Monday, June 30, 2014

Longsjo Classic...


A bad race was bound to happen sooner or later. Everything has gone so well on the bike this year that I was starting to think that I was going to kill it every time I threw my leg over the top tube. Unfortunately a few factors came together yesterday that resulted in getting shot out the back like a club rider in the tour. 

Tim and I headed out from my house around 9:45 and made the short drive down to Fitchburg. The drive was a snap and we were even able to find a parking space relatively close to the start finish line away from the major crowds. We picked up our numbers and did a short walk around the course before setting up for the action. I decided to warm-up on the trainer because I have a much easier time controlling my hear rate while working through the zones in a controlled manner. After fifteen minutes I was adequately warmed up and despite the heat I was feeling pretty good. I could tell I wasn’t great but I was feeling good enough to be in contention. As I was making my final preparations at the car Darren and Maddie joined us and informed us that the race was red flagged because of a major crash in the fifty plus race. I guess it was pretty bad and they even had to bring in a fire truck to wash the blood off the road. Scary, scary stuff! I hope everyone is ok! 

This delay really threw me for a loop. I went from being really locked in to unfocused over the course of the thirty minute delay. In hindsight I should have stayed at the car longer and done more work on the trainer. This was probably the big disadvantage of being parked further away than everyone else. I did get away for some riding on the road but I was hesitant to really open up the legs given the amount of traffic that was weaving around the city. 

At staging I got a good spot on the outside of the front row and was as ready to rock as I was going to be. At the start I botched my mount and had to do a little work to get back to the front to regain my position. This was the biggest criterium that I have been in so far which was very exciting. I had no real problems managing my position, and the crowds in the fast turns didn’t bother me in the slightest. Early on I took a few small digs off the front but nothing serious. I was just stretching the legs. While I wasn’t great I was still making good power and I seemed to have the ability to separate in the right company. I chased back a few moves and was establishing myself as a presence at the front of the group. The heat was a pretty major factor but I seemed to be managing it over the course of the short race. 

Somewhere around mid race I was sitting eight to ten wheels off the front coming down the fast part of the course. The rider directly in front of me made a fast move to his right. In the blink of an eye at thirty miles per hour I had to make a decision. I could jerk out to the right and cut some wheels or I could ride out the storm. Opting for safety I rode out the storm. The storm consisted of a triangle of cobblestones that led right into a bark mulched traffic island. I negotiated the cobbles like a pro and bunny hopped the traffic island but was still carrying too much speed to make the sharp turn back onto the course. I was heading directly toward the big sidewalk curb and a group of spectators so I had to get on the breaks hard. I was at a complete stop and had to unclip, change directions, and restart. By the time I was rolling again I was twenty seconds off the back of the race and thirty seconds from the leaders. The thought of stopping never really crept into my mind and I instantly went into chase mode. I chased as hard as I could for two laps solo. After the first lap I was able to overtake to motto. The second lap I was back in the group. Three laps later I was back at the front of the group. The cost of the effort was huge and I was having serious doubts about my ability to finish effectively. With nine laps to go I made an acceleration through the start finish and totally blew up. The warm-up, the chase, and the heat working in combination got the best of my. Three hundred meters later I was struggling to hold wheels at the back. By the downhill I was popped out the back struggling to survive. It was really weird because it seemed like my body totally quit. After I was dropped I kept fighting and was hammering the corners out of the saddle on the drops but I was going nowhere. My heart rate dropped into the 160’s and I couldn’t get it back to where it needed to be. It was like my body was saying game over but my brain wouldn’t agree. The heat really took over the last seven laps. I was able to overtake one rider which provided the slightest twinge of satisfaction. Richard Fries, the famous cycling announcer even noticed anomaly of me being off the back. As I was coming through with five to go I could hear Fries say. “The heat is really having an impact today. Guys that are usually off the front making races are totally exploding off the back.” For my part I gave a little wave on my way though. I kept trying my hardest but I was going slower and slower. The writing was on the wall and at the bell the USA Cycling official pulled me from the field. 

I rode over to the barriers and passed my bike to my teammate Brad. As I was attempting to climb the barriers I slipped and fell flat on my ass on the sidewalk. The final insult. Brad’s wife, Jen, thought I was having a major heat related emergency and went into pro recovery mode and got me all the water I could handle over the next few minutes. I managed to get myself to a bench and my frustration swelled to the surface. Darren was a pro talking me down and reminded me that I had very little racing experience in the heat thus far. Within then minutes Tim and I were back at the car packing up. Within fifteen minutes we were on the road trying to put the day behind us. Tim stayed in the group the whole day capping a week of four races in five days. Not the best day ever on two wheels but not the worst either. 

Time to build with some huge mileage in preparation for the Tour of the Hilltowns at the end of July. 

Cheers!

Mark  

Friday, June 27, 2014

NCC Training Crit...

Wednesday afternoon I ventured down to the old Western Mass. stomping grounds for the first of four Northampton Cycling Club training crits. I had been looking for a race of some sort for a couple of weeks considering I hadn't really gone full tilt since Killington. A training crit seemed to be the perfect option especially given the proximity to home. I only had to drive forty-five minutes and pay ten dollars to kick my ass for forty-eight minutes. What's not to like?

The drive down was a breeze and I kept things fairly mellow until I crossed over into Massachusetts. Once I was in the home state I switched over to my Tool mix that I had made for the Killington time trial. Upon arrival I chatted with Tim, Darren, and Evan about the plan for the night. Everyone else that  planned on coming had something come up so our numbers were pretty low. On top of that Darren quickly realized that he brought the wrong shoes. Despite pleading with him to borrow mine he decided to forgo the race and just spectate with his daughter, Maddie.

