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.