Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Quick Step April

[Tour of Hermann Cat 3, 2011; Tour of St. Louis Cat 3, 2011]

Last December I decided I would pursue spring race plans akin to Patrick Lefarve’s: win everything in April.  The Quick Step April*.  It would start with Hillsboro, proceed to Hermann, perhaps include the Tour of St. Louis, and be crowned with the SRAM Tour of the Gila.  Hillsboro and Hermann would be warm-ups for the feast of suffering in the mountains of New Mexico over five days.  It would be a month of racing that would transform my body into a juggernaut or burn me to a crisp.  Either way, I was going to have a go.
Life changed course.  A new job opportunity that I had long hoped for came open; the door to the Gila closed.  New challenges presented themselves (moving, finding a place to live, integrating at the new job, learning the ins-and-outs of a new industry).  While much of that is still in process, cycling’s part is now done.  I’m pleased with the Quick Step April.  Here are some highlights.


I’ve already written a race report, but this will remain a highlight for the foreseeable future.  Season highlight?  Most def.  Career highlight?  Probably.

This is a fantastic race.  The wife and I stayed in town this year and had a good time between the racing, dining, and hanging out.  We needed it after moving all our junk down to StL the three days prior.  My results weren’t great (between the heat and moving, I was toast!), but I did roll a good TT, which I’m proud of.  Furthermore, I didn’t quit, which is important.
The Guttenberg climb was awesome.  I’m glad I got to ride it in a race this year.  It hurt, but it was cool to do.  Thanks again to Jeff Yeilding (and friends) and Stone Hill Winery (I recommend the fillet at the Vintage Restaurant) for a great weekend of racing.
I watched during the RR as Mr. Nick Ramirez shifted gears and I knew in that moment that he would attack.  I was hurting on the climbs and reticent to go but I pointed to him and Schilling said: “Go” in my ear.  My cadence went unchanged.  Mr. Ramirez went on to catch the solo leader up the road and smash the field by minutes.  It was a display that was very impressive.  Next time you see him at a race, shake his hand.

Tour of St. Louis

Circuit Race:
708 Racing p/b Dressel’s Public Ale House lined up to work for Keith, as several other members have already scored victories this season (it’s good to be a multi-threat outfit!).  Mike and I shepherded Keith until he made a nice solo bridge to what we thought was the move of the day.  As I blocked on the front it was clear that everyone else thought the same thing.  (Schilling was drilling it on the front, so everybody wanted to ride the Garmin train!)  So the move came back and another promising group got off, but Keith wasn’t ready to go, so I bridged up to Schilling and Leibowitz past a small group of chasers in “no man’s land.”  For the next two laps I was dangerously close to blowing up.  Between blocking, bridging, and trying to stay away, I was hurting.  Fortunately for me the guys took really smooth pulls and I was able to recover a bit.  All three of us constantly checked our six for the pack.  Nobody was giving us splits!  I tapped on my wrist making the universal “watch” gesture and the next lap we’d only hear “Go go go!”  Yes.  I understand I am in a bike race.  Generally I try to “go”.  Well, we wouldn’t see the pack again, so the podium would be decided between the three of us.  Having come into the race to work for Keith (he was doing the omnium, and I wasn’t), I thought about dropping back or just sitting in to kill the break.  But I considered the best thing for the team was to seal the deal, so that’s what I set about doing.  Before the final “s” turn Joshua attacked from third position.  I was ruthless and made Schilling chase even though he had been on the front.  When I could tell he was done I jumped and kept the throttle open all the way to the line, winning by a few bike lengths.  

Keith and Mike got to the line in the top ten during a dicey field sprint.  I don’t think anyone went down, but there were a lot of people and it was a twisty road with wind gusts.  I’m glad I was in a small group.  Thanks to Mike and Keith for blocking and playing the field smartly.

I didn’t do it, but instead caught a nap.  Keith had a strong ride in the wind for another solid top ten, keeping him in the fight for the omnium.

