Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reset your clocks for GMST...

Green Mountain Standard Time, that is!

That's right, folks. The big show up in Vermont that marks the end of the road season for most of us is finally upon us. It is officially two full days into September, a scary thought in itself, and all those long hours in the saddle and nights spent neglecting friends and any semblance of normalcy are about to pay off - or so we all hope.

Personally, I could not be more excited or feel more well prepared. For the first time in weeks, I am feeling no fatigue at all - rest days will do that for you - and I can sense some excellent form coming on. That's what my WKO+ software is telling me, anyway, and that thing is like a freakin' crystal ball, isn't it? But in all seriousness, I am confident as can be that I can make something out of this race and convert on all the work I have done this year. It has been a long summer, starting when I got home from my freshman year at Tufts at the beginning of May, occupied almost exclusively by riding and racing my bike, with this one last weekend of racing my biggest goal. I should probably be a little nervous and freaked out then, shouldn't I?

Probably, but to be perfectly honest, I am not. All I am feeling is pure, unadulterated anticipation. I drove up to school on Tuesday a day earlier than planned, taking advantage of a rest day to move into my new room (which is absolutely awesome, by the way, and will make an excellent arena for Beirut) and have now had a full day here to settle in and take of my last-minute preparation under as little stress as possible. With a nice spin this morning and most of the day spent lounging happily in my new pad and admiring my shiny, new coffee maker that can actually be set to brew automatically when I wake up (tears of joy), all that remains is to head up to Vermont tomorrow and get ready to race and eat copious amounts of food. Does it get any better? I doubt it.

The nerves might kick in a little tomorrow night or Friday morning before my time trial, but for the time being the satisfaction of being settled in at school is serving well to help me forget any of that pressure to ride well. On Monday, before leaving, the prospect of hauling a truck filled with everything I own up to Boston and then schleping it all up two flights of stairs and arranging it in my new home, on top of then getting up to Vermont and settling in there to race all seemed a little daunting. But now that all I have left to do is race my bike, I feel that I really don't have anything to worry about. After all, that's what I do - race my bike. I'm a bike racer, not a move-stuff-to-Boston'er. With that major task out of the way, I know that I will be able to simply enjoy the race that much more, which usually means I will do that much better. After that, I may dabble in cross, which I am sure I am going to love, but more importantly it will finally be one of my favorite times of the year: Beer season!

Because I'm white, and I sure as hell can't dance.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

You'll never rain on my parade!

I have this theory, a little hypothesis if you will, that I want to run by you. It's pretty simple, and I guarantee that you can test it out for yourself to prove me right or wrong if you feel so inclined, though I have a strong feeling that wont be necessary. So here it goes:

One's happiness is a direct correlation to rate of pancake consumption.
Or, in mathematical terms: P x N = H,
where P is pancakes (a constant), N is number of pancakes, and H is happiness.

Doesn't that look like genuine happiness to you?

I am a pretty firm believer in this theory and have been putting it to the test with regularity over the course of the season. While flogging myself on a particularly long or gruelingly hard ride, doing my best to stave off overwhelming boredom or fight back tears of pain, the promise of a fresh batch of oh-so-delicious pancakes never fails to reinvigorate my spirits and add a little power to my pedal stroke. No matter how much or little I may have suffered on the ride, I know that when I roll up my driveway, by some sort of divine magic, the properly measured combination of fluffy powder, eggs, and milk will yield my absolute favorite recovery and comfort food. Whether drenched in rain, sweat, mud, blood, or any combination of all the above, nothing can take that away from me - with the exception of my own laziness, in which case I may settle for the second-best option of waffles and eggs. But in general, as long as long as good old Aunt Jemima is still around, no one and nothing can rain on my parade.

And with that, I arrive at my question of the day, only this time it is for you to contemplate, whoever you may be, as you now my answer. What I would like to know is this: What do you use to motivate yourself on a particularly trying day? When the skies open up and you absolutely getting pissed on, literally or figuratively, from what source do you draw the strength to drag yourself on rather than curl up in a pathetic heap on the roadside and cry for Mom?

Before you answer that, I need to attach a condition. Some of you might be inclined to say that you are inspired by the desire to be the best, the hunger to succeed, and nothing else. You think of yourself as a pure competitor whose motivation to compete and triumph is never-waning. I'm going to say to you right now that that is absolute bull shit. I am convinced that even the bravest and most ruthless of competitors, be it Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, or Mohamed Ali, have their moments of weakness and doubt. Every one of them and every one of us must have some other source to draw from, however basic it may be. It may sound crazy, but for me that is pancakes.

Maybe I was dropped over the top of that last climb, or maybe the prospect of another interval sounds about as fun as a Jonas Brothers concert, but as long as I keep those pedals turning until my body completely fails me, I know that I can still earn those pancakes. The more I ride, the more pancakes I can justifiably eat. And no, pancakes are not the reason I ride, they are not the reason that I dream of one day being a professional cyclist, but on those days that I doubt myself and doubt my dream, I need a contingency plan. I need some source of motivation that I can keep in reserve when my primary source is waning a little. That is when I think of pancakes.

What does it for you?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Capitol Region: Courageous, but Crushed

Though admittedly a little belated, I've finally decided to fill you, my loyal reader, whoever you may be, in on my latest attempt at eking out a result in a P/1/2 race. Five days later, though, I am not really feeling a full blow-by-blow race report, and I doubt you would truly want to read it anyway, so I'll skip the filler and just serve up the main course.

It was a hot, hot, and, dare I say, hot day, as it has been every day lately. The race was 4 laps of a 20 mile course, and on lap 1 I was already in trouble, nearly losing contact on the first time over the series of short but sharp climbs. I could tell I was on a bad day, but I was able to maintain contact, though just barely. On the second and much flatter half of the course, the innevitable early break began to form. I could see it happening, and knew exactly what was going on, but my legs were absolutely telling me no. But Roger then decided to make things even more obvious, pointing out to me that this was going to be the break and that I should probably be there, now leaving me with absolutely no excuse for being a complete and utter pussy. So when Jackson Weber of Embrocation came up to the front, where I was currently "hiding," and gave me THE LOOK, what else could I do? Ultimately, I grew a set, and Jackson and I, along with two CCNS riders painfully bridged to the 5 riders already up the road. This was the break, and everyone there knew it.

My death was imminent. What can you do.

I'll hit fast-forward now and spare you some details in the interest of both keeping your attention and salvaging some of my pride. I was eventually dropped from the break and then caught by the elite and select chase group a few minutes behind. The next time up the climbs, I was dropped by them as well, as the big boys dropped some bombs and blew the remnants of the field to shreds. Jackson and I were reunited (YAY!!!), and we rode at a conversational pace along with an Anthem rider for the remainder of the lap. Through bribery, namely an offer to pay for beer later, I was able to convince Jackson to continue the death march with me and grind out the final lap. Unfortunately, the promoters felt otherwise, deciding that only the 14 riders contained in the break and scattered behind would be allowed to complete the last lap, and that the rest of us would simply receive pro-rated placings. So I ended the day 16th, which I am not particularly proud of, though I would probably have been a little happier with it if I could have ridden that extra lap. Plus, I could have eaten more cookies, pie, cake, and other assorted baked goods afterward had I ridden the extra lap. Damn you promoters, always denying me my just desserts!

