Saturday, September 6, 2014

It's a Boy!

My wife's water broke on my birthday, August 29.  For nine months what seemed like a dream was about to become true: we would have our first child — and he would be born on my birthday of all days!  Unfortunately, we didn't know her water broke.  Believe it or not, things aren't as obvious as the movies make it out to be.  I won't get into the details, but I'll just say it was so non-obvious that we didn't even visit the hospital until Sunday afternoon.  24 hours of screaming, crying, and a Labor-day (ironic) c-section later, a cycling legend was born: Elias Jacob Simmonds

From the moment I heard his sweet first cry, I knew things were going to be different.  True to his genes, his legs are strong as can be and he feels the need to show off his ability to flail them every time I try to change his diaper... for a newborn this is about 5-10 times a day, so it has given him ample opportunity to catapult a S$%#^-filled bag off the changing table and onto the carpet.  Diaper and feeding responsibilities aside, having a son is the coolest feeling I've ever experienced.  Here is a glimpse of day 1 at home:

For all my instagram followers, prepare thyself for more baby pictures.  I promise I'll still take a crappy photo of something I just ate, too, but baby pictures are definitely going to hold a prominent position in my albums.  Now one question some of my peers may be asking is "how do you balance riding/racing and having a kid and being married and having a job and paying taxes and...?"  Well, let's just say that for my birthday and in celebration of a healthy baby boy, I got an appropriately colored toy.  Meet the Trek Crockett (which I'm pretty sure is just short for "Crotch Rocket").

What is this bright pastel contraption you may ask.  Well, in one of my first sleepless nights I finally found a comfortable stance on how much I should be racing, and what types of races I should be doing.  With a newborn a full-time job and a wife in her last year of medical school, training for road racing is next to let's just ride for fun, right? A fun bike [for me] means a jack-of-all trades.  Commuter.  Cross Racer.  Century steed.  Lunch ride.  KOM snatcher.  So I opted for a cross bike with disc brakes to handle the crap weather we get in winter and to get a little better control on Birmingham's many crazy descents and turns.  Let's talk about the build.

Frame: 54cm Trek Crockett Disc Limited Edition Cyan
Wheels: Reynolds Stratus Disc Pro (1550 grams)
Drive train: Shimano Alfine Di2 1x11 Shift/Brake Set, Ultegra 6870GS Di2 Rear D, Ultegra 11-speed 11-32 cassette, Shimano CX70 crank 1x46t w/Paul Components guide
Brakes: TRP Spyre w/140mm rotors
Handling: Bontrager Race XXX Lite bars/seatpost/stem
Saddle: SDG Limited Edition Colorways Full Ti
Tires: Continental Grand Prix 4 Season gatorskins for commuting

And pictures:

The Alfine shifters pre-empted Sram's CX 1x11, and have a much better feel IMHO.  The right is dedicated Di2, the left is dedicated brake lever.  Both have a little anodized blue plate that just so happens to match the bike!

The 11-32 cassette and long-range derailleur really make the bike complete.  With the 46 up front, the range is good for climbing and descending - and outgears most 1X setups accomplished on a road cassette.

Shimano's dedicated 1X CX crank gives a clean look when paired with Paul's sturdy guide.  I may change to a seat-tube mounted battery to make things even cleaner in the near future, but for now the external battery is much easier to reach for charging :)

This saddle was made for this bike!!!

The flatter profile of the Race XXX Lite bars gives much needed compliance for cross/backroads, and also a comfortable hand position for long road rides and aerodynamics for the front of the pack

Last, but certainly not least, the disc-specific rims are a dedicated approach to this setup, saving weight and creating a mud-friendly profile.  The TRP's are simple, strong, and innovative in their dual-piston action for mechanicals...why mechanical? Because it twerks (it works).Can stop will stop.

So what does this mean for my Madone and for road racing? Maybe a parting of paths, we'll see.  For $2400 its yours with a power meter.  Having seen the offerings for Eurobike, I think we can be pretty certain that discs will make their way into UCI/USAC sanctioned road races before long, and I'll find a way to race my Crockett.  Note: that's Johnny Brown on my wheel in this pic... he's headed to the World Championships this month, continuing the legend of his older brother and dad. Crazy the people you meet/compete against racing in the southeast!

As a wrap: It's a boy. It's a bike.  It's about time I got some rest.

Monday, August 26, 2013

2013 Alabama State Criterium Championships

This one’s fresh on the mind, so hopefully no lapses in detail.  The Alabama State Criterium Championships were held at Columbia High School in Madison, AL this year.  It’s kind of depressing when you see the names of the schools surround the arsenal, often named after terrible NASA tragedies.  I grew up going to Challenger elementary and middle school, named after what is probably the most horrific aerospace tragedies of all time.  Our trip started just a little late, meaning to leave town at 10:30 am but not getting moving until almost noon.  Hanh, Jacob and myself drove peacefully until we hit the wall of rain pummeling Decatur all the way to Madison.  It became terribly clear we were not going to enjoy a safe, non-technical course, or keep a dry chamois.  We tried to keep a positive attitude while hydroplaning on the highway, but it was tough.  We arrive about an hour before the Cat 3 start to find the rest of the team huddled under the two tent canopies Kevin brought.  We quickly got registered and found some shelter in the school to kit up and get ready to roll the course.

