Monday, August 22, 2016

Red Clay Ramble Recap

A few years ago I drove to Charleston to do the Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race. I finished outside the top ten after two days of racing, and thought that I separated my shoulder. I remember sitting on the floor at my friends house and looking at pictures of people racing 'cross a few states away and being super jealous as I headed out for a second day of suffering. I didn't quite see the pleasure in riding 3+ hours on dirt roads when I could be racing one hour in the grass.

I think at the end of that race I told myself that I was never going to do another race that required me to put a number plate on my handlebars. Of course, I later bought a mountain bike and decided that maybe number plates weren't so bad. 

I've been talking about doing some longer races for a while now, and gravel racing has always been tempting but I've never been completely drawn in. I feel like it combines a whole bunch of things that I like, without too much of the stuff I don't. I get to use my super racer boy roadie tactics when riding in a bunch, but I also get to let my lizard brain take command and just pedal hard for a long time. It combines all the aspects of road races, cross country mountain biking, and cyclocross that I enjoy, without all the four corner parking lot dive bombing. 

Red Clay was going to be an adventure for me for a few reasons: it's the last non-cyclocross race of the year for me, and it gave me an opportunity to try out a new bike. I sourced myself a Ridley Blast 29er frame SUPER cheap (shout out to Mark for that one), and between my parts bin, some scavenging off of other bikes, and some help from a few friends, I put together a super rad drop bar mountain bike. It's no Van Dessel WTF, but it was still super fun. 




What I liked about this frame, when I found it, was that it had canti posts on the rear stays. That meant that I could build up a crazy monster 'cross bike and still use my current collection of wheels. Finding a tapered, cantilever 29er fork was a bit of a chore though, and getting a set of calipers and wheels to match the fork that I already had was a bit easier, so I went the disc route. Plus, it'll probably become a full-on mountain bike next spring before real MTB racing picks back up.

Once I finished putting the bike together and got ONE RIDE ON IT, it was time to head to Milledgeville and race. I haven't done any sort of gravel racing in three years, and didn't really know what to expect from it. I knew it would be warm, and prepared myself with some extra Nuun and Honey Stinger for the long ride. Aside from that, I didn't really know what to expect from myself, and tried to keep expectations reasonable. 

I browsed through the 2015 results, and took a look at who was registered for this year's event. I set the goal of finishing in three hours, and just waiting to see how the results would shake out from there. Not much of one for doing long races, I figured it would be best to pace myself that way, rather than trying to hang with the leaders and blowing sky high. 

I figured that I would stay with the lead group for a while, and eventually get popped on one of the rolly hills. After that the plan was to settle into time trial mode and truck in for my goal time. This is where that perfect combination of road and mountain bike racing came into play: riding in a group like a roadie, but then putting my head down to fight the course like an XC bro. 

I went into time trial mode a lot quicker than I expected due to a mechanical. I KNEW that I should have put a chain guard on my front chainring since I was runing a 1x10 without a narrow/wide chainring, but I decided not to for a varying number of reasons and excuses. Maybe five minutes into the race, I was on the side of the road putting my chain back on, while the main group rolled away. I chased for a little while, but that gap wasn't coming down any. 

I rode by myself for a little while, maintaining a solid tempo that I thought would get me to the finish in a decent amount of time. I bobbed in and out of a group of about a dozen or so riders, but either the bunch just couldn't get organized, or I was being impatient. They would ride up to me, and I would settle into their paceline but it seemed like, after a few turns, the average speed would drop below what I was trying to do, and I would continue on at my own pace. Eventually, this same group swallowed me up, and we fell into a solid routine and rhythm. 

Expecting full-on Georgia heat, I packed three bottles for the race but it rained the night before, and there was a pretty solid cloud cover hanging over us at the start, so the temperatures never ramped up to what I was expecting. I finished my first bottle right around an hour into the race, and reached to my seat-mounted bottle cage to retrieve a new one. When I reached back for the fresh bottle, it was gone, likely somewhere on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I still had one bottle of plain water on me, but two more hours with one bottle wasn't ideal.