Now that my wordier-than-planned race recap is out of the way, I will answer my question of the day, which I think is becoming a new theme for my posts.
Today's Q: "What did I learn today?" (boring, I kn0w, but nonetheless important).
Today's A: Well, I think I learned that I actually can sneak my way up the road, as I had hoped, and that I am capable of animating a race at this level. Granted, I did not have what it took to hang on to what ultimately proved to be the winning move (4 of the original 9 hung on to sweep the top 4 spots), but at least I was part of it at some point. That in itself is invaluable experience that I will certainly benefit from. I didn't walk away with any result to speak of, and I didn't bring home any prize money, but I took a step in the right direction. All this on a day that I felt absolutely awful from the get-go. Hopefully next time, which should be Green Mountain, I won't be having a jour-sans, and I can actually capitalize on an opportunity.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

But, but, BUTT!

If there is one issue that all cyclists would give up nearly anything to be able to ignore, but are forced to discuss and address all too often, is is our butts. Or, more specifically, the much more sensitive region thereabouts.

After countless hours of turning circles while perched atop an often scantily padded saddle with nothing but a layer of lycra and some sort of chamois in between, it is inevitable that all but the most fortunate are bound for some degree of discomfort in the not-so-distant future of their cycling careers. An entire line of products exists that is specifically geared toward alleviating this problem. An endless variety of chamois creams and balms are available at local bike stores and through online retailers to assist the avid pedaler both during and after rides, reducing the friction on the dingleberry wonderland and easing the pain afterward. Fun monikers like "ass sauce" (a play on Assos if you didn't get that) and "DZ Nuts" help make light of the conundrum, but it still hangs over all of us like Peter Gibbons' painfully annoying boss in Office Space.

Nothing else can truly compare to the pain of a nagging saddle sore that shoots bolts of pain up through your nether regions every time you touch down to set off on a ride. Runners may complain of awful blisters on their toes and feet, football players of concussions and dislocated shoulders, and baseball players of I honestly don't know what. But let's be honest here: Wouldn't any one of us in an instant trade a quarter, or even half dollar-sized blister on the heel or a swift shot to the head for the pain incurred simply by sitting in the saddle for hours on end? I know I would. So please, will all the sneaker and cleat-wearing folks stay out of this conversation. You've lost already.

Unlike Big George Hincapie, whom I gleaned through an interview over the winter is one of the blessed few who can go without the aforementioned products, probably saving him huge dollars over the years, I am cursed by a rather sensitive tainte (pardon my French). Despite my best efforts and countless tubs of chamois cream, of which I have found Assos to be by far the best, my usually enjoyable saddle time has recently been marred but a very unpleasant discomfort. Using my own well-being, and possibly that of my future (and by future I mean distant future) offspring, as an excuse, I decided to make a purchase that I have been contemplating for some time now: a new saddle. And not just any saddle. Yesterday's mail brought with it my brand new Selle San Marco Concor Light Racing Team saddle. Quite the name for quite the saddle.

I've been eyeing the saddle for the better part of the season, and the time seemed right to make a change, my hope being that a slightly different way of rubbing the saddle would bring an end to my worries and that little forest creatures would merrily scamper along as I ride care-free through the hills of northern New Jersey. Today was day two of my experiment and, sadly, my entourage of forest creatures has yet to form, though I've seen more than enough roadkill. I am happy to report, however, that the pain factor has gone from about a 7, with spikes as high as 9, down to a 2. Granted, over the course of my 4.5-hour ride today I was forced to stop nearly ten times to make adjustments, and at one point was nearly crippled with agonizing hamstring pain that was the result of too low a setting, but the pain I was most worried about was gone. And with the insightful input of my seemingly all-knowing coach, the Flying Fin, I was able to finally get everything set-up so that if feels nearly perfect. By the end of the week, I'm expecting a pain-free ride, or as much as is possible in our decidedly masochistic sport.

Oh, and by the way, if you don't own a tub of this already, buy one now. As the great Ferris Bueller would say: "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Finding my place: "Where am I?"

With yet another race in the books, bringing me, sadly, one weekend closer to the end of the season, I've had the chance to learn a little bit more about bike racing and little bit more about myself, two things that I take as pretty fair consolation for not getting a noteworthy result.

Yesterday was Tokeneke, a race that I had not done before but that I had heard was a serious challenge. Although it was a little on the short side for a P1/2 race at 66 miles, the 6000 feet of climbing and utter lack of flat road made the race live up to its reputation. In the interest of keeping your attention and focusing on the real subject of this post, I'll just give you a quick synopsis of how the day went.

No one was shy about racing, and the first lap was intense to say the least. Things cooled off on the second lap, and a break finally rolled away that the field was happy with. The break never gained more than a minute, things got hot again on lap 3, then on the last power climb before the long run-in to the finish climb, the race went nuclear. The field shattered, I didn't have the gas to make the split, and finished the race in a chase group, dropping most of my fellow chasers on the 2.5-mile finish climb and rolling in with Jerome Townsend and James Morrison 3 minutes down for 24th place. The winner? The Fin himself, who clearly earned it by being one of the few riders in the peleton to make any effort to control the break before Jamey Driscoll and BikeReg took over.

Ok, now that we've established a background story, I can try to answer my own question: "Where am I?" Working backwards, the answer to that question is off the front. Unfortunately, that's only the answer if we're working backwards. At the moment, I'm really just a face in the crowd, holding on for dear life and trying to survive in the shadows of the big boys. That's simply no way to live, let alone race. Going forward again, where I should be is off the front, trying to take advantage of my relative anonimity in the P1/2 field. I realize that when I toe the line every weekend, I'm not considered a threat the way any of the top riders are. And nor should I be. I haven't done anything yet to warrant that kind of respect or fear. The problem, then, is that I haven't taken advantage of that.

Rather than trying to mark the fast powerhouses in the race and hoping, rather unrealistically, that I don't get spit out the back when the shit hits the fan, I should be taking advantage of the long leash that I'm sure I'll be given and forging my way up the road with other riders who, like me, are not yet considered a true threat. That way, when the big boys decide to pull out their guns and are shedding riders in every direction, I'll be safely up the road, riding a steady pace and biding my time before they catch up. By then, I can at least hope that just a little bit of the sting from their relentless pace has been used up already. It would be ludicrous to think that I'm ready to match their speeds when they decide to turn on the heat, especially when I know that it is short, intense efforts that give me the most trouble, and long sustained ones that allow me to excel. Granted, it is a major gamble to take off up the road, where you are working much harder than you would be in the fold of the peloton. But the steady effort in the break can be so much less punishing than the constant accelerations of a charging peloton.

