Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ronald Reagan Criterium 2010

This past weekend, I returned to where it all began. The Ronald Reagan Criterium in sunny Dixon, IL, the childhood home of the last great Republican president.

Last year as a somewhat fatter Cat 5, I raced twice and got dropped twice. This year I came in with a season of racing under my belt, waning fitness, and a recent upgrade. My fitness has gone into the dumps recently with my work schedule being what it is. Sometimes life gets in the way of bike racing, and you have to pay the price. I signed up for the 3/4's race and 4/5's race. I went into the day with low expectations and was just there to enjoy some cham-time and turn the pedals in anger for one last time before things get cold. Zens and I met up around 11 and headed out to Dixon, making one last fateful stop at the Dekalb Oasis for some Panda Express (excessive foreshadowing).

We arrived in time to watch the 5's race. It was a nice feeling getting to watch someone race before my race...haven't had that experience in a while. I got in a good warmup and felt great heading into the 3/4's race. I expected to be nervous, but was really not. I figured things might be faster than normal but I had also heard that 3's brake less in the turns which is helpful for me. Both of these things were true. The race was fairly small, less than 30 starters I think. I was hanging in just fine, sitting midpack, for the first 10 minutes of the race. I was surprised at how good my legs, lungs and head felt, especially with the small hill that was added to the course this year. At around 11 minutes in, coming through the start finish, I knew something was wrong. My legs felt dead and my stomach felt alive. Lets just leave it at: the Panda won my 3/4's race. I was sad to DNF less than half way through the race, but seeing as I had a race more fitting to my ability later in the day, it was not too tough of a decision. I got to watch my teammate Brandon grab an impressive 3rd place. It's awesome to see such a hardworking guy finally get results in a big way.

We had to wait until 5:30 four the 4/5's race. By that time I was feeling a bit lethargic and bored. But I was somewhat motivated by the fact that most of the people I would be racing with already had a full race in their legs while I had just a warmup. I staged well in the second row and the race went off on time. The race started off fairly slow but was quite smooth for a 4/5's race. The wind was blowing hard in our faces on the backstretch up the hill, so it was difficult to find a place to move up. My race was pretty uneventful. I sat in the top 20 the whole race and tried to stay out of the wind. Coming into the 3 laps to go, I narrowly avoided a crash right at the start/finish line that only took out a couple of riders. I ended up sitting next to my teammates Zens and Dan. Zens said that it was time and set the team strategy in motion (which I was not a part of). Zens and Dan started moving up the outside on the hill to try and meetup with Brandon and eventually lead him out. I was feeling quite good at that point and jumped on Dan's wheel. Dan got pushed out slightly and narrowly avoid a cone which I actually ran over the base of. Happy to not have crashed, I had lost Dan's wheel and a lot of speed. Zens and Dan had successfully made it to the front and Zens laid it down with 2 to go and eventually brought the pack up to the break. Coming into the final two turns I came up the outside, past a shelled Zens, and was gaining position, but there was not enough room in the turn. I scrubbed speed to avoid a "front-yard" ending to my race. As I looked into the next corner I saw two Spidermonkey jersey's flying through the turn in perfect position. It was truly a thing of beauty. Our team tactics had worked...or something close to it! Brandon sprinted for a 3rd and Dan came in right behind him in 4th. I subscribe to the school of thought that sprinting at the back of the pack is pointless and dangerous. So I took an easy roll into the line extremely happy with how I had raced.

What a fantastic day for the Spidermonkeys and a great way to end my season. I am excited to take a break and then get back into training mode for a full season of 4's racing next year.

I will post some reflections on my first season later this week or next so check back for those.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grayslake Cycling Classic

This weekend marked the final race in the Illinois Cup (which has nothing to do with me because I'm a 5) at the Grayslake Cycling Classic in Prarie Crossing, IL. Before we get to the cycling, I just want to say that Prairie Crossing is far and away the most beautiful subdivision I have ever encountered. If you ever have the chance to check it out, I highly encourage it. The scenery is astounding, especially for a random community in Northern Illinois.

Grayslake was my second to last race in the 5's and I had high expectations for what I could do. The course was a 2 corner, 3 "bend" loop. It is kind of hard to imagine from a description so here is the map. The course was pancake-flat and the low number of turns meant that I would be able to use my momentum-maintaining build to my advantage.

The race started at 8am, which meant an insanely early wake-up call. Coupled with the fact that I had worked until midnight every night last week except for Friday, I had no idea how my body would respond. I was pinned and on the course with about 30 minutes to warm up. Luckily I had not forgotten how to ride a bike, but my legs felt really stiff. I finished my warm up and hung out by the start/finish and caught up with Mike from Tati and his new bike. I staged in the front row and the race took off pretty close to on time.

I was curious to see how the Cat 5's would handle the bends. My initial thoughts were correct. Since they were not turns, people did not treat them like turns. Needless to say, things got quite squirrely. Luckily they were wide enough that I could avoid the myriad interesting choices made by unattached riders. The race started off slow and there was a ton of wind on the back stretch which caused a lot of swarming. On the second lap a xXx rider rode all the way from the inside of the first turn all the way to the outside (yes, I literally held the guy next to me up and rode in the gutter as captain shittyturn tried to crash out the field, but I digress). At this point, I decided it was time to hopefully get ride of some of the people that were looking to cause others to touch the pavement. I jumped on the front near the final bend and opened up the legs a bit. I held a meaningless bit of separation for about half a lap before the field caught back up. Like clockwork, I rode through turn 2 on the front to hear the sounds of carbon and aluminum hit pavement behind me. It sounded really far back, so I assumed correctly that most of the people I knew would be contending for the win were safe behind me.

