Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bike MS: Waves to Wine Ride

By Dennis Pedersen

I love doing fund-raising rides, since it allows me to use my love of cycling to give back to the community. But I usually only do the ADA's Tour de Cure ride every year, since I don't want to ask too much of my family, friends, co-workers and teammates. This year my wife was out of town the weekend of the National MS Society's Bike MS: Waves to Wine Ride though, so that persuaded me to add it to my schedule... am I glad I did!

Me by the Golden Gate.
Like the Tour de Cure, we can raise money by e-mail, cash, online and through a Facebook app. On this ride the money goes toward fighting multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease of the central nervous system. I deliberately kept my goal low and just wanted to meet the $350 minimum... thanks to you generous folks I had no problem with that and ended up raising $490! And I joined as a member of the HP team, named "HP Tackles MS." The HP team was huge: 56 people! I must admit my competitive nature is challenged by this and I intend to learn how to make the 2012 HP Tour de Cure team bigger than ever (please sign up here!)!

Unlike the Tour de Cure, the Bike MS ride is held over two days: 100 miles on Saturday (see map), 75 miles on Sunday (see map) for the longest route. The Saturday ride started in San Francisco, ending in Rohnert Park. On Sunday we rode a huge loop that ended back in Rohnert Park. I found it very complicated to pack everything I'd need and plan out the many tiny details that would ensure my bike, changes of clothes, gear etc. all ended up where I needed it at the various stops. The organizers picked up our overnight luggage in San Francisco and shipped it to Rohnert Park where we could pick it up that evening, then also shuttled us to various local motels for our well-earned sleep after the Saturday ride. Meanwhile they stored our bikes overnight. Then they shipped it all back to San Francisco Sunday evening for us to collect after we were all done with the ride.

John and Kiersten at the Laguna stop.
We were spectacularly lucky with the gorgeous weather. Just a few clouds along the coast with mild temperatures. The HP team met before the 7:00AM start for a quick photo and we rode along the Embarcadero and over the Golden gate Bridge. I rode a lot with Bill Rainey and Hans Zeller through San Francisco and north on HWY 1. But at Stinson Beach I connected with my friend Rai and teammate Alida, both doing the long route. I am amazed at how they stepped up to such a major challenge! I'm used to long rides, but even I was a bit hesitant at riding so much on consecutive days.

I was mostly riding a moderate pace, but also wanted to get in a few long intervals, so after Stinson Beach I hammered pretty hard to the next stop, at Point Reyes Station (partly motivated by a fast guy from Nevada who flew by us!). Then the three of us rode together toward the rest stop at Laguna District School, built in 1906. Did I mention I ate a lot of food at every stop? I always do, and that really helps keep my energy up.

After we looped around on some inland roads (Marshall-Petaluma Road was great) we eventually ended up on Tomales Bay where we had a sumptuous lunch by Nick's Cove. And then the last stretch took us through tiny Valley Ford, Bloomfield and across the finishing line in Rohnert Park, to thunderous applause from the many volunteers.

The Saturday party, with our huge HP presence.
It so happened that our dinner and party was at the former HP "Santa Rosa" site in Rohnert Park. It was a ton of fun hangin' with the HP homies, and the food was quite good. I skipped the beer and wine though, to be safe. I also tried to pick up some pointers on how to run a big team like this so I could apply it to the Tour de Cure team in 2012. Afterward the shuttle bus took me to Day's Inn where I took a nice shower and collapsed into bed (it was nice enough for me, but I am not picky). And the next morning, at 5:45, they picked me up again for the drive back to the event site for a nice burrito breakfast (with good coffee!) in the pre-dawn darkness and another 7:00AM start. By complete chance I met up with my friend Craig and his wife, so we had a chance to catch up on news over tasty food.

The Sunday ride started out cold, but as the sun rose we warmed up nicely. Once again I was able to ride with other HP teammates including our Captain, Kiersten Regelin, and Michael Randazzo, who rides in spite of having MS and inspires a bunch of great guys to ride with him as a true team. He also blew us all away by raising $9,979.96! How cool. It was also cool seeing how so many HP employees were willing to push themselves so hard for such a great cause. Rai ended up with tendonitis after the ride, and had to ice his knee. Josh Jensen, one of our four captains, rode super well and was great company too; his wife Bethany has MS so it's very personal for him.

We arrived again in Rohnert Park, spent but in great spirits. I was ready for the massage I signed up for and the next party! This time I used my drink tickets to enjoy wine and beer, with my steak dinner. I was kind of sad that it all had to end, but I sure loved doing it. Thanks again everybody!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 USA Masters National Road Championships

Time Trial, Criterium and Road Race (55-59 group)

No disrespect to Colonel Sanders, the Louisville Slugger and Kentucky bourbon, but in my opinion, Bend, Oregon is a much better venue for the USA Masters National Road Championships than Louisville, Kentucky.

Jim Gentes out on Bend's sweet roads
Where in Louisville you hardly saw any racers - because they were all hanging out inside air-conditioned buildings and cars - in Bend they were everywhere, all 800 of them. While I soft pedaled around the race courses on Bend's wonderful roads, entire teams of masters from around the country passed me. And all week long, racers were hanging out at the many coffee shops and cafes in town. 

I stayed at the Super 8 Motel in Bend, which is where the USA mechanics were, too - their tent standing proudly all week in the parking lot. But, 5-minutes away, at Summit High School, which was the start/finish for the time trail and road race, a lot of racers set up camp in their RVs and Sprinter vans.

This meant that no matter what time your race was, there were plenty of other cyclists around. And, there was no need to drive a long way for the races as you had to in Louisville where the TT was held 20 miles away from the road race. So overall, at this Nationals you really felt like you were part of something big and important versus at Louisville where only at the races did you have that feeling.

The 2009 and 2010 Nationals
Even with those drawbacks, Mark Edwards and I had a grand time racing in Louisville in the 2009 and 2010 Nationals. But the oppressive heat and humidity put us at a significant disadvantage. Also, the road race course, with its short, gradual climbs and endless corners, was more like a crit course than a true road race and didn't suit the way we train and race in NorCal.

In 2009 we competed in the road race and the time trial, but we only did the TT for fun. Mark had his Felt clock-beater, but it was so new he hadn't yet trained on it, or even dialed in the position. I just slapped some clip-on aero bars on my road bike and raced that.

We knew we'd get killed in the TT, but it was still an exciting race and something we talked about doing again. We didn't manage to get it together to race it last year and only did the road race. But, this year, we were good to go for the road race and time trial. And I decided to sign up for the crit, too.

Vanagons, ho!
Ready to race
Unfortunately, Mark wasn't able to race the Nationals this year and I couldn't convince anyone else to, either. So I ended up making the 11-hour drive to Bend alone with only my bikes, trainer, tools, spare wheels and over-stuffed cooler for company. 

Fortunately, Mark had given me a new training program way back in September, I had followed it to the letter, and I was more ready to race than ever before. Mark had also provided a pacing strategy for the time trial and even a trainer warm-up routine he guaranteed would have me riding my best right from the starting gun in all three races. Thanks Mark!

Here are some details on the three races and notes on how it went up there that I hope are helpful for anyone planning on racing next year. I'm happy to answer any questions about the race courses and Bend, too, so just ask me.

