Tag Archives: Time Trial

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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Filed under Race Report, Racing, Team Wooly Mammoth, Time Trialing

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.

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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