Wednesday, December 31, 2008

He's Back



Can Niels Albert pull off the story of the year and win the Worlds? Given his rampaging early season form and the seeming ease with which he's slotted himself back in with the front runners after nearly a month and a half off the bike, it certainly seems possible... One thing is for sure, this year's worlds are shaping up to epic.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Downtime


It's been nearly two weeks since I touched my bike (for riding) and I feel like I've been on a quest to see how far off my CX season fitness I can push myself. Aside from the unending consumption of butter, sugar and beer, I've been so sedentary that I wake up every day wondering what level of sloth I can achieve that day. Last night I has a dinner of cookies and Golden Grahams for God's sake. Thankfully, I've joined the masses and started a Facebook page so I can waste time a bit more effectively in the coming days. On the positive side, I had a photo show that was extremely successful, so I have some new found photographic motivation. Perhaps I'll finally rework my website and sort through the thousands of images from this year that I need to edit. That would be a productive use of my time, so we'll see if I gather the motivation to do it. Either way, I'm riding tomorrow, I think and will get to do one final CX race next weekend (albeit with comical fitness) so things will probably get rolling again for me soon. At the moment, though, it's nice to take it easy and recharge, even if I can't help but feel a touch guilty from time to time. I think there's an IPA calling my name somewhere...

CX Worlds 2002

Two points of note on this clip.
1. DeClerq and Vanoppen's chat on the track with 1 to go.
2. Sven's attack and subsequent cornering about 3:45 into this video. While watching the VHS at work, we rewound it so many times that the VCR ate the tape. It's that badass. Watch and learn...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nationals


A list of un-pro things I did in the 24 hours before the race:
1. Didn't ride the bike I was racing until the day of the race.
2. Signed up for the SS race despite never having raced CX on one before.
3. Got to KC later than desired and didn't get to preride on Saturday.
4. Drank too many beers the night before.
5. Didn't go to sleep early enough while waiting for the DB and RB express to arrive and then did not sleep for shit when I went to bed.
6. Had an abbreviated warm up of one lap plus some spinning around.
6. Thought that we would be staged in order of registration only to find myself on the very back row of the starting grid.
8. Rode a bike that was a size too small with these brake levers:


Despite all of this, I had a decent race and lots of fun despite the pain and exhaustion. I managed to move up a bit before the pavement ended and avoided the near immediate crash. From there I just ground my way up the hill trying to stay steady. It was a really weird race for me. The course, as you may have read, involved a lot of climbing. It felt like at least three quarters of the lap were spent grinding away uphill with my back on the verge of seizing. As such, it was impossible for me to do anything but kept a steady pace that was the hardest I could sustain and acceleration was never an option. It worked out ok as I picked people off consistently throughout the race. I went back and forth with this guy for most of the second half of the race before finally dropping him on the climb on the last lap. I ended up 27th out of 82 starters and 55 finishers on the same lap as the winner. I guess I'm satisfied with that. Could I have done better? Probably, but I resolved to do this race for fun and that's what happened. Still, it's hard not to think about the what ifs, but I made the decisions I made and the result is what it is. It was pretty cool to know I was racing the same course as the big boys and it was awesome having the groggy St. Louis crew out cheering before dawn. Thanks guys, it meant a lot that you were there for us. After the race, we went back to the hotel to clean up and get some tub time in before heading back to watch the pros. It had dropped nearly thirty degrees in temperature and we froze while watching the pros and these fools tear up the course. It was an amazing experience and I'm glad I got to share it with my wife and my friends. It'll be kind of hard to go to Bend next year, so this was truly special. As I've stated repeatedly, this CX season was the most fun I've ever had in cycling and it's due in large part to the people I got to share it with. This is hands down the best discipline in cycling and I can't wait to see what next year holds. Now it's time for a break and some thoughts about how I'm going to spend the next ten months. Thanks to everyone for the support and to all who helped make it happen, it was the best. Ever.
Here are some photos Lizz took of the race:




Monday, December 8, 2008

Hermann


As my good friend and teammate said to me the other night "I love it when a plan comes together". Come together it did. I went into Hermann weekend reasonably confident after a couple of strong results over the last couple of weeks, but since I had never trained like I have this season, I didn't know if the fitness was still running strong or if it was starting to wane. I decided to race both days because I wanted to try and pick up as many points as I could in the Bubba series. I was nervous that the last few weeks had been a fluke and I wanted to squeeze something out of the weekend should state championships go awry. When the race started on Saturday, an SKC rider from Kansas City drilled it and got the hole shot with me in second wheel. He pulled through the first quarter of the two and a half mile lap and I was digging deep to stay on. I was a bit worried that I wasn't going to be able to hold the wheel but stuck with it until we got to the stairs. The stairs which were built in the 1800's are incredibly steep and offer a painful run up for every lap. I suppose the run up work I had been doing paid off and I was able to move up front and had a small gap at the top of the stairs. In the winding section at the top of the course, I managed to pick up around eight seconds on the chase and decided to see if I could make it stick. The gap grew and I held it till the line to round out the series with a win. The course was fantastic with its length and variety. All the turns could be taken at speed and the obstacles littered throughout the course offered numerous challenges and required constant focus. It was going to be a blast getting to race it two days in a row.

Sunday's state championship race shook out almost identically to Saturday's race with the major changes being a twenty degree drop in temperature and a field of fifty instead of thirteen. I managed to get second wheel through the first half of the lap and moved up on the stairs to the front where I got a gap on second. I rode a clean race and managed to extend my gap to the line where I took my first ever state championship. I was helped a bit by Grrman's poor position on the line as he chased me all the way. He flatted toward the end of the last lap but still came home for a solid second place. We were going back and forth all season and it was cool that it came down to the two of us at the big race.

