Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Odin's Revenge 2016

Remember; Nebraska is pan flat. Photo credit: Ryan Trullinger

Every year that I do Odin's Revenge, I come away from it excited to go back and do it again the next year. This year was no exception. The people I see are fun to hang out with, the course is beautiful, and the weekend away from home is relaxing.

The previous years that I've done this event, I've done the short course that is around 60 miles and designed more as an intro to gravel riding in the area more than it is a race. That doesn't stop us from riding hard and making a race out of it. Two years ago, Tyler and I finished the short course first together and last year I finished it in third place after missing a turn and not catching the leaders in time (Tyler made an attempt at the long course). I was planning on going back and finishing in first again. The organizers are always pushing me to do the long course, however the "hang out and drink beer with friends" time after the ride always takes priority over doing the marquee event. Our friends Patrick and Sara Doty were going to be there again this year and it's been a while since we got to hang out with them so it was even more important to me that I wouldn't be riding for 12+ hours!

However, this year as I was inquiring as to whether the short course was the same as the prior years so I could get my Garmin ready, I found out that the long course would be crossing back through the start/finish area at about the 100 mile point. Also, there would be two checkpoints with water available within those 100 miles so the longest I would have to go between refilling my bottle would be a little more than 40 miles. I've always known that the long course hits more scenic roads than the short course and I've wanted to see and ride those roads, so after some deliberation with myself, I decided to just do the first half of the long course this year.

Just chilling and waiting to get moving! Photo credit: Chad Quigley

One thing I've always felt the short course was missing, besides the cool MMRs, was more competitive riding. The long course was certainly not lacking in that aspect. As soon as we hit the gravel, I felt like I was in a road race. A road race on, as Todd Tvrdik said, millions of ball bearings. We were jockeying for position, trying to simultaneously stay in the draft while avoiding the deep/loose gravel on the initial gravel roads. The pace felt kind of high and I had to make a couple hardish efforts to close a gap or two, but I had already decided to ride as hard as I needed in order to stay with the front group until I blew up so I just went with it.

The group whittled down slowly over the next 30 odd miles. I think most of the climbing was stacked into the first 40 miles and it felt like some of these guys were hitting these hills like we were in a 50 mile road group ride. It got hard, but I was determined to stay up front so I started using my momentum on the downhills to make it closer to the front of the group and then floating back down through the group up the next climb without losing contact. The rutted out and dusty MMR descents caused me to just about lose the group. At one point I hit a rut and just about bounced from one side of the road to the other and almost took out Andrew Casburn behind me. The group wasn't riding too hard though so we got back to them without much difficulty. By the time we made the first checkpoint, we were down to seven guys and I was feeling pretty good despite the hard riding we had up to that point.

I wasn't too surprised that I felt good at that point. I've done lots and lots of hard groups rides of about that length. I was more curious about how I would handle the next 60 miles, but I pushed on figuring I'd just go until I couldn't anymore. Up until this point, I hadn't taken a single turn on the front. I was just hanging on and letting things shake out. We were already going harder than I liked so there was no reason to stick my nose into the wind and make it harder on myself. However, now that there was just 5 or so of us (a couple guys stayed behind at the checkpoint) it was time to start contributing. The pace wasn't too hard so when it was my turn, I set a pace that seemed to match the speed we were already going. Looking at my power numbers it was a power that I knew I could ride at for quite a while so I was fine with that. Pretty soon I heard some commotion behind me and, turning around, I saw that I had opened up a gap with the guy behind me. I had no intentions of trying to ride off on my own, so I let up.

Dismounting at checkpoint 1. #crossiscoming Photo credit: Chad Quigley

Over the next several miles the group dropped down to four as Andrew's rear wheel, having quite the wobble to it and rubbing his chainstay, finally forced him to slow down too much. On a side note: Andrew is the same guy who dropped his chain at Pioneer's Park last year while leading the CX race there and still managed to put his chain back on and kick my ass. So, I wasn't without a bit of a smile when I saw that Andrew had dropped off the pace even though the tire rubbing the chainstay was probably a major contributor.

The three other guys I was riding with at this point were Todd Tvrdik, Mike Marchand, and Bill Clinesmith, the eventual winner. At one point Mike started cramping and Todd dropped back as well so it was just Bill and me at the front of this race. And I was feeling pretty alright. I was quite surprised! Pleasantly surprised, of course!

