Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Exercise in Humility...

Mid-March typically signifies the start of racing in earnest, in one form or another. A few prior local events serve as tune-ups, then come the bigger stage races. 2009 is no exception for my team -- in fact, we're taking on the biggest races of our lives.

First up was the three-day San Dimas Stage Race in southern California. Although not part of the National Racing Calendar as it has been in years past, because the 2009 edition fell shortly after the Tour of California and just one week before the longstanding throwdown known as the Redlands Bicycle Classic, it attracted a star-studded field.

I chose my time trial bike for the opening uphill race against the clock -- I was one of only three racers to opt for an aero rig. Maybe that was a mistake; I was losing power towards the end of the climb and pulled off a dismal 121st place of 150 riders.

The speed of the guys on the leader board was eye-opening. But that was nothing compared to day two's road race. The Australian/American joint venture Flying V team went to the front of the pack to protect overall leader Ben Day's position, hit the gas hard, and never let up. The peloton averaged just under 29 mph over 84 miles with some steep climbs along the way. I'd never seen anything like it, the pace still boggles my mind.

I lasted for about 5 of the 12 laps before starting to come unhitched. Of the 150 starters, only 86 were able to survive the pace and, despite my best fight to help power a chase group back on, I was one of the casualties. Because of city permitting laws, the time cuts were extremely tight -- fall outside of 5% of the winning time and you were out of the stage race. My chase group was pulled on the 11th lap.

Initially I was really discouraged -- after all of the time, effort, and sacrifice that goes into my cycling year-round, I was unceremoniously dropped. I questioned my ability, resolve, fitness, training, and future as a racer. San Dimas was supposed to be the ease-in race for the typically much harder Redlands Classic - where we're one of only a few amateur teams who received an invitation.

It's easy to focus on the negatives and forget how much I've accomplished just to be in these superstar fields. I may be getting my butt kicked, but at least it's by some of the best guys in the business. Given a couple days to reflect in between events, I've changed my tune. I'm excited to be here, enjoying the rides, the pain, the suffering, going through a corner shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Floyd Landis and other international-caliber talent.

I write this log just after finishing the Redlands prologue, the big kickoff NRC stage race (I placed 115th out of 200 racers, by the way) and I'm almost looking forward to the 100-mile slug-fest in store for me tomorrow. I'll do my best to survive, the goal right now is to hang on and finish the 4 days: an accomplishment in itself.

Many of these Pros here are fresh off of racing with the Euro talent at Tour of California and, after some subsequent rest, they're all absolutely flying now. That event, among others, seems to have raised the level of domestic racing. I'm hoping that the trickle down will find its way into my legs as well, as I try to keep up with the domestic studs. One thing's for sure -- I've gone past the point of self-doubt and questioning. Regardless what happens this weekend, these races have given me more motivation to train harder, get leaner, and go faster so that I can duke it out with these jiotes til the bitter end the next time we square off.

Photo via flickr by dcarlson54

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Back to Business... Game On!

Mixing in lots of breaks... except for the ones that stick!

Hard to believe but here it is already the beginning of March and I have four races under my belt. These are "early season" prep races, mind you, but some of this season's target events are only a couple of weeks away.

Three road races and a time trial down, with a whole slew more still to come over the next six months. More than anything I'm just getting used to being in an aggressive pack again. Most of my training is typically on my own, so going elbow-to-elbow with a swarming mass takes some re-accustomization every spring.

Also, as I've discussed before, there's no preparation for bike racing like bike racing. I race with a power meter and it's always during events that I see my best efforts. Not to mention that it's great practice just gearing up for the events -- the mechanical jumbles involved in prepping my bikes and equipment, figuring out nutrition tactics, dressing for variable conditions, warming up, cooling down, and generally trying to be prepared for whatever will go awry. Now's the time to make mistakes and -- hopefully -- learn from them.

I'm continuing to train through these local events, which means that rather than resting before the races and coming in fresh, I'm treating them as really good intensity workouts. That's not to say that I'm not racing hard and looking for the best result possible -- but it's a long season and, in order to reach new heights, I can't value each race equally.

My favorite warmup secret continues to be variations on Cyclo-BREATH that I do when waiting in the registration line or even when rolling around easy on the bike (be careful with these and don't push it - especially if you do them while riding!). Post-race after a short spin, I'm incorporating quick stretches like COOL In 5' then getting straight into my compression tights to recover as quickly as posisble. When I get home, ideally I'm following this up with Fix the Back or Myofascial relase.

So, to date here in Oregon, I've placed 3rd, 10th, and 11th in the road races and 2nd in my time trial. The early season W has been elusive -- but would definitely be a nice confidence booster. The racing, overall, is really well-run, competitive, and fun. I'm still not doing a very good job of reading the races -- or maybe I'm just having bad luck -- because I seem to be getting into every breakaway except for the one that sticks.

I have two more weekends of one-day road events before the real suffering begins in southern California. I'll be meeting up with my team for the Pro/1 San Dimas 3-day stage race, immediately followed by the legendary Redlands Bicycle Classic 4-day event.

Photo via flickr by Brujo)))