Monday, November 14, 2011

The most fun that’s been had at the seminary in some time…

Sorry Seminarians.  Being a seminary drop-out, I know good things can happen on the campus, but few things as fun as a proper cyclocross.  Fortunately Off The Front Racing put on a proper cyclocross.  It was my favorite course of the year thus far (including Sunrise Park in Chicago).  The course featured diverse surfaces (dirt, mud, grass, pavement, wood-chips, leaves, roots) with plenty of fun transitions.  It also had four “dismount suggestions”: 2 stair sections, a double barrier, and a log (on an uphill sector).

The plan for the weekend was to double up on Saturday as I had commitments on Sunday.  I got a late start leaving the house (but with family!) and I got registered for the B’s and A’s.  I snuck in a little pre-riding (without disrupting racers) so I knew some of the trouble I was in!  Got a poor starting spot and didn’t move up really until the barriers on the first lap.  I was really proud of my barrier work this weekend.  I’ve been working on barriers and I think it’s finally starting to pay off.  I received two compliments from my peers (“Were you a hurdler in H.S.?”), so I think this isn’t just perception – I regularly passed guys there.  I’m not going to say what/how I’ve trained this as I had to work to get it!  
Jumping the barrier.  Photo Credit: Ragfield.
After a lap or two I had moved up into the top ten and saw Peat (Have Fun), Matt (Big Shark), Peter (Big Shark), Patrick (OTF), and Rich (Dogfish) with a nice gap.  I had Mark (Big Shark) on my 6 and I wasn’t interested in getting beaten by him (again).  So I just worked to keep the pressure on, making things hard for Mark.
Mark was my shadow for several laps.  He's beaten me too much this year, so I had to hurt myself to get up the trail!  Photo Credit: Ragfield.

I soon caught up to Matt and worked with him for a bit which gave me some rest in the windy sections.  Patrick was in difficulty so we soon overtook him.  Unfortunately Peat, Rich, and Peter had a comfy 20 seconds on Matt and I, so I had my work cut out for me.  I attacked Matt through the barriers and kept the pressure on for a bit.  Fortunately, it worked and Peat was my next target.  He remained elusive, and it’s no surprise – he is an excellent bike handler and that course sure rewarded those skills!

Rich and Peter duked it out for the finish with Rich winning in a sprint at the line.  Congrats to Rich, I think that’s his first win.  That’s just what he needed in the Bubba Series Points Competition.  Can he catch Matt?  Will Peter win out to win it?  It will be fun to watch that unfold in the next month!

Thanks to my friend Rob "Ragfield" for shooting the race.  It's too bad he didn't get to race (cause he's not just fast with the camera), next time!

‘A’ Race

Grabbed a gel, swapped jerseys, downed some water and hoped in the grid for the “A” race.  I got a little argy-bargy with Scott (Ritte van Vlaanderen/Seagal) (all in good fun), and worked my way up in the field a bit.  The CX racing has finally paid off with my lower back strengthening up so that it didn’t “die” on me till 30+ minutes into the second race (it’s the little victories).  Anyway, Carl (Green Street Realty) was riding smooth and fast so I just tried to hang on to his wheel.  I could see the big dogs (Kurt (708), Johnson + Schottler (Big Shark), Sam (Canyon), and others) up the trail a bit, but I kept telling myself the good words of DoubleJ (MWI): “Remember, this thing is an hour long!”  After recovering on Carl’s wheel I think I attacked him and Stu (OTF).  Carl was complaining about his ribs (recovering from a crash/fracture?), but until then he didn’t look like an injured racer!

Up and over.  Photo Credit: Dennis Fickinger.

About this time my back started killing me and I began bleeding spots to better racers.  There was some dueling with Dennis (Dogfish) but I let Rock (The Hub) go by uncontested.  I got a second wind to finish strong and was pleased with my results: 4th and 11th on the day!  Plus the course was just a blast to ride.  On some courses the technical features just suck.  The whole time you’re thinking: “this is stupid, this feature is just annoying”.  But the course was challenging and fun.  It seemed to have everything (you want in a veldrijden) including that je ne sais quoi, flow.


My wife and I are in the process of joining a local church, so we attended a membership “class” so everybody understands what they’re getting into.  Well, the class (while interesting and deserving of several blog posts of its own) ended an hour early.  While driving home I looked at the clock and thought “Could I make it to the race?”  The possibility was completely off the table, but quickly considered with the wife, it was now available.  What fun!  I packed the car and drove a little on the fast side over to Creve Coeur to line up for the A’s.   Let’s just say that when I got out of the car I already had everything but my helmet and number on!

I had enough time to ask Mark Ewers to pin my number and pre-ride the course.  Without a warm-up I knew it would hurt, and the A’s delivered.

The course was a standard Bubba (as I’ve come to know them).  Not much climbing, a little bumpy, dry, but rewarded smooth cornering.  One set of double barriers, and everybody’s favorite: a healthy dose of wind.
Dwayne G. (Dogfish) won the B’s outright, so he lined up for the A race.  I knew how he was feeling: nice and primed but probably wondering what he had in the tank for the last 20 minutes.  I made some early passes.  The odd one was going around “Butthead” (Big Shark).  Soon enough though, on a straight-away I tried to hold his wheel up to the top 5-6.  Blowed up.  Turns out he joined his teammate Schottler and they went 1-2.  
Tightening the screws on Dennis through the barriers.  Photo Credit: Creed Monster!

