A Short Break from Fatherhood

It has been a little over 4 months since I touched a bike.  I haven’t had much contact with anybody since Winnie was born, but this guy calls me out of nowhere to go for a ride.  Thanks buddy.  I needed it.



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Deferred Maintenance

I bought my first ever, brand new car when I graduated from Clemson University in 2006.  I needed something reliable to get me to Texas for my first job, and hadn’t quite had the opportunity to save for anything, so I ended up (for better or worse) settling on a 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit.  New vs. used debate aside, I think I did fairly well.  Anyway…

Fast forward 8 years.  The car now has 133,000 miles on it and it has given me very, very few problems.  The Rabbit has done a noble job of carrying bikes to and from a lot of races.  Now that I’m not racing, and have a job to fund projects, I figured I’d deal with some of the issues that have come up since I put my spending on a strict diet.  On the plus side, it also gives me a chance to get back to another hobby that I haven’t had time for: working on cars.  I figure a few parts here and there is much, much cheaper than spending many thousands on a car to replace this one.  Almost all of these changes are made using recycled parts from wrecked cars.

Headlight Switch: the new one installed vs. the old one.  That plastic coating peeled off of everything.

New headlight switch compared to the old

Similar to the headlight switch, the radio got replaced with a newer unit.  At the same time, I was able to find a cheap OEM media device input kit that lets me play music directly off of a USB drive.  HUGE improvement.  Em and I now load up on podcasts and audiobooks before going on road-trips.  It passes the time so much quicker.

Old radio with peeling rubberized coating.

It worked!  Software has been updated!

Then the interior panels.  The cloth coverings on the doors and the rear seat side panels started to peel pretty badly.  Em was pretty grossed out by the whole mess, so out they came!  The foam backing had deteriorated from the hot, humid Texas summers.  It would crumble and get all over everything that was put in the back seat, rendering it useless.  It was only a matter of time before the front door cards were in a similar condition.  In which case, I don’t think I ever would have got Emily in the car.

The old:

Left Rear

Right Rear

Driver Door.

The new (complete with leather inserts!  Mr. Fancy Pants.)

Driver Side Door

Right Rear

Not perfect by any means, but definitely a huge improvement over what was there to begin with.  I think it is just enough to convince me to see just how many miles I can put on this car.  More to come:

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Living in a Post-Facebook World

“Domain “mattivonkessing.com” will be auto-renewed in 5 weeks!”

8 days ago, again.  Another reminder.  I had completely forgotten about my little corner of the internet.  Facebook had completely supplanted (in my case, at least) somewhat coherent essays (maybe not in my case) as the narcissists’ tool of choice for shameless self promotion.  In my defense, “introduction, support, support, support, conclusion” is a hell of a lot harder than finding somebody that has already eloquently published an idea on the internet, then clicking share to instantly beam it to friends, relatives, or simply the guy that gets my post thrown up on his wall because a friend of a friend liked something enough to like it.  But that isn’t the whole story.

The truth is, I enjoyed the time it took to write.  The process of slowing down, writing a set of loosely-related ideas about a weekend of racing, then weaving together a little bit of internet fabric was a forced reconciliation of everything that happened over the previous weekend.  Somebody only does that when they feel what they were doing is worth the time investment, and I used to feel that way about things.  Those things were mostly bike racing, but I felt it about something.  Then I got married.  I bought a house.  I jumped back into my career.  The time I used to spend on the bike and the subsequent time spent writing about it was instead spent with my best friend on my off days, fixing up a house.  To be very clear, not writing about these activities doesn’t mean they weren’t important.  I just didn’t write about them because the new activities, Facebook, and composing internet musings couldn’t all fit.

And this goes back to the relative difficulty of self promotion through Facebook versus the blog.  With the time that was left over after doing all the important things, I defaulted to the mindless option of throwing up on people’s walls and let this outlet fall to the wayside.  I chose the instant gratification of celebrity photo slide-shows and cat videos over developing a skill that I enjoy using.  I realize this now, so I shut down my Facebook.  Less time mindlessly surfing a site that is designed for targeted marketing, means more time writing.  So an overhaul is coming.  Maybe some retrospective pieces on what I’ve been doing the last 3 years instead of racing my bike.  Maybe I’ll post cat videos directly to my space on the internet?  I’ll work on it over the next couple of weeks in my spare time and roll it out on the anniversary of MvK.com.

