So far, April has been a fairly dull month for racing, at least for me. The only race I did in April was the Ceraland crit/circuit race up in Columbus, IN. Other than that, I've been training hard.
I'm off again this weekend, so today I'll be doing a long ride with much climbing of the hills. I'm building toward a really big May, with races every weekend including the Da Vinci Crit and RR in the New Albany area and the big Memorial Weekend stage race down in Tennessee. I had two top-5s last year at Da Vinci, and though I'll be racing a Category higher this year, I'd definitely like to continue my "dominance" of those races. I've had mediocre results this year and it's time for a good showing.
So lots of intensity, lots of hill repeats, lots of protein ingestion and lots of rest. Hopefully it will all add up to me winning a race this year.
It appears that Summer isn't quite here to stay. Today the temperature is in the 50s again, so I'll have to find the trusty arm warmers somewhere in the pile of winter riding gear I was desperately trying to forget I owned.
The sun is out, at least. I can handle that much. Hopefully this cold streak doesn't last very long, because there's not much I hate more than riding in cold/chilly weather.
I've come to the difficult decision that I desperately need a cycling sponsor. Someone to "pay the bills" so to speak as I rocket up from the obscurity of the Midwest amateur categories to a brilliant surprise win in the 2009 Tour de France.
Let's put it more simply: I'm broke.
Not totally broke, mind you. My job pays decently considering the market I live in, and my significant other recently graduated from college and is now fully employed. So I'm not broke, but definitely not financially sound enough to be spending money on the most expensive hobby known to man.
Let's analyze my sorry state of affairs:
In no particular order, I desperately need the following:
1. A new set of race wheels. I have two sets of Bontrager Race Lites which, though very excellent and sturdy wheels for the price, are far too heavy and not aerodynamic enough for racing. They make excellent training wheels. What I need are fast, light racing wheels something along the lines of these or these. These would be ideal, but I'll try to stay grounded in reality. Speaking of reality, there's no way I can afford a $1400-1500 wheelset, so Race Lite it is, for now.
2. A new saddle. Apparently, my ass is a truly dangerous weapon by the looks of the pitiful saddle still clinging to life at the end of my seat tube. I have pretty much demolished the Selle San Marco I've been riding for the past year and a half. While the Fizik Arione I've had my eyes on is really pretty affordable, it would be even more so if somebody other than myself paid for it.
3. New shoes. I'm currently wearing a lesser model of Sidi cycling shoes than the real object of my desire: The Ergo 1 Carbon Mesh. Be still my beating heart (and my throbbing feat).
4. New gloves. To be honest, most gloves are probably the cheapest bits of cycling apparel available on the market. There's a good reason why, too: most gloves are weak, flimsy and fall apart after one full season of racing (and crashing). What are not weak, however, are the Criterium Gloves from my cyberspace love interest, Rapha. Though I don't eat meat, I do wear leather if I can justify the importance of the piece of clothing made out of it. In bike racing, good gloves are pretty important.
5. A new bike. I currently ride what is probably the best all-round bike ever made that is affordable, stiff and relatively light all at the same time. That's right, the all-carbon Trek 5200. For the money, it's a superb ride. But let's say that I have slightly higher aspirations than relying forever upon the working-man's carbon race bike. Let's say those aspirations look something like this. Maybe my love of Cervelo is based almost entirely on the desperate man-crush I've developed for Ivan Basso over the past couple of years. (Purely heterosexual, of course.) But whatever the reason, scoring a new Cervelo (with Dura-Ace, please) would make my heart go all a-flutter, for sure. Unfortunately, dropping the $5000+ on a new Soloist Carbon is not exactly in the cards at this point, and until I can find a shop here in town willing to finance something like this (5 years, no money down), I'm pretty much S.O.L.
In general, I'm extremely independent and reluctant to accept charity, even from family and very close friends. However, I can probably make an exception for cycling, being the prohibitively expensive waste of time that it is. Anyone interested in taking me on as their personal money-spender should look for me at local races in the coming weeks, and be sure to bring your checkbook. Just look at it as an investment in the future of the sport. Thanks.
After several days of great training, the rain has come again and forced me to take a break. Well, that and my legs were really stiff this morning when I woke up. I'll be doing trainer intervals tomorrow (it's going to rain again) and then a short ride with the team on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's race up in Indiana. So today I'm resting.
I'm really satisfied with my condition at this point in the season, and I've still got some time to train even harder for a couple of big events later in the summer. So far so good.
Hopefully my tactical sense will improve along with my legs, and I'll stop getting stuck in lousy spots during races. It's frustrating when you have the strength to really get a good result in a race, but suffer from a lack of experience and a lack of good luck. The only real solution is to keep racing and keep learning. Things will work out---and I've got a lot of good years ahead of me.
