Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hilltowns Road Race Report

Yesterday I was one of the lucky 60+ participants in the p-1-2 field at the Hilltowns Road Race. Specs for the race were one smaller 40 mile loop for us lucky pros then the 57 mile loop that all the other categories were doing. The name of the race gave a hint to what the course was like - very hilly - with a claimed elevation gain of 8500+ ft. I love these kinds of races! It makes them far easier to win or place well.

Going in to this race, I was concerned about placing high with all the strong legs signed up. My arch-nemesis Roger Aspholm was signed up as well as a few regional level cat1/pros that have been very successful recently.

Weather was soup-like air - new england clam chowder style, cloudy with a slight chance of rain, and temps relatively comfortable in the low 70s. When the sun crept out behind a cloud it felt significantly warmer, but the clouds were in abundance guarding my fair skin.

At 10am, we were off, and for the first 40 mile loop it seemed we were on more of a "tour of hilltowns" rather than a race. The speed was fast but quite easy to maintain and there were hardly any attacks. A small break went off the front early on but no one seemed to care. I didn't. Everyone was waiting for the steep, long climb up Hawley Rd where every year the breaks happen and whoever gets to the top first is probably going to win even though it's still 25 or 30 miles to the finish.

When we got to the aforementioned climb I was a closer to the front, but not in the front, and rain drops were beginning to fall. A few guys I expected to go at the start went and I went around everyone and tagged along. There were five us - Peter Hurst and his teammate Jake Hollenbach, Roger Aspholm, Robbie King and one of his teammates who I don't know. We went up fast but comfortable. I'm finally learning to not burn all my candles. I went at a high but sustainable pace. A few months ago I would have accelerated even more and dropped them but wasted a ton of energy and eventually been caught and riding with them anyways! Near the top of the climb my rear wheel felt a little funny so I looked down and noticed it looked low. Damn! I kept on riding but it was quickly losing air and it was tough to stay on the wheels of the lead group I was in. I eventually fell off and was riding on a mostly flat tire for about a mile hoping the SRAM support vehicle, my savior with wheels, would show up. I lost 2 or 3 minutes waiting for the car. Eventually they showed along with a group of 9 or so guys. I got the wheel change fast and scrambled to catch up to the chase group. I caught them easily and realized they were going a bit slow, slower than I preferred anyways, so I went up front and went flying by them. That seemed to jump start the group and they decided to go my pace. We worked well together for quite some time, but I didn't think the pace would be gaining much time on the lead group I was in. Turns out I was wrong. With perhaps 10 miles to go I broke away from the group with one other guy and we drilled it. I'm not sure if he had a time gap, but the way he was riding it seemed like he was chasing something! We were going over 30mph most the time and it was a tough pace to sustain! My legs were beginning to complain and I told him so. He said something like we were almost finished, which we were, but we still had a big hill to climb! And then we saw the SRAM vehicle and the lead group! I couldn't believe it and thought it was maybe the pro women's field. They appeared to be going slow. In retrospect, they were going slow compared to our speed. We were going nearly 6mph faster than them most likely!

A few minutes after seeing the lead group my partner started dragging, to my surprise, and couldn't make the pass up front to take his turn pulling so I started doing all the work. Eventually he fell off my wheel and I was on my own. But before that the lead group had noticed us and picked up the pace. It was enough to pop Jake Hollenbach off the back. I quickly caught up to him and he jumped on my wheel. I dragged him all the way up the hill. At this point I had given up catching them as the remaining three had really picked up the pace and I was shelled from the effort spent to catch them. Mr Hollenbach decided to attack and I had nothing left so off he went. He got 4th and I finished a few seconds back in 5th place.

I was surprised to check my clock and see we did the 97 miles in 4 hours flat.

A tough race, overall not as painful as Pawling was two weeks ago, but it was way hotter there and I was in a break for nearly the entire race. I'm pleased with the result considering the flat tire and have the points now to move on to category one.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another race weekend down the drain

This weekend was one of those 'take one for the team' race weekends. Meaning I had no desire to do either race. Saturday was Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Sunday was Floyd Bennett Field in...queens? I'm not sure where it is. It's near JFK airport and it's original job was just that - to give a place for planes and other flying things to take off and land. I suppose NYC outgrew it so JFK took it's spot as the top dog of International air travel.

Anyways, it was rippin' hot here in the city this weekend with temps in the mid 90s both days with a scorching sun relentlessly beating down upon my now incredibly intense farmer's tan skin. When I take off a shirt it looks like I'm still wearing a shirt these days... Have you ever seen a finger tan line? Note just beneath the 2nd knuckle and the obvious wrist line. It's even worse on my legs and arms near my shoulders...