I hope we can take a larger team for 2012 because it's a beautiful location and I'm sure we would have some top finishers in the different age groups and races. But an even better reason is that I know you'll love the racing in Bend and even just being there.

Race reports
I raced in the 55-59 age group. Our time trail was 16 miles long, the crit was 34 laps for 25 miles and the road race was three time around an 18-mile loop for 54 miles. There were about 37 guys entered in the TT, 65 in the crit and 71 in the road race.

Tandems time trial too!
Time Trial: Wednesday, August 31 - Start/Finish: Summit HS
After racing the Madera Stage Race time trial in March on a road bike with aero bars and posting a lousy time, even though my watt meter showed that I had ridden perfect pace, I decided I had to get a proper time trial bike and bought one.

Next Coach Mark dialed in my training to help me develop the power to actually race in the aero position. And, the next thing you know I set three PRs at the Swanton time trial and then the Canada time trial, just weeks before Nationals.

So, even though we had not gone very fast at the 2009 Nationals in the time trial, Mark felt that I had a chance to go a lot better in Bend and predicted that if I rode my best I had a shot at a top-10 finish. Understand that the Nationals attracts all the time trail specialists. Some don't even race in the other races. They just try to win the National title.

The Bend Nationals TT course is actually perfect for me. It starts with a five-mile gradual climb. It's so gentle at first I didn't feel much and had to focus to stick with Mark's plan, which called for holding back for the first three minutes. I had ridden the course and driven it several times. So I knew exactly where to hit the gas and go into full-on time trial mode.

1-hour wait for bike checks!
The climb is only about 3% for the first 3 miles, then there's about a mile that kicks up steeper, maybe 5%, and it took focusing not to go too hard there. Over the top, there's a downhill stretch leading to the turnaround.

After that, you climb the slight rise you came down to the turnaround and then there's about a five-mile descent back down the climb, followed by a fun five-mile lollipop-shaped circuit with rolling hills, and back to the start/finish.

The descent is a little bumpy so it's not easy to find the fastest line, but I probably averaged close to 40mph (I don't have a computer on my TT bike) and caught one of the strong guys from NorCal who left over a minute ahead of me, by the right turn that takes you onto the final five-mile section.

Note that they use 30-second starts at the Natz, so there's a good chance you'll overtake someone. The tandems are the only ones that get to start at minute intervals. Tandems also don't start on the ramp, but use a standing start just in front of it. Watching them start, I heard awful noises from the two riders about breaking the chain and cassette cogs as they powered away from the start house.

Don't be late for your start!
On the final 5-mile lollipop section there are some tricky turns. As I warmed up on my trainer next to my van in the high-school parking lot, a couple of racers rolled back to their cars in torn skin suits and with road rash and said that they had crashed in the corners from trying to stay on their aero bars and losing control.

That made me nervous. But we had trained a lot on the Swanton course and I was determined to stay on the bars knowing that even a few seconds would make a big difference on Bend's mostly fast pavement and the rolling final miles.

How this decision played out was actually kind of funny. Here I come into the worst turn at about 35mph. The course marshal is so sure I'm going to crash that he's jumping up and down, waving his flag and yelling 'slow down, slow down!' If I had looked at him too long I would have crashed for sure. So I just focused on the right line and blasted through the turn. It was obviously way faster than braking because I almost overtook the guy ahead right there. He had gotten on his base bars and hit the stoppers.

I killed myself on the three rollers before the finish. There was a pretty good crowd along that stretch, hollering as we passed and that was motivating. But, I could hear announcer Dave Towle, and he wasn't saying anything about me, so I knew I hadn't cracked the top five. He would have known because I was one of the last riders to start.

10th place
It turned out that I finished 10th, exactly what Coach Mark predicted. I was hoping for better. But 10th is the best I've ever done at Nationals, and as usual, the top guys were all very accomplished racers, so I am getting closer. I averaged 24.59mph.

Surprisingly, Rob Anderson, who we thought would win, was 4th. Dave Zimbleman, who everyone seemed to know (he's a regular at the Cascade Classic race in Bend that uses the same courses), won, with a significantly faster time.

Some riders were worried about the thinner air (elevation around 3,600 feet). Others thought the smoke in the air from nearby fires would cause problems. But, I didn't have any trouble. And, it was a comfortable temperature during all of the races too.

I have already reserved a spot in the new UCSC wind tunnel to determine what I need to do to go two minutes faster on that course so I can get on the podium next year. Joking!

Criterium: Friday, September 2 - Start/Finish: Downtown Bend
My first day in Bend I drove over to check out the TT course, where I ran into Richard Shields who races for Hammer Nutrition in the 65-70 group, though he looks about 35 and goes as fast too.

After comparing notes on the TT course, Richard took me over to the crit circuit, which was just around the corner in a new part of Bend. That was nice, but it turned out that that's where the 65-70 group raced, but not my group. The 55-59s would race on the downtown Bend course.

I didn't realize this until the night before the race when Jim Gentes, who was racing in the 50+ - the crit after mine - texted me to make sure I didn't go to the wrong course in the morning.

It was actually great news, because the other course was far more dangerous. We heard about broken hips and collarbones and people being carted off to the hospital and I was worried about our huge pack making it safely around the tight, narrow course.

The downtown Bend course is almost a no-brainer: four corners and two 400-yard straightaways and almost dead flat save for a light riser at the top of the course. It was like if they closed off Pacific Avenue and Front Street in Santa Cruz and let us race the wrong way down Pacific and finish on Front Street by Lulu Carpenter's. Here's a video I took showing the 50-54 group tearing down the back straight (an impressive race won by Bubba Melcher who kept attacking and blew the race apart).

I knew what would happen on a course like this and tried to start on the front row. The only problem is that at Nationals they do call-ups and only the favorites get to line-up in front. So, I had to start in the third row and when the race started I came out of the first corner fighting for about 35th place in a long single line, the entire pack strung out from the speed.

This went on for the first 10 laps or so, blasting around the corners, all strung out on the straights, no chance to move up anywhere because it was just too crazy-fast. About halfway through it slowed a bit and started bunching up after the corners because teammates were blocking for the few riders that had opened a slight gap.

About then, I noticed that several NorCal riders were near the front and I tried going up into the wind thinking that they might work with me to pull back the guys out front, but nobody was in the mood. So, in the end, Bill Watkins, who was strong enough to get off the front, won the race going away and the rest of us sprinted for the podium spots.

You had to come out of the last corner in the front to have any chance of sprinting for the podium. I botched that when, going into that little uphill off-camber corner, a guy locked up his wheels and slid wildly across the road almost taking half the pack down. 

The finishing stretch
I managed to move up a little after exiting the turn on the long drag strip to the finish but there was no way I could pass all the guys that had positioned themselves better and got the jump. I finished 22nd with the same time as everyone else. 

I was impressed with Mark Caldwell, who had come out of the last corner not too far ahead of me and with his superior speed and moves somehow managed to move up down the straight and take fifth and get on the podium. Mark hadn't been at the Nats in Louisville and I wondered how one of NorCal's best would have fared. Now I knew.

I should have paid better attention to how the crit developed because it demonstrated one of the rules I'm starting to learn about Nationals (Districts, too). That rule says that in major events, racers race for themselves and they likely won't cooperate with you or anyone else. They will cooperate with teammates, of course, but it's rare that there are many coordinated teams out there in the 55+, though that was the case the first time I raced in the road race in Louisville.