Courtesy of photographer John Bennett, below are several excellent photos of Team Bolla in action during the Cat 4 race at Ceraland last Saturday. Also included, a shot of the finish.
I'm in the center of the third photo, by the way.
Sadly none of our brave attacks were able to get away, and we settled for eighth place as our best result, but all in all an excellent race for the team. Hopefully we'll have more luck in the coming weeks...
Today I got out for two and a half hours for a steady training ride just to get some more miles in. I hooked up with two Papa John's guys, Glenn and Bobrow, for a nice cruise through the parks. A little while later, after they split and headed home, I met up with Andrew of the Trinity team and Rob of Texas Roadhouse. So in the span of two hours, I rode with guys 20 years older than me and guys 10 years younger than me.
The racing community here in Louisville spans several generations. On one side you've got the older, experienced former pros and amateur champions, and on the other side you have the ridiculously young, ridiculously talented up-and-comers already putting everyone else in the proverbial hurt locker on every training ride.
Sadly, they're all way better than me, and at 27 I'm supposedly at or near my physical peak. That's pretty depressing.
But I can learn a lot from both the old farts and the young wippersnappers, so I guess I shouldn't complain. Maybe all their talent and experience will rub off on me---I cling desperately to that delusion...
It's hard to believe that Ceraland is the usually the first race of the year for many of the big teams in central Indiana. I'd already done six races so far this year by the time I lined up with my teammates at the start of the Cat 4 crit. With a good amount of racing already in our legs, we were expecting a solid result.
The weather couldn't have been any better. The sky was clear and sunny and the wind was light, with temperatures in the mid-80s. Obviously, with conditions so favorable, the turnout for every race was huge. Our field had at least 50 guys, and the Cat 1/2/3 race just afterwards had a field of 80 riders. 80!
Our team was nine strong, but some others like MOB Squad and Tortuga also had sizeable contingents at the start. We had our work cut out for us, that was for sure.
The pace was fast right at the gun, and the pack took a couple of laps to get comfortable with the course, a winding, only slightly-hilly little loop of just over a mile in length with a nice, short climb to the finish line. The turns, though gradual for the most part, surprised more than a few guys in the pack and almost sent some to the ground. Jerks had a tough time keeping their heads up, apparently, so after a lap or two I just started calling out all the bends in the road for everyone else. More a case of self-preservation than concern for my fellow racers. Right turn! Left turn! Hard right! It seemed to help.
For the first half of the 50-minute crit, the pack stayed together with only a couple of weak efforts to get away. In my usual rookie fashion, I sat near the back of the peloton for the most part, periodically trying to move up and then getting boxed in by the guys in front of me. That said, my spot in the rear provided me an excellent view of the first big break of the day---three of my teammates together off the front! They seemed to be working well together, with nobody else with them, so I immediately did whatever I could to get up front and help the blocking effort. It took me half a lap but I finally made it. Of course, this was just in time to see them get reeled back in.
Not two seconds after they got pulled back, another teammate attacked! I was right on the front at this point, holding the wheel of some guy trying to chase the break, which put me in perfect position to attack as soon as he bridged up. Sure enough, thirty seconds later I was off the front solo going up the power climb and through the start/finish all alone. I looked back and saw a big gap behind me and tried to dig in deep, but lord knows I suck at time trials, so my big solo effort lasted all of about a minute and a half. Before I knew it, three guys had bridged to me, and my legs were fading fast. I called back for them to pull through, but they claimed to be wasted as well, so we pitifully struggled along and the group caught us shortly after.
Luckily, yet another teammate attacked as soon as I was caught, and the attacks by our team continued all the way until the last couple of laps. By that time the pace had increased so much that nobody was getting away. On the final lap I got boxed in again somewhere in the middle of the pack, leaving me down and out for the final sprint up the hill to the finish. The sprint was insane, with guys so bunched up that riders (including a teammate or two) were off in the grass to avoid crashing. Total chaos.
Unfortunately we only managed to pull eighth and ninth out of the top ten, but eighth was in the money so we didn't go home totally empty-handed. I finished 25th. The team overall performed extremely well, with a ton of big attacks one after another that really put a hurtin' on the peloton. All in all, a great race! I'll definitely be looking forward to Ceraland next year.