I rode with Rock till he dropped me, then did battle with Dennis and Trent to avoid being last place.  Dwayne started running out of gas towards the end of the race and I did overtake him.  His indomitable good spirits make him the best and worst carrot ever.  “C’mon Mark, you’ve almost caught me!” he cried, grinning ear to ear.  If you’re in “competitor mode” it may grate on you, but if you know Dwayne, he’s just gushing encouragement and loving every minute of the racing fun.  The next man up the trail was Chris (Big Shark) and I was getting closer to him but couldn’t close the gap.  Maybe another lap?  Maybe not.

Big ups to Scott for breaking into the top 5 for the first time.  It was good to see so many of my bike friends, I sure like the StL.  Thanks to my wife, OTF, Big Shark, and the officials for letting me play bikes.  Such a good time.  Also, thanks to Mesa Cycles for loaning me the Fizik tester saddle and gluing my tubulars.  The two have been awesome and make the entire CX experience that much better.

Next up: work trips to AR and maybe my last race of 2011: Bubba CX 11(?)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Things In Kansas

Things in Kansas work a little differently.  A guy who DNFs gets better points than the guy that wins by a landslide...

Lining up near the back of the Men's Open field in Shawnee, KS for the 360Cup, I had a decent start.  Following John Jones' wheel I tried to learn the lines on the technical course.  Through the barriers and into the final turn of lap 1 I overtook some guys and got tangled up with Lawrence Simonson, sending my rear brake into my spokes.  I lost some places fixing it but started gaining a few back in the subsequent laps.  Joe Schmalz lapped me, as did Andrew Coe.  This informed me that I suck at cyclocross.  Then my rear derailluer cable came loose and I packed it in, DNF (yes, I informed the officials).  This informed me that I suck at life.

So far the story sounds reasonable, right?  Then how does USAC score me with "better" points than the guys who lapped me? Of lesser importance, how do they also have the wrong team for me?  C'est la vie.

This kind of thing doesn't bode well for those who need it to work for nationals/world's call-ups.  Regardless, thanks to 360Racing for putting on a great event on a tough course.  That off-camber stuff was wicked!

Anyway, the family had a good time in KS visiting my folks and got to see my siblings (minus a bro-in-law).  My little bro bagged two pheasants on a youth hunt w/ a bird dog.  That's pretty cool.  I sucked at CX but got to ride some gravel on Sunday.  The kids rode horses and we ate like kings (like you haven't notice from my skin-suit shots, yikes!  Between no-shave Novembeard and the weight, I'm heading into Santa Claus territory for the 2012 road season.  Perhaps I'm subconsciously becoming a fred?)  Great weekend.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Faust Park Bubba CX, a Stupid Tax, and No Good Rotten Sandbaggers

The Stupid Tax

Thursday night I was trying to eat healthy, so I cooked some salmon and put it on top of some greens for dinner.  The fish that I ate I thought was about a week old (should be ok, right?)  My wife informed me later when I was nauseous and dizzy that the fish that *I* purchased and *I* opened was probably closer to 3 weeks old.  It didn’t smell bad…

Yes, I paid a stupid tax.  It sucks to be sick due to something so foolish/preventable.  My main suggestion to any of you considering eating old fish – don’t.  

The entire episode is quite ironic because of the intensity of my desire to avoid processed/industrial foods, especially “fast food.”  And here I go eating old fish and getting sick.  Fortunately only I ate it and the kids and wife had something else.  Whew.  Also, the whole episode only took 24 hours to run its course.  

Bubba CX Faust Park Saturday

Saturday evening Faust Park hosted the next round of the Bubba series.  This was the coldest race yet, probably in the 40’s.  The course was the least technical CX course this year (out of 4) for me with only 4 or 5 technical turns per lap.  Pre-riding the course, the grass seemed way too long and everything seemed super bumpy.  My only thought was: my back is going to be cooked after 1 lap!  Fortunately several fields went over the course and packed the grass down enough that by the B race, it wasn’t so bad.

I bailed on the costume stuff – I just didn’t have the energy after the fishy stupid tax I paid Thursday/Friday.  So I lined up in the second row of the B race and had a great start.  An Off the Front racer (dressed as Buddy – bravo) won the hole shot and was really digging.  I got into third wheel behind Rich and sat tight for a few minutes as OtF blew up…so that’s what I look like normally!  I took the front about halfway through the lap and soon found myself with Rich and Pete (on a single speed!) with a little gap.  Realizing that the race was not 3 laps, I let someone else pull for a bit.  Pete and I kept it quick as Rich started to fade.  At this point Matt (dressed as a woman) began reeling us in.  Soon it was three again and that’s more or less how it would stay to the finish.  There were some attacks, counters, and bad lines taken but whenever one of us appeared done, they’d fight to get back on terms.

On the last lap each racer wanted a favorable position.  Matt was leading with 3-4 turns to go while I was second wheel.  Into a downhill off-camber turn (my fav on the course), Pete took me on the inside!  We still had a few 180’s left but I got a little gaped and was forced into chasing back to Pete’s wheel through them. 
The barriers framed the finish.  Since the finish was downhill from the barriers, I reasoned that whoever got to the barriers first had this thing in the bag.  Coming into the left hand climb I sprinted up and gained the first spot, keeping it clean and fast through the barriers, thus sealing my first cat 3 CX win.