It wasn't too long at all before Todd and Mike caught back up with us. Mike seemed to have gotten past his cramps and it was nice to have two more guys to ride with. We spent several miles riding past pastures with less than effective fencing. There were more than a few cows loitering about on the roads. Thankfully there were no bulls that we could see. Though at one point we encountered a cow and her calf on the road with nowhere to go but at us or away from us down the road. They did choose to run away from us (I'm impressed at how fast a full grown cow can run, BTW), though Mike made the observation that the rest of the calves, who were looking on from the adjoining pasture, would now have a complex seeing as how they now knew who mom's favorite was. So if you have a burger in the next few years that seem inexplicably inferior...

Once we hit the second checkpoint at Potter's Pasture, I saw that we were on the back half of the short course again. I knew that the rest of the course would be mostly downhill so I knew I would have few problems making it back to the start/finish area even if I totally blew up. It was starting to get windy and knowing that I was going to be pulling out of the race at the next checkpoint so when we turned into the wind I immediately went to the front to take the wind for the the other guys who would be continuing on after the next checkpoint. I pulled for a few minutes and then kinda regretted it when Mike and Bill pulled through at a similar pace. But I was able to jump back on with little issue and we made our way through the rest of the first half of the course making pretty good time despite the wind.

Peter Sagan often finishes a race with a wheelie. I can't wheelie so... Photo credit: Rob Evans

We pulled in to checkpoint 3 with a total time of 5:46 and a moving average speed of 17.3 mph for 96 miles. I don't think I've done a road century that fast so to have done it on gravel was quite surprising to me! I was pretty stoked. I was honestly tempted to grab some food at the convenience store and make an attempt at finishing the full long course, but I stuck with the plan and called it quits. I was still feeling pretty good at the 96 mile mark, so I am curious how another 85 miles would have gone. If they do another long course where you circle back through the start/finish area at the 100ish mile mark, I will definitely consider attempting the full long course.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Good Life Gravel Gran Fondo #goodlifegravel

Roads like these!
It's shaping to be a busy (for me) race season this year. A couple weekends ago Rafal held his annual Gravel Gran Fondo starting from Malvern, IA. I'd had this on our calendar tentatively since he announced the date, but with the Lewis & Clark Crusher and Odin's Revenge both in June already, adding the gravel grand fondo would have made three weekends in a row of events for me. In recent years that would have been too much for our young family, but I was keeping the date open just in case we felt it was something we could handle. And as it turns out, we could handle it this year with little extra stress. It's crazy what a difference a year can make with young kids.

My idea for this ride was to simply ride hard. I wanted to see how long I could stick with the real fast guys. A few of the Harvest Racing guys were going to be there plus Jonathan Wait and other who were for sure going to really throw down. I figured I'd hang with them as long as I could and then ride my own pace to the finish. The only distance offered this year was a 63 mile route and I knew I could manage to crawl through the rest of that kind of distance if I totally blew up.

I was also trying out a new set of tires. My brother had purchased a set of Compass' Bon Jon Pass Tires for his new cross bike recently. They're a 35mm full file treaded tire with a tubeless ready bead.They're really light for their size at 300ish grams per tire. Tyler was having a hell of a time getting them set up tubeless on the Stan's Grail rims that came on his new cross bike and then when they finally did set up, they blew off the rim just sitting there later on. Once that happened, he decided to give up on them feeling he couldn't really trust them again. I had heard other reports of the tires doing just fine so I wondered if they would play better with my Pacenti SL23s. Tyler, being the generous guy he is, gave the pair to me to try. They weren't nearly as easy to set up on my rims as my WTB Cross Bosses were, but once I blasted them with 80+ psi from my air compressor they seated with a few nice snaps. I handled them with care for a while waiting for a tire to blow off a rim, but it never happened. Talking with Lucas Marshall later on, he theorized that the more supple sidewall of the tires are what made it hard to get the bead to take.I think he may be right there.

Anyway, I still had my doubts on these tires. With anything less than 30 psi of pressure in them, I could take my thumbs and force air out of the bead. The sidewalls are pretty thin too so I wondered if they would be more prone to sidewall cuts. However, it's rare for something to put pressure on a sidewall like my two thumbs while you're riding and the gravel we have around here isn't very sharp so I figured I should, in theory, be okay. The lack of any kind of knobs on the tread was something I knew I'd have to get over in my head too. I generally believe that tread doesn't really do much for you on gravel roads, but it's still hard for me to translate that knowledge to confidence while I'm flying down a gravel road at 35+ mph with a corner at the bottom!

