Lesson 3 might have be the hardest to me to learn and understand.  I have been working on this lesson for the last couple of seasons.  Granted I don’t train with power, I hardly ever wear a heart rate monitor, sometimes I even put my computer in my back pocket.  I forgot to even bring it for this race.  I have been fine tuning my RPE (real perceived effort) scale, and now I better understand my body’s “signs”.  Learning how to measure the energy expended towards a break and calculating how breakmates do the same is crucial to success.  More than a couple races I have spent some time dangling of the front.  Some of those races, the tank emptied too early or the mind filled too quickly.  Pressure relief came in the form of despair.  However, after this Grafton Masters 3/4 crit, I feel as if I passed the test. 

Sure this race is a combined field of stinky old dudes in spandex, but many have already learned these lessons and are quick to take anyone to school.  With 90+ old dudes in our field, that I really didn’t know too well, it was surely not an easy way to spend the afternoon.  After sitting mid pack 40 something wheels back and watching the obligatory crash, I figured my best chance of getting points was to go forward off the front.  After what seemed like incredible prime after incredible prime for every other lap, I moved to the front at about 6 laps to go.  Instantly, some NYC dude jets ahead.  Two more jump.  One is Chip P from Velocause*, he has plenty of strong teamates in this race and a couple are very near the front.  So the chemistry is forming.  Good elements are in the mixing bowl.  I was sitting on the front at this point and gave them a little space to see what would happen.  I’m pretty sure that it is another prime lap.  Just before the sharp turn into the headwind stretch I lit a match and crossed the bridge.  Bingo, call the gap and Chip’s motor turned on.  By the middle of the next lap the NYC and other guy were shredded.  Just Chip and I with 5 to go.  I was in this situation before with Julian from Burnham at Glencoe 2009 where he ripped my legs off, and he pushed on for the solo win. I sat up, no, more like moped backwards and contested Liam in a sprint for next to last place.  So when Chip said he was tired, I took note and didn’t push him too hard.  I needed his help.  We got out of sight together, I didn’t want him to drift backwards to a frothy crowd of old coyotes and angry teammates.  Some not so gentle coaxing kept him rolling pretty smooth, and we traded pretty even pulls through the last couple of laps.  But after the last set of inclines, I left nothing to chance and lit the last match.  I took a peek, it was clear, post up.  Moooo!!!! 

Cat 2/3

As soon as I finished a cool down lap, it was time to go again.  Thankfully, Andrea Briney, all pro support was right there for the number switch and another water bottle.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t much help to Mr. Briney.  I barely had enough juice to get up to where Tom was 10 wheels back from the front, much less attack or leadout.  Even the laps that didn’t have primes felt like people were sprinting to make sure they didn’t miss something.  Ouch.  Time for chocolate milk.

*Team Velocause is hosting the Bay View Classic Superweek race on Saturday July 23rd.  If you go to velocause.org you can pre-reg with a code and some of your race fees will go towards supporting one of the great causes for which they ride.  Nice group of guys that would make good use of your support.

flat tires and team support

By Sarah Mythen | Jun 13, 2011

Race name: Galena
Race date: Sunday, Jun 12, 2011

Just this past weekend I went out to Galena with the other juniors on the team.  I was busy Saturday morning so I only went down for the crit on Sunday.  Everything was going really well at camp and we headed down to the race.  Upon arrival my rear tire was flat, and it took a while to fix, but finally my dad and I fixed it just in time for me to warm up for the race.  We rushed to get my numbers on and I was on my way.  My mentor, Megan, helped me warm up and helped me practice the different turns on the course (thank goodness she did).
  I went to line up for the start after my lap around the course, and after the rules were announced and the ref is putting his whistle in his mouth I hear pssshhhh.  I look down to see that my front tire has gone flat. I rush to the wheel pit to get another wheel but there are none that fit in my bike, and I was out of tubes from the previous flat.  At this point they started the race, and were just going to put me in when the tire was fixed.  Running from the tent Megan comes with Dave Hudson’s bike that I can race on.  Sure, the bike was big, and I didn’t have the same clips, and I wasn’t in junior gears, but I went to Galena to race, and that was just what I was going to do.  The second lap around I hopped on the bike and got in the race even knowing I was going to get disqualified in the end.  It was one of the best races I have ever had.  The nicest part was that there was a whole crew from Get A Grip, and xXx helping me get back into the race.  Galena was a great race, and I hope next year I can race on my own bike with no flats.

Over the top

By Luke Seemann | Jun 6, 2011

Race name: Spring Prairie Road Race
Race date: Sunday, Jun 5, 2011

One thing I’ve always liked about the Spring Prairie Road Race course is that, more than other races, it’s a puzzle waiting to be solved. It’s not a hammer fest. Strength alone won’t win. You need the legs to hammer when you need to hammer, the patience to sit when you need to sit, and, most vexing of all, you need the wisdom to know the difference.

The dominant feature of course is the short wall of a climb leading into the start/finish, which you must crawl up every 6.5 miles. There usually aren’t that many attacks. Instead, it’s 15 minutes of recovery followed by 1 minute of fury, over and over.

I’d done this course five times before Sunday’s 30+ race. Two things I’ve learned over the years:

1. It doesn’t matter who gets up the hill first except for on the last lap. So, cool your jets. Early laps are good opportunity to “sag climb.” Start the climb up front, but “sag” backward. You’ll lose ground, but you’ll keep contact with the group, and you won’t trash your legs like everyone else. Save the all-out effort for when it counts. That said, one has to be aware that on any given trip up the climb, the field could detonate, and you need to sense it and be on the right side of the blast.

2. The climb is too short for a climber to assert his advantage. Thus, the true selections won’t occur on the climb, but on the subsequent false flat and then the descent into Turn 1. It’s on that stretch that the wolves will separate from the sheep. The key is saving enough gas to quickly and decisively go sur la plaque: Into the big ring, like it or not.

We would do seven laps. Cory from Scarletfire escaped early, and Steven from Comma/Van Wagner joined him on the second lap. The pack was content to let them dangle, and we cruised along at a gentlemen’s pace. Myself, I stayed out of the wind, keeping tuned to opportunties to move forward in someone else’s draft.

Heading into our third trip up the hill, I was a bit further back than I would have liked, but I still stayed cool on the climb. At the top, however, I could tell this was the decisive lap. A group of about 10 was well down the road. In between, scattered riders were pedaling squares. This was the move. I went sur la plaque, put my head down and set off in pursuit. Fortunately they were slow to organize, so I was able to make contact just after Turn 1. There were 12 of us, including three Comma/Van Wagner riders, as well as all the major Wisconsin teams.

Soon enough we were rotating evenly. The next trip up the climb, we were down to 10. This was good, but I didn’t like my chances in a 10-man sprint, so I needed this group to come down even more.

With three to go, Kevin from Comma attacked at the base of the climb. Perfect. I followed him and by the time the dust settled, we had a group of five. This I could manage. Better yet, I was the only Illinois rider. In theory, if these guys had eyes on their state championship, they could let me go without consequence. This has worked to my favor once before.

We were still a group of five with one to go when my hamstrings started cramping. In this condition I knew I’d have only one chance to escape, so I’d better make it count.

I waited patiently, skipping pulls. After all, this wasn’t my state championship. If they wanted the jersey, they’d have to work for it.

Finally with a half-mile to go, I made my move, timing it to when the strongest rider had taken a pull, then carefully letting a gap open up before accelerating up the other side of the road.

And it went nowhere. I felt like I was pedaling into a gale-force headwind. The legs just weren’t there, and the Cheeseheads weren’t letting me go so easily. Nuts.

So I settled into the back for a brief respite before the final sprint up the wall.

The final sprint here is always yet another puzzle within the puzzle. With nothing left to conserve for, everyone attacks, but it’s tough to know how best to ration your effort or your gears. Attack too hard, and you’ll crack. Don’t attack hard enough, and the others will ride away.

Kevin attacked first, right before the turn. He cracked first. (Too bad, too, as he was instrumental in getting the break to work and creating each selection.)

Everyone else leapt out their saddles to surge up the hill. They all looked so strong, I was certain I was doomed to yet again finish well behind, but I sat behind and tried to maintain their pace.

A third of the way up the hill, the first rider cracked.

Then the second rider cracked.

I got out of the saddle. I just needed one more rider to crack: John, the big rider from LAPT.

He would not. Instead, he crested the hill with a small lead, a lead that grew as the road flattened and I couldn’t coax any more sprint out of my legs. The best I could do was desperately fight off the 3rd place rider before me.

I had spent all week visualizing this race, and I was delighted when it all unfolded exactly as I’d hoped. It’s now been 24 hours, and more than a few of those hours have been spent visualizing those final 200 meters. Victory was so close! Could I have given it a few more kicks? Was it a physical failure or a mental one?

I’ll never know, but I do know I’m excited to take these legs into Galena next week: Sur la plaque!

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

By Jared Rogers | May 31, 2011

Race name: Das Tour De Frankenmuth
Race date: Saturday, May 28, 2011

So there I was standing at the service counter of Brick Wheels in Traverse City, MI staring at my rig sitting in a stand.  I had just spent the last 9 miles of my ride doing single leg drills; but they weren’t by choice.  The tech was inspecting the crank to see just how bad the damage was.  “Looks like its stripped pretty bad.  Did you recently have some bottom bracket work done?”  I took a second to respond with a sigh “yeah, I just had a new one installed about a month ago.”  He looked at the BB and then back at the crank arm.  “Well, my guess is that it’s not the right one. I think the splines are too long.” 

“Great” was all I could think to myself.  Here I was almost 300 miles away from home on Memorial Day weekend and it looked like part of my trip was about to go up in flames.  I was scheduled to head to Frankenmuth, MI in about 16 hours to do a road race and my bike was just about inoperable.  Thankfully, if Chicago is the capitol of Midwest cycling culture, Traverse City is a very close Second City.  Pristine pavement, rolling hills, scenic vistas and bluffs – this place is Bicycle Heaven if there ever was one.  So if a mishap were to happen enroute to another local, this was the place for it to occur.

Another mechanic looked up from the bike he was working on and said, “if he’s racing tomorrow and the bike is shot we can give him a rental.”  “Our rentals are pretty nice, all carbon and race ready” was the response from the guy who was looking at mine.  Now I’ve never riden carbon because I was afraid of breaking it.  But if I was going to race tomorrow, I really had no choice but to take it and pray that I didn’t get in a freak accident.  So what would I be riding?  A swank Trek 5.2 Madone outfitted with some Zipp 404’s.

Fast-forward to Saturday; the drive down was pretty uneventful except that I had to get up at 3AM to get to Das Tour De Frankenmuth by my 8:10 AM start time AND I left my Garmin on the charger at my parents.  Luckily the Madone came with a computer, but I somehow changed the readout to kph when I was pairing it with my HR strap.  Weather?  Light winds and just enough rain falling to get you and the course wet, but nothing that would make the race miserable.  Ran into teammate Jim Patti while getting my numbers and wished him luck in the 37+ 5’s.  Me?  I was headed into a pack of 71 Cat 4’s with just me, myself and I.  Let the fireworks begin!

Lap 1 – You Should Have Been At The Front
Course is a 25 kilo (15.5 mi) “relatively flat” loop (on tight roads) with about 10 turns, some of which are in close succession.  Apparently I did not get the memo that this was a TT disguised as a road race.  The first 3 miles (which involved three turns on wet pavement) were being hammered by Ann Arbor Velo Club (AAVC).  Nothing got away, but the tone had been set that this was not going to be a cakewalk.  Despite the decent speed, the narrow roads/crosswinds made it hard to move up to the front.  Then as we came around one of the right-handers, there was a small group of people sitting in the road from the M55+ group that was just ahead of us (apparently they had crashed).  This caused those at the front to push the pace to shed riders at the back.  This would lead us to catch the M55+ group and then continue our tear around town.  On a turn coming back into town, a trailer was parked in one of the turns which caused a minor freak out.  “Get that thing out of the road” one rider yelled to the course marshal as we stormed towards town.  And with that, we finished the first loop in 37 minutes at an average of 40.5kph (25.1mph).