We didn’t have a terrible lot of time for warming up or pre-riding the course due to our late arrival, but my initial thoughts were that Turns 1-8 were terrifyingly slick, especially #2, and that getting splashed in the eyes from water/mud foxtails sucks.  These perceptions held true through the rest of the evening, with turn #2 proving to be the most troublesome.  The course was in the large drive surrounding the school, a well-paved round with 9 “turns”.  Some of these were really just back-to-back bends of an S-curve that bordered a roundabout, while some were true 90-degree off-camber turns with silt draining at the apex, at the bottom of a moderate decline.

The Cat 3 race started with 15 participants, 6 of them including myself and 5 other Infinity-Donahoo teammates… needless to say, our presence was noticed.  From having entered solo into races with other complete teams, I know this has an intimidating effect.  It’s a standoff and we’re ones with a full clip.  However advantageous, this was a rare treat as our schedules usually never let us race more than 2 or 3 together at a time.  Needless to say, we employed a team strategy…I mean, what else is the point of being on a team if not to race as one?

The race took off with plan A – Jason Kellen take off the front as hard as possible and see if he can solo lap the field.  The idea was however that if another went with him, that we could send another up the road to make it a 2-on-1 fight.  Unfortunately, a 2nd 2-3 man group formed half-way between, that included teammate Kevin Pawlik, so to send any more up would have meant to bring the rest of the field up to the Jason, so we sat tight and slowly reeled in the mid-group.  Per Jason, he wasn’t getting much cooperation out of his break compadre, so he let up and the whole of us re-gathered at about 5-6 laps in.  Plan B was to send counter-moves when/if Jason got caught, so at that point, Jamie took a solo leap and established good gap fairly quick, however remained in sight.  Alan Laytham (ST3 Cycling), a solid Cat 3 and accustomed to fighting alone, took it upon himself to keep things interesting and put in a dedicated 4-lap effort on the front to bring back Jamie.  The peloton stayed strung out through most of this, with a short bungee effect at some point that allowed a couple riders to set the pace up front until Alan put in the finishing effort to bring back to the break.  Immediately as Jamie was caught we were due to send up another attack, so I gave it 100% starting after turn 1 and got my wheel free.  I only had a 3-4 second gap though most of that first lap, having to stay out of the saddle the next lap to make it happen.  The gap grew to 20 seconds… held, declined, but at some point the elastic snapped and I had 34 seconds.  I did my best to stay out of the saddle springing on the uphill segments and drive the turns hard – the best advantage of not being tight in the peloton.

The race was set up so that we received lap counts at 7 to go, but to be honest, 7 to go seemed like an eternity.  I thought surely I would see everyone catching up at 6 or 5 to go, but it stayed mellow through the finish.  After ¾ of a year racing as a Cat 3, I finally had the chance for a win… and I was happy to do it on a day when we had our team in full presence.  I didn’t know how the fight was playing out in the peloton, but I was hoping things would play favorably for our guys. I had seen Jacob jump in earlier with a bloodied up arm/thigh and didn’t know if there was a major wreck.  As I finished I made sure I got a good pose then looped around to watch the final sprint.  Around turn 9 came a freight train: Kevin, Jason, and Jacob.  For those who remember the crazy days of sprinting to the John Rodgers bridge on Tuesday Night Worlds, these are some of the craziest sprint legs around, and they took 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in style.  Jamie and Doug followed shortly thereafter, with a drag race between Pat Casey (Momentum) and Doug keeping it lively to the end.

I’ve attached most the race photos to a Facebook album, and have appended Jacob's P123 race report, as he actually RACED in that event. I just rode around in a circle for some extra workout time and tried to stay out of their way!

Jacob's P123 report:

"The Men's P123 State Championship started with a small field racing on a course that was still fairly damp from the earlier downpours. Boris started out with a strong attack out of turn 1 that set up what we all knew was coming -- Mike Olheiser dropping the hammer and soloing away. Olheiser got a small gap ahead coming out of turn 2 ahead of Brian Toone on lap 2. Brian, Paul Tower, and I each put in hard pulls that did nothing to bring him back. With the lone pro soloing away, the real race began. Brian Toone was now the man to beat, and Paul, Justin Bynum, and I planned to work together to keep him in check. Unfortunately, Justin crashed in the same corner that claimed me and many others in earlier races, and was unable to continue. That left Paul, me, Will Fyfe, and Ryan Jones of Nashville in a small group to battle it out with Brian for the all-important "first non-pro" finish. 

The pace of our small group fluctuated as Brian made several vicious attacks, with the rest of us trying to keep him in check and not get dropped. Mike Olheiser completed lapping us with only a few laps to go, and almost immediately attacked again. This time, however, Brian reeled him in, and we were altogether with 2 to go when Will Fyfe threw in a surprise counter-move that caught us all flat-footed. After a hard chase, Brian took over to try and dictate the pace going into the last few turns. He controlled the front with the group lined out behind, all the way through the last downhill sweeper to the finish, but Paul powered off his wheel and took the sprint. I got out a little out of position and slipped behind Ryan Jones for 5th, but was happy to see Paul on the podium as the first non-pro finisher, with a well-earned 2nd place in the Alabama Cat 123 Criterium Championship."