So what's missing now? In all honesty, just a little bit of courage and touch of racing savy. These are all things that I know well from racing for 4 years and watching the Tour on TV every summer. All that's left is to work up the nerve to actually apply the lessons I have learned to an actual race and risk losing in order to try to win. I realized yesterday how much I admire those racers who, like me, are not yet labeled a threat, but who actually have the courage to go up the road and try anyway. Some of you may be reading this post right now, and you probably know who you are, as you are the riders who try this same stunt week in and week out. Sometimes it fails, sometimes it succeeds. Either way, you played your best card, and that's really all you can ever do. Your courage inspires me, and I only hope that, starting now, I can find that courage in myself and join you in the possibly doomed, but not necessarily so, break of the day the next time we toe the line. Here's to hoping we make it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Rain, rain go away.

So it's pretty clear that I've become negligent in my Blogging lately. I'd like to say that it's because I've been extremely busy doing something somewhat productive or garnering some huge race results, but both of those would be a total lie. I've simply been extremely lazy.

The last time I checked in, I was set to take a camping trip, marking my first true break from the bike all season. In the interest of saving words, I'll just say that the woods were refreshing, the beer was cold, and the plenitude of s'mores was absolutely delicious. I couldn't have asked for a better way to recharge the batteries.

Coming back from my trip, I got right back to business. My season is decidedly bottom heavy, with three big events (Tokenke, Capital Region, and GMSR) all falling in a one month span and all involving lots and lots of hills (you would see my smiling right now if I were telling you this in person). But before I can go out and hopefully convert some of those hills into results, I have to train and race more, and this past weekend, that meant the Tour of Lancaster County.

Now for the stalness:
The TOLC was a 2-day, 3-stage race, involving an 80-mile road race on Saturday followed by a TT and a crit on Sunday. Once again in the interest of saving words, the road race was hot as hell and hard, the TT was run amidst a monsoon, and the crit was blazing fast. I didn't leave with any results to speak of, though I was not embarassed either. Realistically, I couldn't really have expected much out of myself at this race, as I hadn't raced since Union Vale nearly 3 weeks prior, unless you count the local Rockleigh Criterium. That span was by far my longest stretch without racing since the beginning of March, and coupled with the my camping trip the previous weekend, it left me without much top-end power. To put it simply, I was very stale. My fitness was high, there is no doubt about that, but I just couldn't quite tap into it. It was like having a full tank of gas before a road trip but not being able to find your keys. I was able to gut it out on what I had, though, and the hope now is that I'll be able to convert that into some good form this weekend at hilly race No. 1: Tokeneke.

With 6000 feet of climbing over the course of 66 miles, it sounds like my kind of day. I've spent the last two days just recovering from the weekend, with a 2-hour recovery ride Monday and a 3-hour joy ride today. Though it's taken me a little longer to recover than I would like, the lack of stress and abundance of good food I have been a party to (tonight thanks to my own cooking -- a fantastic shrimp fra diavlo), I have high hopes that I'll be ready to get down to business tomorrow and Thursday and turn it on Sunday. I'd be thrilled to nab my first Top-10 as a Cat 2, which would be a really encouraging sign a few weeks out from my biggest remaing goal, Green Mountain. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Vacation, epic, and pancakes

I'll be the first to admit that I'm often a bit of a hard-head when it comes to pretty much everything. When I want to do something, it is pretty tough to convince me otherwise, and it's usually best to just let me go for it and deal with the consequences myself, because chances are I'm going to wind up doing it despite any objections. So it's a little surprising that I wasn't too reluctant to completely for racing this weekend; though I guess that means that I really was ready for a little time off.

There weren't many worthwhile races to go to, except the Owasco road race, which seemed like an excellent event that would have suited me well, but with no one signed up and the absurdly long drive out to Syracuse, there was just no point. So when Roger texted me yesterday to tell me he had decided not to go, I wasn't exactly disappointed. To be perfectly honest, I was pretty happy about it. I just didn't want to spend my weekend in a car. And instead of driving up to Connecticut on Sunday for 50-mile crit that I probably couldn't win anyway, I decided that this would be a good time to just ride my bike as much as possible and start to get myself ready for Green Mountain in about 6 weeks from now. It's never too early, especially with the all Cat 2 field they just added, which really opens the door for me to end my season on a great note.

So today I went on one of the nicest rides I have had the pleasure of doing all year. It was a rare chance to truly ride with my dad, who happens also to be in the best shape he has ever been at the moment, which made it a truly enjoyable ride. We set out around 8am and headed off to Bear, getting in a pretty awesome amount of climbing including Perkins, the Bear Mt race loop, and many other nice ascents, giving us around 5300 vertical feet by day's end. When it was all said and done, we had logged over 5 hours of saddle time and I had burned a cool 3400 calories according to my SRM, a number I don't think I have ever seen before. Can you say hungry? The reward of endless gorging just might be my favorite part about this sport.

As soon as we got home, I cracked open a beer (Magic Hat), and began preparing the pancake batter as my dad took a quick shower. After he cleaned up, we switched roles, and I hopped in the shower as he cooked. Mmm mmm good. You just can't beat that. And not more than 45 minutes later, I was sitting down again and digging into a heaping bowl of cereal, which probably won't hold me over for long. It's not easy to eat over 5000 calories in a day, believe me.

I definitely could not have asked for a more pefect day, and I think it's safe to say that not many people are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy 5 hour rides with their dads. I consider myself beyond lucky to have that, and it was a much better way to spend my day than racing in Prospect Park at 6am. Now I'll use whatever I have left tomorrow to put the hammer down on the Nyack Rider, our local big group ride that everyone seems to think is a race. And with just a fun camping trip planned for next weekend, my first true break from the bike since March, I might as well keep the pressure on all week. Hopefully this big block will pay off in August, when the real racing resumes to close out the year. Besides, I might as well earn some more pancakes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Enter the pain cave

It seems that I have been saying this over and over again this season, but this time I truly mean it: Union Vale on Sunday was the hardest race I have ever done. I raced there last year in the 3/4 field, which covers 58 miles and is hard enough as is. But with an extra loop and more than a little extra fire-power, the 72-mile P123 race was another ballgame.

I felt strong as I toed the start-line and was fairly confident that I could reap the benefits of the stage-race form that I may have gained from Fitchburg. Waiting in the staging area and chatting with everyone, I realized that, for the first time this season, I would have teammates in the field. Gilberth and Rafy were both there, and Gilberth warned me that the chances of a break sticking were very good. With that in mind we rolled off for the start of our sufferfest.

Not 3 miles into the race, Gilberth launched an attack up a small roller, drawing out some other riders soon after and forming what would be the main break of the first half of the race. Overly anxious, I began to cover just about every move for the better part of the first lap, which I soon realized was a bad idea and not something I could keep up, so I finally wised up and just sat tight near the front but out of the wind. The break maintained a solid gap, but we were by no means going easy back on the pack. We caught them some time on the third lap, I think but the incessant suffering I was subject to leaves the the details a little hazy.

Going through the traffic circle at the start of lap 3, I was caught by surprise by an acceleration at the head of the field and found myself at the wrong end of a big split going into a serious head/cross-wind. I chased like mad to bring myself back, but couldn't seal the deal until we finally turned left onto a downhill section with a tailwind, where I immediately got back on. One big match burned.