So, back to the gran fondo. Somehow I managed to lead out the group with Kevin Gilinsky. As we hit the first section of gravel, all I could think was, "don't crash!" Fortunately, the tires were feeling okay on the flat gravel that we started on. I set about a pace that was not hard but not super easy either, waiting for others to come around soon, but it seemed as though everyone was quite satisfied with the pace I was setting, so even though there was another line of riders next to me, no one was wanting to push the pace must faster. Once we hit the hills, it was another story all together. Pretty soon I was riding just about as hard as I could in order to stick with the front guys up the hills and spinning out my 38x11 as fast as I dared on a couple downhills as well. 

When we hit the first MMR is when I lost the front group. I just didn't yet have the confidence in my tires in the dusty dirt and they rode away. Within a few miles though, I settled in with Thomas Torres and my team mate, Jakob Wilson. We were still riding pretty hard up the hills until I mentioned something about not loving seeing 400+ watts on my Garmin every time we went uphill. I don't know if my comment caused the other two to back off a bit or if the gradients just got easier, but I started feeling like our pace became more manageable for me after that.

As we neared the checkpoint at close to the halfway point, Thomas was starting to act a bit fatigued. We definitely didn't want to lose him. as three is better than two with something like 40 miles to go so we worked on not pushing it so hard as to drop Thomas. At the checkpoint, we refilled water quickly and got back out on the road within a few minutes. Thomas was thinking about just hanging out there for a bit, but made a snap decision to continue on with Jakob and me instead. The next several miles were dead flat and we cruised along all together pretty quickly. Thomas took the lead for the last bit of the flat sections and I remember thinking he seemed to really be working hard. The very next hill was probably the steepest one in the whole route and as we turned onto it, Thomas looked up and said something like, "Oh shit. I'm cramping. See you guys later!" The way he said it was pretty funny, but I still felt bad for him as cramping there with like 30 hilly mile to go would not be fun! However, I quickly turned my attention to riding up this crazy hill. My lowest gear was a 38x36 and so I just stood up and cranked away at like 50 rpm and tried not to look up too often to see how much further I had to go.

Fred Hinsley always gets your best side in pictures.

The rest of the route was just me and Jakob. He had made it up the brute of a hill probably 30 seconds faster than me, but he soft-pedaled at the top to wait for me so we could work together. In the distance ahead, we could see someone who had been dropped from the lead group and so we kind of used him as a rabbit to reel in. We rode conservatively so we could pass him with enough energy to make it hard for him to latch on to our wheels though that turned out to be unnecessary as he had been cramping we found out later and didn't even try to hold on as we passed.

Thomas loves cramps, apparently!

Surprisingly enough, I was feeling relatively fresh as we moved into the final fourth of the ride. That was good, cause Jakob was starting to feel less than fresh, I think. A low gear of 34x26 on a hilly ride like that will do that to you! Since I was feeling pretty decent yet, I was able to take longer pulls,and since we are team mates, I didn't have to worry about him attacking me later on. The only other notable thing about the last bit of the ride was the really funny (at least after-the-fact) one-two canine punch that happened at the top of a hill. I think we were just cresting a hill when this tiny little dog come rushing out of a yard yipping and yapping at us with all the ferocity of a 15 pound furball. We laugh and shake our heads at the cute little "guard dog" until two seconds later when his buddy, the 80+ pound german shepherd came flying out of the yard heading straight after us looking less than friendly! We got to practice our dog-sprints then!

Jakob and I rolled in together to finish in the top ten and under 4 hours total ride time. I think both of us were pretty happy with out performance and pretty stoked on the whole event. Afterwards there was delicious food for each rider from local chef/cyclist Eric Marshall and, of course, beer! I thought the event was fantastic and I hope to do it again next year!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two Races in Four Days, What!?

Photo credit: Tyler Loewens
Racing twice inside the matter of a month is sometimes rare for me so getting to do two within a week is pretty sweet. And if you count Rafal's Good Life Gravel Grand Fondo (if there's a number pinned on your jersey or your bike, it's a race!) this coming Saturday as a race and it will be three races in eight days!

The Lewis & Clark Crusher was pretty great. It was super hot and I didn't make it on the podium yet again, but I was really happy with the way I raced it. Because of the heat, they wisely shortened the marathon race to three hours instead of the normal four. They also would not count any lap finished after three hours so, in reality, the race was even shorter than three hours. I finished five laps in just over 2 hours and 39 minutes.

I feel like I paced the marathon raced about perfectly for me this year. By my last lap, I was pretty much spent, but I still had enough energy to clear all the technical sections where last year I was having difficulty with that nearly right away.