So, on Saturday I woke up at a lovely 4:45am so I'd have time to ride down to Prospect Park for a perky 6:30am start time. Champion System had about 10 riders at this race so we should win, right? ho ho. This is BROOKLYN. Nothing goes as planned. A sold out P-1-2-3 field of 95 riders eagerly awaited the start of what was hopefully going to be a safe race. My past experiences with Prospect Park have been sketchy, at best. Crashes galore with crazy sprint finishes for 30th place. Awesome. Today's race turned out to be on the safe side, for my category race at least, and there was only the occasional shady move, but no kissing of the concrete for any riders. Saturday's race was FAST. Really fast. We averaged over 28mph for the entire 44 mile race. A break had about zero chance of surviving at that speed. Superman I am, I tried to get away about 3/4's of the way through the race but just wasted some energy and fell back in with the front group. The plan before the race from Coach Igor was to have a lead out for our esteemed sprinter Rodney if a break did not happen. The break never materialized so it was time for some lead out madness. I shimmied my way to the front and only Igor was present so, um, do we still do the lead out? I decided to try anyway and dropped the hammer with a little more than a km to go. When I turned around no one was with me. What the hell?? So I decided to just keep on going. I was about 99% sure I would not stay away from the field, but whatever, go for it. I went at 130% and got to about 400m and started running out of gas. I had to downshift a cog and knew I was screwed. Not surprisingly, the sprinters went ripping by me and I fluttered in their draft and limped across the finish line for a top 20 finish but no glory. O well, better luck never time.

Sunday was destined to be even more painful. Today I faced a 25 mile commute to the race through less than stellar areas then a 50 mile race on a 2.x mile very flat wide open course on former runway tarmac. Add cracks and weeds and trees that have a tendency to rip riders from their bikes, and you got a great race course! Wind is famous for wreaking havoc at the mighty FBF. It proved to be an issue on one side of the course, but otherwise was pretty tame. Hot, Sunny, zero shade. Ugh. The category 3 group was a part of our race, but there was a catch. They got a three minute head start on the p-1-2 field. I wasn't worried about catching them. At the start, the race announcer, Charlie Issendorf (best race organizer in the city) seemed to think it would be tough to catch them and it would be with 4 or 5 laps to go. Little did he know they were going to crash and we were going to have 20 hotheads out there TT'ing away up front forcing a blistering, nearly unsustainable pace. This race, just like yesterday, was painfully fast. Perhaps the heat accentuates the intensity, but I did not feel like doing anything special in this race. Just hanging on was good enough for me. We had, again, just like yesterday a bunch of guys in the field, and we should since one of our sponsors was hosting the race. About halfway through the race, I took stock of the situation and realized there were only 3 Champion guys left and more than half of the field had either quit or been dropped enough where we could no longer see them. Eventually we had a break happen and one of our riders was in it along with the other strong teams present. Ahhh, my work was done. I could just sit back,, I could just keep pedaling and finish the race! Long story short: we let the break stick so the top five places were decided and with about 500m to go we cranked up the speed and I gave a lead out to my teammate Igor who sprinted for 8th place overall just getting nipped by two others at the line. But wait, the fun was not over! I got to ride 25 miles back home, after consuming 4 bottles of water, through the wonderful streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Now I sit, sipping a great beer, in the confines of my apartment with air conditioning reminiscing and relishing the remaining hours of another fine weekend. Next weekend is the Hillstown Race in MA - sure to be a doozy. 95 miles with nearly 9k of climbing! Maybe I'll get that last point I need to upgrade to Category 1.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Question and Answer Session

What bike are you riding?

When I was upgraded to category 2 the team gave me a Champion System carbon frameset which I believe is made by Pedal Force. It's a bb30 standard carbon frame and is a great riding race bike. The Cervelo I came from was slightly lighter, but other than that they feel about the same. The Champ-sys bike is 2cm smaller, has a 4cm shorter head tube, and 1.5cm less reach. I ended up getting a 2cm longer stem and also have a significantly greater drop. I was skeptical at first whether the bike would fit, but it's turned out to be better than the 58cm RS Cervelo.

They also gave me 7900 Dura-Ace components. I've used SRAM for the past few years, and really like the Dura-Ace. I like it just a tiny bit more than the SRAM. Mostly the rear shifting. It feels smoother and I never miss a shift. Occasionally with the SRAM, usually under very stressful conditions, I would accidentally shift the wrong way on the cassette.

For training or really poor conditions races, I use SRAM S30 sprint wheels or sometimes a powertap sl+ rear wheel. For most races though I use 2010 Zipp 404 Tubular wheels.

How often do you train?

Now that I'm racing every weekend and usually both days my weekdays consist mostly of recovery. I commute to work every day, and get a massage on Monday morning. On Tuesdays, I go to a local circuit race series which I consider training. That's about a four hour day with about one hour of that time actual racing. On Thursdays or Friday I usually have a training ride depending on what races are coming up. Either high cadence drills to get the legs ready, or max power intervals. Today I had the latter, and did repeats up a hill that takes about 5 minutes. I go as hard as possible from start to finish!