2013 Alabama State Time Trial Championships

I’m writing this a couple weeks after the fact, so details may be blurry… Historically I have SUCKED at time trials.  I don’t think I have ever been within a minute of the podium, even in a 5k TT.  If you don’t believe me, check my USAC TT results and you’ll see that quite frequently I do battle for last or second to last, ensuring that I have no hope in omnium-style racing.  That said, the tables are turning… The TT weekend was overcast with absolute zero wind, and a hilly 24-mile course was everything but a TT specialist’s favorite.  Columbiana, AL provided clean, dog-free, low-traffic roads for a 12-mile out-and-back course designed and organized by Travis Sherman (Pimpin Bikes).  Kudos to Travis as well as Stewart Lamp for sharing their most precious resource – their time.

On the course that day were plenty of familiar faces from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Huntsville.  Spud and his dad showed up in style, bringing the team tent and warm-up tunes.  Team Momentum was also there in full force, with even Omar Frasier riding his cross bike to a Podium spot in the open category.  Olheiser, Toone, Payne, all ready to kick butt!  I was the last of the Cat 3’s to take off, 3 minutes before the Pro12… so I was the carrot on the stick.  However, I did have a 30-second and 60-second guy to chase down, the 30-seconder helping a lot during the initial 10 minutes.  I never caught my 60-second man (Todd Hollingsworth), who put in a hell of an effort on the “out” segment as he never came into sight until the last 10 minutes, where there was probably a 20-second gap still.

Having never done a TT longer than 15 minutes my main goal was to not soft pedal on the ‘out’ segment, and observe the course so to go harder on the back .  At some point I was passed by a semi (Olheiser), but maybe not. It all happened so fast I can’t really remember.   Payne came up on my swiftly by the mid-way point, and we almost wrecked at the turn-around as I didn’t know where to turn, causing us to fumble and skid just a bit.  I did my best to keep him in sight on the firetower climb on the way back, but lost him over the top of the ridge.  The ride back was painful, but uneventful, pushing 400W-ish watts on the hills and trying to keep above 200 on the descents.  No really a lot of flat ground, which made this a very unique TT.

At the end of the day, I took home a 2nd place finish for the Cat 3’s with a time of 58’35”, with Kyle Campbell (Momentum) 45 seconds ahead, and Kevin “Spud” Pawlik 5-10 seconds back.  There were some Strava discrepancies, but no place to discuss that here.  In the Pro12, Olheiser took 1st with a 50-minute TT (or was it 48?), Payne in 2nd 2 minutes behind, and Brian Toone in 3rd just behind them.  A very powerful podium!  In the Cat 4’s, Doug Robinson also set an amazing pace to take a clear victory, and graduated to the Cat 3’s in the days to follow!  Overall we had great results from Infinity-Donahoo Racing and all Birmingham teams, and enjoyed a friendly venue.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 Sunny King Cat 3 Criterium, 7th Place [strava]

The last week has blown by so quick. With projects getting up to speed at work and Hanh getting ready to take her first medicine boards exam, stress was at an all-time high.  However, Wednesday of this week I was notified that my Cat 3 upgrade had been approved, and by Thursday I was accepted to Tria Cycling.  This came as a huge relief because I was really counting on having the support of strong riders like Justin Bynum, Jacob Tubbs, and Timo Stark in the weekend’s races and my first weekend as a Cat 3.

So let’s talk about the crit.  By now I’m come to realize that if I don’t win criteriums because I make stupid decisions, then I don’t win them because $&*@ just happens.  The Sunny King crit course reminded me some of Dothan, but with less climbing and narrower streets/turns.  Thus, it favors some of the wattage-happy powerhouses.  If you get a chance to read Brian Toone’s blog, he explains it best.  The biggest pain for me was the slinky-effect.  Only, in the cat 3’s handling skills are NOT quite up to par with the best in sport, so the smell of burning carbon/rubber appeared in all but the first turns, and the out-of-the-saddle sprints ensued leading into every straight.

About 3 laps into the race, I was hanging near the back just trying to conserve energy when a crash on the wheel right in front of me (I would later find out it was Jacob Tubbs who was dragged into it by another rider, costing him his front wheel).  For some reason, this coincided with the field picking up the pace and after negotiating the wreck I had to light a few matches to bridge back up pulling a whole lap solo to catch the draft of the back of the group. There were maybe 3-4 riders behind me when the wreck occurred, and I don’t think they caught back on.  I spend the next several laps recovering before trying to move up again. Luckily, Jacob was able to rejoin with help from neutral support and he proceeded to work the front of the race for quite a while.  About 2/3 of the way into the race, two junior riders representing Hot Tubes/Cervelo broke away and had a huge gap that only came back in the 2nd to last lap with Timo Stark doing most of the work to pull them back.  Going into the last lap we were averaging 30+ miles per hour with the front of the race single-file and myself on 8th wheel.  As we went into turn 4 (the last turn), the rider in front of me lost his front tire and slid all the way across the road dropping bottles/wheel bits essentially blocking the field behind him. I was able to barely get around him by using the bid of gutter/sidewalk on the far side before the barriers started up again; having lost my draft however, I was unable to participate in the final sprint and finish where I was, in 7th.  Timo came in 2-3 spots behind me, and Jacob finished mid-pack as well (this was his 2nd HARD race for the day, too!).

