Category Archives: Team Wooly Mammoth

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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Ronde von Manor Race Report

or A Tale of Two Races

Four days ago, I wrote this, partly as a tip to get some of the 3’s and 4’s thinking about the race, but mostly to get my head around what I was going to have to do over the weekend.  Putting a complex idea into words helps me to condense it into components that can be addressed one at a time.  Sometimes, in the end, it looks simple.

“The most important thing to remember is to anticipate the hill and be in a good position to go with a move on any lap, although the later it gets in the race, the higher the probability that something is going to go.  If a few hitters make a move, I’d suggest going with it.”

This is exactly what I spent the entirety of my race doing on Saturday, and exactly what I forgot to do on Sunday.  The two days, despite being raced on the same course in very similar conditions, showed how bipolar bicycle racing can be by resulting in two radically different races.  On Saturday, one team took charge and brought the race back together for a field sprint, and on Sunday, a well represented break left an unmotivated peloton to struggle for scraps.  I wasn’t particularly successful in either race, but both presented situations that I could learn from.

Discussing Strategy for the Race

Saturday was beautiful; 85 degrees and sunny with a slight southwesterly wind.  Uncharacteristically May weather in late March; the perfect day for a race.  The close proximity to Austin meant that many of my teammates were able to sneak away from responsibilities for an afternoon to come race; Team Wooly Mammoth fielded a team of eight for the P/1/2, giving us the opportunity to practice racing cohesively as a team.  My job was to mark the hitters and get into the break only when they went; the rest of my teammates would mark other moves to make sure we were represented in any break that got up the road.

For the duration of Saturday’s race, I raced smart instead of hard.  Gaubert made the early break, so the pressure was off the team; all we needed to do was follow wheels as people tried to bridge, and if one of the main players made a bridge attempt, it was my job to go with it.  I surfed the front of the peloton and kept an eye on the “hitters.”  When they started moving to the front, so did I.  When they jumped; I jumped.  My teammates did an awesome job of babysitting my impatience. When John or Chris saw me in the wind, they reminded me to stay hidden. As a result of the team’s expectations, I rode a better race; more reserved and more focused (the way I should be racing all the time). I was always aware of what was coming up on the course, and positioned myself accordingly. With each unsuccessful attempt to bridge, Super Squadra got more impatient and finally just decided to take control of the race and chase the break down. When it was clear that the race was going to a field sprint, John and I switched roles on the fly: I was protecting him for the sprint. It was a good call on his part as he took 4th on the day.

We entered the race with a solid plan, and the race just decided to play out in another way.  Just because our strategy didn’t manifest, doesn’t mean it was a failure.  We had a man in the early break and we consistently marked and covered bridge attempts.  On Saturday, we raced as a team and we raced smart; a recipe that we intended to follow on Sunday as well, although with a smaller team of four.

On day two, we wanted to be aggressive and try to make the break; I was going to make sure my attacks were meaningful and effective, snappy enough that when I attacked, I wasn’t taking the entire peloton with me.  When the race started, we immediately took turns covering attacks and countering when the would-be breaks were caught.  We tired, but kept with the plan as attacks went off the front.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that none of the big players were active; they were waiting.  On our first trip up the hill at mile 5, Brant Speed and Gray Skinner blew the doors off the race and the winning break was established.  787 and Squadra were present, as were a few of the stronger unattached riders.  Our overzealous execution of the plan to get into the break made us unable to go with the break when it happened.

With a reduced team, efforts should have been metered, with careful attention paid to upcoming terrain and the activities of other teams.  Regardless of what changed in the peloton from Saturday to Sunday, the hill was still the most significant geographic feature on the course: it deserved an equal amount of attention the second day.  In the end, we had a plan and stuck to it, but it was too wide-open; we stated an objective without taking into consideration how we were going to achieve that goal.

View from the hill.

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Fayetteville Stage Race

I like to time trial.  I fancy myself as somewhat of a time trialist, and understandably look for any opportunity to race my time trial bike.  This past weekend was one such opportunity; the Fayetteville Stage Race (FSR) in Fayetteville, Texas.  The FSR consists of three stages over two days.  Day one, for the Cat 2’s, starts in the morning with a 68 mile road race through rolling hills in Bluebonnet country followed by a 9 mile time trial in the afternoon.  The second day consists of a single stage: 95 miles over a slightly different course than the first day.  General classification is based on elapsed time, so the time trial has the potential to make the race, especially in categories that don’t begin with P and end with 1.  Essentially, FSR is a race that is perfectly suited to my strengths.

Trickey rolling through the Bluebonnets.

After a solid week of training that involved crushing the Allsports Timing TT on South Mopac on Tuesday night and having a good race on Thursday at The Driveway, I knew my fitness was right where it needed to be in order to do well.  Add to that, a desire to redeem myself in the eyes of my team after dragging them to Mineral Wells in a downpour in February and then not performing.  To summarize: I wanted to do well in a race that suited me, with fitness that was exactly where it needed to be in order for me to win.  All I needed to do was not make a mistake that would cost me time.  Fantastic.  No pressure, Matti.