The weekend went perfectly for me and gives me a big boost of confidence going into next season. The whole day on Sunday was perfect as we watched the rest of the races by the fires before moving to the stairs for some dollar and beer primes. The atmosphere was super festive and we all closed out the local season on a high. After the race, it was beers at the Tin Mill and talk of the season gone by. I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by such an amazing and supportive group of people and I could not have had the year I've had without the support of Lizz, Margaret, Jon Gohl, Russ and Adrienne and every one of my teammates. Big thanks also to Justin Neely for getting me back on a bike so quickly after my S-Works got smashed at the beginning of the season. It's been a truly unforgettable season and if this momentum keeps going, 2009 promises to be equally epic. Next week is the single speed race at Nats and then some much needed down time. Long live cross!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bubba #8 Queeny Park


Sunday's race returned to Queeny Park, home of many a CX battle over the years for the final round before next week's bonanza in Hermann. It had snowed and rained overnight and the forecast called for an inch of accumulation by day's end. It promised to be perfect cross weather after a season of dry courses.

The precipitation was not quite as epic as some had hoped, but it was still enough to make things interesting with greasy corners everywhere and a few choice mud holes. My race went pretty well, I got into a good position toward the front for the first lap when a 360 rider pulling our group went down hard in a hairpin, I took to the front and got a bit of a gap. With the whole race ahead of me, I rode hard but not ridiculously so and tried to keep some distance between myself and the chasers. On the second lap, Daniel Miller bridged up to me on one of the two climbs and sat in for the next lap and a half. After that, we traded pulls and crashes throughout the rest of the race and held or extended our gap over third place. The corners were so slippery that it was impossible to get away from each other for too long and our two man break stuck together coming into the last lap. He gapped me a bit on the run up and seemed to accelerate to try and make it stick. I got back on the wheel on the long pavement drag and tried to plan how I would come around at the finish, all the while in a bit of oxygen debt. Coming off the pavement, Miller crashed in the first turn, taking me down with him and then crashed again in the second turn before the barriers. I had taken a second longer to get back on my bike and was able to ride around him. I punched it for the rest of the lap and managed to hold him off to the line. I got to put my hands in the air again and enjoy another win, this time in conditions that I had waited for all year. Good stuff. Miller rode a great race and it was fun duking it out with him. Next week is shaping up to be a good battle for the state race with three or four riders pretty evenly match coming into the little big show.


I stuck around and watched DB post a rock solid second place in the A race, his form is coming around right on schedule. After the race, the team and friends had our now requisite post race meal at the pub and recounted the day's exploits over some libations. This season has one upped last year in every way and I am truly excited that cross has gone to the level it has in St. Louis. The camaraderie is unmatched and it really is exciting to see so many people into it, spectators, racers and all.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Creve Couer Double Header

So I finally won a race. It's been over two years and the relief is indescribable. Always close, but never close enough, everything came together for me on Saturday night.

I spent the day at the shop, low on motivation and sort of feigning excitement with my coworkers, but secretly dreading what I knew would be a brutal evening. My mood lightened up a bit upon reaching the venue, it was motivating to see multiple Santas racing the C race and some weirdo in a Luchador mask. Really, there were costumes aplenty and the atmosphere was raging, the kind of party that only happens at a cross race. So I dressed, embrocated and spun on the trainer watching the race. When the course cleared, I did a couple warmup laps to get a feel for the course and lined up on the front with a couple teammates. I didn't hear the whistle, but managed to slot into decent position as Big Ring Murphy went flying off for the hole shot. I sat about fifth wheel and tried to keep it cool and bide my time while attempting to stay warm in the twenty degree weather. Our group detached from the front pretty quickly and we weaved our way through a remarkably twisty and entertaining course. When we hit the sand pit, the rider in front of me ate it hard and I moved around him into fourth place. Going into lap two, Grrman tried to sneak by Murphy in a 180 and took himself down, leaving three of us. Armstead, the rider pulling the train, started to get a bit of a gap and as he had been riding strong the last few weeks, I came around Murphy to try and make sure he didn't get too far off. From there, things got better and better. I sat on for half a lap and Grrman caught us. Armstead eventually pulled off forcing me to the front and I somehow got a fifteen second gap almost immediately. I led for a while and then crashed in the sand, allowing him back on. Slowly, we dropped Grrman and slowly, I started pulling away. He yo-yoed with me for a bit, but with two to go, I went full gas and came home about fifteen seconds clear. It felt amazing and I felt like I was in some sort of trance the whole time. I had no idea who was cheering (except for Lizz), but the tunnel of noise was deafening and made the experience much more special. I can't describe how good it felt to finally win one of these things and the fact that it had the most spectators of any race so far made it even better. Big thanks to all who supported me after the accident and huge thanks to Lizz, Margaret and everyone else who cheered me on through the night.