2012 Foothills Classic Road Race Cat 2/3, 3rd Place [strava]

I’m tired, so this will be short.  This was my chance to redeem myself for yesterday’s mishaps. The 2/3 race started uneventfully (just the way I like it), and at the first climb we hit, 2 guys broke away (Krystal/Warp 9 rider Anders Swanson & the taller of the Hot Tubes juniors).  They quickly put a minute on us, but sitting at the back of the peloton, I didn’t find out until half way through the race until the motorcycle referees started giving us splits. I remember saying “1’15” to what?! A break?! After this I figured it was going to take a break to bring back the break, since nobody up front wanted to push the pace and chase the eventual winner.

I tried to get to the front and ride a downhill on my toptube and got a little gap, but nothing worth committing to.  Thus, the race continued smoothly with only a few surges on the hills until we completed the lollipop of the course and turned homeward.  At the 33 mile mark I started dreaming of a 20 mile solo breakaway. I don’t know why, but knowing I have teammates in the bunch gives me so much more confidence that before, so I gave a break a shot.  On one of the long flats into the headwind returning I sprinted out as hard as I could and surprising got off alone for a few minutes until two riders bridged up – I only recognized Nate Robinson.  It looks like the bridgers caused quite a stir, though, as the field started gaining. When we hit the first of many climbs on the way back, I advised our 3-man group to take it easy and brace ourselves for the counter attack.  I looked back and didn’t see my teammates ready to attack, so we sat wide allowing only enough room for a single lane of bike traffic to pass us. Essentially, we blocked the field to get a little rest and not get dropped in a counter move.  If you’re ever in this position, it’s a pretty good recover technique!
Moving on…, as soon as I recovered from this we were about to crest the top of the first of the big climbs heading back when I saw a nice rotation forming up front. I slid into position and when I came to the front I just launched with everything I could over the top and down the back. I looked back at the bottom of the hill and noticed that nobody came with, so I jumped out of the saddle and climbed as hard as I could through the next few rollers until I was almost out of sight.  I guess the 3rd time is a charm.  Amazingly (and fortunately), a Subaru rider decided he wanted to get away too and he bridged up to me.  A little pep talk and we were giving it all we had up every climb, chip-seal flat, and downhill.  The dream of staying away started to become more and more real, and on the last climb we even saw the 2 breakaways, the 2nd of which was in the process of getting popped.  At the base of this climb I stood up to climb and my right calf/hamstrings seized completely.  I immediately sat down and went back through my ‘empty’ bottles and emptied every last drop out of them, ensuring I could rely on just my main bottle to finish.  At the 5K mark in the road we experienced some horrific crosswinds, such that the person drafting was almost right beside the person pulling.  At the 3K mark, I informed my riding buddy that I could be of no more use as my calf had seized, and amazingly, he pulled!  At 100m he stood up to sprint and I came around with everything I had, almost falling into him as my right size refused to work.  I finished 3rd place, about 20 seconds behind the popped breakaway, and exactly 1’01” behind the winner. I would have been stoked with 4th in my first 3 race, let alone a 2/3 race, so I was screaming with excitement before I even crossed the line.

My breakaway compadres got back to the start and watched the field come through in its entirety to a 6-wide sprint.  Justin Bynum took 5th in the field sprint, but I think they scored him incorrectly giving him 10th on the day.  Timo had gone in the first sprint move with the other Hot Tubes rider, but the kid sat up early, boxing him in.  From what I could gather, Justin tried to muster up a break on the last climb, playing out similar to last year, only it appears nobody was prepared to work with him.  All-in-all, Tria Cycling ended up with some respectable results for the weekend, including a few top 10’s and a podium.  See you at Athens Twilight!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 MSGP Stage Race

Race Report: The Bike Crossing’s 2012 Mississippi Grand Prix

It appears that April is tends to be an intensely busy month with regard to bike racing in the South, and this past weekend proved to be no exception.  The Mississippi Grand Prix (MSGP) marked my second race as a Category 4, and my first opportunity to do battle with Cat 3’s, since the Omnium was set up as a combined 3/4 class.  The weekend was run as a stage race, meaning that our cumulative times would determine an overall winner; however, there is always the opportunity to score a few bucks in the individual races, as well as special time bonuses for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each stage.  I detail the races individually below, but as a quick summary, I ended up taking the 3rd place general classification (GC) for the stage race/omnium as well as 3rd on the last day’s circuit race.  Traveling along with Tria Cycling (Birmingham Velo) I also got to see Kevin Pawlik take 4th in the time trial, 2nd in the circuit race, and 1st overall for the weekend!  Pat, Brian, and Justin also did well in their races making up huge time in the last day’s race (race reports here and here).  While my racing begins with Saturday’s road race, I drove to the MSGP early with the Tria crew to watch them race the 1/2/3 criterium and chow down on some of the most rubbery pancakes Cracker Barrel has ever served.