So I bet you're wondering what a typical training week is like for me. Well, let's go over this past week and see what exactly I've been up to:
Sunday: Sundays I almost always hit up the LBC club ride out of Heine Brothers Coffee on Chenoweth. A lot of the Louisville guys show up and every once in a while a Papa John's contingent will show up to put a hurtin' on the fat bike clubbers. Since I didn't race this past weekend (stupid work, stupid salary, stupid unpaid overtime...), I was feeling pretty fresh. At least until the ENTIRE PJ team showed up with Dude from Roadhouse in tow. The ride ended up being 25 miles of fast paceline work, a good 1.5 mile climb up Glenview (20 mph), and then a hard effort to the finish. I came in third. The entire ride for the day was 45 miles.
Monday: Took it easier on Monday, rode 2.5 hours around the parks with a bunch of PJ guys again. 40 miles or so.
Tuesday: Every Tuesday (after Daylight Savings kicks in) is the Worlds. I've written about it before, but the Worlds is everyone else's weekly reminder that they are actually terrible bike racers and will never be as good as whoever is driving the pace way up front. I got dropped off the front group (again) but four of us formed a solid chase group and kept the second, chasing pack at bay, coming in at least a minute ahead of everyone but the small group of leaders. Another 25-miler, but this one only takes about an hour and sometimes less because it's so fast. I always combine the Worlds with a longer warm-up session for a total of about 3 hours and around 60 miles for the day.
Wednesday: Tired from three straight days of good riding, I took the day off and concentrated on being a lazy bum. I swear I'm a fat kid at heart. Normally I'm a proponent of the "Active Recovery" ride (short, slow, relaxing), but Wednesday I just felt like sitting around the house and doing absolutely nothing of value. It was nice.
Thursday: Thursdays are usually my long endurance days, and this week was no exception. I rode mostly on my own for 3.5 hours, just over 60 miles, concentrating on periodic tempo efforts and short hill climbing intervals. Out of the whole time spent on the bike, about 45 minutes were actually hard, the rest of the ride was just steady cruising around (18-22 mph tops). It was warm and sunny, so the time flew by.
Friday: Tomorrow will be one of those "Active Recovery" days as I rest and recover for this Saturday's racing. Slow and easy for about an hour or so.
Saturday: The team is doing the Ceraland Circuit Race/Crit up in Columbus, IN, and I'll be looking for my first decent result of the season. Ceraland is the opening race of the annual Indiana Racing Series. Not only can Hoosiers ride bicycles, but they can design web pages, too! Who knew?
So that's a pretty average week for me. Train hard four days, rest/recover two days, race one day. I'm averaging between 12-15 hours on the bike a week, so I'm not doing too horribly, considering my work schedule, random Spring weather and various other non-bike responsibilities.
Sadly, however, I'm probably not going to get signed by a ProTour team any time soon.
I normally ride a 12-25 cassette in the back, simply because I'm no sprinter and rarely do I ever need to go 40 miles an hour. My biggest gear, therefore, is 53x12, which really is no small gear.
Last night during the weekly Worlds group ride, I spun out my 53x12 several times, and found myself unable to keep up with the leaders not because I didn't have the legs, but because I didn't have the gears. When you've spun out your biggest gear on flat ground and still get dropped, you know the pace is pretty fast.
The Worlds rides are always the fastest around, but this year they're faster than ever. The guys here in town on the biggest teams are riding harder than I've ever seen them ride before, and the rest of the racers (the vast majority of us) are trying desperately to keep up. It's no small task.
Regardless of the challenge, the ride is always good training. Now I think I'll go order an 11-23 cassette just to keep up!
What a race. The 104th riding of the infamous Spring Classic, Paris-Roubaix, saw a new winner, three huge disqualifications, the crash and injury of one of the top favorites, and the return of the most feared and respected section of cobbled roads in France.
photo courtesy Sirotti
American George Hincapie crashed out with 60 kilometers to race after his steerer tube broke completely, leaving him riding on the cobblestones with no handlebars. He went off the road and crashed hard on his right side, fracturing his shoulder which will now require surgery.
photo courtesy Sirotti
Fabian Cancellara launched a devastating solo attack with only a few kilometers left to go and finished alone in the Roubaix Velodrome, the first Swiss rider to win in 83 years.
photo courtesy Franck Fife
The sprint for second place saw Leif Hoste beat Peter Van Petegem at the line, with Vladamir Gusev behind in fourth. Unfortunately for this group, they were all disqualified for ducking the barriers of a railroad crossing while chasing Cancellara just outside of Roubaix.
photo courtesy Sirotti
Tom Boonen, fifth place in the finish, was elevated to second place, though unwillingly. The disqualifications, naturally, are now the subject of much controversy.
Regardless of the outcome, this year's Paris-Roubaix had to be one of the greatest in recent years, and I'm glad I was able to watch it on TV. Who knows how long OLN will continue their coverage of races like this? Let's hope it's a long time before they finally pull the plug.
