Category Archives: Team Wooly Mammoth

la Primavera at Lago Vista

I just want to set something straight: as hilly as this course is, Lago Vista is not a “climber’s” course.  No matter which way you run it, clockwise or anti-clockwise, it is not one for the climbers.  On Saturday’s course, run clockwise, the main climb is approximately one and a third mile long at a steady 2.5% grade.  The reverse course, raced on Sunday, covers the same elevation, only the climbing is punctuated with steeper pitches.  The 15% grade at the start of the climbing punches you in the solar plexus and the rest of the climbing laughs in your face as you gasp for breath.  The steep pitches don’t crank up for long enough to separate the true climbers from the sprinters.  Saturday is a day for the guys that can crank out big watts for long periods of time, and Sunday is for the explosive riders that can repeat massive efforts over and over again.

Descending at Lago Vista

With that being said, Saturday was the course better suited to my particular skill-set.  The long steady drag on the backside of the course with a modest headwind set the stage for large teams to take the stage and gutter the field.  With 11 riders from Elbowz in the field, it was only a matter of time before the carnage started, because when the table is set for a feast, somebody is going to eat.  To survive the day, starting the climb in the top 15 of the field was critical.  Every.  Single.  Lap.  In retrospect, this is where I failed.  The importance of position did not sink in until the 2nd or 3rd time up the climb, when guys started to lose it in front of me and I needed to cover gaps to stay on the main group.  It became evident, although at that point I was already in survival mode.

A view of the peloton from the descent.

So why the trouble staying near the front of the pack, and why did it continue like that for the entire race?  For me, the problem wasn’t initially the climbing or the wind; it was the descent.  Every lap, the peloton would reach upwards of 80 kph (50 mph for the less Euro-inclined) on the steeper downhill sections of the course while taking the lazy sweeping turns back to the finish-line.  The turns weren’t techy at all, but I still needed a few laps to get comfortable navigating the corners while in close proximity to other racers.  I’d get nervous and tap the brakes in a turn that had no need for brakes and I’d lose a few positions in the pack.  By the end of the descent, I was 20 to 25 guys back from where I started, ready to start climbing again in the back of the pack where I didn’t want to be.  All the gaps I spent the precious energy covering on the previous lap’s climb were erased in a few misplaced lever pulls.  I eventually settled down and started feeling comfortable on the descents, but by that point in the race, it was too late.  I crossed the line after 83 miles in 27th place.

Saturday was hard, but I knew Sunday was going to be much, much worse based on the type of efforts that were going to be involved.  I had a chance to reflect on what happened on Saturday and I was determined to not let it happen again; my main focus was positioning.  I spent the backside of each lap obsessively moving up through the pack to make sure I hit business end of the course in the business end of the peloton.  For the first half of the race, I was extremely successful.  I spent most of it in the front, but not on the front.  The highlight of my day was having John Trujillo, a teammate that I respect for his ability to move through a field, comment on the way I was intuitively flowing into gaps in the peloton.

In the front!  Right behind multiple national champion Steve Tillford.

And then the hills started to wear on me and I started drifting further and further back on the climbs.  The first time it happened, I quickly dug deep and turned on TT mode to get back on.  During the next lap, I got gapped a little bit more and worked with a small group to catch back on after the turnaround at the top of the hill.  The lap after that, the gap was a little worse and the group was a little bigger, but chase we did.  We chased our asses off, finally catching the main field as we prepared to pass through the start-finish.  Just in time to start climbing again.  That was at mile 50, and on that lap, I imploded spectacularly: my race was over.

None of this is to say that I’m disappointed with the racing from this weekend, I’m simply honestly reflecting upon the weekend to identify and correct mistakes.  It is easy to fall into the pattern of not being critical enough: I did poorly at Lago because I didn’t have the fitness.  I’ll be the first to admit that lack of fitness played a part in my case, but to fall back on “lack of fitness” after every race is cheating yourself out of improvements that could be made.  What could I have done with the fitness I had at the time?  What was my potential, and why wasn’t I achieving that potential?