Photo credit: Angelina Peace
I did manage to wreck in the first lap (I hope that's not becoming a pattern) at the end of the first descent. I was going a touch too fast for my bike on those conditions and I'm pretty sure I grabbed too much front brake and my front wheel washed out. Fortunately, this wreck had far fewer consequences than my wreck at Platte and it did not cause me any more pain during the rest of the race. While I was picking myself up, I was passed by four guys. I ended up catching at least two of them again by the end of the race and I'm fairly certain I would not have stayed in front of the other had I not crashed so it could have been worse for sure.

The next Psycowpath race isn't until August; the Tranquility Tire Tantrum, so we've got a bit of a break during July, though I am looking forward to that one as it's probably the trail where I am the least handicapped by my choice of bikes. Until then though, I've got Rafal's GLGF, Odin's Revenge, a family vacation to Santa Fe, NM where I'm planning to ride up an actual mountain climb (gasp!), and the Tuesday night training crit series. It's going to be a busy summer!

In addition to the race at Lewis & Clark, the first of the Tuesday Night Worlds, a brand new training crit series happened this week. Kudos to Jonathan Wait and Kent McNeil and all the others who are putting this series on. I think it's going to be fantastic! The course is a figure eight course in the parking lot at Papillion-LaVista South High School. There's not much elevation gain to be had at all so it's a fast power course.

A little raw video by Jonathan Wait from Tuesday night.

I made it all of 18 minutes into the race before getting popped and riding around by myself for the last half of the race. Looking back at the power data shows that I was in the red coming out of pretty much every corner. Some of that has to do with how crits work, but some of it also has to do with me needing to work on positioning myself better and maintaining momentum better as well. I'm sure racing at Lewis & Clark for a few hours 4 days prior didn't help either, though my legs felt fine going into the crit last night, so I don't know if that excuse really holds up. Regardless, it was good training and I felt like I was able to take away some more lessons on racing. I also rode there and back so I got in a solid 2 hours of endurance work as well.

I'm looking forward to racing as many of these training crits as I can and seeing how well I can improve each time. I think that I could easily be in the mix and animating the race by the end of August for sure.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Platte River Battle Royale

Don't ride muddy trails... unless you're racing and have the trail leader's approval! Photo credit: Angelina Peace
What an interesting race at Platte for me this year. I was more fit and handled my bike significantly better than last year, yet ended up with the same placing overall as last year (11th) and four spots lower in my age group than last year (8th). I think I can attribute my lack of improvement in placing almost entirely on the strength of the field. I believe the overall number marathon racers increased by nearly 50% and my age group more than doubled! Local pro, Brad Auen, toed the line in the under-40 age group, plus Brian Johnson who finished third in the marathon race at Swanson. There were a few other names I didn't recognize as well, but some were obviously fast considering their finishing times. Rafal Doloto, and my team mate, Jakob Wilson were racing as well. Both of them are faster than me on any given day.

So, I knew it was going to be very difficult to get on the podium like I did last year. I figured that it was still a possibility though, since anything can happen in a race. And, indeed, things happened that moved me up in the placings. It turned out that both Rafal and Jakob quit after four and five laps, respectively.

My nephew, Logan, and I made our own podiums! Photo credit: Rachel Loewens
Going into the race, I was confident that I should be able to do seven laps. I did seven laps last year, and I have better fitness and handling skills this year so I knew seven laps should be a benchmark for me even with a new section of the course that added a couple minutes to the lap times. I decided to make eight laps my stretch goal. If I could average under 34:15 lap times, I would, in theory, be able to get eight laps in.

The race got under way pretty well for me. I was able to get to my bike (it was, again, a Le Mans style start) and get to the first climb towards the front of the field. They included a section of single track on the climb this year, that created a bit of a bottle neck earlier on than usual, but I was able to get there without having to slow down too much. As we emptied back onto the double track climb, I was able to make up a few more places before hitting the main trail. I set into the singletrack feeling pretty good and I was moving very well for me. Things were gelling and I was flowing through the turns carrying good speed. I was happy with that and no one was catching me from behind yet. That's unsusual since I'm still racing my CX bike on these trails, so when things get turny and a bit rough, I'm usually at quite the disadvantage.

About maybe a third of the way into the first lap, on the kind of bermed S-curves just before the new section, my front wheel washed out and I hit the ground pretty hard, rolling on my right shoulder. That hurt! I got riding again right away (after gathering the food that had fallen out of my pocket, thanks Tyler!), and though my shoulder and side were a bit sore, it was nothing I couldn't handle. It took me a good lap or so to get my bike handling back under control, but eventually I was able to get past the mental block that can come with a crash and got to riding more smoothly again.