The road race start/finish
Road Race: Sunday, September 4 - Start/Finish: Summit HS
I was so tired Saturday afternoon I was concerned. It had been two days since the crit and four days since the time trial. And both events had been short, only a total of 41 miles. Plus the riding I'd done on the off days was pretty mellow, just cruising around the race courses easy.

The fatigue could have been nerves. I was so shaky at the start of the TT that Steve Palladino, who I had only met a few weeks back at the Canada time trial actually asked me if I was okay. And Richard Shields tried to settle me down telling me to relax. I felt a little better at the start of the crit but the large pack and fast start I knew was coming kept me on edge.

So, on Saturday afternoon, feeling wiped out, I went back to the fine Super 8 Hotel, turned on the TV, lay down on the bed and stayed there the rest of the day to bring my legs back to life and calm my nerves.

T minus 90 min. to start time
I got to the start/finish on Sunday with plenty of time to double-check my bike, get my bottles ready, suit up and do Mark's trainer warm-up. Ours was the first group to start so as I pedaled away I watched the USA Cycling guys setup the start/finish area and listened to announcer Dave Towle warm-up the crowd milling around waiting for the start.

We were going off at 8 a.m. It was a nice Santa Cruz-like 60 degrees. As I was warming up Chris and Sam Cerruti and Evan Kapel came over to say hi. It was great to see some other locals ready to race with me.

Speaking of locals, I got really lucky in the road race. A guy came over after the crit and introduced himself as former Santa Cruz cyclist Jim Holmes, and offered to be in the feed zone in the road race to hand me up water. This was a huge help because, even though it wasn't going to be too hot that early in the morning, the mountain air dries you out and being able to get more bottles was essential. Jim saved the day. It was also great to have Sam Cerruti in the feed zone. He was handing up bottles to his dad but he gave a shout out to me on every lap and that was cool.

The top of the Archie Briggs climb
The road race is a relatively easy loop, It starts with a long downhill, maybe 4 miles. Then there's a small bump before more flat and down roads. The first real climb comes at around 11 miles. It's about a 7 or 8% grade for maybe a mile with the feed zone at the top. After that it's more flat and down with a couple of bumps.

Then you drop into a little canyon on Archie Briggs Road and at the bottom run into a wall. John Novitsky's Garmin said it was a 16% grade. I counted about 85 pedal strokes to cover the steep part. After that, it flattens out and then there are 2 small risers before you crest the top and head downhill. It's about 5K to the finish from there on the last lap.

The race started with a neutralized rolling promenade through the first two roundabouts. Then there's a left turn and we picked up speed fast as the road heads downhill. It made for a terrifying first few miles. 

Everyone was using deep-dish carbon aero wheels, sew-ups pumped to max pressure for the countertop-smooth Bend pavement. Riders wanted badly to be in front and guys were moving forward like we were in the crit again. I refused to get bumped or intimidated and stuck in the second row, but the high speed and jostling, aggressive moves were scary and I had trouble riding straight, my front end speed wobbling due to the tension in my arms and neck.

They also gave us a rolling road closure and when the guys realized they could use the entire road everyone started moving far left and far right clipping every corner. While it was fun (like we were racing in the Tour of CA or something), the locals must have missed the memo on the closure because we came around a left sweeper and there was a double-wide pickup smack in the middle of the lane. The guy on the motorcycle leading the race barely missed crashing into the truck and I don't know how the racers behind him didn't crash. It was all I could do to move right without hitting the guys next to me.

Super-smooth roads = high speeds
Once out on the course, things settled down. We hit the two climbs on lap 1 so hard my legs burned badly. That worried me, so I rolled off the front a little on lap 2 before the second and steeper climb, and they let me open a small gap. I started the wall in the lead and was able to slip slide through the pack over the top. Even with the killer pace on the climbs, there were about 35 riders of the starting pack of 65 or so still together starting lap 3.

On the third lap, we passed the fast downhill section and over the first bump and I had moved forward and was next to Wayne Stetina, who has something like 14 national championships to his credit. I said hi and told him who I was. Wayne works for Shimano and knows me as a cycling journalist, not a racer. He said something like, 'Yeah, I know it's you, Jim, and you're riding great." That was cool. Note that Wayne had basically ridden away from us at the last two Nationals, so actually still being with him so late in the race was a big change for me.

Results by timing chips
Shortly after that exchange, multi-time USA cyclocross champ Paul Curly took a flyer and everybody let him go. I heard Wayne say to no on in particular, "That's a good move." And, without giving it much thought, I just took off and chased Paul down. It took a little work to catch him but I didn't think it was too much. And I went right past him and took a hard pull to let him know I was there to help. 

We traded pulls like this for a few miles. I realized right away that I picked a questionable guy to try to break away with. Not that Paul can't win a race (he ended up taking third). But he's not very tall and I didn't get much draft behind him.

Also, it didn't seem like his pulls were intended to keep us off the front. That was okay with me. I figured that he was the champ here and the least I could do is take some good pulls and try to make the break succeed. So I took hard pulls on the small rollers on that section of road and after a little while we had opened a 30-second gap according to the motorcycle guys who came up and left the pack behind.

The hard pulls cost me, though, and when we got to the first real climb on lap 3, I was toast and told Paul as much. He said to just find a rhythm, that it wasn't about the hill. But, only seconds later, Rob Anderson caught us, pack in tow, and they then attacked the hill apparently trying to get rid of us. That almost worked. But, as the last of the pack passed me, I managed to get on a wheel and hang on and get back in with the group.

Funny race number, huh?
Unfortunately, while I was struggling not to get dropped, I wasn't watching what was happening in the front. And it was at that moment, disguised by the feed zone and confident that the starch had been taking out of the leaders after chasing down my and Paul's breakaway, that Dave Zimbleman (the same guy who dominated the time trial, and who just won the 2011 World Masters Road Race in Belgium last week), snuck away on the side of the road. I never saw him and had no idea that he had gone up the road. He ended up staying away and winning the race by a good margin.

Meanwhile, we all stuck together and finished in a field sprint. I almost got dropped again on the steeper climb on Archie Briggs Road and was toward the back of the bunch all the way to the sprint trying to move up. Steve Palladino who had helped me before the time trial, helped me again coming into the sprint. He rallied a few of us that were coming unglued by taking monster pulls and closing the gap to the front group. I tried to help with a couple pulls of my own.

We couldn't get to the front on the narrow roads and two roundabouts leading to the long finishing straightaway sprint, though. And, when the road finally opened up it was just go as hard as you can as long as you can to try to move up a few places. I managed to keep passing guys and finished 19th. 

I finished 19th in the field sprint
The guys that took the podium spots were top sprinters. I never could have beaten them even if I was near them. For example, Bob Downs, who placed in both the criterium and road race with his awesome speed. So, reflecting on how the race unfolded, my attempt to make a breakaway work was a sensible thing to try, even if it didn't work.

The mistake was going with THAT breakaway, as Dave demonstrated. Another rule to remember: the winning breakaway will likely go late in the race, after earlier breakaways have been reeled in and everyone is too tired to chase. 