And don’t even start with the “I’m not a climber” line.  I don’t want to hear it.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Lessons Learned, Race Report, Racing, Team Wooly Mammoth

Mineral Wells Stage Race

Every downpour begins with a solitary raindrop, and on the 17th of February, that first raindrop hit us just as the sun was setting as we merged into rush-hour traffic on Mopac, headed north to escape Austin on our way to Mineral Wells.  It was like the sun was the only thing keeping the rain at bay, leaving the clouds to do as they wished as soon as the sun was enveloped by the trees on the horizon.  Thick sheets of unrelenting rain; erasing the world outside the reach of the headlights.  It was the kind of rain that induces an anxious, uncertainty induced terror that forces the cautious drivers on the road to slow down to 45 mph in an attempt to stay ahead of the dangers that may be hiding in the curtains of rain.  A white-knuckled four hours after leaving Austin, we were unloading the car at the hotel, praying that the rain couldn’t continue into Saturday.

We were wrong.  The temperature dropped and the rain continued.  The crit was a disaster, and was a great example of how not to prepare for a bike race.  Morgovnik and I made the 10 minute ride from the hotel to the course early enough to pick up numbers, but the cold, rainy weather removed any motivation we had to warm-up once numbers were pinned.  As such, we started the 60 minute race with ice-cold muscles and very little motivation.  It showed, as the pack split almost immediately into several groups.  I’m only guessing at this, but I feel the guys that felt comfortable cornering a technical crit in the rain were the ones that made the initial selection.  Cornering through 3 inches of water is not one of my strong suits, this I know.  I ended up out of contention in one of the trailing groups on the road.

Critting in the rain.

Like the rain, the temperature continued to fall throughout the day.  By the 1 pm start time for the cat 2 time trial, the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees and the wind had picked up significantly.  Despite the cold and wet, I was optimistic that I would redeem my poor showing in the crit.  In fact, the time trail was the part of the weekend I was looking forward to the most, even in the inclement weather.  I got in a short warm-up on my trainer at the City Park and then rode to the start tent a couple miles way.  One minute before my scheduled start, I shed my jacket and gloves; I was ready to race.  As my start time crept closer, I took a few deep breaths and cleared my mind.  15 seconds, the official held my bike upright and I clipped in.  10 seconds, I visualized the calm suffering that was about to take place.  5 seconds, a few more deep breaths…

When the clock hit 1:08, the holder let go of me and I jumped forward from the start house; not quite a sprint, but not a sustainable pace either.  I got up to speed quickly and then tucked into the position I would stay in for the next 20 minutes.  The course was hilly, but the pitches were never bad enough to need to come off the aero bars or shift out of the big ring.  As my legs began to burn during the first major climb, I just counted my pedal strokes to keep a rhythm: 1-2-3-4.  1-2-3-4.  The slower pace of the climbs were a welcome respite from the sharp, stinging pain of being blasted on every square inch of exposed skin; the 43 mph descents turned the soft raindrops into searing needles.  Even if I didn’t question my decision to ride without arm warmers, I certainly wished I had my sunglasses on.  Cresting the 2nd major hill of the course, I felt my spirits sink as the finish-line was nowhere to be seen.  The long descent followed by another climb lay stretched out ahead of me.  There was no visual cue to lock in on for the last few kilometers, but I was familiar with the course profile and knew the finish-line couldn’t be much further than the last climb.  I stuck to my plan and rode the last climb as hard as I could; I wanted nothing left in the tank when I crossed the finish line.  Mission accomplished.  Had I tried to stand up to sprint at the end of the race, I would have fallen off my bike.  Thankfully, a couple of guys from DNA Racing out of Oklahoma offered me a ride when they saw me make the turnaround to head home, wearing nothing but a skinsuit.

Time – 20:21
Place – 2nd
Status – Redeemed

Soggy and cold, we were finally done for the day.  Time to relax and recover for the road race on Sunday morning.

There isn’t much to say about the road race.  I raced aggressively in order to take pressure off Adam Gaubert, who was sitting at 3rd overall in GC.  Our goal was to put somebody into the major break-away of the day so we could put ourselves in a good position at the end of the race to counter-attack if the break got caught.  Leading into the 3rd lap, Michael Sheehan and I bridged up to a 3-man break-away that had been up the road.  The five of us worked well to stay away.  We almost made it, too.  With approximately 2 miles to go, Gaubert rode the wheel of another rider across the gap to us and that caused the pack to start chasing.  The break dug as hard as it could to stay away, but it wasn’t enough.  In the end, we were caught and Gaubert’s courageous move fell short.  I suppose that’s the nature of a sport where there can be only one winner.

