Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting one under the belt.

The Greenville Spring Training Series comprises three back-to-back weekends of racing near Greenville, SC.  The series is put on by Hincapie Sports, and well, you know who that is.

Today was race #1 in the series, held at the Donaldson Center.  This is basically a small airport / industrial park with a 7-mile perimeter road that suits itself for a calm road race.  The terrain is essentially flat, apart from a few rollers on the back side and one semi-lengthy drag at about the 5 mile mark.  Today's weather was P-E-R-F-E-C-T apart from a headwind coming into the finish.  70-some degrees in February.  And I have a sunburn.

The race itself was anti-climactic.  That's just the best way to describe it.  Don't get me wrong, the race started on time, the officials were professional, and the fans were loud (for a Cat 4 race).  With the yellow-line rule in effect and 60+ guys on a relatively flat course, it came off like a fast group ride. 

I had a few flashbacks to my race here a few years ago as a Cat 5.  With guys running 3-4 wide and not working together, we surged to and fro endlessly.  I actually managed to get off the front on the first lap, simply by riding at 18mph.  That's how slowly we were going at times.  By the way, that little flyer came right back as not a soul went with me. 

Fast-forward to the real action of the day.  Big George Hincapie himself was there and racing in the PRO 1,2 field.  The PROs started just ahead of us, so essentially we had a 7 mile head start and 35 miles to finish before they lapped us.  Well, we all knew that Mr. Hincapie would smash it from the gun and we were dead ducks. 

On lap 3 of 5, the inevitable happened:  The motorcycle ref neutralized us as an escape group of 5-7 PROs went by with Big G leading the way.  Smoothness in action and actually nose-breathing.  One of the coolest moments on a bike for me.  Ever. 

It was all downhill from there.  Just as we got going again, the PRO peloton caught us and we were again neutralized.  Astonishingly, they passed us and then just sat there.  There was a 10 yard gap between the PROs and us for few miles.  One guy shouted, "neutralize the PROs!"  Right.

At this point, we had fewer than two laps to go and were running out of time for anything exciting to happen.  A group of 5-6 slipped off the front in vain, as the peloton gave a good chase.  Closing that down was the last real excitement of the day.  Barry and I were pinned in about 3/4 of the way back and essentially stuck without breaking some rules or taking some chances.  We elected to play it cool.

Rolling into the finish, our haphazard group got moving but it really felt like a surge more than a sprint.  That ol' headwind tamed things on the finishing straight, I believe.  I landed in 40th place.

On the inside, I'm wondering if I copped out by not trying harder to maintain position and mix it up in this race.  All along, I set it up in my mind as a training race designed to reacclimate my body (and mind) to racing.  Well, we did that but 40th place just never feels good.  Here's some data:

Distance:  35 miles
Avg HR:  160
Max HR:  180
Avg speed:  23.2mph

Those numbers just don't seem to represent a very hard race.  Look at that Avg HR...for a race this short I really expected a harder ride. I felt pretty good, with no cramping, never really being in a difficult spot.  I agree with Barry, that today reminded us as to the importance of positioning in a race and knowing the character of the race course.  The Battenkill route provides plenty of natural selectivity, something the Donaldson course does not. 

I think I know what it is:  Today's race was a really long criterium.  That's the ticket.

Next up:  Some training and then River Falls RR in two weeks, the last weekend of the series.  Now that course has some action on it:  A steep 1k long climb at the end of each 6 mile lap.  I think even Big George would like that.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Side project.

When I sold my mountain bike in 2007, I knew it wasn't the end of that side of my cycling life but merely a long pause.  I knew I'd once again sweep down a dense eastern forest slope in humidity thicker than Duke's mayonnaise.  Though the reason for selling the old Trek hardtail was beyond noble (I needed to buy a certain special lady a very shiny piece of jewelry), I had faith that it wasn't the last I'd see of the knobby-treaded world.

Fast-forward to 2011.  Coach and I are expecting our first child, and as we prepare for (and look forward to) a massive shift in priorities we are also taking time to enjoy our last months as a couple without children.  Clearly, planning for and getting to the Tour of the Battenkill is important to us, as is taking time for walks, visiting family and friends, and sleeping in.

It was also important for us to do a few things for ourselves that we might not be able to do for quite a while.  This was on the advice of nearly all of our friends with kids.  When it came time for me to consider what 'thing' I might like prior to the real present we're both hoping to receive later this year, it was a no-brainer. 

A mountain bike.

Though I am a tried and true roadie now, my roots are in mountain biking.  Thanks to a high school friend who worked at a local bike shop, I got my first real adult-style mountain bike before heading off to college.  A Giant ATX 860.  It had a crummy RST suspension fork (which I thought was the COOLEST thing ever) and though it was aluminum, it probably weighed 30 pounds.  I took it off to college at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and the rest was history.  My friends and I, all haphazard mountian bikers, had countless death-defying moments in the hills above Boone.  More than once we returned to the dorms with scrapes and cuts, plus smashed equipment and muddy faces.  The guys at Magic Cycles loved to see us coming, as they knew we'd probably broken something and would be spending some green in their shop.  I raced at Tsali in an event called the Knobscorcher, landing 3rd place in the First-Timer category! I kept that t-shirt for 10 years.

After transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill, my Giant was stolen.  Yep, nabbed from the bike rack in front of the dorm.  I was able to pull together enough scratch to get a new hardtail, a Trek 9700 that would be my only bike until 2004 when I bought my first road-worthy machine.  The 9700 was fantastic:  light, stiff, noisy (a chain slapping a carbon chainstay is not subtle in the woods) and bright blue.  I eventually upgraded nearly every component.  Actually, I can say that no component was left untouched over its lifespan, except for the seatpost. 

Some guy in Chicago won the auction on eBay, and I think I got about half of what I paid for it in 1997, not accounting for the mucho dinero in upgrades over the years.  So when it was time to get back to the dirt, I landed on a Trek again - a 26" wheel aluminum hardtail.  It may seem retro in these days of 29ers and full-suspension, but in a way, I wanted to go back again instead of going forward.  Does that make sense?

With the road season looming over me now (first road race this weekend in SC), I am already looking forward to the change of pace that mountain biking can bring.  With a little one on the way as well, I do feel some drive to stay a little farther away from passing cars.  It is true that I've had more frightening moments on mountain bikes than road bikes, but nevermind that...

All eyes are on the Battenkill for now, but you just never know where this blog will go after that fateful April day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Fast ride with my Battenkiller bud, Barry.  31 miles at 22.7mph across rolling western NC piedmont terrain.  Love it.  Perfect warm-up for the Spring Training Series in Greenville, SC this weekend.