Saturday Morning: Cat 3/4 Road Race (Stage 1) [strava]

The road course for this year was a tame 54 miles including about 2,000 ft of climbing over very gradual hills.  With a field just over 60 and narrow roads, the yellow line rule became instantly frustrating.  I had opted to remain in the back of the field for the entirety of the 1st lap to conserve energy, and nothing important happened at the front for the first 27 miles.  I was happy to see a strong ST3 team at the front for a large part of the first lap, who was well represented in this weekend’s affairs.  As we dove into our second/final lap, I began to try to move up to the front of the pack along with Kevin Pawlik of Tria.  We had a feeling that we might be able to make something happen, and given our lack of team support this particular weekend, the arrangement was promising.  Our original plan never worked, however, as there was really no significant elevation change on the course that would stress the peloton in a useful way.  In short, Kevin and I both sent attacks off of the front of the field with nothing sticking for more than a couple minutes.  The 5-wide group ensured that everyone would be there for the finish, and with 3K to go I had popped out in the front much too early.  Given the pain it had taken to get into the front of the group, I was afraid to duck back and miss the sprint, so I opted for setting the pace and at 500ft to go I made a jump, but was quickly swamped, finishing a lousy 23rd.  Kevin, who had done so much work with me was robbed of his position 4 deep back into 29th, and even Adam Morris, the weekend’s GC 1st finished only 36th.  While the field finish ensured we all received the same time, landing out of the money and more importantly the finishing time bonuses really hurt… Adding insult to injury, someone stole the Camelbak waterbottles I ditched after the first lap. Who does that?!  On the bright side, Reuben Dupre and Stewart Miller of ST3 Cycling took 3rd and 4th, respectively, in the road race, putting Reuben instantly in contention for the GC podium.  Following the race I waited for the finish of the 1/2/3’s before packing up and heading back to Super 8 to eat lunch and set up my TT gear as well as enjoying a long nap.

Saturday Afternoon: Cat 3/4 Time Trial (TT) [strava]

This was my first attempt at a time trial.  The 3-mile course included 2 gradual inclines topping out at 3.4% grade, but given that they occur when you’re already all-out in the flats, they HURT!  I really wasn’t sure how I wanted to warm up for this event.  With the morning’s race still fresh on my legs, I really just spent time getting used to some clip-on aero bars and the Zipp 303 clinchers I borrowed from Jacob.  I’m not sure if the setup made a tremendous amount of difference, but given the immense amount of money people spend on a full TT getup I would like to think it did.  There were a surprising amount of time trial bikes on the course for the 3/4’s, so I was pretty nervous that I would lose a great deal of time in this event.  However, with my legs feeling well I put in a good dig and managed a time of 6’11”, sliding into 7th place for the race and top ten for the GC.  Kevin put several seconds on me, but I was happy that we had both done well as we figured the RR had been a fluke and we ‘deserved’ a better chance at the omnium than that.  Traveling along with Kevin, Pat, Brian, and Justin made for great company and we immediately drove over to Cracker Barrel (again) after the TT for another helping of carbs.  That evening I had hoped that my TT performance would boost me into GC contention so that I would just have to relax on Sunday’s race… however, at some point in the evening as I was drifting off to sleep Brian informed us that we had been schooled by Adam Morris, who put 15 seconds on me in the TT and took the lead for the weekend.  I just sighed knowing that I had a hard day to come and drifted back to sleep.

Sunday Morning: Cat 3/4 Circuit Race [strava  KOM – woo-hoo!]

This was my last opportunity to make the weekend worth the drive.  After last night’s terrible news of a 15-second lead by Adam, I needed to make up 16 seconds in today’s race.  In order to do so I would not only have to finish first in the mid-race time bonus, but also proceed to win the event.  One thing worked in my favor – the finish was atop a hill.  While it was no behemoth, the 10% kicker at the end would be all I needed to make use of my strength/weight ratio and beat others to the line, given there was room on the road.  The course was situated in the Lake Lincoln state park and was primarily flat with some good exposure to crosswinds near the lake, and a very rough segment in the backside leading to the base of the finishing climb.  The first lap I opted to hide in the pack to save for the bonus at the end of it.  At 5 miles into the 6.2-mile lap, I began to move forward. I found myself trapped about 20 riders off of the front and as we began to hit the incline, a very large man blocked a move going up the left side along the yellow line.  A break of about 6 riders made a jump and I was still trapped behind this most annoying dude…but finally when he deviated to the right I made a quick sprint up to the break, catching it just as David Gottlieb of ST3 began his sprint to the bonus.  With the rush I had in me I finished my move and sprinted to a secure 1st for the bonus, gaining me 6 much-needed seconds for the GC placing.  The bonus sprint created a bit of a gap in the field, but it didn’t appear that we were going to be able to fend off a break and the group came back together after the descent.  Because of the attack I made I found myself trapped at the front for the majority of the 2nd lap.  Nobody seemed too interested in attacking, which made for a nice recovery.  Out of curiosity I made a faux sprint at the beginning of the rough road to see how a field would respond. Absolute Racing, who had 4 men in the front, immediately jumped on my wheel, so I sat back down and said “just kidding!”  It became obvious that it was not going to be easy to break away in the last lap.  On the second ascent up the finishing hill I drifted back about 20-30 spots hoping to get some rest for a tough final lap.  As we neared the rough road again on the last lap Kevin sent off a flyer taking with him the GC 2nd man, but I was too deep in the field to join.  As the pack responded and began to string out I found a clearing and worked my way up into the top 10 alongside Stewart Miller of ST3.  With Kevin’s break caught, the group set a blistering pace into the base of the final climb.  As the pitch began to pick up, though, something slowed down and Subaru rider Gene McBrien shot a flyer that went uncontested.  Not knowing it was him up front, I assumed the rider would return, but he stayed away to the finish barely holding off Kevin who took 2nd for the event.  Having set the pace from over 1K out I had a late jump on the finishing sprint, but made up a lot of ground on the steeps and snagged 3rd for the day, granting me a 3rd for the weekend overall.  I was so close to a victory, but still achieved a satisfying result.  Perhaps I was prematurely dismayed by the prior day’s results, and there is much to learn still for my next stage race.  Reuben Dupre of ST3 also made a top 10 spot in his first stage race, amongst Cat 3’s and 4’s no less.

