I get to race a nice bike at cool places thanks to these guys:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Euro Crit

Robbie Mac gives us this bell lap video of a post-TdF parade crit. Rarely do you get to see your favorite Pro-Tour riders mix it up in a crit, and Robbie gives us a 1st person perspective on the action!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Part 2: Franklin RR

I've been excited about the Franklin Road Race for a few weeks.  A long, flat course probably suits me better than most courses, and the Franklin course was just that!  In addition, the race was promoted by my friends from Celerity Cycling who live just a hop across the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel Roadway Pavement Traffic Jam.

Regrettably, I couldn't partake in the Franklin Omnium, which featured a flat TT and a crit on Saturday, due to my participation in the MABRA Monument Giro di Coppi.  Still, I could bank on a weekend of extreme leg-hurtingness with the level of competition present at the Franklin Road Race.

Despite a substantially smaller field turnout than the Giro di Coppi, the Franklin Road Race proved to be chalk full of strong competitors.  The usual Southern VA fast guys were there like Marc Warner, Walker Owen, Dan Netzer, sleep-deprived Frank Cundiff, and oh-my-god Evan Fader!  There were a number of D20 based riders as well, namely the Kelly Benefits Strategy squad, Dave Fuentes, and Justin 'Mach' Mauch.

The race began in earnest, with the full Kelly team stepping up and dictating the race.  With the wind and flat terrain, attacks became such a show of power that the peleton was quickly blown up.  I did a lot of early work rotating through to keep the pace high enough to discourage Kelly from sending people up the road, but this would prove foolish.

Paul Ward took off about midway through the race on a solo voyage, joined by no one.  We let him roll away into the horizon and the pack started to picnic, share stories, and follow Blair Berbet, who was more interested in eating a powerbar than riding quickly.  I was getting impatient, as I knew that Paul was a fast dude that shouldn't be given too large of a leash.  Coming around a corner, my new found momentum from Minnesota gapped the field.  I looked back at the group and saw no reaction to my sudden lead.  I got out of the saddle and gave the bike a wag.  Still no reaction.  I started to give it the beans.  STILL no reaction.  I  was something like 30-35 miles from the finish, WELL outside of my ideal range of 150 meters to give a race winning move, but decided to throw the chips on the table and hope for something good to happen.

Maybe the terrain suited me so well that the pack wouldn't have enough gas to catch me?  Maybe at this range they would accidentally give me too much time and I'd finish well!    All sorts of ideas were rolling through my head, but I was too busy listening to my heart:  today was my turn to do the stupid solo move.  Onward I journeyed along the cornfields of Franklin.

Almost precisely 20 minutes after I departed the peleton, I caught up with Paul Ward.  I didn't pause at his back wheel, I immediately came around him and got up on the hoods to give him a 'Cadillac draft.'  Poor guy had been solo for something like half an hour longer than me!  The race personelle driving alongside Paul gave us the splits:  90 seconds to the peleton, SIXTY SECONDS TO THE LEADER.

"I thought you were first place!"  I said

"No, Ben Frederick is still up the road,"  replied Paul.

"Oh."  -me

No wonder I was let go.  When Paul took off from the pack about an hour earlier, I didn't realize he was in pursuit.  I had just spent a LONG time riding up to what I thought was 1st place, only to discover that there was another 60 second gap to close.

Paul asked for a few minutes recovery time on my wheel, which was totally understandable.  He must've been pretty lonely out there.  It was around this time that I stopped sweating.  'Awe, crap' I thought.  As Paul and I started rotating, my body was giving me the usual alarm bells.  Knowing how far we were from the finish, I started giving Paul hints that I wasn't feeling super awesome.  The last thing I wanted to do was to screw up the pace and ruin BOTH of our races.

I was resisting the voices in my head and the signals from my body.  I kept riding, kept pulling, kept trying, but the numbers shown by my Powertap and HR monitor were burning an unmistakable truth into my foggy, overheated brain.  No more steam in the engine room.  Still, I kept going, riding on pride, understanding that today was my day to go down swinging.  Paul Ward was an absolute Sir to me during this meltdown, giving me plenty of positive vibe to help me extend my range just that little bit longer.  He was fine with me sitting on for the ride, and gave me no negativity to my imminent failure.  Thanks, dude.

I finally blew up at the exact same spot on the course where I had initiated my departure from the field.  I came to pull through and my legs felt that same wobbly, powerless feeling as I felt the day before on the finishing climb, like a newborn Wildebeest attempting to walk in its first minute of life.  I had ridden to failure.