The group rolled on for the remainder of the ride with few interruptions. On pace for my three hour finish, I was ready to start racing when we hit the two hour mark. I knew that I needed to be reasonable with my efforts since I was running low on water, but I wanted to pare down our group and see who else was looking to ramp up for the finish. I kept rolling through my turns on the front, and made efforts to keep pushing over the rollers. I knew that the big moment in the race was going to be at 10k to go, when we hit a section of big, loose, chunky gravel and a gnarly series of climbs going into the finish. I probably could have just continued to ride with the group and made it to the finish close to my goal time, instead of planning to attack what was ostensibly the chase group. As far as I was concerned, though, I was in a race, so I planned on racing. 

With about 15k to go we turned onto a loose section of gravel. It wasn't THE section, but it was definitely challenging some of my chase-mates. I made an effort to get to the front of the group, so as not to get behind someone who slipped up in the loose stuff. This is where the mountain bike really came to life. The 2.2 inch tires floated over the loose rocks, while the riders around me were fighting to cut through. At the beginning of the race, I was afraid I brought to much bike; at the end, I was happy I had it. 

My move to get to the front of the group turned into me riding away from everyone. I looked behind me to see riders pushing to reconnect, and decided it was time to go. I put my head down and started to pedal like I was riding solo to the finish. I mean, I was riding solo to the finish, I was just doing it a few minutes behind the leaders. 

Coming into the last rest stop, volunteers were holding out cups of water. I was having horrifying flashbacks to Louisville's Derby City Cyclocross Cup in 2013 when I took a shot of bourbon mid-race. The volunteer assured me it was simply water, and executed a flawless hand up. Those six ounces of water probably got me through to the finish. 

I fought through the last ten kilometers, climbing over the loose stones and fighting to find the most secure line. I counted down kilometers, begging them to go by faster than they were. Every pedal stroke, I was certain that I was going to be caught by the group behind me, and look like a fool for trying to ride away from them. At 5k to go, I could feel the tightness of an oncoming cramp settling into my left leg. I begged it to stay away and simply kept pedaling.

Eventually, I made the right turn onto the finishing road, signifying just over a kilometer to go. There was no one in sight except for a few of the recreational riders who were finishing up their shorter version of the route. I happily rolled across the finish line alone, and set off on a desperate search for a Coke and some shade. 

I finished in 2:58:39, just under my goal time of three hours, and FIFTEEN minutes behind the winner. Do I think that I could have stayed with them at that pace? Probably not, but without the mechanical, I definitely would have stayed with them a lot longer than I did. 

I was sixth in the open male division, finishing two spots ahead of the series overall winner. While I know that result probably doesn't transfer to the rest of the races in the series and that math doesn't always apply to bike racing, it gives me pretty high hopes for next year. 

I'll definitely be targeting the Southeastern Gravel Series next year. With a proper bike and some actual race prep, I'm hoping that this time next year I'll have my eyes on the series winner's jersey.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ground Up

I've been doing really hot base miles for a few months now and, even though I've done a few road races, I'm fully locked an loaded on 'cross season. Even when I started making plans for 2017, gravel and mountain bike have been my primary focus. The roadie burnout is in full effect.

Ever since coming back from New Hampshire, I've had a hard time motivating myself to head out for a simple road ride. I mean, I've raced a few times and done my typical Saturday morning chaperoning but, otherwise, I'm pretty certain that every ride I've done since I've been home has taken me onto a dirt road or trail. Whitemarsh Island isn't quite the same as 3000 feet of climbing and snowmobile trails, but its pretty close.

Typically, I hate driving to ride, but last week I made an exception. I had a pretty weird work experience on my normal day off and then grabbed some lunch with a very important marketing exec. After that, I had an afternoon to kill and some exploring to do. I swapped out the aero wheels on my 'cross bike and returned it to its normal style and function. Its sentence as "circuit race bike" was up, and it was ready to enjoy its freedom.

