Tuesday, June 19, 2012

O’Fallon Grand Prix Weekend

After the River City Bicycle Classic I drove home, packed and flew out at 6am the next morning for a five day work trip to Cali.  I took the tarmac in the hopes that I would get in some riding.  Monday I was booked.  Tuesday was the same.  But Wednesday I went in early and was able to sneak out for a little five and half hour spin.  Not too bad.  I like to get all my hours for the week in one ride.  ;)
The best way to taper is to do 4000ft+ of climbing 3 days before the state RR.

I was hoping to link up with my friend Rob but between our disparate schedules, the B.A.R.T. fire, and the U.S. Open, well, neither of us was up for crossing the bay for a ride with the other.  Well, I’m pretty sure riding Mt. Diablo is not the best taper for the state road race.  But that was just the thing: I had zero expectations for the race.  I literally was going to use it for training.  My season goal was the state crit and I accomplished my goal.  My coach told me to “enjoy riding your bike – don’t worry about it.  Just remember why you love riding.”  Exactly the words I needed…

O’Fallon Road Race – IL State Championship

The field was heavily populated with Dogfish riders.  A few riders from central IL (Wheelfast) and even fewer from upstate (Sean of Sammy’s) balanced out the Dogfish/GatewayHD/Korte numbers game.  The big equalizer was a U23 squad who stopped in from LA on their way to nationals.  The Stage 17 Devo squad certainly changed the game.  Who were these unknown riders?!

The race kicked off with a few moves but nothing serious.  A Stage 17 rider went off the front solo and forced a decision from the other teams.  I jumped in a small move just to make people think I was in the race.  The truth was that with BJ’s strong finish at the MO State race (7th – flying solo), people would think he was working for me (as this was the IL state championship) but in fact we wanted him to get a result.  A long break with all the teams represented had a good chance of sticking, especially if a big motors from Dogfish was in the move.  So when the time was right BJ put himself in a move with Brett (Dogfish, IL), Matt Pence (Gateway Harley, MO), a pair of Stage 17 racers (CA), Robo (Wheelfast, IL), and maybe someone else that I’m forgetting.  Unfortunately Brett flatted out of the break.  This alone killed the move.  With Dogfish keeping the gap in check, it had little hope of success.

B.J. in the "suicide break."
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel

Moves went and my plan was to sit (surprise, surprise, I know!).  Brett recovered and on lap 3 started making moves off the front.  Surprisingly to me I was able to cover them.  Zach Reed (Dogfish, IL) countered one of these and was up the road.  I saw the jersey going with him.  Maurice Hessel (Korte, IL) attacked up the one serious climb on the course and drove a break over the top.  Things get a little fuzzy here but it wound up the MoHess, Zach, Trevor Lister (Wheelfast, IL), and Daniel Williams (Korte, IL) were up the road in a group with Joe Tortorelli (Scarletfire, IL) working his way up to them while dragging Jim Vandeven.

As was my habit I sprinted to the front of the pack going into the feedzone to get a clean feed.  I watched last year as guys crashed in front of me, so I was extra careful here (though it should be said that the P/1/2 field handles feeds a little better than the cat 3s).  Well, after grabbing a fourth feed from the excellent crew in the Quantum Mesa tent (thank you Rickey family, Ceecee, and Jason Wulff!!  You guys kept me alive!) I looked up and saw Joe and Jim with a 10-15 second gap on me.  Behind me everyone was still sorting out their feed.  Hmm…10 miles to go.  I put down the hammer and tried to get into the moto ref’s draft (feeling rather PRO doing so) and as he tapped the brakes I swung inside and continued hammering up to Joe and Jim.  We traded pulls and I thought I was going to pop several times but we made it up to the Lister/Reed/MoHess/Williams group.  Once there, if I was a real racer, I would have attacked and taken a few strong racers with me.  But alas, I wanted to catch my breath. (HINDSIGHT ALERT: Probably could have broken away with a group and been the freshest sprinter at the finish since Williams was hurting and Dust wasn't present.)  Unfortunately, nobody else was interested in working (though I recall rotating through once and nobody coming around).  Not surprisingly, what was left of the pack caught us a few short miles later.  Maybe it wasn’t miles and it was just yards, I’m not sure.
So with zero IL riders up the road, the jersey would be won out of this group, and it looked like it would come down to a sprint.  Is this tailor made, or what?!  With 5km to go Matt Brandt said adieu and stuck a solo move for fifth place.  (HINDSIGHT ALERT: I should have jumped and gone with him.  Had I done so I might have won the state championship.)  