It is never easy quitting a race.  You have to come to terms with the fact that you were unable to complete the competition that you signed up for, paid money for, drove a long way for, and brought your wife to give you water bottles for.  As I've grown up in the bike racing world, I've realized that, as long as you impact the race, or take on some crazy duty, it is okay to not finish.  At the Coppi Road Race, I never intended to make it to the end when I found our team in a bad situation.  When I blew up, I was passed pretty rapidly by the groups or riders who were left in the race.  The Fuentes/Mauch group gave me a shout so I could accellerate and join them.  'Sorry guys, I'm done' I thought, and waved them off and bid them good fortune.  A second group rolled past, with Blair Berbert sitting on the back.  He gave me a little word of 'good try,' and coming from Blair, that was all the confirmation I needed to know that I went down swinging.

After that, I was just trying to ride back to the parking lot.  Just make it home.  Bonked, dehydrated, dizzy, cramping, and confused, I thought of the look on Melissa's face during the run portion of IM Cozumel.  Being on a bike only 3 miles from the parking lot, I realized that things were fine, and I started thinking about that cold chocolate milk I was saving for after the race.

I got back, downed water, downed milk, and sat in the back of my car for a few minutes.  Suddenly, I erupted in sweat, and the level of 'normal-ness' in my head increased dramatically.  I felt a lot better, and started to pack my car up and share some laughs with a few other DNF'd riders as we watched Ben Frederick finish off a 40 mile solo breakaway in dominating fashion.

That was a great race.  It was a gentleman's race out there: highly competitive, but honest.  I hope we see another edition of this race, and I'd encourage anyone from D20 to give it a shot.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Make Your Own Stage Race Adventure

Day 1: Giro di Coppi

The race started with two riders, DJ Brew and Nick Bax, gaining a 3 minute and 30 second advantage over the peleton!  Yowzers!  Stuck at the back, I only had a glimpse of the duo going away before the first turn, (and I honestly thought it was just people riding around in front of the race).  I didn't really give them any attention until the information that DJ and Bax were up the road disseminated through the group.

Letting the two guys 'out to dry' would be a huge gamble.  DJ and Nick are two of my favorite local riders (if you can classify them as 'local'), and aside from their sheer talent, they've got the INTESTINAL FORTITUDE to see a suicidal, mile-0 attack pan out to the finish.  I knew that my team and I needed to pull back the break as long as we were still riding for 1st place, but it took MILES to get up to the front of the field.  With a centerline rule in effect, the front 1/3 of the race seemed to be populated by blokes who were interested in staying 'at the front', but not doing any work.  Like a magical 60-mile leadout.  RIGHT.  

I had to be VERY vocal in order to get guys to LET me up front, so that I could give them that magical 60-mile leadout to the finish.  When I got close to the front, I caught a glimpse of Lindsay Bayer riding very comfortably, at the front of the peleton, with lots of dudes sitting on her wheel, perfectly happy with her endurance warm-up pace.  I also heard murmers from the same people about how Bike Doctor was the biggest team, and we were supposed to be chasing.  AS THEY HAD THE DOOR SHUT ON ME, WHILE I WAS ASKING FOR SPACE TO MOVE UP IN ORDER TO WORK.

Ok, I got that off my chest.

Anyways, my hopes to race for an individual result went down the toilet, and I resigned myself to work 100% for two of my teammates, who would stay as much out of the break-pulling-backage as possible.   Many miles later filled with Bike Doctor teammates rotating with me and XO riders doing a crafty job at blocking our rhythm, we brought back DJ and Nick.  Thanks to the MASSIVE firepower of my teammates, we had a new race!  And the race was good!  There were the usual brutal fireworks that you can expect from the super-fun Giro di Coppi course, and I was staying in the race as a 'just-in-case-i-can-help-more' measure for two of my mates.  

On the last lap, I dragged myself to the front of the race to help out Nicholas Taylor, who was outnumbered and isolated at the front of the race.  Nick Bax had thrown himself off the front AGAIN and was flying the coup.  Another XO rider took off, and the field didn't seem interested in following, pursuing, or even pedaling after him.  I took up this task, and as soon as I joined him, he went backwards to find my wheel, as I was obligated to pull, seeing that he had a friend in Nick Bax still up the road.  I was happy to see Tony Abate and Kevin Gottlieb bridge up and give me help.  Two super strong, super cool dudes.  I was SUPER deep in the pain cave after the early-race work, and was keeping my speed up for the sake of not getting dropped, but hoping the whole time that we'd be swallowed up by a hard charging peleton and my misery could end.