With the exception of the crit, I’m pleased with the way I raced over the weekend.  The time trial shows that, while I still don’t have any top end, the engine is still there and is strong.

1 Comment

Filed under Race Report, Racing, Team Wooly Mammoth

What a Difference a Week Makes

The University Oaks Criterium is a small crit that happens four or five times a year in an office park on the north side of SA.  The purse is small so it doesn’t pull deep talent from across the state, which makes it a perfect place to work on technique while also getting a fast race in the legs.  I saw this week’s race as an opportunity to work on some weak points identified during Alsatian; gain confidence in my cornering and get some practice hitting turns at full speed while in a small group.

Despite the 40 degree weather and rumors of sleet, Jim Day and I made the trip to San Antonio to race this year’s first edition of the University Oaks Criterium, put on by Kickstand Racing.  When we pulled up to the race, it was as cold as promised, and immediately after Jim made the comment “at least it’s not raining,” the sleet began to fall.  There were a lot of unenthusiastic bike racers milling about the registration tent, most joking about not wanting to race, some meaning it.  I killed as much time as possible huddled next to the heater under the Nelo’s Cycles tent (thanks to the foresight of Christopher Stanton from the Ghisallo Foundation), but after watching my old teammate Colin Strickland (Jack and Adam’s Racing Team) take 2nd from a 3-man break in the 3/4 race, it was time to get kitted up.

Trying to stay warm.

After a short warm-up, I lined up for the P/1/2/3 race.  Kristian House  (Rapha Condor Sharp) also made the trip from Austin and pretty much walked away with the race, leaving the rest of us to chase like mad for most of the hour.

Chasing House.

During the race, I tried something my teammate, John Trujillo, suggested about learning how to corner without fear: endlessly repeat “No brakes.  No brakes.”  As simple as it sounds, that’s the gist of my plan to become a better technical rider.  When approaching a corner with any amount of speed, especially when in close proximity to other racers, a little voice comes on inside my head and tells me to slow down.  It usually manifests with an uncomfortable feeling; a nervousness in the pit of my stomach.   On Sunday, I made the effort to quell that little bugger, and John’s mantra helped to give me something to focus on instead of the fear.

This is probably something I have done for a long time, only in the 4’s and 3’s I had enough strength to cover up my mistakes.  After earning my category 2 upgrade last year and doing more races against the P/1’s, I realized that I could no longer compensate with my huge engine; the behavior is a serious impediment to my success at this level.  Here’s a shot from last year, so the problem is definitely not new:

Very obvious here.

And one from last weekend during the Alsatian Crit.

Notice the fingers on the brakes.

And this is one that Robert Mercado took during the UO Crit this past weekend. Notice the difference in where my fingers are.  Progress!  By keeping my fingers off the brakes in the lead-up to a turn, I’m simply forcing myself to add a priming step to the braking process, which gives me one extra instant to re-evaluate the need to brake under those circumstances.

Look Ma!  No brakes!

Now, I want to elaborate that I’m not taking risks that will put my fellow racers in harm.  I know there are times when brakes are absolutely necessary, which is why I wanted to  practice this bit of self restraint at University Oaks before doing it in a bigger, faster, fuller race.  The course on Sunday is one that can be taken at speed.  Brakes are not needed, but it is tricky to get the brain to believe it.

Did it help?  You bet it did.  I was able to carry more speed into the corners, rarely letting gaps open.  This translated into increased efficiency; I wasn’t spending energy every lap sprinting to get back into the draft of the guy in front of me.

At the end of the race, especially when the speed was picking up for the sprint, I felt more comfortable.  I was able to stay in position in the lead-up to the sprint and gave me a much better chance at the end of the race.  I still miss-timed my jump and could have made other improvements during the race to put me in a better position at the end.  I ended up grabbing 4th in the field sprint.  Can’t fix everything in a day, but a week can make a hell of a difference.

Early-season sprint fury!