Sunday was a mystery to me as I had never done back to back cross before, but I had a bit of a confidence boost and no pressure so I was ready for whatever the day had. the race started well with me in fourth wheel and moving up to second by the end of the first lap. I was riding with Armstead and we had a gap on the field. I felt good and the legs were there and I even dared to think I might be able to do it again. Unfortunately, the preceding evening's jarring of my handlebars allowed my stem faceplate to loosen just enough to cause problems. My bars slipped a bit and it got worse and worse through the next lap, making it nearly impossible to corner and forcing me to let a gap go. I had to stop and pit and lost about seven places and about a minute in the process. The rest of the race was a furious chase and I eventually got back up to third. I feel like I was closing on second, but I ran out of laps and had to concede at the end. Still, I can only be satisfied with another podium and the way the legs responded after the previous night's effort.
I feel like I'm back to where I was before the accident and I hope I can keep these legs around for the next two weeks. We'll soon find out, but cross is coming to a close and it's been a wild and beautiful ride so far, let's see where the next two weeks take us...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gavere 2008

Suson Park Bubba #5


This last weekend's race at Suson Park was held at a venue I'd never seen, but as it was located near the Meremac River in South County, there was a high likelihood of elevation gain and the course certainly delivered in that regard. The race began through a gradual up and down section that twisted its way through the barriers before a high speed gravel descent. Off the line, I found myself behind some slower traffic and I fought my way to the front group by the descent. Sitting in the top five, I watched Grrman take an early flyer while four of us chased at about ten seconds. We had it almost closed down through the bottom section of the course that had a bit of of mud. He still dangled a few second up when we all hit the uphill barrier/run up. On the run up, my weakness showed its face as I was passed by the rest of the chase and Grrman extended his lead. Definitely need to work on the running skills before Hermann. Immediately after the heart rate maximizing run up, we were dumped onto a grinding pavement climb that brought us back to the start/finish. I got back on the chase on the climb and settled in. Once we hit the bottom section of the course, a Big Shark rider came flying past me attempting to bridge and I stuck to his wheel looking for a free ride to the front. Unfortunately, he wiped out when we were within a few seconds of catching Grrman and I was left in between for the rest of the lap. Once again, my running failed me on the run up and I was passed by a group of two who rode right up to Grrman and began to slowly pull away from him. I continued to chase, but was making up little ground for most of the race and began running out of steam with two to go. The repeated run ups were murdering my legs and for some reason it never occurred to me to shift out of my 46. It's probably a good thing that thought never entered my head because on my final ascent of the finishing climb, the Big Shark rider rocketed out of the group behind me and nearly overtook me. I had had at least fifteen seconds on the bottom of the course so I never thought they'd catch me in half a lap, but this was a motivated individual. Thankfully I held him off by half a wheel for fourth place. I'm satisfied to have moved up a place from last week although I'm still way off first place. At least the improvement is there and will hopefully continue for the next four weeks that close out the season. We've got a big double header this weekend complete with a night race and standard Sunday race at Creve Couer. Word is Dave Towle is coming to announce the night race and the cash purse should bring some talent. Also, word on the street is that a new and improved flyover will make another appearance. I can't wait. As a wise teammate commented recently, CX is life...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Creve Couer Bubba #4


This weekend's CX race was by far the best course we have had to race on so far. It really had everything a good cross course could have from the double sandpit to the 180 barrier section to newly minted flyover to a slalom course through trees, this course lacked nothing in its perfection.

I lined up poorly toward the back of the nearly fifty strong field and stood on the line hoping to move up quickly. As the whistle went off, there was quickly pandemonium as we entered the first sweeping turns towards the barrier section. There were a few verbal barbs traded by those who felt like they were being wronged by the riders around them, a glimpse of criterium mentality. Luckily for them, the finish line was not at the barriers so they had plenty of time to work out their differences. I managed to move through quite a bit of traffic through the barriers. I tagged on the back of the lead group as we railed through the dusty trees onto the road for a screaming road descent into a climb that put us back onto the dirt. A series of long, climbing switchbacks saw a split form in our group of ten and being at the back, I was on the wrong end of the split and was having trouble moving around riders. Our little chase group shed a couple riders and it was down to four in the chase with B race dominator and teammate Matt Pence pulling about five seconds off the lead group of five. We made our way through the top section and completed the screaming fast descent into the right hander that took us to our inaugural run of the infamous flyover. No one had yet to ride it at speed and few expected to the g out at the bottom which led to the rider in front of me shattering his carbon post. Not yet clipped in and barely in control of my bike, I rear ended him and had to untangle myself before continuing. A bit of a set back, but it was still the first lap. Immediately after the flyover, there was a double sandpit section which worked out well for me, allowing the reclamation of a few positions as I rode while others ran. Coming back under the flyover and through some sweeping turns, I completed the lap sitting in around seventh or eighth.

As the laps wore on, I was never able to attack but I just tried to stay steadily on the gas in the hopes of burning people off. I tried to stay close to Pence as he has been steamrolling the B field all season and I thought he'd be able to get us back, or at least bridge himself and give me someone to block for should I not be able to follow. Unfortunately, there was a sand pit bobble and I ran into him before letting out some profanities. Sorry Matt, not directed toward you, just heat of the moment stuff! Afterward, I was leading our small group about fifteen to twenty seconds back from the Murphy/Grrman chase that was a bit behind the two leaders. I chose not to ask for help and just maintained my pace. Slowly but surely, I looked back and found myself in lone pursuit. I'm not really sure how it happened, but I think a mountain bike background was beneficial on this course and I kept pushing myself. There were a few bobbles throughout the rest of the race, but I stayed steady and got to within five seconds of Russ and Alex before Alex gapped Russ a bit. Try as I might, I could never close the remaining seconds and I'm pretty sure Russ gassed it on the last lap to make the gap stick. For myself, I was happy to be riding well again and while the legs and lungs weren't fully there, I felt close to my early season condition again. No small feat considering the amount of IPA's I filtered through myself at Lizz's Team in Training benefit the preceding evening. Next week is going to be all business and hopefully, I can continue to improve. The next two weeks have some serious training on tap which I hope will bring some rewards come state championship time. We'll find out, but it's a wonderful feeling to be back at it.

The Bubba series continues to grow and the addition of the flyover is massive for our series. There may have been a few equipment hiccups the week, but everyone will be more experienced next week. Attendance was still up even in thirty degree weather and the courses are getting better and better. It feels like the real thing and it really is shaping up to be so. Next week is Suson Park and then another night race.
I can't wait and I sincerely wish this would go on into January. Who knows, maybe with the momentum, next year will see a truly Belgian season...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

BOOM!