All in all, it was an epic week of racing and my best Nationals yet. I'm proud to have finally cracked the top 10, and to have finished in the field sprint for the podium spots in both the criterium and road race.

After the road race, one of the guys came up to me and commented that if there was a most-aggressive racer award I should get it. So, I was at least one of the guys who tried to make something happen in the race, and that's a lot better than getting dropped like in 2009 and 2010. I'm going to keep working and trying to get on the podium next year, or the next, or…. I hope you teammates can join me in Bend in 2012.

Monday, September 12, 2011

[Track] Friday Night Racing 2011/9/9

9/9 was the last Friday night of track racing in 2011, and it was a blast. Between the PG-13 commentary by Michael Hernandez and the free food and beer, Friday nights always draw out a big crowd on beautiful summer evenings in Hellyer Park. Here's how it went down:

Fact 1: When Anthony Borba tells you to not initiate a break in the scratch race, you initiate a break in the scratch race. With a few laps to go, it was just me and Mario Hernandez from Audi. On the final lap, Mario started pulling up in Turn 1 and I went for it hard down the sprinters lane and caught him off guard. Win 1.

Fact 2: Points races are hard, but with careful attention, they are winnable. Unless you're superhuman, trying to win every points lap (every five or ten laps, with points going 5-3-2-1 to the first four riders across the line) is going to result in dead legs. I was careful to keep track of my points vs. Mario's, and while Mario won the final lap, I ended the race with the most points. Win 2.

Fact 3: Whoever made the Win and Out is a sadist. It's 15 laps, followed by a bell on each successive lap for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on. The nasty part is that if you commit your effort for first place and it doesn't work out, then you're unlikely to have the legs for any decent place. Our 3/4s race was very slow for the first 12 laps, with nobody wanting to take a premature risk. Mario went with 3 laps before the first bell. I had him marked and quickly made the bridge (I think the sudden surge from slow to very fast caught many legs off guard.) On the final bell lap, I came around uptrack hard and hoped to god that I would have the legs to hold everyone off. Thankfully, I did, and the (very tense) race was over. Win 3.

Fact 4: Track makes me make crazy faces.

Fact 5:Track is crack.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Match Sprints at Hellyer Park Velodrome, 8/27/11

By Dennis Pedersen

This year the NCVA has held several Sprint For A Wish Series match sprint events. I raced my first event earlier this year and had a blast. I am getting to love the mix of brute power and tactics so typical of match sprints!

Nils and I carpooled to San Jose on a gorgeous, warm afternoon with highs in the mid-80s. A nice relief from Santa Cruz's drizzly mornings. Like usual, we first signed up, then warmed up for the timed 200-meter runs they use to "seed" us into groups, by speed. Last time I used 48x14 gears (also known as 90.1 gear-inches per the gearing calculator here) for this and liked it. I later tried that gearing for some mass-start races, and decided it was a better choice than the lower 48x15 (84.4 gear-inches) for them too.

The 200m runs sound easy, just cover 200m as fast as possible, but they are actually pretty tricky, and it's hard to time our efforts just right. It seems it's best to ride high along the outer railing of the track, accelerate exiting turn 4 into turn 1, and increase to 100% power just before we hit the start of the timed section in the exit from turn 2. Then angle down the banking into the inside edge of the track at the entrance to turn 3 and just try to maintain as much of that speed as possible out of turn 4 and across the finish line. It's hard to get the timing just right, and we try to study the approach that experienced racers take. It seems like there is more than one right way.

There was a light wind, so I didn't think any of us would set any new records for our 200m times... was I wrong! Nils improved to 12.48 seconds, and I improved to 12.66 seconds (from 13.08)! Even that put us both in the "B" group this time (the "A" riders were in the low 12s, with one guy even breaking into the 11s!).

Match sprints are usually just two guys on the track, the first one to cross the finish line wins. You might think we'd just sprint from the very start of each match. But... because of the tactical nature of racing, it usually ends up with a cat-and-mouse game between the two guys as each tries to time his attack for the maximum benefit and to avoid giving the other guy the advantage of a draft to follow. Each match would be just two 335m-laps, 670m total. I switched back to my 84.4-inch gearing for these, because the lower gearing really helps me "jump" from the low speeds we start at.

My first sprint was against Stefan Eberle, who I know well from the Tuesday night track races. I decided I preferred to let him take the lead and we slowly rode off after the whistle blew. We mostly just rode along, slowly, while watching each other. That's harder for the guy in the front though, which is one reason I wanted to follow him. On the second (last) lap he occasionally swooped down the banking a bit, as if to attack, only to swoop back up. That's done to make predicting his moves harder, but I maintained my position well. With about 250m to go I jumped 100% down from turn 2's banking and opened up a big gap ahead of him, watching him carefully to ensure he didn't pass me. He did approach me, but I beat him to the finish line. It's best to not go faster than you need to, so as to conserve energy for the following matches.

Next up was Alex (Alto Velo). I started ahead of him, but by forcing the pace a bit high, riding ahead of him and then up to the rail and backpedaling, I was able to get behind him. He then tried really hard to force me to lose my position behind him. Several times we almost did "track stands" (the Hellyer rules don't allow that; these races are slow enough already!). I then jumped from turn 2 as before, and took another win.

I was then matched against Tim Lydon (San Jose Bike Club), who I remember took 3rd at the State Criterium Championships the Sunday before. He also proved to be very crafty, swooping and sometimes almost stopping in order to get me out front. But I stayed firmly behind him, until turn 2 on the last lap when he slowed abruptly and started to bump into my right side from the banking above me. I held firm even though my handlebars vibrated from the impact, then jumped 100% for my sprint. But... I barely held him off for the win. My 84.4-inch gearing is woefully low against fast finishers like him. This may all sound scary, but we both agreed it was great fun!

Next was Judd. After simply leading me along for the first lap he then accelerated to a very high constant speed that I couldn't match... my cadence was so high I couldn't possibly spin the pedals any faster! I thought I might have been able to hold his wheel if I had used taller gearing, but I'm still not sure I could have ever passed him. He's fast, and a former State Champion. Oh well, can't win them all.

My last sprint was against Nils. He thought it would be really fun while I was a bit nervous at trying to beat such a fast, young guy. I finally decided to switch to my 90.1-inch gearing as a test... am I glad I did! He led the way, swooping and slowing at times, but I maintained my place behind him. And, once again in turn 2, I was able to time my jump perfectly: Just as he swooped up and looked over his right shoulder, I jumped down to his left and opened a big gap that he couldn't close. That taller gearing is really useful!

Man, I sure had fun. I haven't seen official results yet, but I know I did well. And I learned some more about tactics and gear choices to use in match sprints. One thing I did after these matches (in addition to retiring my 15-tooth sprocket!) was to buy new carbon handlebars, because the front-end of my bike shimmied frighteningly in hard sprints. I look forward to the next sprint event, on September 10th. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Embrunman Triathlon Race Report 8/15/2011

Hautes-Alpes, France August 15, 2011
by Benoit Pelczar

Having spent many months of August vacationing in the area in my youth, I was aware of the Embrunman Ironman-distance triathlon way before I started thinking about possibly doing it one day.

To try and understand the particularity of this race, I rode the bike course 2 years ago, over 2 days and on a rental bike. I rode the smaller loop of the figure 8 course one day and the bigger one the next day. I finished exhausted and with a total riding time of about 9 hours. What I learned from this was that renting a bike was not a satisfactory option (heavy and ill fitted) and that the course was to be taken seriously.