On a side note, I applied for my Cat 3 upgrade and was approved! Guess this means my next races will be the Sunny King Criterium Cat 3’s and the Foothills Classic 2/3 field.  What an exciting month.
Here are a few random pictures I took with my cell phone… I didn’t see any photographers on the course, and I neglected to bring along my DSLR... but maybe there is someone else out there with some cool photos to share?

 Results were posted very quick - and I was only missing out on the 6 seconds I could have made by winning the last race - so close! The TT was detrimental to my success this weekend.
 This is a panoramic picture I took using photosynth. This is the view of the finishing bend/climb from 200m.
Spider inside screen when buying gas
The numbers I had to chase to win...& the blurry fast crit Friday night

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012 Crit #2: Dothan Cityfest

Ok, it appears I need to learn to write shorter; however, since I already drafted this thing up I'll post it as is ;)

2012 Dothan Cityfest Criterium

There was a shudder that woke me from my dreams.  I knew it had been something loud and forceful, but it was dead silent the moment I realized my conciousness.  I think the cat fell off the piano again.  Long slivers of cold white light across my room from the streetlamp revealed the familiar, and a Bici kit on the floor reminded me why I was up.  Dang, was it 4am already?!  I sat up and asked myself the same question I do before every cold winter ride, early training session and race: Is this what I really want to do?  I can’t say I really answered the question right then and there…nevertheless, I was out the door with an equally groggy Hanh and a bowl of oatmeal before any doubts could set in.  About halfway to Homewood I called Jacob and let him know I was down the road.  I missed his house on my first pass up the street, but eventually found another soul willing to suffer on two wheels for a hobby.  Off to Dothan!

The next 3-4 hours was strategy, prep talk and twitter updates on Flanders.  I was really hoping my day would go better than Cancellara’s.  The drive was uneventful thanks to the fog and we arrived in Dothan in time to secure a nice shady spot for our rollers and chairs.  Tubbs had planned two rides for the day so we quickly got to warming up for the Masters criterium while I rode the course and found all the fellow Birminghamians.  Mike Garner was also getting a nice long warmup prior to his race and seemed super focused, so I tried not to disturb his concentration.  ST3 Cycling also showed up early and in semi-full force as a few key members were missing due to injury or other races, so I knew it was going to be a fun day.

The Cat 4 criterium was at 11:45, but the sun hadn’t really started beating down just yet.  Our field included only 13 preregistered riders, but enough showed up the day of to bring our field to 23.  My biggest goal for the day was to try and ride the laziest criterium possible…I didn’t want to lead anything out and I surely didn’t want to get into a breakaway.

Well, that worked pretty well for some of the early laps.  But after the first 10 minutes there were a few people making quicker accelerations onto the starting hill and I couldn’t help but to jump up and try to dictate the pace a little.  I did make a point of just sitting in at the front.  No hard pulls, no sprints, no counterattacks – but I did jump on the wheel of every rider that felt eager enough to take a stab at it. If something got away, I wanted to enjoy the free ride; this was especially the case on the 2nd part of the climb as I knew everyone who followed suit would be working harder to keep up.  Alan of ST3 was generous to put in a pull at the front (and at a consistent pace, too). I swear, some of the other riders would go 400-500 watts for all of five seconds then sit up and not make way for anyone to follow through (and the 2nd rider back never offered to do so either).  This became increasingly popular at the 8-lap to go count.

At about 20 minutes into the race I got into a two-man break with a rider in a black jersey (team?). Many of the teams had similar jerseys, so I forget who it was in the break. Regardless, the teammate of the rider in our break worked to pull the field back up.  I’m not sure if this is on purpose or not, but the last criterium I raced the same thing happened… funny.  Well, several more unexciting laps went by and I continued to get mini-gaps on the downhill where most people stopped pedaling. I love railing the turns so that may have helped, too.

On 3 laps to go there was another one of those random/fruitless accelerations that looked like a breakaway attempt and I refused to jump on. The last dozen had gone nowhere so I watched as a rider rolled off the front.  From what I had been told, the field tends to speed up in the last couple laps anyways so I figured we’d catch up in a few.  Well, the field didn’t speed up.  And nobody came around front of me.  I think at some point I looked back and asked if we were really going to let him get away.  In the second to last lap Reuben of ST3 did what they had planned all along and scooted up to sit on my wheel.  Having looked into the field a few times early on it looked like he had sat several deep to save up for the finale.  At this point I had to choose to try to sprint and bridge the gap to the breakaway (now about 10 seconds up), or just keep a manageable pace and secure my legs for the field sprint.  I picked up the pace a little but it looks like everyone was set to sit on so I tried to see what I could do to get Reuben up to the front for the second half of the last lap.  Bingo!

With that, he led the pace hard down the final downhill and into the turn with me on his wheel and we beat the field for the line.  2nd on the day was not what I came for, but it was a relief not to screw up my race entirely this time.  It would appear that I learn more from not winning, and watching the winning break walk away with the gold will help me fine tune which efforts I choose to chase in the future.  I have to hand it to Reuben who rode strong AND smart taking 3rd in his first Cat 4 race (and maybe 2nd criterium ever?).  Alan rode well also, finishing 13th after doing good work for his teammate.