I rode well the rest of the race and was able to move around freely. On the second to last lap I was not paying close enough attention to positioning and let myself get 4-across the turn. Since I was on the outside, and did not recognize the kit of the rider next to me, I figured I had the choice of slowing down or riding the turn in the grass. Crap. I scrubbed a lot of speed and made it through the turn but had lost so much ground that the front of the field had actually gapped the group I was in. I sprinted back up to the front group and was sitting top 5 by the time we rolled through start/finish for the bell. Unluckily for me, for one time in the history Cat 5 bike racing, the pace sped up in the bell lap. This was great for preventing swarming, but not great after the effort I had just put in to get back in position. Coming out of turn two, the guy on the front (I believe the eventually winner) turned on the jets. I was able to stay Top 10 coming into the final bend but knew I had nothing left for the sprint. I waited as long as I could to stand up, but had nothing left by a sick feeling in my stomach. I rolled across the line 15th. Normally, I think I could consider this a decent result, but as I am nearing the end of my 5's career, I was hoping for a better result.

Next weekend is Glencoe. 7:15am start. It will be so nice to get out of the 5's.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tour of Elk Grove

Sorry for the late post! Work has been crazy this week, and I was unable to find a spare minute until now.

Last weekend was the infamous Tour of Elk Grove. The Tour of Elk Grove is a 3-day long pro-race with 2 days of amateur criterium racing interspersed amongst the pro racing. It is known mainly for two things. One of the highest amateur payouts in the country and an 180 degree turn. Yes, 180 degrees. You literally ride down one side of a street with a median, turn around at the median and come back. For those that are still confused, here is video proof. Coming off of a bunch of 4/5 races I was excited to see what I could do in the 5's. I had also had the chance to go out to Matteson for the Tuesday night crits put on by the South Chicago Wheelmen during the week and had ridden pretty well. My game plan going in would be to stay at the front to avoid the accordion effect (an inevitable crashes) out of the 180 degree turn and see what I could do at the end.

I awoke Saturday morning around 3:30am to rain hitting my A/C unit. I instantly thought about how I was going to be racing around an 180 degree turn in less than 6 hours...and it was now going to be at the very least, a wet 180 degree turn. Needless to say I didn't get a whole lot more sleep. I ate a good breakfast (finally nailed by pre-race fueling process I think!) and met up with my teammate Katie to head up to Elk Grove.

I registered with plenty of time and pinned on my numbers. I decided to race both heats because well, why not? If I'm going to go out and race, might as well take as many opportunities as possible. I got out on the course with plenty of time and got in a nice warm-up. Back to that turn...yeah the 180 degree one? My first time around it, I slowed down what I thought was a lot and barely made it out of the corner without hitting the hay bail on the outside of the turn. Ok, so going through at 19mph was not going to work, or at least if it was going to, I needed to fix my body position. At this point, my nerves started to take hold. Adding to my nerves was the fact that the turn was soaking wet and had brick-lined sidewalks running through it. I had the chance to chat with my teammate from last year, Jason, which calmed my nerves quite a bit as we rolled up to the line. I staged well, grabbing the last spot in the front next to more W2 riders than I had ever seen in one place. The W2 guys are all fairly steady and entertaining people to race with, so I was happy to see so many.

The whistle went off and I was able to get a good spot at the front. The first couple times around the turn were slow and shaky. People were riding just about everywhere in the turn but seemed to get through it ok. The rest of the course was simple and did not cause anything too interesting. On the third or fourth lap, I noticed I was sitting outside of the top ten, further back than I wanted to be. For added motivation, I looked down at the guy in front of me and saw some hairy legs. I knew it was time to move up. Lo and behold, as I'm going through the turn, I hear the pre-crash yell and hear the sound of carbon and aluminum hitting pavement. I'm not blaming hairy legs (I have no idea if he went down) but I was glad to be in the front when the inevitable Cat 5 crash happened. We took off with a group of about 15-20. For those that had been caught behind the crash and not gone down, the race was completely over.

Predictably, the pace picked up after the crash and W2 started sending guys off the front. I knew this was a problem, but there was not much I could do about it. The other W2 guys did a great job of blocking and finally a break of 2 stuck. The other rider turned out to be an unattached rider that only races Elk Grove (he's raced 4 years of Cat 5 races at Elk Grove!). So we were left to fight for third.

Coming into the bell lap, I was sitting top 10 and knew it was time to move up. Coming into the third to last turn, I took a fantastic line in the corner and with my acceleration out of the turn wound up sitting third wheel. Coming into the final turn I was sitting second wheel. I couldn't have asked for a better place to be sitting. Unfortunately for me the guy sitting in front of me was not Mark Renshaw and faded at 400m to go. Thus, I ended up being the final leadout man. I gave the sprint all I could and rolled through in 9th. I was happy to be there for the sprint but the finish left a little bit to be desired...oh well!

I rolled around the course and tried to recover as much as possible in the 5 minutes I had between races. I got to know Sean from xXx who would become an ally of sorts in the next race.