With a trip in France planned for the summer of 2011, I had intended to start preparing for the race about a year in advance, with a shift to a gradual bike focus over the winter. It turns out that I overraced during the summer and was sick from mid-August through mid-December. Once recovered, I started to train again, playing by ear and relying on the option to sign up a few weeks before the race if my preparation was going well.

In January, I started to seek the hills on each single bike ride, gradually increasing the total amount of climbing. This culminated with over 40 hours in July and 50,000' gain. My training was heavily weighted on the bike, by design, keeping the run work around half-marathon distance until a late push to the marathon one. 

My swim training was minimal, not by  choice but by necessity after a couple setbacks such as a sick family member in March and a self inflicted bike fall on Memorial Day which resulted in stitches on lip and finger as well as chipped teeth and a dead nerve needing root canal treatment one month later. Coincidentally, my load of business trips increased by about 50%. I did not panic and kept trying to get ready, though, as I trusted I could swim the distance, maybe slowly, but in an economical way which would not drain me too much for the rest of the day.

Having recovered from the bike fall and trusting I could prepare myself to take on the challenge, I registered for the race at the end of June.

Logistically, since renting a bike did not work out, I looked at shipping my bike to the race destination, to avoid having to carry it through airports and in a rental car. The quoted cost of about $400 each way made me look for an alternative and I bought a Pika Packworks bag.

I flew to France the first week of August, headed North for a family reunion before driving back South and reaching Embrun 6 days before the race.


I got to the transition area at 5 am, relaxed and feeling ready for the challenge ahead. 

There was a small line getting into transition. No big deal, I thought and started chatting with my neighbors. The line was not moving fast, though. Pretty soon, the women were cutting through, worried about missing their earlier start. 

By 5:20 am, the line started to move fast, after they stopped taking racers' signature. I was still strangely relaxed. I organized my area, pumped my tires, found my dad to give him my pump and was ready to go by 5:50 am.

My daughter and 2 nephews had raced the kids race the day before and they had lined them up in the transition area before having them gather on the beach for the actual start. 

I was in queue, in the transition area, waiting to be allowed on the beach when I heard a "start" signal. Surprised, I asked my neighbor "that's not the actual start, is it?". Sure, it was. Oh well, it was a long day ahead anyway, so I calmly waited my turn to get in the water and started swimming.

Earlier during the week I had had the hardest time escorting my fish-daughter in the water as she was training for her own race, before putting my wetsuit and having a bad swim, in contrast to the great swim I had had earlier in the English Channel. That bad swim dropped my confidence a bit but I waved it off as not being used to the elevation yet and stretching to keep up with my daughter.

The first buoy of 5 was easy to spot and I swam relaxed. The rest of course was tougher to navigate after that in the dark but I did an OK job, aiming for the Morgon peak out and the transition lights back. I understood my confusion a bit better on the second lap once I realized there were more buoys than the 5 described in the pre-race meeting. No problem since I was there to race the course and not a map on a slide.

I managed to find calm enough water, except for a swimmer with a very wide stroke whose right hand smacked me in the face. On both laps, at the same location, I felt hot in my wetsuit, made a mental note of it and wondered whether it was a sign of things to come.

I got out of the water, had a calm transition and got on my bike. I had no idea of my time as my stop watch died before the start, until I asked a racer if he had a split, which made me then estimate I had a 1:15 swim and a 5' transition.

My heart rate was elevated for the first 20 minutes out, despite my efforts to calm myself, but surely due to the excitement of the race and the 2000' climb right out of transition. It is not until the start of the downhill back into Embrun I realized I had been moving very fast. I instantaneously lowered my target HR but it had little impact on my downhill speed. I passed Les Crots after riding for only 1:30 while it had taken me 1:45 earlier in the week at my target pace. That difference freaked me out and I made sure to ride extra easy from that point on. I was hoping to see my supporter crew of family and friends but figured they had probably missed me due to my unexpected fast pace.

I was trying to drink a little more than planned due to my hot feeling in the swim while staying on my eating plan and was moving at a satisfactory pace and low heart rate until we started the Izoard climb where it became more difficult to do so while maintaining forward motion. 

I made sure I did not come close to my red zone, stopped eating but started on the Coke I had grabbed at the bottom. I made it at the top by 12:05, right on my estimated pace and rewarded myself with sitting at a picnic table to eat the treats I had dropped in my support bag.

I had really enjoyed the descent 2 years ago and did again this time, despite getting cold through the unprotected parts of my legs. I focused on drinking and eating plenty, bracing myself for the rest of the course. By 1 pm, I starting having negative thoughts so I refocused on eating and drinking, which helped. By close to 2 pm, I finally saw my family, lined up by Champcella on the steepest section of the whole course. They had been there early enough to watch the leaders.

 It really gave me a boost to see them. I was wondering whether they would try and follow me and wondered when I would see them next. At the same time I was bracing myself for the last climb (Chalvet) which I had found difficult both 2 years ago and again this week when pre-riding it. To my surprise, I found a second wind and did not suffer too much that time.

After the last fast, twisty and gravelly downhill, I was back in transition by 3:40 pm where I was greeted by my family again. I took my time to get ready and started to run, my favorite event.

I moved well for about 5 km before hitting a wall. I was unsure what was happening as my HR was low and decided it had to be the heat. Strangely I never recognized it on the bike, but my Garmin could not lie, reading above 90F. It is only then I realized it had not even occurred to me to train for a hot run. Well, it was late to prepare so now I had to deal with it. 

One of my goals was to run the whole marathon and I threw it quickly out of the window, making a deal to walk up and run the flats and downs. That lasted only so long before I started to walk even flat sections.

I then forgot about any type of time goal, calculated I could finish within the time limits even walking at 6 km/h and focused on making sure I would not get pulled for medical reasons. One motivation was to not leave unfinished business and save the option to not race that course again. I was trying to drink a lot and eat a little.

By the 25 km I vomited the little food I had, after which I limited my calorie intake even more. I found my running legs at seemingly random intervals before losing them again without notice. I distracted myself talking to racers around me, who had a story strangely similar to mine, and playing with volunteers or spectators.

By 9 pm I had 4 km to go and was walking with a gentleman hoping to break 15:30. I had a click and decided I wanted to finish with as much light as possible (the sun had just set) and started running at a good pace. The barn effect must have worked as I crossed the line elated, with family members in tow - once I realized it was encouraged by the organizers - around 9:20 pm.

I thought I was done but not quite. I gathered my gear only to stand for 20’ in line to get out of transition and exchanging the chip for a 10 Euro bill. People were falling like flies around me and I was starting to get dizzy myself by the time I rejoined my family. 

I sat down on the ground while they were getting organized to leave when they surprised me with a Champagne shower which was the perfect conclusion of a day of racing amongst family, friends and fellow endurance athletes.

Monday, August 22, 2011

NCNCA Masters State Criterium Championships, 50-54

By Dennis Pedersen

I've never raced the State Criterium Championships before, or been to Clovis, just north of Fresno, or been to a race with "Medical Control." I was able to check all of those things off my "bucket list" this weekend. While I was not excited about the 3-hour-long drive alone, I was happy to escape the chilly drizzle in Santa Cruz for a bit. This was my first year in the 50-54 age group, so I figured it was as good a year as any to try to win a coveted California State Championship jersey.

