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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Clarity of Trailblazing

I'm sitting here on the couch, watching the US Olympic Trials for swimming.  It is fun watching the flow of a top-level swim meet, and seeing the superstars do their best to do 'just enough' to qualify, but not drop hints about their form and physical capacity.

Hearing the interviews of new Olympic team members is riveting.  These are athletes reaching the very pinnacle of their sport, punching a ticket to The Big Show.  Watching this, I can't help but think that there is a fairly clear path for the Olympic hopeful swimmer.  Find out when and where Olympic Trials are, figure out what time cuts are required, MAKE those, register.  Show up in shape.  Race your heart out and cross your fingers that Michael Phelps is getting old.

I'm a little bit envious of this system.  I'm on the warpath in a sport that has a less-clear pinnacle.  The path that one takes to get to that pinnacle?  I have no clue.

Do you network your way onto teams that have phantom connections to a larger-scale teams?

Do you podium at certain high profile races?

Do you get important people to vouch for you?


The same goes for triathlon.  Where is the top of that sport?  Kona Qualification is something big, but doing an Ultra-Distance World Championship is more of a split between insanity and athletic endeavor.  Worlds are cool, but there are regional races that are more competitive (and more covered) than Worlds.  Even earning a 'Pro' card is not as 'there' as being a SPONSORED Pro.

I feel like there is no path for me.  If there is, I missed the sign a long time ago, and am too deep into the woods to just turn back and find the trailhead.  Instead, I'm trailblazing through the bush carrying a machette and a compass.  Sometimes things work out well, other times i metaphorically go hungry.  I'm sure I'll eventually rendezvous with the trail far along, or fall off a cliff, or get eaten by lions on the way.

Any way it works, I'll continue blazing through the jungle, swinging away.  If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm Home from NVGP and I Ramble

Better late than never.  Happy Trails!

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Monday, June 18, 2012

NVGP: Minneapolis Crit

This is a few days after-the-fact.  I will get to the delay later...

The Minneapolis Criterium was an AMAZING event.  I have no idea how many hours of planning, labor, and stress went into pulling that race off, but whatever it took, the sport of cycling is better for it!  The course itself was awesome.  Tight enough to give spectators some really cool viewing angles, but open enough to fit 146 riders safely.  Can I talk about the JUMBOTRONS for a minute?  Live video feeds were broadcasted from a bunch of the corners to a Jumbotron so that spectators could watch the ENTIRE lap and not miss a second of action!  Couple that with a great audio setup, feeding music and commentary to all ends of the event, and you have yourself a grand bike race!

This go-around, my race story STARTS at staging, but does not end there!  I managed a front-row start for the amateurs, which still put me around 20th.  I wasn't very nervous before this race.  Two of our host families were in attendence, my wife Melissa, and with long-time friends Geoff and Laura Beatty who used to ride with me but now live in Minneapolis.  The 'home' support felt great.

The race started without much incident, but my struggles began at lap 3.  A rider biffed it two wheels in front of me as he cornered and pedaled over a divet.  I slowed up to avoid and then sprinted as hard as I could to connect back to the leaders.  For a VERY short while, I was the only one who stayed on that group after the pile-up, and I had glimpses of thinking that I had accidentally made an important race split.  Those visions faded in about 10 seconds when the field did glide up to us without much panic or incident.  This left me with a serious match burned, and now thinking I need to be more cautious through the corners.

This caution caused me to start slipping places.  Two laps later, I found myself maybe 30 back.  It was at this point that two Competitive Cyclist riders decided they NEEDED to get to the front (to be fair, they were going to influence the race, whereas I was just trying to hang on).  The first guy says something to me in spanish (sorry dude, no comprende) and I saw what he wanted.  I was in no mood to escort professional bike riders around a professional crit, so I just squared out my arms a little bit, knowing he would try to navigate his was THROUGH me.  I was wrong!  He gave me the ol'e Grab-Back-of-Jersey-and-Pull-Backwards trick to give himself a hole in the field in which he could advance.  I quickly closed the hole up once he left, but his partner in crime was expecting similar courtesy.  Seeing that I was not keen to give up my spot, Competitive Cyclist number two grabbed my handlebars and gave them a back-and-forth wrenching and then shoved them off to send my flying to the right.

At that moment, three things simultaneously happened.  The second Competitive Cyclist dude moved to where I had been a split second before and continued his conquest up the field, I saved face by NOT crashing onto my face in the middle of a professional bike race, and after three crazy safety-related incidents in a VERY short stretch of time, I was nothing short of SPOOKED.