To curb my enthusiasm, I immediately lined up for the 1/2/3 (A) race.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to race the next day and I wanted another race start.  Beginning near the back I finished at the back - second to last.  It was basically a fun workout once the field got away from me.  Sadly, I got lapped by the podium, but I still had a good time fighting off last place.

After the finish Johnny served me up a bowl of chili and gave me a Bud Light (perhaps my first ever – not certain).  It was perfect in that moment.  Though I think about anything would have tasted good after that second race!  (Anything but fish, of course.)

The racing was encouraging as I felt I drove my bike better than previous races and my back didn’t give out in the first race.  Progress is progress!  

Sandbagger Ranting and CX Categories

There has been talk lately of sandbagging in our local series.  It’s pretty off-putting for me as internet ranting usually does not correlate to actually talking with people face(book) to face(book).

For my own part, I don’t think I’m ready to upgrade.  I haven’t met the performance requirement for the 3->2 license move, the road parity rule notwithstanding.  Also, as most of the races are on Sundays it’s quite difficult for me to race the A’s and still make it to church on time.  What’s worse, being called a bagger by whiny people (like myself) or not racing?  I think I’ll chance it with the whiners for the next month.

The nice thing about being a CX cat 3 is the variety.  If I want to race later, I can hop in the 1/2/3’s.  Earlier?  The B’s (3/4s).  Want to get smoked?  Double up on the A+B races or 3’s and 1/2/3’s in Chicago.  It really seems to be the best option right now.  Also, now that I’m officially old according to cyclocross, I can do the 30+ races when offered.  The triple fun day (30+, 3’s, 1/2/3’s) is tempting.  I haven’t done it yet but maybe if I want 3 lackluster results in a single day… I think next year will favor quality over quantity.


Finally, if you read this (wow!) and you race in the StL, give a thought to my friend and future teammate BJ “The Coach” Keane.  If the guy could go more than 3 laps without breaking a: spoke, chain, saddle, or rolling a tire, why, I think he might win again.  I think he has the Gateway Cross Cup Sandbagger Curse™.  I haven’t told it to his face(book), but he’s such a sandbagger, being a cat 4 CXer and (presumptive) cat 2 road racer.  *cough*

Ironic Self Referential Addendum:  If you missed the irony of the preceding section, I can't help you.  However, I think there is a real chance some of you might in fact "miss it" (hence this note) and this note is, ironically, my attempt to help you.  Wow, that was like The Matrix or something.

But the real irony of this piece is in the decrying of the sandbag whiners.  Sandbag whiners anonymously complain about others without (usually) naming them and insinuate some fault on the accused-baggers part.  Here of course, in this very blog, I have risen above them to call out some fault in the sandbagwhiners under a pseudonym!  This makes me no different, of course except, in writing this I acknowledge that I in fact know better.  Hmm.

This all begs the question: to what end do sandbagwhiners and smarmy bloggers call foul?  As I mentioned earlier, if they truly wanted what was best for the "accused", they would go to them face to face rather than bloviate anonymously.  I must conclude that I (and they) do not really want whats best for the other.  By process of elimination, it's not hard to guess who they are trying to serve with their comments.

Further Irony Which I Importune You to Consider in this David Foster Wallace Mini-Homage*:

After writing all that other crap I realized the name of the park.  Oh the tantalizing narrative possibilities.  

*Please pronounce "homage" like "oma" plus the "g" sound from "entourage." Please.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Love that Lasts + Sunrise Park CX

This past weekend the wife and I headed to Naperville for a marriage seminar hosted by Sovereign Grace Church wherein the Ricucci’s presented the material from their book “Love that Lasts.”  I thought it was really well done and reminded me how fortunate I’ve been to be close friends with several couples “ahead” of us who have healthy marriages.  The seminar was a “one off”, but I recommend the book.  By the way, it’s better to do stuff like this when things are going well than to wait till you two aren’t talking and investing your emotional stock elsewhere.
My wife cares for me enough not only to recommend the seminar but also to throw in that “there’s a cyclocross race the next day.”  Booyah. 
Bartlett played host to the sixth stop on the Chicago Cyclocross Cup circuit.  Last year I traveled up to this race and won the 4B’s (the beginners race), a race I had no business being in!  But I ate a hot dog while sandbagging, and I promised never to do it again.  This year I doubled up in the 3’s and the 1/2/3’s.
The course was fantastic: smooth with plenty of turns, power sections, a little wind, some uphill ramps, off-camber spiral, and the “six pack” of barriers.  Weather was perfect: 60’s with sun.

Through the brutal "6 Pack." Photo Credit: Josh Gore.

I felt good in warm-ups but didn’t eat enough on the day and had myriad other excuses which I’ll save.
In the 3’s I lined up in the 5th row (they call everybody up, so no finagling!) and I moved up into the top 15 or so before bleeding back to 20th (out of 70).  Not bad.  CX is so tough mentally and with a weak/fat body, it’s even tougher.  But it is fun in some weird sense and I do enjoy the release of competition and pushing myself.
I honestly thought about bailing on the 1/2/3’s but after some water and a hammer gel I convinced myself to line up.  Barry Wicks was staged behind me, which is hilarious.  He won, from last in the grid.  If the first race hurts, let me tell you, the second race REALLY hurts!  I was racing alright until I tried to make a pass of a bike heaven rider before a turn and didn’t come around in time.  He put me into the tape (which I probably deserved) and that killed a lot of momentum.  Nick Ramirez (Psimet/Enzo’s) passed me while I got my bike untangled and encouraged me to get back in it – which was very helpful.  My lovely wife caught some of this race and I guess I was having such a good time from the looks of it that she shouted: "it's almost over!" 
My Fango/Grifo tubies were perfect for driving in Sunrise Park.
Photo Credit: Cameron Pease.