Getting back into the flow after crashing. Photo credit: Kyle Hansen
Then, in the third lap, I rode over a log crossing and on the backside of the log I must have hit it just right and I tweaked my earlier injury just right. Suddenly there was this sharp pain in the back of my ribs that just about took my breath away every time I went of a trail feature or stood to power up a short rise in the trail. It was painful enough that I wasn't sure I could continue. I figured that I would get myself back to the pits and make the decision to keep going or quit then.

By the time I made it back to the pits, the pain had subsided to more of an ache than a sharp pain so I decided to press on. At that pain level, I knew I could finish the race, but it was slowing me down. I was much more ginger over every trail feature and stayed seated on more climbs than normal. Going through the rock garden was the worst cause carrying my bike (no way in hell I'm riding those rocks on my CX bike!) really aggravated whatever it was that was tweaked in my back.

On my next time through the pits I told Cameron, who was pitting for me (and doing a killer job at it!) and my wife that I was going to need ibuprofen on the next lap. I was able to keep riding, but it was pretty awful. I hoped that the ibuprofen would take the edge off the pain enough to kinda enjoy the rest of the race. They got me the meds on the next lap heading into lap six and about two-thrids of the way through the lap I started feeling better and by the time I started my last lap (eight was definitely out of the question at that point) I was in really good spirits again. My last lap was my third fastest lap!

Cameron was on point in the pits for me. AND he finished third overall in the men's cat 3 race... He's 13 years old. Photo credit: Rachel Loewens
I finished seven laps in right around four hours and eleven minutes. Normally, I finish these marathons feeling pretty well spent, sometimes feeling awful, but this time I felt pretty good. Had been able to go for another lap, I would have. I think having that injury forced me to pace more conservatively than I normally would have. I also hydrated better than I historically have which helped a lot as well.

So, I didn't hit my goal of eight laps and I didn't end up on the podium. I honestly was bummed about not hitting the podium, but knowing how stiff the competition was and the fact that I was able to push through some real dark moments in the race means that I don't feel bad about my performance even if I was disappointed with the final result.

I learned, yet again (and more poignantly) that marathon MTB races always have difficult times in them that make you want to quit. But those feelings are generally only temporary. If you keep moving, you can usually get past them.

Now, I'd just like to get past the healing process of whatever I did to myself in that crash. It would be nice to be able to reach for something on the top shelf of a cabinet without grimacing! Ha!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tour de Husker - I'm Learning!

Photo credit: Michael Dixon

I'm happy to report that my tactical game is improving.

The season opener for road racing here in Nebraska was this last weekend with the Tour de Husker put on by the UNL cycling club. As per the last few years, it was another cold and windy day. My Garmin showed temperatures starting at 27 degrees and ending up right at 32 degrees by the finish and there was a pretty good northwest wind making things feel even colder.

Brrr! Todd and I were cold! Standing around waiting to start in the cold is probably the worst part of a cold day's racing.
Photo credit: Rachel Loewens
Going into the race I knew there were a couple guys I needed to keep an eye on. Rich Anderson and Tyler Reynolds. I've ridden with Rich on many occasions and know he's strong. Tyler is a local junior rider racing with the new Harvest Racing development squad. He had a couple podium finishes the weekend before so I knew he would not be someone to underestimate just because he's young.

Of the 11 guys racing in the cat 4 race, there were only two teams with more than one rider in the race. Team Kaos and my team, Omaha Velo. We had two of us on Omaha Velo, and Kaos had three riders, including Rich. My team mate, Todd, had warned me that Rich would want to form a break and a break is something I was very interested in as well. However, with only two of us in the race, I decided to only follow moves rather than try and initiate them. In the past, I've had a hard time staying out of the wind. I'd constantly find myself moved into the wind and being confused on how I got there. This year, I was much more assertive in my positioning. This worked out well, and I was able to do very little of the work.

A couple of times, Rich would be on the front and start pushing the pace, but it was kind of hard to tell if he was trying to get away or if he was just trying to make the race harder cause he wasn't making hard attacks so much as he was just ramping up his pace from the front. Each time he did that, one of us closed the gap pretty quickly. Tyler put in an attack or two, but was unsuccessful in getting a separation. Finally,as we rounded the southwest corner of the loop Rich upped the pace and only three of us followed immediately. It was Tyler Reynolds, Karsten Koehler, and me with Rich. Rich's team mates, Michael Dixon and Mark Sullivan, and my team mate, Todd, all sat up allowing a gap to form. I hear Mike Miles, racing solo for Flatwater, attempted to close the gap for a while, but with no help from anyone else, his attempt to do so was doomed.

Side note: Though I realize the majority of the rest of the group was made up of my team mate and Rich's team mates as well as Tyler's dad, there should have still been two others who should have had incentive to help Mike shut the break down and yet Mike was alone in the effort. I wonder why those two didn't help? I mean, I'm glad they didn't but still...