The next time through the feedzone, which happens to be on the second half of the first main climb, I was too focused on grabbing a neutral bottle and let myself slide too far back in the group. The next thing I knew, an attack had drawn the majority of the field up the road and I was once again on the wrong end of a split, only this time the front end was a lot larger. Along with a few other riders like Andrew Bernstein, I chased with utter desperation, making it back onto the group just in time to fall off the back again as we headed up yet another climb. Somehow, I kept them close enough that I was able to chase back on down the ensuing descent, this time latching on permanantly. Match number two gone.

I was pretty convinced at this point that I was cooked, and that the next hill would be my last. Amazingly, though, my legs grew stronger and stronger as the race wore on, though it did not get any easier. The break was caught and a new one formed, this time with Rafy in it. I entertained no illusions about my chances on the day, switching to full on survival mode and just hanging on as the big-guns live Cameron Cogburn and Matt Purdy set a furious pace up each climb.

Despite feeling as if I was going to be dropped on every climb over the course of the final lap, I managed to drag myself over the top every time still safely in the fold. We crested the last climb with a very reduced group and began the run-in to the additional 1.5-mile finishing climb, where the fireworks were sure to start. We hit the base of the climb, which is steepest for the first half and then tappers off for a little while before pitching up again for the final 600 meters or so, and Gavi Epstein literally exploded up the left side. There was a response in the bunch, but no one could match his acceleration. The ensuing surge shed lots of riders though, and the second surge that came soon after finally shed me. Unable to even stand, I just dug in and tried to keep turning over my 25 as fast as I could, which really was pretty slow. I don't know how, but I managed to pick off a few riders along the way, catching up with Gilberth just before the flat section. We paced each other through there before I gapped him on the final steep section.

When the first piece of signage finally came at 200m to go, I tried to kick it into gear and finish as strongly as I could, but at 50 to go my legs basically failed. I could hear the whooshing of wheels coming up behind me, as Matt Cutler and Kyle Peppo, who I had dropped earlier in the climb, had clawed there way back as I faded. As I desperately tried to beat them to the line, I felt a hand shove me forward from behind, and with one last desperate kick, I got to the line first, claiming 13th place. It's nothing special, but hey, I'll fight for whatever I can. So I owe a huge thanks to Gilberth for that nice shove. Job done.

I'm not going to get into specifics, but let's just say that I put out some numbers for amounts of time that I did not think I could. I would have really liked to finish strongly and have a solid finish, especially with a climb that this one that really suits me, but the tank was truly on empty at that point. Maybe I could have dug just a little deeper, suffering that little bit more, but I am not so sure that it would have any difference. I was running on fumes. Those two matches burned earlier in the race cost me, and I am definitely learning how important it is to conserve in these races and fire your bullets when it counts, because you don't have many of them.

A turkey sandwich, a coke, a Nutrigrain bar, two hamburgers, a sweet potato, salad, a bowl of cereal, and some fruit all helped a lot bringing me back to life after the race, but it has definitely taken some time to fully recover. Even my feet hurt on Monday! Though I would have loved to finish in the Top 5, either with a strong finishing climb or by making the break, I can at least take some consolation from the fact that, once again, I was in the mix. Only my second race as a Cat 2 (if you count Fitchburg as one big race), this was definitely another good sign that I am not in over my head. I can confidently say that, when the shit hits the fan, I will be there. At this point it's not a matter of being strong enough to survive the race, I can do that. All I need now is the ability to finish the job, to have enough as left in the tank to fight for the line. But at least I'm in the position to fight for the line at all, so I'm pretty happy about that. Step by step, bit by bit, I'll get there.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The sky is falling!

Last night, as I was just hanging out with my friends Erica and Sharyu in Erica's basement, one of the most bizarre events was taking place outside. I was not aware of what was going on until the power suddenly cut out for a few seconds, prompting Erica to go upstairs to investigate, and the report she came back with was quite shocking.

Apparently, in a 10 or 15 minute span, one of the most devastating storms I have ever seen was wreaking havoc outside, sending down monsoon-like rain mixed with hail, as well as gale-force winds and searing bolts of lightening. Both my parents called me immediately to warn me to wait before trying to come home and to be as careful as possible. The warning was needless, as when I finally left for home around 12PM, I was forced by numerous felled trees and their branches to crawl along, not to mention change my route home no less than 3 times. And all of this took place in no more than 15 minutes!

This morning, when I awoke at 5AM (thanks to my cell phone alarm clock since the power was out when I went to bed last night), I was disappointed to find that my house was still sans-electricity. So I ate my breakfast by candlelight (how novel!), kitted up, and headed over to Rogers so we could make our way to the shop for an early morning ride to Bear. On the way there, we were able to see the extent of the damage incurred last night. It was quite impressive. Fortunately, and bizarrely, the epic storm was confined to a very small radius, and in 4 hours of riding we encountered no obstacles other than one fallen tree that we had to climb over in the first few minutes.

So how does this have anything to do with cycling or my life, you might ask? Well, the impressive damage caused by the brief but obviously intense storm brings one word to my mind: Power.

If you're reading this Blog, chances are you ride a bike in some capacity, so you know the meaning of that word. Power is watts. It is force applied over and over and over to the pedals, propelling each of us forward through the wind and up into the mountains. But what I have been realizing more and more as of late is that power is not merely physical. In fact, I am starting to feel that power output is as much a mental task as it is a physical one. On that note, I'd like to bridge to a conversation I had with Andreas during our ride today.

We were talking about how we both feel that we often lack the fortitude, bravery, or whatever you would like to call it that allows a rider to really unleash all he has left in the tank as the line approaches. We are both strong riders who can survive most grueling races on all types of courses. He is a super strong all-around rider, I am more of a pure climber with a decent time trial; and not to sound cocky, but neither of us is going to be dropped easily. But when the time comes to uncork those last few watts and fight for the line with whoever is left in the race, we both agreed that we often have trouble making that last massive effort to out-kick our competitors to the line. Personally, I feel that the problem is entirely mental. It has nothing to do with being a poor sprinter, as someone like Roger is by no means a sprinter but that doesn't seem to have stopped him from winning more races than I care to count, and I can assure you that they have not all been solo. It is a certain ruthlessness and temporary disregard for one's body that allows a rider like Roger to self-inflict what should be an overwhelming amount of pain on himself to claim glory time and time again.

Physically, I think I have what it takes to produce results, though I undoubtedly have a long way to go and can only get better and stronger than I am now if I continue to work at it. But, for the time being, I am just as sure that all I need to do is flip that mental switch to suffer just a little bit longer, and I will be better able to use the physical tools that I already have. Today, I felt like I took a step in that direction.

As we ascended Bear, Roger set a nice steady tempo up to the gate, though nothing that would induce any soul-crushing (not that it was meant to be). After climbing around the gate, I took over on the front and was feeling a little frisky, so I upped the ante, holding a solid clip on all the moderate pitches and accelerating a bit on all the steeper ones. It wasn't anything that could drop Roger or Andreas, but it got me breathing hard and I could hear a little panting behind me, always a good sign. I was feeling it as we approached the last bend, which is where I often crack under the pressure of Roger's pace and just make my way to the top as best I can, but this time I threw my lever to get a few more gears, stood up, and dug in for the top. After 20 straight minutes of climbing, it hurt, but I held it all the way to the top.