Dogfish kept pace and I just sat on Bohanan’s wheel with one eye on Anthony Dust (cat 1, IL).  A stage 17 rider attacked as Jeremy Bock (Dogfish, MO) was done setting pace just before the 1km to go sign.  The finishing straight had a cross (maybe cross-head) wind which forced everyone to the right curb.  I was on Dust’s wheel coming into the finish as we passed 500m to go.  Now Anthony Dust is a VERY fast finisher.  I don’t think I have yet beat him in a head to head sprint.  I sure thought he was the wheel to follow and I would try to get him at the line.  However, the strong wind from the side meant I was pretty well pinned against the curb and didn’t want to get boxed in or worse yet – highside the curb.  When a few riders passed on the left I switched wheels to Williams.  Now Williams is also a very fast finisher and crushed a downhill sprint last year in a race.  With this being a slightly downhill finish I thought this was the new wheel – protected from the wind and fast to the line.  I switched lines away from Dust.  Fatal error.  Williams cramps.  Dust explodes up the leeward side.  He’s already jumped by the time I react and I’m forced to come around Williams on the windward side.  Completely botched sprint.  No soup for you!

IL State RR Championship P/1/2 Podium.
Andrew Lister (Wheelfast, Bronze), Anthony Dust (Dogfish, Gold), me (Quantum Mesa, Silver).
Photo Credit: A. Dust
A silver medal is so far beyond my expectations for this race and this season.  On the one hand I'm over the moon.  On the other hand I'm pissed - I was pretty close to getting another jersey.  My own second guessing put me out of contention in the sprint and with racers like Dust - you have no second chance.  I know easily a dozen guys that are stronger than I when it comes to a race like this but for many reasons they weren’t present.  Will they all take a hiatus next year?  Will it come to a sprint again?  It’s probably best I’m headed back out to Cali.  I’ll take this one up with Mt. Diablo.

Thanks are due my teammate BJ who pushed all the chips in on the break Saturday, and even covered a move after he was brought back.  After his chances were gone he did what he could to help me.  I’m very proud of how he rode this weekend.  Also, thanks to the friends who fed me.  I was well watered and that made all the difference on a 90F+ day.

O’Fallon Grand Prix Crit P/1/2/3

I missed the early move/selection of ten but my teammate Jason was in there.  I knew it was the race as they started to get away but I wasn’t decisive to bridge when the gap was manageable.  So of course I tried to bridge when the gap was well established and steady around 40sec.  I tried 3 or 4 times but all I did was wear myself out for the sprint.  Trying to think of the last time 3 guys came around me in a sprint...

The Stone Pony, Williams, and I trying to get away from the pack.  7 man break has us by 40 seconds.  Ouch.
Photo Credit: Brian Keller

Jason had a rough time as he and a few others were gapped off the break.  He fought valiantly but the heat, pace, and second race on the day took their toll.

BJ and I got a little teamwork going in the last lap and that worked much smoother than the attempt at the Urbana Grand Prix.  However, after a great leadout from Beej I stood up and went backwards.  Thanks for playing!  Gotta love life in the P/1/2's!!
A little toasty after 91miles the day prior.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel.

Regardless, it was a great weekend of racing and the opportunity to race both days was a sweet Father’s Day gift from my family.  Thanks to Korte Hammer Down Racing, Bike Surgeon, and Metro East Cycling for putting on a great weekend of racing in O'Fallon, IL.

Next up:
More work travel to Cali, so I won’t be racing till late July/early August.  I’m going to miss some great events – ToKC, ToLawrence, Morton Crit, ToAD, Superweek.  That’s a bummer, but I’ll use this time to recharge and finish the season fast(er).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Coaching + River City Bicycle Classic

Where it’s due: Credit

The last year and a half of racing has been my best so far.  Certainly when I started riding my bike I did not expect these types of results.  My first trip to the Cobb Park Crit (as a cat 5) in Kankakee had me saying: “Wow, those cat 4’s look soooo fast!” (without irony or sarcasm)  But I steadily got better (a lot smarter, a little faster) and got some results in the cat 4’s, even some decent results in the cat 3’s.  But 2011 was a breakthrough year for me on the bike and it is due in large part to the investment in me by my coach, Sean Walker.

