Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Texas State Road Race Championships

The weekend’s race can be summed up in 3 words: “margin of error.”

The higher the category, the smaller the margin of error.  Often, a small amount of fatigue or a bad move during the race won’t end a race, but as the stakes get higher, the price one pays for these small mistakes tends to also get much larger.  Competitors are able to pick out small blunders and will strategically exploit them.   In order to win, or even hang onto a race like this one, not only does someone need to be fit, they also need to be smart.

Looking back on the race, I see places that I could have made different choices to put myself in a better position to finish stronger.  At the end of the 2nd 33 mile loop, the pace picked up substantially on the finishing stretch and the peloton got guttered.  I was the last to get dropped off the leaders as Michael Pincus went to the front and slaughtered everyone.  Instead of looking back to see the other 12 guys chasing, I focused intently on the last wheel of the leaders’ group, approximately 50 meters in front of me, and tried to time-trial my way back on.  Eventually, the momentum of the large chase group boiled over and they caught the leaders and me.  I was able to get on as they went by to get a bit of recovery, but I had burned too many matches trying to chase solo.  When we reached the 5th category 5 climb of the day a couple of miles later, I was out of gas.  Dunzo, off the back.  I spent the rest of the day chasing.  Had I spent more time recovering in the chase instead of trying to do all the work on my own, I feel confident I would have gotten over that climb.  I’m not sure I would have had the legs to finish strong on the day, but I would have been part of the race longer than I was.

In this way, the race rewards smart decisions, and penalizes the bad ones, which starts a chain reaction of post-race decision analysis.  Would I have been better suited to going with the break-away that went off in the first 4 miles of the race?  The long, steady miles of the breakaway could have suited my riding style better.  Instead of the surging of the chase/stall game that the peloton was playing, I could have just set the cruise control and let my legs do their thing.  In the end, I had a plan for how to approach the race, and I followed the plan.  Was this a good plan from the start?

I could 2nd guess the decisions I made for the entirety of the off season, but it doesn’t do me any good to beat myself up about it.  On that same vein, an integral part of the improvement process is to seek feedback after a race;  mistakes and weaknesses from Saturday’s race will be used in the off-season to fuel the motivation.  Reflecting on errors will ensure that those errors are not made in the future.  But it is a precarious line to walk; venturing too far down that rabbit hole could get one lost with Alice forever.

My lack of a result on Sunday doesn’t put a black mark on my season.  I still feel I had an amazing year, and anyways, winning all 3 of the state championships this year would have been just plain greedy.  As Meatloaf says, “two out of three ain’t bad.”



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Chappell Hill Bank Classic Road Race


Up until a few days before the race, the fires in Bastrop were spewing a tremendous amount of uncertainty into the air along with the plumes of smoke, blanketing the capitol in a acrid haze.  Chappell Hill is the perfect chance to get race miles in the legs to polish off preparations for the state championship road races at the Ft. Hood Challenge, although the added intensity is not worth the risk of tearing up the lungs by riding through smoke.  On Friday, the weather reports were looking favorable so I started to ask around.  The decision to race was last-minute, and I finally decided to green-light it when Trickey confirmed that he had room in his car to drive up the morning before the race.  “Be at my house at 4:35 am.”  Ouch.

On Sunday morning, waking up early was the least of my pain.  The race was fast from the gun as riders attempted to form a break, averaging 27 mph over the first hour of racing and the pace didn’t let up until the field finally let the break go 90 minutes into the race.  I use the term “break” very loosely.  The final selection usually starts as a 3 or 4 man breakaway from the main field, swelling as riders make the jump across the gap.  Eventually everybody that is strong enough to bridge makes it across and those that couldn’t settle in for the ride home.  In some cases, as was mine, the ride home even proved to be too much in the long run, as I got dropped in the hills leading back into town, only 4 miles from the finish, ultimately finishing 23rd on the day.

I’m not disappointed with this result at all.  I raced aggressively and made the winning break, although I got dropped by it after only 10 minutes.   The energy expended to ensure that I was in the position to make the split probably cost me the rest of my race.  Despite this fact, I would not change the way I raced on Sunday.  I emptied my proverbial matchbook; I had none left when racing really started in the chase group.  I suspect that had I not raced as aggressively at the onset of the race, I would have had more matches to burn in the later stages.

Hunter Allen defines a match as anything over 120% lactate threshold power for one minute.  Using that simple criteria while analyzing my power files from Sunday’s race, I popped off 18 matches during the first third of the race.  What’s worse, I couldn’t manage a single effort that met that criteria during the remainder.  Anything approaching that effort level sent me straight backwards.  When the break picked up the pace slightly on an uphill on the back side of the course, I got shelled.  When I was attempting to bridge to Beau Edwards when he attacked from the chase group, I made it half way and stalled out.  When the chase group hit the final run-in to Chappell Hill, I completely died.  Each of these were efforts I could easily have done two hours earlier, yet I just didn’t have a 19th, 20th or 21st effort in my legs.  This should not come as a shock to anybody that has ever raced a bicycle.