Chris the 'cross bike and I hopped in the car and drove to South Carolina (barely) to go ride around the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge site sits just north of the Savannah River, across Highway 17 from the city. The spot where I rode Wednesday was once home to a rice plantation, and remains from those days can still be seen in the landscape. As both a dirt road and a history enthusiast, I was pretty excited.

This image illustrates how an amateur photographer fails to capture a rice trunk on film.
I've known about this area for a while, but my lack of enthusiasm to drive across the river just to ride has prevented me from doing it in the past. Now I know that I've been missing out of some quality dirt road loops.

Well, mostly quality. This probably wasn't meant to be ridden.
I only rode a short loop today, 5.2 miles, but there's so much more to explore. There is another collection of dirt roads, trails, and canals across Highway 170 that I didn't set foot on. I can definitely see making trips out here in the winter for some long days in the marsh. Hopefully, as it gets colder, the bug population will quiet down a little bit, making for a better riding experience. The gators will be slower when the temperature drops too, right?

I could probably ride from my house to the refuge, but I'm not sure how much fun the two bridges across the river and Highway 170/Alligator Alley would be on a bike. I hate logging trucks.

Miles of this might be worth the car ride.
Of course, all this dirt road riding got me thinking. The Wildlife Refuge is a pretty enclosed area, with very low traffic. A 5.2 mile loop would be easy to mark and control. I haven't put on a dirt road ride/event in a few years. Maybe its time to have a race.

Gears are turning. I've pulled out some paperwork and started looking at permits. There may be a gravel grind (ugh) coming to Savannah this winter, after cyclo-cross season. Stay tuned.

The DART Gator Grind has a nice ring to it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rumble at Roebling Race Recap

This past weekend was Hilton Head Cycling's annual Rumble at Roebling road. Race track events have practically become a discipline of their own in this region, with races taking place in Savannah at Roebling Road and Hutchinson Island, and Charleston's annual Double Down circuit race. Racing on a stock car track makes for relatively easy (financials aside) promotion, as the course is self-contained and doesn't require traffic control. Courses are typically WIDE OPEN which makes for safe racing as well... hopefully

The DART boys and I lined up for the 3/4 race on Saturday without any real plan. I was on track for another 12+ hour week on the bike and had little idea how my legs would feel. They didn't feel great. I pretty much felt worked over from the very start of the race. I don't know if that was because of the training time I had put in, or because I lined up for a circuit race with a 46 tooth chainring on my cyclo-cross bike.

I felt like I spent a decent amount of time covering the front of the race. I figured that Sid had the best chance today, and I wanted to make sure nothing too threatening got away without covering it, or getting him in it. I tried to get away a few times myself, but never got any real separation from the group. Without much of a plan or strategy, though, we managed to get JP in second and Sid fourth on the day.


Sunday brought a pair of races for me. Both days offered a chance to line up twice, but I had to leave for work at the shop after the morning race. On Sunday, I planned to line up for both the 3/4 race at 9:10 and the 4/5 race at 1:45. Knowing that I had a second race, in the peak heat of the day, had some effect on the way I planned to race in the morning. My dead legs on Saturday weren't very inspiring either.

I knew that Sid wanted to get in a move, so our plan was to try to make that happen early and, if nothing got away, to line it up for JP in the sprint at the end. I volunteered to cover early moves, and got into a less than inspiring break early in the race. Gregg got himself into a promising looking move later, but attacks in the break saw him return to the bunch.

When I saw Gregg coming back, I attacked to try to either bridge or inspire the chase. I didn't manage to get away, but things were definitely trying to heat up. Secret teammate, Tim, wanted to be in the break of the day also and started making moves of his own. A few times, he and Sid were either just off the front, or working to get separation. After a lap or two of covering moves at the front of the group, I was gassed. Tim and Sid managed to get some separation and a group had formed so I decided to let it go and call it a day.