Lars Boom outclasses the competition in Pijnacker today. It looks like this cyclocross season is shaping to be a three man show in the major races...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Faust Park Bubba #3


This past Sunday marked my return to CX after an automotive imposed hiatus. Having ridden a total of six-ish hours in the last three weeks and with a questionable calf, I lined up at Faust Park expecting little of myself and simply hoping to be moderately competitive. Thankfully, it was the Halloween race, so there was little personal expectation save for having some good times and my attire gave me one more reason to treat the race as a hard ride with little hope of results. The race began on a slight uphill drag before taking us to the backside of the park for some twisty wooded goodness before working us back around toward the start finish area. After ripping down the opening hill, I was sitting somewhere in the top ten as we hit the double run up creatively centered in the bottom of a sewage drain. I decided to run the first run up, requisite given the initial barrier and ride the second. I cleaned the second run up, but the few slips of the wheel took some energy and I decided I would run it from then on. From here the course entered a set of multiple 180's before dumping us onto a bit of pavement before a highly enjoyable transfer back to the dirt through the start finish. I was suffering pretty hard and not feeling the good legs that were there before my accident. I suppose they'll come back around by the end of the season, but they were nowhere to be found on Sunday. Little worry, I was in and out of the top ten and having a good, pain filled time. Lizz, Margaret, Justin and many others were providing me with beer showers and handups through the race and screaming themselves horse in my ear. The delicious beer feeds would be my undoing as the USA Cycling official decided that the lack of safety and rule breaking that I brought to the event was unacceptable and I was disqualified with three to go. I think I was in tenth or eleventh or something at the time. It really didn't matter, I'd got what I needed out of the day and I was able to commence grilling a bit sooner. St. Louis CX is coming around little by little and it's days like this one that illustrate this fact. Great turnout, lots of spectators and most people set on having a good time. I hope this continues and our series will eventually become one of the storied hotbeds of cross in the States. A bit grandiose, but the sis or seven people in costume really got me fired up.... Here are some photos that I did not take.




Monday, November 3, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Superprestige #1 Ruddervoorde

Frustration and Acceptance

As I watched my bicycle and left leg roll beneath the Honda SUV last week I felt a mix of horror and frustration I haven't experienced in a while. Attempts at positive thinking have been marginally successful; I am not broken, just slightly smashed. Hobbling on crutches is both a source of frustration and embarrassment at being turned into a spectacle for sympathy. Plans have been altered and season goals reassessed. A trip to the Northwest is now for scenery and aesthetics rather than advancement of physical conditioning. I read and hear of others doing that which I desperately desire but cannot accomplish. In time, wounds will heal and they are not of the magnitude which was certainly possible. I am lucky for the support of loved ones, both friends and family. The patience afforded my frustration is appreciated more than is possible to express. There will be other races,other bicycles and other opportunities. For now I bask in the knowledge that I have the best people imaginable in my life, even if it is difficult to show it to them at all times. I am not broken and with time, my body will mend the relatively minor injuries given the circumstances and I will cease to take for granted the gifts of good health and good people. Everything happens for a reason and I welcome the reminder of all that I have to appreciate.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Burning at the Bluff V


This past weekend marked the fifth anniversary of a twelve hour race Mesa puts on called the Burning at the Bluff. Each year has seen the race grow in stature and participants and the 2008 edition took each aspect to a new level. This race has truly become a high caliber event and with this year's inclusion of chip timing, national champions and giant novelty checks, the bar has been raised.

The weekend started with my annual course marking duties. A slow ride on the course tacking up mile markers and caution tape showed the trail to be in the best shape I'd ever ridden it, despite the year's worth of water and erosion making things markedly rougher than years past. Despite the new element of non stop pounding, the course was tacky enough to be rippin fast and had a minimum of the skating rink quality that characterized the preceding four years. The course marking went smoothly despite my first year on my own and after my ride, I helped with registration and packet pickup until it was lights out. After a meal of pasta and a couple PBR's, I tried to sleep in preparation for the next morning's seven AM rider's meeting.

The following day, I made the rider's meeting in time and set about preparing my bike and equipment for a long day of riding. I was set to go off first and tackle the traditional LeMans start and ensuing first lap chaos. In the last four years, I've never been the first to ride and as such, didn't realize how critical a good position off the run would be for the overall results. I got into the woods about halfway down, but more crucially, I was stuck behind a line of riders who dabbed many obstacles, causing me to put more feet down than I would have ever imagined in the first few miles. I slowly worked my way through this group before the major climb at four and a half miles in, where I managed to detach myself from the group and set off in pursuit of the front. I was riding very poorly having not ridden the trail at all in 2008 and racing a new bike I was unaccustomed to. I popped out of the woods after the first lap with a 1:15. Three minutes slower than last year, but I figured I had room for improvement throughout the day. I assumed we were in the lead, but was dismayed to find another coed team already six minutes up.

After Christopher and Amy ripped the course a new one, I went out for lap two and instantly felt smoother and faster than the first lap. I felt like I was really flying, but jammed my chain a few times requiring a dismount. It didn't really seem that it took too much time, but I somehow rode a minute slower than my first lap. Christopher and Amy continued to post solid laps with Christopher taking twenty minutes off his time from last year and Amy posting the fastest woman's lap of the day. Unfortunately, the women on the top two teams were very evenly matched and the two males on the lead team were slightly faster each lap than Christoper or myself and their lead grew to fifteen minutes after six laps.

