Tag Archives: Team Wooly Mammoth

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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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!

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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.

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