Since working with Sean I’ve won Hillsboro-Roubaix (in the 3’s, and finished in the P/1/2’s!), silver medaled in the IL state RR and crit (cat 3’s), won a few cat 3 races, podium’d in a 1/2/3 race, and won the cat 2 IL state crit title.  These results are well beyond what I expected when I started racing. Sean has helped me tremendously with every aspect of racing – from fitness, to equipment choices, to race strategy, to cycling/life balance.  He has coached me with and without a powermeter.  I do not think I would have achieved (even this modest success) without his help.

I say all this as my recommendation of his coaching services to you.  If you’re interested in working with someone who has quite a bit of experience going fast and several years of experience helping others go fast (including people who are much faster than I), feel free to contact him at the following email:” wsean(three)at g mail dot com.  Take out the parentheses + three and just use the numeral.  Tell him Frenchy sent you.  ;)

River City Bicycle Classic

Last weekend was Tulsa Tough, and the Tour of Galena, and Le Tour de Sainte Geneveive.  I would like to race all those great events but had other plans.  Flying out Sunday for another work week in Cali I chose to go to Evansville, IN to visit the inlaws and race the River City Bicycle Classic.

Temps were lower 90’s and patchy clouds were present, but every once in a while you just cooked in the sun.  Fortunately the 0.7mi course in Garvin Park was lined with trees providing shade for us fattys to stay cool.  Oh, and they also made it really comfy for family and locals to watch the race!

Speaking of family, the bounce house, playground, and public pool in the park made for a nice backdrop to the race.  It was definitely a nice family-friendly atmosphere.  While I would expect that to be a draw next year, the bicentennial* airshow (or maybe it’s just an annual airshow which coincided with the bicentennial?) which wowed my kids may not be present next year and was a first-race-year treat.

The 1/2/3 field had a sprinkling of solo racers, 3 or 4 duos, two 4 man cat 3 squads doubling up after the cat 3’s, and the 800lb gorilla: 8 Texas Roadhouse racers.  (No, I don’t think they were each 100lbs.)  I knew of Curtis Tolson, but made it a point to introduce myself before the race to get a good look at him.  I had heard that Greg Strock and John “Puff Daddy” Puffer were to be in attendance but no dice.  

JJ, a local in Evansville who knows a thing or two about racing, was there to support the event.  He’s an easy guy to get along with, and that hasn’t changed despite a real bummer of a crash resulting in a broken wrist.  Anyway, he gave me some pointers as we lined up.  Seems he has some experience flying solo and racing against teams.

Besides George (Guitar Lab) who was doubling up (and therefore I figured would probably suffer in the heat), I only knew Hayden Warner (OTF) in the field.  We talked a little beforehand, mainly about how out of shape we both were and how little training we had accomplished this year.  I just have to smile and shake my head at the two of us.  We both believe our own BS.  

Well the race was a series of attacks from TXR.  THE move had to have been the 1005th little break in the race.  I had grown tired of jumping into moves after about 2 or 3 and sure enough four TXR riders "snuck" away with one Scholars Inn Bakehouse rider.  Plenty of firepower in the break (including one junior par excellance), and I knew it was the race, so of course I try a “no guts no glory” solo bridge across their 25 second gap.  And I make it about halfway across before the engine room calls out “Lolz” and a group of four (including Tolson and another Roadhauser) catch me (or just kind of scoop me up like a street urchin).  You can imagine how the rest of the race went: small group starts working together and TXR shuts er down.  By the way, I have no bitterness in that statement.  They were just racing, and clean, and smart.  I can’t fault them for having numbers!

Anyway, I missed the move du jour and then I missed the 3 man jail break with 3-4 laps to go.  I was pretty tired of closing gaps near the front of the race so I left it to somebody else, and of course, that’s the time that nobody else would do it.  So now 8 guys are up the road and the pack has been whittled down to about 15 guys anyway, but I find Hayden and bug him about how he’s feeling, etc.  We both play doormat about the other getting a leadout from us.  I tell him I’m going to work for him and start moving up the outside coming into the s/f with 1.25 laps to go.  Three TXR guys swing right (and unknowingly) box me in.  Hayden uses the confusion to drill it up the left side in what I will henceforth call “A Warner” (I mean c’mon, he does it every race!) and buries himself for the lap.  He nabs 9th, second to last place in the $$.  Good on ya Hayden!