I got kitted up in the skin suit and S-Works Evade and made my way over to the loop with Tim for a few laps to preview the course. We lingered a little longer than I am used to so we could watch the first few laps of Evan's race. Evan raced super tough while we were watching and made a huge effort to bridge up to the big powerful breakaway. Once Evan was safely in the group Tim and I headed out for our warm-up. Out on the road the dark clouds looked extremely menacing and within a few minutes a steady rain was falling. When we got back to the course Darren informed us that Evan had crashed in the first corner and had taken an NCC rider with him. The NCC rider was standing in the grass bleeding from both elbows and knees. I was surprised to see Evan come rolling through a few minutes later. He refused to drop out of the race and was intent on finishing. Love the panache! Just then a flash of lightning illuminated the sky and the race official neutralized the race. Darren was thankful that he didn't race because of the dodgy conditions. After a few minutes of chatting Evan up my attention shifted to the A race. Everyone was working under the assumption that the race was cancelled so I went over and chatted with the director. He asked my point blank if I wanted to race and I simply said, "racers race." The other participants at the start agreed with my sentiments and we decided to start the race as planned at 7:00. We made a gentlemen's agreement that we would take it easy in the slippery corner and to stop if there was more lightning.

At 7:00 a group of roughly twenty-five riders rolled off the line. There was twenty-three NCC riders and two ECV riders, clearly I had my work cut out for myself. The only rider that I recognized on sight was Anthony Clark the famous pro cyclocross racer. I figured that Anthony was super strong so this race was going to be a good test of my fitness. On the first lap Tim took a huge flyer and established a sizable gap on the field. The NCC guys kept looking at me to pull through but I was content to let TT ride free all night if he wanted to. Three laps in Clark had seen enough and lifted the pace to reel in Tim with the assist of his teammates. Once we were back together there was a series of small attacks that didn't stick. On the fifth lap I took a huge dig and was easily able to separate from the group. A NCC rider was able to catch my wheel and went along for the ride. On the long roller to the finish my back wheel slipped out on some oil and I rode off the road into the grass. This allowed another NCC rider to bridge up to the front. We had a group of three and a gap of ten seconds so immediately we went to work crushing it together. Being in the familiar position of being off the front with two teammates didn't bother me. There was no money or no points on the line so I decided that it was my goal to just drill it on every pull to get in a beastly workout. My heart rate was constantly hovering between 183 and 186 which was an output that seemed sustainable. Within ten or twelve laps our work paid off and and the group came into sight up the road. My huge half to three quarter lap pulls had done some serious damage and nobody was interested in chasing us down.

Once we were back in the group I immediately tracked down Tim for an on the go strategy session. I told him which two NCC riders we needed to watch for the rest of the race. A series of attacks and counter attacks came and before I knew it I was off the front again with my two original breakaway companions. The only difference was this time Anthony Clark had gotten away with us. Three NCC vs. one ECV. My odds of winning were pretty much shot at this point as the attacking began. The next ten minutes was pretty terrible. One of the breakaway companions would attack and I would have to bridge the gap back to the wheel. Clark would sit on my wheel and tow the other teammate along. Once I closed the gap the other teammate would counter attack and we would repeat the process. Great strategy for NCC terrible for me. Finally on the fifth attempt I couldn't counter and one rider got away. By riding a steady tempo I was able to pull him back slowly but just as it seemed possible the second NCC rider jumped away. After another lap of me battling at 186 bpm the third went away. I could have packed it in the last four laps and rested on the knowledge that I made the race but I continued to grind. I was suffering pretty hard but overall felt pretty good about the effort. In the end it was a third place finish with forty-eight minutes worth of beastly work. After the race the NCC guys conceded that I was the strongest rider in the field and that they were going to keep hitting me until I cracked. Third sucks but I feel like I walked away with some serious credibility.

As we chatted at the line a terrifying bolt of lightning lit up the the darkened sky. Tim and I cheesed it back to the cars and packed up in record time. The drive home was an adventure through one of the heaviest rain and thunderstorms that I have ever driven in. Overall the day was a pretty fun experience and I can't wait to return in two weeks.


Cheers,

Mark

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Killington Stage Race...



My primary objective for the first half of the season was to have a strong showing at the Killington Stage Race. Following my victory in the 3/4 race at the Quabbin Classic I had enough points to upgrade to Cat 3 however my team mentors thought it would be in my best interest to race Killington as a 4. There is still a lot I need to learn about bike racing and the confidence boost that would come from a win would be important for my summer as a 3. Killington is a three day stage race that features a circuit race, road stage, and time trial. Heading into the action my goal was to be competitive all three days with the hope of taking the General Classification. 

Saturday morning I was up before the alarm. My Google Maps paranoia was in full flight so I left much earlier than I needed to. My excitement on the drive couple with empty roads and loud music led me to make great time. When I showed up at the Killington Chamber of Commerce at 6:58 to pick up my packet I was the first car in the parking lot. Check in was a snap and I was ready to set up shop at the Skyship Gondola. For the next hour and a half I chilled out in the back of the V50 and sipped dark roast while listening to some serious tunes. An hour out from the start I changed into my speed suit and hopped on Leviathan for a twenty-five minute warm-up. Just as I was getting up to speed Darren and Charles joined me which made the whole set-up take on a very pro look. The weather was cool and a light drizzle was falling. I considered wearing my rain cape with the echos of Quabbin still rattling around in my brain. Darren talked my out of the jacket thinking that I would overheat on the first climb. Final wardrobe consisted of my Champion Systems Elm City Velo skin suit, Smartwool Socks, LG race gloves, Specialized S-Works Evade helmet, and Rudy Project Magster glasses. At the line Charles collected my jacket and I was ready to go. 