Did Roger still out-kick me? Of course. But for once, I think that was only because he is the superior rider, something that was never in question, and not because I backed down. It was just like last night's storm. It does not necessarily take an overwhelming or drawn-out, never-ending effort to produce results. Just as that mini-storm, or whatever it was, wreaked unimaginably massive damage, it might only take another 30 seconds of suffering to put you on the top step of the podium. It's not going to kill you, and your legs probably aren't going to give out, though they may feel as though you've dipped them into the fiery pits of hell. The only question is whether or not you are willing to endure just a little bit longer. For the first time, I think I can truly answer with a resounding "Yes." And with Union Vale this Sunday, I have the chance to find out.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fitchburg Roundup

So it seems that I failed on my promise to post daily updates on racing at Fitchburg, but as most of you probably know, bike racing leads to laziness, and I don't claim to be any exception to that rule. But I am home now, and with two enormous cups of coffee in me, I have no more excuses, so here we go:

After a surprising 22nd in the opening time trial that left me in contention for a Top 20 overall, I was feeling pretty good. Day 2's circuit race historically features a pack finish, with most riders just trying to conserve for the queen stage on Day 3. With Mt. Wachussett out of the picture this year, though, it seems that people were holding back a little bit less, and fairly early on in the 16-lap race a large break made its way up the road and built a considerable gap. The gap shrunk and grew throughout the race, and a few riders were dropped from the break. Towards the end of the race, a few guys bridged up, and the break ultiamtely stuck, gaining 35 seconds on the field. I spent the entirety of the race comfortably in the fold, expending surprisingly little energy and getting off the bike feeling very fresh, something I did not expect at all. The break's success bumped me down to 25th on GC, but I wasn't too concerned.

The plan for Day 3 was much the same as the previous one: hold on. With Mt Wachussett gone, our race was extended to 8 laps for a total of 87 miles and 8 trips up the notorious feed zone climb, a stupidly-steep 500-600 meter, two-step hill. The first time up was one of the hardest, with riders eager to chase the green jersey points offered at the line. I was happy to have my 27 on, allowing me to spin past riders who were groaning their way up on bigger gears.

Around lap 3, a sizeable break formed and began to gain on the field. Once again, I was content just to sit in and watch things unfold, a perfectly sound strategy since I had no teammates and had been a Cat II for less than a week. Patience seemed like a good plan. Sure enough, soon after the final descent on lap 8, the race moto told us that the gap was 20 seconds to a bunch of riders who not cooperating at all, with just one rider ahead at a minute-thirty. Not long after, all but the one rider, who we soon figure out was Matt Purdy of team Spooky, were reeled in. I took a glance back and, much to my surprise, found that most of the 90+ man field was gone. In fact, I would guess that there were less than 40 of us remaining. Through clawing, grinding, and fighting, I had managed to cling to the main bunch and make the final selection. I was shocked to say the least. All the race leaders were there, and all I had to do was hang on a bit longer.

On the second of two short rollers before we turned onto the final time up the climb, a big acceleration sprung 6 or 7 riders free of the group, and they were able to hold their advantage onto and up the climb. In retrospect, I should have dug deep to follow this move, but I was just so shocked to have made it to the finish in such good standing that the thought didn't occur to me. My pre-race plans only included survival, and included no thoughts of what I would do when I actually approached the line. Call it complacency, call it shock. Whatever it was, it was a little stupid, but at the same time, I think I can cut myself a little slack for being a freshly minted Cat II only looking to get his feet wet. I ended up cedeing a few more seconds than I would have like up the finishing climb, that I passed a number of riders on the way up and dropped a few who had been ahead of me on GC. I finished 24th on the stage and climbed to 18th on GC, now officially in the money!!! I have never felt so completely shelled and empty in my life, and am still on a high from having made it through that day.

The final day's criterium was, for me, just a necessary evil. I don't particularly like crits, as they suit none of my strengths, but I know that I can survive them, so that is exactly what I sought to do: survive. I knew which riders were a potential threat to my GC position, which, though not Top 10 or anything, meant a lot to me. So I kept a watchful eye on them and did my best to stay in the top half of the field and as near the front as possible whenver I could. Some attacks were launched from time to time that had me a little worried, but patience once again proved the most prudent tactic, and all moves that could have threatened me were very short lived, as the ambitions of other riders in the filed proved just as powerful as those trying to escape. Yay for field sprints!

With 10 laps to go, I took to the front and fought like hell to not fall out of the top 10 riders, where I knew I would be safest. My friend and apparent crit-beast Connor Sallee was up there as well, so I clung to his wheel like it was my job. He proved an excellent wheel to follow, and if you're reading this, Connor, thank you! Ken Harris and one other rider took off with 9 to go and staid away to finish, which was fine by me and apparently with the race-leaders CCB team, as it took away the larger time bonuses on offer. I held my spot in the front until 2 to go when, as usual in crits, I lost my nerve and just faded to the rear. That was fine, though, as it this point everyone was just in full sprint mode. I tucked in and rolled across the line in 40th place, a first-page result but nothing to write home about. But my job was done: I had kept the rubber-side down and no one threatening to me gained any time. Whatmore, due to the bad luck of other riders, I climbed another spot on GC, slotting me into 17th at the end of the race and earning me a nice $70 check to bring home. Not that I could ever take pleasure in the ill-fortunes of other riders, but it just goes to show how important posititioning and attentiveness are in a race.

I left Fitchburg with all of my expectations met and far surpassed. I would have been content with a mid-pack finish every day, but instead I was in the mix, if not an actual factor, and emerged with a Top 20 placing, something I never would imagined. Had I had some expectations of myself going in and seized on that opportunity at the end of the road race, I could have been ever higher, but, as I said, the shock of being in the mix at all was too much for me and the possibility never really occurred to me. But I think I can now say that I learned a lot about myself this weekend and received a huge boost in my confidence. This race validates my Cat II upgrade and encourages me to start chasing some results in the near future. Next up, Unionvale this Sunday, a real climbers race with a 1.5-mile finishing climb. Who knows, maybe a Top-10 is in the cards. I'll just ride hard, hold on, and, this time, maybe take a shot.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Low expectations yield results

I came into Fitchburg with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. I have only been a Cat II since Sunday, and I wanted to be completely honest with myself and not roll up here thinking I was going to clean house, a mistake I have made before. I came here to have fun and ride my bike, and if some result comes out of that, then great. If not, I won't be disappointed because I have nothing to fall down from.

But today's opening time trial left me realizing that I actually can expect a lot from myself. After what I thought may have only been a mediocre performance that I did not execute perfectly, I snagged 22nd place in the 94-rider field. I would have been happy with anything in the top half! I was just 1 second off the pace of a Top 20 finish, so I am pretty pleased to say the least.

Before I get ahead of myself, though, why don't I rewind a bit. With a 3:57 PM start time, I had all the time in the world to kill this morning. Time to eat, relax, read, eat, think about my race, and eat some more. It was pouring rain pretty much all day, letting up here and there, so I was expecting the worst. Fortunately, though, by the time I arrived at the parking lot, the rain and stopped and it was only misting every once in a while. I got in a nice warm-up under cover of a roof overhand and timed everything perfectly, though they definitely made us sit in line at the start house for much too long, not letting me roll up 60 seconds before like I usually do. But everyone was on the same boat.