Rich, Karsten, Tyler, and me echeloning our way over the dam.
Photo credit: Michael Dixon
As soon as the four of us saw we had a gap, we started working together to stretch the gap out. I was impressed with Tyler during the first several minutes of the break. Not so much his strength, though his ability as a 15 year old was quite good, but the way he was playing the game with us. During the first bit of the break he just sat on and was pretty vocal saying that he needed a break and that he didn't make much power so he didn't think he could really help contribute. After a few minutes of this, I told him he'd need to start working soon. He said he would but made a show again about not having the power to really help. I mentioned that I had seen his results from the previous weekend ( he was on the podium in a crit and a road race, both cat 3/4 races) so I knew he had some speed. He made some comment about why that was different that I didn't quite hear, but he started working. I'm pretty sure he was trying to play off his young age to work less than the rest of us and I love it! Seeing as how he won the crit the next day, I don't feel bad making him work in the road race.

The next two laps were pretty uneventful. We set a steady pace and the gap went out to about 3 minutes by the start of the last lap. I was paying close attention to the other three trying to get a sense of how hard they were working compared to me. Karsten seemed to be having the hardest time on the climbs and was breathing hard and uttering words that may prompted Darrell Webb to DQ him had he heard him at the top of the rises in the course. Tyler seemed to be breathing hard as well but didn't appear to be in as much difficulty. Rich always seemed to be working hard on the uphills but from riding with him in the past I knew that is kind of his riding style and he didn't ever seem to act tired so I knew he would be my biggest competition.

My lack of actually racing against Rich meant I had to guess on whether or not I could out-sprint him. I was figuring that he would be a better sprinter than me. Before the race I had planned on making an attack in the final mile or so, but during our last lap, my legs were telling me that a sustained effort hard enough to shake Rich would be really difficult so I canned that idea. As we hit the final stretch going back into the park we all slowed way down and started playing the cat and mouse games. Who was going to make the first move? Was someone going to make a long distance run at it or was it going to come down to the sprint. For the five minutes it took us to ride down that stretch, I averaged a whopping 120 watts. We were crawling. I had positioned myself in the back of the four of us and stuck there waiting for a move. There's a slight hill before the turn into the final stretch and I was planning on making a move there to try and get a strong gap and go for it but as we hit that hill, Karsten made a move at nearly the same moment so I got on his wheel up to the turn.

Up until this point, I think I played this race perfectly. I still had enough in the tank for a good (for me) sprint and I knew I had a really good shot at winning this thing. But then I got antsy and completely forgot how far away the finish line is from that turn. As I passed Karsten in the corner I went all in for my sprint... 500 meters from the line. That's a long way to try and sprint! As I rounded the curve before the finish line I looked behind me and I saw Rich and Karsten coming up quickly on me and thought for sure I was going to end up third. Rich passed me with maybe 50 meters to go but Karsten couldn't hold his sprint and I was able to hold on to second place.

Holding on for second place.
Photo credit: Michael Dixon

So, in all I was really pleased with my race. I feel like I didn't expend unnecessary energy and I made it into the winning move without much issue. I also didn't make a doomed attack from 5 miles out like last year. I did make one mistake that cost me the win, I believe. It was a good reminder that one should always scope out the finishing stretch and figure out where you would start your sprint. Next year I know that if it comes down to a sprint, I will wait until the final curve before launching the sprint. Always learning!

Photo credit: Michael Dixon

That pretty much wraps up my road racing for the next 5 months or so. I'm planning on doing the Psycowpath series again this year, racing marathon. I'll be on my 'cross bike yet again since the funds didn't come through for a mountain bike this year like I had hoped. I am NOT looking forward to Lewis & Clark on the Crux again, but it'll be good character development, right? Ha!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CIRREM 2016 Race Report

Photo credit: Steve Fuller
The 2016 racing kicked off with CIRREM on the last Saturday of February, as usual, this year. This race is super tough, has a really cool vibe, and is usually help in some of the worst weather of the year. We lucked out this year with unusually warm temperatures making the race comfortable from a weather stand point. We had a decent wind out of the southwest, but anyone who’s ridden in a Midwest springtime has ridden in worse winds, plus the southwest wind meant we had the wind to our backs for most of the last half of the course.

I’d call my race mostly a success, in that I accomplished the goal I was shooting for. However, as ever, I have some things I wish I had done differently in hindsight.
The main goal I had set for myself ahead of the race was to finish in under 4 hours. The last time I did this race, I finished in 10 minutes past 5 hours, but the conditions were awful that day with super soft, wet gravel. This year I finished in a tad over 3 hours and 55 minutes. Bam. Done. Mission accomplished, right? Right… mostly.