What has changed since joining a team?

Honestly, not much. I still end up racing by myself most the time, which is not exactly what I expected. And to keep it clean, for now, I'll leave it there:)

Does your wife accompany you?

My wife has accompanied me to many of the races. She's been extremely supportive, and for that I'm grateful. She's an amazing woman! She didn't even panic when I rolled across the finish line with half my bike going sideways, missing glasses, and destroyed clothing at Killington!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Housatonic Hills Race Report

Roughly three weeks ago I raced the Housatonic Hills road race in the Roxbury, CT region. My team, Champion System Racing, decided to send me to Housatonic instead of the bigger money Harlem Crit in NYC since it had lots of hills. The race was a little over 80 miles long on a hot, sunny Sunday morning. A rider from the ProTour on the Cervelo Test Team, Ted King, decided to grace us peons with his presence so things were certain to be interesting. He just came from the Giro in Italy which most people would probably consider a pretty good training race for something like the Housatonic Hills. Along with Ted King I had to pay attention to a mountain goat named Roger Aspholm.

I had high hopes of a top ten finish going in to this race, and before I had seen who signed up I thought I could even win it. With Mr King present that seemed far less likely, but ya never know!

The race consisted of three loops with quite a bit of climbing. Nothing too long, but enough climbing to make it a race of attrition. About 10 miles in to the first loop we hit one of the larger climbs and I decided to attack. Why? I really don't know. I'm pretty bad about what to do and when, still. I've always relied on my motor to carry me to victory with strategy and tactics coming in a distant 2nd and 3rd. I hit the gas and quickly pulled away from everyone. No one tried to keep up with me. Why? Because no one knew who I was. A newbie nobody in an orange jersey struts away and is going to burn his self out...have fun! I decided to carry on - big mistake - and eventually caught the 4 man break a few minutes ahead. At the end of the first lap I hit a big climb that was fairly steep. I kept hammering away and dropped the break. Why? I have no idea. At the time I had decided I could solo the race since it was so hilly. Drafting wouldn't work, right? Wrong. I rode away on my own and did the next lap by myself.

At the beginning of the third lap right before the aforementioned climb began, I turned around and saw Ted King leading a small group of riders in a chase. I knew I was caught so stopped working hard. I hopped in their train and traded pulls. Every climb we hit the pace went up and I knew at some point I was going to get dropped. I managed to hang on until about 10 miles to go when they really cranked it up one of the longer climbs. I gave up, threw in the towel, and just tried to limp to the finish and salvage whatever place I could. Top ten still seemed realistic. I got passed by three more riders and finished in a decent 9th place.

This race finally beat in to my thick skull:


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Return of the blog, a summary of what it's like to go from cat 5 to cat 2 in 3 months

I've been wanting to start posting on this page for quite some time. I've been racing on the road nearly every weekend since March 20th of this year, and my two readers have maybe wondered what the heck has been going on.

So, here it goes, from the top of my head, starting back in late March of this year.

I awoke at an hour no sane person should ever be subjected to on a regular basis. It was very dark outside still and would be still for at least another hour. My eyes popped open before the first alarm hit it's note around 4:25am. I was excited, amped, ready to race on this cold early Spring morning. My first category 5 race - the bottom of the barrel for those who don't know, the beginner category otherwise known as crash 5, the ten race requirement category to move in to the ranks of USA Cycling road racing.

It all started in Central Park at 6:30am with 49 other poor souls. From guys who looked like they'd been racing for years on $10,000 aero machines, to very newbie-looking novices on cheap bikes, I lined up in the front with instructions to sprint from the start and see what happens. I sprinted at the gun. I opened up a big gap, but I also was red-lined, going way too hard even for a 20 mile race, and about half way around the 6 mile loop I was caught by the pack. Huffing and puffing, I recovered. People started attacking and I jumped after every wheel. I rode myself in to the ground. I tried to break away near the end but got caught and passed and finished in the top 10. Not exactly how I thought things were going to go. I was told by a few people I was far stronger than other cat 5's and should dominate easily. It sure didn't go that way at the first race!

Fast fwd a bit, and most the races after that I did totally dominate easily winning solo by quite a bit. I learned a lot from that first race. It's not so easy to solo win from the gun. Draft some, conserve energy, wait for the right moment and things go as they should.