As the road race rolled from the line at 10:10 am on Saturday, a nervous electricity ran through the peloton.  Attacks didn’t get chased back as much as they were doomed by too many riders thinking exactly the same thing as soon as the third person tried to bridge.  One person would go up the road and then two.  The third would try to bridge and the tipping point would be reached; everybody would swarm the attackers.  For five laps, this was the nervous little game we played.  Always on edge waiting for the next move, always hoping I was going to get a chance to get away and put time on everybody.  Finally, on the last lap of the race, the Slipstream Junior Development Team decided to keep things together for the field sprint and finally took control of the race.  I relaxed a little and sunk back a few rows and waited.  When the pace started picking up with a few kilometers left to go in the race, I surfed wheels toward the front, taking opportunities to move up as they came.  I was in good position to sprint on the right side of the peloton until a rider unpredictably shot from the centerline to the far right side of the road.  I reacted and stayed upright, but lost most of my momentum.  My sprint was wasted re-accelerating back to race speed as the winner crossed the line.  I sat up and rolled across the line in 12th place, inside the main group and without losing time.

Coming through the hot spot on day 1.

With the road race out of the way, it was time to start agonizing over the afternoon’s time trial, which was less of a big deal.  My time trial routine is pretty well set in stone, and at this point it is simply execution.  I kept reminding everybody around me that it was all about pacing.  “Don’t go out too hard with the tailwind or the headwind will eat your lunch.”  This advice was less for everybody else than it was to remind myself.  Little good it did, because I paid no heed to my own advice.  The first three miles of the course begged to be railed, and I obliged.  By the time I hit the 2nd turn 5 miles in, I was in the hurt locker.  I slowed, made the sharp turn and then accelerated back up to speed, getting back into my tuck as soon as possible.  I spent the next 4 miles concentrating on pushing as hard as possible while ignoring the fire that was building in my quads.  I ended up averaging 28.0 mph over the 9 mile course.  First in the Cat 2 field, and up on GC by 28 seconds.

After the TT was over and the results were posted, a strange calm came over me.  I was one step closer to my goal, yet all the pressure was gone.  With 15 guys within a minute of me on GC, I knew how I was going to spend my Sunday, and knowing is better than not knowing.  Adam and I had a plan for defending the race, and it was no use worrying about all the possible ways we could fail.

We started early on Sunday.  The team woke up and ate breakfast together at 5am.  Oatmeal with raisins and pumpkin seeds.  Orzo and sprouted mung bean omelets with sun-dried tomato pesto.  We berated Jesse for drinking Folgers instant coffee.  It was a relief that the serenity that had fallen over me after the results were posted had not passed in the night.  I was simply enjoying being at a bike race with my boys, and the outcome of the final stage couldn’t change that.  This is what bike racing should be about.

Sunday’s race started the way everybody knew it would.  Robert Biard attacked from the gun with a few other brave riders on the long-shot break-away.  My teammate Adam Allen wasted no time and went with them.  With 95 miles to race, the rest of the pack was content to let them go, and the gap grew to minutes almost immediately until PACC and Thinkfinance, both of which missed the move, sent people to the front to begin the chase.  Eventually, Slipstream contributed a few chasers, but the bulk of the work and organizing was done by PACC.  Thanks to Adam, I had a free ride to sit near the front of the group and watch the chasers rotate, satisfied that the time gap stopped increasing and slowly started coming down.  After close to 60 miles of hard chasing, we caught the small group of escapists and the chase instantly dissolved.  Not to be outdone, Biard went again and Adam just looked at me like “no worries…I got this” and jumped right back on his wheel.  Everybody else just looked around confused.  A break was back up the road and I had a free ride again.  When the break got a minute and a half on the field, a small group of 3 bridged up to join them; there was a moment of doubt that the field would regain the motivation to chase again.

I was wrong.  With approximately an hour left to race, Garmin Development came to the front and, one after another, launched attacks to bridge up to the break.  As long as the big teams weren’t represented in the break, they had an onus to work.  Had Garmin successfully bridged, the dynamics of the race would have changed significantly and it could have been possible for the break would stay away and gain a lot of time.  When nobody else in the peloton showed any interest in chasing, I resigned myself to put my nose into the wind: it was time to work.  This was the scenario my coach had talked about; we knew it was coming and for the last hour of the race, I covered attack after attack from the Garmin riders.  Sometimes one by one, sometimes in twos; they threw everything they could at me, and I suffered because of it.  Bridge and sit, then look back to see where the next attack would come from.  Staying one step ahead was critical to getting a jump on the next attacker before the gap got too large.  With 5 miles to go, Joseph Garcia made a solo bid for the finish and forced the Garmins to react to salvage the possible stage win.  They caught him, barely.  I rode the wave to the finish for my first stage race win.