After Hayden departs for 9th place glory I reassess and see Tolson motion to a teammate to get on his wheel.  Not one to turn down a ride to well, anywhere, I hop on after he looks forward.  After a little tow he looks over his shoulder and is visibly upset that his teammate lost the wheel.  By now we’re going into the final turn and I slide back a place to see if the leadout will continue.  It does and I’m on the sprinter’s wheel.  Clearly this is a teaching opportunity for the gent in front of me. Fortunately for me the gentleman was fast but made a few mistakes which I took advantage of and will not detail here for the simple fact that I do not wish them to be used against me.  And besides, this whole thing is like “kiss and tell” anyway.  But I pipped him at the line (or in the words of Jeff Yeilding: "pimped him at the line".  Though I must say that this might be a cyclocross term and besides, winning a sprint for last money spot is not pimping, as it should be quite clear, the only ones pimping were Texas Roadhouse.)

Crossers be pimpin.

So there it is.  Playas gonna play and sprinters gonna sprint.  Don’t hate.  And give a thought to Team Guitar Lab and their efforts at race promoting.  It was a swell time and 10th place got me $85.  Not too shabby!

*Does anybody have tickets to "Red, White, and Blaine?"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lake Bluff + Glencoe Grand Prix Cat 2/3

70 miles in and I’m toast.  We have 35 to go.  Can I turn more than 100W?  My stomach is shutting down.  I’m hot and tired.  B.J. eases up on a miniscule climb and rides alongside me: “Just think, a week from now you’ll be pulling that jersey over your head.”  “Yeah right!” is all I can think.  Doubt consumes me.  I’ve been working my butt off in Cali and riding 3 times a week.  The bay area has been 65F, not the heat I need to ride in for summer racing.  I haven’t done any motor pacing.  My training plan is in shambles.  I’m doing a 100mile ride in the heat?  And I suck.  Oh yeah, and I was dropped on a climb by a cat 4.  Sure Beej, I’m going to win the jersey.  Sure.

My confidence was at an all time low for the season.  I was pretty close to calling the guys and saying “I don’t have it, let’s just go to Rolla for the local omnium weekend.”  But BJ laughed at me: “Yeah, your 5 hour 95F racing isn’t that good – your point being?”  He was right.  I only had to ride hard for 60-90 minutes.  I’m a crit racer.


The family had too much travel fatigue so we called off the aquarium trip and I came up to Glencoe alone with the guys.  It was a fun time of camaraderie and getting gassed out.  Originally I was going to skip the Lake BluffCrit but thought I should take myself a little less seriously (besides, we didn’t have room to bring the space legs and altitude tent...) and line up.  Any plans didn’t include me, I was just there for openers.

The race was a bit sketch as the tight turns really tested the driving abilities of the field.  It was great for me as I was really cornering terribly.  I needed the practice having not raced since the Urbana Grand Prix (which you would think was enough cornering practice for the season!) A guy from MN got off the front solo and won handily.  A strong move.  Part of me thought about bridging to him but I exercised enough discipline to keep me eyes on Saturday.

Jason finished 6th, I finished 10th, and Eric finished 13th.  We won enough cash to fill the gas tank of the Suburban - woohoo!  (We would fill it 4-5 times by the end of the weekend!!)  Eric and Jason turned around immediately and raced the Masters 35+ with Eric pulling down 4th.  A very strong result.  Guess he shook out the car legs!  Unfortunately Jason slid out in a turn and busted his new SL4.  Not to mention the epidermal donation to the city of Lake Bluff.  It was especially tragic since he had been really flying recently (and probably had the best fitness on the team) and was therefore to be shepherding me at Glencoe the next day.  


After a decent night’s sleep we had a team breakfast and headed to the race.  A good hour or so of spinning and everyone’s mood was pretty good.  Mesa Cycles (our sponsor shop) sent Nick (team captain) up with a spare bike for Jason.  Jason was pretty banged up but decided to race anyway. Nails Booty.  Nails.