When I arrived in quaint Old Town Clovis I got to see John Schaupp race in the 55-59 field, and former teammate Amy Russo stand on the top of the podium for the Women's 45-49 race! Congratulations!

The flat course had 8 turns through a nice older downtown neighborhood, with clean, smooth pavement. A slight wind kept temperatures comfortable in the mid-70s. The announcer was none other than Bruce Hildenbrand. I warmed up a bit and ate a gel, feeling very relaxed and strong (thanks in part to advice from our team coaches!).

At the start line we counted just 17 riders in our field. I figured that would make for a safer, more fun race. On the other hand, most of them were guys with a legitimate chance of doing well, not just novices. Our race started a few minutes late, about 11:15, and was to go for 45 minutes.

When they blew the whistle we all clipped in and I was third wheel, right on World Champion Larry Nolan's wheel (Team Specialized Racing Masters). That's always a nice start! But he soon tired of being followed around and pulled out of the line and dropped back. The guy in front of me (I think from Team Bicycles Plus/Sierra Nevada) pulled for a couple of laps. Nobody came around, but he seemed happy to pull.

Then came our first attack: A rider in a black/red/yellow kit I didn't recognize jumped hard into turn 3 and soon had a nice gap on us, maybe 15 seconds, that he held for a few laps. Pretty impressive actually. But we soon caught him, thanks in part to me taking a hard 1-lap pull. I always debate whether I should pull, but I almost always end up deciding I should, in the interest of keeping the pace high and the race safe (worked; no crashes, in any of the races all day!).

After we caught that guy Larry jumped in the same place, into turn 3. Everybody reacted instantly and it started to feel like a real race! He didn't pull for too long though, and I really think it was just his idea of a hard tempo pace to string the pack out, not an attempt to escape us. Because after a few turns he looked back to see if anybody would pull through; they didn't. So, the pace relaxed again.

A few guys took pulls, as did I again, but it was clear most guys just wanted to conserve energy for the last lap. Smart, but boring. I think others started to feel the same way because then a guy from Safeway, I think Jonathan Laine, jumped ahead and gapped us for a little but was caught after a hard effort. Same went for the black/red/yellow jersey guy when he again attacked. Larry tried to speed things up again and when he was done pulling he even made an exaggerated sweeping gesture to get others to pull through. He said to me, "Dennis, nobody else wants to pull," which I took as a compliment to my humble efforts. Neither of us had teammates so it was incumbent on us to shape the race as best we could, though it is always frustrating when team riders don't appear to be making the same effort as we solo riders. That's just the way things are, it seems.

I was gasping a bit at times, but still felt good. I was really hoping the 8-turn course and small field would equalize things a bit for the guys just trying to rest at the back, since our pace would be smoother at the front and our draft would be weaker than in a big field, but I know I burned more energy than most of them did. Even so, with just a handful of laps remaining I was able to repsond to the increasing pace and even dared to hope I could be fresh enough for a strong sprint.

We were now hyper-alert, and a very hard attack from a Davis Bike Club rider was caught, barely. I was happy I could breathe for a bit at that point! Then Jess Raphael (VOS) really jumped with 1/2 lap to go... yikes! I'm not sure it helped his teammate, but I saw an opportunity to execute my own plan: I had decided early on that I wanted to start my sprint rather early, maybe 300m from the finish line, so I could avoid being squeezed against the curbs in the last turns and pushed back. And that's where Jess ran out of steam. As I flew through turn 7 I went hard around him and did a seated sprint into turn 8. I remained seated and spun fast toward the finish line ahead, with maybe a 20- to 30-foot gap, keeping close to the left barriers to deny any draft from the headwind slightly from the right. I really thought I might soon own a California Champion's jersey!

But early sprints are always risky and with just 50m to go several guys flew by me on my right side, while my lungs heaved for oxygen. Darn. I was hoping for a podium finish at least; while I think I counted 5 guys ahead of me I actually took 5th, per the official results. Sadly, while the podium had 5 steps on it, they only gave awards to the top 3: Steven Giles (VOS), Larry Nolan and Tim Lydon (San Jose Bike Club). I applauded them anyway, while hoping for a better result next time.

It took a long time before my breathing returned to normal; I really did give it all I had. I tried my best and finished honorably, proud that I had animated the race as best I could while still finishing well. And the 3-hour drive home was nice and relaxing, with beautiful views.

Friday, August 19, 2011

District State Championship RR 2011

District State Championship Road Race 2011

Steve Heaton 45-49

~ Two Man Flyer ~

I was rested and ready to battle for victory against some of the strongest guys in my category. I took a sunny 10min nap in my hammock right before I left for the race that day. I knew without a doubt my fitness was good. Earlier in the week and the prior week I did a couple tests to see what level of power I was producing. My FTP, VO2 and Sprint results showed high output holding peak fitness from 2 months ago.

This year’s Championship race was held in Monterey offering me home course advantage. I have won a few races here making it more likely for me to do well. The beauty of District Championships is the course changes over the years to accommodate riders throughout the district. It effectively levels the playing field for everyone to have a chance at a Championship title. Some years altitude friendly riders have the advantage other year’s skinny frail climbers and finally this year power riders like myself. The CCCX race series is held on the same course runs from Jan 30 ends Oct 1. I’m leading the series overall with two races remaining.

The race almost always ends up with a breakaway. I wasn’t going to let any sizeable group go up the road without me in it.

Ding Dong the race is on……………………….. Literally it was on from the start!

Immediate attack and five riders go up the road. With five teams represented I noticed at least one super strong guy and I couldn’t just sit back and watch them roll out of sight. So I kept the pace high and would attack at 90% with lots of body language to see if I could light a spark under the belly of the beast. With one lap down and nothing from the pack I threw down a serious 110% attack and bridged up to the breakaway by myself.

No one is going to escape me today!

Upon arrival I noticed one guy pulling mostly and the others hanging on desperately. I recovered from my attack to bridge up, looked back and we had a decisive gap. I decided to see what we can make of it since we now have 6 teams represented.

By the end of the second lap it’s just me and Dirk?

I usually only mention my teammates names because my race reports are about me and how I experienced the race including teammates but this guy (Dirk) and I ended up riding like teammates.

I Said to Dirk “it’s just us.” He just kept on pushing the pace and I synced up. The pace felt like we only had one lap remaining but in reality it was the beginning of many to come. Next thing I know we have 8 laps to go with 40mins down and 1h20mins of racing remaining. I’m thinking this is a huge effort so far with two times as much required to finish it. Between the two of us we had just two teammates in the pack that could do any potential blocking. The odds of us two holding off the peloton was highly unlikely. We charged forward like two horses on a race track going round and round full speed ahead.

The daunting challenge ahead seemed endless with the amount of time required to pull off the two man flyer. I focused on hydration and food intake to make sure I wouldn’t fall apart late in the race. To give you an idea of how hard I had to ride, I would pull at 90-100% efforts between 30sec and 2min with recover efforts at 75-90%. For those of you with power L4/5 – L3/4 with very little at 75%/L3. Even on the down hills we would literally sprint into the downhill and sling shot past each other over and over. It was a crazy fast pace but it’s what it takes to hold off the pack especially with a Championship title on the line.