Didn't happen.

We were joined by a late bridge from Tim Rugg, who took a quick breather, then proceeded to pound us to the ground.  Tony and I benefited the least from Tim's anti-gravity tricks, but we hauled ourselves back up TWICE when the roads tilted downward.  As we rolled to the finishing hill, I attempted to give it one last rev and possibly podium, but Tim's pro-strength and Steve Gordon's euro-race pedigree proved far too fast for me.  As I tried my best to match their sprint, my legs began pedaling in some sort of triangular-octagon style, rather than the usual smooth circular pattern.  I rumbled my way up the hill to a 4th place finish and promptly laid down in a ditch and hoped to feel some sort of normal again.

Major Kudos to Nick Bax, who was by all aspects the deserving winner.  Also cool to see was Lindsay Bayer mixing it up in the Men's race.  It did not look at all like a stretch for her :)

Up next, I drive 5.5 hours to home and prepare for another road race the next day in Franklin, VA!

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Drove to the Iron Hill Twilight Crit

The title is about as much excitement as I have to report back.

The race: I had terrible luck at staging and started at the very back.  I did at least keep to my habit of finding a kid along the barriers to give a water bottle to, but that's as much entertainment as I could give the spectators.  After FIFTEEN minutes of call ups, the race began, as did the process of gap-closing.

When you start that far back, all you can do is ride hard, pass as many people as you can, and hope that there isn't a field split.

Just my luck, I reached a point far enough forward to find that field split.  By the time I was there, we were about 25 minutes in to the race, and the action was settling down a bit.  I was at the front of my groupetto, and could take the corners at full speed.  We were closing to the field, but the officials decided it was time to chop the race.  We were pulled, and that was that.

Things other than my race were the highlights of the day.  For one, the drive to West Chester was beautiful.  I was picturing myself retired, driving an Aston Martin, and on my way to SPECTATE the bike race along the roads that lead you to the town.

As always, the race was well organized, and cycling fans (new and experienced alike) were having a great time.  People were very interested in what was happening in the race, and when the field nearly pulled back the solo rider towards the end of the race, the spectators at the backside reacted with a loud "OHHHH WOWWW!" when it was announced.  When people who don't race bikes are that into a criterium, you are doing something right.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hooray for Bike Racing at Luray!

Last weekend was another edition of the Tour of Page County, hosted by Page Valley Cycling.

This is a race that I love to attend.  This is also a race that I am not very good at.  With the steep, hilly terrain of Luray to contend with, I'm often left blown out the back of the race and pedaling to earn tough-guy points for seeing the race through and finishing (or at least riding until I am forced to stop by the officials!)  While most cyclists are not used to getting dropped out of a peleton, the Page Valley events almost require that participants find themselves dropped at some point as a right of passage.  There is no shame, the courses are tough, and are raced hard.

This year's edition of the stage race featured a brand new road race course, which we were unable to race on due to a freak thunderstorm unleashing chaos across the region on Friday night.  Based on reports from racers who rode the course anyways, it looks like the race will be a big hit if we get a chance to race there next year.

Is that a perfect cycling road or what?

Apparently it has a really fun mix of hills, speed, smooth pavement, and mountain views.  Sounds like some other classic races of our region, like Jefferson Cup, Giro di Coppi, and All-American (aka Murad).  Hard enough to be difficult, but within the ability levels of a broad spectrum of riders.  For any Mid-Atlantic area cyclists who feign away from registering for the Page Valley Cycling events, I highly encourage you to try the stage race out next year if we are lucky enough to see a 2013 edition with that road course.  Fun for all ages/weights/power profiles!

With the road race scrapped, the stage race came down to a single day: a 9 mile time trial, and the now infamous Luray Crit.

The time trial started at the crest of Cavern Hill, at the Luray Caverns parking lot.  You begin by SCREAMING down a smooth, safe decent, ride to the airport, and make a right hand turn.  From there, the road starts to roll on you.  The hills are enough to make you think long and hard as to what the best pacing strategy is, and the speed is absolutely high enough for TT specialists to see benefits from their equipment and abilities.  In my race, the results sheet reflected this:  GiroBio winner Joe Dombrowski of Bontrager/Livestrong won by 1 second over Josh Frick of DC Velo.  My own teammate Scott Giles from Bike Doctor was 3rd, close behind.  I placed 6th.  The results sheet looked a lot like what you would see from the same riders at Church Creek, our local pancake-flat 40k jaunt.