I made the wrong call. The group that went up the road was growing, and was getting too large to even call it a break. The field had split in two. When the move going up the road bridged to the leaders, there were 13 riders in the front, and 8 or 9 of us left riding in the second group. I didn't have much left to chase, and was happy riding at a leisurely pace at the front of our group. I didn't want to spend up any of my remaining teammates, including JP, in a chase knowing that it would take away matches for the sprint and for the afternoon race. We let the group go, and settled for sprinting out of the grupetto.

We did kill the leadout for JP though. Best leadout we've done all season. For 14th place.

The afternoon race was on track to be miserable. We managed to rest up in the DART compound, listening to music and goofing off, while attempting to stay off our feet as much as possible. It was easily in the upper 90s when we lined up, potentially low 100s or 1000s, and super windy. I figured that the race would be slow and sketchy.

A single rider rolled off the front at the start whistle. I don't think he meant to, but none of us were interested in riding hard. When we brought him back, attacks started going. I knew I wanted to be in a break in this smaller race, and that the field would be easy to control when something got established. Again, after following moves over and over, I was starting to lose my spark. I saw a group going and, knowing I couldn't follow, motioned for JP to cover. That was the move of the day and I settled in to make sure no one joined.

Covering the front of the race started to get sketchy and after following one attack, I found myself off the front alone when the other rider stopped pedaling. Someone else bridged to me in no man's land, and I asked if he would prefer to go back to the group to get out of the wind. Instead, we stubbornly kept riding.

JP dragged his group around for the rest of the race, and won the sprint from the front of the breakaway. I'm not sure anyone was really able to challenge him, even after the pulls he was taking. I put in a half-hearted effort at the line and wound up fifth. Still, it's hard to say "no" to a top five in the third race of the weekend.

The most striking statistic from the race is that we started with 14 riders. 10 finished. 7 finished on the lead lap. It was hot and stupid.

So, this has potential to be my last road race of the year. I'm tempted to go to Atlanta for two more crits, but will likely choose to do a 50+ mile gravel race instead. It's closer to home and gets me some more base miles on my 'cross bike. After all, 'cross is on its way.

To the winner goes the butt grabs

Thursday, August 4, 2016

...all I ever wanted

One of the many reasons I lucked out when I met Jen is that her family has a lake house in Gilmanton Iron Works, NH. "Grammi's cottage" was built in 1925 on the shores of Crystal Lake and has been host to decades of Huling family gatherings, and two years of my personal escape from the humidity.

Last year, we were only able to go for the weekend of July 4th, but this year we managed to scoot away from our jobs for a week of relaxing in New England. I was pretty giddy about the trip for the few weeks leading into it and, luckily, it went off without a hitch.

For Jen, GIW represents years of family memories. It's a special place for her that I can't even begin to describe. It's a pretty special place for me too, just for a few different reasons. Mostly because the riding is fantastic.

I think I've mentioned it here before, but I love base training almost as much as I love racing itself. While there is something great about mid-season workouts where you simply ride out, blast through some intervals and then call it a day, nothing compares to the long hours spent on the bike and the anticipation of the upcoming season that you get during your base period. Unfortunately, as a cyclo-cross racer in Savannah, that means three-hour rides in the hottest part of the year. Savannah also lacks in trail options. The trails that are here are pretty fantastic for 'cross training, but there are only two main trail systems that I ride on a regular basis and the loops can get old quickly.

Gilmanton offers a million training options that fit in perfectly with my training this time of the year. Unlike Savannah, there's loads of elevation change and the town and outlying areas are inundated with dirt options. My first day in town, I found myself riding snowmobile trails and exploring a nature preserve. The view at the top of the climb was fantastic but the ride back down the hill, a fast double-track descent riddled with roots and rocks, was almost too much for my Van Dessel Gin and Trombones with 28mm road tires.