The second race went off and my body was not ready, but my legs felt fine so I gave it what I had. I sat top 20 for most of the race. There was a break with 2 unattached riders that did not stay away but broke up the pack quite a bit. I ended up sitting in what I thought was the pack off the back. Sean and I were trading motivational words and jokes about where we were sitting in terms of position. Coming into the final lap, we were in a group of 3 with a sizable gap on the bigger group behind us. We thought we were sitting in front of the back of the race. As it turned out, we were actually the first chase group and there were only about 5 riders ahead of us! Coming into the final turn, we joked about who would provide the leadout. The other guy in our group took off so I followed and as he faded after a very short time, I took off. I was feeling fine and was waiting for Sean to come around me and take what we thought was a poor placing off the back. Then people started flying around us on both sides. We had not looked back in the final turn because if we had, we would have realized that the main field was actually sitting just off Sean's wheel! After we saw at least 15 people fly by us in the field sprint, all we could do was laugh. The results said 26th which is about how well I had felt I raced...even though had I known what was going on behind me, I probably could have two top ten's in one day...shwoops!

I came away from Elk Grove with some confidence and proud of my top ten. I had raced well and my fitness had been good enough. I am excited for Grayslake this weekend. I have to start thinking about when I'm going to make the move to the 4's...I'm fine holding off for one more weekend.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


This past weekend marked the beginning of the infamous Superweek. Known to some as "Stupidweek" or even "Stoopidweek", Superweek is a loose collection of 17 races on consecutive days in the Chicago and Wisconsin area. While the races were not as stoopid as many make them out to be, the organization was laughably poor compared to the Tour of America's Dairyland.

The race on Saturday was in Geneva, IL, a short-jaunt on I-88 from Chicago. I headed out with my teammates Dan and Zens (with a guest soigneur/driver/awesomelogisticsplanner appearance by Jamie) and met up with Drew. As our race was first, we had lots of time to pre-ride the course. The course was a fairly simple 0.8 mile, 6-corner crit. The notable features were 2 brick corners, a small rise on the longest straight away coming out of turn 4 and everyone's favorite turn: turn 3! Turn 3 was a downhill, off-camber, narrow turn with crappy pavement and a manhole. It was scary to take every time, but of course, being 4's and 5's, we followed the rule that if a turn is dangerous, we will take it safely (unfortunately the inverse applies, but we can save that for later.) The race was 20 miles so it was going to be a long and hot one.

I staged well and clipped in well. I raced well for the first couple of laps, maintaining a top 40 position which I thought was fine for me in a 4/5's race. The problem arose with that darn rise after turn four. Midway through the race, huge gaps started forming on the hill and getting caught behind them made my race tough. After tail gunning for a couple of laps, I dropped off and eventually got pulled with 5 to go. Getting pulled sucks, but I was happy with my own performance. Drew made life even better by winning and Dan took a very respectable 5th. I learned an important lesson that I need to quit trying to sit at the back of the main field and move up earlier. Getting caught behind gaps was my fault for not moving up earlier.

Me and the boys after the race.

Sunday was a fantastic course in Homewood, IL. It was an 8-corner crit that was basically flat but had a headwind on the longest stretch of the course. My goal for the race was to move up earlier and finish with the pack. The race went off almost an hour late (ok, stoopid). I raced well but ended up getting dropped after about 8 laps. There was a fairly large contingent of riders off the back and we ended up forming into somewhat of a chase. There was a sizable crash (or two) in the lead group which lent our chase a few additional riders. I felt fairly good in the chase group and planned on finishing with them. However, I ran out of something...whether it was calories, water or just plain fitness and ended up sitting off the back of the group. I was the last rider pulled with a couple laps left which sucked as I got to watch the chase group I was riding with get to finish.

Reflecting on the weekend, I was actually really happy with how I raced...which leaves me in a strange place. I was happy with my effort and performance, but it was not good enough to finish either race. I had a great time in both races and had an immensely enjoyable weekend. However, I was not competitive in either race. So I am left with lots of motivation train and some serious excitement to be back in an all 5's field for a couple of races. Overall, my first season of racing has been an awesome ride so far and I am excited for what is to come.

A little dose of pain face from Downer's Ave (photo credit: John Wilke, Peloton Pix)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tour of America's Dairyland

This past weekend I traveled up the Milwaukee area to race the final two races in the Tour of America's Dairyland series. ToAD is a ten-day quasi stage race that has grown quickly since its inception last year and may surpass Superweek next year as the most popular pro racing in the Chicago/Wisconsin area. My teammate Zens raced the whole series (you can get the full coverage here.) Drew and I went up to join him for the final two days and provide some motivation.

The first day I raced was the ISCorps Downer Classic in Milwaukee. The Downer Classic is a fairly short three (ish) corner crit. The notable part of the course comes in turn two, which is less than 90 degrees. The corner is fairly wide though and scares most people into slowing down enough to make it safe. ToAD only has Cat 4/5 fields so I would be racing with a lot of 4's, and quite a few who would soon be upgrading. This was a bit intimidating, but I figured worst case scenario, I get dropped...and get dropped is what I did.

I intended to take the 2 or so weeks before these races to work on my fitness and lose a bit of weight. Due to work and in some cases, bad luck, I didn't find time for the training that I wanted. I did lose some weight and rolled up to the line about 5 pounds lighter than my previous race. I mean this not as an excuse, but a learning experience in how quickly I can lose my race fitness, even during the season. Back to the racing...

The overall leader of the Cat 4/5 series attacked off the gun and quickly got away with another rider. Since this was a Cat 4/5's race, of course no break was going to stick...but this just meant that the pace was fast from the start. My staging sucked and I started all the way at the back of a 50+ field without any of my teammates. I was able to move up a couple spots within the first few laps, but sitting in 40th place in this field was brutal. The main reason was turn two where we had to scrub all of our speed and then try and catch back up to the front of the field with only a short straightaway to do it. The other reason was that people were falling off the field at a rapid pace causing me to continually get caught behind huge gaps. I like to think that a month ago I would have had the fitness to overcome this stuff, but alas I did not have it. So about halfway through the race I dropped off the main field and was on my own.