I think I paced myself very nicely over the first half of the course, hitting my goal wattage, but the second half did not go quite as well. A little while after the turn-around, Gabe Lloyd, who had started 30 seconds behind me, caught and passed me. I kept him close, and was able to overtake him crossing the bridge into a headwind with about 2.5 miles to go. But, I had given it a little too much gas on the downhill sections, and he was able to pass me again, this time for good. I kept him very close for the rest of the race, but all of this had really messed with my head, and I was no longer doing a very good job of keeping track of my power and pace, concerning myself more with Gabe (who was on an excellent ride, claiming 8th). So the return trip was less than stellar, and had I just forgotten about him and kept myself nice and steady, I probably could have gone a bit faster, maybe clocking 18th or 19th. But, that was not the case, and I am by no means disappointed. On the contrary, I am thrilled to have done so well in my first Cat II race ever.

It's a great feeling to exceed your expectations, and for the rest of the weekend all I need to do is hang on and play it safe, and I could very well find myself making the Top 20 on GC, which is in the money. I am, afterall, a climber, and I get the feeling that at least a few guys ahead of me on GC are going to crack at some point in Saturday's road race. As Roger told me today, the more boring my race is from here on out, the better I will probably do. So I'm just going to keep my nose clean and try to stay safe and make all the splits. Tomorrow is a 16-lap, 50-mile circuit race that takes us up a certifiable wall every lap. People should be conserving their energy for the road race on Saturday, but there are always people looking for a bit of glory, so I'm sure it won't be easy. My plan is to sit tight and use as little energy as possible so I can just get home safe, enjoy my dinner, and get ready for the big one.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Getting it right, just in time

My last post was written during one of the most frustrating periods I have had this season, and possibly ever, on or off the bike. I was going through a stretch of racing when, though I knew I had the fitness to do well, I wasn't able to get the results I hoped for. Sure, I was able to get a few Top 10's, but nothing truly special. The problem, though, was all mental. In my impatience to garner my Cat 2 upgrade, I was riding far too aggressively and, to be honest, quite stupidly. I wanted to be part of every single break to make sure that I was in the one that finally stuck. But when none did, I didn't have the gas to finish strongly, resulting in mediocre result after mediocre result. After coming home empty-handed once again from Housatonic, I knew it was time to reassess.

Rockleigh was somewhat of an improvement, and though I was a little too active in the first half of the race, I didn't do any work in the second half until hopping on Roger's wheel with 4 laps to go as he followed a promising attack by Greg Olsen and I believe an Empire rider. I pulled through as soon as we caught on, but only Greg was with me, and we tried to make it stick, but were caught with just under 2 laps to go. I was totally gased and just let the field absorb me as Roger, Wilson, Greg, and one other ridrer successfully countered to form the winning move. So I had missed out, but I played, in my opinion, a pretty good card and used my head for once. It was a step in the right direction. Saturday's NJ State Road Race went even better and was finally the day I have know I was capable of if I just used my head.

On a flat, open, and windy course typically suited to the sprinters, I had to have a plan and stick to it if I hoped to do well. For the first 2 laps of the race, I did absolutely nothing, just watching as a 6-man move made it's way up the road on the first of the 4 17-mile laps that composed the 70-mile race. It had some firepower in it, but I just told myself to be patient, which was extremely hard to do since, as I have said before, patience is something I typically struggle with. Sure enough, though, the chase began to organize and, by midway into lap 3, we were about to make the catch. Though I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted to be the first to counter, we were about to catch the break at the only spot on the course that could be considered even remotely uphill, so if I was going to make any move at all, it had to be here. Just before we caught them, I punched it up the roller, blowing by the break and plowing forward. Mark Pohndork, who had been in the initial break, latched on, as did one Van Dessel rider, and we started to pull ahead. After a few minutes, John Landino and one other rider (Bill?) bridged up, and now we had the break.

To make a long story short, we cooperated flawlessly to the end, with Mark taking the win with a powerful sprint and myself rolling in for 5th, displaying my complete and utter lack of sprinting ability. I'm not complaining, though, as I rode the tactically savy race that I had hoped to it and it worked out just as I had planned. Aside from finishing well, it felt great to simply finally not screw up. With the points I earned, I reapplied for my Cat 2 upgrade, a goal I have had since the beginning of the season. The deadline that I had set for that goal was by after Fitcburg, and I am happy to say that I have now achieved it ahead of schedule, as I was approved today. Finally becoming a Cat 2 validates all the time I have put into this and, more than anything else, truly makes me feel that I am moving in the right direction. I should be competing in the Cat 2 field at Fitchburg now, which I do not doubt will be extremely hard, but I am excited for the challenge and fully intend to just play survival the whole race as I get my feet wet. The all Cat 2 field should make for an excellent transition into the higher level of racing though, so I think that the timing is perfect. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


The scene from Zoolander when Mugatu hypnotizes Derek at his secret day spa and programs him to assassinate the Malaysian prime minister holds a very powerful moral that I would do well to take to heart. In the scene, Mugatu plays the hit song from the band he was in before becoming a desiger (beginning with the piano-key neck tie, and yes I have seen this movie too many times). The message that the song repeatedly beats into Derek's head is simple: "Relax!" If only Mugatu would kidnap me and subject me to the same hypnotism, I am convinced that all of my problems would be solved.

It has been my goal to garner my Cat 2 upgrade this season, preferably by the end of Fitchburg. I am ready to take that next step and compete at a higher level, as I really want to see how far I can get in this sport. Also, seeing so many other kids my age and even younger achieving their upgrades already definitely puts a little more pressure on me, as I sometimes feel that I am underachieving or being left behind. My season has not gone at all badly, and has been highlighted by a 2nd at Battenkill, 9th at Beat Mt and Balloon Festival, and 10th overall at the Connecticut Stage Race, as well as a few other top 10 results. But, I have walked away from a lot of races wishing I could have done a little more. Both Bear and Balloon fall into that category and, more recently, so does Housatonic Hills.

I came into the race with high expectations and great legs but, as I believe I have been most of the year, I was over-eager and wanted it too badly. To use my dad's very apt baseball analogy, like a hitter on a cold streak, I was gripping the bat far too tightly, causing me to swing and miss over and over. At Housatonic, like usual, I was hoping to force a break, as that clearly suits my strengths much better than a sprint finish. There was nothing wrong with that, but my mistake was trying too often to force that break to happen, burning my matches too quickly so that, when the right moment to snap the chord to the field presented itself, I couldn't take advantage of it. Even in the closing minutes of the race, when I probably could have taken the field by surprise with an attack in the second to last corner about ha half mile from the finish, I could not, as I had just burned my last match trying to get away on a decent. I then couldn't even sprint, I was so spent, and walked away with nothing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do well, but putting excess pressure on yourself never does any good, and trying to be a part of every move is a surefire way to miss THE move.

