Monday, March 19, 2018

Tour de Husker is back from the dead... kinda like this blog!


Both Fred and Jonathan have blogged about their Tour de Husker race experience already, and I thought this would be a good chance to bring my blog back from the dead! My writing is not as good or witty as Fred's nor is it as succinct as Jonathan's, but I had some time so, why not, right?!
I was excited that the Tour de Husker was back for 2018 after a year off. I don’t get to do many road races, so I jump at the chance when it’s available and fits our schedule. I would really like to Twin Bing too, but it’s on a Sunday and since we’ve committed to keep Sundays a family rest day, a Sabbath if you will, I won’t be making that one. We do make exceptions from time to time, but very rarely for a bike race.
Side note: I feel like even if we hadn’t structured our Sundays in this way, I would prefer to race on Saturdays so I could have Sunday to chill out before heading into a new work week. There must be some other advantage to racing on Sundays that I haven’t considered?
The last couple years have been good to me as far as training goes. I feel quite strong and I know I have the fitness to win a cat 4 race. In reality I feel like my fitness is at a place where I would fit in well at the cat 3 level. But, if I can’t put together a win in a cat 4 field, is it really a good idea to upgrade? If I was able to race a lot more, I would definitely stick it out in the 4s until I had at least a win or two. However, with a lack of race opportunities, it makes every race a race where I suddenly feel like I “have” to win. So, I’m still pondering the idea of requesting an upgrade. I pretty much have the points so…
On the other hand, this race fell at a point in my training where I would be pretty fatigued. It would be at the end of a three week block of pretty tough workouts. I considered dialing my workout the day before way back, but since TdH wasn’t really a target race for me this year, I decided it would be better to move forward with my training plan as scheduled. I know this flies in the face of wanting a win before upgrading, making it harder to accomplish. 
We had a decent sized field for a local cat 4 race. I think there were a total of 18 of us plus a masters racer or two. The first couple laps were relatively calm. There were several attacks happening, but everyone would close them down pretty quickly and it seemed like maybe the attackers were just testing the field cause the shut it down even before they were caught many times. No one seemed interested in counter-attacking either. 
By the time the second lap was maybe 75% done, I felt that if the race continued the way it was going, we’d probably end up in a group sprint. I sprint like a climber, so that wasn’t going to work for me. I decided that on the next time up the initial climb it needed to get harder than it had been. If no one else was going to push the pace, then I would.
We got to the climb and one of the guys from out of state went to the front and started riding pretty hard. I was right on his wheel and was happy that someone else was going to the work of pushing the pace. But then his speed started to drop and I could see the effort was already taking a toll on him and we were still on the early part of the section. So I came around him and upped the pace even more. I didn’t jump hard or anything. My goal wasn’t really to get a gap so much as it was to try and whittle the group down a bit. 
I looked back after maybe 30 seconds or so and I had one guy on my wheel. No one else had come with me. The guy who was with me was one of the guys who had been attacking a bunch earlier in the race. I kept the pressure on for a little while longer and then indicated that I wanted him to come around and contribute. He acted kind of surprised and asked if I wanted to really make a go at it. That kind of baffled me. Apparently he was content to sit on my wheel and see what would happen. Later on, I figured out that he was riding in support of another guy, so I suppose I should be surprised that he actually did come around and did some work.
We worked together for the rest of the northbound section where my breakmate suggested that we not kill ourselves on the climb and wait for the tailwind to really hit it hard. That made a kind of sense to me so I eased up a bit when I was on the front for the rest of the headwind section. In retrospect, I think maintaining a hard pace the whole way would have been better. I don’t think this guy was really in it for the long haul. 
Anyway, the group caught us not too long after that. I expected them to come around us with some sort of sense of urgency, but they seemed happy to have simply brought us back and their pace dropped right away. So I got back in the group and somehow ended up on the front again (I hate when I do that!). I didn’t really think I was riding all that hard, but I guess the rest of the bunch was tired, because suddenly it was me and the same dude with a gap again. He made some comment about how we had a gap again so it seemed like maybe the group was letting us go. So, I suggested that we just roll smooth and steady turns and see where it got us.
Well, got caught again. Again, I expected someone to come around and, I don’t know, start racing? But the same thing happened and there was an immediate lull in the pace. Not what I was expecting or wanting. I thought for sure someone would counter and I could hop on and we could maybe have a nice break form. It wasn’t to be though. 