I rode for about 3 laps by myself and eventually waited for the group of about 5 people that had formed behind me. I rode with these guys for the remainder of the race and did a lot of the work on the front. It was good training, and nice to be able to ride with people even when off the back.

In the second to last lap, I was sitting 3rd wheel in the group and wasn't paying enough attention on turn two. I was slightly overlapped with the rider in front of me going into the turn and he took the turn all the way to the curb...which meant that I had run out of real estate. I did a fairly good job of trying to save it, but my back wheel slid out in the sand in the gutter and clipped the curb. I went rolling off the course and hit a cement post that fortunately had padding around it! My bike was fine and I landed in the grass somehow completely avoiding any road rash, which was awesome. I threw my chain back on and jumped in with another group that had dropped off the field.

After Saturday, my goal for Sunday was to warm up better, stage better and try to hang on to the pack for more laps, hopefully all of them.

Sunday was the Carl Zach Cycling Classic in Waukesha. Another fairly simple course with six turns, a small ascent coming out of turn 1, a windy, bumpy back stretch, a small descent in turn 5, and a 250m slightly uphill (not so slightly) bumpy finish. I warmed up and staged much better on Sunday but simply did not have the legs to hang with the pack. There was actually a break of 4 riders that ended up staying away and the chase group was down to less than 10 riders in the end. So I didn't feel so bad falling off the back. I rode a much better race and was able to shut down most of the gaps that formed in front of me. But after about 30 minutes, I was about 25m behind the field for about 2 laps. I was trying to close the gap but I started to realize that it was not going to happen. Repeating Saturday's race report (without the pole), I rode with the same group off the back and got to sprint out the end with them this time.

Overall, I had a great weekend, even if the racing was not so great. I have the motivation I need to get my fitness back, so hopefully that will turn into an increase in my hours on the bike each week...and I really can't wait to get back to the 5's (even if it's short lived!)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Melon City Criterium 2010

We finished off a great weekend of racing in Iowa with the Melon City Criterium in Muscatine's Weed Park. The race takes place in a somewhat secluded park in Muscatine and is a mile long closed course. Melon City, besides being the filler between Snake Alley and the "Cage Match", is known for it's "speed bump". To explain, the course is fairly simple: slight uphill start, gradual turn, 90 degree turn, slightly left turning descent, SPEED BUMP, climb, 90 degree turn, chicane (Janette's term, I'm not sure I know what "chicane" means) and downhill finish. Hitting a speed bump on a road bike at 40 mph sounds utterly terrifying to me...which is why, as I suspected, it's not what I consider a speed bump but more of a speed "hump". The speed bump was fairly gradual and was more of a ramp than anything else.

EDIT: My teammate Zens did some awesome camera work documenting the speed bump with his flipcam. After watching the video, my only reaction is "holy s*$%!". I guess adrenaline helps in situations like this.

I woke up Sunday morning mentally fried from the day before. My body felt fine but I had no excitement whatsoever. To be perfectly honest, I carried this attitude until around lap 4 of the actual race. I had decided that my embarrassing performance at the Snake was due to being overheated on the start line (among the other obvious factors). On Saturday I think that I had warmed up my legs enough, but my body temperature too much. On Sunday I opted for a quick 15 minute spin with a cold water bottle over the head and a relaxing walk up to the start line.

Our race was about 40 minutes behind schedule which gave me even more time to cool off and wallow in my indifference. When it was finally our turn, I lined up in the first row and our race was off. Right off the start line, some guy attacked. I am pretty sure he was the eventual winner, but I am not positive. I followed because he wasn't going very fast anyways. Being the biggest rider in the race, I of course took the descent faster than everyone else and ended up first on the climb. (The speed bump ended up having no bearing whatsoever on my race. I don't think I took it "correctly" until Lap 7, but it didn't have any effect on me or the race.) I had decided pre-race to take the climb in the big ring and had was undecided on standing vs. sitting. I was feeling fast coming off the descent so I took it standing...in WAY too big of a gear. I killed my rhythm and ended up doing way to much work to maintain a top 10 position going into lap 2. I got to the top of the climb and was red lining...kind of ridiculous for the first lap of an 8 lap crit.

Lap 2 things settled down. The climb had whittled the lead group a bit, down to about 20 riders. The second lap I found my rhythm on the climb and maintained position. Lap 3, I saw some Cat 5 hilarity as a rider launched himself head first over the curb...while trying to take a drink! Unreal. He apparently had not read Luke's Tip #15.

By Lap 4, the lead group was down to 12 riders. On the climb, a rider attacked off the front and two other riders followed. I was sitting second wheel after the attack left and I had no intentions or the adequate energy to chase down the attack...neither did anyone else. I was left in a group of nine that would not grow or shrink at all before the final climb.

I realized during the race that I was saving a lot of energy compared to other riders because of my fat-man descending skills. I did not have to pedal to maintain position until 300 meters or so after the other riders began pedaling up the climb. I hoped that I would be able to use this during the final laps. I decided to try to move up to the front on Lap 7, hit the descent in the front in the final lap from which I thought I could easily take 4th.