I soon hooked up with Kevin Flowers (Wheelfast) and we rolled together the remaining laps.  I didn’t have much power but I could drive a few sections cleaner than him.  It ended up that we caught an Iron Cycles rider and the three of us worked together to avoid being lapped by Wicks.  By “work together” I mean I took token pulls for like 2 straights and then sucked wheel.  Oh, and our “working together” extended to me bumming a drink from Kevin.  Water never felt so refreshing!  I promised that I would pull to the line if he gave me a drink and I was true to my word.  I did pull, but then I pulled faster until I had a gap.  Lesson: never help a wounded road racer.  They are no good sons of guns! 

The Chicago race afforded a chance to say hello to guys I won’t see until March or April on the road.  It was good to catch up a little and remind myself that there are some strong dudes to face off against in 2012.  This winter is not a time for complacency!

The whole weekend was a blast.  Big ups to my in-laws for taking the kids for the weekend.  I’m very thankful for the chance to spend an entire weekend with my best friend, race my bike, and just have fun.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bubba Opening Weekend

The three weeks between Dogfish Hermann CX and the Bubba opening weekend did not go as planned.  The first long ride on the cx bike (5 hours) produced knee pain that forced me off the bike – not cool!  

So the Bubba opening weekend races were at Queeny park on the west side of StL.  The knee behaved leading up to it so I decided to give it a go.  I’d never been to Queeny so I made it out early on Saturday to ride a few laps before dark.  The course was quite bumpy and featured two barriers, two steep ride-ups, and one scary descent into the parking lot.  A few extra turns were added on Sunday.  The barriers seemed really tight (not a complaint, just an observation) such that at speed (which, if you saw me you’d call it “slow”,) I could only take one step before jumping over the next barrier.  I guess I should be thankful I had that moment of feeling like Ryan Trebon.

Saturday’s race: I got a third row starting position which was just average.  I moved up into fourth before bleeding a bit when the back locked up and I had to slow.  One thing I don’t understand is how guys lined up on the first row and then ran the steep ramp on the first lap.  If you can’t ride it, why are you in front of everyone else?  Know thyself!

Sam Moore rode away with the race, having strength and skillz.  I was doing battle with Rich for a while and after recovering a bit on his wheel I came around and hoped to ramp it up.  Unfortunately I caught a tree branch with my eye on the 180 leading into the barriers.  Oh well.  I finished 7th which was respectable and consistent with my Hermann results.  This, despite ribbing from my roadie compatriots, shows I belong in the ‘B’ race.
How to Blow a Turn... Photo Credit: Mike Dawson.

I should mention that with the mid October evening the temps were cool – mid 50’s, which is well into knee warmer territory for me.  I used Enzo’s Embro Stick (Medium) instead, and it worked great.  This was my second race using the product and I’m pleased with performance.

Sunday the heat was hot, my mouth was dry, but the air was full of sound – or something like that.  My teammate Nick showed up to watch and watered me every time through the pit.  I started out going pretty well but by lap three the heat (80's!) and my back got the better of me and I was toast, going from trading first place with Sam to eventually 15th.  I finished in 14th after gaining a place back from Sunny.  The race was one giant tactical mistake on my part.  I thought I’d have the gas to keep going when I saw the front but I lost my cool.  Just foolishness!  Know thyself!  I guess during the race I figured that I was fast, but I’m not – yet.  
Finally, after the chain drop imbroglio at Hermann (my own fault), I adjusted the chain keeper and guess what…it kept the chain on, even on that sick bumpy section near the s/f.
Nuetella sponsorship?  Photo Credit: Mike Dawson.

The family joined me for Sunday’s race and got to see daddy get all red-faced and dusty.  The kids seem to have more fun at CX races with the constant viewing opportunities, ample cowbell, and the local drive times.  Now if we could just get mommy on a cx steed…

Monday I got my back and legs taken care of by Kurt Fletcher who has a massage therapy business in StL.  He took second in the A race on Sunday so he knew how everything ached after the race weekend.  I strongly recommend the extra recovery massage affords.  I also should point out that with all the bumping and jarring of the Queeny Park course, I have zero chaffing or saddle sore issues thanks to Enzo’s Chamois Cream.  It’s not just for road season!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dogfish Hermann CX Race Report


The season has started and I feel 50 years older.  Back, legs, arms, feet, hands all have cuts, bruises, knots, and soreness.  With my body beat up, why am I so happy?

This past weekend was the Dogfish Hermann CX Weekend.  I was on the fence about racing the 3/4s or the 1/2/3s but decided to race the 3/4s to gain experience and to get back home for church on time Sunday evening.  I think I made the right choice.  We made it to church (though I was pretty strung out and covered in mud) and I have a lot of room to grow as a crosser!  Here’s the race rundown from my blue Kona:

Conditions were cool (high 50’s) and we were racing in the dark/under the lights.  About 40 guys lined up and the course was wet but not too sloppy.  I got a 2nd row start due to pre-reg order and promptly missed my pedal but moved up during the long paved hole shot.  I think I took the first turn in 10th wheel or thereabout.
The course was a lot of fun to race.  There were open power sections, lots of 180’s, a few off-camber bends, a double sand pit, 2 mini barriers, and 2 regulation barriers.  There were also a few swampy bits and a double staircase runup!  Lighting was ok and there was only one corner that was completely dark – right next to the band.  Yes, live band during the races!