On the roll out I was cool. Over the course of the neutral first mile down the hill I started to shiver. Once we got on the flats I quickly fell in line and started to work in order to bring my body temperature back up to a comfortable level. Early on nothing happened. The other riders were content to just sit and and cover ground as a pack. The circuit race consisted of two 18.5 mile laps with a KOM point and sprint point each lap. There was also a twelve second time bonus at the line for the stage winner. As we started the climb on the first lap I decided that toward the summit I would string things out to see if there was any strong climbers in the group. With four k to the summit the haves and have nots were starting to string out and the skinny climbers came to the front. At one k to go I took a pretty hard dig and was able to get some separation from the group. My excitement combined with the effort shot my heart rate up a little too quickly so I backed off knowing that I had a very long weekend ahead. Over the KOM point I didn’t contest the sprint and slowed as the peloton regrouped. The decent immediately following the KOM was fast! I’m talking fifty-five miles per hour fast with a ninety degree corner at the bottom. A larger rider came through and I quickly hopped on his wheel. Once on the flat road it became apparent that people were starting to battle for position for the first sprint at the finish line. Given that I had been sprinting pretty well I decided to position myself at the front of the group. As we headed back toward the finish I saw the red flags across the road. I took a big dig at the bottom of the hill and sprinted through the flags first. Just as I sat up the group went screaming by. I had inadvertently sprinted for the five hundred to go flags and totally botched the job. As the group came back together we had a nice laugh about my mistake. What I did take away from my mistake was an important view of how the sprint went. While I was impressed with the speed I was confident that I was faster. Now I knew exactly what wheel to follow at the finish. At the beginning of the second lap I rode around the group and chatted a few guys up about the possibility of shaking things up on the second lap. The climb was not selective  enough to really make anything big stick but at the same time I didn’t want to give the sprinter a free pass. Ironically the two riders that I approached would end up being my main competition over the next two day. I guess I have an eye for strong cyclists that are on form. On the climb I went to the front and set a steady tempo. I flashed my coconspirators some fingers indicating that I was going to make a dig at four k to the KOM. When we got to the agreed about point I moved hard, probably a little too hard. I didn’t take into account that we were on a six percent grade which is my ideal grade. My three man move didn’t come together so I shifted my plan on the spot. I sat up and waited for the action to heat up. My new plan was to counter attack after the KOM point and establish a gap on the dangerous downhill. Again, I was easily able to separate from the group but I didn’t want to commit to soloing to the finish this early in the three day race. A small move came together at the bottom of the hill but nobody was willing to put in any work. With ten k to go it was groupo compacto with a big downhill sprint on the horizon. Throughout the last five k the pace increased and their was a frantic energy in the group. Everyone was looking for wheels or taking flyers off the front. I set up shop on Luis Riveria’s wheel and didn’t give an inch into the final kilo. The pace crept up with every pedal stroke as I sat third wheel. Through the five hundred to go flags I went to upshift when I realized that I was already on the eleven tooth cog in the rear. At that point I said the hell with it and committed one hundred percent to the sprint. Luis launched with three hundred and fifty meters to go and I immediately responded. Just when I thought I couldn’t go any faster my legs found another gear all together. Suddenly my fifty-one second 400-meter speed was paying dividends in a bike race. The faster I went the faster I wanted to go. I easily overtook Luis and powered across the line with a sizable gap. I emphatically shot my arms and the air and let out a wild howl like a wolf on the prowl. I’ve won bike races before but the adrenaline fueled frenzy of winning a bunch sprint was an all time high. Back at the car Darren and Charles were equally as excited at the victory that seemingly came out of left field. I took my time packing up the car and headed home to get rested and ready for the following day’s Queen Stage to the ski area. 




Sunday morning I woke up feeling pretty dam good! There was hardly a trace of fatigue in my legs and my energy and spirit felt strong and hopeful. The drive was the same frantic mad dark roast dash that it was on Saturday and despite leaving later I ended up there at the same time thanks in part to not needing a bathroom stop along the way. The Queen Stage of the Killington Stage Race is a sixty-five mile march through the mountains of Vermont. Following the circuit race I was leading the GC with a twelve second margin on second place. At the morning sign in I picked up my sweet Champion Systems leaders jersey which just happened to match my Elm City Velo kit, shoes, and helmet, perfectly. On top of that I was sitting second overall in the sprint competition. While the sprint jersey wasn’t an original objective the thrill of Saturday was still in my head. Given that the temperature was already in the high seventies I decided to forego a trainer warm-up. Instead I scouted the first K of the final climb. After driving what I thought was the whole climb upon arrival I thought seeing it on the bike would be equally as helpful. Basically after sixty plus miles of racing we were going have to do a climb similar to Greylock or Ascutney. 

The race started slow, I’m talking molasses slow for the first hour. Rolling out the three jerseys were across the road riding a leisurely pace chatting like magpies. The first five k was essentially straight up hill in the climbing lane of the main road. My heart rate hovered in the mid to high 140’s for the majority of this long climb. I was attempting to put out as little power as possible on the climb. Wearing the leaders jersey meant that I was a marked man. I had showed my hand the previous day on the climb and on the sprint. The group was going to have me on a very short leash for the whole ride so I figured I should keep the pace as easy as possible for as long as I could. On the long fast decent after the initial climb I hit a huge crack in the road that jarred the bike with such force that the brake hood on the left side of the handle bars dropped close to an inch. I thought of stopping to wiggle it back into place but I didn’t want to give anything away to the group. The racing started to take shape and the same players from stage one were the faces at the front of the group. In the field of fifty races there was probably ten to twelve guys that thought they had a shot at the GC. 

Thirty miles in we started to pass the signs alerting us to the sprint point that was fast approaching. Luis, clad in his green sprint leader jersey started sneakily talking with his teammate about the lead out. They kept looking back at me and whispering and then looking up ahead. I wasn’t planning on contesting the sprint but these two guys seemed genuinely worried about my presence. I almost felt obligated to go for the sprint to do the race justice. I wiggled my way through the group and without him even knowing, planted myself on Luis’ wheel. The cat and mouse continued like this for the entire four k leading up to the sprint line. At one k Luis’ lead out man jumped and a small group of five escapees were set to contest the sprint. Five hundred out it was down to three as we launched into our sprints. I went for the straight up power move and instantly started to overtake the other two. As I was passing Luis he leaned into me to throw me off my line. I fought back with an elbow before exploding away to take the sprint point. We had a good laugh after the sprint that would quickly fade as the first major climb was less than two k away. I did my best to settle my heart rate after the sprint but in hindsight it was a reckless decision to go that hard before the climb. 