We hit the climb in Lap 7 and I was not the only rider that had planned to attack the climb. The pace increased uncomfortably and I found myself at the top in the same position (mid-pack) but with much less oxygen than I would have preferred. The went as hard as I could the final lap. I picked off 3 riders on the final climb but there was no sprint to be had for anyone. I came in 9th, my best result yet. I was extremely happy that I was able to hang in that hilly of a crit. My days as a 5 are quickly coming to an end, but this crit gave me hope that I will have the fitness to be competitive in the next category.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Snake Alley Criterium (in 6 words)

Big man no go up hill.

(Inspired by Six-Word Memoirs)

EDIT: Proof that I was top 10 the first time up the snake...but more importantly, proof there was an old guy in flat pedals and tube socks in the race. Picture compliments of Vanessa.

Wapello-Burlington Road Race 2010

This past Friday, I departed, along with teammate Trent, for a weekend of racing in Iowa. I am originally from Iowa and would be staying at my parents house all weekend. I was excited for three races (two of which are quite unique) in one weekend.

The first of the three races was the Wapello-Burlington Road Race. The race was a point-to-point 33 mile road race. Point-to-point road races are fairly uncommon for Cat 5's in the Midwest, so I was excited to be participating in something different. The course was fairly simple, 33 miles of rolling hills with a downhill sprint into downtown Burlington.

I was nervous because this was my first road race. I was coming off of a tough week of work and my head was nowhere near where it needed to be for me to be competitive for 33 miles of racing. My biggest concern was staying hydrated and eating enough. Being a big guy, I tend to sweat more and burn more calories than my competitors. In 30-45 minute crits, this isn't a big deal. But 33 miles in 90 degree heat is a different story. I decided to race with 3 bottles, all filled with Gu Brew and a couple of Gu Energy Gels in my jersey. This ended up not being the right choice, but an ok choice in the end.

They lined us up early and made us stand in the sun for quite a while, but the race went off pretty close to on-time. The race started out so slow that I thought we had a neutral roll-out. There was no neutral roll-out, but we nonetheless rode at 16 mph for almost a mile. Finally a Bike Burlington who was right in front of me moved to the front. I followed him and ended up sitting second wheel for the 4 miles he pulled. We were mostly riding with crosswinds so I was not too concerned about sitting second wheel.

Between miles 5 and 30, nothing too exciting happened. People tried to attack but were always pulled back. Trent and I spent a fair amount of time working on the front trying to keep the pace up and drop some riders off the back but I think our efforts (along with the efforts of others at the front) were generally unsuccessful. The problem we had to deal with was farm equipment on the rode. Such an Iowa problem! The course officials would not let us pass the vehicles by ourselves, so when we came upon one, we would have to slow down, giving everyone time to catch up, and then pass when the course officials let us go around. This was frustrating, but probably did not have much of an effect on the outcome of the race.

Around mile 22, I was moving up on left side of the pack. At the same time, another rider, who was in the middle of the pack decided to move over to the left for no reason, pushing the rider next to me and myself into the other lane. I got a warning from the course official for crossing the line but fortunately he did not pull me. Little did I know how foretelling this incident would be.

The officials had told us at the start that when we saw the Case plant, we were a mile and half from the finish and the finish was downhill. I took this to mean that the course was downhill from the Case plant. Oops. I guess it would have been beneficial to have driven the course before, oh well. I attacked right after the Case plant and was actually able to get some separation. However, after I turned the corner, I realized that there was an uphill before the downhill (there were actually two). So I slowed down and came back into the pack.

After cresting the hill, we were working down the descent when someone on the front tried another attack. I was sitting a bike length behind Trent with no one in between. The rider next to him, the same rider that had swerved earlier, decided to try and cut across two people horizontally (I have no idea why) and clipped the rider next to me's wheel. The rider next to me made a valiant attempt to save it, but he ended up going down hard. The last thing I saw was a carbon wheel near my head, but luckily I escaped unscathed. I looked back and no one had made it past the crash after me. I looked forward to see about 15 riders in front of me. Mentally, I was completely fried and let a gap grow. The lead riders went crested the final hill before the finish and I was a couple bike lengths behind everyone. As I saw the finish about 500m ahead, I got in the drops and gave it all I had. I passed two people and finished a satisfying 14th. Trent rolled in ahead of me picking up 7th. Sprinting at 40 mph on a downhill was an exhilarating experience!

Reflecting on the race, I was quite happy with how well I rode. I was active on the front and finished well considering the circumstances. I will make sure to never try and drink 3 bottles of Gu Brew in a race as I ended up giving myself terrible cottonmouth. I am really not a believer in blaming people for crashes, but the rider error I witnessed in the race was disappointing. I took it as a lesson on what racing in the 5's could be like.

After the race, Trent and I took a quick ride up the Snake (see the next blog entry) and rode the bus back to Burlington. We headed back to Iowa City for some food and quick rest before attempting to conquer one of the toughest crits in the U.S.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tour of California - Stage 8

Stage 8 took place in Westlake Village, CA which is a couple miles northwest of Los Angeles. The race started at a mall in Thousand Oaks, CA and had a neutral roll-out until it reached the real start/finish line in Westlake Village. The rider would do 4 laps on a brutal 20 mile(ish) circuit with 2 big climbs each lap. Due the layout of the race, I decided it would be too hard to try and go to the initial start and then jump in my car to try and catch the rest of the race in Westlake Village. This ended up being a great decision as I was able to snag and amazing spot to watch the race.

This post will be much shorter than the previous one, I promise! I spent pretty much the whole day in the same spot because it gave a fantastic view of the race every time it came around and the race announcer kept the fans updated (as well as the flatscreen behind him...more on that later.) My only regret of the day was not somehow procuring a bike and riding out to the the climb where craziness ensued.