Despite a mid-day meeting at work, I was still able to get out and train today and enjoy the amazing weather. The Never-Ending Winter™ has finally come to an end.
I squeezed in a brisk 30-miler and soaked up some late-day rays. Definitely a nice change of pace from knee-warmers and long-sleeve jerseys. Winter garb always makes me feel like I can't move, so once I'm finally able to just wear bibs and a jersey, it's like night and day. I ride so much better in warm weather.
Now I just wish it would hit 85-90 for a few days so I can sweat off this extra five pounds I've somehow picked up over the last couple of weeks. I miss my mid-summer form.
The famed, feared and ferocious Tuesday Night Worlds start up again this evening. Infamous to all Louisville-area racers, the 25-mile Tuesday night ride is always super fast, super dangerous and super well-attended.
I'll probably do six hours on the trainer this afternoon in preparation...
First of all, the "Lexington Circuit Race" is really just a glorified crit. The course is a 1.2 mile loop with one corner just off the highway on the outskirts of the city. With the direction they had the race going this year, it was a slight uphill from the start/finish line, then the corner, then downhill around the loop until you hit the gradual rise back to the line. With the wind coming from the Northwest, there was a tailwind at the bottom of the rise, enough to give everyone some speed going into the final uphill sprint, if there was one.
The plan was to ride both the 3/4 and 4/5 races, so the team showed up early on Saturday morning. The weather was nice if a little chilly at first, but it warmed up and we ended up doing the first race without arm or leg warmers.
The 3/4 race was first, and it went nuclear from the start. Hands down, it was the toughest race I've done all season. I'm not sure what everyone was thinking, but the pace was around 30 mph non-stop for the first five or so laps, with attacks shooting off the front and dropped riders shooting off the back. Total chaos. For a while our team made a great showing up front, alternately driving the pace and trying to attack, but nothing could get away, at least not off the front. Off the back was another story. On the fifth or sixth lap, I took a pull up front for a while, trying to slip away and get a gap, but to no avail. When I pulled off I drifted back a few spots, and then a few more spots, and then clean off the back when somebody up front jacked the pace again. Sure enough, I too got dropped.
With two DNF's in the previous two races, I was determined to finish, even if I had to ride alone for the last 20 minutes. I put my head down and shifted to TT mode, concentrating on keeping my cadence smooth and my breathing steady. A couple of laps went by and the group pulled further away from me. Before long, more riders started dropping off, including the majority of my team, most of whom pulled out of the race completely. Undeterred, I kept riding along, periodically linking up with other dropped riders from other teams and sharing the pacing duties. Eventually, I got lapped by two breakaway riders and then the group, but the finish was on the very next lap. I managed 22nd out of 37 or so. We had two guys in the top 10, but the three of us were the only ones to really finish the race, I believe---one or two guys on our team took advantage of the sleeping course referees and managed to place without actually completing the race...
The 4/5 race later on was another story, as far as getting dropped is concerned. As in, I didn't. It's kind of a wonder, though, since the 4/5 race was even faster than the 3/4, at least at times. We hit 35 mph at some point on the almost-flat course. That's pretty impressive.
What was also impressive was the fact that no one crashed. The field was around 70 riders, which is completely unheard of in this part of the country. Seventy nervous, inexperienced bike racers barely able to ride in a straight line let alone in the middle of a dense, fast peloton. I didn't really have a goal for this race, so I spent most of my time policing the back of the pack, periodically moving up to test the legs and my ability to read the group. The laps flew by. On the second-to-last lap, a teammate was in the back with me when we both decided to move outside and up in the group. I told him to go first, and to jack it if he had the legs. As we rounded the curve at the bottom of the uphill rise to the finish, he took off like a bullet in one of the most impressive attacks I've ever seen. He also completely shattered the pack, with guys shooting off the back faster than he shot off the front. It was a beautiful sight!
By the top of the rise just past the finish, my teammate had spent his legs, but the damage had been done. The pack was visibly smaller. We took the corner and headed back around the loop for the final time, with guys really getting anxious. I moved up a few places. Finally we rounded the bend again and started the climb up the rise to the finish. Up front, young Clayton from the Papa John's team shot off in one of the best sprints I've seen in a 4/5 race, and crushed the pack to win by a few bike lengths. I was third for our team, somewhere in the low 20s in placing, I believe. I'd know for sure if the race refs had actually watched the video of the finish, because only one guy on our team was even placed in the final results, and he was behind the three of us who finished in the main pack. Disappointing to not know my actual result, but reassuring that I was able to survive two hard races in the same day.
All in all, not a bad day. The 3/4 race was frustrating, but the 4/5 turned out pretty well. Now the Spring Series is over and the rest of the season can get going.
"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."