FSR Podium

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The Spring Classic at the Driveway

The alarm started screaming at 6:30.  Confused, I reached over and hit the snooze; it only felt like 5:30 and my body wanted more sleep.  I dozed, but the alarm came again.  The dripping of rain off the eaves and the chill draft blowing through the open window were convincing arguments for staying in bed with Emily.  We discussed the possibility, but both knew it wasn’t a realistic option.  The Spring Classic wasn’t going to set up itself, and I wasn’t going to leave Andrew and Holly hanging on such a beautiful Belgian day.  She tried her hardest to keep me in bed, but I got the upper hand by using the vicious steamroller technique, which threw us both into fits of giggles long enough for me to escape to the kitchen to put on water for coffee.  An hour later, with a belly full of breakfast, I threw on a jacket and a ridiculous yellow poncho and made my way into the elements.

In spite of the soaking rain, finding myself back at the Driveway with Holland Racing was like seeing a close friend after being gone for years.  It started to sink in for me exactly what Sunday’s race and time change represents for the Austin racing community: a return of the weekly camaraderie that comes with racing 85 of the same guys on a weekly basis.  I’m certain that I speak for other people in the community; the most important thing about le Driveway is the ability for it to forge relationships out of an environment of adversity.  Whether the bond is strengthened between a husband and wife that choose to share a hobby, between a more experienced racer and somebody searching for a mentor, or even just between a group of friend that like to share a beer on the porch after a hard night of racing; the result is a more cohesive community that builds strength and helps us all become healthier, more balanced individuals.  Plus, the racing is intense.

Friends and family coming out to watch at the driveway.

Look no further than the first race of the day for both the camaraderie and the intensity of racing at the Driveway.  As the rain continued to fall at 9am, the cat 4’s took the line and started their race, and it was immediately obvious how the race was going to play out.  Comanche Racing, having strength in numbers, took responsibility for making the race and immediately sent a courageous warrior off the front of the field in a bid for solo victory while the rest of the team covered bridge attempts and kept tabs on the other strong guys in the field.  As somebody that enjoys being in long, painful breakaways, it broke my heart when Jordan Parker got caught not long before the finish, but it was exciting to see his teammate Devin Parker in perfect position to capitalize on the work that the field had done to bring Jordan back.  Devin, who has the most awesome euro-inspired hair style in all of non-Europe, waited in ambush and dominantly took the sprint and the win; in the rain, like a Belgian.  Chapeau Devin, and chapeau Comanche for racing selflessly as a team.

The sun came out and did the work of drying out the course.

As the day progressed and the weather got less intense while the racing action did quite the opposite.  By noon, the 50 degree rain was thankfully replaced by 80 degrees of beautiful sun, giving us a respite from the wet chill while going to work drying out the race surface. The P/1/2/3 race was gearing up to be a 90-minute, first-class spectacle of high-speed tanning.  And it delivered.  Ninety-five racers started what would be a relentlessly fast race along the entire length of the Driveway’s Grand Prix course.  Our field averaged 28.0 miles per hour and covered 42 miles over the hour and a half.  John, Mike and I represented for Team Wooly Mammoth.  Our goal was simple; surf the front of the peloton and be present in moves as they went.

Matti and John in the front, racing together.

The most exciting and satisfying part of the race on Sunday was getting a chance to click with a teammate while working together.  With both of us near the front of the race for the majority of the 90 minutes, John and I were in position to contend for most of the day’s primes, and  we took advantage of the opportunity by working on the age-old romantic tradition of cycling; the lead-out.  Generally, while employing a lead-out riders on a team will up the pace to string out the peloton, at the same time giving shelter to the team’s sprinter, who is strategically placed to take advantage of the faster pace in the lead-in to a sprint.  An effective lead-out requires coordination and timing, which take a tremendous amount of practice to get right.  I’d like to be able to say that John and I were insanely successful and took home sack-fulls of loot, but the reality is our timing was off during both attempts, although the second was better than the first.  And despite the troubles with timing, the important part is we were both there to make an attempt, and we were on the same page: as I looked back over my hip to locate John, he knew exactly what I was thinking and was willing to put in the effort to make it work.  We were thinking as one with very little communication.  While the energy put into those efforts could have been spent better at the end of the race, the investment now to iron out the kinks in our timing will make us much better competitors when we’re firing on all cylinders at some of the bigger crits later in the year.

Up the corkscrew.

As the lap cards came out and started counting down the final laps of the race, the pace picked up and the position game became increasingly more difficult.  My legs were beginning to feel the burn of some of the previous efforts, and the extra 30 minutes on top of what I was used to doing for a crit didn’t help matters at all.  The back of the peloton was doing everything it could to displace the people at the front of the peloton, and each time up the corkscrew made the burn sink a little deeper into my muscles as I pushed harder and harder to fight off the hoards and hold my position.  But every time there was a lull in the pace of the race, a few more people would find their way around the outside and jump ahead.  I was drifting back through the pack, but I wanted another chance to get the lead-out right, which meant fighting harder and using every opportunity to move back up.  In the end, I wasn’t able to reach John and I hit the corkscrew on the final lap in 20th.  My motivation to move up from 20th was called into question as I was bumped by somebody recklessly passing on the alligator teeth to my right, and then momentum and motivation were officially vanquished when I was caught behind a crash in the last corner with 200 m to go.  Yet, as disappointing as the finish was for me, the way the race played out left me with an excited optimism about the possibilities for this year.

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