Lap 2 – Are You A Man or A Mouse?
So after fighting traffic for a while I finally made it up towards the front.  This was a good thing because I did not feel comfortable in this group.  There was too much side-to-side action, people bumping/advancing over the center line, breaking for no reason, trying to avoid the wind, etc.  So once I was at the front, I was finally able to get down to the business of looking for the strong riders and try getting into a good move.  And it didn’t take long for me to peg who I needed to watch; there were the Racing Greyhounds, Tri City Cyclist (TCC), Jade/Whisper and a host of unattached riders.  Somewhere around the first third of this lap the attacks started to come.  Most of them weren’t too dangerous, but it felt good to put in some digs and shake the race up a little.  Then somewhere about the half-way point a rider from Racing Greyhounds kept hitting us with attacks.  Did I come here to race or just hang out?  Was I a man or a mouse?

I was feeling pretty good so I motored across the gap to him on one of his trips off the front.  As I pulled up to him I said “so will they block for you?”  He looked over at me and responded “I’m just here to work.”  Not necessarily the response I was looking for so I decided that it’d be best to bide my time in the group once we got caught.  But there were some riders from TCC and No Limit Cycling U25 that were looking to keep the pace up.  So the attacks continued to come and I continued to roll with them.  At one point I wanted to see what the Madone could do and I shot past the front of the peloton at like 52 kph without a problem (okay, it hurt, but I wasn’t dying).  Heart rate was at 174 so I just stayed out there for a second (it was probably only like 1 min max), but no one bridged and the group eventually responded and came back up to me.  All I could think was “I guess this is not going to come down to a break?”

The three eventful items on this lap were a rider over cooking a turn and endoing into the ditch, a TCC rider getting pushed off course and me yelling for him to get back in before he ran into a mailbox (hey he looked strong so I wanted him around) and a 700 series Masters rider who repeatedly kept passing us (by crossing the yellow line) each time we caught him and was then heckled by the group for this unsafe and unnecessary move.

Lap 3 – How Slow Can Ya Go?
This last lap turned into a disaster of cat and mouse.  The one thing about a flat course is that it allows all the sprinters to be there in the end.  The bad thing is that everyone then thinks they are a sprinter.  So with this is mind, everyone just moped around the course trying to save it for the final sprint.  On top of that, the rain started to fall steadily which meant that the final sprint was going to be a wet one. 

I stayed mostly up front, but it became a little crazy towards the last 2.5 miles.  Coming up to the final turn I was able to make up some spots on this hill which probably put me around 10th wheel.  I then gingerly made my way through the last turn (there were faux bricks and painted crosswalks) and into the downhill 300M+ sprint.  I lost some ground to the train running up the left, but wasn’t too concerned as I continued to push up the right.

It was at that time that I noticed a rider walking his bike on the right side of the road. “Hey Buddy, do you not see a sprint going on here?” I started to move to my left (I was totally clear) but the two guys two wheels in front of me over reacted.  So as would happen, they bumped, they went down, I slowed down, I saw sparks fly across the pavement and the race went up the road.  I contemplated whether I’d continue digging, but with it not being my bike and the road pretty much blocked with a wall of riders I decided it was a wrap and my chance of a decent result was gone.  Rolled in for 23rd out of 59 finishers and a long 3 hour ride back to my parents.

Back during one of our winter trainer sessions, Diddy told me that when I finally decide to ride carbon that I would say what the heck was I waiting for.  He was right!  That bike was a beast on the road and now my chops are salivating for a new addition to my stable.  Too bad I don’t have an extra $3K laying around.

Despite me being annoyed at times, it was a pretty good race.  Special thanks to Brick Wheels for the sweet bike and Zehnders/TCC for hosting a nice race.  Wish it hadn’t rained so I could have been a little more aggressive in the turns, but oh well, that’s racing.

If there was one good thing that came out of this trip it was the fact that this was the first RR that I actually managed to finish with the lead group.  In all previous episodes either the course destroyed me or I destroyed myself working for team mates (under the premise that I don’t do well in RR).  However, I have a feeling that Greenbush won’t be so kind to me in the not so distant future…

Podium Sweep

By Ryan Fay | May 22, 2011

Race name: Matt Wittig Memorial Criterium
Race date: Sunday, May 8, 2011

Nick, Owen, and I headed to Wisconsin to race the Matt Wittig Memorial Criterium cat 4/5.  We knew that our collective strengths would suit us well in a crit that features an uphill finish.  William’s report detailed his win last year and and that was our inspiration to win the race again.

http://activerecovery.blogspot.com/2010/05/race-4-matt-wittig-memorial-crit.html

The 40 minute race starts off on an uphill - a one of a kind dynamic for races that I have done.  The pace for the first half of the race was flat.  There were no real attacks and the pace wasn’t hard enough to lose anyone who might contend for the win.  There is a 90 degree turn at the bottom of a downhill section that seemed to make everyone want to grab a lot of brakes.  With 3.5 laps to go, I drilled the downhill and the turn at 33 mph.  I looked back to notice that I had a gap.  I expected that this would inspire the group to accelerate and become more aggressive.  There was minimal response from the group so I went on a solo breakaway.  I wouldn’t touch my brakes for the rest of the race.

When I started to make my move, I didn’t actually think that I could hold off a field of soon to be inspired racers for 3.5 laps.  I knew that I had two outstanding teammates who would control any moves made to try and catch me while waiting to attack in the event that I was pulled back.  My job was now to make sure that I wouldn’t be pulled back.  Over the next two laps, my gap hovered at around the 10-15 second mark over the field of 40.

The bell rang for the final lap and I continued to fight.  At this point, I had no intentions of allowing my teammates to counter my move.  The race was mine for the win.  I pushed hard over the hill, through the flat, down the hill, and through the turn.  On the final uphill to the finish, I looked over my shoulder and saw the approaching field.  I pushed the pedals for a few more hard turns and knew that the win was mine.  I rolled into the line with a 5 second margin.

Not until after the finish line did I find out that Nick and Owen crushed the field on the final uphill to round out the podium.  We took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the race.  Not bad for a team of three that was looking for a good day.  This was one of my proudest days on a bike.

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A long term goal of mine has been to get a cat three upgrade on the road.  The win put me over that hill.  Now onto those goals that lie ahead…

All or Nothing

By William Pankonin | May 17, 2011

Race name: Monsters of the Midway Criterium
Race date: Saturday, May 14, 2011

I watched the first Master’s race while warming up and noticed that the wind was coming across the course from north to south, and I thought more and more about the possibility of an attack succeeding in my race since the attacker would never have the full brunt of the wind on those long straights.  I lined up with Randy, Luke, Kirby, and Chris, and the officials blew the whistle.  I don’t remember many details for the first part of the race, but can recall us keeping an eye towards the front of the group to make sure that we, a full and expert squad, did not miss out on any moves.  I was on the front once or twice, in the back, and along the sides.  Once, I attacked early only to sit up as I did not have much of a gap and the field read it directly.  With about four or five to go, Luke attacked on the back stretch up along the left side.  I was opposite of him on the other side, so didn’t see if guys went with him or if he got a gap and was then brought back, but by the time we got through turns three and four, and then back to the start-finish, his speed had strung affairs out into a clean line with three to go.

Luke wanted off the front and swung wide left.  The line followed.  No one wanted to move up.  I was already on the right side eating some wind as we approached turn one, the windiest section on the course.  In a matter of seconds, the field would soon slide over in order to make the turn.  I made my move here, and kept the attack going through the turn, and then out of the turn as hard as I could and for as long as I could stand.  Result? Gap! What an opportunity with the corner being right there after Luke had just hit the gas, and with wind keeping everyone’s attention on their front wheels being blown around, and not everyone’s eyes watching me heading on down road.

So I drilled it around the course to the start finish, and Alan called out eleven seconds with two laps to go.  “Not a lot,” I thought, but I had to keep going.  I took the corner tight as fast as possible and hit that little hole.  The front wheel bounced just as a huge gust of wind blew into me.  Close call.  The field entered the corner as I cleared out.  Down the back side, I got some company as a rider bridged and joined me in the effort.  He took a turn from the west side up to just about the start line, and I noticed things became a little less painful.  I remember thinking that this was okay, and that I was fine.  Alarm bells began ringing.  Easier is DANGEROUS! I believe that if you are not close to your limit in a late break, you will be caught.  While in a solo break with two to go, you should be cursing your own existence.  My turn to pull came as Alan hollered out, “ten seconds!” on the bell lap.  I needed to go faster, so I did.  I glanced back before turn one and my break-mate was a bike length behind.  I turned around and kept pedaling without flicking my elbow.

I really, really need to thank my teammates.  Alan told me that coming out of turn two, the field had made an effort to catch me, and dropped my gap to seven puny seconds.  Having these experienced xXxers helping me, made a HUGE difference.  One more second closer may have given two or three powerhouse racers the motivation to drop 800 watts and bridge the gap.  I heard my own lungs gasping for air -intense pain and nervousness.  I couldn’t see through my dried contacts and had to blink rapidly to generate some moisture.  Before turn three, I heard the announcer over the PA say that the field was not going to make the catch.  The front of the field had sat up!

I made the final turn and immediately got out of the saddle, which must have looked like slow motion.  I looked back once.  Ten or so seconds is not a long distance with these dudes charging up from behind you.  If I didn’t sprint as hard as I could all the way, I thought they might catch me.  No post-up after I won, only a bike-throw and some swerving from oxygen depletion.  My teammates were there immediately.  Thanks fellas for your sacrifice and your belief in me.  Thanks Alan and Adam and everyone for screaming at me during the race.  This will always be a special win.

Joe Martin Stage Race, Days 3 and 4

By Liam Donoghue | May 11, 2011

Race name: Joe Martin Stage Race
Race date: Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 3: Road Race
The previous day was rough, and on paper today looked a lot easier. It was only 86 miles, compared to 110, the hills were much smaller, and I also knew the roads on this course from previous Joe Martin experiences. All in all, Dave and I decided people would try to get away in a mad dash to make a giant GC leap over riders in front of them, but certainly, as it had last year, would end in a bunch sprint. The course was just too fast, we’d figured. I was sitting happily in 4th on the GC, and felt content that today more than likely wouldn’t shuffle the classification too much, with one of the harder crits coming up the next day. What is it they say about the best laid schemes of mice and men?

Dave and I both felt bad while warming up at the start, which we’ve always talked about means good things, strangely. It’s counterintuitive, but generally those “I’ve got great legs today!” days are when you suffer for 40th place and can hardly get to the front of the pack, and the “Oh, man, I’m sore and my legs hurt and maybe we shouldn’t even race today I just want an ice cream” days are when you end up feeling pretty good and reeling off a top 10. I’m being earnest when I say I wanted to just go to the ice cream man we passed while warming up in the little neighborhood, and then maybe skip the whole bike racing thing.

Our host Kevin calls it the lollipop course, appropriately named because you go out on the lollipop’s stick, an eight-mile jaunt, make three loops on the 23-mile main part, and then return back. The figure it traces is a lolly. The start was comical, because it had been changed from the previous year, and then changed again last minute on Thursday. The neutral roll-out through town was hilariously confusing, and eventually after no less than six successive turns, we were out on the road we needed to be on. I turned to Dave and noticed we were pretty well at the back. We stayed there, slowly moving up, feeling no urgency, just keeping sheltered from the wind at all times. All the talk between us leading up to the race had been that we wouldn’t need to worry too much, everything would stay together, bunch sprint, don’t get gapped on the run-in, no flat tires, no whammies, no whammies, no whammies, STOP!