2 Comments

Filed under Lessons Learned, Race Report, Racing, Team Wooly Mammoth

Learning about Bike Racing at Alsatian Omnium

Another weekend of racing is in the books, and other than a game of hearts at the Castro cottage on Saturday night, I came up empty handed in the results department, but not empty handed overall.  You see, I have determined that it is up to me what I take away from each race, and my goal is pretty straightforward: analyze races to find the weak points in my racing, then make those weak points a priority during the coming months.  Write a blog about it to cement the resolve.  Reevaluate after every weekend to gauge progress.  Repeat ad nauseam until I start winning bike races again.  This is precisely the sort of approach to continuous improvement that corporate America developed in me before I disconnected from the machine.  If it works for their bottom line, it is as good a method as I can think of for improving my racing.

Saturday, February 4th

The first day of the omnium was a 70 minute circuit race in the morning followed by an 8 kilometer time trial in the afternoon.  I ended up 19th in the circuit and 14th in the TT.  Neither was as good as I was hoping for, but as long as I measure success by actionable goals, I was a champion, because there was plenty to improve upon that day.

First off, my preparation sucked.  It is obvious that I was never an Eagle Scout; no brake pads for my race wheels, and no cassette tool to put a cassette on my disk.  If it wasn’t for Sol Frost from Austinbikes saving my ass, I would have been sans disk in the afternoon.  Not a big deal, except for when you actually want to go fast.  More on this later.  Long story short: I need to start paying attention to those checklists Coach made for me when I was just a wee cat 4.  It turns out I haven’t outgrown their usefulness.

One of the infamous corners.

Next, the circuit race was another study in low hanging fruit.  It was a fast course with a hill and a few turns; standard fare in Texas.  What isn’t standard fare (or maybe it is) is my ability to take the turns while maintaining a high level of velocity.  From the extensive research that has been conducted by my team of research scientists over the past two days, shedding too much speed coming into the corners means I have to work that much harder to return to my original velocity post turn (P<0.001).  This applies to time trials as well, and is probably even more critical.

Suffering at the turnaround.

Last, the time trial and the part of the weekend I was looking forward to the most.  Here, Sol saved me so I could actually use my disk, which is pretty much required to go really fast, unless your name is Chris Trickey and you decide to do the TT without one and end up beating your hero (nameless) and finish one tenth of a second behind your teammate that is so proud of his ability to time trial (also nameless).  For a guy that supposedly doesn’t time trial, he rode a good one at right under 30 mph.

Sunday, February 5th

On the morning of the road race, the team walked out the front door of our cottage and found that the crazy-mild winter we’d been having up until that point was replaced with real winter.  The temperature had dropped from 75 degrees earlier in the week to 42 degrees.  Despite the chill, there wasn’t a single dress code violation to be found; the importance of these things have not been lost on us.

Not much to say about the road race, except Andrew Willis of Holland Racing once again did an awesome job with course selection for this one.  It was a hard race that blew apart soon after the pace was picked up halfway through.  This is also pretty close to where I was jettisoned from the flotilla and forced to make my way back around the loop one more time in a somewhat less accompanied manner.  The improvement plan from this one can be summed up in one word: patience.  Lighting off a flare and going all-out to join every would-be escape and ultimately blowing up may not be the best way to spend energy 50 miles into an 85 mile race.  As a cat 2 in a P/1/2 race, it’s not my job to be the one that chases the break.  I need to spend more time in conservation mode while being attentive to what others in the peloton are doing so I can better identify and go with the peloton when they are going to chase.  I feel that this is one of the harder skills to learn, especially at this level when a single mistake can get you dropped out of the pack.

I got to spend the weekend racing with teammates, and Willis was able to keep the rain away from the races despite having rain everywhere else in Texas.  It wasn’t a bad weekend by any means, unless your definition of bad encompasses only the “not winning” category.  I don’t like losing, but I’m trying my best to not fall into the trap of viewing bike races, especially at this time of year as a Cat 2, through such a narrow lens.  The way I see this weekend, I walked away with a lot of information about what I need to work on in order to continue improving over the course of the entire season.  After all, evaluation and feedback are the cornerstones of learning.  Without those two things, we simply stagnate.

As somebody told me once: “Learn to race your ****** bike.”  Thanks, Phil.  I’m working on it.

4 Comments

Filed under Lessons Learned, Race Report, Racing, Team Wooly Mammoth