At the front of the race BJ (Momentum) took the early lead with John (My Wife Inc) on his wheel.  I could see the two of them establishing a gap on the line of guys I was with as soon as the first bend around the baseball outfield!  I passed several guys on the stairs and worked my way up into the top 5 catching BJ during lap 3 (I think).  We rolled together for a bit until he slid out on a turn.  I think the two of us were evenly matched this weekend – he with the bigger motor but I with slightly better driving.  It wasn’t much of a difference but that’s how I think it was.
Huppin' through the 2nd sand pit.  Photo Credit: Dan Singer

Out front John was cruising along to a nice gap.  Some friends said I was chipping away at it but I never got within 20 seconds.  My back started to get to me and two Michelob Ultra riders were nipping at my heels.  Then I dropped my chain on a remount and bled 8 spots (my guard obviously was not set up correctly – by me!).  Big thanks to Revolution Cycles for getting me back in the race!  

I worked my way back up to 5th at one point but in my duels with Aaron Koch (Dogfish) I was bested, finishing 6th.

I watched a few laps of the 1/2/3s and saw former teammate Jason (Psimet) throwing down monster attacks with the area big dogs.  The kids and the wife were either sleeping or about to be and I needed rest before round two so I missed the finish.  It was a great day of racing though.

The forecast was for more heat and more water!  It rained enough overnight that the course Sunday morning was pretty swampy.   The masters coming off the course all told the same tale: don’t take the lines you can see!  It’s slick!  However, as the day went on the rain stayed away while temps went into the 70s (F) making a tacky track that was quite fun.

Another 40 (+/-) dudes lined up for 45 min in the crucible.  John (who won Saturday) won the hole shot and we foolishly let him start earning a gap on the ball field.  I couldn’t believe it, I was in 6th wheel and couldn’t move up!  Argh!  My legs weren’t so fresh for day two but I started passing people before the stairs and found myself with a little gap in 3rd by the end of the lap.  I wasn’t really comfortable out there and really felt the fatigue from yesterday, but I was chipping away at the guy in front of me.  

Due to the increased temps I didn’t use embrocation and I also stowed a bottle in my skinsuit between my shoulderblades.  This latter choice was a mistake as it was soon in my saddle area.  Rather than ride it out, I sat up on the road section and fished it out of the skinsuit.  I lost 3 or 4 places doing this dance.  Rather than messing with the bottle, I should have been RACING MY BIKE!  Aaron came flying past me during this time, since he was, y’know, racing his bike.  He was not going to wait for my shenanigans!
Flowing on Sunday!  Photo Credit: Jason Watkins

Well, I clawed one more place back from the guy who was in second earlier but blew up.  The closing laps I was getting closer to the fifth place rider but needed another lap to overtake him.  However, that last lap was zen-full of smooth cornering.  I felt like I could flow on the course that last lap!  I was finding my pedals, taking turns faster and smoother than previously, it’s like I finally “got” the course.  It is my hope that with more cx racing I can start to figure out how to ride a course before the last lap of the second race!!

Auditioning for Stomp?  Photo Credit: Jason Watkins

Big congrats to John on two decisive wins.  Also, thanks to Dogfish Apparel, the city of Hermann, and the promoter Jeff Yielding for putting on a great event.  Those of you who missed it, MISSED OUT!  The family and I are already looking forward to next year's event.

Lafayette Square Race Report

Lafayette Square

Labor Day weekend was flipped upside down on me as my work needed me in Arkansas Saturday through Monday, so the big introduction to the P/1/2s at Gateway Cup would not happen.  However, I was able to race Friday, and for that I’m thankful.

My teammate Kurt advised me to stay cool mentally as “it’s probably going to be the fastest and most dangerous crit you’ll ever do.”  Lol.  He added that he had been crashed out of the top 5 wheels before so…nobody is safe in the dark!  Yes, this race is run in the dark on flat ground.  It is great fun.

The field was pretty strong with real PROs showing up (Huff, Young, Dominguez, Sheerer, Jamis, Kenda, etc.) and plenty of strong amateurs gunning for a result.  I went from racer mode to fanboy when I got a pic with PRO crit champ Eric Young beforehand.  He was cool about it.  I also joked with Brad Huff going through turn 2 or 3.  We were racing around in fast circles and a group of (what sounded like) tweens were cheering rabidly.  I asked Huff if they were cheering for him or me, he said “they don’t know me, it must be for you!”  The other PRO watching moment was with about 10 minutes to go I was trying to stay to the front when as I took an inside line into turn 4 I noticed the Cuban Missile was to my left, bar to bar with me.  I didn’t say anything but it was a cool feeling.  I’m never going to receive a through ball from Messi, or tackle C. Rinaldo, but here I am with real PROs in the midst of the sport.  Pretty cool stuff.

The big surprise from the race was that I felt I belonged.  My concern coming in was that my legs would explode and my lungs would be singed as the PROs dropped kilowatts out of every corner.  It wasn’t like that.  It was fast (our first lap took 2 min on a 1 mile course, from a dead stop), but I could hang and move around the pack.  The realization came to me during the race in a Navin R. Johnson sort of “I’ve figured something out so I’m shouting it” kinda way.  Fortunately my breathing restricted this effect.