Practically every ride took me down a new dirt road or trail that I hadn't seen previously. I promise that I tried to stay focused on my workouts and intervals, but it was tough to pass up on the miles and miles of dirt in favor of tarmac. On my second to last ride in town, I stumbled into a town forest after getting a little bit lost at the top of a dirt road climb (turning around wasn't an option because I'm stubborn). What I found was a system of double track and snowmobile trails that can be ridden all the way into the next town. Vacation may have to be two weeks next year.

So my vacation training camp saw me hit 12:30 on the bike. This is one of the biggest weeks I've done since the winter leading into the road/mountain bike season. It just further convinced me that riding on the road is silly, and that every ride should be on dirt or trails. After this, I'm ready to give up parking lot crits in favor of a spring and summer spent solely on dirt next year. Not only did the trip give me a chance to wind down from a relatively stressful summer, it reinvigorated my desire to train and race. I had a lot of fun thrashing my bike around, and I'm pretty excited to keep pushing into the coming 'cross season.

So with that, welcome back to the blog. Let's see how long it lasts this time, huh?




Slick tires and rocky climbs didn't mix on the first day of the trip

View from the top




Short snowmobile trip to Alaska


Did not commit to the rut

The only way to properly end a vacation: outdoor shower beers (sorry, Southbound)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

License and registration

It really is starting to feel like 'cross season around here. I keep breaking stuff, school is starting to kick into overdrive and the thermometer is dropping while the rain gauge fills. Are rain gauges actually a thing?

It didn't feel anything like 'cross season on Sunday, though, as we ventured up to Spartanburg for my first real USAC race of the season. It was hot. Really hot.

This is the fourth year of Spartancross (formerly the Va Du Mar 'cross race). I've plenty of great memories from this race. 2010 when it was in the low 40s and pissing rain and I just barely missed out on a podium spot. 2011 when Steve Noiret and I tag teamed the podium two days in a row AND came home with some money. 2012 when the race moved locations and turned into a four race series. I was hoping to continue the string of awesome this year.
I was sort of disappointed by the preregistration numbers for the race. Two years ago, South Carolina had two independent series operating in the upstate and in Charleston. Last year, that number dropped to one series in Spartanburg and 2 independent weekends of racing in Charleston. This year we only have three 'cross races in state. I can't be super critical since I'm skipping states for the sake of SECCC Conference Finals but at the same time, it's sad to see 'cross lose priority in SC. Maybe next year I'll put my money where my mouth is and organize a race in Columbia.

I digress...

Our race started with 9, so the turnout picked up from the two riders that were pre-regged. On the start line, the officials combined us with the 1/2s (but scored us separately), putting 14 people on the hot, technical course at 11am.

The course took some getting used to for me. I'm not a huge fan of mountain bikey courses, but I think I dialed this one in enough that I could use my strengths in the spots where it suited me, and then push as much as I could when the course got tight.

My start wasn't exactly smooth. I started just off the side of the paved road that we were lined up on, and sort of wiggled when we started moving. I think I was third or fourth (behind the 1/2s) coming off of the long start stretch. Through the first wooded, twisty section I just sort of held my ground, not really racing just holding the wheel in front of me. Coming into the barriers, I swung outside, passed a few people over the barriers and on the run up and then found myself at the sharp end of the race. Going into the single track on the back side of the course I was just behind the 1/2 racers, and had a decent gap on the rest of my group.

Coming out of the woods and back onto the long paved road, I was in my drops and pushing hard to try to maintain my gap. I had high hopes coming into the race, but didn't expect to be leading on the first lap and I didn't know how much longer I could expect to lead on my own.

I didn't have to wonder for long. Midway through the second lap I overcooked a turn and found myself in the tape. A group of three passed me and I tried to get back on to their wheels.

I managed to hang on to the top three for... I don't know. My brain was fried. It was melting from both the heat and overexertion of racing 'cross and every lap felt like an eternity. Probably half way through the race I was no longer holding on to a podium spot, and was racing with one rider to round out the top five.