The next, I dunno, 10 minutes I spent braking into corners, giving up positions, and moving backwards FAST.  After that I settled down, and focused on getting my groove back.  I did, and began a very slow surf  up the field.  As the laps counted down, the efforts along the two straightaways on the course started to take their toll.  When Kenda/5 Hour Energy started to drill the pace at the front, a handful of riders IMMEDIATELY ejected, leaving some nasty gaps to close (which I did in futility).  At 3 to go I was squeezing the last bit of juice out of my legs when I noticed that there was a gap about 5 riders up from me, and I finally pulled the ripcord.  I rode the final two laps at a comfortable tempo, weaving left and right to high five any kid along the course who would put their hand out.  I paraded across the line thinking I was the laughing stock of the race, until I later found out that their was a groupetto behind me, and I ended up moving up a few spots in the GC.


Major kudos to the young guns of the Nature Valley Pro Chase team, Conner, Tyler, and Tony rode like animals and looked cool and composed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NVGP Round 2: St. Paul Criterium

The story of my race starts and essentially ends at race staging.  In a professional-level criterium, your starting position is of the utmost importance, as the speeds quickly become too high to move up without spending tremendous amounts of energy.  

Typically I relax for criterium staging and use my legs and lungs to move up during the race.  Given the caliber of riders I was up against, however, I staged about 45 minutes beforehand, and was determined to be sneaky about it.  Eventually I found myself following Micheal Creed and Mike Friedman of Kelly-Optum, and I think Ivan Dominguez was in our little staging group as well.  I figured I was in like flynn.  The race officials saw us and moved us to THE OFFICIAL staging coralle.  There were about 50 of us.  The full field consisted of 146.

It was only after the released us onto the course that we saw the other 90-some-odd riders who must have been already parked on the course, exactly where we were before we were all moved.  That's how it goes sometimes.

While we were in the coralle, a photographer wearing press credentials was snapping a personal pic using his  iphone: he was holding out a Barbie doll and posing her in front of us.  Must be a photo-collection thing.  In any event, we all noticed, and the photographer asked a rider if he wouldn't mind holding the doll for a shot.  The rider, who was non-other than Mike Friedman, awkwardly agreed and was obviously not in practice for doll-photo-taking.  Some of the other riders told Mike to get her to do a pose, and I suggested he have her Tebow for the camera.  Friedman informed me that he did not know what it was to 'Tebow'.  

Like, totally for serious?

A few awkward minutes later, our photographer had his picture of Barbie Tebowing on Mike Friedman's handlebars, and we all gained a great new memory of the most awkward photo a famous pro cyclist had to take.  I hope that shot surfaces up somewhere.

Back to the race.

As the gun went off, my plan was to weather the early panic that would likely ensue with riders frantically sprinting their way to the front.  On lap 3, I hit a modestly sized pothole, but at the speeds we were going I felt like I had fallen into the Grand Canyon.  This strike caused my handlebars to rotate downwards by a few inches.  Those few inches felt like MILES to my back and lungs.  Fortunately, I was caught up in a small crash perhaps 5 or 6 laps later.  I didn't receive any battle damage, and used my time in the pits to correct my handlebars.  AHHH, RELIEF.

Upon re-entry I focused once again on picking a smart time to move up.  Some riders were starting to fade and fall in-line, but others were still very antsy.  I reasoned that as soon as the guys around me tired out a little bit more, I would begin my slow charge to the front.  It was around this time that Kelly-Optum decided to throttle the race.  Where I was riding, their effort was noteable.  The field went from about 2-4 wide towards the back to single-file and gapped in an instant.  This pressure remained for the entire race, and there was no opportunity to move up efficiently.  I was sure that SOMETHING was going to happen up the road that would cause a regroup and a slight respite in the pace to allow me to cruise up front, but as it would turn out, there would be no easy way to advance.  

At around 15 to go, guys started blowing up and leaving wide gaps to close.  Making up these spaces did some damage to me.  Beginning at 9-to-go,  I started channeling Lindsay Bayer's in-race-through-process on focusing on a single goal: finish this race.  I was perfectly fine where I was, but the chance of there being a major split was very real, and I wanted to finish in the main group.  Fortunately, nothing crazy happened in the closing laps, and I rolled in with my first Pro-1 Criterium under my belt.