But, with all that said.  This is still a tool for shameless self promotion, so make sure you share this on your Facebook.


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A Preview of the Georgetown Grand Criterium Festival

In a very short two days, Texas racers will swarm the streets of Georgetown when Andrew Willis kicks off the first ever Georgetown Grand Criterium Festival.  There has been tremendous buzz coming from the Holland Racing camp since the beginning of the racing season, when news of road crews busy on the streets of Georgetown was released.  The road work demonstrates a commitment from the city to the racing community, which is a huge step in the process of getting national level races in our own backyard.  There is a distinct possibility that, in the next few years, Texas racers will not have to travel 8 or more hours in order to  attend the nearest NRC or NCC races.

Image linked to City of Georgetown News Blog.So what can we expect from the Criterium Festival this weekend?  The course is a 1-mile long figure-eight with a total of 8 turns, almost a mirror image of the  course that we raced on during April’s Matrix Challenge in Dallas (a recap of that race can be found here).  The fresh pavement means the racing will be fast, and the technical nature of the course will only accentuate the extremes in speed.  Any amount of braking at the front of the peloton will be felt 10-fold by the guys in the back.  The first 5 guys may get through every turn without even touching their brakes; tracing smooth, fast arcs while holding most of their speed.  Compare this to the last 5 in the line, who will be forced to shed as much as half of their momentum to avoid colliding with the riders in front of them, just so they can burn match after match, over and over again to stay on the wheel in front of them.  Which of those sounds more appealing?

This fact alone makes the Georgetown Grand primarily a race of position, which Andrew Willis highlights the importance of in his discussion with Keith Hutchinson of The City of Georgetown (full article here):

 Because what’s going to happen is that you’ll have varying levels of confidence and skill coming off that turn onto Fourth, people are going to be hitting their brakes differently, and there are going to be gaps forming, then they’re going to hit the uphill, and the top 10 or 15 racers, they’re going to be putting out the least amount of energy and the guys behind, that maybe got caught behind somebody less experienced, they’re going to be—in cycling they call it— burning matches.

Staging early will increase the odds of starting near the front, but it doesn’t absolutely guarantee a good starting position (it is a scientifically proven fact that not everybody can be at the front, P < 0.001).  With that in mind, constantly look for opportunities to move up a few positions at a time.  Although it proves to be easier from a technical sense, moving up on the straightaways while everybody else is sprinting toward the next corners is probably not the best use of a “match” and will likely leave you with an empty tank by the time the race is over.  With that being said, look to the turns to take a few positions back.  This does not mean diving into corners, which presents a nasty opportunity for your line to cross with the lines of everybody else in the peloton (i.e. it’s a good way to cause a crash).  The best tactic for advancing will be when you can draw a faster line through the turn around somebody that is braking, letting your momentum carry you forward.

Wherever the cycling Gods slot you into the peloton heading into turn one, and whatever race you’re going to be doing, the racing is going to be fast from the gun, so a good warm-up is critical.  If you have the engine or the team to do it, mass at the front of the race and make it hard for everybody for as long as possible.  If you’re in the P1/2 race like me, starting near the front gives you the best likelihood of surviving the destruction that 15 Elbowz can cause on a field over the course of a 2 hour criterium.

As much fun as the racing is going to be for the racers, the festival environment that Georgetown offers is going to be even better for the fans.  The short course ensures that spectators are never far from the action, and live music during the day will keep everybody entertained.  Bring a cooler of beer and post-up in the historic town square to watch the races.  Just let me know where you’re going to be so I know where to find a cold one when the racing is done.  Whatever you do, spectating or racing, remember to thank the people at Holland Racing for putting on such a great race, and make sure to stop into some of the businesses in Georgetown to let them know that we’re grateful for their generosity so they’ll let us do this again next year.

Enjoy the races.  I’ll see you out there.