There were a couple times I planned to just settle in and accept fifth place and try to keep both lungs in my chest. I decided to keep racing though, and hung on to my one rival's wheel.

I decided, on the second to last lap, to start setting myself up for the finish. I wanted to ride in front of the guy I was racing with so that I could control the pace on the single track, where he clearly outclassed me. The speed dialed back a little bit, I just tried to ride smooth, and pick good, safe lines. Coming to one to go I still had my nemesis on my wheel, and he seemed happy to stay there. Going into the back-to-back barrier/run up section I hit the go button. I took the barriers as fast and cleanly as I could, hopped back on the bike and tried to carry some speed into the run up. At the top of the hill, I had a gap. I hopped back on and continued to push the pace as much as I could. The unfortunate part of this strategy was that the barriers/run up were maybe 1/4 of the way through the course, but the single track was the last section before the 300 meter finishing road. I was hoping to hold a big enough advantage into the single track that whatever time he made up would still keep him out of reach for a sprint. That's not what happened.

I came out of the woods with him right on my wheel. I know I shouldn't have done this, but I did-- I opened the sprint. I know that the first one to sprint is always the loser, but I hoped to get an early jump and to wind up enough speed to keep him out of reach. Coming to the line, I was drifting right. Dirty poker, I know. I wasn't deviating suddenly or violently or maliciously, even. I was just trying to close the door before he came through. He yelled and, out of fear of repercussions from the officials, I stopped drifting, and got pipped by a tire width.

So, bummer. Decent result. I was actually really happy with the race. I just wish I could keep my brain in my head for the entire 45-50 minutes I was racing. Stupid mistakes seem to catch up with me pretty regularly. I played my cards though and losing the sprint was a dice roll, not too upset by that.

Afterward, we watched the 35+ and 45+ races and partied on Bristol's Berg. There were short jorts, beers and a giant cut out of my head. Cause 'cross is competitive and hard and maybe sometimes I do take it too seriously but at the end of the day, we're all lucky to be out there having a good time and enjoying each others' company.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Not if, but when

The comment "you spend more time crashing that bike than on it" was made to me at work this morning. Sure, I've crashed my bike a couple of times this month, but the only reaction I had was "he just doesn't get it".

I don't want to crash my bike. I've broken a shifter and a helmet this month, it kind of hurts to lift my shoulder right now and a few weeks ago I grew a water balloon on my knee. But we know, at least the ones who get it, that it's all worth it. The good races, events, trips, weekends all make it worth it. This doesn't even mean you have to win, or get a decent result. When you have a good one, you know it's good.

To be super cliche and quote Fight Club, "One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort.  A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection" (this reference is blatantly stolen from sipclipandgo.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/cyclocross-is-fight-club-with-bikes/). This year has been super up and down. I've had a lot of bad weekends, but those good races, the ones that you work hard for, the ones that are worth the effort keep you going.

I started my cyclo-cross season a few weeks ago in Asheville. After a good weekend in Anderson, I was expecting a good 'cross open. This isn't what I got. I wasn't stoked on the course, and the "grass crit" tires weren't stoked on the off-camber, dewy turns. I ate it hard going into the long single track section of the course and wound up all sorts of tangled up in my bike. My foot was stuck in my front wheel, my bars slipped almost all the way down and I as sprawled across the entire trail holding up traffic. The screwy bars affected both my handling and my brakes. It was this crash that banged my knee up, and added a scar to the collection. A few minutes later, trying to make up lost ground, I hit the ground again, on an off camber turn. I took my pit bike in hopes of getting some handling back, but I dropped the chain coming out of a corner, and basically called it a day.

 SON OF A...

Two weeks later, though, it was a completely different story. The second 'cross race of the season was at Carrier Park in Asheville. I've raced here lots, and had decent results. It was chilly outside, and super rainy. My gear was better: I had mud tires glued up and ready to go and I had silly buttons on my skinsuit. It was the makings of a great day.