Part Deux: The other races & drive home

So with that the day was over…NOT!!! The thing I love about crits (thus far) is that at my level you finish one exciting event to crack open a cold one and watch several more.  I got into my comfy spot to do cool-down on the rollers and yell at Justin Bynum, Kevin Pawlik, and Jacob Tubbs race for Tria in the 2/3’s.  Justin was favored for the win and did so in fantastic style.  Kevin pulled an Andy Crater and bridged a gigantic gap at probably 400 watts for a solid 1:30 to let the break know that he was feeling alright and that his feeling weren’t hurt that they didn’t invite him.  He then retreated to the field to let them know that the breakaway is totally over-rated.  Tubbs put on a spectacular pain face and took a second serving of criterium rations.

The pro/1/2 was just as much fun to watch with Frank Travieso of Team Cocos putting the hurt on a field of 54 competing for a $10,000 purse that paid 25 deep.  It was really great to watch the race unfold as Cocos, Latino Cycling Team, Team Mountain Khakis, Team United Healthcare, Competitive Cyclist and Herring Gas made moves.  I thought Kenda/5-Hour Energy was pre-registered, but maybe I was only wishing.  Brian Toone rode well (his race report here) and Justin Bynum helped himself to some more lactic acid finishing ahead of a dozen other riders.  Andy Crater rode like a yo-yo and was great entertainment to watch.  In one of his breakaways he put 25 meters on the field on a single downhill stretch and closed the remaining 25 to the break in the turn without pedaling.  In another break he clipped his pedal in the same turn and gave all of us a scare, but made it through safe and sound.  There’s no substitute for experience when that happens.

At the end of the day we made our way to Arby’s, then home.  I got to see the largest ROOSTER in the south, and made it home to the same scene at which I left.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Enter Road Racing - Tour de Tuscaloosa 2012

Disclaimer: I have not "blogged" in a while, so this is a bit of a novel!

This weekend I was blessed with the opportunity to compete in my first “real” road race, the 6th Annual Tour de Tuscaloosa.  The TDT takes place over two days beginning with a criterium race near downtown T-Town followed by a road race near Lake Lurleen the next morning.  Having spent the whole winter on a legitimate fitness plan with Pat Allison’s Lead it Out Cycling, I was more than eager to stretch my legs and see if this whole training plan was legit.  With the weather beautiful and race form beginning to develop, this weekend was the perfect chance to learn what road racing is all about.  It is about skill, endurance, and strength… it welcomes those with confidence and rewards the few with finesse.  Road racing, especially crit racing, is ballsy and is not kind to sissies. Most of all, racing requires you to use your head, a lesson I learned the hard way.

TDT Day 1: Cat 5 Criterium

For those who don’t know already, a criterium is like NASCAR for bicycles…only our “engines” aren’t all stock and many have smaller gas tanks than others.  The bikes have no roll cages to keep you safe when you bump against other racers (or objects) and the moment you pop off the back of the peloton, you’re out for good.  This means there is a constant drive for individuals to get to the front without actually being at the front.  It gets chaotic, but played smart it can be performed easily enough to allow you to go virtually unnoticed until the final meters when you dash out of the group and take the victory for yourself.  That is how you win a criterium.  The pictures below show how to lose a criterium.

Towing the Cat 5 Crit like a boss/fool.

Putting in another dig at the front near the end of the same lap.
In retrospect I suffered from a complete lack of strategy, false confidence, and plain dumbness.  I not only ignored everything that I had learned about riding on the road, but also the advice of my riding companions and what my body was telling me.  Perhaps it was pride that made me want to just sit and pull.  Whatever the reason, I rode stupid.  After the race I was reminded by my good friend Jacob Tubbs that the only time you need to be in front is at the finish.  It reminded me of when my dad used to tell me in soccer that all I need to do is put the ball in the goal… but I wanted to dribble around people and pass and slide tackle… this time I finally learned my lesson.

I rode off the start at threshold and did my best to push the pace and match every attack.  I was too scared to sit on another wheel to closely as I didn’t trust most the riders in the race yet.  I was convinced that every rider in the group was a Cat 5 because they rode once a month.  I was also too anxious to move backwards because I felt I could miss the winning breakaway.  My reasons for riding the way I did were conflicting and prematurely formed.  Thus, in the end, I took a really hard pull into a ruthless headwind for the last lap and missed the jump into the last turn before the sprint, finishing 4th, just out of the multi-tools (no money L in Cat 5).  On the bright side, being up front gave Hanh several chances to get some neat photos, of which I was clearly able to go back and see exactly when attacks were made.  Unfortunately, the beef of the race took place after the starting downhill on an exposed flat directly into the headwind and in the short grunt climb that followed.  No photos were taken there, but it’s on Strava, so it happened I swear!