I felt a little bit like a chump thinking that I could sag at the back of a pro race and then make my way to the front late.  The reason guys were going ballistic early is because that was the only good time to move up.  I know of two riders who were where I was and made it to the foward part of the field: Tim Rugg (who finished 6th), and my teammate Conner McCutcheon.  

Another sour thought is how little I was able to help my teammates.  I found Evan Fader a few times, but I couldn't drag him up to a better position.  The same happened with Conner.  I spent a lap trying to shield him from a crosswind when he was half-wheeled.  He was able to advance a few positions from this, but I never did get back up with him to help out some more.  For most of the race, I was about 15 riders back from Tony Olsen, another Nature Valley Pro Chase teammate.  I saw him battling hard and I desperately wanted to go give him a big body to sit behind (he's our resident featherweight).  Unfortunately, I kept being chopped in corners by the same 3 or 4 guys when I was trying to claw my way up to Tony.  While Tony ended up finishing just fine on his own, that 'sheparding' instinct I have was driving me nuts: seeing him get pushed out into the wind was bugging the crap out of me, and I wanted to put an end to that.

When all was said and done, we did well.  No mishaps for our team, and Jamie and Conner moved up a few positions in the General Classification.  Our host house family came out to cheer for us which was a HUGE motivator.  Having a friendly face on the sidelines really does make a difference!  A few of the Nature Valley Pro Chase girls also hung around after their race to see us in ours.  Little Bri was there because she had retained her top-amateur's jersey, and Lindsay Bayer cracked a top-10!  They helped talk me down from my post-race blues (not because I was particularly dissapointed in my result, but more of being a non-factor for my mates and just being drained and wiped in general).  

After a relaxing van ride with Tony and Conner in which much pasta was devoured and many beer-mixed-drink recipes were exchanged, we arrived at our host house in Stillwater and shared our war stories with our gracious host family. 

I could get used to this :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NVGP Round 1: Time Trial

The quick and dirty:

12.4 km
100th place Stage / 99th place GC (don't ask me how or why)

The night before the Time Trial, Bart Bowen issued all of us Nature Valley Pro Chase riders our bib numbers and did up our team's start order.  I would be one of the later riders to start, 4th out of six.  What a whirlwind experience this morning was.  I haven't been that anxious for a bicycle event in....I can't quite remember.  The realization of the magnitude of the Nature Valley Pro Chase experience was completely sunken in and FULLY etched on my mind.  I was thinking about how lucky I was, how cool it felt to be 'one of the pros', and how many people back home I was representing, that I never really fully focused on my ride, which is probably a good thing.

I was on a good day.  The week of no-riding before I flew up here to Minnesota put me right where I need to be for a 5 day stage race.  Coming off the start ramp, I was flushed with adrenaline (which has been absent in my body for some time), and within minutes I was seeing heart rate numbers pinned in the 190's.

With my mind [on my money and my money on my mind] on what lay ahead through the next five races, my in-race thoughts consisted of 'ease back.  ease back.  ease back.'

Not much interesting to report.  I rode well, stayed within my limits, and finished well.  My placing was towards the rear, but in the middle of the amateurs, but in all honesty, I'm in over my head.  Making time cuts and being ready for the next ride is what is important!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer Camp

After we finished up our ride on the first day of our team camp at Amery at Jay and Sue's house, my bike was finally delivered from the airport.  I have to admit, the slight discomfort of riding a foreign bike for 3 hours was worth the sight of my bicycles arrival:  the courier showed up to the house in this car:

This, but in a classic purple color!

They don't make'em like they used to.  My bike bag was sitting in the back-seat, in the least efficient direction, and still had tons of space to spare.  THAT, my friends, is a five-seater!

After being treated to a couple of casual seminars by Physical Therapist Alynn Kakuk (Jay and Sue's daughter) who is studying at the Mayo Clinic.  She gave us a lot of information that is important for cyclists to know and be aware of that can help us both on and off the bike.  Thanks, Alynnn!

I am attempting not to begin each paragraph with the word "After".  AND THEN we had a GLORIOUS dinner of turkey, expertly smoked by resident chef extraordinaire (and fellow Alton Brown fan) Jay Kakuk.  

AND THEN we had a night cap of team building out back at the fire pit, roasting smores, drinking beers (my first and last one for a while), sharing stories and laughs.  As some of the Nature Valley Pro Chase riders and staff began to turn in for bed, the night sky slowly became ablaze by the night's starscape.  I've been to some pretty cool spots in the world that had an AMAZING view of the heavens:

Savute Elephant Camp: Kalahari, Botswana
Massai Marra, Kenya
Far Side of Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico
Access Road of Mauna Kea, HI

and I now submit that Amery, Wisconsin joins my top list of places to lie down and stare up at the night sky.