The base of the climb was narrow and steep. My heart rate jumped back up at an alarming rate so I was content to just follow wheels for the initial onslaught. Once I found my rhythm I went back to the front and started tapping out a fast pace with Tim Tapply. The group strung out quickly as we hit the less steep sections where I turned the screws tighter and tighter. Tim and I had a quick chat and we decided that this was our chance to get rid of all the passengers on the day. We would go hard to the top of the climb and reevaluate from there. The climb seemed to last for over fifteen minutes with the last ten through exposed fields where the sun made the effort especially difficult. Over the summit we had whittled it down to a group of twelve. I was confident with a group of that size so I rallied the troops to work together. While it seemed like a good plan there was still some baggage in the group that either didn’t want to work or didn’t know how to work in a group. After roughly ten miles with the group the lead moto approached and I asked him about the gap. He disappeared to get the split as the racing slowed on a dirt road section that flashed me back to Battenkill. When the motto returned he informed me that we had completely blown the lid off the race on the climb and that there wasn’t a chase. The rest of the race was spread across the road in groups of two or three limping home. I didn’t share this information with my breakaway companions because I wanted the pace to stay high. Unfortunately I had lost the feed on my Garmin and was riding blind. I didn’t have a clue where we were distance wise at that point so I was content to sit in. Looking back I realize that where I was would have been the perfect place to leave the group with one or two others. After passing the Long Trail Brewery the whole race turned into a massive pissing contest. Nobody wanted to be on the front and the pace dawdled. I had my eyes on three or four riders that could climb and ignored everyone else. Just then a rider that had been all over the place all day crashed into the back of another rider and took five guys down with him in the middle of the road. The race fractured at that point and the pace quickened as we approached the final climb. At the foot climb things quickly separated and Tim, Eric Ingalsbe and I established a gap on the field. The back side of Killington is STEEP, easily reaching 18% grade in a few places. Tim was next to fall off and it was down to Eric and I as we hit the steepest part of the climb. Eric made a slight acceleration and when I shifted my weight both of my hamstrings began to cramp. I took a few deep breaths but when I went to dig in again the cramps started to grab again at the back of my legs. I was at a critical junction. I had the lead by twelve seconds and figured I would see how quickly a gap grew between Eric and I. Unfortunately for me Eric seemed to be on fire and he easily established a gap. I don’t remember the last time I was dropped on a climb? I had to make a decision on the spot. I could either chase and risk completely locking up or I could limit my losses and fall back on my strength as a time trial rider the following morning. I decided it was in my best interest to emulate Bradley Wiggins  and choose option B. I battled through the rest of the climb and did my best to keep Eric within shooting distance. If he were to falter I wanted to be there ready to steal victory. The last pitch to the finish was simply menacing. The pitch was easily 20% and totally exposed to the sun. I fought and clawed for every second through the line. I was totally gassed riding away and was tankful for Darren and Charles’ guidance to usher me to the cars. Thankfully Darren also gave me a ride off the mountain back to my car. I was totally smashed and the thought of another twenty minutes plus on the bike was more than I cared to think about. When the dust had settled I was down 1:10 to Eric. The bright side was that I had won the sprint and therefore locked up that jersey for the weekend. The GC gap seemed manageable but I was still nervous heading into Monday. I hung out Sunday afternoon around Killington and checked out some of the sites while I waited to collect my sprint champions jersey at the awards ceremony. Once I was home well after 8:00 I went into a frantic mad dash to prepare everything I needed for the the Time Trial. 

Monday morning I was tired when I woke up but surprisingly the legs felt great. Once I got in some dark roast I was bursting with energy. I made a special Tool mix for the ride that was sure to inspire a big ride. The dive was equally as frantic as the previous two day with the added pressure of needing a big ride to pull of the win that I had been shooting for all spring. The drive was however starting to have an element of drudgery and I was looking forward to sitting at home in my lawn chair all afternoon. When I arrived at the Long Trail Brewery for the start there was a buzz of intensity in the air. I knew what needed to be done and I knew that I had the tools to perform at my best. My friend Tom had lent me his Cervelo P2 for the day which was going to be significantly faster than the Tarmac. Rattling around in my hectic brain was the additional knowledge that just two years ago I was one of the best sprint triathlon cyclists in the nation. Coincidently stage three would be the exact twenty k that I was used to on the triathlon bike. Once I was set up I did my best to appear “tranquillo” in the back of the Volvo while my competition stalked around. Darren and Charles stopped by to provide some last minute reassurance before taking off to find some checkpoints on the course. Darren was direct and said something along the lines of, “your in perfect position, execute, etc...” My warm-up was great and my heart rate easily climbed into the high 170s with little effort. Given my fitness my plan was to ride just below my anaerobic threshold. Given my most recent numbers I figured this to be in the neighborhood of 180 to 183 beats per minute. Had it been a single day time trial I would have pushed it to 185 but I wasn’t sure how my body had recovered from the previous two days. With fifteen minutes to my start time I packed up the car and headed to the start line. I was slightly at ease seeing Eric riding a road bike. Given his size and and strong head and cross-winds I knew that I had great chance to put some significant time into him over the half hour of the race. At the start house Eric all but conceded victory by saying that he hates time trials and that he sucks at them. While for some this would have been cause to relax a little, for me it fueled the fire further. Blood in the water, enter Jaws theme. Suddenly I didn’t just want to win I wanted to destroy. I wanted to stamp my authority on the race with a emphatic win leading into my upgrade. One by one the top five GC rides took off down the lonely road. Twenty k of gradual climbing into a headwind on the immediate horizon. Nowhere to hide, resenting every tick of the clock that ground through our heads like a drumbeat. 

Three, two, one, go...

Out of the start house I cranked a massive gear with my gaze locked on my thirty second man. My heart rate quickly settled into the low 180s as I had hoped and I seemed to be gobbling up ground on the riders in front of me with every pedal stroke. Within the first two miles my thirty second man was a distant memory so I set about catching everyone in sight. Time trials are the most punishing and rewarding experience in cycling. It really comes down to how much are you willing to hurt yourself in order to demoralize your competitors. On this day I was willing to hurt  and would not let my heart rate drop below 180. My mouth and nose dripped with spit and snot as sweat poured out of my body onto the road. Every stroke of the crank, a personal challenge to keep making it hurt the exact amount that I could maintain for the duration of the race. On the last climb I refused to stand and powered over the summit on the aero bars. Onto the last flats and rollers my breathing was audible and the signs of cracking began to show. Through the five hundred to go flags one last painful push to catch one last rider. Over the line and silence for that one perfect second before all the pain and noise rushes in like an out of control stream down the side of a mountain. 



The result was a twenty-three second victory over second place. Additionally I had taken three minutes and six seconds out of Eric over the course. When the dust finally settled and everything was added up I had won the GC by 1:43 over Tim Tapply and 1:56 or Eric Ingalsbe. Darren and Charles were thrilled with the result and snapped some great pictures along the way. They gave me a ride back to my car before heading out. Their support over the course of the three days was huge. Little things like taking a jacket or giving a ride back to my car made a huge difference. Essentially because of their awesomeness all I had to worry about was racing. The outcome may have been different without their support!