But riding in the back, we approached the first climb and I noticed a lot of the stronger riders—a lot of the GC threats both above and just below me – riding near the front. It’s funny to look back on a race, and look back at what was the biggest decisive move of the race, and try to determine why I did what I did right then. “Bike sense”? Does that exist? I surely didn’t think what would happen was about to happen. I just reacted to what I saw near the front with a little bit of urgency, and with it being a false flat on the run-in to the major hill, and us having the whole width of the road, it was easy as pie moving up from 70th spot to 10th. So I did just that, nice and easy. Got near the front, saw Brian Jensen, 2nd on GC, most definitely an animator of races and one of my new favorite people to race against, jump at the base of the climb. Definitely not the hardest he would attack this day, but hard enough and early enough that a majority of racers did not want to match it. I waited for just a couple guys to jump behind me before I latched onto their wheels, rode to the top of the steep pitch, looked back, and realized we had a large break. When it finally fully formed after the next uphill, it was 12 guys strong. Jensen, me, three Tulsa Tough, two Mercy, a Hincapie Development, some others. I look around and quickly realize it’s essentially the entirety of the top 10 in the GC, all in the break. Which kind of makes sense, you’d think we’re the strongest, but it was almost like somehow no one missed out on this move. No one! Craziness. And it proved to be THE move. Only thing that would have made it better was having Dave up there with me.

No one worked well together for the next 30 miles, and we hovered at 45 seconds for far too long while people argued, yelled, looked at each other, sat up, half-attacked, looked around, waved arms and flailed for others to pull through, and on and on. But eventually Jensen, who was a) the oldest, b) the most experienced, and c) the strongest (easily) of everyone there took to ringleading. I was happy to contribute, assuming we’d make time and maybe we could drop one of the guys above me on GC. But Jensen surely wasn’t going to be dropped. And William Gault—a Tulsa Tough guy who beat me in the time trial by nine seconds, got 2nd place in the prior day’s road race, led the GC and had two teammates here with him in the break—literally didn’t see the front of the race at any point until there were 10k to go. It was bizarre and disruptive that he wasn’t even obliging us in a perfunctory pull-through, if only to not be so obnoxious. Alas, he had teammates, and it was his right to sit. I pulled through, always keeping an eye on Jensen knowing he would be the first guy to jump.

Two guys got off the front, including a Tulsa Tough who was not Gault and an unattached guy, both of whom I guessed were close enough behind me on GC to leapfrog me if they stayed away. We (by “we” I mean Jensen and Mercy, because I sure wasn’t going to do anything) let them go. A good while later, Jensen did indeed jump. This started a quick series of attacks and counterattacks. At one point he and I were dangling at the back together. He recognized that with my help we’d be strong enough to possibly drop some more of these guys, while knowing I was weak enough that he could still handedly beat me in the sprint. He asked if I felt good, then warned me I needed to be ready to jump. We then took off. Surely I’d have set some power records if I had a Powertap running then, just in attempting to stay on the dude’s wheel. But 30 seconds later it was all back together. Well, not ALL back together. I’m fairly sure that it was at this point, or perhaps shortly thereafter, that we dropped Zach Reed from Dogfish, who was one spot ahead of me on GC. I was very pleased. The small, six-man break, including No-Pull Gault who changed his style and began kinda sorta pulling through, buried it to try to reel those two guys in. I figured we were going so fast that we had caught them already or something, because after weakly taking 5th out of the six in our group, I didn’t realize two guys had already finished. So I was 7th on the day. On GC, I took one step forward in beating Zach Reed by a fair margin, but two steps back with these two out front leapfrogging me. So I now sat in 5th place. Another very, very hard road race stage. For me, everything had clicked. I lost a spot on the GC, and yet I was more pleased with myself and how I raced compared to any other road race I’ve ever done.

Dave rolled in with the group, suffering no more mishaps, and feeling good about being able to save some for the next day’s difficult criterium. I was quite pleased to have made the selection and known to position myself where I needed to be when the move went off. Now I just wanted to make it through the crit unscathed, and finish in at worst 5th place on GC, and feel that immense relief that comes with knowing two very hard, back-to-back stage races were over and done with.

Day 4: Criterium
This was about as uneventful as a crit can be. It was only 50 minutes, though “only” 50 minutes on this course is still brutal. Visit the website to see maps of this thing, and the elevation change on each lap. It’s one of the best criterium courses in the country, in my opinion, but I think the problem was that everyone was just too damn strong, especially in the eight-man team of Tulsa Tough. Nothing got off the front because those guys wouldn’t let anything go. The only hairy part came on two-to-go, when Jensen and a bunch of others took off, and I had to chase the gap myself. Unfortunately, as soon as I bridged, they all slowed up, the rest of the field caught back on, and we crested the hill to hear the bell lap. I held on for 14th place, the first guy in a very large group, including Dave, that was seven seconds back (yes, this course creates gaps). Losing those seven precious seconds luckily didn’t make a difference on GC for me, though Dave ended up moving up some. I finished 5th overall, and for the first time at Joe Martin could go home completely pleased with my performance and without any “woulda, shoulda, coulda”s as I’ve had in the past. Dave finished an extremely respectable 18th, well in the money, especially after both knowing he hadn’t trained as well as he would have liked in the off-season, and also almost getting dropped on day 2 after getting a flat and destroying himself to get back on.

All in all, a difficult but terribly fun race. We raced it about as well as a team of two can do (excepting Bill Stolte and Brian Jensen, those guys don’t count). So happy, so pleased to be racing well and have the support of a guy like Dave Moyer, seriously. My favorite moment of the weekend was at the end of day two’s road race, when Dave was slayed after chasing back from a puncture, probably begging for the race to be over, and the field was all together for the run-in to town, preparing to get their guys up front for the big uphill spring finish. Dave towed me to the front, and then suddenly we were at the front, and didn’t want to be there, so we slowed, got gobbled up and then spit out the back, basically. So right back to square one. But we were getting closer and closer to the first turn before the finish. So I just looked at Dave, and told him, “I’m going to need one more pull from you to get back to the front.” And then I had a guy of his caliber do exactly that for me, no questions asked, despite how empty his legs were at that point. That was really cool.

Immense, huge, massive, unwieldy thanks to Kevin and Pam, Arkansas’ xXx Racing bureau chiefs. They continue to open up their home to us, and make it that much easier for us to race our bikes and not worry about the other stuff. You almost have to turn off a certain part of your brain to accept how far they’ll go out of their way to help out.

And also, maddest of mad props to Jackie and Ed, my parents, who are now official soigneurs. Cooking, cleaning, laundering, working the feed zones… They did it all. So much fun to do this two-week trip, and it’s even more fun when it’s accompanied by good results! I can’t speak for my dad and mom—who, by the way, finally saw my first bicycle race victory out at Gila—but standing on the Joe Martin podium in 5th place was the best Mother’s Day I’ve ever had. Cheers.

The Red, White & Black v. Ronnie & The Gremlins

By Jared Rogers | May 9, 2011

Race name: Ronald Reagan Criterium
Race date: Saturday, May 7, 2011

This week the wife was traveling for work which meant it was the Pilar & Jared show for about three nights.  What this typically means is that I am going to miss at least one day of training and my sleep might not be so good depending on how Princess Pilar treats her meager subjects (aka Daddy).  Friday Andy got a call that he was going to have to work late and Saturday too, which means Dave and I had to switch our driving plans.  No biggie, but I was gonna miss having Andy with us.

So the commander in chief deployed 2nd Cav to Dixon IL while some of the other troops headed up to the land of Cheese to do battle.  I’ve raced Reagan before and I like the course; a technical 8 turn affair with a gradual descent into a tight turn 1, a slight rise between turns 2 & 3 and then more gradual descents before you hit another rise between turns 7 & 8 and then a 75M run into the line.  All in all, the weather was good, course was pretty clean and there was some decent comp as many took the drive out West with little racing going on near the city.  The downfall would be Mr. Reagan’s gremlins waging a never ending war in my head and on my bike.

Cat 3/4
So this was my first time racing with the 3’s outside of the Masters open races from last year.  I expected it to be slightly different than the 4’s, but wasn’t sure exactly what it would mean.  xXx toed the line with myself, Dave, Nick V, Curtis, Rob P and the ghost of Andy Anderson (more on this later).  I got a pretty good spot up front in a packed filed with 59 riders, but Nick on the other hand, was all the way at the back and would have to try and work his way up.  The field was pretty stacked with the boys from PSIMET and Rhythm had a pretty good presence also – both of whom brought several 3’s to the battle.  I was most concerned about Tim Speciale and Matt Samples instigating a break so my focus was on staying up front in case something developed.  We get our instructions, strap on our seatbealts and off we go into the wild blue yonder!

I get a decent clip in and take my place somewhere in the top 15.  We hit the first rise and I notice something; I’m climbing faster than most of the other riders.  This wasn’t all that important now (especially as Drew from Rhythm launched a salvo up the right side), but something to keep in mind for later.  Attacks kept coming and the crosswind on the out and back of the figure 8 kept everyone searching for the draft.  With my repeated climbing faster than the peloton, I eventually hit the front on one of the climbs and proceeded to take my turn launching a few volleys.  And that’s when the first gremlin took a swipe at me.  Coming through turn 8 as I was trying to keep it hot, I must have leaned over too much (while I was peddling) and struck my left pedal hard enough to pitch me to the right.  All I heard from behind me was “Holy S&%!” to which my reply was to stick my tongue out and keep pedaling (thank goodness for bump & grind drills at the track).

The middle section of the race became a blur of me rollin’ the top 15, bumping into riders shoulders, gaps opening and closing before I could get into them and the pace staying decent the whole time.  Towards the end,  two riders sent the group scattering when they rolled off the front .  It seemed like it took forever for them to get reeled back in.  But luckily the break did come back (every sprinters hope when the break goes off).

Mr. Reagan’s next gremlin ran up alongside me on the hill like the Devil in the TDF.  I stood up to climb and for whatever reason, my rig felt as if the back wheel was coming off.  Seriously; I had to look down at it to make sure I had a wheel and that my skewer was tight because it felt like I couldn’t control the bike.  I brushed it off as the pace was amping up and about a ½ lap later, Granddaddy Stripe made his appearance.  As we hit turn 1 an American Equity rider either over cooked the turn or hit a rear wheel; never-the-less I was brake checking like crazy to avoid hitting him.  Unfortunately, Rob ran out of real estate and endoed into a plastic construction horse which effectively put him out of contention.

Dave remained close to me and we were able to stay pretty close to the front with one to go.  But unfortunately, due to some poor judgment on my part and not using the course to my advantage I completely botched the launch of my sprint.  I was able to salvage a little something and come in 12th (2nd 4 across the line) but the whole thing left a sour feeling in my mouth as I know I could have placed better.  I vowed (as we all do) that it wouldn’t go down that way in the next race.  And the ghost of Andy Anderson?  He rolled across the line in 41st place – pretty good for a guy who wasn’t able to show up!

30+ Cat 4/5
So after a nice sandwich from one of Dixon’s cafes and an hour break, Nick and I find ourselves sitting in the first row for the next battle.  “Hey, you changed your shoe covers for this race?”  I looked down and laughed.  “Yeah, the red ones didn’t work so well in the first race so I figured if I went with the white and looked a little more PRO, I might be able to get some good mojo.”  We both just chuckle as we get ready to try this thing again, but with only 29 riders this time.  Rob Curtis had put this post up in his blog during the week which got me to thinking about what I should be doing in races.  So with that in mind, I decided I would make it “fun” for everyone this race while trying to stay away from any more of Stripe’s buddies.