I also learned a bunch watching Sheerer, Frey, Huff, Young, and Dominguez during the race.  I’m not going to share any of that with you though.  You have to learn it for yourself!

So I ended the road season with a 43rd place finish (114 starters I think) and as a cat 2.  As much as cyclocross is exciting, I’m still sad that the road season is closed.  It hit me for the first time when I looked at my carbon racing wheels in the garage: I need to hang those up in the basement now.  I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that I won’t even be using them for six months.  Sad face.

Next up: Dogfish Hermann CX Weekend and an Embrocation Writeup (Review is too thorough for what I'm doing!)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sedalia/Otterville Weekend

I’m a pretty fortunate guy.  You see, this past weekend was my wedding anniversary and my wife let me go to the races.  Yeah, I’m a lucky guy.

Sedalia Crit [8/40]:

We stayed at the Hotel Bothwell.  Recommended.  Know going in that it was built during a different era, namely the era when people weren't so big and used to such big spaces.  As Cameron pointed out: "it's euro."  In the one bedroom we fit myself, my wife, two toddlers, and my road bike, so it wasn't that small.  After watching the 3/4 race (with teammate Eric holding off BJ by a whisker for third!) we tucked the kids to bed and I ran back out to warm-up for the 1/2/3 race.  Perhaps the best warm-up was the trip up/down 6 flights of stairs?

This was a night-crit in a small MO town.  A good mix of StL and KC racers turned up, I’d guess around 40 guys and Carrie Cash Wooten (kudos to her!).  The course was lit just so-so as turns 1 and 3 were pretty dark.  Ok, turn 4 was dark too.  Pavement was pretty good, a few bumps here and there but nothing awful.

A huge number of primes were offered, it felt like every other lap $20 was waved in front of us.  A $300 crowd prime was put up.  It was pretty cool of them to offer so much cash at this small race.

I followed wheels and practiced cornering in the dark.  The field was pretty hungry and the constant primes meant nobody was staying off for long.  The legs felt good, especially in the second half of the race.  I noticed I could stay seated coming out of turns 2 and 4 when others were standing – always a good sign!

Unfortunately, the race organizers/officials did not have a clock/lap counter at the venue.  For once I wasn’t so hypoxic that I could actually look for/read it and it wasn’t there!  That was pretty bush-league, but Aaro kept us informed of the last 5 laps over the PA.  

Coming into the last couple laps I was in the top 20 or so as swarms were constantly altering the pack.  On the last lap I was in the top 15 and moved up going into corner 3.  I got a little nervous when I saw 4 guys to the inside of me as we hit the turn faster than any lap prior.  I tapped my brakes and instantly lost a lot of speed and valuable positioning.  A loser in all white kit then chopped the last turn, clipped a pedal, slid out, and took Cameron Rex (Gateway Harley/Mesa) into the curb (and breaking his s-works tarmac).  I was the last rider through, but the whole ordeal distracted me enough that I let a gap open – not ideal with 250 meters to go!  I jumped hard and passed some folks taking 8th place.  

It was a fun crit and sort of a slower dress rehearsal for the Lafayette Square crit next weekend.  I’m pleased with another top 10 in a 1/2 race though it highlights many lessons I need to learn about crit racing.  Thanks to my teammates for cheering me on!

Otterville RR [DNF/14]:

After getting to bed around midnight due to the crit, I was up early for the 9am RR in Otterville!  Otterville does not have a gas station or any restaurants, so any food or water you needed you had to get in Sedalia.  I had enough to start the race (3.5 bottles) but not enough to finish (3 laps/72 miles/2 feeds), so I had my lovely wife run back into town to fetch a pail of water.  Yeah, I’m a lucky guy.  The other thing Otterville had a dearth of was restrooms.  Big blunder by the organizers here: 2 restrooms on site.  Sorry guys, but before I spend (an anticipated) 3 hours on the bike, I’m going to have to hit the potty – and so does everybody else!  The line was 15 minutes long which, given the early start sent a lot of people to the trees – not what you want if you wish to hold the race again!!  Toilet talk aside, the road race course was a good one.  The roads were pretty empty and featured rolling hills and changing winds which reminded me of the Hermann RR course, though more open.

The crit field was 40 strong while the RR field the next morning turned out 14.  Jensen and Stolte (Trek/Tradewind), 2 Mesas, Justin + Jim + Anthony (Dogfish), a Monster drink, Lawrence (CBC), Kent (Colavita), and a few others made for a small but fast bunch.

Justin attacked on the second hill and built up a sizable gap.  Jensen then organized the chase urging us to help out.  I foolishly obliged.  I would pull a turn or two, then think I was being conservative by dropping back and resting a while at the back.  However, all I was doing was softening myself up for the decisive move later in the race.

On lap two we started to reel Justin in and I knew the punches would start flying.  Everyone else knew too, so nobody would pull except for Kent and the Tradewinds.  Brian saw this coming and sat up while Kent kept riding and cruised off the front to join Justin.  Over the top of the next climb Jensen attacked hard taking Jim with him forming the break du jour.  Brian had successfully isolated the best TT’r in the race (Justin), tired him (getting everyone else to chase him for a lap), isolated the next best chasers (Kent + Jim) to weaken any possible chase group, and then dispatched us on a climb.  By leaving Bill in the chase group, he was guaranteed a rested counter should it all come back together.  Well played sirs.  