The main thing I learned standing in the same spot all day was that there were not a whole lot of people in attendance that knew anything whatsoever about cycling. Now that I sound like an elitist, let me give you some examples. The large family in front of me was decked out in exclusively free t-shirts. They singlehandedly repped just about every sponsor of the tour of California...and cheered more for the police cars than the actual racers. The man standing in front of me at the end of the race remarked to me, "Isn't it funny that the guy leading the race is named Mitt Romney?" For those that are unaware, the race leader, and winner's, name is Michael or "Mick" Rogers. The person near me who seemed to know the most about cycling was the drunk senior citizen who spoke exclusively in a foreign language and was waving a Slovenian flag that appeared to be signed by none other than the Slovenian Time Trial Champion, Jani Brajkovic. This alleged cycling knowledge was unfortunately removed by the Police after he tried to steal a folding chair from the aforementioned family.

Near the end of the race, I spotted prolific cycling blogger Neil Browne (a.k.a. @neilroad) of whom I am a huge fan. So I used the zoom on the camera to take a creeper picture that was reminiscent of my sister's pictures of *NSYNC from when she was 14.

I promised this post would be shorter, so I must end the stories. I shot a lot of awesome (or what I consider awesome) video. I have posted it all in chronological order below. Hope you enjoy!

The field rolls through the start line after the neutral roll-out:

Lap 2 begins as the break rolls through, followed by the peloton:

Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia) who dropped out of the race earlier in the week threw on their team kits to take a ride through the finish line! In the middle of the race!

The break begins the third of four laps:

The peloton begins the final lap (I accidentally deleted the video of the break grrrr):

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) beats out U.S. National Champion George Hincapie (BMC) to take the final stage! Mick Rogers rolls through shortly after in the Golden jersey to take the overall.

Tour of California - Stage 7

I have been an avid cycling fan for about two years now and I decided it was time to attend my first professional stage race. Luckily, the wonderful people of AEG moved the Tour of California to May and drew an absolutely stunning line up of riders. So I packed my bags and headed off to LA to catch the finals two stages.

The first stage I attended was Stage 7, the individual time trial in LA. I arrived early and had no idea what to expect. I took a quick browse through the "Lifestyle Festival" (read: free stuff) but quickly realized that this was the seventh day in a row that these people had set up their tent, and as I was there an hour and a half before it opened, their grumpiness was understandable. I walked down to the finish line expecting a big crowd of people camping out for the prime spot. I instead found some disappointing news. Unless you were "VIP", you weren't getting any closer than 100m to the finish line. This was made more annoying by the fact that there was a bend in the course just after 50m to go. So I would not be watching the end live.

I grabbed a quick breakfast burrito and some coffee and went back to exploring. I met an awesome dude at the Felt (makers of Garmin-Transitions bikes) tent and chatted for a while about the brand new TT bikes the argyle boys would be riding in the afternoon. I found out he was a former team mechanic and heard some interesting stories about David Millar's finicky bike needs and Tyler Farrar's R-rated rants. He pointed me to the team buses and I headed over to see if I could meet any riders.

After finding the team buses, I learned that time trial days are the worst days to meet riders. Most of the riders I encountered were noticeably nervous and focused on their time trial. I did have the pleasure of chatting with Mike "Meatball" Friedman (Jelly-Belly) a former Garmin rider and Chicagoland native. He had been DQ'ed for drafting a team car the day before, so he had a lot of time to talk. I also had the chance to chat with Steven Cozza (Garmin-Transitions) and his parents. It was fascinating to hear Meatball and Steve chat about "the olden days." I realized that it wasn't that long ago that these guys were working their way up through the amateur ranks that I have recently become familiar with. After an awkward failed attempt to meet Ryder Hesjedal (one of my absolute favorite riders) and Jonathan Vaughters (team director) I decided to go find a spot to watch the time trial.

I ended up finding a prime spot about 150m from the finish line. The problem was, the course was two laps and there was no way to find out riders times. So I was basically watching guys fly by with no idea whether they were finishing or taking another lap; no idea if they were doing well or not; and in many cases I couldn't even tell who the rider was unless it was a national champion (or Fabian Cancellara). I snapped some pictures at a couple of places around the course but got bored of following the race by checking my iPhone, or following just as I would were I at home.

I headed back to the team buses to see if I could see any of the big guns warming up. This was pretty much as unsuccessful as the first attempt to see riders (to give some perspective, Mick Rogers was warming up IN the team bus to avoid people!). I found that the start line was the best place to watch because there was an announcer who kept us up on how people were riding and giving final and intermediate splits.

After all the riders had taken off, I went back up to the finish (or near the finish) and watched Rogers, DZ and Levi finish on the Versus broadcast being shown on a jumbotron on the outside of the ESPNZone. I definitely enjoyed the day but it was a first lesson in the difficulty involved in watching a bike race.

All of my photos and 1 video from Stage 7.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fox River Grove Cycling Challenge 2010

Honestly, I did not know about the hill when I signed up. I promise.

For those that don't know, the aptly name Fox River Grove Cycling Challenge is a crit on a 1.2 mile course with an 80 vertical feet climb up the back of a nordic ski jumping hill. For those that know, sorry for just making your stomach churn thinking about that climb.

For those that don't know, I weigh around 230 pounds at the moment. That is a laughable amount of weight to think about carrying up a climb (in a race?). I think that I outweighed the winner of the 1/2/3's race and the 4's race combined. Or maybe the entire juniors podium. I'm not making excuses.