So I don't have my Cat 2 upgrade yet, but I am knocking on the door and a win or two Top 5 finishes will get me there, and I am confident that I can achieve that very soon. I have a number of opportunities right in front of me now, particularly at Fitchburg next week, but I am going to make an effort just to enjoy myself and be patient with it. If it takes me another week or two, there is nothing wrong with that. I have Unionvale the following week, another hard and hilly race that suits me well. When the time is right and I learn to let things unfold on their own rather than trying to force it all the time, I am sure that what I am looking for will fall right into my lap. I know that I have all the physical tools now, I just need to learn to use them. Until then, I just need to enjoy the ride. See you tonight at Rockleigh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ready. Set. Sell!

So that last big block of training went pretty well. In 7 days I rode 400 miles, logging 22 hours in the saddle. After a 4+ hour Orchards ride on my own on Saturday, I rode the George Washington Bridge Challenge on Sunday with my dad and sister. The GWB Challenge is a 62 mile charity event that benefits the American Cancer Society, and my dad has done it every year but one its 22 year history, and I have done it probably 6 times by now, so it's become sort of a tradition for us. This was the first time that my sister came along, so we had the full Cooper squad out on the road. It was essentially a 4 hour recovery ride for me, but that was fine, since my legs litterally felt like someone had drained them like they would the syrup from a maple tree. But I am now feeling awesome, having fully recovered from my huge week of training and feeling very ready for the Giro di NJ and Housatonic this weekend. This will be a great chance for me to score a big result, possibly twice since there are two good road races, and to test my TT ability ahead of Fitchburg.

There is no other way to put this, so I'm just going to say it blunty: employment and money completely suck. The three summers before this one, I had completely boring office jobs with regular 9-5 hours which, although they paid well, were painfully boring and were not at all conducive to training. Unless you like to wake up at 4am to get in a long ride, it's pretty rough, and training at dark is not a whole lot better. So this summer, wanting to really have a breakthrough year, I sought an alternative.

My first option was to work at a bike shop, which would of course have some obvious perks. But to make a long story short, that just didn't work out. Instead, I wound up working as a sales rep for Cutco, the knife company. It seems to have become a pretty popular thing to do, and it allows the most flexible work hours on the planet: whatever hours you want! You simply can't beat that. The only problem is that you really have to be very self-motivated and want to make money badly in order to make it work. It started out really well but, as one would expect, has slowed down considerably lately.

I could probably work a lot harder at it and be more persistent about finding new clients, but I have been so much more focused on turning the pedals. After all, the only reason I want/need a job is to fund my cycling needs, so why would I want to spend more time and energy working than I do riding? The former only exists to support the later, so I why let it get in the way, right? Well, like anyone else, I do have money worries, though I really despise money and would be much happier if it just didn't matter. The only reason I want it is so that I can afford to keep riding my bike, paying my entry fees, etc. So hopefully I can find the drive to put a little more effort into it and maintain some sort of positive cash flow, which I think I will do. All I have to do is sell, sell sell. So if you are in the market for any knives, and I kid you not they are actually really excellent ones, let me know! Otherwise, I can just use them to slash your tires.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Taint that funny

As if trying to prove me wrong, the weather today actually decided to cooperate. I was woken in the middle of the night by pounding rain, and when I woke up again at 7, it was still wet outside, so I happily slunk back into bed. By 9am, though, things had a nearly completely cleared up, so I kitted up and hopped on the TT bike for Day 3 of this training block.

It was kind of odd because it was the first ride that I have done alone in at least a week, a stark contrast to the nearly complete solitude that I endured while training up at school throughout the winter and early season. I've definitely enjoyed the company, but a solo ride with just my iPod was actually pretty nice.

I was happy to be dry and see clear skies throughout the ride, and I just kept it light and easy for the first 45 minutes. Once getting to a road that I thought would be good, I checked my watch (SRM is being serviced) and ramped it up to tempo pace for the next 40 minutes or so. I found a good stretch of road that I was able to fly on with litter interruption, going from Blueberry to Brewery to Congers to Ridge to Little Thor. It was a nice stretch and a nice effort that was not at all hard but felt enough like to work to be fun. It also reminded me that, no matter how much chamois cream you use, the TT bike is just unkind. There is no way around it. All you can do is ride it as often as possible and get used to it. Now just one more big day tomorrow and that will finsih this phase of my big race prep, so I can hopefully ruin some people's legs next weekend.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It rains here?

The weather at the start of this summer has been anything but summer-like, and this week has not failed to continue the trend. Today was the third day in a row that I've had to break out the rain slicker and brave the elements in the hopes of building some serious form ahead of Fitchburg and a few other big races that I plan to use to close the books on my Cat 3 racing career. But at least I've had some company every day.

It started Tuesday with an ass-crack-of-dawn TT workout with Roger and Andreas. We started with the jackets on, but as we started to ride harder and began to heat up, we stopped to peel them off. It was wet out, but only lightly drizzling at times. Inevitably, not fifteen minutes after we had peeled off our waterproof gear, the sky turned completely black and it began to piss on us, literally. It was an epic downpour. Except for not being able to see anything it was kind of fun, and weren't too far from home, so it was not so bad. Or at least it wouldn't have been if I had seen that hole in the road as we took a corner 5 minutes from the house. But I dind't, so rode straight into it and ate it in the middle of the road. Not so fun. Fortunately, I and my bike were both fine, and I washed off at home with nothing but a few cuts and bruises.

Yesterday and today I joined the shop rides to Bear, both times in equally wet conditions that left me with some awesome mud lines and road grime on myself and my bike when I got home. Tuesday's early morning adventure was pretty civil until we got to Bear, where Andreas decided he would try to take off early. That was a bad idea Andreas. You know Roger is going to chase you down...and he did. Roger towed Alex and I up to Andreas, and the 3 of us just hung on for dear life. After climbing around the gate, Roger put in some accelerations that shook Alex and Andreas, and then it was up to me to hold on, which I failed at several times only for him to wait for me to chase back on so I could get dropped again. Everyone regrouped at the top, and then we basically motored home. As is customary of most of my 4+ hour rides, I feasted on stawberry and blueberry pancakes to make it an awesome day.

Today was essentially rinse and repeat, with the emphasis on rinse. Today's ride was a little wetter, a little longer, and definitely hillier, featuring a new route to Bear that I hadn't taken before but definitely enjoyed. We also had a differnt crew today, including Kyle and his awesome green bartape that I am seriously jealous of, and were riding at the much saner hour of 9 am rather than 6. I am happy to say that this time up Bear I was the one to reel back in the earlier attacker, Jim, and then set the pace up to the gate. Once again, Roger played his cards on Perkins and shook the rest of the crew, and once again I was the last man standing. Only this time I actually held on until the last bend, where he put in one big, never-ending acceleration, which I guess just means he started riding faster than I could over the last 500m or so. I was pleased with myself for almost marking him all the way up. We then motored home once again, only this time no pancakes...not even eggs as we were out and I am way to lazy to go to the grocery store. Lots of cereal had to suffice.