That was only our first full day at the Nature Valley Pro Chase Team Camp.

Day two was more of the same.  We started the day with breakfast for 16 cyclists (12 Nature Valley Pro Chase athletes and 4 Collegiate All Stars) and a slow lolligag over to the bikes to embark on a ~50-60 mile ride.  This time around we had a team videographer join our Team Director Bart Bowen in the car to take video of us riding.  At the end of 3 hours, we arrived back at the Kakuk's, hungy for food, and a bit more of a team after sharing miles with each other.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


My trip to our host housing in Wisconsin was nice and smooth.  I slept through half of the flight, brought plenty of water with me, and was not within earshot of any screaming babies on the aeroplane.  The only hitch came at baggage claim.  You see, fellow JeffCup qualifier Lindsay Bayer was set to arrive 5 minutes after me in the same terminal, so I hung out and tried to make a rendezvous by taking the long way to the baggage claim area. By the time I got to baggage claim, my flight had been loaded onto the roundabout belts and only 3 bags were left: one belonging to myself and the other two to fellow stragglers.  I then waited patiently for my bike bag to be brought to the door where they place the oversized luggage.

And waited.  And waited.  A whole new flight had been loaded and picked up from the same baggage carousel, so I went to talk to the baggage claim service desk.  The helpful folks there got me the information I needed, but only after a nervous 30 minutes of investigation.  Much to my relief, they were able to track my bag.  Much to my amusement, the bag was still sitting behind the check-in counter back at BWI-Baltimore.

90 minutes in a van later, 7 Nature Valley Pro Chase/Collegiate All Stars athletes (including myself) arrived in Amery, Wisconsin at Jay and Sue's house (sorry, I forgot their last name at the moment).  Jay and Sue are our 'host parents', opening their house to a group of around 20 bike racers and staff.  They have an awesome AWESOME house, and they are an awesome couple.  So far, Jay and I have exchanged some of our best stories of dumb stuff we've done while drinking too many beers, and Sue taught me how to play shuffleboard and where to find decaf coffee beans.

More to come...

Thursday, June 7, 2012


This is all Melissa's fault.

 When I started racing bikes in 2007, I won 8 races and found the podium a handful of other times. I seemingly stormed through the Category system set in place by USA Cycling and earned a Category 2 promotion. So stoked was I to be invited onto a local elite team that, in my sophomore season of racing, I forgot to bring with me the form and focus that earned me all that freshman success.

 For sure, the story is more complex than not progressing in fitness, but at the heart of my slump of that year was my inability or ineptitude to continue doing the hard work and keeping the fire in my belly stoked.

 Intent: an important word not for athletes, but for everyone. What was my intent that year? I didn't have any. I did not intend to do anything.

 In the winter of 2007, my cycling goals for 2008 seemed to be already achieved when I received a shiny new team kit and spent all of my money on a team bike. Surely, I would look the part of an elite cyclist! At first, I was blind to the lessons my sinking results provided. The whole of 2008 was a blur, including a fantastic string of DNF's in July at Criteriums, a discipline that was allegedly my forte. And so the season progressed with my head hung low to match my morale, until the worst possible thing happened: I won a race at the end of the year.

 Why was this bad? Because I immediately relieved myself of the pressure that was building from my lackluster season. I chalked the win to 'finally finding my legs' or 'needing more time to get used to the heat.' The win fed every single stupid excuse I had given myself. 2009 was essentially more of the same. My morale didn't slump so low as my personal expectations had since readjusted after my difficult transition to Cat 1-2 racing, but there were sill many lessons that I had not yet learned. It took a force outside of bike racing (although not far from it) for me to experience the Newtonian 'apple on the head' moment.

 That force was my then-girlfriend Melissa, preparing with her Army buddy, [also] Melissa, for a Marathon. The Melissas had plenty of 5k and some 10k running experience, and wanted to scratch 26.2 from their bucket list. With their perpetual enthusiasm and a training guide for new Marathon runners that was probably ripped out of a copy of Runner's World, they began meeting up a few times a week to train together. I didn't hear much about the runs; I barely realized that Melissa was in the middle of a marathon training block. She would come home from a run and we'd have brunch, and I was never the wiser as to what was going on. One morning the girls returned home on a HOT day and were slamming cold water from the fridge. "How far did you guys go today" I asked. "Today was 20" said Melissa. TWENTY? How did that happen? Since when could she run twenty miles? The thought slipped out in speech and the girls divulged their little 'complete a marathon in 3 months' worksheet. Listening to their build-up in mileage, it all seemed so...reasonable and achievable. It was all about making slow progress in a consistent manner.