Back at the car I packed things up and tried to get out of race mode. I made the necessary phone calls and updated the appropriate social media outlets. Just then Eric came by and asked if I wanted to head inside for a beer before the awards. After five hours of racing against one and other it was such a relief to see that Eric was a normal person. We shot the breeze about life and racing (In that order) before heading off to the awards at the finish line. 



Overall the Killington Stage Race was an amazing experience. The organization and feel of the whole event was completely top notch. At the end of the day I walked away with two amazing Champion Systems jerseys for winning the general classification and sprint competition, an extra five hundred dollars in cash that balanced out some repairs I had made on the Tarmac, and a bonus six pack of Long Trail Ale. 

The drive home was forgettable but the sweet satisfaction of the lawn chair remains. 


Cheers!

Mark  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Quabbin Classic...


The story of the Quabbin Reservoir Classic really started in the immediate aftermath of Battenkill. So much time went in to scrutinizing every detail of the race in an attempt further my knowledge as a bike racer. Clearly my numbers from Battenkill were impressive and my heart rate data was shocking, however, I walked away with an extremely bitter taste in my mouth. I had missed out on winning the American “Queen of the Classics.” Quabbin was going to be different and I was dead set on taking a smarter tactical approach that would leave me fresh for the last half hour of the race. 

Preparation throughout the week went perfectly. My fitness and form seemed to both be on the rise and the confidence of a vacations worth of mileage bolstered my spirits further. Thursday night at the Elm City Velo sprint practice I was firing on all cylinders. Planning ahead for Saturday I tested out my new team skin suit, S-Works Evade helmet, and aero gloves. Given that Quabbin was going to be a fast three four combined field I wanted to save as many watts as possible with my equipment and gear. After the workout that all changed when I got home and looked at the forecast. The conditions for the race were slated to be forty degrees with a one hundred percent chance of rain. With that in mind I decided to fall back on the same attire that I had worn at Battenkill. I just needed to make sure that I didn’t bring the same strategy! 

Rolling out of bed Saturday morning I felt awesome. Those first steps to the bathroom can be so telling. Generally if I don’t feel like a feeble old man I know that I’m in for a good day. The Cafe Monte Alto Peruvian Dark Roast was extra robust. I’ve started taking my coffee black in the last month and it has been life changing. Generally the brew I take down is dark beyond comprehension. When served black it adds a whole new Belgian hard man appeal. Given that I really didn’t know where I was going I left on the early side to err on the side of safety. Car ride tunes consisted on Nirvana In Utero, Black Keys Brothers, and White Stripes Icy Thump. The drive was inconsequential with the exception of the unrelenting rain. The drive was actually quite simple and I ended up being one of the first cars in the parking lot. After a watery check-in I retreated to the Volvo for the next hour and forty-five minutes. I passed the time by texting with several teammates and fellow races that decided to bail on the race. Given that my thermometer read thirty nine degrees and the rain was falling as steady as ever I can’t say that I blamed anyone for staying home. The consensus from everyone that I spoke to was to forego a warm-up an just sit in the car for as long as possible with the heat on. I waited until four minutes before staging to emerge from my Swedish heat nest. I pulled Leviathan out of the back and circled around the parking lot a few times while I waited. One thing that I realized with alarming concern was that this was going to be the first time riding the all carbon 404s in wet conditions with cork brake pads. Even rolling up to the line the decreased modulation and stopping power was evident enough to make me nervous heading into the race. 

The start of the race was an unfortunate slap in the face on the cold wet morning. The first three and a half miles of downhill out of the park are neutralized. Essentially we all just got soaked while coasting at twenty-five miles per hour for ten minutes. Any delusions that I had about staying remotely warm or dry were out the window heading out of the park. I made the last minute decision to not wear my warmer thicker winter cycling gloves because they compromise my ability to get food out of my jersey pockets. Fueling in the cold and rain was going to be critical for a strong finish so I ended up wearing a pair of cotton running throw away gloves under a pair of half gloves. Within the first mile I was already squeezing water out of the soaked cotton. Out on roads in the first five miles there was an immediate attack. I didn’t put any credence in the move because the rider had been in the three/four cirtts that I had done earlier in the season. While he is assuredly a brave racer he does not seem to have the fitness or power to make any of these moves work. The idea of a sixty mile solo breakaway seemed preposterous so nobody chased. As the skinny guy continued to telescope away things were fairly relaxed in the group. Everyone was so cold and miserable together that a feeling of good will seemed to consume most of the group. 

Fifteen miles in Will Crabtree, my Battenkill nemesis attacked on a climb. Having an unfortunate knowledge of Will’s power I knew that he could not be allowed to take off alone in pursuit of a lone breakaway rider. The group was uninterested in chasing so I sprung from the group and bridged the twenty-five meter gap and jumped right onto Will’s wheel. We exchanged smirks and nods and got to work distancing ourselves from the group. The two of us caused a stir in the bunch and seemed to wake everyone up. Our gap seemed to be pegged at twenty seconds. I looked at Will and told him that going this soon would be foolish given the conditions and length  of the race. I literally sat up and stopped pedaling and took advantage of the down time to fuel up for the counter attacks that would surely come when we were caught. The next ten miles was a constant stream of attacks and counter attacks. The reality was that everyone was just trying to stay warm and wanted to get their heart rates up for a few minutes before retreating to the comfort of the group. Skinny breakaway guy was easily brought back through the series of attacks. Despite having good legs, I was getting killed on the downhills! My hands were already numb beyond comprehension and I was having difficulty shifting and breaking. My Gore Cycling shoe covers were not up to par for the conditions and seemed to be trapping moisture in my shoes rather than keeping it out. I felt like I had freezing cold soaking wet pillows on my feet. We were all experiencing this collective hell together and riders started to fall off the back of the group never to return. I was shaking so bad on the downhills that I retreated to the back because I was afraid my wobbling was going to cause an crash. Twenty-eight miles in I had had enough. I was off the back of the group shivering in such an uncontrollable way that I feared for my safety. Mary’s words of be safe were echoing in my mind as I thought about spending the afternoon in the emergency room being treated for hypothermia. It was decision time as the group started to pull away. I could stop and wait for the broom wagon to come by picking up all of the riders that were dropping out. My best estimation would be that after stopping I would be left to stand on the road side for twenty to thirty minutes waiting for a ride. All while my body temperature continued to drop dangerously low. Then my bike would be crammed into a packed van with a bunch of cold wet racers while we made the remainder to the loop around the reservoir. On top off all of that I would have to spend hours if not days processing the fact that I had quit. Having to look at myself in the mirror when I got home with the knowledge that I wasn’t tough enough to finish was simply too much to bear. The greatest shame would be the knowledge that I could never truly call myself a hard man if I dropped out of a race because I was cold and wet. Yet again my own words echoed in my head. Not everything in life is supposed to be easy! The deal that I cut with myself was that worst case I finished in the bunch and walked away knowing that I didn’t quit when the going go tough. I jumped out of the saddle and attacked all out to get back to the group. I had to turn myself inside out to get back onto the back. Ironically Will from Battenkill was parked at the back having just as hard a time as I was. 