I certainly could have raced smarter, but now that most of my races are with the P/1’s, where the race is decided by a selection in the first hour (usually) of racing, the experience of being there when it happened will prove to be invaluable in the future as I continue to make progress.

edit: I can’t believe I just realized the irony of starting a post while talking about a forest fire, and then continuing on to talk about “matches” during my post. The connection just slapped me in the face. I mean no disrespect to the victims of the Bastrop fire, and have them all in my thoughts.


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Tour of Austin Day 3 – eRacing Stigma Crit.

or Recipe for taking yourself down a notch. First, find some success on the bike. A win is best, but something courageously epic (see Day 2) will work just as well. While you’re riding the wave from your win (or your 19th place finish in a super-fast race), start putting yourself in a head-space for an upcoming race. Think about the primes you’re going to win. Invite your friends to come see you race. Have your friends invite their friends. Maybe a few family members should come to watch you race for the first time ever; the more the merrier. This is the critical step: the morning of the race, completely misinterpret everything everybody has ever told you about warming up for a race; ride to the race but don’t really do any efforts. Line up for the race and let’er rip. The quicker you fall off the back of the group and spend a lap or two chasing, the better.

With the correct outlook, a crushing loss can be the ultimate motivation. A good, old-fashioned beat-down keeps things in perspective and teaches a man to be humble. There is no sense letting the ego get bigger than the legs that need to re-accelerate it after every turn. Humility is important, and learning to deal with defeat is one of the most important aspects of learning to race. I have an idea of how far I have come, and got a glimpse of how far I need to go.

Photo courtesy of Dave McLaughlin.

At least Dave McLaughlin can make me look fast during a race.

Now that I got that out of the way: a little about the race. I’m not going to be long-winded about this one. This was the most technical race of the weekend, so there is no surprise that it was the race I struggled with. The tight, technical course was less suited for somebody still trying to find the confidence to corner at speed with the P/1’s. Getting gapped on every turn didn’t help the fact that I did not have the leg speed or the power to repeatedly sprint with the accelerations of the group after every turn. More than that, I did not have the mental toughness to finish the race like I did at the Pickle; not two day in a row, and not through the amount of fatigue that I had from the rest of the weekend. Plus, a good warm-up would have helped. Lesson learned.

Picnic at the State Hospital.

Anyways, the box of wine and the case of beer my cheering section brought were calling my name.  And, in the end, family is still family and friends are still friends.  They don’t care if you win or finish dead last.  Especially when they have a box of wine and a case of beer on the first day of cool weather during one of the hottest summers in history.

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Tour of Austin Day 2 – Pickle Crit.

This was, quite possibly, the hardest race I have ever done. The course was in the wide-open J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Combine the challenging course with a 30 mile per hour wind out of the north and things got complicated very quickly. High winds and crashes at a few unfortunate places caused the pack to shatter almost immediately, forming the break and a few unorganized chase groups. Close to 50% of the starters of the race didn’t finish. Fortunately, I was able to stick with the “stay towards the front” part of my plan for the day and I was not caught out behind the crash.

In front of the crash.

In a race like this, race goals very quickly get modified on the fly; “finishing well” is replaced with “well, finishing.” I spent the middle 45 minutes trying to convince myself that there would be no shame in dropping out. I repeatedly got gapped in the technical section on the backside of the course, which left me with no hope of finding shelter on the cross-wind false flat stretch before the finish. Every lap, at this point, I promised myself I would drop out of the race.  Sometimes, promises just aren’t realistic.  So I dug deep, put my head down and time trialed back to the back of the peloton during the head-wind section.  Every lap I made it back on. As I got more comfortable diving into turns, the gaps got smaller and I actually started to get a chance to recover. Granted, that could have been the pace slowing down, but not opening a gap in the first place certainly wasn’t hurting anything.

Pain faces for sure.

In the end, I finished 19th thanks to a little bit of selfless riding from Adrian; when I was hurting my worst, he helped to tow me back to the peloton. He sacrificed his race to save mine. Much obliged, amigo.

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Tour of Austin Day 1 – Grand Prix Loop.

Right off the bat, we’ll file this one under lessons learned.

Photo courtesy of Jim Hicks.

I’ll have to hand it to them, Elbowz showed exactly what it means to race as a team, putting on a clinic over the 3-day Tour of Austin. After the winning break went off, Elbowz took turns bridging up to the break while taking as few people as possible, or shutting down everybody that attempted to bridge up. Every bridge attempt was accompanied by one guy in a blue and white kit, and he sat 2nd wheel and cooked the would-be bridger. Nobody was willing to pull around, so the person off the front was effectively isolated…dead in the water. As soon as that person was done, the Elbow(?) would attack, bring the punchiest follower or two with them and then repeat the process as somebody else moved to the front of the chase group. Rinse and repeat. If they made it across, Elbowz gets a free ride and one more teammate in the front group, otherwise, no problem for them.

With 3 laps to go, I burned every match I had in an attempt to salvage my race, leaving Adrian alone to try to make his.  After our successful foray into teamwork on Thursday, we fell back into the usual pattern of wearing the same outfit while racing separate races.  In retrospect, and now that I have had a chance to really digest what was going on in the races, I realize that those matches would have been better served for the team. Lesson learned.

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