At this point we were on the dam with a bit of a tailwind and the group was spread out across the road. Too easy. Again. So, I attacked. This time it was a full on attack. Out of the saddle and snappy. I went pretty hard 10 seconds or so, the settled down to a hard but sustainable pace, and then looked back to see if I had done any damage and who was coming with. It appeared as if not a single person had responded at all. I was all by my lonesome. Not ideal considering there was still nearly 20 miles left to race, but it didn’t seem like anyone else wanted to play. So, I went for it. 
I pretty much set it to threshold pace and tried to hold the burn at a just tolerable enough level to last another hour or so. Had I not done that hard workout the day before, maybe I could have gone a few percent harder for a while to really open up a gap, but that wasn’t happening with the condition my legs were in at that point. 
I made it to the next corner with a decent gap. Decent enough be able to hit the brakes to make sure I didn’t turn the corner right in front of a car coming through the intersection at the same time as me (thanks, corner marshal).
The next ~30 minutes or so consisted of being pretty uncomfortable and looking back over and over to see the main group gaining on me and then falling back over and over. I would think I was done for and then suddenly I would be hopeful again. I kept thinking that if I could just get to a corner with enough of a gap, I could be out of sight, but the course has too many straight sections for that to work with only a 20 second gap. 
I eventually got caught and figured that my chances were pretty well blown. But again, no one countered and I was able to slip back in to the group and recover. There was some pace put on for a bit as we hit the dam again, but nothing that was too concerning for me. When we got to the south side of the course, the group started getting smaller and smaller until there was just five of us left. I guess the chase after me had really taken its toll on the group. 
We rolled through the hills on the westward part of the course pretty steadily. There was a bit of a cross-wind but apparently everyone was feeling pretty generous cause no one put the group into the gutter. I was able to sit in the draft nice and easily for most of this time. They were even rotating and let me just sit on the back taking no turns whatsoever. Two of the guys were teammates, I believe. They were from out of town and, with the cold weather, team kits were hard to see with jackets on over them. 
Anyways, one of them (same guy as who went off the front with me a couple times earlier in the race) told the other to just sit in. He then went to the front and rode off. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong, but I distinctly remember him going to the front and just riding off. Like, he didn’t make a hard attack and create a gap, he just rode a little faster and the rest of us just watched him ride off to a few seconds’ lead. I was okay with it because I didn’t think he would get too much of a lead and I was happy to just sit back and see what would happen, but I was surprised that the guy who had been on his wheel didn’t match the change in pace at all.
So, we have one guy dangling off the front of the group by a few seconds, three other dudes rotating (including the guy who was instructed to sit in), and me sitting on the back and skipping pulls while enjoying the full benefit of the draft. I was sitting pretty.
Eventually, I got impatient with rate that we were not pulling back the guy off the front so I went to the front and increased the pace a little bit. That was a little stupid, since then everyone was quite happy to sit on my wheel. I only say a little stupid, because I was still only doing zone 2 power while on the front. I thought about just going for it again, but we were still far enough out that it would be a very hard effort to maintain and were close enough that they were almost guaranteed to chase, I thought.
The 5 of us eventually came back together and made our way back into the park for the final 2ish mile stretch. No one really pushed it here either and I was able to sit on some more. A small lead out was attempted by the two team mates, and they decided to open the sprint right at the last right-hand turn towards the finish line. Unfortunately, the lead out guy swung off right into the line I was going to take and I had to swing wide to avoid crashing, losing a bunch of momentum. I still had a shot though since they were starting the sprint way early. The guy who started the sprint faded pretty quickly. I knew how far out we were and so didn’t go full bore right away. But another guy went for it and, incredibly, held it all the way to the line. At one point, I tried to reaccelerate and I almost fell off my bike when my legs just about seized. 
I ended up in second place… again. On one hand I’m happy to be on the podium, but on the other hand, I know I had it in me to win and I just don’t seem to be able to put it together yet. Thinking back on it now, I can think of several things I could have done differently. For one, I think I should have pushed the pace on the cross-wind section, putting the group into the gutter. I get the impression that the rest of the group was pretty tired so forcing them to match my pace without much of a draft may have simply dropped them all. But could I have held that all the way to the line after spending so much time earlier off the front solo? Who knows?
It was still a great day on the bike regardless of not quite getting what I think I could have for a result. Next race is the first race of the Psycowpath series at Swanson. Hopefully the weather dries up in time. It would be nice to actually get to ride my mountain bike sometime before the race too!

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.