After 1hr 30min (9laps into it) our lead stayed around 1min 30secs. With 4 laps to go the official car came up to us and said a chase group of 10 guys is charging hard after you. With 3 laps to go on the long straight I could just start to see them. Dirk could tell I was getting nervous and said if we still have a good gap with two laps to go we can take this race. I put my head down and proceeded to hammer it out.

Two laps and I can see the chase on the long straight away getting closer. I’m really feeling the pressure to not slow and push through the pain. We held our pace pretty well but with 10 hungry rested and strong guys chasing with less than two laps remaining it wasn’t looking good. As we came into the finish stretch with one lap remaining I looked back and the chase is charging really hard with 15sec gap to us.

Turn on the volume

We hammered it out on the long flat section in hopes they would hesitate looking at each other but then I knew it was over. I eased up and let Dirk set the pace on the stretch of road he liked pulling. With about half lap to go (5mins to finish) on the first riser they sprinted past in order to drop us and that they did. I attempted to go with but didn’t have it. As I watched them roll away I said to myself “YOU HAVE ONE LAST CHANCE – NOW OR NEVER”. Don’t let the last two hours of hard fought effort turn to nothing.

I stood up again and went all out like my life depended on it. I felt if I could catch them and recover before the start of the climbing section I have a chance. Then if I make the first climb the rest are rollers into a strong headwind and no one will want to be in front and the pace might slow enough for me to recover before finish sprint.

I was able to catch them and did make the climb. I was so elated and now feeling like I had a shot at a good finish. As we approach the final turn to start our sprint I’m about five back and would rather be first or second back but couldn’t power my way into that position. We jump for the line and I don’t have the power in my legs to sprint past these guys but I held my position and beat half the group for 5th place.

Me on the left coming to the line and pretty much sums up the experience as I approached the line. A blur...........

After the race I felt like a million bucks with my adrenaline still pumping. I put everything I had into it and ended up on the podium. I could have been conservative and not go in a two man flyer the entire race since the odds were against us pulling it off (I was fully aware of it at the time). I could of sat in the pack and responded to others and most likely would have ended the race in the final group or pack sprint with fresher legs and placed better than 5th. I made a choice to push myself beyond what I thought was possible. I challenged my own perceptions of my ability and believed in myself without hesitation. You can’t put a placing on that! Talk about putting it all on the line? Dirk and I held off the pack the entire race! It required a chase group of 10 guys some of the strongest competitors in the race to real us in with half lap to go.

What an exciting day of racing!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 Masters Districts State Championship - 55-59 Mens

Finally, A Podium Spot At Districts
By Jim Langley

Late Sunday start = small group
The ironic thing about this year's District Championships is that I almost didn't enter it. I've gotten so used to the long trek to Markleeville to race at elevation, that having the venue changed to our popular CCCX circuit race course at Fort Ord seemed all wrong.

More a weekend crit than a championship road race
There would be no major climbs; nice, thick sea-level air; and surely no skinny Nevada fastmen. Plus, with a high chance of a bunch sprint finish, it seems more like a criterium than a road race worthy of district's status.

But worst, my race was to be the last of the day, starting at 4:50 Sunday afternoon. Talk about messing up my training for Nationals!

Home field advantage
But then two things convinced me to register. Bob Montague, who was such a big help at the Madera Road Race emailed saying he wanted to ride for me. And a little later Steve Heaton told me I'd be crazy not to enter since it's essentially our home course and we've all done so well there in the circuit races, and because I'm in peak form. Excellent points.

Then Kem Akol let me know he was signing up, making 3 strong Bike Trip/Symantec double-nickel teammates (as it turned out we had one of the largest teams in our group). And finally Coach Mark decided to enter the 50+ and offered to drive. Be sure to check out the iPhone video at the bottom showing his group flying down the descent (Geoff and Matt are in the pack too).

Rob Anderson tearing our legs off - Bob looking strong
Rob does his thing
As for our 55+ race, if you enlarge the photo on the right and look at Masters State, National and World Champion Rob Anderson's grimace (he's the guy in front in Specialized red), it pretty much sums up how our race went.

The official blew his whistle to start us, Rob was kind enough to let our small group (about 23 riders) click into our pedals, and then he hit his electric shifter, and a higher gear, and punched it - flat out.

Grab a wheel and hang on
We went from a let's-warm-up-a-little 15mph to a quad-cramping 30mph in about 20 pedal strokes, and we stayed at that speed for about 4 minutes before Rob had to take a breather. Then, about a minute later he did the same thing.

This exact pattern repeated for the first 6 laps, at which point there were only 7 of us left in the lead group, a nice chase group of 7 or 8, more than a minute back, and a few solo riders left. The rest had abandoned to race another day.

A helpful headwind
Luckily for me, it's not so easy to breakaway on the CCCX course. There are a series of rollers on the backside of the course but there's a headwind there that means all you have to do is hide behind someone and not get gapped and it's unlikely whoever is trying to drop you in front will be able to generate the watts to do it, since you're working nowhere near as hard as they are.

Mark wins! Rob is second. Steve takes third.
This worked great for me through the 7th lap and I felt pretty good when we came to the backside of the course where it's relatively flat. While I may have felt good, in retrospect I think I must have gone a little brain dead because as Rob sat up, I decided to attack myself. Why should he have all the fun?

Dumb move
I was able to open a small gap but Rob chased me down pretty quickly. I rested a bit and then jumped again with Mark Caldwell pulling me back this time.

I knew what would happen next: Rob punched it again trying to shake me. I was okay until we hit the rollers and there, my legs, softened now from my attacks, just gave out and I got dropped.

I recovered really fast though and managed to chase and actually catch the group (they had slowed to a crawl), but when they realized I was back on, Rob went again and I got dropped for good.

Down but not out
I ended up time trialing in, dropping one guy who was dogging me, staying ahead of the chase group behind me and taking the last podium spot. It's my best districts finish ever and by far the closest I have ever been to Rob Anderson.

Rob, Mark Caldwell and Steve Palladino came into the sprint together and went 2, 1, 3. Jonathan Sek must have been dropped like me and time trialed in for 4th. A spectator told me that Mark was much faster to the line than Rob. I wish I had been there.

I'll wrap this up with a special thanks to John Schaupp, who had a big win in the 55+ at Dunnigan Hills on Saturday. Instead of kicking back, recovering at home, he was out on the course cheering us on and handing up bottles. Thanks, John and congrats!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mtn Bike Nationals 2011

Cat 1 45-49 XC
Looking for lady luck!

The race was held on Mt. Baldy, the nation’s oldest ski resort mountain. At the foot of the Mtn looking up the face is when the pain of what’s in store became all so real. The trails are some of the most fun single track I have ever been on. Ripping, rolling, twisting, banking turns, trees to dodge and tight switchbacks. The climb though is brutal and it’s virtually impossible not to go anaerobic and blow up quickly (for me anyway.) It’s an 18min single track with little to no passing. It starts out steep with loose rock and root step up and overs (repeated interval format).

 Once you make it through then it’s just steady hard climbing until you reach the final 7mins on fire road to the top. At that point you have to go all out to secure position because its one of the only places you can pass.

                                        Leaving the single track to finish off the climb on to the fire road.