So remember when I said that I was climbing faster than the rest of the peloton?  Yeah, this time I decided to climb a lot faster than the boys on laps 1 and 2!  There was a parking structure overlooking the climb that our Cat 2/3 guys had secured as an observation post.  At one point, I remember someone yelling “Attack!” as I hurled a howitzer shell up the rise.  But there is only so much of that you can do before you start to deplete your ammo.  Nick came up and towed us around for a lap which helped me get out of the wind for a moment before I needed to go back for a full recharge.  But if I was the only one thinking launching volleys was fun, my thought would be short lived.  Several more times up that rise would see riders from EMC2, Tempo Velo and Meads Bike Shop taking their turn slinging a barrage of gun fire at the peloton. 

Once back in the group, Dave asked me how I was doing.  My reply was “I’m down to about 165.  If I can get into the 150’s for a few minutes I’ll be fine.”  Luckily the pace slowed a little and I was able to do just that.  At that point, my job was to just sit about 6th wheel and watch the artillery fire fly.  And that’s pretty much all I did for the remainder of the race, sit 6th wheel.  But good ‘ol Ronnie had one more gremlin to throw my way.

Most of the last lap was pretty chill for me and the cannons were loaded for that final barrage that I knew was coming.  Between turns 6 and 7 Todd Koller from Mack takes off and I’m a little slow to react.  Between 7 and 8 I get on the hoods and spin up the last rise and get ready to kick into the finishing straight.  But something did NOT go right. I’m sprinting but my bike has that same loose feeling I had in the 3/4 race.  It’s only when I try to shift that I realize that the gremlin has a hold of my rig and I’m sprinting from my hoods!  Yeah, I know, BIG NO NO.
 
By the time I can shift, it’s already too late and I can only manage to cross the line in 3rd.  Uggh!!!  Typically when I hit the last turn, I’ve been down in the drops for the whole lap but because I was climbing, I got on top of the hoods.  Rookie mistake and I paid the price because of it.  This would turn out to be the same reason that in the first race I thought my rear wheel was loose.  Apparently I don’t climb on the hoods at race speed all that much so my balance is off?  Anyway…

All in all, it was a good day for the boys flying the Red, White and Black.  Thanks to Dixon Main Street and Green River Adventure Sports for putting on an awesome race.  Now it’s time to get ready for some all-out, flat speed warfare in the city.  Watch out for that there road furniture boys!

Joe Martin Stage Race, Days 1 and 2

By Liam Donoghue | May 8, 2011

Race name: JMSR
Race date: Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 1: Time Trial
2.5-mile uphill time trial. Could write a book about this thing, but I’ll keep it short. The fun part is that we were staying in Devil’s Den for dinner, which is both a beautiful state park and a total cell phone abyss. So we didn’t actually know our results. Leaving town to head to our Fayetteville hosts (going on three years now?) Kevin and Pam’s place. As we’re leaving, both Dave and my phone start going crazy with text messages. One from Luke stands out, but is not particularly printable here. Needless to say, I had an 8:51 and knew that was going to be possible Top 5. Dave got a 9:13, possible Top 10. Luke’s text made us think things were really good, so we hopped online, looked at the results, and I was in 2nd place and Dave was in 14th. Very pleased, very excited.

Day 2: Road race
Hardest road race I’ve ever done. Still trying to deconstruct everything. Lots of attacking, lots of breaks getting away, lots of reeling breaks back in. It was hot. Lots of sweating. Lots of hydrating. Couple climbs that we destroyed. I felt good. Dave got a flat. Had to chase back on. I learned this when he randomly came up to me and said, “My race just almost ended.” It’s so nice to have a teammate. Dave destroyed himself in multiple ways. He had to bridge back up. Then the major climb of the day, Mt. Gaylor, I looked over at Dave and he looked and sounded empty. “I’m hurting,” was his quote, I believe. I felt OK, so I was just hoping Dave could hold on and deliver me to the front on the run-up.

A break of three was away the entire climb, with the lead ballooning up to a bit over a minute. Eventually, after going through the feed zone and still being over a minute back, one of the teams got to the front and hammered it. Man, everyone was hurting, after spending the previous 10 miles climbing Mt. Gaylor, and the 20 miles before that attacking and counterattacking and counter-counterattacking and going with moves that got immediately reeled back and recovering for eight seconds and having to get back in the strung-out field to not get dropped out the back. Hot. Sweaty. Lots of sun.

Dudes were killing themselves to bring back the break. I latched on about 10 guys back, loving that we were reeling the four guys back in. Eventually with about 5k to go, it was gruppo compacto. The selection over the top of Mt. Gaylor last year, according to Dave’s account and the results from last year, was about 25 guys. The next group was eight minutes back. This year was a different story. Despite my efforts, and a couple other guys’ efforts, to make it as hard as possible, there must have been 50 guys still together for that downhill run-in to the finish. The end is uphill, and Dave killed it one last time to deliver me up to the top 10 guys. Quick left-hander, big kicker, legs twitching, seizing, nothing working, I’m passing guys, guys are passing me, and we hadn’t even turned to the right up Dickson Street where the road rises 50 feet in three city blocks. It was everything I could do just to hang on to 12th place. I’m pleased, because my god, there’s nothing else I could have done in that 110-mile slogfest. I was trying to talk Dave into doing the P/1 race. Maybe it’s a good thing he talked me into trying to win this 1-2 race instead. I can’t imagine what the pro race would have felt like. Maybe hell. Maybe worse.

2011 Giro d’Sardegna (Unabridged)

By Matt Grosspietsch | May 4, 2011

Race name: 2011 Giro d'Sardegna
Race date: Sunday, Apr 24, 2011

Stage 1 ITT (12k flat):
For some reason the race officials halved the TT to 12km and it featured flat roads with 4 roundabouts to deal with plus 3 90 degree turns. Despite rain we pre-rode the course on the eve of the event, making note of the stretches that were protected by trees as well as the odd pothole here and there. Amazingly, the roads for the entire 7 day race were largely pothole free and in superb condition (probably due to the mild/dry climate and sensibly small cars driven in Europe). 

Since this was my first ever ITT, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I quickly settled in to a good rhythm and placed 126th out of 237 riders (29th out of 40 in the age group classification). At the finish I surmised that pushing a bigger gear would have shaved off a few seconds and I’ll keep that in mind the next time I do a TT. Other factors that might have added time were hesitation while dealing with a couple cars on the course (despite excellent course marshaling by the Giro staff) and being overly cautious in the turns.

I still found my result to be satisfactory considering that many other riders had full TT bikes & disk wheels while my 12k sojourn was aboard a Max Lelli Tiburzi road bike with clip on bars and training wheels. Moreover this TT was done the day after a bumpy, sleep-deprived ferry ride from mainland Italy to the island of Sardinia.

Since his own TT was early in the a.m. (top 10 in his age group, I believe), Randy Warren did yeoman’s work taking photos and cheering on the rest of us Max Lelli Bike Team members. Thanks Randy!

Stage 2 Gran Fondo (2 laps x 80km each, ~ 1,500 meters climbing):
The Gran Fondo stage began with a hectic, crowded, roundabout-filled 12k run to a narrow bridge that quickly diffused the pack of 243 riders. With a field of riders composed of retired pros like Max Lelli, soon-to-be-pros, very good Europeand racers who’ve been at it for years, and then “the rest of us”, my aim was to find a good group to ride with and try to keep the pace hot and always be moving up. Eventually I found myself among a group of approx. 20 riders from various countries and only 3 or 4 of us would spend any time with our noses in the wind. This turned out to be a theme of all the road stages of this Giro. I knew that making any progress toward the lead riders would require coaxing people to rotate TTT-style but that proved difficult to organize.

When the first real climb began I took off and essentially spent the remainder of the race passing people. I expected to have at least a top 100 placing since I spent ¾ of the 160km race passing people on climbs but I was disappointed to be the 171st rider across the line. This can only mean many of the riders I passed all day were competing in the shorter Giro which ran simultaneously but had its own GC and age group classifications.

Still, the beautiful roads and sublime scenery of Sardinia more than made up for the disappointing result. One thing I learned in this long stage is not to attempt to eat while climbing (there’s a reason why feed zones are often at the top of climbs).

Stage 3 Road Race (105km, ~860 meters climbing):
Stage 3 was another epic road stage, deemed “flat” by the race organizers, but in reality was pretty hilly by Midwestern standards. I spent the day leapfrogging from one group to the next and ended up riding with a teammate from the Max Lelli team, Ryan Aydelott. Two weak points for me that came up in this race are losing ground on flat sections as well as descents. Since I weigh in at a svelte 59kg, I’m like a leaf being blown around by the wind which makes it hard for me to move up to the front unless the road is tilted upward.

My GC position and age group classification remained nominally the same after this stage.

Stage 4 Road Race (114km, ~1092 meters climbing):
Stage 4 was another day of amazing scenery and excellent roads, flying through beguiling little villages whose narrow streets were always lined with tifosi both young and old.

I spent this day in what must have been one of the front groups (though not the very front where Max and Randy spent their time). I was climbing well and I knew we were making good time when my front derailleur refused to shift to the large chain ring. I stopped at the top of a climb to manually switch the chain over and it kept hopping back to the small ring. I shoved off in frustration and then noticed a squishy feeling in my left pedal but ignored it thinking the cleat had cracked and I would just replace it after the stage. On a long descent I lost contact with the group I was with since I was restricted to the small chain ring. A bigger problem arose when my left crank completely detached from the spindle. Forced to the side of the road to reattach it (thankfully I did bring a multi-tool), I helplessly watched dozens of riders fly past me, knowing that I would have finished well ahead of them had my crank arm not chosen to come off.

I ended up riding back solo and finished 185th. My overall GC position dropped to 154. I am pretty sure these mechanical problems caused me to lose 15 – 20 spots in the GC but somehow I did not fall to the bottom in the age group category.

Afterward Randy and I agreed I would have a chance to avenge my bad luck two days later in the big climbing stage.

Stage 5 TTT (30km):
Our team was composed of 6 riders: myself, Bill draper, Emanuele Bianchi, Ryan Aydelott, and 2 members of Max Lelli’s posse, Giampiero and Daniele. We were deemed the ‘B’ team while Randy joined Max and his posse on the faster and more experienced ‘A’ team. I was happy to be on the B team, knowing that Max (one time Italian national TT champ) would likely drop me and others pretty early on.

Bill draper flatted about 2 minutes into the TTT (tough luck Bill!), and about 2-3 minutes later we dropped Emanuele. Five minutes after that Daniele could no longer hold a wheel and we were down to 3 (the final time being the 3rd rider to cross the line).

Eventually, Ryan, Giampiero and I rolled in 39th place out of 78 teams. Our avg. speed was a sluggish 39.86 kph (compare this to the winning Assos team whose avg. speed was over 50 kph! Also if I remember correctly the A team with Max and Randy averaged about 45 - 46kph). 

After the race we were happy to find Randy who cheerfully announced that he and Max Lelli did the lion’s share of the work for their team, and I believe thanks to Randy’s efforts, this is the day Max took the leader’s fluorescent yellow jersey. We all know how experienced Randy is, but even he was somewhat unsure of whether he’d be able to follow Max Lelli’s wheel in the TTT. It turns out Randy pretty much nailed it. Great work Randy!