I wasn't in a great position when the start whistle blew, but I was top five going into the first real section of the course- the double sand pit. By the end of the first lap, I was clear into the top three. Somewhere in the middle of the second lap, I realized that my right shifter stopped doing its job. I couldn't get into a bigger cog, but it took a couple of shifters to smaller cogs before I realized this. Not having the ability to spin an easier gear through the thick mud and sand or being able to really crank out of turns cost me some speed, and a few positions. I was able to keep using the conditions to my advantage though, and drove through the parts that really suited me. It wasn't an easy trip and it wasn't quite the result I wanted, but 7th place in my second 'cross race made everything feel pretty good.

This is really my best look

This past weekend was a mixed bag. It's hard to go into a long gravel road race expecting any sort of result when you don't fancy yourself as a roadie or an endurance racer. Really it was a way for me to try to have a really wacky/fun experience plus get some hard miles... I did most of that.

It really was fun, it just hurt. A lot. Like a hell of a lot. I flatted out of the main group 13 miles into the 65 mile race on Saturday. Then maybe halfway through I crashed. Hard. I hit a muddy pothole wrong and went over the bars, landing on my face a tweeking my right shoulder. Starting Sunday was a feat in and of itself, finishing with any sort of speed was out of the question completely. 

The weekend was a success for a different reason though. I got to race/ride with Steve Noiret for the first time in years, and I got to race with two KindHuman teammates. Adam was happy to debut his Sprinbok steel cyclo-cross bike, and rode it to second in the 32 mile one day race. Temporary teammate/bro Myles Lietzke won our race on Saturday, finished third on Sunday and won the overall. I was super stoked for them, despite barely being able to move.

Even though stairs are my mortal enemy right now and I doubt I broke the top-ten overall, I'm happy with this weekend. You can't always measure success in results, or costs in damages. I came out of this weekend knowing I can get up and keep pushing forward. I got to hangout with great dudes. And most importantly, I verified that I am a 'cross racer through and through. Moster importantly, I don't have to do another 140 miler gravel stage race this year. Ow.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Three-peat

So, I guess this is it. The new season is officially underway. What that meant for me over the past week was laying all sorts of rubber on I-26 driving from Columbia to Charleston on Tuesday, and then from Columbia to Greenville/Anderson over the weekend. This was basically the week-long summary of the past few weeks of my life: setting up temporary camp on the north and south ends of 26 and bouncing home just to recharge for a few days.

Tuesday Night Worlds: Charleston, SC 8/27/13

I think Myles Lietzke and I have known each other basically as long as I've been racing bikes. When I found out that he was organizing weeknight crits in North Charleston in August and September, I knew I had to make it to at least one. Plus, I'll pretty much take any excuse to go to the low country.

It was a pretty sweet, short, kinda technical course with what was basically a u-turn at the top of the hill on the front stretch. The course took it's toll on some of the dudes that lined up with my teammate Adam Abramowicz and I, with crashes thinning out the field pretty quickly. 

Everyone's favorite race promoter, Myles, threw out a prime on the first lap. Adam had a few choice words for him (before even clipping in), but I decided that winning a pair of socks would be a good way to get warmed up for the rest of the race. After missing the prime by about two places, I decided to sit in and try to figure out that damn first turn. After about half of the race I finally found out how to ride it without losing teeth on the road or sprinting out of the corner. 

With three or four laps to go I followed a move that was already up the road. As soon as I caught the lone rider he quit pedaling and I was on my own off the front of the race. I felt decent enough, but I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for the field to catch me. Secretly, I was hoping they would so I wouldn't have to ride my brains out anymore. When they did finally bring me back, I knew I didn't have anything left and just spun in by myself. This was probably the safest bet as there was a crash at the back of the group on the last lap. I appreciate my skin and want to keep it on my own body.