I actually did alright the first time up of the climb, as evidenced by the same guy who recorded Vernon Hills two weeks ago.

If you get a little bit into this video (and parts 2 and 3) you will notice a lack of Matt. Yeah, the race was over for me after lap 1. The second time up hurt infinitely more than the first and left me gasping for air at the top. There was a guy taking pictures at the apex of the climb and I'm sure he had a good time laughing at the pictures of me on Sunday night. On one of the laps I think I even hammed it up a little bit for him and really gritted my teeth.

EDIT - Here's a preview (thanks to Tim Speciale of Psimet and the photographer Katie Cook)

To keep it short (the race was only 20 minutes), I finished, I was not last, and it hurt the whole time. But the descent was fun! There's nothing like bombing a corner while experiencing serious oxygen debt. This will go on the NRTDA (no reason to do again) list for next year assuming I don't lost 70 pounds in the offseason.

Speaking of hills, next up is the Burlington Road Race, Snake Alley and Melon City over Memorial Day weekend in my home state. I am excited to race with some Iowans and see the family.

Monsters of the Midway 2010

Monsters of the Midway holds a somewhat special place in my heart. It was the first bike race that I attended in person. It was also where I saw my teammate lying on the ground moments after smashing her face on the ground. My emotions going into the day were about the same: excited to race another crit after a successful ride at Vernon Hills but weary of the course that for some reason is home to so many crashes. The 5's filled up before I had a chance to register, so I settled on the 4/5's thinking it would be a safer race and thinking I would probably only race once to save energy for Fox River Grove the next day.

One of the great things about Monsters is that it is only a quick warm-up ride from where I live. I jumped on the lakepath, met up with my teammate Ben, and dodged the four-seater family bikes and stray children and dogs all the way down to the Midway. I arrived with plenty of time to watch a couple races and get a good warm-up. When I got to the Midway my stomach felt like total crap and my hydration was nowhere near where it needed to be due to a late night out celebrating a certain teammates birthday the night before. I tried to take in as much water as I could, but the crappy weather was not helping me want to do anything but stand around. I got about a 30 minute warm-up in on the trainer and finally started to feel hydrated. I threw on some sweats and went to the edge of the course to watch the end of the 4's. The last lap produced a decent sized crash, but as far as I know, everyone (not everyones' bikes) came out alright. My teammate Drew took 3rd with a well-timed sprint on the outside.

They let us on to the course and I took a couple warm-up laps. I noticed that none of the turns seemed that smooth and all of them were a bit off-canter. My pre-race thoughts were mostly focused on the crash that just happened, the fact that I was racing with 4's and that I was racing in the biggest field I had ever raced in. In short, not the best place for my head. I was totally out of it...and the fact that we got about 8 more warm-up laps due to the ambulance on the course did not help. I lined up in a fairly good spot about 3 back from the front.

The whistle went off and the guy in front of me dropped his chain trying to clip in. My race was instantly going better than at least one other persons. I rode around him and was sitting mid-pack around the first turn. I am quickly coming to love the hilarity that ensues in the first couple turns of a crit. All of the nervous talking, profanity and of course, braking...is needless, but is starting to feel like home. I had some great pre-race advice from teammate (more like mentor) Bryan who suggested I shift down into corners 1 and 3 and start shifting up before 2 and 4. This worked out great and I think I was able to save a lot of energy compared to the people that had to stand up coming out of 1 and 3 (and subsequently, every corner).

The first few laps of the race were fairly uneventful. The field was too big to really drop any but the most out of shape. The pattern that seemed to develop was that people would try to move up on the back stretch when there was tailwind and sit in on the front stretch going into the headwind. The problem was that after the crash in the 4's on the back stretch, everyone was moving from the outside of turn 2 to the inside of turn 3 to avoid the bump in the course that had caused the crash. This meant that it was difficult to move up many spots on the back stretch.

Around 20 minutes in, my brain finally turned on and I started to consider what I was going to do. I decided to go on the outside of turn 4 and start moving up the outside. I was in perfect position on the second to last lap and moved up a ton of spots to about mid pack (I'm guessing around 20th.) Problem. I thought it was the third to last lap. Problem. As I was making my move up the outside, I realized (somewhat late) that there were 2 orange cones on the course next to the officials stand that I needed to avoid. In the adrenaline rush caused by the two pesky orange cones, I completely missed the bell. Oops.

I was able to maintain my position all the way into turn 3 when my teammate, birthday boy, did a hilariously bad job of taking the corner and almost crashed me out. I didn't really care, but the guy behind me definitely did. Oops. As I came around turn 4, everyone sprinted like normal...except a lot more than normal. After I was passed by a couple people I started to realize the mistake I made. I stood up and gave the sprint all I had, but everyone that wanted to sprint it out was lonnngg gone. I did nip a guy at the line to ensure a top 40 (haha) finish.

Overall, another great race for me. Being able to hang with the 4's was a good boost of confidence. However, nothing had prepared me for the pain that was to come the next day. Next stop: Fox River Grove.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Vernon Hills Grand Prix 2010

My blog as it formerly existed is dead for now...but I am still going to use this as a place to post my race reports. For those that have never visited, please feel free to enjoy the 134 posts of complete nonsense (and 1 race report)...for those who were fans of the nonsense, call my bosses and tell them to give me less work!