After the time trial, I spent a few minutes soaking in our motel's swiming pool before packing up my car and prepping the sound equipment I brought for the crit course.  Some sweaty time later, I had wires, speakers, mixers, and beats connected and pumping down at the Hawskbill and Main St. corner.  (Sorry if it was too low; the acoustics on Main Street are pretty bad as the sound echoes 3 ways and is not particularly pleasing to the ear unless you are RIGHT in front of the speakers).

Approaching our race, the one word to describe the setting was HOT.  With the mountains quite literally ON FIRE behind us, we embarked on our 60 minute crit amid 102 ground temperatures.  Early on, DC Velo, one of our region's best teams, put their chess pieces into place.  I was a little bit too focused on holding onto the wheel in front of me, so my details here might not be accurate, but here is my recount:  DJ Brew of DC Velo solo'd away from us for a very solid number of laps.  I think there were one or two chase attempts that Ben King of DC Velo (I think that's his name) had marked, but those chase groups didn't quite make it to DJ.  Back in the field, I came to the front for a good number of laps to bring DJ back to the fold for good, but I had some XO riders sitting on my wheel and not giving me any help.  I think they were waiting to spring, but the gap to DJ was too far for me to close on my own.  A bit of organization would have helped seal the deal, but it didn't matter, as a few accelerations from the Cutaway/Hottubes kids and Joe Dombrowski pulled the last handfuls of seconds to my old teammate DJ, and his job was done for the day.  The next significant move was Ryan McKinney being up the road.  I think Ryan may have been off before we caught DJ (like I said, foggy recollections).  My Bike Doctor teammates and I followed attacks and covered moves, making sure to keep things together to give Scott Giles a smooth ride wherever he was in the field.

A wide-angle view near the finish line atop Main St.  In the distance are the mountains, and somewhere further back might be me

At some point, everyone in the field was really tired, but Scott was good to go, so he took off.  I think he joined one of the Cutaway riders up the road and did his best to make it as far away from the field as possible.  Once Scott was away, we rode circles around the course, Dave Fuentes (only a few seconds behind me in the GC) took off and I tried to pull him back (but couldn't!) and then we eventually finished.  I was much pleased to have the first good sprint effort of the year on that lap, but I was at the back of the race, so it didn't make a difference.

The GC battle came down to Ryan McKinney and Scott Giles.  Scott had a solid chunk of time on Ryan before the start of the crit, but Ryan rode so fast in the afternoon that his solo efforts combined with the time bonuses he won gave him a very solid margin of victory over our own Scott.  Sorry Scott!  Joe Dombrowski finished 3rd in the GC (racing with no teammates!) and gave two local racers the photo opp of a lifetime by sticking around for a podium shot.

A beaming Ryan McKinney atop our proud Scott Giles and Virginia's pro-bound Joe Dombrowski.

After the race, I stuck around and cheered on other people I knew who were out to do battle with the heat and hills.  Some people did well, others had a difficult race, but at the end of the day, everyone felt that they had accomplished something just by participating in that event.

A fun side-quest in our already-race-within-a-race was a competition on Strava to produce the fastest time on the Main St. hill during the criterium.  Visit here to see the ride segment.  As I'm posting this, I'm in the lead/tied with my teammate from last year, superstar DJ Brew!  Full admission, if no one posts a faster time, I give the gentleman's victory to DJ, as I think he made that time somewhere in the BEGINNING of the race, and rode like a champion for the rest of the hour in 100+ degree heat.  I popped mine at the very end.

Oh, also shout outs to my friends Emir Crnovic and Kat Klausing.  Emir participated in his first Cat 5 race (he's 15 years old and plays soccer) and did really well!  Thanks to the Cat 5 field for being a cool crew and NOT arbitrarily shouting at the junior rider :)  My buddy Kat did her thing and was an absolute stud, despite having a journey to Luray that was nothing else but epic, slept on a chair, spent Saturday clearing road debris off county roads in the heat, slept on a bike shop floor, road guarded the morning races in the heat, and then got THIRD in the crit.  I think the women's field is lucky Kat spent all of her energy and sweat on helping to make the race happen rather than actual pedaling.

Kat, David, Jacob, and some Whole Wheel Velo friends clear the road so that you can race and not flat your tubular wheels.  Thanks!

Finally, thanks to Page Valley Cycling and the Town of Luray.  I know first hand that the town is highly involved in helping to make the Page Valley bike races happen, and each year they seem to be enthusiastic about opening/shutting down their town for us to pedal around in silly spandex outfits upon far-too-expensive bicycles.

Please have us back for another year!  We love your town (and your roads!)