After we topped out I took a few breaths and then tried to bridge, I got away cleanly but blew up on the next hill before making contact.  The chase group caught me and I slotted in to recover.  After a spell of resting I started to take turns at the front again.  We were catching them and I wanted to help our group stay in the race.  Unfortunately, we hit another steep ramp after I pulled off the front and that was all she wrote – popped off the back.

While cruising into town I could make out another rider in front of me, I “caught” him as we came into the feed zone hill and both of us decided to call it a day.  I started rehydrating and cleaned up while getting to spectate the finish (actually I was just waiting for the wheel truck!).  Jensen won, with Jim and Kent filling out the podium.

I was quite impressed with the way Jensen and Stolte played the field.  Why did we let the strongest guy in the race talk us into working for him?  Next time I don’t plan on playing the pawn so easily.  Kent also impressed as he was working the entire race showing strong fitness, earning that podium.

This race will serve as fodder for the trainer sessions this winter as I struggle with forging ahead in my fitness.  How fast do I need to be?  How fit must I be?  This is a new benchmark.  The entire weekend reminded me of the words of Wayne Simon here, under Cat 2.  

Next up: Friday Night at Gateway and returning to AR for work…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Morton Crit Race Report

Racing in Peoria

The Proctor/Peoria crit has been a favorite the past several years.  Not only was the race on a really fun course, just a short drive from Urbana, it also served as the state championship criterium.  I was disappointed to see the classic 8 corner removed from the schedule but excited to return to greater Peoria nonetheless for the Morton Community Bank Cycling Classic.

I was excited since Peoria served up my very first bike race back in 2007.  I was reminded of this when I bumped into Nick Ramirez (Psimet/Enzo’s) and he introduced me to a cat 5 named Michael.  Mike just completed his first race and (I think) placed fifth!  I hope Mike finds the rewards we all enjoy through the challenge and discipline of competitive cycling.

Like Michael, this part of the season is all about experience for me.  As a new cat 2 I have a lot to learn about racing, so I approached Morton with this in mind.

At registration I handed in my waiver and said I was there to race.  The woman responded: “Cat 4’s?”  Ouch.  Nice ego bruise that.  Whatever, I cheerfully said what race I was in and was given the number five.  I love low numbers.  It is clear you are in the big boy race.  But five?!  It didn’t look like a big field would be showing up today, meaning there would be no place to hide in the peloton.  I’d need a lot of tactical nous and good legs to finish well. 

Morton Crit P/1/2 Field.  Photo Credit: Niki Campen Nation.

Sixteen other riders found their way to the start-line: Hogan Sills (ABD), Nick (Psimet/Enzo’s), the Stone Pony (Scarlet Fire Racing), Drew (Nuvo), Joey Iuliano (Racing for Riley), James Bird (ISCorp), two Wheelfasts, two Bloomingtons, two Proctors, two Panache, a guy in orange/purple kit, and an SCW rider.  There were lots of fast dudes in the group but I was particularly concerned with Sills, Ramirez, and Drew.  The only reason I was not watching Mr. Stone that carefully was that he already raced twice that day!!  (And if you know about this guy you know that he races at and off the front.)

The race was very exciting with numerous attacks from the start (Joey gets the “most attacks” prize by a nose over Nick!) and (perhaps wrongfully) I was concerned not to be left out of early moves.  I was bridging and jumping with early stuff as I had witnessed Hogan get away early in other races and I watched Nick ride away with the Hermann Cat 3 RR earlier in the year.  Nick was hyper-active during this time, jumping away and driving breaks.  My legs hadn’t really come around to feel good but there was little time for that – go go go!

Holding on to Hogan's wheel for dear life during an early attack.  Photo Credit: Niki Campen Nation.

75 minutes is a long time to be on the gas, but you need time to separate the racers.  After numerous attacks, counters, and reshuffling of the breaks two men were off the front with a good gap.  I think Dave Stone was one of them.  Nick and two others got free of the pack and began chasing.  Perhaps Hogan was in this group, perhaps Drew.  The rest of us were largely looking for others to do the work of pulling these guys back as the frenetic race had left many on the ropes – myself included.  If you’ve been in a race you know exactly the moment I’m describing: legs and lungs hurt, wits are dulled, and gaps are opening.  It is THE time to get away if you can.  Well, three more opportunists (including Sills – the order of the second and third groups may be off) broke the elastic and now half the field was up the road and half the field was left in the “pack”.  I was in the pack.  Then I saw it – the coup de grace – the moto ref pulled ahead of our group.  I don’t recall what time/lap we were at but I’d say about 45 minutes in (complete guess).  Was my race over?  Were we fighting for the distinction of “also ran”?  Would we get pulled?