Plans for races revolve around a handful of factors: the course and the field are major considerations.  In the field there are men of concern, worry, and fear.  Most everyone is of concern – if you’ve made it to the race and you’re in my category, I’ve got to hold you in enough regard to respect your attack or sprint.  But knowing who is coming off a crash or mega work travel or is really flying, well that’s invaluable information and I won’t divulge my recon on the field!  Nonetheless, we all know the danger men in the pack.  Men to fear. As I told my Missouri based teammates, we need to watch Ramirez, Fay, and Morici for a breakaway.  Meanwhile, I have to be positioned better than Friedman, Reyes, and (after Urbana) Speciale in a sprint.  If you notice, the entire Enzo’s team is mentioned.  Nuff said.  The game plan was to get Eric (who has really been on top form) to follow Ramirez’s wheel.  He was to be marked.  Meanwhile Jason (but after the crash, BJ) was to keep me out of the wind.  The rest of the guys were to stay at the front and mark anything that got a gap and boat anchor that thing back to the field.  The exception was Ramirez.  If he and Eric got a gap they were to roll.  I would follow a bridge attempt by a strong rider out of the field (Reyes? Stathy? Strittmatter? Naveen?) so we could have numbers in the break.  Otherwise we would set up for a field sprint.

Plans.  Ha!  It seems the Enzo’s boys had plans of their own.  Ramirez was relentless in attacking the field.  Four laps in the pace had been very hot and I thought a selection of 15-20 would be made at the front.  I quickly recalculated my breakaway plans.  I was definitely in survival mode!  Staying to the front I found myself behind a junior sliding out in turn two. Acting on instinct I straighted out and hopped the curb, channeling JPOW.  A few more bunnyhops, a sprint, and I was back on the pain train.  Heart rate had gone from 180 to 190.  Yay crits!

The rest of the race was a fight for position and with myself.  Thinking my luck was probably up, the next crash in a turn I probably wasn’t going to bunnyhop my way to safety.  I left gaps in front of myself in the downhill right hander and often found myself closing little gaps out of turns - a small concession to safety after the narrow miss early in the race.  

Sucking wheel.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Rangel

For the eleventieth time Ramirez was brought back.  The closing laps I was moving up but was farther back than I should have been.  After turn one on the last lap Speciale (Enzo’s) went all in on a solo bid for glory.  I thought “that’s the race” from my vantage point of 25th wheel (bad sprinter – bad!).  My teammate BJ had burned his last match moving me up the left side but he connected me with Nick.  Now Nick had been going to the front and doing work throughout the race and this is something worth noting.  The guy rides out of his skin at Glencoe.  It’s amazing. Anyway, Nick is ready to launch me up the left side into turn two.  A quick GO GO GO and we fly up the left side.  He takes 2nd wheel and I slot in towards the back end of the top ten.  Speciale is digging off the front and it’s full gas in the chase.  I rail the turns making up spots on the downhill (not something I’d done all day).  The switch in my head had been flipped.  I call on Nick to give everything – and he empties himself.  A lead trio is a few riders up from me.  Guys are blowing up in the single file line and I have to close a gap on the penultimate straight.  I take the turn even with Speciale but the leaders have a gap on me.  Light the afterburners, I’m a bike behind them at the line.  I need another 100 meters to come around at that speed.  Fourth place.

I was pretty disappointed at the finish.  My team had given everything and despite the odds I made it to the finale.  And yet I came up shy.  Surely I had another silver medal to add to my collection.  But then I start looking at the kits.  “Are yall from Illinois?”  “No.” “No.” No answer.  I wasn’t going to get my hopes up before I saw the results sheet but sure enough – two WI and one MN (the same dude that owned it Friday night).  I was the state criterium champ! 

I am not a little amused with how things played out – particularly the dance between characters Pride and Humility.  Indeed I won and have reason to be proud.  But I didn’t win the race outright and in fact was bested on the day by a junior (not the first time, won’t be the last time, either) – reasons to be humble.  I finally beat David Reyes in a sprint – reason to be proud.  But my teammates' hard work pulled back his early break attempt and put me in position on the last lap – cause for humility.  Frankly, the entire proceeding was tipped my way: the cat 2/3 format allowed me to utilize my strong and numerous cat 3 teammates, the temperate weather suited me (no 100F day), the absence of crashes ahead of me (save one) allowed me to stay in the top third of the race all day and near the leaders.  And on and on.  I am very fortunate and humbled by how it played out.