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Tour of Places Named after Sam Houston

Our adventure went something like this: on Saturday we raced around in (adjacent to?) the expansive Sam Houston National Forest.  After spending the remainder of the day relaxing in said forest, we broke camp in the morning and loaded the bikes onto the car to drive to the city of the same namesake to race around another park named after the chap.  Somewhere in between A and B, we passed up an opportunity to drive on his highway.  After the race on Sunday, we even had supper with a kid named Sam.

The higher the hat, the higher the rank.

With all the homage paid to Sam Houston, you’d think he was kind of a big deal, and considering he was the first AND third president of the Republic of Texas,  you’d be correct.  In fact, he won the 1836 presidential election for the Republic of Texas in a landslide, taking 79.4% of the vote against another famous Texan: Stephen F. Austin, who took a measly 9.1% of the vote.  The vote most likely reflected the work ethic of the two men.  While Sam Houston was busy ambushing Señor Santa Anna, mid siesta, en-route to liberating Tejas from Mexican rule to create the greatest (although short-lived) Republics in the history of the world, Hipster Steve A. was most likely riding around the hill-country on his fixed gear.

And in this bit of history I find a tiny snippet of delightful irony in our past weekend of racing.  On a weekend where we were racing through and around the namesakes meant to pay homage to the man largely responsible for creating the State of Texas from the Mexican state of Coahuila, it was a lad from Nuevo Leon that snuck off with the victory in both P1/2 races.  Both victories were perfectly executed, no doubt from the months spent planning the revenge on Sam Houston.  Enrique Aldapa flew under the radar, right up until the point that he decided to blow the radar up and win the race.  At Coldspring, it was at the beginning of the 5th and final lap where he bridged up to my breakaway and then promptly dropped me when I failed to accelerate uphill to get on his wheel.  The story was the same at the Houston Grand Crit; Aldapa bridged up to, and passed, Veggie during the last lap.  In both races, nobody was equipped to hold his wheel when he finally went, because he was smart and rationed his efforts during the rest of the race.

As reluctant as I am to get into a car and drive east from Austin for three and a half hours into the land of Texas historic remembrance, this past weekend made me realize that I really should consider it more often.  The reasons are twofold, and strangely have nothing to do with Mr. Houston: 1) the trees around Coldspring are lovely (I highly recommend camping at the Double Lake Recreation Area) and 2) …well, the trees in Coldspring are lovely.  Reason two was going to be something along the lines of Houston Grand being a very well-done race, but that isn’t a reason to go back to Houston, except for possibly the once a year that Houston closes down Allen Parkway and lets us play bike-race for an afternoon.

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A Guide to Time Trial Preparation

With the exception of the very act of pedaling the bike, very little of what goes into winning is actually done during the race.  The winner simply uses this time to solidify an outcome that has been months in the making.  Of course it takes training to develop the endurance to win a race against the clock, but this post is about more than pointing out that the person that trains the hardest is most likely to win.  It goes beyond training: the winner is often the person that is the best prepared, and training is only one facet of preparedness.  Time trials are won on the morning of, the days before, and the weeks and months leading up to the event.

Hours Before: Fueling and Priming

The hours on the morning of, leading up to the race, are arguably the most important.  Even with meticulous preparation in the months before an important time trial, the race can be lost simply by not paying attention to the details on the morning of the race.  The two aspects that have the biggest impact on race performance are breakfast and warmup.  For race-day breakfast, I like to eat at least 3 hours before the race, and the meal always consists of something I know my body will not reject: I train on oatmeal, so I eat the same boring oatmeal before the race.  Learn what works for you during training and don’t take chances on race day.  The three-hour window between eating and racing gives your body time to convert the food into a usable fuel; namely, glycogen.

Now that the engine is fueled, it’s time to get everything up to operating temperature.  In a time trial, every second needs to be used putting out a race-winning effort, so metabolic systems need to be ready to light a fire as soon as the official says it’s time to go.  It is imperative to get in a proper, structured warm-up before the race, and I see no alternative to a trainer for this purpose.  Planning to ride around on unfamiliar roads surrounding a TT venue is the perfect recipe for just cruising around.  A proper warm-up will get the legs up to race effort (or even above) over the course of an hour.  The warm-up should suck, it should make you sweat and then it should allow some time to recover before the real effort starts.  Ideally, you should unhook from the trainer, throw in your TT helmet, suck down a drink and then roll to the start line a couple of minutes before your listed start time.  (On that note: make sure to synchronize your clock with the official start clock, then set an alarm.  Missing your start time is embarrassing.)