Stage 6 Road Race (96km, 1,602 meters climbing):
With 5 stages in our legs, we were well accustomed to the daily routine of waking up tired, eating a large breakfast, racing, eating massive quantities of pasta at dinner, prepping for the next day’s race, then going to bed with the same tired feeling we had waking up. Eating so many calories at each meal is almost as difficult as the racing itself. 

Today’s stage featured a remote start which forced us to get up extra early for the 1 hour scenic drive to the start line.

I had hoped to use this stage to gain some ground and possibly use my climbing prowess to help Max up at the front of the peloton. Sadly this was not to be because this stage started out with a long and fast descent, and simply lack the skills to fly past ~200 riders on a dangerous, twisting descent.

Ultimately I bounced from one group to the next, always passing riders while climbing. After two long stretches at 18%, we hit some truly spectacular scenery along the coast that reminded me why I love doing overseas bike trips like this.

In the run up to the day’s final big climb, I again found myself with a group that refused to rotate, and eventually I rode away from them as the climb began. 

Finally I rolled in to the finish and was pleased to see Randy at the side of the road shooting pictures. I finished 95th overall and was 22nd in my age group. I had a feeling that this stage would prove to be my best day and I was right. If only we had mountains like this near Chicago…

Stage 7 Kermesse (40km):
The final stage featured mostly flat roads but 50kph winds and frequent powerful gusts. I was nearly blown off the road about 10km into the stage and that is when I lost contact with the peloton. As soon a 3 meter gap opened up, with the winds blowing so strongly, I watched the group ride away from me. More than anything though I suspect it was more of a mental hurdle that caused me to fall off the back. 
……………………………………………………………………………………………

I participated in the Giro d’Sardegna mainly to have a fun experience and not get too bogged down in the results, especially considering the very elite caliber of riders in attendance. With that in mind, I am proud to have finished in the middle of the pack in both the GC and the age group category. I wish I could do more races of this sort, and thankfully now we have the Tour of Galena which I suppose is our closest approximation just 3 hours from Chicago.

It was truly great to race in a place where cycling is more of a “mainstream” sport that people have been doing since childhood (unlike here in the U.S. where a lot of folks, myself included, get into racing during adulthood). Except for not being able to coax people to perform rotating pace lines (which might have been merely the result of a language barrier), I found all the riders to be great bike handlers with good pack skills. 

We are all lucky to be associated with Max Lelli via Chicago Velo Campus and Warren Cycling and I highly recommend riding or racing in Italy with Randy next year. It’ll be like nothing you’ve ever done before (well, it’s kind of like SLO camp but a lot faster and not in English).

Team Lelli Bike:
Randy Warren (Warren Cycling)
Emanuele Bianchi (Chicago Velo Campus)
Me (xXx Racing-AthletiCo)
Bill Draper (xXx Racing-AthletiCo)
Ryan Aydelott (unattached)
Max Lelli
Daniele Lazzari (member of Max Lelli’s posse)
Alessandro ? (member of Max Lelli’s posse)
Giampiero Olivi (member of Max Lelli’s posse)
Plus various mercenaries recruited by Max midway through the stage race

Tour of the Gila, Day 5: The End

By Liam Donoghue | May 2, 2011

Race name: Tour of the Gila
Race date: Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tour of the Gila, Day 5: Gila Monster

Last day of the race. Yesterday’s crit win made today icing on the cake, regardless of outcome. But I was secretly hoping my legs would be back and I would be able to hang with the lead group. There were five categorized climbs on the day, and I hung with the group through two of them. On the third, about 20 of the best climbed away from me. I found myself descending alone, until a group of three bridged up to me. We were all cooked, like the bison meatloaf I would later eat for dinner. Cooked and drained, like the pasta I’d consumed nearly every night this week. Totally empty, like my bladder wasn’t on day one.

Four straight days of hard racing, at altitude, did a number on everyone.

Luckily, the lead group was content to simply kill it over every climb and then just hang out. No actual teams (nearly all the GC guys were riding solo all week) meant that no one dictated any sort of pace in between the mountains. So the three guys I was working with, lead by Simple Green because he was in a decent GC spot and more strongly desired to make it back up to the lead group, eventually bridged, well in advance of the final 1-2 punch to the finish, a category 2 climb followed immediately by a category 4 to finish it off.

My day was bizarre. I started off feeling great, still content with the victory from the day before, then it was good when I made it over the first climb with the leaders, then it was bad when I got dropped, then it really sucked when it was the small group of four because they all seemed to be hurting just as much as I was, which essentially limited our pulls to 10 seconds each. We must have been a terrible sight. But, it got a bit better when we bridged the gap and I rode through the feed zone relaxed, feeling OK, wondering how the last two climbs would fare now that I was back with the leaders. No one was doing anything on the 15 mile run-up. Until about four miles from the base of the climb. Then one by one, the GC leaders and a couple randoms (including Garrett “chops” from the break yesterday) attacked Fortunato, the man who had stood atop the GC since winning stage one up to Mogollon so many days earlier. He went with literally every move. I probably could have told him I was 40 minutes down, attacked, and he still would have covered it. All this covering ended up costing him 1st place.

So, I go from bad to better, and am actually able to stay with everybody through the many, many surges in the valley. Then the road turned up. I stuck with the leaders, hanging on for grim death, not knowing how my body would respond after subjecting it to so many varied efforts already today and the past four days. We hit the base of the climb right at the four-hour mark. If anything, this whole race made me realize that as hard as I train, I probably don’t do enough one-hour threshold interval sessions followed by a massive sprint AFTER doing an entire sisters loop. Maybe I should start doing that.

Eventually the leaders gapped me, but I stayed within sight, and counted myself at 12th place, and thought that I just need to keep my tempo up, pass two guys who get dropped, and I’ve got a respectable top ten. Well, in a day full of ups and downs and good feelings and bad, this was the apex of the good stuff. The climb was long; seeing a “15 mi to go” sign after being dropped on the penultimate climb of a 102-mile day also doesn’t do much for one’s morale. I’d end up being passed by 10 guys, some solo, some in small one- or two-man groups, trying desperately to cling to anything going by, but failing time and again. Ended up with a slightly respectable 24th, over 10 minutes back on the day. So yeah, between falling off the pace of the leaders and finishing the race 15 miles later, I was passed by about 10 guys. Ouch. What a gorgeous stage, and a phenomenal race, though. I highly encourage anyone and everyone, especially cat 4s and 5s who might have the ability to take a week off work, and get out to Silver City. Hell of an experience to race a huge stage race like this, see how your body responds to day after day of hard riding.

The most humbling thing, in a five-day crash course on being humbled, came in the last two kilometers of this Gila Monster stage. I’m going up the final climb alone, vying for both 24th place and my sanity. No one is near me. It’s quiet. Pine trees line the road. The sun tries in vain to warm the mile-high air, shadows dance through the trees. It smells faintly of Christmas. There is a bright red bow on a fence, reinforcing the seasonal notion. Two motorbikes honk, and zoom past. Then a car. Then back to silence. I know at least one guy is on his way, and though the timing doesn’t seem to make sense, that massive caravan means only one thing: pros are here.

A convertible pulls up alongside me; I use most of the energy left in my body to stay to the right of the road, not get run over by all these cars. I turn back, and see a lone rider. In the red leader‘s jersey.

Francisco Mancebo.

“Mancebo? Alone?” I ask the guy in the car who, facing backwards, is now looking directly at me.

The guy smiles, and nods. “He’s a minute up.”

The car, followed by a couple others in the support caravan, disappears up the next switchback. I hear the whirring of a chain, labored breath, a soft grunt. It all gets louder as he nears.

“Chapeau, Francisco,” I muttered, but by the time it came out, he was already gone.

Tour of the Gila, Day 4: Redemption

By Liam Donoghue | Apr 30, 2011

Race name: Tour of the Gila
Race date: Saturday, Apr 30, 2011

See, I DON’T totally suck!

Yesterday’s time trial gave me some surely-needed confidence after a disastrous first couple days. To be honest, I hadn’t a clue where I’d end up on GC because it’s a national-level race and I’ve never seen or raced against any of the 55 guys in my field, but there’s still a basic guess of where I would fit in based on local results, power numbers, hours in the saddle, beating Jacques up climbs in California (that means I’m doing really well), etc. All that added up, for me, to mean a top 20 GC finish here at Gila. Alas, that’s not to be. But I still had in my head that I was worthy of being in that top 20. So, crit-time.

My publicly stated goals were twofold: 1) win a prime (of at least $50, I was thinking), and 2) get GoGo to announce my name at least once.

Gun goes off, and I’m near the back, relaxed, not getting too upset that the dude in front of me took literally 10 full pedal revolutions before he finally clipped in successfully. I’m in the cat 2 race, right?

Course is a square. Flat start/finish straight. Turn one puts you into the wind, on the slightest of rises, turn two puts you into a significant kicker, with a stair step downhill that carries you through the second kicker into turn three. Then it’s a big gradual descent into a fast turn four. Still windy out here, as apparently April is “the windy month,” but it’s also late in the stage race and this crit doesn’t mean anything on the overall, so I figured the peloton might want to just chill. I went from back of the race to front of the race on the big downhill, took a position into the 30mph turn that the guy beside me was more than happy to relinquish—they don’t race crits out here—and was then in the top 10. Easy as (eating) pie. Saw a dude off the front, so I figured now was as good a time as any to give it a whirl. Twenty-nine to go at this point, we hadn’t actually completed one full lap.

I bridged up to the guy off the front, and immediately flew by him. No help there. So it’s just me, off the front. La di da. I sure hope a couple guys, maybe Garrett and George, bridge up to me. Oh, hey, what do you know? First Garrett, wearer of some very killer chops, bridges up. Then George, who I learned after the race is in his first year racing, after doing pro motocross stuff. I had been in a small break with Garrett on Day two, very early on, that stuck for all of five minutes, and the other guy and I had let him take the bonus sprint for $50. So I made a point to win the first prime that was announced today. It was either $40 or $60, I never heard what any of these primes were, but I knew there was some decent cash up for grabs, so I sprinted for all of them. Ended up taking three early on, all quite easily, and this made me happy. But then our lead grew and grew. I’d have been content to go back to the field with $150 in my pocket and my name announced over the loudspeakers, my day was done. Alas, the peloton had no interest in us.

Twenty to go, and our lead is nearly a minute. Never dwindling, always growing.

Halfway point, 15 to go, and our lead is over a minute. Eventually a group of two chasers would leave the field, but they never got more than 45 seconds back. The peloton hovered near a minute the whole time, sometimes more. At one point I did the math and figured they’d need to take a little over six seconds out of us every lap in order to catch us.

In other words, we were the podium. And I had every intention of stepping on the top step.

We worked together real nice, and though one of the announcers would later tell me he and the others thought I was doing most of the work, that’s only because I was pulling through the start/finish straight every time so I wouldn’t have to pull into the wind after turn one. So I was not necessarily doing more work, and arguably was doing less. Especially after I decided for sure we were going to stay away.

So, how do we win, Liam? After beating both of them in three successive prime sprints earlier on, I got a bit excited to think maybe this would be my first sprint win. With five to go, I was hurting. But so were they. I decided to maybe give a nice dig on the hill in a couple laps, see if we couldn’t shed one of the guys, just test the legs out. So with three to go, things lined up and instinct took over and I nailed it at the base of the little climb. I’d felt the strongest of us three, so if nothing else, this would maybe weaken one or both of them more than it would me. I hear a very distinct, “We’ve got to stick together,” from George as I’m riding away from them. At that moment, I knew my test was actually the move, so I put my head down and pedaled hard. Certain victory was just 2.5 laps away. Very painful laps. It was earlier than I’d wanted to go, but I had no choice now. My gap to the two was at six or eight seconds, and they never got closer than that. With one to go, the crowd was roaring - really neat to have a crowd, and to have them really into the race now that it was in its final stages.