 Later that year, the apple crashed down on my head. Melissa and I were on vacation in Kona, HI during Ironman week. That trip is worth a book on its own, but the short story is that I was absolutely blown away watching the amateurs compete. It wasn't just about the speed at which even the 'slow' ones were going, but knowing and understanding how much work and sacrifice went in to placing them in this event at the Big Island. Perhaps more impressive than competing in the event was seeing all of these people out and about the day after, accompanying their families and travel partners on touristy-stuff while they are probably still feeling like they are in a body bag from the prior day's race. If these people can make an Ironman World Championship happen for themself, perhaps I can make some improvements in my cycling thing.

 My 2010 season was good. Not bad. Not great. Blue-collar, head low, soft-spoken, solid. 2011 saw a Renaissance of my 2007 self as I helped make a 4 man team a force to be reckoned with in a region containing teams of 14 in local Category 1-2 races. I was happy with things in races that were NOT results, and I was learning lessons each week about racing, training, and listening to my body. The floodgates did eventually open. I had a stormer of a weekend at Wilmington, DE, tearing up a crit to leadout my teammate DJ Brew for a convincing win, and going on to win the 80 mile road race the following day out of a breakaway with my training partner Pete Warner. A few weeks later, I hooked another win at Altoona against some of the biggest talent in the east including Reid Beloni.

 As I pack my bags for the Nature Valley Grand Prix, 2012 continues forward from where 2011 left off. I can't help but think that this long road of lesson learning all started with something really really simple. In 2007, I wanted to make sure I didn't start my racing career as pack-fill. In 2008, I didn't want anything. Ever since Melissa showed me how simple hard work is, I knew I could prove myself, and I desired to make it so. I had all of the intent in the world to make it down this road, and I intend to see how far this road goes.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting Close

I'm getting antsy. On a rest week, my body is starting to come back to homeostasis from a solid month of pummeling training. With this rise back to the surface, I'm finding energy again, and with that energy comes ANGST! I'm nervous! Keeping with the spirit of documenting the Pro Chase experience, I produced a moviefilm which exhibits my thoughts and mood. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stop That Noise

"This is only a test" I reason with myself. The Nature Valley Grand Prix looms next week. Legs and Lungs are all fine, I've stocked the barn full of hay, and I'm ready to rip-roar across Minnesota. Why then, has everything got to be so wacky? Ever since I received a 10 pm. phone call from Nature Valley inviting me onto the Pro Chase program, all of my focus has been eat, sleep, breathe race preparation. I've made the most of my time, but my candle has been burning at 4 ends. Home in D.C., Work, Home in Hampton, and Training. That amounts to a scorching hot candle once you include travel time and bike racing time. I've been making sacrifices in all of these aspects of my life: my room in Washington is a mess with bike tools scattered about and cell phone and laptop chargers lay hidden underneath my 'inbox' of clean cycling gear. I've possibly alienated my housemates, and one of them is still waiting for me to help him fix his bicycle brake. I've spent far less time in Hampton with my wife then I intended this summer. That aside, there is yardwork to be done, 'the bike cave' to organize and stock, and I still haven't had a day to spend on the beach. It seems as though every time I arrive home in Hampton, I've forgotten something important at my room in D.C. and visa-versa. Bike racing has been an absolute blur. I can't exactly remember when the last weekend race I did was. I omitted this past weekend's events (two criteriums I always do well at) in order to sort some at-home affairs (as well as delay the inevitable timing belt work and new brakes needed on my automobile). This of course meant leaving my teammates with less help, and missing out on all the fun! "It is all a part of the experience" I tell myself. "I wanted the pro experience!" As I think this, I'm suddenly reminded of my ride the other weekend with my training buddy Kat. As we marched on to mile 90 in the heat and needing some food and drink, I started to slip into the 'bummed out' zone. "This is what I asked for; this was what I wanted to go through, and it felt like a great idea this morning!" Of course, a few minutes later I would be feeling right and cheery. I can't help but think I just hit that rough part of the journey where it feels tough. The journey is, of course, beyond the Nature Valley Pro Chase, and I expect that the Pro Chase week is going to be that Milky Way bar and bag of chips I bought in the rural gas station that brought me back to life on that eventful ride of a few weeks ago.