I went out for a third lap, extremely wary of the potential for my annual major crash at the Burning. Somehow, it didn't happen and I continued to clean obstacle after obstacle until I came through the lap having only taken two minor dabs, which was a victory in and of itself. Additionally, I kept all the skin on my body and kept us in contention for the win. Christopher and Amy cleaned up the race with the last three laps and in the end, we finished second at about fifteen minutes down. Not the result I was hoping for, but it was competitive racing and the fastest Coed race at the Burning to date so I can't really be disappointed. We left it all on the trail and were bettered by a slightly superior team. No worries, there was plenty of PBR flowing and with tons of great people to hang out with post race, there was enough to keep my mind off the defeat. There's always 2009.

The race of the day had to be in the men's solo 12hr. Teammate and friend Zach Brace slowly chipped away at a forty five minute deficit that local endurance king Dwayne Gosainski held to take the lead in their eighth lap. When word came in that Zach had flatted on lap nine while in the lead, the collective heart of the Mesa team sank only to be jubilantly renewed when Zach emerged first from the woods to take his biggest win to date. It was an amazing end to an all around epic day of racing and one that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Saturday night consisted of much partying with A-class individuals and Sunday held the traditional groggy cleanup. The weather was the most face-meltingly awesome fall explosion I've seen at the race yet and it made me long for extended time in the forest away from the daily grind. It's always fantastic to end the MTB season this way and remind me of all the great people in my life and the sometimes taken for granted aspects of my home state. Hopefully, the upward slop will continue for the Burning next year and we will continue to watch it grow for years to come as it is a truly special event.

Much credit for the race goes to my co-workers at Mesa, the good folks at GORC, the ICCC for neutral support, Specialized for sweet demo goodness and PBR for the biggest infusion on quality since the race began. Thanks everyone and we'll see you all next year!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lars and me



Too bad he didn't want stay for another week to do Hermann...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hermann Photos

http://photobucket.com/hermann

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hermann Under the Lights

This was far and away the most fun I've ever had at a race. Professionally run, great course, huge turnout and good legs, all the makings of a fantastic night. We headed down to Hermann after work on Saturday, slamming RedBull and rocking to Black Sabbath. Upon arrival, a preride of the course did not disappoint and we were primed to go as the sun went down on our new black kits. After lining up in our assigned callup order, the whistle sounded and we commenced the 2008 cyclocross season. A variety of twisting turns and up hill barriers on the top of the course had me in the top ten before the screaming fast pavement downhill. More grass turns at the bottom saw a teammate slide out and had me working my way up through the corners. I was sitting fourth through the sand pit and the sewage swamp that followed before popping out onto more pavement for a touch of recovery. The stairs, which had thankfully been cut in half from last year's state course, felt less torturous this time and I felt good charging up them to complete the lap. As the race wore on, I moved into third and was closing in on second with two to go. I went down through a 180 on the pavement and the gap to second was gone. I finished third and felt pretty rockstar doing it since it was a super pro race and there were fifty people in it. Additionally, it was the best I've felt racing all year, which can only be a good sign moving into the rest of the CX season. Big thanks to my wonderful wife for bringing the most intense cheering section at any cross race and good job to all the Mesa team for excelling on a brutal course. I love cross more than any form of cycling and I am beyond excited that the season's finally here...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gateway Cup

So I did some crits over Labor Day weekend. I've always been ambivalent about crits, there not as long or exciting or physically draining as a good XC race, but they are always there when the dirt racing is thin for me. I've done a lot of the Tuesday night worlds this year, but the only other real crits I've done were the Tour of STL back in April.

So I went into the biggest crit weekend of the year with little expectation and even less proper preparation as I was given a friend's entry the day before the race on the Hill. Less stress is good and I entered with the mentality of having "fun". There's not much to tell, but I will relay what happened, regardless.

Sunday's race has a nice gradual climb on the backside of the course and it manages to be fairly draining, especially the 20th time through. Luckily, there was a neat sprinkler system like the one in Beijing to keep us cool. I decided to attack here halfway through the race, just for fun, but also to see what happened. I pulled a Big Shark rider clear who promptly rode me off his wheel when he came around. Two other guys bridged and the winning break of three was established. Luckily, I was too cooked from my "attack" to hang on and rolled in with the pack for a sweet 19th.

Monday was much better. We had a motivated and cohesive team and animated the race. A small move by one of our juniors early on was countered by Christopher who spent the next several laps hanging about twenty seconds up solo. All the while, I held down third and fourth wheel in the chase, marking everything that tried to bridge. When he was caught, Charlie countered and stayed clear for two more laps. As he was nearly caught, a group countered and I successfully bridged up to them and went for gold. Our group of six dropped two riders until there were four of us left. The prospect of even getting fourth was exciting to me and I hung on, doing minimal work and hoping to stay away to the finish. Going into two laps to go, I heard the two lead riders, who had been doing most of the work, say that they were sitting up because they were sick of the rest of us sitting on and with the pack about ten seconds back, I figured I should contribute to our effort and put in a long pull for more than half a lap. Turning onto the back straight with a lap and a half to go, they attacked and I had no answer. I was immediately gapped and dropped from the break and tried to hold on to fourth in between the break and the chase. I was caught with half a lap remaining and Christopher then won the field sprint for fourth. So, I didn't get the result I wanted, but I am happy with the teamwork and a good result for the team, even if it wasn't me. I feel like I have a better sense of how to race crits after this year, which is good and if nothing else, I know I looked good doing them...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kickapoo Bash



A variety of scheduling conflicts this season have led to me doing most of my racing out of state. So, when the Moonlight Ramble ran into my Cape Girardeau plans, I found a race outside Champaign, IL the following weekend to make it up to myself. On Sunday morning, Christopher, the Schweiking and myself loaded up the Subaru and drove north to Kickapoo state park in Oakwood Illinois, not really knowing what to expect out of a race and series I had never attended before.