My eighth race was Battenkill. I was still stuck in category 5. Another cold start, we had a 1km neutral roll out before the racing began. 49 others again (50 max in cat 5 races) and we rolled slowly through the 1km. After 1km, I thought things would pick up a bit, but they didn't. So I joked around a bit with the few guys in the front, said I was freezing and needed to warm up so I accelerated. Stories after the race from others said I "sprinted" away from the field and disappeared. My story says I bumped the speed up from 16mph to 25mph and went in to endurance cruising mode hoping to warm my numb toes and hands. I was shocked nobody came with me. I immediately opened up a huge gap and that's all she wrote. I soloed the entire ~63 mile race and won by nearly 10 minutes. My time would've beat every cat 5 and cat 4 race and landed me in the top ten in cat 3.

I applied for my category 4 upgrade early, but meanwhile, the day after Battenkill, I raced my last cat 5 race in Bethel, CT. A criterium of some silly distance, say, 20 miles, around and around a 1 mile course with a small hill, I was again with 49 others and by now they recognized me and feared the, uh, orange jersey. On the first lap I sprinted up the hill and broke away. I rode by myself for the rest of the race and eventually lapped the entire field for another easy win.

Category 4 baby! I was psyched. I was nervous at my first race, another Bethel Crit. This time with nearly 100 guys and a dangerous distance of ~30 miles. I joked at the start I was in over my head and I had no idea what to do. People really liked that. I rode a few laps with the group and decided to break away. This time a guy went with me. He drafted off me nearly the entire time each lap and it really started to annoy me. So I sprinted up the hill and dropped him. I soloed the rest of the race for my first cat 4 victory. 7 points. I think I needed 15 or 20 to go to cat 3. I entered the cat 3/4 race the same afternoon and got 6th place I think. Another point or two towards my upgrade. I was pooped from the earlier solo effort - still hadn't learned how to take it easy and draft and wait for the right moment!

The next weekend I raced in PA at the Turkey Hill race. a 60+ mile road race with some climbing! I broke away with 4 or 5 others on the 2nd of x amount of laps, we'll say 6, and rode a lap with them. They were going too slow on the hills, I thought, and I was paranoid about getting caught so I dropped them and rode off by myself. Why, why??? Why do I ride myself in to the ground when I could easily draft with a few others! So, anyways, I soloed that race too for an easy win by a few minutes.

After that, I think the following weekend, I did the same thing at Prospect park, my last cat 4 race, and got first place by about a minute.

Cat 3! Getting up there with the big boys now... Before I was officially upgraded to cat 3 I decided to enter a pro 1 2 3 race at Floyd Bennett field, my Tuesday night local series with a lot of heavy hitters, and I got 2nd place. They found out I was still cat 4 though so they dq'd me and made me return my money:(

I entered a stage race in NJ called the Giro de Cielo. There were two other guys from NYC there that were strong riders and it was basically us against each other with 50 or so other guys fighting for 4th place. Mr Chabanov and Mr Ingraham gave me a run for my money, but I persevered and came out on top and got first place overall. I got 2nd in the crit, and top 10 in the road race. I also won the individual TT and set a new course record. yay.

Next up was the Wilmington Grand Prix in DE. This was a cat 2/3 criterium with all the big dogs out to whip my little cat 3 butt in to submission. A decent amount of prize money, and a huge pro race so there were lots of fans and sponsors around the course. I had no aspirations of winning this race, and just wanted to finish. It was all I could do just to stay in the front pack as we wound our way around the technical course. With two to go, I found myself in the front and decided, what the hell, go for it, so I sprinted as hard as I could towards the finish line and to my surprise opened a fairly nice gap on the field. Tuck the head, crank it out, hyperventilate, go go go! I'm still amazed I managed to stay away from the field for the final two laps and win the race.

I tried to upgrade to cat 2 after winning two races - one of them a fairly important race with most the strong cat 2s of the region, but was denied by my arch-nemesis Mr ragot. This really pissed me off. I was shy of a cat 2 upgrade by only a few points and it was pretty obvious, to me at least, that I could handle my own against cat 2 guys. So, I called up Colorado, home base for USA cycling, and spoke with the head official of the country. I explained my situation and he put me in touch with the head of the NE, a very level headed individual, and he told me deliver him the GC at Killington the following weekend and cat 2 is mine. GC = general classification, or overall stage winner. I had my first crash at the circuit race in Killington on day 1. A nasty 45mph crash where I managed to only lose a lot of skin and a few minor bruises. I still have some major scars from this one! I did decent in the TT the next day and moved up to around 8th place. the final day was the mountain stage road race. The race ended with a 5 mile steep climb and I thought I could probably win the overall with just that climb. I drilled it at the beginning and dropped the field almost immediately. I passed the few guys who had formed a break and climbed my way to victory and won the overall by about 2 minutes.

Cat 2! I'm still a cat 2...but not for long. I need a few points or maybe one point to get to category 1, but there's not really any rush since all the races I want to do up to September are pro 1 2 events. In September there's UNIVEST which is a Pro-1 only and that will probably be my last race of the year.

I've done really well since becoming a cat 2, but those stories will have to be told another day!