So that's now 8.5 hours on the bike in 2 days, with a TT bike ride tomorrow and another 4 hours Saturday followed by some easier rides before I prep for the Giro di NJ and Housatonic, which should all set me up really well for Fitchburg. The goal is to win or at least podium at one of these road races and finish Top 10 on GC at Fitchburg before I upgrade to Cat 2 and start to take a beating. Now for some sleep before I probably get rained on tomorrow...again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And your lucky number is...

Apparently the answer is 9. Nine, nueve, neuf, nove, neun - whatever makes you happy. I just can't shake the number lately.

After a somewhat disapponinting (in my opinion) 9th place at Bear Mt a few weeks ago, I took 9th this past Thursday at the Rockleigh Crit in the 123 race. I was not too upset with that, as it was a 30+ man filed and I was extremely active throughout the race, burning pretty much all my matches. And when it came down to a field sprint in the end, I did not like my odds. Somehow, my skinny legs managed to hold my position at the front on the final lap and I clung to my spot in the top 10, drag racing Andreas to the line and just barely getting him (sorry bud). With a little more confidence and a few more elbows, I might be able to eek out a few top 5s in some fieild sprints for my final few upgrade points if need be. Who knows.

The notorious 9 found me once again this weekend, though, and this time I was a little less satisfied with it. First was Saturday's Balloon Festival in Cambridge, NY, at the same site as Battenkill (I took 2nd there!). After a long early morning drive with Roger, Andreas, and John Landino, I was ready to take my revenge on the race that I came oh-so-close to last year, when I had a mechanical on the final lap and was forced to drop from the winning break. But on the way up, I got the bad news that the course had been changed, and although we would be taking the main, and certainly difficult climb, 4 times, the course was overall much easier with fewer rollers and no dirt section. Long story short, despite my best and repeated efforts to shatter the field and several promising attempts that failed due to a general unwillingness of the Cat 3 field to work, no break succeeded and it was a sprint for the line with the remaining 30 man field of the the 70 starters. I kept myself up front, but chose a bad line into the left hand turn before that precedes the right before the final 200m. I had to grab my breaks to avoid the grass, and then I was bogged down and by the time I cornered again and was back up to speed, my sprint was shot and I could only overtake a few riders to nab 9th. Not what I was hoping, but still $10 and an upgrade point.

I hoped to redeem myself at High Bridge the next day, which was one of the most incredible courses I have raced. It was just brutally hard and I cannot wait to come back next year. After watching Roger claim the win in the Pro/1/2/3 race, which I was very tempted to do myself but am now thankful I did not, I was feeling ready to keep the Finkraft success rolling. The first 2 times up the wall, I felt awesome, having no trouble being one of the first ones up and and accelerating pretty hard myself the 2nd time to put the pressure on. On the rolling backstretch of the 3.3 mile course, I found myself with a gap on the field after I took a pretty standard pull on one of the rollers. This is where I made my biggest mistake: rather than sitting up and waiting for the field so I could just let the hill take its toll, I went for it. I forged ahead alone into hard headwind, pushing it far more than I should have. Whenever I looked back, except on the long finishing stretch before the hill, the field was out of sight. But when I made it to the wall, I knew right away that I hadn't held back enough. I made it over the top of the first pitch, but was soon caught on the false flat after the turn and watched an attack fly by me. I went backwards for a little bit and then latched on about 10 riders back. I thought I would survive, but when we made the left onto the final portion of the hill, one more acceleration shed me right away. Over the top, they were tantalizingly close, but there was just nothing I could do. I had not recovered at all.

I did what I could to make it through the lap, considering pulling out once I got to the line, but when I got there, I couldn't do it. So I put my head down and plowed on, grinding my way up the wall. My legs slowly but surely came back to me, and I picked off one rider after another, watching others drop out along the way as well. The final 2 laps of the race were horribly painful, but I kept catching riders so I knew I had to go on. I caught one more rider on the final rolling backstretch, and accelerated with all I had over the rollers to drop him and pushed to the line, putting a solid 20s into him. Despite my stupidity, I took - you guessed it - 9th. Another $20 for my wallet, but not at all what I was hoping for. The course suited my perfectly, as there was just no place to hide if you were weak. No real tactics, just hard, courageous riding. But I tried to be the hero early on, despite my better judgement, and I paid for it. Patience is a virtue that I have yet to receive, and I have no doubt that I would have won that race if I had only waited. Lesson learned, though, and next time I take the line, which will probably be the Giro di NJ followed by Housatonic Hills, I will have my revenge - AND MY UPGRADE POINTS!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Trainer and the Powers That Be

The awesome weather that we've had lately finally gave way to storm clouds today, and it was raining from the moment I woke up this morning. I thought I would just put up with it, but with the temperature in the 50s outside, and since cold and rain do not make a good combo when you're trying to stay healthy, I decided against it. So I set up shop in front of the TV and pedaled away...going nowhere, of course.

I really dread the trainer. I would say that it's a love hate relationship that we have, but that would be generous. I absolutely loathe the thing. I went to some serious extremes over the winter to avoid it, doing battle with the harshest conditions that Boston had to offer. Cracking open countless hand-warmers and struggling to unlock my dorm room with my frozen fingers day after day always seemed better than pedaling my way to nowhere. But sometimes, there just ins't much that you can do; and with Balloon Festival and High Bridge this weekend, I didn't want to risk getting sick and losing any of the good form that I've had over the past few weeks. So Mr. Kurt Kinetic, Indiana Jones, and I had a lovely date for an hour as I tuned up for the weekend.

After racing a very active Rockeligh Criterium last night, where I took 9th in the sprint finish much to my surprise, as galloping pack finishes are not exactly my strong suit (read 135 lb. climbers can't sprint), I felt encouragingly fresh today. I had been struggling to recover from last weekend's Connecticut Stage race, where I took 10th on GC for some valuable upgrade points, but I am glad to say that putting in some hard efforts last night and logging countless hours in the compression socks have me feeling pretty fresh again.

In other exciting news, all my wheels have simultaneously decided that they don't like being true anymore, and that they would rather I don't ride in a straight line, training or racing. First it was my Bontrager Race X Lite rear wheel, which has become my dedicated training wheel now that I replaced both my Powertaps with an SRM. It never did that when it used to be my race wheel! Maybe it was offended by the demotion. I already knew that my front Hed Bastogne tubular, which I strictly race on, was slightly out of true, but I've been using it regularly without any issue so I'm not overly concerned about that, though I plan to finally take care of it this week. But while at the shop today to drop of the Bonty and get a quick shifting adjustment, Al at Westwood tells me that my rear Hed wheel is slightly off kilter too. Now that is news! Fortunately, he was nice enough to set it straight for me with a few pulls of the spokes in question, and we are all set...or so I thought. It turns out that my shifting troubles are due to a worn chain and cassette, which I am starting to feel like I have to change as often as my underwear. The expenses just keep piling up. I'm just hoping I make it through the weekend without any more damage to my wallet, and maybe I can pick up a few bills tomorrow for my (fingers crossed) success at Balloon Festival. I won't be as hopeful for the outcome Sunday, since I'm racing the P/123 field at High Bridge, where the likes of Roger and various pros will be waiting to decimate my ego.