Days Before: Scouting

Preparedness isn’t just physical.  To do well in a time trial a cyclist needs to salvage every possible second and studying a course is critical to identifying opportunities to steal time from opponents.  Aspects of the course falls into three categories: terrain, technical aspects and weather.  The terrain is going to dictate pacing more than anything else; hilly parcours require slightly different pacing strategies than pancake flat ones.  Pre-riding a course is the best way to experience the terrain and make minor adjustments to a pre-planned pacing strategy.  More important than experiencing the extremes in the terrain, pre-riding the course lets you mentally map out the technical aspects.  Experienced time trialists takes the time to learn which turns can be taken in the tuck at speed, and which ones require the braking and control of the bullhorns.  Maintaining speed through corners will conserve energy by eliminating the necessity of re-accelerating to race pace, ultimately saving a lot of time over the course of a 40k.

While terrain and turns are physical absolutes of the course, weather is more of a wild-card and can’t necessarily be scouted in advance.  With this in mind, the orientation and landscaping of the course provide critical information on how to read the weather forecast on the day of the race.  While pre-riding, think about what the normal weather conditions are, as well as what they could be.

Weeks Before: Training

Of course winning is going to take a lot of training; this is the no-brainer.  Training is what cyclists spend most of his or her time doing, but in order to maximize the benefits of training for a particular race, efforts should be specifically chosen to emulate the efforts that occur in that race.  In the case of a time trial, training should focus on increasing threshold power, and the closer to race-day, the more race-like intervals should become.  As the race approaches, total daily training load should gradually increase to mirror the work-load that is going to be undertaken at the race and a greater proportion of a time trialist’s work load should shift from the road bike to the time trial bike.  In this way, nothing is new on race day: the suffering is the same and the position on the bike is the same.

Because the goal is to let training mimic racing as much as possible during the preceding months, an experienced time trialist incorporates as much racing into his or her training plan as possible.  Mistakes are going to happen, and it is easier to write-off a pacing or equipment problem as a learning opportunity during a local TT than it is to throw away months of preparation when a similar mistake is made at an “A” priority race halfway across the country.

Months Before: Setup

With months to go, before the average racer even thinks about deciding to race on that fateful weekend, the winner is spending time getting his or her time trial bike set up properly.  Depending on the race, this could just be new cables and a few tweaks to position, or it could mean a complete overhaul to ensure that rider and bike comply with UCI regulations.  This step needs to get done well in advance of the race to give plenty of time to adapt to the new setup and work the kinks out during training.

Setup isn’t only about making sure your gear is ready for the race, you also need to make sure you are ready psychologically.  There is a simple mental task that must be accomplished well in advance of the race; a goal needs to be set.  You need to decide to pour everything you have into the race and commit to yourself, your teammates, your coach and your sponsors that you are going to do everything possible to achieve the singular purpose of winning that bike race.  Without a goal, it is too easy to quit the first time the going truly gets hard.  Without motivation and desire, preparation is impossible.

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The Matrix Challenge

This past weekend, I reluctantly made the decision to venture outside of my comfort zone to race an extremely technical crit.  JT was able to talk me into making the trip to Dallas to race two days of the Matrix Challenge.  The importance he placed on the race didn’t help ease the apprehension that I felt about the course: eight turns in less than a mile; the antithesis of my race of choice.  But I suppose one can’t improve if he or she don’t practice.  In that line of thinking, I saw the Matrix Challenge as the perfect preparation for racing the technical crits that are coming up later in the year: namely Bike the Bricks and Georgetown Grand.

Course barriers let us know exactly where we were racing.