Each one of my teammates contributed to the win.  I may only mention one or two here in this narrative, but they all played a part and stuck their necks out there for me.  Most of the time I was too hypoxic to notice their efforts at the time but I saw Orange and White doing work.  To them I am very grateful.  Thanks are also due to my boss, partner at Quantum Solutions, who sponsors the team.  From lending me his bike and trainer on a business trip so I can keep training to extra hotel rooms at the race he has done so much for me. Thanks are also due to Mesa Cycles who keep my bike rolling despite all the parts I break and foolishness I get into on the bike!  Thanks to the Glencoe Grand Prix and their sponsors and the city for putting on a fantastic event.  This was my third year making the trip and it remains a highlight of the season.

It feels funny to write thank you to these people (who defintely deserve it, and more) but not thank God, publicly.  So I publicly thank God that I have the ability to race my bike at all, much less win stuff.  Thankful that I have a supportive family and that we have enough provision so that I can take time to train and race (as opposed to constantly working to make ends meet and fighting off starvation for example).  I've been healthy for long enough to train hard and race, this truly is a gift as well.  This blog has taken a turn away from being purely theological into being exclusively cycling race reports.  Not that there's anything wrong with that per se. 

Thanks for reading.  If I see you at the races, I'll be the one at the crit with the weight on my shoulders - this jersey is heavy!!

2012 Glencoe Grand Prix Cat 2 IL Podium
David Reyes 2nd (not pictured), me, and Kaleb Koch (3rd)
Photo credit: Brian Smith


Tour de CU Race Report

Tour de Champaign

Druber hosted a great weekend of crits with Scarletfire Racing and my old club Wild Card Cycling in Champaign-Urbana.  Saturday’s course was the rectangle in the research park.  The field was pretty deep with Panther, Nuvo, and Tx Roadhouse showing up.  Some strong Chicago area guys turned up, too.  The pace was quick but not insane.  Breaks were attempted throughout (I threw my hat in a few, too) but nothing stuck and it came down to a bunch sprint.  I helped my teammate BJ move up and he finished in the money during the sprint.  A good result for two young cat 2’s playing bikes with the big dogs.  We still have a lot to learn!

Nick was usually off the front more than this.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel

Speaking of learning, I got my first shove/punch in a bike race here.  Turns out if you want out of the pack, you don’t ask (though I would have gladly moved), or get your bars in front and steer the other guy out of the way, you just shove them once and then jump through the gap!  Not something I’m going to emulate from a "more experienced racer."

Urbana Grand Prix

After staying up WAAAYYY too late catching up with good friends Saturday night, I got an early spin in with BJ on the course.  Wow, what a course it was.  8 turns, short straights, with some wind whipping through the buildings in a few places.  There were a total of zero easy places to move up!

We predicted that the race would be full gas till people started blowing up.  And that’s kinda how it went.  Strung out single file for 70 minutes.  BJ got into the first or second lap break but the horses were let loose and he dropped back to the field to recover.  JJ and Uberti stuck the break and went 1-2, 40 seconds ahead of the field.  Those guys are super strong.  I certainly didn’t have the legs to do something like that! 
Coming into the closing laps BJ and I tried some teamwork and it kinda flopped.  Regardless, a little perspective highlights that we’re not getting spit out of the back of a fast p/1/2 crit, but trying to work out some tactics.  It’s encouraging but all we have to show for it is my 16th place finish (first one out of the money – womp womp).

There were some impressive rides, particularly Nick Ramirez (Enzo’s/Psimet): attacking off the front in the closing laps and holding off the field for fourth.  It was a bummer however to see Dan Damotte (Big Shark/Michelob Ultra) eat it after turn 4 on the last lap. 

The whole weekend underscored the need for discipline in racing.  Saturday's race I knew would be a bunch sprint, but I didn't stick to that plan.  Sunday's race my legs weren't there like Saturday, and I while I am very glad to have spent the time with friends, I know I should have gone to bed an hour (or two) earlier. C'est la vie.