This was my first race using a power meter. Power meters are great for training. They’re great for pacing too. But anyone who knows me, know how good I am at over-thinking things. Coming into the race I had decided that I would do my best to stick with the leaders or any group I fell in with. But I also decided that I would not go over a certain wattage in order to stick with that group. My reasoning being that I didn’t want to burn my matches too early in the race. On paper, I think that was a decent idea and would have worked great had this been an individual time trial.

But a TT this was not and the wind meant sticking with a group was extremely beneficial. What I found was that the group I ended up riding in would hit each climb harder than I wanted to climb requiring me to go over the wattage “redline” I had set in my head. So, I would back off my power for the climb. As I crested each hill, I’d keep pedaling and catch back on to the group as they coasted down the backside of each climb. Eventually, as the climbs got a little longer I wasn’t able to catch back on without going over my “redline” so I ended up losing that group. I rode the rest of the race pretty much alone.

In hindsight, I think I should have done what I could to stick with the group as long as possible. Having a group to ride with would have been quite beneficial. For drafting of course, but mostly for motivation. There’s a point about 75% of the way through, where my power and heart rate charts show I was letting off the gas. Yes, my back was starting to hurt, but I also was just lacking the motivation required to push though the annoyance of a hurting back and keep my speed up. Once I found someone to ride with again, my power and heart rate came back up to a more “spirited” level.

Allll byyyy myyyself... Photo credit: Steve Fuller

Experiences like these are always good reminders of how I would love to be able to race more often. I feel like I learn a valuable lesson each time I race, but have to wait so long to apply that lesson. If I could race more often I know I would develop better race strategies faster. I’m sure I could find more races to do, but it would require sacrifices in other areas in my family’s life that we’re just not willing to make so I’ll just have to be content with a “slow and steady” approach to gaining race experience. 

Next up in my racing schedule is Tour de Husker. It's likely to be my only race on the road this year! I'm feeling strong. Stronger than I did last year, I thought I performed pretty decently last year so I'm excited to see how this year will go. Plus, it looks like the weather may actually be warm this year. A warm CIRREM and a warm TdH in the same year? I'm not sure what to make of that, but I'll take it.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bellevue GP of Cyclocross a.k.a. The End of My Season

Well that's it. My bike racing season is, as the Aussies say, done and dusted. The Bellevue GP of Cyclocross finished out my season as well as the 2015 season of Nebraska 'cross races. There are a few more races in Iowa and whatnot, but I won't be able to race any of those.

Mark Savery designed another killer course this year. It used pretty much all of the features of last year's course, but with plenty of tweaks to keep it fresh. The course was as fun as it was hard! We had gotten a good amount of rain earlier in the week and then we had alight dusting of snow the night before the race. Despite the moisture, the ground didn't quite turn into the muddy soup we were expecting of it. I was relieved to see that because I have no experience racing in those conditions and wasn't quite sure how to prepare for a mudfest.

Even though the weather didn't throw us the curve ball we were expecting, we still managed to get a surprise on the morning of the race when Rachel's mom, who had been planning on watching our kids for the day, called her to tell her that she was sick and couldn't take the kids after all. After some thought, we decided that we'd just go ahead and bring them to the race in spite of the fact that it would mean that they would miss their naps. It was kind of a crazy idea, but I don't think Rachel relished the idea of staying home with the kids while I went and played bikes by myself.

So, all five of us loaded up in the minivan and headed down to Swanson Park in Bellevue. That van is seriously great for days like that. I had my bike, a couple extra wheels, a trainer, a cooler with food and beverages, and a bag full of race clothes. Rachel also had her own various items as well as the kids' diaper bag and a bunch of extra clothes for them. When we got there, I pulled the car seats out of the back and put the back seats down, making an ideal place to change clothes and to put a couple kid-sized chairs for the older two to sit in while Rachel played some DVDs for them on the van's DVD player. No joke, minivans rock!

I got a few laps in for a quick pre-ride, chatted with a few people, watched some racing, and then set up the trainer and got down to warming up. My warm-up was the beginning of a few mistakes I made that day. A golden rule of racing is that you never try anything new on race day. For some reason that never crossed my mind insofar as warming up goes. I had decided to try a different warm-up routine that I found on Adam Myerson's website. It looked good and I have been looking for different ways to warm up since I definitely need a good warm-up for races like crits and 'cross races.