I was not planning on completing the criterium as we (my family) were going to visit a local church.  But when the church I found to visit had an evening service, well… sometimes things just work out!  So I threw a clean kit in the bag and the bike in the car and hauled over to Delmar for a big open crit.  We (708 cat 3’s) were excited to have an embarrassment of riches at the start: Chris, Matt, Mike, Keith, and myself.  We were missing a captain in Nick, but this was the largest group assembled at one race thus far.
While the plan was to get Keith across the line first for the omnium, he got caught up in a crash about half way through the race and broke a shifter.  DNF.  I informed the boys and we set about a new plan: get Mike the win.  708 was always around the front, we followed and initiated moves but nothing was sticking in the stiff headwind on the back stretch.  I rolled the dice on a break but probably didn’t have it in the legs after Saturday’s exploits.  With three to go, Chris took a flyer on a lull and powered away from the field.  Another rider bridged and I went to the front to block.  The move kept other teams working and the pace high so Mike and I maintained position near the front.  Entering the final laps Mike was on my wheel ready for a leadout.  I was surfing the front not too eager to blow up early.  (To be honest, I have little leadout experience.  Usually I’ve been sprinting up through the field instead of being at the front where I should be.)  On the backstretch, streaking up the right side was Aaron of Team Veda (can we call him Darth?) going all in for the V on a last lap flyer.  I was maybe 5 wheels back and hoping that the others would chase.  Nada.  One by one the guys went into “saving it for the sprint” mode.  Lame.  I ramped it up into the wind.  Frankly, the first 30 seconds doesn’t hurt.  But the last 30 seconds doesn’t tickle!  Mike was on my wheel and we took the last two corners hot.  I shifted twice more (12? 11?) and gave everything I had.  Aaron had timed it right and I had failed  – I didn’t catch him (he had the field by 20 meters easy!)  In the heat of battle Mike thought that the red tent (wheel pit) was the line, so when he stood to go he was already at the finish line.  We had finished as we started the leadout: 2nd and 3rd.  It was a painful mistake for both of us as Mike had fresh legs at the end.  However, the day is coming when we get the timing dialed!

Without races on the calendar for the next two weeks, the Quick Step April has ended.  Two wins, a second place, and a lot of great memories.  The racing helped me get through the stress of the move as anger and anxiety need an outlet somewhere.  I’d bet that the “pain face” you see in those finishing photos has more to do with internal struggles than the electro-chemical cries of sinew.  Just a thought.
The next chapter of the season is about to begin.  708 Racing is just getting started.

*For the last two years it could be called the Cancellara April.  However, Quick Step has been targeting it for longer!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hillsboro Roubaix 2011 (Cat 3) Race Report

Hillsboro Roubaix is a race with several traditions (from the 4 editions I’ve ridden): crosswinds, shattered packs, crappy roads, whining about the yellow line, strong words and grandstanding from officials about said yellow line, the first sunburn of the season, and getting dropped.  Most of these traditions were carried forward, but yesterday I set a new precedent for that last one.

Three 708 racing p/b Dressel’s Public Ale House riders lined up for the cat 3 race.  Nick and Keith graciously agreed to work for me in the race.  Our team was prepared as best we could be and we were hoping for a good result.

At the start Jerry (I’m terrible with names, I doubt this is his real name, but let’s go with it) of the Livestrong-kitted-team started up a dialogue…

Jerry: Were you in that break last week?
Me: What are you talking about?
Jerry: At Forest Park?
Me: What are you talking about?
Jerry: Weren’t we in that break together two weeks ago?
Me: What are you talking about? (I grin.)
Jerry: Ok, that WAS you…

My cover was blown and we hadn’t even started.  I looked around and found some of my “marks” in the 100 man field.  We soon pushed off under sunny skies in brisk winds.  The blue shirts decided that the neutral start should extend down the first hill, which is fine.  However the pace care maintained 17mph of neutrality down the hill.  I considered abandoning the race as I quickly emptied not my legs but my store of g-rated exasperation phrases.  “Gosh! Well I’ll be! C’mon!”  It was an episode of the Andy Griffith show but we were only 3 miles in.  I didn’t want to go HBO on the field but that is how it was looking.  Why did I sign up for this?