Back in the group the turning point of my day unknowingly presented itself and brought back my  boiling hot competitive spirit. A rider, who will remain nameless really started to piss me off. This rider has been having an incredible successful spring as a Cat three racer with several big wins under his best. Regardless of all of that this guy was racing like a dick. He was chopping wheels every time he made a pass and routinely darting over the yellow lines to gain position in the group. Several riders attempted to talk some sense into this guy however his sketchy style continued. On top of all of that this guy was clearly the rider to beat in the group. He went up hills like he was floating and had an incredible ability to accelerate. The straw that broke that camels back came around the fifty mile mark of the race. Somehow despite being desperately cold after fueling up with a banana some Hammer Gel and a water downed Redline Extreme energy drink I was ready to rock. The excessive shot of caffeine threw me into beast mode and my rage toward the punk rider started to boil over. A group of eight of us were off the front however when it was punk riders time to pull he sat up. Bike racing is bike racing but the way he sat up lacked class. Myself and some to the others shared a few choice words with this young man but they didn’t seem to make a dent. Rolling up to next significant climb I decided that I was going to accelerate and try to draw someone out on a break with my for the remaining fifteen miles. I easily established a gap up the climb but there were no takers willing to go that far out. Over the top of the climb a lone rider came up to my wheel when the gap was down to roughly five seconds. I was blunt and said lets do this. He agreed and we got to work taking thirty second pulls as we established a gap. There wasn’t a reaction from the group and we started to telescope away. Through some technical turns and onto some wider roads we were at a turning point. The group had reacted and seemed to have us pegged back to fifteen seconds with ten miles to go. My breakaway companion, Matt suggested that we simply ride tempo so at least the group had to work a little bit to catch us. Just then Will Crabtree my Battenkill vanquisher bridged up to Matt and I. With Will on board I knew we now had the horsepower onboard to make this move stick. I took a monster pull to let Will catch his wind while he recovered from bridging the gap. We were putting time into the group again as we hit the hilly stretch of Route 9.  The group was still in sight so I knew what needed to be done. I went to the front on the hills and dragged the breakaway with me knowing that the group would be setting themselves up for the inevitable catch and barrage of counter attacks. My mind was set that this breakaway was not going to get caught. Over the top of the last hill on Route 9 the rain started falling harder than it had all day. While following wheels on the downhill I couldn’t see through my glasses because so much water was hitting me in the face. The effort on the hill had succeeded and the bunch was out of sight as Will, Matt, and I turned into the park for the final five kilometers of climbing. The winner was going to come from the three of us. At that point it was just a matter of who had the better climbing legs after sixty miles of the most grueling conditions imaginable. Past the five k to go sign Matt and I ditched our water bottles and the battle began. Things were about to get serious. I could have waited and fallen back on the confidence derived from my recent sprint workout success. I could have followed wheels and attacked in the last mile. All of that information ran through my mind but I settled on the strategy that nobody was a better climber for three miles than I was in that instant. So without anything better do I attacked! Within two hundred meters I had a gap of five seconds and so I cranked even harder. When a solid gap was established I settled into a rhythm and set about demolishing the final climb. Past half way I looked back and Matt and Will were attacking one and other and seemed to be reducing the gap. I had a momentary break in my confidence and worried that Will would dash my hopes for a second time in a month. Just then my teammate Tim’s words shot into my stream of thoughts. I needed to flip the deck and show my power. In an instant I shifted back onto the big ring and cranked as hard as I could for the next thirty seconds. The gap stretched back out and the show of force seemed crush Will’s spirit. I soloed the rest of the way up the hill and coasted across the line with an emphatic fist pump. Will came in second fifteen to twenty seconds down and Matt followed shortly thereafter. The punk from the group apparently attacked late and got the best of the group nearly a minute down on the win. 

Picking up the win felt so awesome! Battenkill was a bitter, bitter pill that really shook my confidence. I needed to get past that disappointment if I had any hope of racing to win the remainder of the year. Furthermore, attacking late and soloing away on an uphill finish has always been one of my biggest dreams in cycling. To achieve that dream on such an epic, miserable, cold, and wet day was the icing on the cake. The fact that I was close to quitting and managed to rally makes the victory that much more special. A huge thank you to my teammates that have supported me though this early difficult part of the season. Thank you to my awesome wife Mary for the constant support! Lastly thank you to the team at Andy’s Cycle for supporting this new venture which is hopefully putting the Monadnock Region back on the New England cycling radar. 

Cheers!

Mark

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tour of Battenkill...


Generally the best way to start off a race day is to wake up before the alarm clock goes off. There is no drudgery wrapped up in the process that reminds you of the daily grind. I did a great job of packing Friday night so the fact that I was up at 5:00 made for a relaxing pre-race morning. I brewed up a pot of super strong and extra dark Peruvian Dark Roast from Cafe Monte Alto and searched the web and Facebag before really locking into race mode. My excitement was growing every second and my hands were already trembly. 

I was out the door at 6:40 setting sail for Cambridge, NY on a very gloomy, raw, wet morning. The drive was fairly inconsequential aside from re-connecting with Nirvana In Utero. I wish I could find a band that was like the second side of that album 24/7. I also finally confirmed my suspicion that The Black Keys album, Brother, changes colors when it gets hot in the CD player. Clearly, I’ve been spending too much time alone lately. The drive over Hogback was pretty adventurous as everything was covered in ice from the previous nights rain. Through Willmington I ascended into the thickest fog I had seen all year. I was paranoid about hitting a moose and spent about fifteen minutes strategizing what I would do if I took one out at fifty mph in zero visibility. 