Took a look behind me on the downhill after turn three, the gap was still significant. Two seconds later I looked again, just to be sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. Took it delicately into that final fast turn, knowing I’d done it. Pointed to the 2010 Club of the Year logo we’ve got on our jerseys just in case people wondered who we were, and gave a good salute as I came across alone. That’s redemption. I love bike racing.

Side note: as I was at the announcers’ booth getting my primes, GoGo offered me some food. That should have been my last goal! 3) Eat food GoGo offers you.

Tour of the Gila, Day 3: Wind

By Liam Donoghue | Apr 29, 2011

Race name: Tour of the Gila
Race date: Friday, Apr 29, 2011

Wind advisories are fun, eh? Apparently it means that, in addition to 50mph gusts, there will also be 30mph sustained winds. It’s the sustained stuff that makes it an advisory, but the gusts that make it OH MY GOD I ALMOST DIED AGAIN.

Course is 16 miles, out and back, with a big, sustained uphill to start, and a couple rollers before the turnaround. If you thought Hillsboro was windy? If you thought that tornado that picked you up and tossed you 250 yards was windy? You never raced at 3 in the afternoon in Tyrone, NM.

I lost count at about eight.

After the ninth huge gust of wind nearly took out my front wheel, which would have sent me careening over my bike at 50+mph, spun-out on the return trip into town, spun out in a 58-11… I decided to remain in the bullhorns, and not go aero. This five-mile return downhill ended up hurting my arms more than anything. Trying to stay as aerodynamic as possible but being completely unable to use the aero bars meant my arms got a workout they haven’t felt since high school football. I probably put two pounds of muscle mass on my girlish arms today. No joke, thought maybe I would lose half my skin in a terrible wreck. As I warmed up, I saw a couple 40+ guys with bandages around their knees and elbows. Fresh bandages. Also heard of a woman in the P-1-2 field who got torn up really badly.

Pretty fun times for the second official race on a time trial bike. I didn’t crash, and since I was positioned poorly on the GC, I was one of the first guys to go. We had 30-second increments, and I was able to pass everyone in front of me and be the first Cat 2 across the line, but I didn’t break 40 minutes like I’d hoped. But I’m alive, and have all my skin intact, and because of all that, I am happy.

My ride was good enough for 8th place on the day, and that both makes me happy and sad. Happy because top 10s are good. Sad because I know I should have been up in that top 10 the whole time. Oh well. There’s always tomorrow.

Speaking of… if you’re bored and have the Internet, tune in to the crit tomorrow (Saturday) at 2:30 Central Time, streaming live at http://www.tourofthegila.com, and we’ll see if we can’t get Todd “Go-go” Gogulski to announce my name at some point.

Tour of the Gila, Day 2: Continuation of Suck

By Liam Donoghue | Apr 29, 2011

Race name: Tour of the Gila
Race date: Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

I’m glad I’m not a headcase, else I’d have quit cycling by now, easy. Day two confirmed my worst fears: that I had to dig too far into the red during my failed solo bridge attempt in day one to render my legs useless for the rest of the weekend. I stayed with the lead group up the first climb, where the field was shattered to pieces. No one really attacked, because everyone was already at his limit. It was fun, until my legs just slowly gave up. There was no blaze of glory, no massive explosion that at least makes the story worthwhile. It was just a slow burn, my inability to push the pedals joined by the similar inability to even get my heart rate up anywhere near threshold. A running-on-empty type deal, and boy did it make my day fun! No sarcasm at all here! Note the exclamation points!

I heard a guy once say, “Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail.” Well, I heard this other guy say, “Sometimes you’re the dragon, and sometimes you’re the valiant knight armed with shield and sword who is now a literal shadow of his former self, a mere pile of gray, ashen dust because the dragon burned him beyond all recognition with its flaming fire breath and now the knight’s dead.” I’m that pile of ash.

There’s one hell of descent down the side of this mountain, bad enough that local ambulances are surely aware of this day in April. I managed to get down it OK, though the fellow dropped rider who was behind me at one of the hairpins wasn’t so lucky. I heard and saw him go down in what did not sound like anything pleasant. His just deserts would come when he bridged back up to the group I was in, the same group I would get dropped from.

Yes, dropped. Like a bad habit. Like a shattered piece of stemware that, just moments ago, seemed to be so full of promise and delicious wine. I felt like a Cat 5. I got dropped from a group that had been dropped long ago on the first climb. After I rid myself of the expletives, I laughed. What else was there to do? I was a Cat 5 who had never actually trained or ridden 25 miles but planned to be competitive in a 25-mile road race. It was unbelievable. And humbling. Like I said, I’d have quit cycling if I wasn’t so busy being totally embarrassed at my suckiness.

I finished up (after another climb), pretty much unable to even push hard enough to get my heart rate over 160 over the final climb of the day, and gave all the other GC guys an extra 13 minutes on me.

This weekend is now being viewed as strictly an altitude training camp for Joe Martin. Because it’s been a major disappointment so far in regards to actual racing and/or results.

Up next, the time trial. Winds are howling at 30 mph as I type this, and will only get windier in the next couple hours when I go off.

Tour of the Gila, Day 1: Hydration

By Liam Donoghue | Apr 27, 2011

Race name: Tour of the Gila
Race date: Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011

Caution: Talk of urination to follow.

Hydration was going to be key. With my parents working the feed zones, I knew I’d be taken care of. Little did I know I would actually drink too much, have to pee, be unable to find a downhill to use to stay on the bike and take care of it, and thus had to stop. I had to stop because it hurt that badly. Bizarre. In my effort to stay hydrated, I overhydrated, something I‘ve never done (usually it‘s neon yellow after a 90-mile road race, so this was all new to me). My ability to turn the pedals slowly became more and more painful; I HAD to pull over. Could no longer bide my time for a downhill. When I saw another rider doing the same thing, pulling off to the side, I figured that was as good a time as any.

So this guy Kit and I were then chasing. The peloton was going slow at this point—roughly 60-some miles into a 94-mile race, so I didn’t think it would be that difficult to catch back on. I was wrong. Wind was atrocious, and I hadn’t noticed it was that bad because I’d spent all day tucked away nicely in the peloton. Kit flatted. The wheel truck sorta kinda gave us some motor pacing after he got back up, but then drove on ahead. So we were on our own. The gap to the field at this point was a minute. It would slowly balloon. Chasing a peloton that’s chasing a 7-man break while riding northwest into a 20mph NW wind? Not fun. Thirty miles of time trialing. At one point I turned back after gapping my now-two mates (other dude had the flu and just got dropped -we’d soon drop him as well) and I hit a big hole and CLUNK the nose of my saddle shifted downward. So yeah, chasing. Killing myself. On day one. Will I miss the time cut? Geez. I should quit. This overdramatic mantra played over and over. Quit. Quit. Quit. Devil-on-the-shoulder Liam seemed to be beating Angel Liam. Maybe it didn’t really hurt as much as it seemed, going over roller after roller, watching the peloton creep away and eventually out of sight. Maybe I only thought it hurt because the kicker of the course is the 5-mile category 1 Mogollon mountaintop finish and my head couldn’t wrap itself around the fact that I was time trialing and would have to face this thing very soon, on a near-empty tank.

I rode through the last feed zone, completely solo, noting that only my parents were still hanging out there. It was like a ghost town. The racers must have passed through here 20 minutes ago. My face mustn’t have been a cheerful thing as I grabbed my final bottle, knowing that I still had three miles to the base of the mountain. All that was on my mind was the time cut. Time cut, time cut, time cut. Quit? No, make the time cut, win tomorrow. That’s a fun plan. I continued to debate quitting as I rode over the cattle grates, hitting the 14% pitches. I can just quit, hang out in Silver City, have a ton of fun, it’ll be great. Nah. I should completely destroy myself and make sure I finish within the time cut.

I did the math whilst on the rivet, a few times in case I wasn’t thinking straight, and I estimated that I would make it in time. And I did.

It sucks. It really, really sucks, let me tell you. That’s bike racing. Strange how a goal of “top 10 in the GC” can so quickly and so coldly change to “don’t miss the time cut and be unable to race the rest of the weekend.” The dichotomy of race expectations and actual race events is one of the reasons I love bike racing. The way you can straddle a line of being good and sucking, and never quite know which side you’ll end up on that day. The way something so comically inane as drinking too much and being forced to stop to pee that ends all hopes of a decent GC finish? Uggh, I hate it and love it at the same time. So going back to goals shifting and hopes changing and all that: gameplan now is to try to win a stage. I like the way tomorrow’s looks on paper, but after the colossal effort today I’m not sure if I’ll be good to go. We’ll see.

The “I Should Be Thankful I’m Not That Guy” story of the day: a Cat 3 dropped his chain and sucked his derailleur into his wheel, breaking it… ON THE 2-MILE NEUTRAL ROLL-OUT! Dude’s done for the weekend. Can you imagine? Makes what happened to me look like child’s play.

“Mad props” to my folks for surviving their first day in the feed zones. They’re pro.

Oh, also: as of right now I’m probably 25 minutes down on GC, rocking maybe 50th place out of 55. Hey, at least they won’t care if I want to get into a break later this week.

Three Weekends, Six Races

By Ryan Fay | Apr 19, 2011

Race name: Spring 2011
Race date: Friday, Apr 1, 2011

The first three weekends of the season kept me busy with six days of racing: two road races, two criteriums, and two time trials.  I had ups, downs, and fought a whole lot of headwind.


Hillsboro Roubaix; April 2
Hillsboro is the crown jewel of the spring racing schedule.  It is wildly popular, everyone talks about it, and everyone wants to do well.  Last year, I flatted out of the race at mile 12 resulting in a DNF.  Since then, I made this race a priority to get at least a top 10, and contest the win.  I was sure that the bike was in excellent mechanical condition and I put fresh rubber on the wheels the day of the race.  I felt confident in my teammates and myself.  What could go wrong?  During warm up, I would find out how bad a race could go before it even started.  I got a pinch flat as I hit the bricks after the downhill as I was heading to the start line staging area.

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I had to run (in cycling shoes, not fun) to the start area where I put my spare front wheel on as the race officials were giving final instructions.  I was frustrated and sitting in the last starting spot in a field of 125 riders.  Nick and Owen started near the back with me, which helped to ease some of my concerns.

As the race started, the difficult process of moving up in the pack on narrow roads with a centerline rule began.  As usual, everyone is on edge early as there are many near misses and pile-ups due to whoever is squeezing a handful of brake further up the pack.  We finally got “moving” when Nick was taken out by a rider who was trying to make a move on the gravel shoulder.  I did not realize who was involved in the crash until further up the road when I again saw Nick who made a gutsy chase to get back in the pack.  The group was now moving at a brisk pace with me still in poor position, still wanting to be in the first 30 wheels of the peloton.

Serious accelerations ensue and everyone near the back is fighting for survival.  I spent a good amount of energy moving up to the back of the now much more selective group. 
Not fully recovered from the effort, we hit a very windy section of road after a sweeping left hand turn shortly before getting back into town.  Completely unable to find a wheel for a bit of relief, my energy reserves were quickly approaching dangerously low levels.  I clung to the back of the long, single file line 60 riders long.  I tell myself “Just hang on through the climbs and this pace will settle down”.  I did not hang on through the climbs.  After the second of the stair stepper hills, the group had moved ahead while I was moving backwards.  By the time I got through the bricks and out of town, the race was out of reach.  I had nothing left to try to catch on, even with Bill waiting and willing to give it a go.  My ticket was punched and all hopes of a good result were gone. 

