On Sunday, my teammates and I traveled to rural California, KY for the first race of the year, the Mentor/Maysville Road Race, a 70-mile out-and-back trip on a relatively flat highway along the Ohio River. With temperatures predicted to be no higher than the very low 30s, I knew the day would be challenging.
We arrived at the staging area for the race almost three hours early, since the organizers had moved the start time back one hour so as to launch the groups in slightly warmer conditions. Regardless, it was still extremely uncomfortable.
Prior to the race, a teammate and I found ourselves using a considerably less-than-regal outdoor bathroom, complete with wooden toilet seats, open windows, waste pits instead of plumbing, and toilet paper that was nothing more than rough brown paper towels. The whole time I wondered if Erik Zabel ever had to endure such conditions when he was an amateur, or if he had always had tour buses, nightly massages, free food and decent bathrooms.
Finally the start time arrived and the very large group of racers that had amassed rolled out to the start line, a full five hilly miles away from the staging area. Chit chat was normal, if not a little preoccupied with the extremely cold winds. At least it was sunny.
We reached the start line with the Cat 1/2/3 race about to take off. Five minutes later, the Cat 3/4 race (my team's race) was launched. Heading downhill from the start, I noticed the fact that our team was at least a quarter of the field, which wasn't a surprise considering we had 12 racers present. The field, I estimate, was about 40.
Almost immediately the attacks started, and our captain ordered us to the front to police them. For the most part none were successful in getting away. Periodically a guy or two would get a gap, but within a mile be reeled back in. The pace stayed fairly high for a while.
About ten miles in, a break of five got loose, with one of our teammates in the mix. The rest of us did our best to sit on the front and block for him, slowing the pace considerably in an effort to extend the gap. Apparently up in the break, my teammate wasn't making any new friends by sitting on and refusing to work. Good tactics when you have eleven teammates behind you policing the pack, but not good if you prefer to race without hearing personal insults from your break partners.
At any rate, that break was absorbed after about fifteen or twenty miles as we neared the turn-around point. I moved to the front and started setting the pace, pushing up the speed a mile an hour or two at a time, trying to keep the attacks at bay. We hit a steady climb of about 150 meters and I stomped the pedals, stretching out the field behind me. Despite my efforts, after the climb a guy tried to jump off the front, which was chased down by a teammate, but just as he was caught, another guy jumped, and I had no choice but to follow him. I looked behind and saw that we had gotten a gap, but the original attacker didn't have the legs and dropped back, leaving just me and a Cycle Dots rider alone up front. I sat on his wheel for a second, and when he motioned for me to come through and work, I told him I wasn't interested. We were going pretty slow at that point, but I looked back and realized my entire team was up front blocking, so I changed my mind and decided to take a risk.
As we neared the turn-around, Cycle Dots and I had a gap of about fifteen seconds, and knowing that we had enjoyed a tailwind the whole way to the half-way mark, I decided to hit the gas and plow through the headwind on the way back, knowing the wind would help my team keep any chase efforts to a minimum. I did my best to keep the pace up, but the wind and the lack of work from my break partner kept us going pretty slow. Somehow, though, our lead on the pack kept growing. Despite the high winds, my lack of early-season form and an exhausted break partner, we managed to stay away for ten long miles. Along the way we picked up a guy that had been dropped from the 1/2/3 race. We tried to make him work, but the race ref pulled alongside us and told him not to help, since they didn't want to mix the categories. Oh well.
After ten miles, two guys passed us moving pretty fast. I thought it was the pack catching up, but the dropped 1/2/3 rider behind me said "it's just two guys." We had been chased down by another break allowed off the front of the pack! Unfortunately, none of my other teammates were in this chase group, so I was stuck alone in a now four-man break, pretty tired from my initial efforts. I tried my best to stay on the wheel of the two new break members, but I had little energy left and they dropped me. Before long the pack, led by my teammates, caught me and I slid to the back for some rest.
The rest of the race, some 25 miles, was spent chasing down the break that had initially caught me. All but one of the guys was absorbed by my chasing teammates, but somehow one guy stayed away. He actually made it to the finish just ahead of a surging group of five that attacked on the final climb before the end. Unfortunately, my team missed that move and we settled for winning the sprint for seventh. I finished back in the pack, probably 25th or so.
Despite the cold the race was an excellent one, and good early-season training. I was glad to have been in such a long break, but I know I'll need to focus more on my steady tempo efforts if I ever want something like that to be successful. Our team was a little disappointed by our results, considering our dominance of the field for much of the race. If anything it was a good learning experience.
Next race is this Saturday, much closer to home and about 15 miles shorter in length. The field in the Cat 3/4 race should be much smaller, too, so hopefully our strength in numbers will result in a win or at least a podium spot.
What I find really surprising about the bike racing scene in Louisville is the fact that hardly anyone really talks about bikes. You can ride for three hours in a group of twenty racers and maybe once hear someone say something specifically bike-related.
Usually someone asks somebody else if they like their new Six13 more than their old R5000. Or if they prefer the old Ksyriums to the new ones. Generally speaking, though, very little discussion is had regarding equipment.
The vast majority of talk revolves around training methods, race results, attractive females within view, careers and employment, automobiles, mortgages...you name it, anything but bikes. In Louisville, outside of the various bike shops, bikes don't get talked about.