A bit of preride showcased the trail's tightly knit network of singetrack the wove in and out of trees and doubled back on itself. A few short 25% pitches for some sting and some wide open field sections all added up to make for an exciting ride. I had no idea how much this place would take out of me a few hours later.

The race began and I actually had a good start for the first time this season. I lined up in front and settled into fifth when the race started. As the top three riders began to surge, I moved into fourth before we hit the woods. I was feeling fantastic and weaving in and out of the trees as professionally as possible and when I hit the first section of cornfield, I had a decent gap on fifth. I tried to put it down to make the gap stick and kept my head down until the first major climb. It was so steep that it was nearly unrideable and I had to unclip and run. It didn't do anything to my progress, because everyone else had to do the same thing, but it wasn't the best for my mental momentum. Another little bobble on a washed out creek bed climb a mile or so later had me redlining with anxiety. The gap was still in place at the top of this climb and I tried to stay steady for the rest of the lap. The nature of the trails at Kickapoo can be very confusing as to where you stand in relation to your competition. It twists so much that you can see people ten feet away who are actually two minutes behind you. I have never ridden somewhere where so much trail was milked out of so little land. The result of this design was a trail system that was certainly voluminous in mileage, but lacked a bit in flow. Many sections encouraged high speed and these were often followed almost immediately by a hairpin turn through some tight tress with an occasional log in the middle of the turn for no apparent reason. This constant interruption of flow had me on and off the gas constantly and with no extended descents, there was no place recovery for the entirety of the eleven mile lap.

Toward the end of lap one, I was passed into fifth by a rider on a singlespeed. I tried to hold the wheel, but I was more focused on staying steady for the rest of the race, which was going to be the longest XC race for me to date. The lap continued to twist on itself so I was never sure where the people I heard far off in the woods were in relation to me. The end of the lap featured a brutally steep dirt climb that had me hammering the granny for the first time this year (and actually needing it) and if there had been a bit a of rock or moisture on the climb, it too would have been unrideable. This climb led to the final secition of twists which paralleled the opening twists, adding a new layer of confusion

The lap concluded with a mile and a half gravel doubletrack run through a cornfield before reentering the maze of singletrack. I had a nice clear gap at this point in the race and I entered the second lap reasonably confident of holding fifth place to the line. As the second lap went on, I felt a bit of the power draining and I just tried to keep the 44 turning over as consistently as possible in and out of the turns. I was feeling good until another rider caught and passed me near the end of the lap. I let him go as I knew that going any deeper to hold on would have been an ill advised decision with another thirteen or so miles to ride. I completed the second lap a bit down on my first lap, but still relatively consistent and set about my third and final lap.

If only this race had been two laps. Not only would it have been consistent with all the other expert races I've done this year, but I would have been able to have finished strong and been pleased with how I raced and my result. Unfortunately, there was a third eleven mile lap to contend with and I began it hoping to hold my position and not succumb to the fatigue that was beginning to creep in. Toward the beginning of the lap, I heard someone coming and it took a couple miles for them to pass me. At this point, I was running on empty and hoping to finish what was turning out to be an epic race. As the lap went on, I felt worse and worse, culminating in a cramping right hamstring that made power output a bit of a challenge. I tried to shake it out, but it took about five minutes of soft pedaling before it simmered down. Now I was trying to hang on, finish and hold off any remaining challengers, but I was through. A line from a Ting Tings song that goes "ten minutes to go and I wanna go home" seemed appropriate and circled my brain for a while. I began to curse every twist and turn as unnecessary and wanted desperately to see the cornfield and the finish line. When it finally came, I had completed the third lap a full ten minutes down on my first two and finished the race in seventh place.

Seventh place is a respectable result, but considering how I started and how I lost substantial speed in the last lap, it was difficult to be satisfied. It was the longest XC race I've done and reexamining my nutrition show that a lack of Perpetuem may have contributed to the hunger and fatigue that overtook me on the final lap. In retrospect, it was a decent race and I have been able to identify a few areas to work on for 2009, which can never be a bad thing. Ultimately, I have to be satisfied with pushing myself to the limit and keeping my resolve and still managing a top ten. Hopefully, if the noted weaknesses are addressed, '09 might see more consistency and less power outages. Perhaps with a renewed focus, I will be able to assess my collection of strengths at the end of the next race...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Waverly Hump



This thing was right at the start of the race in Louisville, sweet...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Waverly Park, KY

On Saturday night, Dave and I drove down to Louisville, KY to contest the Wild on Waverly cross country race that forms part of the new Kentucky Points Series. After a delicious meal at the Terre Haute Denny's Diner, we arrived at our host's house for some sleep before race day. We were greeted by some quality hospitality and some hyperactive golden retrievers. Following a restless night on a halfway inflated air mattress, these same golden retrievers served as our wake up call and one nearly consumed my ipod in its excitement.

We got to the race a little later than anticipated and I thought my chance at a pre ride was gone. Luckily, the start got pushed back twenty minutes so I set out to see what I was in store for. What I found was screaming fast hard pack dirt singletrack with excellent flow and enough climbing to put some sting in the legs. Whatever the race outcome, it was going to be a good ride...

The start went a bit better for me than usual. It was set up weaving back and forth on itself and I was able to cut corners to get a good position, rather than rely on my non-existent drag race style start. Once into the woods, there was instant separation between the five or six fastest guys and my group. I sat in the middle of the chase for the first section and moved to the front of the group on the long steep climb after the road crossing. The Kentucky superfan was poised at the top of the climb blaring death metal and screaming at all the competitors. He was hilarious on the first lap and highly motivational on subsequent laps.