I arrived in Cambridge with time to spare an found a great parking spot less than a quarter mile from the start. White Stripes Slowly Turning into You raised goose bumps over my entire body which confirmed my readiness for the race. After a port of potty run and packet pick up I was back at my car in time to meet Darren and Charles. We debated the pros and cons of various clothing options before I settled on my final choice. Trademark high black Smart Wool socks, knickers, bib, base layer shirt, jersey, and thin gloves under my cycling cloves. The biggest decision was not wearing a skull cap under the sweet S-Works Evade helmet that Darren was letting me borrow for the day. 

I warmed up on the trainer for twenty minutes and felt great. I didn’t bring my hear rate up as high as I have been at the shorter races because I knew that I was going to be in for a three hour sufferfest. The new SR4 Tarmac christened Leviathan was feeling lethal and stiff. Everything was in place to wreak havoc over the back roads of the Battenkill Valley. We got the car packed up in record time with the extra hands and went through the fueling strategy one last time for the two feed zones. I had seven Hammer Gels in a flask, a banana, two extra caffeinated Hammer gels, and two water bottles on board. At the first feed I was going to take on a mini coke and and extra gel. At the second feed I had a bag prepared with extra gels, a water bottle, and a super caffeinated drink. I erred on the side of too much knowing how mighty the effort was going to be. 

At the staging I felt relaxed. Rolling to the start I positioned myself on the front line. If anyone was going to go early I would be there. At the command we leisurely rolled out through the streets of Cambridge. The first mile of the race is neutralized so I just hung out at the front to stay out of the traffic of nearly one hundred other riders. When the moto pulled over and lead car took over a pace line established itself almost immediately. We weren’t riding fast but my hear rate stayed high out of excitement. Turning off the first main road the pace quickened significantly. We were approaching the covered bridge and everyone and their brother wanted to be there first. I coasted up the side of the group and took a semi-conservative line to stay out of trouble. The first dirt road sector gave me my first taste of what I’d be experiencing for the remainder of the day. The previous nights rain coupled with the spring melt left the roads in disastrous shape. Water bottles were strewn across the sides of the road after every rough section. I was riding S-Works 24 mm wide tires on Zipp 404 wheels which while fast were thinner than the choice of every other rider around me. I even spotted a few guys rolling 28s! I stayed close to the front onto the second sector when we took a sharp left onto the first steep climb. Looking up all I saw was little triangle and square prints in the mud. Clearly this climb had been walked by a significant amount of riders in the previous races. I shot to the front wanted to have the best line possible. I geared all the way down and went into stubborn mode continually telling myself that I needed to make this climb. I almost lost momentum once but I powered through the mud and got separation. I heard clanking and swearing behind me as the back of the group succumbed to the severity of the climb. At the top I had a five second gap over one rider and together we had about fifteen seconds on the field. It was way to soon for that sort of foolishness so I sat up. What I didn’t realize was that my acceleration combined with the mud shed thirty guys off the back that would never be seen again. One rider pulled through and wanted the group to work. I suggested keeping it smooth and working together. As he eased back he accused me of being Mark Miller. At that point he let everyone in earshot know about my exploits as a runner and triathlete proclaiming beast status. In all honesty I was pissed because I knew at that point that I’d be a marked man for the remainder of the race. Through the next series of hills I shifted around at the front assessing who would be a good breakaway companion. On one of the few paved climbs I put in a small dig just to see what would happen and the field immediately stung out. A rider named Will came up and commented, “nice” with a smirk. I had found my friend for the day I just needed to wait for the right moment to pounce. Will and I sat in for the next twenty minutes and talked a little bit about getting away if things played out right. 

We approached the first feed and I surged again and got a perfect hand-up from Darren. I managed to pop the top on the Coke and get a few solid sips before discarding it at the end of the zone. I had been doing really well with my fueling up to that point so I didn’t feel the need to take on the extra gel. 

Shortly after the feed we came onto what seemed like the only longer paved climb on the course. Judging from my Strava stats I would say that it was Joe Bean Road. Will and I ended up on the front and by the top of the climb with fifteen to twenty seconds on the scrambling bunch. It was still really early but I had the echos in my mind that I would be marked all day so I asked Will if he wanted to make a run at a long breakaway. Will committed right away and we hatched a plan to take short smooth pulls and put as much distance into the chasers as we could. One of my major mistakes on the day was that I relied on Strava data to predict the race time. I was counting on a 2:48 to 2:50 effort which looking at where we were seemed conceivable. The chips were on the table at this point. The commitment had been made. If I was going to win Battenkill it was going to be out of a two man breakaway over the last thirty-eight miles of the race. In Will I had found my equal. He was strong, tall and gangly like me and seemed to have the courageous spirit to pull this crazy move off. Through the slop the roads continued to deteriorate. We were now catching riders which complicated matters because we didn’t have a choice of the best lines to take. Somewhere around thirty-three miles we made a long 180 degree turn over the train tracks and were immediately smacked in the face with a menacing headwind. I didn’t really think about the wind as we were riding away but now that we had to fight it I realized that we were in for a major battle with the conditions. Will, who had just seemed indestructible a few minutes before was now asking to take it easier because he was struggling. With the wind and roads I knew that it was way too early to go alone. It would be suicide to try and solo that far out. I went into protection mode and did my best to protect Will. I let him take pulls on the downhills but I did the majority of work on the climbs. The thought ran through my mind that he was working me over but moments later he started cramping. We were limping along but the thought of the chase started to linger. I decided that I would keep Will with me until the second feed and that I would go solo on the next big climb. At the feed I had a small miscommunication with Darren and got the wrong bottle. I wanted the big hit of caffeine but instead I got just a water bottle. In hindsight I had caffeinated gels I was just too wrapped up in the moment to think straight. 