It was gut-check time as a lot of firepower was up the road.  There were no more games, we had to chase!  Joey, a Wheelfast rider (#12), myself, a Proctor, and occasionally a Panache rider began rotating.  I recall several times having both legs light up with lactic acid on pulls going into the red as we chewed up tarmac to reach that front group.  Miraculously, we made it!  We closed down the gap and brought it back together.  The dark humor in the moment came when I looked up and the announcer/officials called out “22 laps to go!”  Oh, only 22 more laps?!  Then, on the next lap (or so) 2 guys went off the front.  Here we go again…

Ramirez, Bird, and Bloomington (?) took off and a new chase began.  I guess my legs came around as I did help a little.  Hogan, Drew, Joey, and some others did work and as the laps ticked down it looked like we could catch them.  During this chase we lapped several riders who got dropped in the field split chase.  The Stone Pony came unglued during this time, too.  The man made the big split in the race, only to have it blow up again.  His racing was absolutely incredible considering: 1) he had already podiumed in a master’s race on the day, 2) he already raced yet another masters race, 3) he has a son my age (!), and 4) it took an hour plus of an all-out-knife-fight to pop him.  Studly stuff that.

The last three laps I skipped pulls to try to save something for the finish.  I had a top ten on account of the lapped/dropped riders but maybe I could finish higher.  Perhaps this is the loathsome lazy sprinter in me, or perhaps said tactical nous.  Sometimes they are hard to differentiate.  The finishing stretch was quite long and I was too timid coming into the line.  Rather than jump multiple times to try to hang on to Hogan, I waited at the back and then moved up late to take 3rd in the bunch, 5th on the day.  I am still pleased with a top 5 finish in this race.  Racing with the big boys (and this isn’t even Gateway we’re talking about!) is much more taxing mentally and physically but also much more exciting and rewarding.  Of note: James (ISCorp) hung on for the win while Hogan (ABD) took the field sprint for 3rd.

It is worth noting that this is the third race on the new Tarmac.  I can't believe the difference.  Cornering and sprinting are noticeably better. I'm super pleased with the bike.

After the race Nick took me aside and clued me in to some needed tactical advice.  Here’s to gaining wisdom!  Then the wife and I headed to a state park for a fun night of camping with the kids. 

I am really thankful for that Saturday.

Next up: the Sedalia Crit and Otterville RR!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MO State Crit Report

MO State Crit

First time in Jeff City.  First race with Brian Jensen and some of the Trek/Tradewind Energy crew (he won, by the way).  First time a shifter broke with 4 to go and I DNF’d in a P/1/2 race.

Yup, that was the MO state crit for me.

My teammate Kurt and I raced well as a team but came up shy of the result we wanted.  Regardless, the race brought my confidence up as my new Tarmac felt great and I was able to go to the front during the race and put in some work.

With a few more crits before Gateway, I hope I can bring the speed up a bit and have a solid finish to this great season.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Babler Circuit Race + GEO Crit Reports

Babler Circuit Race [13/17]

Babler was my first race as a cat 2, so there was a lot to learn going in.  Add to that a 3 week break from racing and I was fairly nervous.  The course was a 4 mile loop with 2 big hills – one up and one down.  I don’t have numbers (no computer, just feel!) but Adam (RecycledCycles) said his Garmin topped out at 18% on the climb.  Let’s just say it wasn’t easy.  With 8 laps I was looking to follow wheels and try to help my cat 1 teammate, Kurt.

I felt good up the climb the first two laps as an early move dangled off the front.  I felt comfortable in the group but was definitely working hard on the hill.  The two-tiered climb usually played out with a steady pace on the lower section with riders kicking it up on the second slope and over the top.  Once they saw that everyone was together the pace would slow a little and the pack would take a deep breath.  It’s funny to me how the first couple times up the climb you keep your breathing quiet and try not to show your cards but by the third or fourth time up the hill you don’t care that you sound like a sow in heat!  By the seventh time up the climb my back was a snare drum and my legs were empty.  I gave in and let the pack go up the road.  I was in the race until the real racing started.  Ouch.

The race highlighted the need to be judicious in the use of strength and cautious to put one’s nose in the wind.  Next time I plan on being around when the fireworks go off!  I’m also taking steps to move past the back pain by getting a bike fit with Russ of Mesa Cycles.  I’ve waited too long to do this!

Kurt rode well and placed 3rd - another podium for 708 Racing!  

Thanks to Gateway Gastroenterology, Off The Front Racing, and the Park Staff for putting on a great race!

Note: only 17 riders were scored but I thought I counted 25+ at the start – this was confirmed by Daniel (Lindenwood) at the GEO crit as he thought there were ~30 guys in the race.  Suddenly 13th doesn’t suck so much.

Great Egyptian Omnium Crit

After attending a friend’s wedding in Indiana Saturday, I stopped by Carterville, IL for the GEO crit Sunday.  Keith and Erik rode well in the Omnium but had to finish the crit as a t-storm rolled in.  Dead air became 30mph+ gusts uncomfortably quick.  The boys kept the rubber down to seal a good weekend of racing.
For the P/1/2 crit I was hoping the race would be a quiet affair – another chance to get my legs going before the MO state crit and Gateway Cup.  I knew Daniel (Lindenwood) and Eduardo (Bigshark) were going to be there but as I had suspected, Jonathan (Nuvo, National TT champ) showed up.  It would be anything but a slow race now!  Not only that but more firepower came to play via 5 IsCorp riders – this would be quite a race!  Unfortunately, that t-storm that escorted the 3’s to the line poured out lightning on John A. Logan College for 1.5 hours, scrapping our race.  It looks like another 3 week gap between races.  Motorpacing time?

Big thanks to Chad Briggs who put on a great race (from what I could tell about the rest of the omnium) and had super community support (I heard a GEO ad on the radio while driving in!).  Not only that, but Chad refunded the P/1/2 crit entry.  This is definitely a race to attend next year!