I kept at the front for the remainder of the lap until we came through the finish line and I was passed while grabbing a fresh bottle. As the second lap went on, the elastic between myself and my group of five stretched and stretched until I thought I was dropped. I spent a while wondering why I race at all and had all but decided to quit the race and racing period. I kept telling myself that I get better as the race goes on, but the roctane was making me sick and I was in no man's land. Not long after this, I caught a KHS rider and attacked him on a doubletrack grinder, successfully restoring some level of confidence.After the next series of climbs, I began to reel in the chase group and found some fresh motivation. I kept them in sight at about thirty seconds for the rest of the second lap and finally made contact on the big long climb on the third lap. Superfan's metallic encouragement helped me get back on the wheel and I sat at the back recovering for a bit.

Toward the end if the third lap, another rider on an Epic attacked the group and I went with him, immediately distancing the other riders in our group. He was clearly stronger than me and I declined his invitation to come around and hoped I could hold his wheel. I couldn't. I tried to keep the gap in check for the rest of the lap, hoping he would fade on lap four, but he didn't and the elastic finally broke. Thankfully, I was able to hold off the remnants of the chase and a very strong woman from SOBE who was creeping up the whole race. On the last lap, the sounds of "Metal Health" rang through the forest and I dug deep to hold my position until the line. I ended up third in th 19-29 field and seventh overall. I have to say that I'm extremely happy with the result and with the race in general. It isn't often that I can ride such pristine singletrack in such phenomenal weather and race against friendly, quality competition. It's worth remembering the next time I start stressing out about the commitment of a weekend away from home to race.

After the race, we were treated to free barbecue which thankfully included Boca burgers for us veggies and more Red Bull than I knew what to do with. Mountain bike races always have such a superior attitude and camaraderie that I wonder why they aren't more popular. Good time. I have to thank Rusty for putting on the race and setting Dave and I up with some beds, as well as his influence in the hardcore scene of the nineties. Well rounded individual to be sure.

In the end, St. Louis did itself proud with Dave winning the expert race, Christopher topping the sport 19-29 and Schweiker coming second in the same class. I'm always proud when we go to races and come back with the results. Hopefully, there's more of this to come.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dave Breslin Podiums at Nationals



Congratulations to my teammate, coworker and friend Dave Breslin on his sterling ride at Nationals to grab a podium place and some major bragging rights. Look out midwest, it's game on for him from now on...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Marathon Worlds 2008



Did Christophe Sauser deviate from his line in the sprint, justifying his being relegated to second place? Judge for yourself.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Much Too Soon



It happens nearly every year, a talented rider whose previous exploits on a single stage of the Tour leads the collective cycling press to proclaim them a "future winner" of cycling's biggest race. This rider then spends the following season amassing results in lesser races to hammer home their potential and when the time comes to deliver the goods, they find themselves empty of the reserves that were to carry them through to victory. One of the most recent examples is Iban Mayo, whose win at Alpe D' Huez had many championing his obvious talent. Fearsome though he was on a good day in the mountains, it takes more than one spectacular day to win a three week bike race. One such day can net a rider a string of one week races, as Mayo proved time and again in 2004, but it is durability over thousands of miles that brings home cycling's biggest crown. It is with this in mind that I winced as I watched Alejandro Valverde storm through this year's Dauphine Libere, winning multiple stages (including a time trial) and the overall. Velo News even fell victim to the deception by running the same headline it ran when Mayo won the Mont Ventoux time trial in '04. That he then won his national championships with ease and the very first stage of the Tour confirmed that his peak of form had come tragically early in the summer for him to be considered a true contender to the crown of the 2008 Tour. For many riders, a stage win in Le Grand Boucle and a stint in the yellow jersey would mark the highlight of their season if not career. Unfortunately for Valverde, he had set his sights on yellow in Paris, not Brittany, and as such, it will be hard for cycling enthusiasts to view his 2008 bid as anything but a mistimed failure following his undoing on the slopes of the Tourmalet. By all standards, this year marks his best season to date, but if he truly wishes to top the podium on the Champs Elysees, Valverde will have to learn to suspend his formidable June form for three weeks to make a genuine run for the final maillot jaune in Paris...

Photograph copyright 2008 Graham Watson

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday, July 6, 2008

STXC

The race begins as I attempt to force thoughts of the previous week's suffering to the back of my mind and focus on the task at hand. Seven days prior I was deep and inexplicably in the red, struggling to survive and being passed by most of my competitors. That I inevitably finished 13th is of little consequence, the battering my Landahl induced confidence had taken was the main issue. Despite being a newstyle of racing for me, I had expected better and was frustrated to say the least.

Fortunately, the local STXC series is a weekly event with regular chances of redemption and with this in mind, I ignored the blackening skies and personal insecurity and left the shop for Castlewood and what I hoped would be confirmation that the fitness is on the upswing, rather than plumetting to the depths as I was beginning to think.

The race began on a slightly altered and reverse course to the previous week and the relief was instant. The legs were there and I was not immediately gasping for oxygen. The top experts were slightly off the front in a group of five and I was in the first chase group with Kocelski pulling followed by Laberta, myself and Scott bringing up the rear. Albert hung between the groups. After sitting in for two laps, Scott came around and Laberta surged to pass Kocelski. I followed and held Laberta's'wheel while Scott slowly pulled away on his cross bike. At lap's end, I came around Laberta and tried to set a pace that would both separate us from the rest of the race and potentially unhook any stragglers. At the end of this lap I was alone chasing and worked my way up to Albert who completed the lap with me in tow. Through the start finish I took the lead of our two man group and pulled. Mid lap, a single speed rider from Seagal passed us and while he was in sight for a while, his superior state of mind allowed him to pull away. The next three laps have me pulling Albert and all the cheers through the start/finish are for him to keep going and such. With four laps to go it starts sprinkling and with three laps to go the skies open with a deluge. The course, which had been tacky and firm, is now pooling with water and rapidly turning to slime. I nearly lose it on every corner and have to back it off a bit to stay upright. This plays right into Albert's hand who attacks me through a corner on the last half lap and holds the gap to the line..I narrowly held off Metz who came up to me at the the end, but a well executed slow motion sprint kept me in eight place, fulfilling my goal of a top ten placing and restoring a bit of my bruised confidence.