The evening was punctuated by beers and dinner at Madra Rua in North Charleston. It was awesome getting to wind down from an evening race with some of my best friends, and combining my cycling buds with my, well, not cycling buds was pretty awesome. I'm sure I was a great host since I think I'd dropped my brain halfway through the race.

Celebrate Anderson Day One 8/31/13

Despite racing on Tuesday, this was really my first serious race in preparation for the 2013-2014 'cross season. This course was... bizarre. Five mile neutral roll out to the actual course, the back stretch was basically rolling uphill all the way to ANOTHER U-TURN, then rolling downhill to ANOTHER U-TURN for five laps. They were throwing out primes like pretend dollar bills in a rap video, which I didn't expect at what was advertised as a circuit race. The wide open and non-selective nature of the course meant that no one was getting away. So my day was basically over. 

Another prime early in the race meant that I was going to test my legs again. I think I came across fourth or fifth, but omnium points were only going to the top three. The downhill finish meant that I was at a serious disadvantage today and I learned that when I lost this prime. 

I was kind of hoping that I could capitalize on the bottom u-turn and accelerate hard going into the hill on the backstretch, but the straight away was so long that everyone could see any attempted break and it was easy to organize and bring an escapee back to the group. 

The only break of the day was reeled in on the last lap, and I put in a dig at the top of the hill to try to escape going into the first turn. I was brought back pretty quickly and then sat on the front of the group coming down the hill just waiting for everyone to come around. I knew I wasn't big enough physically and didn't have a big enough kick to have any success in the sprint so I decided that coming home safely and alone was the best idea. 

I wasn't upset with rolling in at the back of the group. I'm not really racing for results anyway, and if this is all about fitness then I'm pretty sure I won at training. 

Celebrate Anderson Day Two 9/1/13

Today's course was way, way cooler. Seven laps totaling 19 miles on a twisty, rolling course around the Anderson Civic Center. It was basically a paved 'cross course. I was pleased

I left at a reasonable time, but because the parking lot was ostensibly in the middle of the race and the helpful police guiding us to the lot didn't exactly direct us effectively (there was no reason to send us to the mall, I imagine the Anderson mall sucks and it was in the opposite direction from where we needed to be), I didn't have a lot of time to get ready. When I was warming up with Adam today, something was missing. I think I overworked myself on Saturday and I was lagging behind today. I was hoping that I would be able to ride into the race, but it just didn't happen. 

I wasn't really cornering super effectively today and I think I spent a lot of energy working to stay on the back of the pack. At one point I rolled to the front of the race and decided to put in a soft attack. I managed to get a small gap and had a group of about six riding with me. We tried to get everyone to work together and maybe try to stay away but I didn't have enough left to work and the group never gelled enough to hold our gap.   

I sat in the main pack for a little while longer and with two laps to go Chad Andrews rang the bell for a $25 gamblers' prime. I'm both a bike racer and in college so basically I'm one step above a pill addict and $25 is a ton of money. I struck a deal with a rider I met the day before and went to the front of the group about 2/3 through the lap. Coming out of the second to last corner I stood and hammered. There was a junior on my wheel, but no one else followed and we had a healthy split. Hitting the home stretch in front of the Civic Center I still had my gap but I was ready for the junior to come around. He never did and I made back a little bit of my registration fee. Going up the hill after the first turn I pulled off to let the junior do some work but my legs weren't taking anymore calls. I was blown the hell up and my pedals just didn't turn anymore. The whole group blew by my and I rolled home nice and softly.

So, again no result. I didn't feel great but I'm pretty happy with my ability to push through my leg-block and make a little bit of money. I was able to basically work for 45 minutes, and that's all I really need for 'cross anyway, I guess... right?

Spent a few nights on couch cushions on the floor, hung out with solid dudes I only get to see at bike races, ate ALL OF THE FREE FOOD and made a little bit of my money back. I'm not tearing the cycling world apart, but I'm pleased with my fitness right now. I still think that 'cross season is going to be solid, but I guess we'll find that out this weekend in Asheville.