The intention all spring was for me to race the P1/2 race with John and help him get the best result possible.  During the weeks leading up to the race, I was having my doubts about my technical capability while simultaneously watching race after race tick off the calendar as the upgrade points I earned at the state crit last year continued to mature.  I didn’t care to find out what expired upgrade points smell like; probably somewhere in between a sweat-soaked jersey sitting in the car too long and spoiled milk.  I needed one last result to accomplish my goal of achieving my cat 1 upgrade, thus releasing the tension to let me focus on my goals for later in the season.  We came to a compromise: Saturday would be for me, Sunday would be for him.  I was giving myself one shot, and I couldn’t help but put more pressure on myself to perform.

Despite the complex course, the strategy was simple: stage well and stay near the front, going with any moves that look threatening.  The initial struggle for the pointy end was going to make the beginning of the race fast, so the warm-up was critical to having legs from the gun.  A very structured warm-up on a trainer is the best way to prime the legs for a hard race, but it also helps me get into a frame of mind that racing requires.  In this case, it cast aside nerves so I could visualize the path I needed to travel; silently repeating the mantra passed down to John from the Great Jed Rodgers: “No brakes.”  Fifteen minutes before the start of the race and dripping with sweat, I hopped off the trainer and headed to the start line to make sure I got good pre-staging staging.  As soon as the women’s race finished, I wedged myself into the rush for the start line and ended up first row.  So far, so good.

Murder gloves going for cat 1.  Thanks to John Trujillo for the awesome shot.

As stupid as it sounds, the pre-race race to the start line was probably the most important part of setting up a good race this weekend.  By starting in the front, I was able to hit the first turn at 5th wheel, reducing the accordion affect of the peloton and ironing out some of the brake-sprint patterns that tend to emerge on technical courses.  It also let me choose my lines and the pace of the race; by setting a monster tempo early, I effectively took the edge off everybody else, especially anybody that staged further back in the bunch.  By entering turns fast with no brakes, I could maintain speed and then just power out at a heavy time trial pace.  Anybody stuck in the back of the peloton was at the mercy of everybody in front of them: if they brake, you brake.  They sprint, you sprint.

My strategy worked well.  Despite being at the front for the majority of the race, I still had “gas in the tank” for the finish, as Casey Crosby said.  During the last few laps, the pace picked up; everybody knew where to be: the first person through the last turn was all but guaranteed a podium.  The position game got more heated as everybody tried to move into the first few rows.  The trick was to anticipating the surge when it came to try to not get boxed in; spend the effort to pick up the pace slightly and jump onto the front of the surge to slot back near the front of the peloton.  Anybody that has ever been positioned well going into the finale of a race knows the pure terror of being overcome by the swarm while trapped and powerless to do anything about it.

Killing it at the front.  HDR photo courtesy of Stefan Rothe.

On the last lap, I found myself on Colin Strickland’s wheel about 6 from the front with 4 turns remaining.  We took tight lines in the last laps, smoothly closing off the inside of each turn to prevent people from thinking it would be a good idea to dive into the turn on the inside to try to gain a few positions.  With two turns to go, I knew it was time.  I gave Colin the encouragement he needed as Jeff LaBauve swung around, barely getting the jump on us.  We accelerated after him and caught everybody else by surprise.  I hit the final turn on Colin’s wheel thinking I had him played, but his draft wasn’t enough to overcome the work I had done earlier in the race.  Colin was strong enough to out-sprint us both, and I was too far back to come around Jeff.  The third-place finish was exactly what I needed to take care of business and polish off the points for my cat 1 upgrade.

The P12 race blurs past our view from the park.  Photo courtesy of Steven Stewart.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the deep shade, drinking beers with the guys I just spent 60 minutes suffering with.  Team Party Time set up a tent and lived up to their name; they showed us that Dallas can be a pretty cool place to visit.  The course was fun and the racing was great, but this was the part of the weekend that will stick with me the longest, and will have me coming back to race the Matrix Challenge again next year.  Few things are as awesome as lounging in the shade and drinking beer while cheering on bike racers.  That, and the vegetarian burger from race sponsor Stackhouse was one of the best I have ever had.

Matrix, I’ll be back next year for another stab at the P/1/2 race, but until then, I’m going to pretend like Sunday’s race didn’t happen.


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