My second mistake followed soon after when I forgot to take into account how my heart rate reacts to cold weather. My warm up routine called for certain times in different heart rate zones and because I forgot about the fact that my heart rate tends to be lower in cold weather, I ended up doing more work on the trainer than I expected. Looking back at my Garmin file, I can see that my wheel speed on the trainer was a couple mph higher than it normally is for the given heart rate. I'm not sure how much of an effect that had on my race, but I'm sure spending 5 minutes over threshold instead of at threshold probably wasn't ideal! Yet another great reason that a power meter would be a wise investment.

Front row, baby!
I got the fourth call up so I was on the front row, which is always good! The cat 4/5 field was yet again the largest field of the day at over 25 guys, and trying to fight through that kind of traffic always has the potential to kill your race. I didn't get my best start and Patrick Abendroth and Dave Cleasby shot off the line ahead of me, but Patrick ended up slipping off his pedal and veering a bit to the left when he did, so it was probably good that my start wasn't as good as I wanted since it meant I wasn't right next to him when that happened.

By the time we made the sweeping left u-turn at the end of the start/finish stretch, I had slotted into second wheel behind Cleasby and Patrick was right behind me with Adam Little behind him. Within the first lap, it was down to pretty much Cleasby, Adam, and I as far as I could tell. We were going pretty much flat out and it hurt. It hurt real bad, in that good 'crossy kind of way. At some point (in the second lap, I think) Adam got a bit of a gap on us and as I closed it down, he started to slow up a bit. I was so winded from our fast and furious start that I decided to just sit on his wheel rather than ride past him. I figured I could recover and let him take the pace making. Not too long after that, Cleasby rode past us both. I didn't follow. I figured Adam would stick his wheel and I could just stay with them both.

Turns out Adam was probably hurting as badly as I was and Dave had something extra in the tank so he started riding away from us. This was despite the fact that we were certainly not holding anything back now. It was slowly becoming a race for second even though I don't think either one of us were ready to believe that quite yet. Still, it turned out to be the case. Dave just had more gas in the tank, I guess. He's got quite the engine, that's for sure!

My most significant mistakes came during this portion of the race. During my pre-ride laps I had always remounted my bike right after running up the stairs even though there was a bit of a hill yet to come. It had never been a problem. But during the race, I had more gear heading into the stairs so I was over-geared most of the time when I tried to remount. Plus, since my heart rate was pegged, my remounts were not nearly as smooth. These things combined meant that I would lose my momentum there and Adam would put a gap on me by simply running all the way to the top of the hill before getting back on his bike. He is way too strong to chase back over and over again and finally, in the last lap, I botched the remount so badly I had to get back off and run again. That was pretty much lights out for the rest of my race. I rode as hard as I could, and I think I may have even pulled him back a little bit, but it was too much to do yet again, and Adam rode across the line about 7 seconds ahead of me.

I don't know why I never changed what I was doing on that run-up. I guess when you're sitting at redline, it's hard to make rational decisions. I know that if I hadn't kept making the same mistake over and over the race could have had a different outcome. Oh well. That's racing. I was really hoping to take a win this season, but it just wasn't to be. I was, and still am, disappointed in my performance. I think the hardest part is knowing I won't have a chance to try again for another whole year. Regardless of my disappointment, I still had a hoot. 'Cross is just the best, no matter where you end up!

 These pictures are such a good example of how your form can go to pot over the course of a race! Haha
Photo credit: Leman Northway

After finishing, I found Rachel, and she had that look of, "the kids are melting down, and we need to go... soon!" Unfortunately, I still had to stick around for podiums. I was at least able to take our youngest from Rachel to give her back a break and the other two quickly found some great entertainment in the form of Ryan Feagan and his microphone. The bike scene is really full of great people here in Omaha. It was so good to know that if we arein this kind of position again, we know that people like Eric O'Brien and Ryan Feagan and the like are there to help out.I don't think they even knew they were helping.They were just having fun with the kids, which is help aplenty!

Jensie really likes his naps. The podium was a good of a place as any, he figured!
Anyway, my second place netted me two more upgrade points, giving me a grand total of 9 points for the year. One short of the 10 that USAC requires for a 4 to 3 upgrade. I went ahead and requested my upgrade anyway and it was approved super quickly! So, next year I will be racing as a cat 3. I'm looking forward to the challenge and it will be nice to not feel like I have to podium to have done a good race. I also look forward to an extra 15 minutes of racing, as odd as that may sound. When your race is only 30 minutes, there is no resting at all. No strategy either. Just go as hard as you can and hope it's hard enough. Maybe it's the same in a 45 minute race, I don't know. But I look forward to finding out!