Once over the top it’s a long downhill to the finish line.

Let it fly

My favorite section – hit this at speed catching the lip to launch 8ft out and 3ft down into the left banking turn up over and down. Soooooo much fun!

Getting close to bottom - Watch out for the switchback or you might end up on the direct route to the bottom.

Last drop in to disappering trail before finish "Rock Wall"
                                                         Side view of disappering trail on Rock Wall

Michele and I arrived 10 days ahead for me to acclimate since I typically have a difficult time at altitude. I pre-road the race course actual distance four times before in order to get to know all the challenging sections. I was monitoring food intake before and during along with hydration. Paid attention to how much time I needed to warm up before going hard on course. I wanted to be sure and have my tire pressure, shock pressure and handling skills dialed for the descent. The climb was about knowing how much effort to dose at what time. I would adjust my efforts to handle the technical, rocky, rooty and loose ascent. By knowing the trail and my ability I could be more confident and comfortable under pressure in the race. Knowing around the next corner comes a little relief or get ready to really suffer can make all the difference in the heat of battle. At the bottom of the Mtn we did a loop around the ski lodge area where they man made a rock garden like the rock wall but this was a 50 meter boulder field that was impossible to find a clean line and seemed to just thrash not only the bike but my body.
The hight of these rocks 4-10 inches and scattered no way around them.
As the week went by my plan was to slowly adjust to the altitude by riding easy first day on road followed by a day on course followed by recovery day or two then back on course. Each time I rode the course I would go a bit harder working my way up to race pace. Three days before race was to be my last hard day. Followed by a day off then an easy pre-ride on the lower section to work out the kinks on the two rock garden sections and how I would position for the start of the race. Every other pre-ride was brutally hard and would cripple me for a day. By the fifth day two times on course I was so discouraged I wanted to go home. The altitude was so intense every time up the climb. It’s like doing stair step technical intervals about 20-30sec VO2 max + efforts with no recovery for 15mins and half lung capacity. I would blow up on just about every effort and have to stop or come to a crawl and try to recover. Usually for me it’s my legs that give out not my lungs so this was very frustrating to know I’m not pushing myself to my limits. The climb was 20-24mins overall times two laps. Once to the top it’s all downhill to the finish making it all the more important to let it all out holding nothing back.
I was doing all the right things to adjust to altitude. Not eating much sugar, no alcohol, higher carbs, lots of fluids to stay hydrated, not pushing myself too hard too soon and plenty of rest. After the fifth day I decided I needed some relief from all the structure, planning and commitment I give to cycling. I went with what I tell my clients about training. All the best plans and structure don’t mean anything if you’re not mentally comfortable. So I drank wine, did a couple pints of ice cream and had a couple steaks over the last five days leading up to the race. I needed comfort foods to help keep me calm and relaxed.

My last pre-ride went really well (day 7) and I was feeling like I might have turned the corner. The next day I was really tired but felt I would flush it out the day before the race on my final pre-ride and I did. I went from feeling helpless to OK and ready to race.

I practiced every step of the race. I did a simulation pre-race warm up the day before. I have a 10min downhill ride to the race venue and it would be 42deg so I didn’t want to arrive cold and stiff. I wrote out a checklist on when I would wake up and times when I would need to do something (take supplement, coffee, purge, dress, shower, warm up, and depart). I had my road bike set-up on a stationary trainer in garage to do a 25mins warm up then charge down the hill to the course with enough time to do the first prologue climb and rock garden. This would also allow me to figure out what to wear. By the end of my pre-ride on Friday I was confident I had done everything I could to be ready for this race. In my final bike prep I decided to up the air pressure in my rear tire by 4psi and 1psi in the front due to the speeds I knew I would be entering the rock garden. I was worried about a rear flat.

~ Race day ~

I woke up motivated and feeling good about the day ahead. I followed the schedule I planned out leading up to the race. Once on the start line I felt a little flat. I have felt this feeling many times before. My body seems to not let me push as hard on warm up knowing I’m about to go ballistic off the line for the duration of the race.

Final mental prep

Chatting with friend B-4 race.

Ding – ding and the race is on…………
   I immediately took the lead into the first section of trail.

Incase you didn't see me I'm the guy lighting it up on the far right.

                                          The race is on!!!

Rounding the lodge past start/finish headed to the "Rock Garden"

Through the rock garden and into the long single track climb lined with waves of riders as far as the eye can see. Like a heard of elk making their way up a mtn. so the situation is no line to pass and everyone is standing waiting to walk.

People are yelling “go go” or “let me pass” like there is anywhere for anyone to go? After a few minutes I hear guys forging up the trail passing others. I decided I must start passing on the hillside whenever possible. After 10mins of this crap it thins a little and back on bike. By the time I reach the top I’m in a top position. The descent is so much fun. The best way to describe it would be like riding a roller coaster. Once at the bottom its one lap to go and one more time up the climb. Now that it’s thinned out I’m able to ride without interruptions and passing is allowed if you can.

Once off the single track and on the fire road climb (7mins) to the top I asked myself?
Am I hurting enough? The answer is NO so I crank up the cadence and search for bigger gears until I'm over the top.

Now for the final descent to the finish and it looks like top five (after further video analysis between 3-5th place).
I decided I was going to let it all hang out because you never know what’s going to happen on the descent and might catch guys with mechanicals or guys who can’t descend fast. I went ballistic on the fire road descent (like riding on marbles) hair raising speed. Threaded the needle to the single track and was feeling confident on a top placing at Nationals. About three turns into it I washed out in a turn and almost crashed at high speed on a narrow trail (I yelled out haaaahhh in total fear).
I remained calm and kept riding by slowing down while thinking of what to do. Final 3mi to the bottom on a narrow technical and twisty trail with racers wanting to pass full throttle.

I went “ALL IN” I didn’t bring anything to fix a flat thinking I had pre-rode four times and had tire pressure dialed. This was a climber’s course and me being a bigger guy on a heaver bike I decided to reduce all weight possible since I rarely ever flat in a race. Plus I knew if I flatted my chances of holding whatever position I was in would be gone. Well, it wasn’t in the cards and a bad luck day. I quickly remembered that the tires have a tight grip on the rim and decided to ride it to the finish. I slowly increased my speed until I found my limit to be able to control the bike. I also had to listen for riders coming up on me and slam on my brakes and lean over into the hillside to let them pass without holding them back. I got a lot of acknowledgments from guys for riding it out. It seemed like it took forever to descend. I ran down the rock wall jumped on my bike and sprinted the last 200 meters to the finish line.

I was devistated at the time to say the least. turn on volume and listen to announcer

It wasn’t in the cards for me on this day. I did everything I could do to be prepared physically, mentally and with my equipment. If I get to go next year the only thing I would do different would be to add 3psi to front tire. Everything else went as planned. This has been the year of bad luck with my equipment in one way or another. I have never in 20yrs had so much bad luck in races. On the flip side I have 7 wins + 4 podiums so even though my two peak events didn’t go as planned my season has been a success to date. My motivation is still high even though my season has reached its peak. I have a few more events to do to cap off the season and I’m looking forward to redeeming myself. Shit happens in races and how we overcome the obstacles is what makes us better prepared for future events. This was just a day in time that didn’t go as planned.  Once again I never gave up and finished 17th (not last).