Rolling down the next hill I hit the gel flask hard. Looking up there was a mountain and a dirt road that went straight up! I laughed at the absurdity as we started the climb of Herrington Hill. When Will cracked he was gone immediately. I feel bad because we didn’t even get to say goodbye. We had just blown up the race together only to probably never see one an other again. On the climb things got tough. Let me rephrase that things got nearly impossible. I’ll be one hundred percent honest and admit that on Herrington Hill I wanted to stop and walk. Those thought were fleeting and I hardened the fuck up and got back to work. On the decent I dropped into TT position and smiled. I was exactly where I wanted to be doing exactly what I wanted to do. A winters worth of training and visualizing was coming to fruition. My passion for the classics of Europe was manifesting itself in the now. Hours in front of the TV or computer watching my idols suffer in the harshest conditions on the Pro Tour could not match what I was living in that moment. Whatever happened I knew that I had confirmed that I was a hard man like my idols. 

The unrelenting wind continued to kick my ass either as a straight head wind or crippling crosswind from the right. I knew my power was dropping but I was almost there. At the base of Stage Road Darren and Charles were going crazy. I had pictured this climb all week while grinding out one more god-dammed ride on the trainer. Unfortunatly as I attacked the climb I started to crack. My head was light and my legs began to tremble. Warning lights and sensors all around my body were flashing dangerous warning messages. Just as I crested the climb a lone rider in black passed me looking surprisingly fresh. My mind refocused as I realized that this guy was in my race. The lead car dropped back and confirmed my suspicion. The thoughts that I had been nurturing of riding into town solo were dashed. My mind raced as I went through the mental catalog of every race that I had ever watched. I needed to do as little as possible at this point. If the guy wanted me to pull I would tell him to piss off because I had been solo for much of the day. I tucked in and tried to save as much energy as I possible could. I had been sprinting well the past month but that was after fifty minutes of racing around an industrial park. There was no comparison to what I had just put myself through. I took two pseudo pulls in the last two miles before settling in on the wheel of my rival as we passed the kilometer to go sign. I had to wait. I had to be patient. I was already half an hour over my budgeted time allowance for myself. Quite simply I was shattered. Onto the last straight I continued to play the waiting game. The din of the crowd grew louder and louder as we approached the line. Finally in the last hundred and fifty meters I sprinted with everything I had left. I pulled even with twenty meters to go and even inched ahead. My vanquisher found one last gear and took the lead back in the last meters relegating to a bitter second place. Over the line I was smashed. I felt like I had let everyone down by not sealing the deal. At the Mavic neutral support trailer I smacked a barrier so hard it fell over on its side causing quite a stir. Darren and family were there for the aftermath to pick up my exploded psyche. What more could I have done?   

In the thirty minutes after the race I put together the pieces of what had happened by talking to the winner ironically also named Will. When the ten man chase went through the second feed they saw that “breakaway Will” had blown up. They knew that ten guys working together could pull back one guy that had been alone in the wind the majority of the race. In some ways they were right but if I had to do it all over again I would do it the exact same way. Had I stayed with the group I could have made it to town and had a ten up sprint for the win. Had I continued to nurse Will the chasers would have caught us before the final climb. I did what I had to do to put myself in a position to win. After the race the two people from the lead car tracked my down and congratulated me on the effort. They both agreed that they had never been pulling harder for a rider in a race before. They really seemed to share in the disappointment. In bike racing more than any other endurance sport the best man doesn’t always win. I have to be satisfied with the knowledge that I blew the race up and doled out three hours and fifteen minutes of epic suffering that rattled me to my core. This race was the hardest thing that I have ever done and I’ve done it all!  If winning was easy it wouldn’t be special. If I didn’t care about winning I wouldn’t race. Driving out of Cambridge all I could think about was Boxer from George Orwell’s  Animal Farm. The only thoughts that ran through my mind were “I will work harder.”



Mark




Huge special THANK YOU goes out to Darren, Charles, and Maddie for the support along the course. Thanks for standing in the freezing weather all day to watch a bunch of cooktards racing road bikes in the mud!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Evolving into a Bike Racer for 2014...


Earlier in the week I started a 2013 year in review but it was honestly quite boring and I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to something that dry. Clearly 2013 was a transitional year. What started out pointing toward London and the World Championships fizzled when my posterior tibialis and hallucis longus tendons tag teamed me to end my days as a runner. What initially had me incredibly depressed has faded into a moot point and I have no desire to run right now. There have been little signs the past few weeks that have really let me know that I am at ease with that chapter of my life ending for a while. Since the summer of 1999 I’ve obsessively worn a running watch for some stupid reason. Perhaps I thought a race was going to break out at some random time or I’d be expected to run an all out 400 on my lunch break? Anyways now that I am a cyclist I could care less about my running watch. I’ve even started looking at cool stylish watches for the first time in my life! I haven’t run a serious step now since September when it became apparent that the cortisone shots into the tendon sheaths did nothing to help. The closest thing I do to running now is chasing Eko through the woods on our morning walks! 

Enough looking back! Let’s talk about 2014!

It is a very exciting time right now in the local cycling scene. I have banded together with    Darren Phaneuf and Tim Trotter to form a new venture that will be known as Elm City Velo. Through Elm City Velo our aim is to continue to bring together competitive local riders that will compete throughout the northeast. 

Elm City Velo Mission Statement:

To form and maintain a cycling racing team that will compete in the northeastern United States with a goal of allowing all members to achieve their personal and team goals while fostering a culture of well-being and positivity to contribute to the local cycling community.

More details will become available over the course of the next couple of weeks as we complete our team charter, hold elections, and obtain our USA Cycling team license. 

I’ve set some extremely lofty goals for 2014 that I don’t care to make public at this time. At this stage in my life I am going to fall back on my talent as a hard worker and just let my legs do the talking. My training will speak for itself when racing season comes around. 

As for the Evolution? 

Fear not blogosphere Evolution of an Athlete is not going away. Right now my Strava account is serving as my training log so I will not be posting in that format this year. This blogs primary function will become recapping training rides and races for the coming season. Lets face facts, the race reviews are really the only thing worth reading on this blog. The reality is that they’re also the only thing that I get excited to write about in this format. If your desperate to follow my training hop on Strava and become a follower. Strava has really revolutionized the way I approach training and I’m sure it has the ability to change the way everyone tracks and logs their exercise data. 

In the next month I will be solidifying my race schedule for the year and I will outline the major targets. For now rest assured that I will be cranking out major miles and hours in the basement in preparation for a huge year. 

Cheers!

Mark