Afterwards, there was much beer and food for us to watch the B/C's race in much muddier conditions and I kept thinking about the amazing time I'd had and how it was a taste of what's to come for cross season. The downpour was a blessing and a reminder of the beauty of off road competition. The rain's only blemish was my inability to see through the new super optics, but they will come out again soon enough. In the meantime, I will remember my mud splattered grin and hope for the form that I believe is building...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Landahl


Saturday June 21st saw a group of four Mesa riders driving across the great state of Missouri to contest the final round of the Heartland Sports series held at the pristine trail system at Landahl Reserve in Blue Springs the following day. After a brief stop in Columbia for Dave to eat a pizza and the rest of us to get heckled by some crusties, we arrived at the Pear Tree Inn for a sound nights sleep and a free breakfast the following day. Waking saw the usual intake of yogurt, oatmeal, bananas and much coffee and we set the Impreza's sights on the battleground.

Upon arriving, we had enough time for a pre-ride warmup lap. The course was in amazing shape and was just moist enough to be tacky and few, if any mud spots. This was an amazing deviation from the non stop rain and subsequent mud bogs that have plagued our season and led this particular series to cancel two of its races. It was fast with little climbing and incredibly twisty, the sort of course that brings a smile to my face.

Our expert race was run with a mass start and scored by age groups. So, while I wasn't racing all of the 35 people I lined up with, I treated the race as if I was and it was the largest field I've started in during my humble racing career. The siren went off at 12:05 and the group strung out through the field up to the single track. A poor position on the line and poor starting skills had me in an undesirable spot, but I was able to cut off about six people through the switchback going into the singletrack. Instantly, the Breslin freight train of eight semi-pros and top experts was off and I was at the back of a six man chase group behind. I tried to move up before the climb, but everyone else in the line shut down my efforts. I opted to not go to far in the red before the main challenge of the course, a steep and short loose rock climb. There was chaos on the climb which split the chase group. Being on the wrong end of the group, I now found myself in a second chase group. Through the tight single track and into the field, I could see the rest of the race ahead and began to try and close the gap. Following the second field and into the final bit of singletrack, I had passed a few people when I lost my front wheel and wrapped myself around a tree. This was highly counterproductive and led to me being passed by everyone I had just gone by.

Going into the second lap, I was alone, but I began to see a group of riders ahead. I passed a rider from the Wheel and caught Tom Albert in the second field. I made sure to get in front of him going into the final single track and continued to ride clean. I kept bouncing off trees as I weaved through them, but luckily, I no longer felt the need to hug one. Keevan caught us toward the end of that lap, but an untimely flat put and end to his bid for a perfect season. As Tom and I went into the third lap, he told of a group of three 360 riders ahead who were pacelining all the open sections, but were riding poorly in the technical parts. In the first field, they were in sight, but 45-50 seconds up. By the end of the next singletrack section heading into the field, they were at about fifteen seconds. I went as hard as I could through the field, putting them about ten seconds up. In the final run through Tasty Goodness, Tom and I caught some sport riders who crashed into him , knocking him off and I never saw him again. Towards the end of this section, I managed to catch all the 360 riders and pick my way through them. Very satisfying.

The fourth lap saw two 360 riders catch me before the climb, but after the climb and ensuing singletrack, I never saw them again. The rest of the lap saw me pick off two more riders and go on to finish 6th in my age group and 14th overall. The results don't say much, but I felt very strong and the last half of my race went very well. I also pulled myself closer to several racers who are traditionally much faster. Additionally, time gaps were reduced to a manageable amount and I can actually think of someday riding at the top. I can see myself improving and it feels good to actually race competitively in such a big field. If my progress continues, the upcoming months and years might see a new level of focus from me. The short tracks are just around the corner and will provide me with an opportunity to improve speed and handling. I hope this trajectory continues...

Congratulations to Dave for a HUGE win against a stacked field of semi-pros and former national champions. Congratulations to Drew for his sport class win, we'll see him in the expert field next year. Sympathy for Christopher and Keevan for their ill luck, next race will be better. The White Wave keeps rollin...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sauser



After years of trying and a string of near misses, Christoph Sauser has realized his dream of the rainbow stripes. Sauser destroyed the entire field to win by nearly three minutes over his Swiss teammate Florian Vogel. Julien Absalon forced himself into heat exhaustion in the chase and there was no one else who could stop the Swiss freight train that went on to sweep the podium. Sauser's win comes after multiple podium placings at the worlds and an unfortunate mechanical last year when he clearly had the form to win. After his win at Vallnord this year and multiple World Cup podiums, it was clear he had serious fitness, but his level at Val Di Sole on Sunday was miles beyond his competitors. I had the great fortune to meet him at Sea Otter last year and expressed my support for him in his epic head to head with Absalon at the worlds in 2006. He said simply "Maybe someday it will be my turn". Fortune and superior form have combined to give him the greatest win of his career and a second rainbow jersey to match his marathon title from last year. It will be interesting to see if he can put together another peak for the Olympics. Even if he falters there, 2008 could be his best season, for he has finally realized his dream