We eventually got underway but most of the race suffered from our bunch being afraid to really go hard at or off the front.  Hard surges would be followed with long periods sitting up.  During the slow times I would sing and chat with my neighbors.  I’m sure not a few racers wanted to shut me up but the way to do that was attack and only a handful of guys really gave it a go.

The big drama on the first lap came when the moto ref neutralized the field and told us to quit breaking the centerline rule.  He was right for calling us out.  I watched as a rider dodged an oncoming car while rounding a blind left hander (if you raced, it’s that down and up one – can’t forget it!!).  We barely escaped a tragedy beyond speaking.  While we were getting our lecture and being threatened with a mass DQ (not an offer for “Blizzards on Me!”, either) a rider behind me asked a confrontational question.  I don’t even remember what it was.  The ref responded to the group yet more agitated.  I was incredulous and told the kid to shut up.  It reminded me of my freshman speech class in college…

A young PhD candidate Sherlene (I don’t actually remember her name) was our instructor and also the course admin (organizing the course and curriculum for the department that year).  Unfortunately for her, she had a room full of cocky engineers-to-be on her hands – not the easiest clay to mold.  Sherlene asked the class: “What have you heard about this course?”  And genius of geniuses, Rufus T. Barleysheath (not real name) is the first row pushes back on the bridge of his spectacles, raises his hand, and utters the words “blowoff class”.  My forehead hits the desk.  To Rufus and his kin in the peloton: learn to keep your mouth shut!

Meanwhile, in Hillsboro…we ended the first lap quickly as Nick (Burnham) and Tim (Psimet) showed themselves in the top 20 for the first times.  Both are strong riders who are close to upgrading, so I had my eye on them as main competition.

With the wind speed and direction it seemed that for anything to stick it had to get away around the halfway point on the 2nd lap.  Tim, Jason (Wild Card) and a few others had a go in the crosswinds but cooperation never developed at the front.  I foolishly thought I could force a move by 1) Broadcasting it (“Go! Go! Go!”) and 2) Jumping away myself.  I was looking at the prospect of hanging myself out front 8 miles out of town.  Instead of accepting the likely death this would render, I resolved to win the bunch sprint.

Nick (708) had sheltered me from the wind throughout the race and kept me near the front.  In the run-in to town we stayed in the top 20.  I slipped into the top 15 before the hills and we separated the men from the boys as guys started blowing up.  I’m told we gapped the pack on the first hill, they caught us on the flat run in to hill two, and things shattered again.  Descending into the moonscape of tarmac, cement, and brick I was sitting top 5.  I think I bunnyhopped four pieces of “road” that would have eaten my Honda.  I followed wheels until Jonathan (Chipotle Junior Development) came by on my left and I returned the favor by the line, winning Hillsboro Roubaix by a small margin (a wheel? – someone post some pics!).

My heart exploded in emotion as I screamed “yes”.  Not sure to whom.  I probably scared some kids.  I hope the good people of Hillsboro didn’t mind too much.  I could have yelled other things I guess…

The moment was surprising for me.  Public displays of emotion – are they anyone’s forte?  But there’s no hiding how you feel at max heart rate.  I was naked.   My goal was before me and I answered the challenge.  I did it.  I had redemption from the 2010 edition.

A pleasant surprise was the congratulations I received from my peers.  Several competitors were genuinely happy for me.  One even hugged me.  We all know classy riders and well, other riders.  I enjoy competing with friends, the guys with class. 


Last year’s race ended in disappointment but with good signs of early season fitness.  The race became a psychological watershed for my own racing and later, a goad through winter training.  This year it’s a little bit different as my goals are to survive the next week of moving my household before defending at the Tour of Hermann.