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Refusing to quit, I rode the second lap with a few others here and there with plenty of time to think about my shortcomings.  I wondered how I ever had a good result on the bike.  I wondered what planet I was on when I assessed myself as feeling good to go just a couple of hours earlier.  Everyone else was battling up the road and I should have been there.  Nick fought to get 7th, the best result of the team.  I rolled in at 50th place, 11:47 behind the leaders.  Not sure what is worse, a mechanical DNF or a terrible day on the bike…


Spring Fling Criterium; April 3
The best way to get the taste of a bad race is to race again.  After Hillsboro, I was able to exercise some demons at the Gateway Cycling Club St. Louis Spring Fling Criterium.  The race is a short loop with some gentle rollers through Tilles Park in Ladue, MO.  I was racing without teammates in this one but I wanted to be aggressive so I jumped out to try a break early in the race.  I built a lead of about 30 seconds over the course of about five laps.

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Nobody bridged up and I started to run out of gas.  I pulled the plug on the break and got back in the pack.  The race came down to the sprint and I was poorly positioned.  I finished 14th - not exactly exercising those demons from Hillsboro…


Sherman Park; April 9
In the two years that I have participated in Sherman Park, I have not had a decent result to show for it.  It was time to make a change.  I spent almost the entire race jammed in the pack on the inside.  I had a grand plan of attacking hard with 2 or 3 laps to go.  I knew that I would have had teammates patrolling the front and looking after my interests if I went.  My time to attack came and went as I was still locked on the inside of the group.  The bell lap rings.  Frustrated, I had practically conceded to not finishing with the sprint due to my position when out of nowhere, a lane opened up on the inside.  I quickly jumped to move up the pack.  As I approach the front of the field, John Kalnins and Owen Aronson pull out and cut inside.  My eyes grew huge and I jumped on the impromptu leadout train.  John drills it at the front through the last turn.  Owen swings out and gives a final leadout.  I jump out of his slipstream and hit the jets, but a little too late.  I crossed the line 3rd.  I am ecstatic with the result, as it had been a while since I took a whiff of a podium.  The memory Hillsboro begins to fade.

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John Fraser Memorial Time Trial; April 10
This is the same course in Maple Park, IL that I was able to win (cat 4) as part of the Fall Fling last September with a time of 21:06.  It is a 9.7 mile course with two turnarounds.  This time, it was warm and very windy.  My time was 22:37, good enough for 4th.  I expected a better time.  I did not ride hard enough and my aero bars started working themselves loose halfway in.  Can I get a do over?


Leland Kermesse; April 16
Hardcore: 60 miles of rain, STRONG wind that always seemed to be in your face, and gravel mush.  I rode my newly acquired Scott Cross Comp frame with road gearing, road pedals, and no computer.  The field had 42 starters.  Only 30 would finish.  The race broke up on lap 1 on the first gravel section.  I lost touch with a small group at the front and got together with various chase groups throughout the next two laps.  I cramped, dropped out of the chase to ride my own pace.  Saw John Kalnins on the side of the road with a flat and nothing to change it with.  Stopped to toss him a tube and CO2 inflator.  Kept on rolling, fighting, riding.  Recovered from the cramps, I pushed harder and caught riders who had been part of the chase and had now blown up.  Worked together with Nick Amlot.  Keep going.  Keep fighting.  We got word that we were in the top 10.  Keep going.  Keep fighting.  Maybe we can catch a few more.  Keep going.  Keep fighting.  There was nobody in sight behind us or in front of us for nearly the entire final lap.  Nick lets me take 6th at the line; he takes 7th.  After the race, I hurt more than I have ever hurt after a race.  I had to sit in the car for 30 minutes before I was able to stop shaking.  I felt good about the result on a race that is tailor made for the hard men (and women) of the road.  Much credit goes to Nick for keeping me in the game as I struggled near the end.  The memory of Hillsboro has faded into obscurity.


Cherry Valley 30k Time Trial; April 17
With legs as dead legs as my computer battery, I would have to fight out my longest time trial effort since the state TT championship last September.  The weather was cold and again very windy.  The course had a few small rolling hills, which made for an interesting dynamic.  I rode conservatively on the way out.  On the way back, I rode in fear that I was going to be blown off the road.  I fought the bike to keep a straight line.  The cross / head wind was crushing my speed and my spirit.  I was not a good judge of my own effort, and my time suffered as a result.  Again, I came across the finish line with way too much energy left to give.  47:04 – 4th place.  The only silver lining to this is that I can get these lousy time trials out of the way early in the season when they do not count for much…

so much chasing

By Mia Moore | Apr 19, 2011

Race name: Leland
Race date: Sunday, Apr 17, 2011

I got a hurried call to the staging area, and as I stood around shivering, I reminded myself that I only had to get through one more day, and then it was smooth sailing for a week of recovery rides and strawberry sorbet topped with gummy bears. I also told myself, “you really should do more of a warm-up”. FAMOUS LAST WORDS!

We are led out by the Masters 45+ 1/2/3 men, and I am dropped IMMEDIATELY. I don’t even know how. Maybe I looked down at the wrong moment? Maybe my legs wouldn’t listen?  At any rate, I think, “F**^*^&#^#&^*#&^$^#!” and start to chase. This first section is directly into a 30+ mph headwind, so “chasing” is like 15mph; it is demoralizing to say the least. I catch back on after about 2 or 3 miles. I WAS NOT GOING TO STAND FOR DOING THAT WHOLE RACE BY MYSELF.  In another mile, we turn onto the first gravel/mud/slip and slide/paste section. I am at the back of the tiny pack. The Project 5 racer two wheels in front of me cannot hold the wheel of Tamara and Cathy Frampton at the front. When I notice, I try to pass and push on with Cuttin’ Crew Jannette. Jannette starts to chase up to Tamara who has put on the power to create her own break, but jannette’s front derailleur is failing her, and she can’t shift up to the big ring. frown. I pass her and push up to the two in front…more chasing, probably a mile this time-BLERG! back on, though.

The three of us push the pace hard through the gravel and back around to the second lap. The wind has picked up. I have to lean my bike at a 45 degree angle and actually turn my front wheel slightly to the left in order to go in a somewhat straight line through the crosswind sections. OH, it has also starting sleeting/hailing! We make it through the worst section of the second lap. I almost wipe out/get thrown across the road a couple times and think, “this is ridiculous”. I take a really long pull, and when I come around to the back and Tamara pulls through, it becomes apparent that Cathy can’t keep the wheel. I tell her to get onto my wheel, but she can’t. I really don’t wish riding alone on that course, in that weather, on anyone, especially people I like. oh well. MORE CHASING BACK TO TAMARA who has not slowed, but increased her speed. Woo, two xxx in the front. We rotate through around the back of course and into to the hellish wind of the first half. We work together and are told that Cathy is more than a minute behind. I am relieved, and ease up a second to catch my breath after the wind. Tamara drives on, looks back, and then puts on the gas. I AM DONE CHASING. She can have the last lap all alone if that’s what she wants!

I am half smiling half grimacing, partly because the left side of my face is completely frozen and feels like I have been shot in the gum with novocain, and partly because I am happy my teammate is going to win, as I wanted it to be all along, and grimacing because I cannot feel my hands or my feet, and I am miserable and now alone. I keep telling myself that I only have to finish and second place is mine. I say in my head, “it’s totally not cold enough for my feet and hands to be ACTUALLY freezing, right? I will have feeling in them again…I think? Just 20 more miles…”

I can’t give up because I really want to podium, and because I didn’t finish my race at the Barry Roubaix, and I have something to prove to myself this time.  I can’t quit, but I REALLY want to.

By some stroke of luck, I am told to pull into the finishing straight when I come around for my last lap! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! I made it! I pull off the course shivering. This will be a really great thing in retrospect.

I am already very glad I did this race. My clothes have been washed three times and are still covered in dirt, but I am sitting on my couch eating strawberry sorbet and gummy bears after a nice warm dinner. Bike racing is great. Thanks so much to Flatlandia and all the Moto refs and volunteers that made this horrible race great! It was truely a day to remember.

Attrition

By Tamara Fraser | Apr 18, 2011

Race name: Flatlandia - Kermesse
Race date: Saturday, Apr 16, 2011

Flatlandia - Kermesse is my kind of race: long, flat, windy and grueling. Last year I had a good result—I made the breakaway in the 123 race and took third. This year there was a cat 3 race option, but I again chose the 123 race—it was twice as long. 

The 123 women were started with the 123 masters men, but soon enough we women were on our own. As we worked together into the headwind, I noted that one of the Project 5 girls wasn’t with us and neither was Mia. The other racers speculated that Mia was up the road with the men—so I promptly announced that meant I couldn’t pull through. Which got an uneasy laugh and some panicked looks. I did my share—no way we were catching the guys.

But as we turned into the cross wind, Mia appears. She’d gotten gapped in the big attack and had time trialed her way into the headwind up to our group. I was impressed—and very happy to see her.

I was careful to be second wheel into the dirt section. It was wet and slippery, the consistence of potter’s clay. The girl up front was putting on the pressure, and I was feeling it. I dropped to third wheel, but put in a big effort to stay there. Turning into the headwind, we realized a gap had opened up. The three of us started working together. I got my legs under me finally, and started putting in some hard pulls. By the time we got to the pavement—and tailwind—one of the other women dropped off AND Mia (!) once again (!) appears out of nowhere. She’d attacked the chase group and TTed up to us.

So now the break was one Project 5 racer and two xXxers! We worked together to build our lead. In the interminable ride into the headwind, we all took our pulls. Project 5 seemed very strong. It began to rain.

Hitting the dirt again, we continued rotating. I put in hard pulls on the front . . . and suddenly found myself alone. I was in the lead! I kept pushing it as hard as I could. On the pavement, I could see a chaser and in a bend I could see clearly that it was Mia—AGAIN time trialing her way to the front. I sat up and together we faced the headwind.

The Moto Ref told us that Project 5 was a minute behind us. I could still see her chasing. But I felt great—I had a ton of energy. In the crosswind I wanted to put more distance between us and set a determined pace. Again, I found myself alone. This time, I thought I’d see if I could hold the lead by myself. The mud and winds were hard—but they were hard for all of us, they would slow us all equally, in theory at least.

I put my head down. By now the rain had turned to snow and sleet. My gloves were soaked and my hands were going numb, but I was otherwise OK. I could deal with cold hands. I kept drilling it through the mud, not resting at all on the pavement, just pushing and pushing. The leaders of the men’s 123 race came by me. The mud was getting deeper and wetter.

My Moto Ref pulled up and told me I had a gap of a minute and a half! I was facing another entire lap by myself and I needed as much of a gap as I could get before that insane 30 mph headwind. It was so wet that muddy water was spraying over my legs like I was in a car wash. I mentally counted my remaining gels. I could do this.

Then the Moto Ref tells me that they’re cutting the races short. ‘Are you sure!?’ I had another lap in me. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but I had the legs and the will. I was WINNING. No way was I backing down. ‘Yes!’ he said, ‘turn into the finishing stretch.’

So I pulled into that wonderful tailwind and flew to the finish line, winning my first race since becoming a cat 3! I posted up . . . for a cold and unimpressed looking Dave Fowkes and no one else.

Then had the satisfaction of seeing Mia finish second a minute ahead of Project 5. TRIPLE X THROW DOWN!

Big thanks to Flatlandia, Dave Pilotto, all the officials, volunteers, pace car drivers and especially the moto refs. You guys put on an excellent race in seriously NASTY conditions. See you next year!