Quick background: my teammates convinced me last year at a 312 fueled event (thanks to the generous people at Goose Island) that I should try out racing. I got a quick introduction by racing two races (in one day) last year at the Ronald Reagan Crit. I walked away from these races with a couple of thoughts: bike racing is exhilarating and something I want to do again, I am not in good enough shape to be remotely competitive and that was not as scary as advertised. I took those thoughts into the offseason, along with a CycleOps Fluid trainer that I snagged through a great deal from the people at Green River Adventure Sports before I left Dixon that day.

The next 7 months were spent in the gym and logging hours on the trainer with thoughts of what was to come in next season. For those that aren't familiar with winter training as a cyclist living in Chicago, here is a great visualization. As I signed up for Vernon Hills, I wondered (often) was all that misery worth it?

Sunday dawned early for the Cat 5's...we had the pleasure of an 8:10am start time. I woke up at 5:30am with enough nervous energy to power the lights in my dark apartment. Trent and I packed up the car and headed up to Vernon Hills. The ride up was rainy and definitely did not take any nervousness away. At least I remembered my shoes though, thanks to the inside collar of our 2010 jerseys.

We arrived a little later than planned and after Trent tried to register for the kids wrestling tournament, we realized that registration was not inside the high school. By the time we registered and pinned our jerseys, we realized that we did not have enough time to set up the trainers for a proper warm-up. I was not excited about this change in plans because, if you know me, you know I have a big engine that takes some time to get started. We headed up to the course to check things out and try to warm up a bit. The course seemed pretty basic and wide-open. I noticed that on two of the turns, there was a median after the turn that was probably not going to be a lot of fun to navigate with 50 other Cat 5's. I made a mental note to be either on the inside or outside on the turns if it all possible, to avoid making love to the nicely planted trees on the medians. I felt really good after the warm-up and lined up in the 3rd row behind Trent. Trent's number was on wrong so I found myself with something to do to distract me from getting nervous at the line.

The race started off smoothly with both Trent and I clipping in flawlessly. We were sitting about mid-pack as the race got started. At the second turn, I was shocked at how slow things got. We were slowing down to less than 10mph at the 2nd and 3rd turn every time. This of course provided the wonderful accordion effect...every time. After 3 laps of accordion-fun-time, I started to feel the work in my lungs and legs. As I had never finished a race without getting dropped, I only knew second-hand of the fact that crits tend to slow-down a bit after the first couple laps...so I kept telling myself that people were probably right and fought off the ill feelings my body was sending to my brain. The next thing I knew, I heard 5 laps to go.

Hearing 5 laps to go and passing a lapped rider was exhilarating for me because I knew at that moment that the months of training were worth it. My mental game turned on as my body recovered slightly and I realized that I was damn tired of sprinting out of every corner. So I decided to find a wheel I liked up front and stick to it. I had lots of choices, but I decided that since Joel Friedman had won this race the year before (and subsequently was a Cat 3 at the end of the season) and rode for Bicycle Heaven, that the Bicycle Heaven guy that had been upfront the whole time seemed like a good wheel. I made a good choice and was able to save a lot of energy not having to work as hard out of the corners. With (I think) just over 3 laps to go, I saw Trent sitting up front, so I decided to join him...which for some reason turned into me deciding to increase the pace and pull for almost half a lap. This was silly, and I knew it at the time, but at that point, I was joy riding. Luckily, someone was rocking a helmet cam and recorded the whole race...including my joy-ride on the front.

After my cheeky pull up front, I knew the race for 1st was pretty much over for me (not that it had ever started). At 2 laps to go, the pace increased and since I had lost my position near the front I was back to sprinting out of the corners. As the bell rang for the final lap I was sitting about 20th and remained there until the final corner. Everyone gunned it out of the final corner and (now back-to-back Cat 3 winner) Nate's words of wisdom from the previous week rang through my head "be patient because everyone will sprint too early." The problem was, at this point in the race, Nate would be sitting top 10, not sitting at the back of the lead group...haha, oops. So while everyone took off, I momentarily lost contact and had to sprint just to catch back on to the pack. I sat back down and got ready for my first field sprint...but then realized I didn't have any energy to sprint anyways. I saw the guy immediately in-front of me give up so I stood up to sprint around him and ended up catching someone else. Altogether, a great race and a proud 28th place finish for my first time ending with the pack.

Next stop, Monsters of the Midway.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

If you don't love it, leave it!

As I am sure you are all aware, my Iowa Hawkeyes won their first ever BCS bowl last night when they defeated the Georgia Tech Bees 24-14 in the FedEx Orange Bowl. While I greatly enjoyed watching the game at John Barleycorn, surrounded by hundreds of my fellow Iowans, the best moment occurred after the game.

After Adrian Claybourn was awarded the MVP award, Fox Analyst Chris Myers moved on to interview Ricky Stanzi. Myers managed to rattle off one of the more bizarre questions I have ever heard asked of an athlete after a seminal win:
"I know you're from Middle America, and sometimes you feel like you're representing more than just a school or a conference, maybe an entire group of American citizens out there."
No question mark? Yeah, there was no change in inflection either making it an even more bizarre "question". Regardless, Stanzi, who rears from Mentor, OH (from what I can tell, a suburb of Cleveland) and thus is a certified "Middle American", came back with a gem of a response, "punking" Myers in the process.
"Of course. I mean, there's nothing better than being American. So, I mean, this is the greatest feeling. If you don't love it, leave it! USA, number one!"
You can't really ask for much more from your quarterback. Here's the video:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Rap Music from Iowa?!

After my last post, I really didn't think that another YouTube video of such quality (about Iowa) could ever emerge. Well folks, lightening struck twice. This video is even more entertaining, more inappropriate and...I ran out of words. Here is the video. Amazing.