TDT Day 2: Cat 5 Road Race

Saturday night I spent the entire drive home to Hoover cursing at myself for making such a novice error in the day’s crit.  I really wanted to make an impressive show at my first race, and I did, but in a bad way.  So I committed myself to a new plan – become the laziest, most selfish cyclist in the Cat 5 peloton at the road race.  I got home and pinned my numbers to my jersey for the day to come, and helped myself to two servings of turkey, marinara sauce, and spaghetti squash with white rice and a fruit smoothie before dozing off…ZZZ…

5:45 AM arrived quickly and I immediately acquainted myself with a bowl of oatmeal and a banana before making my way out to Lake Lurleen for the road race.  I arrived with about 30 minutes to spare so I quickly got into my kit and out on the road to warm up and have a gander at the mile-long finishing climb that reminds me of Karl Daly, but with a slight downhill before the finish line. Warmed and ready for a day of sitting in I picked a spot in the front quarter of the race to watch the Pro/1/2’s take off.  Our race began with a neutral start into the triple stair-step climb where almost immediately people began to grab brake, surge, or change lines without reason.  Once the race began, the pace didn’t change.  I think the first lap may have contained an attempt or two to breach the peloton, but from where I sat nothing appeared planned or well executed.  In our first turn off of Sam Sutton Road, some fool took off sprinting on the downhill over the rumble pads before sliding out in the turn and nearly taking others with him.  Who attacks a downhill into a 90-degree turn with gravel in it? Someone thought it was a fantastic idea!

Our first stroll through the finishing hill was uneventful, but it quickly became apparent that the same top five from yesterday’s criterium would be setting the pace.  While my original strategy was to hide in the group, my general disdain for sitting on another novice’s wheel led me to the front where I took rotations regularly.  However, if I was in the lead I made sure I was in nothing more than tempo/Z3 pace, and at times sat there in Zone 2 waiting for others to come around.  I felt selfish, and lazy, but I knew after yesterday that nothing else would work better.  Our second lap around there were some more breakaways, including one from the 3rd place crit finisher who must have burned everything up in the effort as I don’t recall seeing him near the front after that lap.  John Newsome and Kyle Campbell put a lot of time in the front on this and the last lap and so we had some time to chat and play some games.  One idea that came up was to push the pace a little on the finishing climb on lap 2 and see if we could trim some of the fat off of the peloton. While a true breakaway group never formed, I heard later than in the effort a good deal of riders did burn too much energy and popped before the stair steps leading into lap 3.

In Lap 3 I grew impatient. I knew I should just sit it, but I began to entertain the idea of taking off on my own.  At the base of the first stair step I sprinted up to the false flat generating a small gap…nothing to be proud of, so I sat up and waited for Mr. Newsome of ST3 Cycling to bridge up.  Then I remembered something Phillip had told me about attacking right when a group works to bridge to you, so I went again hard on the second step and put a bigger gap…however I didn’t want to start working just yet I sat in and enjoyed the increased pace for a  while before the group caught up again.  The ride was pretty neutral at this point and even had a few super-slow segments where nobody wanted to take a pull, so when we reached the base of Sam Sutton Hill I gave a hard push and sprinted up and over… looking back I probably had a 20+ second gap that was only growing as I pedaled. I felt I could have led it out to the end there as Sam Sutton Road had lots of good rollers for me to power through; but I was lacking in confidence after the night before and didn’t want to make a mistake so I sat up and enjoyed about a minute of soft pedaling before rejoining the group.  Somewhere in this road an older guy launched on a flat but we all jumped on for the free ride and it quickly ended.  As we hit the treacherous turn off of Sam Sutton I took my place up front. I stayed at zone 3 somewhere in the low/mid-20’s and waited for the turn onto the finishing climb. To my surprise nobody came around with an attack.  We were shaped like Canadian geese with me at the front. I looked back several times nervously waiting for an attack, but I didn’t see any of the faces that had given me trouble the night before. When we turned on to the finishing climb, I flipped a few gears down and just set a steady effort to the top.  Kyle Campbell of the NSAT crew led a hard chase behind me up through the false flat but fell off at some point.  I think he was the only person to jump on my wheel as I took leave of the peloton, and it came as a surprise to me.  I weaved back and forth across the road trying to shake him off my draft… the finish came as a relief and I was glad to have done the day’s race right.  My number one goal was to not repeat the crit’s mistakes, and riding smarter paid off.  Looking back I got to watch John and Rueben of ST3 take 2nd and 3rd at the sprint, giving the Alabama boys a podium sweep. I was glad to keep the Pensacola peeps at bay…the hills may have helped!

At the close of my first road race I was awarded the Alabama Cat 5 State Championship medal and a dinky cyclocomputer, which will join my collection of multi-tools.  I got to watch Brian Toone dominate the Pro/1/2 field, including riders like Andy Crater and Frank Travieso by a huge gap.  I got to witness the strengths of fellow riders like John Newsome and Kyle Campbell, and I met several new people whom I will continue to race with in the future, God willing.

I have posted the photos Hanh took at the criterium on facebook, but I included this short snapshot of my performance data from Strava. I would have posted my Training Peaks charts if I had a power meter, but without one, I still rely either on my rollers (speed) when training indoors or on Strava’s approximated power (only valid-ish when riding alone, but still not accurate for sure).  Regardless, when I compare my efforts this weekend to rides in the past, Strava is suggesting that my threshold power is well over 100 watts from where it was in August of 2011.  When I have real numbers from a power meter I will post those (I’m due for a computrainer test, but have too many races this month to do it).  For now I have a half-jokingly annotated reason for my race data…some people learn from books, other from advice, and some just have to pee on the electric fence.  The evidence is clear that training this winter with Pat has boosted my fitness in a huge way, and I can’t wait to take back some KOM’s from you-know-who, or at least try.  But I need to get smarter. Good riding this weekend everyone!