Sunday, Sunday, Geh-in’ Down on Sunday

By Liam Donoghue | Apr 6, 2011

Race name: Hueston Woods Road Race
Race date: Sunday, Apr 3, 2011

Well Hillsboro sucked. Missed the move, Dave crashed, etc. etc. Lucky for me, there was another race to be had.

Much like last year, I was hoping for redemption in the form of a win at the Hueston Woods Road Race. Much like last year, I’d find myself in a breakaway allllll day. And this time “all day” meant 20 more miles. Course is a rolling and twisty loop through woods, with three significant climbs; the finish line sits atop the final, and most difficult, stairstep.

I spend the first four miles surveying the heretofore unknown Ohio field, looking for strong guys, figuring out the numbers on the various teams. With only 25 guys racing, I figured a break would be able to stick, especially with Cleveland Clinic, Panther and Fuji each having three or four guys in the peloton.

My mistake the day prior had been poor positioning, so when the break had gotten off, all I could do was watch from 70 wheels back. Destined to ensure this wouldn’t happen again, I made my way to the front after taking notes on the makeup of the group.

Panther dude jumps, we all go with him, chase him down, everything comes back together. Couple other guys jump, unsuccessfully. Then it’s strung out a bit, and same Panther guy jumps again along the yellow line. I’m on the right side of the snake of riders, he’s attacking on the left, but I see him make his move, and decide I want to be in it. By the time I get around the front rider and latch onto this Panther guy, a Cleveland Clinic rider is already on his wheel. So the three of us ride hard for a good 30 seconds, and when I look back, we have a gap. Just 60 miles to go. Let’s roll!

I had the benefit of going to college all of 20 minutes (by bike) away from the course, and thus have hundreds of loops’ worth of experience with this route. I know it like I know the potholes on Damen, you could say.

One of the joys of this course is that because it’s so twisty and windy, it’s easy for a break to get out of sight. Lots of times out of sight can mean out of mind. Doesn’t mean it won’t come back, but in my opinion, it helps for developing the initial gap. So we three plodded along for several laps, building up our lead, never seeing the peloton behind us after gaining the initial separation. I knew that my two breakmates had teammates working back in the field, and when the volunteer on the side of the road who was giving us splits got up to “3:35,” I knew we were the podium. Especially because we were all still working.

I spent a good 30 miles looking into the two guys’ eyes, testing them a bit on hills or on flats, seeing how they responded and determining how I would win. Hunting for any chinks in the armor. Panther tells me he was in the break at Hillsboro, and is slightly cooked (Ryan Aitcheson, took second at Hillsboro and second here at Hueston Woods for a damn good weekend of racing, real strong kid, junior worlds track racer from Canada). Cleveland Clinic tells me he used to race with ABD back in his Chicago days (Jim, 40, another real strong guy, veteran, tons of experience, has placed well in NRC races, won the elite Downers Grove race in the early 2000s). Yeah, strong guys. So, how to beat them?

Panther starts skipping pulls, and after an inordinate amount of skipping, I purposely let a gap open up to Cleveland Clinic. It grows, and grows, as I slow and slow, looking back and waiting for Panther to come around me. He doesn’t. He even tells me he’s got teammates in the peloton and wouldn’t necessarily care if it all came back together. Booooo. I sprint back up to Cleveland Clinic, hoping we’d drop Panther soon. We wouldn’t. He would continue to skip pulls.

With two to go, I try to drill it up every little rise: the three significant ones and the false flats. Basically any time I’m at the front, I’m trying to make these two work. Panther is falling back a bit on every climb, but we’re always regrouping and continue to plod on. Time gap is still 3+ minutes, and not really a factor anymore; we’ll stay away. As we approach the final climb with two to go (meaning we’ll see one to go at the top), I attack, crest, look back, and see a very sizable gap. At this point, with one lap to go, there are a bit over eight miles left. Do I hold it?

Everything I’d observed up to this point was quickly run through a calculation, and I knew this was the move, and full commitment was required. When we’d initially gotten away, almost 60 miles ago, Panther had said something to Cleveland Clinic. Voices raised a bit, and both seemed irritated at each other. Didn’t know what it meant at the time; regardless, I’d locked that away. Tim Krabbé, in his poignant race-as-a-book The Rider, writes: It’s too early. Always attack as late as you can, but before the others do. I rarely (i.e. never) trust my sprint, and wanted to use the climbs to my advantage. Yes, it was early, but if I’d waited too long, these guys might attack first and outsprint me. I knew that 100 meters behind me there’d be infighting, and knew it’d be to my benefit. So this was it. Head down, I pedal hard. For eight miles, by myself. The gap I have to the two of them grows.

It’s inexcusable what my brain does to me in these intensive time trial scenarios, but this deep in the pain cave, I have no control over anything. It’s Sunday, but to combat the pain my mind attempts to silently sing that odious Rebecca Black song, “Fri-yee-day.” It’s doing a very poor job – not at the actual singing, that’s flawless, but at the pain avoidance – as legs are still cramping and there’s plenty of pain. Everywhere. Legs hurt, back hurts, legs hurt. Geh-in’ down on Fri-yee-day. I think of Gilbert or Chavenel, my two picks for the Ronde, and imagine the kind of pain they must have just endured thousands of miles away. Man they’re so much cooler than I am. Kickin’ in the FRONT seat. Ride harder. Six miles left. Come on. Sih-in’ in the BACK seat. Ohhh, that hurts. The song lyrics more so than the lactic acid buildup. Closer, though. Four miles. Just two more climbs. Hey, there’s Ben, a cat 4 from Pegasus, my car-ride down here, cycling backwards on the course toward the car. “Look at THIS guy!” he yells in encouragement. I grit a smile through my clenched teeth. Partyin’, partyin’. Yeah! Liam, you’re going to repeat. You’re going to win this race again. Look back. Nope, still no one. Last climb: stairstep. Pass these two lapped dudes for good measure. Get to the top already. Only guy in the photo, lapped Cat 3 riders notwithstanding. Which podium place can I taaaaaake?!

Yesterday was lose day, lose day.
Today it is win day, win day.
We-we-we so excited.
We so excited.
Tomorrow it’s rest day, rest day.
And then Sherman Park comes afterwards.
I don’t want this season to end!

Dreams

By Jared Rogers | Mar 27, 2011

Race name: Burnham Racing Spring Super Crit
Race date: Saturday, Mar 26, 2011

The ’10 season ended and the nightly dreams soon began to creep into my head; the dreams of what the upcoming season would hold.  Will training harder this off-season make me any better, or will getting another year older just make my gains a net wash?  What soldiers will I have by my side this year?  How well will we work as a unit?  Will this be the year that I return to being as good of a rider as I was when I was 20?  Is this the year where I decide to give this racing thing up and just go back to “casually” riding my bike?  Who knows.

Last week Rhythm Racing proved that they would be a squad to contend with in the 4’s just like Burnham is in the 3’s.  Unfortunately despite having a good lineup of riders at the Autobahn, our results were stymied by us moving up too late in the race and 3 of us getting caught by the usually 2-to-go crash that always happens.  Oh well, first race of the season is in the books and reminds me of all the mistakes I should not be making this year.  I vowed that Super Crit would not go down the same way.

30+ 4/5

We had a strong lineup of riders and had some time to discuss what we wanted to accomplish this race.  The short list of goals: 1) stay together, 2) stay towards the front, 3) communicate with one another, 4) remind Jared’s hazy fogged mind when we hit 3 laps to go and 5) get the xXx train in place behind 5th wheel and let the other riders burn off during the 800M run from the last turn to set us up for the final push.  Now, getting one of these goals to pan out in a Cat 4 race would be hard enough but all 5?  Yeah, I was dreamin’ wasn’t I?

As usual, the course was windy and cold.  Having ridden this track before, I pretty much know where the hard parts are and where you can make the field hurt.  So with that said, I decided to see if I couldn’t make the race a little “fun” for all in attendance.  About two laps in, I decided to push it through the chicane on the back side and make a fast run into the headwind that always slows the field into a wall of riders.  To my surprise two/three riders followed me and said lets make it a go.  Okay, why not?  But after a few checks back, I realized that we weren’t going to get away, but we could make the others work a little.  Thus, when we hit the chicane for the next three laps, it was the same story being repeated – fast group runs, pack chases, all together by the time we hit the front stretch.

All in all, the race was mostly subdued and our guys did a good job of sticking together and doing some work on the front.  When we came through at 3-to-go, I remember Bill actually yelling it loud enough for me to hear from about 7 riders back.  Okay, so now what?  Time to get our boys lined up and prepare for the knife fight that ensues when you try to stay up front.  At this point, I just remember yelling at our boys and instructing them who they needed to get behind and where they needed to go.  “Dave, rider to the left, we need to shoot the gap.”  “Bill, push it up to Andy.”  “Hold their train, hold their train!”

I have to admit there was no subtleness in my commands.  Heck, if you were in the pack you could have just followed us to the front – wonder why that didn’t happen?  Anyway, going into the last lap, we were pretty well lined up with most of us sitting 7-12th wheel.  Once we hit the windy section, someone started the wind up and I knew it was going to go in our favor.  When we hit the last turn, everyone seemed to spread across the road and that’s when they realize just how long that run is to the line, and it was a massive headwind ALL the way. 

I was far right with Dave and Andy up ahead of me.  I looked to the left about 100M into the sprint to see a rider go down HARD and then see a Spidermonkey bunny hop about 3ft in the air and almost clear him (and then I saw the first rider’s bike explode into a billion pieces).  I refocused and just rode in slipstreams as I pushed up towards the line.  When we hit the guardrail, I launched hard and pulled left and tried to get to the line as fast as I could – all the time while it seemed as if the riders in front of me were slowing down extremely fast (it was the fact that they were unprotected from the headwind while I was).  I hit the line and gave a throw and then looked up to see that Hudson had crossed before me!  I was SO happy I couldn’t contain myself – we just went 1,3,5!

Cat 4

In between my first and second race, I made my way over to registration to find out who was hurt.  When they mentioned that a VQ rider went down only one name came to my mind so I headed over to medical.  Unfortunately my suspicions were right and Doug Zallis from VQ was involved in the crash during the sprint.  He was coherent in the ambulance and didn’t appear to be too busted up, but he did crack his helmet which meant that he would be taking a trip to the hospital.  Here’s hoping that my bud heals up fast as we both started racing about the same time and he’s been a good guy to me ever since.

My report for this race will be short – Rhythm worked hard on the front.  Rhythm blocked in obvious fashion.  Field chased hard.  xXx got into the mix when Owen kept going off the front.  The field got mad at both teams.  Our riders got tired from working.  Nick and two Ryhthm riders took a last lap flier but the field was having none of it.  Bill pulled me through a long line of riders going towards the final turn and when he was close enough for me I told him “Thanks Sir, I’ll take it from here” as I shot up towards Adam. Adam and I hit the last turn lined up; it sounded like riders on the left were destroying spokes and I told Adam to get the heck out of here!  We pushed through the wall of wind and I made another charge, but this time towards the right where I could get some wind blockage from the guard rail.  Missed catching the Rhythm riders by about a bike length – xXx Racing goes 3,4,6.

Dreams Clarified?

1) A 45% increase in base miles has my form looking really good.
2) Communicating made all the difference in how we did in our races.
3) We’ve got a good 4’s squad this year and we will only get better – you guys rode awesome and “thank you” for helping me get into position to put US on the podium - TWICE!
4) Teamwork can and does work in the lower categories – “IF” you ALL put in the work to make it happen (training, fitness, practice, understanding strategy, reading a race, etc)
5) I’m not giving up bike racing, who was I kidding?

Thanks to all who helped to make this race a success and Burnham Racing for hosting a well run event.  Hillsboro anyone?

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