Having ridden in other cities with other groups of racers, I find the lack of obsessive bike geeks in Louisville very interesting. Not that I mind it, since I'm way too broke to be a true bike nerd---I prefer chit chat about pace lines and hill repeats, for sure.
Yesterday, Floyd Landis destroyed the field in the Stage 3 time trial of the Tour of California. Dave Zabriskie, the man who beat Lance in last year's Tour de France prologue, finished second 25 seconds behind. 25 seconds!!
image courtesy AbbiOrca.com
I would have thought Landis' new TT position would be considered illegal by the UCI, but apparently it's not. Whatever the heck it is, it seems to be working like a charm. And Landis looks more fit than ever.
Oh, and I've said it before and I'll say it again: World TT Champion Michael Rogers is completely overrated, and only holds his title because guys like Zabriskie, Landis and Lance Armstrong never challenged him. He finished 26th, 2.17 down. Even Chris Horner beat that...
Levi Leipheimer freakin' hammered up the climb to Coit Tower yesterday in the prologue of the Tour Of California. As a result, he won the stage, finishing a full four seconds ahead of Bobby Julich.
So far the race looks to be quite a success. Top riders, top teams and some really great stages ahead. The organizers have really done a great job with it, and hopefully the rest of the stages are as exciting as the very first!
All that build-up for nothing, it seems. Last night a snowstorm blew through, cancelling the races scheduled for this weekend. The Mentor road race I had been worried about having to ride was officially scrapped until perhaps next weekend, maybe never.
After two straight sprint losses to Alessandro Petacchi in the Ruta Del Sol, World Champion Tom Boonen struck back to win the final stage, just barely beating The Jet across the line.
image courtesy of Cyclingnews.com
It's about time. Petacchi is a great sprinter, but I've never really been a big fan of his. He has far less charisma than other great sprinters like Boonen, Erik Zabel or Mario Cipollini. He's just not that cool, really.
My season-opening race is Sunday, and I'm feeling much better than last I wrote. I've had a couple of excellent 3+ hour rides since then as well as some decent interval sessions. My legs feel pretty good, and my aerobic conditioning is improving.
I'm still considering the race merely as a training exercise. I'll cruise with the group all the way to the end. I don't believe any of my teammates are going with the intention of winning---unless they have a great day or get some luck---so the course will be a simple warm-up to my real goal: The Kentuckiana Spring Series.
After Sunday we get a weekend off until the opening Spring Series race in La Grange, where my dad lives. Coincidentally, the race is also on my birthday this year. While I'd love to take home a win the same day I turn 27, I'm not going to blow my legs trying anything stupid. It's so early in the season at this point that anything more than a smart, restrained effort is just dumb. Top 5 would be ideal, and that's my real goal. Winning will just have wait at this point.
As for this Sunday, the weather will be cold but clear, so conditions won't be too terrible. Wish me luck.
Last Saturday was the team party, complete with unveiling of the hot, hot new kit. Black and wine, that's all I'll say until I model it for everyone.
I spent three hours on the bike today, one outside (38 degrees) and two inside on the trainer. Ever since the weather got bad at the beginning of this month, I've become pretty good friends with the trainer, despite my past hatred of it. I've gotten serious about my training again. That's a good thing, considering the first race of the season is this Sunday.
I can't shake the feeling that I'm in horrible shape. I just don't feel right on the bike yet. I know it's February, and I can't expect to have the form I'll be enjoying in April or May, but something in my head keeps whispering that I'm going to get dropped by everyone at every race.
Is that normal? Does Jens Voigt ever wonder if he'll find himself dropped from the breakaway with blown legs after just 50 kilometers?
All I can do is train well and prepare for the race, and then sit in and suffer for 70 miles in sub-freezing weather. Come March, when the Spring series starts and I'm racing every weekend, maybe then I'll feel confident again. Luckily this season I have a great team to help me out when I need it. I'll be counting on them.
I train on Bontrager Race Lite wheels, the ones that came with my bike. For the price they're extremely sturdy, reliable wheels that hardly ever fall out of true and spin fairly fast. Needless to say, I've put a ton of miles on them over the course of a season and a half, and I always ride pretty hard, even in training.
As I started out on my ride a couple days ago, I noticed a distinct wobble in the rear wheel. Suspecting a pothole had knocked it out of true, I headed to the bike shop just a few blocks away. Got the wheel onto the truing stand when one of my mechanics said, "I can't fix this."
"Huh?" I asked.
Sure enough, the wheel was beyond repair. The spokes had actually started to pull through the rim in three places, with one spot in particular being extremely cracked. The rim was barely hanging on and the integrity of the whole was more than compromised.
Lucky for me I have a spare set, so I rode home slowly and went back to the shop later to change out the cassette. They're going to rebuild the broken wheel when a new rim comes in. In the meantime, I've still got a spare pair of training wheels, so it's not a major crisis.
It takes a lot of stress to break a rim like that, and though I'm sure it was just the combination of a few potholes and thousands of miles ridden that did it, a little part of me wants to think these pistons I call legs are really to blame...
"Road racing requires stamina, strength, mental focus and fortitude. But the rewards are huge and grow the more effort you put into it.
More and more men are discovering that riding a road bike can be the perfect counterpoint to our cosseted and quick-fix modern lives. We’ve become so used to instant gratification and sanitised pleasure that we have forgotten that the greatest highs come from the deepest lows, that there is a unique satisfaction from applying yourself totally, then seeing the results. From pain comes pleasure."