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Last Saturday marked one of the last races of the season, and it was also one of the hardest road races on the calendar.   About 80 Pro/1/2 riders lined up for the start of the River Gorge Road Race in Chattanooga, TN.  The start list was strong with a strong representation from top riders such as Michael Olheiser (CashCall Mortgage), Wintston David (United Healthcare 706 Project), Shawn Gravois (United Healthcare 706), Jonathan Jacob (Bissell-ABG Giant), Stephen Bassett (Texas Roadhouse), and many other top riders.

We wanted to have a mix of riders up the road and riders in the field so we could ensure representation in the final climbs.  We started the race off with a flurry of hard attacks.  My Litespeed-BMW teammates, Hank Beaver and Tim Henry, were lighting up the front with hard sprints and counter attacks that were even harder.  Hank crushed a few massive sprints and almost got away.  Just as he was caught, Tim countered and made it off the front in a 2 man break with a rider from Max Bendorf.  As one of the riders tagged to get up the road, I attacked the pack around mile 8 at the first climb.  I crested with a few other riders and then attacked up the left side just off Olheisers shoulder right inside the yellow line.  There was an immediate response from Olheiser and a few others.  Mike came to the front and nobody would pull through.  There were a bunch of guys yelling at their teammates “Don’t work, he’s a pro, don’t work, he’s a pro.”  I thought that was a little silly since the guy was all alone and everyone knew he’s a strong pro, but I’m not sure you need to call it out like that so loudly.  In any event, I could see that he realized the entire pack was focused on him which meant that he wouldn’t try to get in a break right at that moment.  I attacked again on the next small climb, and he let me go this time.  I was followed by Brendan Sullivan (Lupus) and a United Healthcare p/b 706 rider who I assume was Ryan Sullivan.   Brendan came to the front immediately and then we all started rotating up the road.  We were gone quickly and left the pack within seconds of our attack.  More importantly, they let us go and focused on Olheiser as we rode away from them over some steep rollers.  After about 5 miles we reached my Litespeed-BMW teammate, Tim Henry, who was already up the road.  I realized that most of the guys who were on the front when I got away were not the same guys who were on the front when Tim got away, and I was confident that nobody realized there were now 2 Litespeed-BMW teammates together in a break of 5 riders now.  This quickly becoming a nice race strategy, but we were still only about 12 miles into a hilly 60 mile race with several steep climbs ahead including a very steep 2.5 mile climb at mile 28.  We rotated as a 5 man breakaway and built up at least a minute gap over the field by ~ mile 18-ish when suddenly another Litespeed-BMW teammate, Chris Brown, arrived via a bridge move that included Jonathan Jacobs from Bissell.  Now, we are around 18 – 20 miles into a 60 mile race with about a 90 second gap and 3 Litespeed-BMW teammates in a breakaway of 7 riders.  I have to admit that it was probably at this point that I lost my head a bit and focused entirely on driving the gap wider.  I’m not sure that was the best strategy, but all I could think about was extending a gap that I thought was hovering at 1 min.  In reality, it was likely 2 minutes and growing.  The 4 non-teammates decided that we were too dangerous with 3 out of 7 riders, so they sat on the back and forced the 3 of us to form a team time trial rotation in front of them.  I tried to gap them off a few times for not helping, and that prompted a few rotations of participation from a few riders, but I should have done that several times to create more teamwork.  They needed us to keep it going and should have contributed to the rotation by at least pulling through.  On the other hand, both 706 and Lupus had strong climbers in the field, so they could argue that they didn’t need to work.  However, if you keep that line of thinking, we had our protected climber in the field, as well.  So, I’m not sure how all that plays out, and we didn’t bother to discuss this with them anyway, so it doesn’t matter.  I think my teammates were thinking along the same lines as me in terms of extending the gap, so we started drilling it a bit on a few climbs which opened up small gaps as the other riders in the break either realized how much climbing was ahead or just didn’t want to allow us to dictate a hard pace up the climbs.  If we fast forward ahead to Sand Mountain, we reached the tough climb with close to a 3 minute gap.  We thought that the field was chasing and only 1 minute back, but I now realize they were likely almost 3 minutes back at this point and not chasing at all.  The officials didn’t give us a time split, so I was flying blind and assumed it was a 1 minute gap to the field.  The goal was to get over the climb ahead of the field and join the front chase group on the descent of the climb.  I knew that I was 10lbs heavier than last year and also had just spent 1 hour helping to drive a fast breakaway that built a nice gap, so my gut was telling me that there was going to be a good chance that the front of the field would catch me at the top of the climb.  I decided to push it was hard as I could climb and see what happens.  Now, if we stop and analyze what would have been ideal, that would have been a slow tempo climb to allow me to recover and save my already tired legs given the massive gap.  I didn’t have a time split, so I rode the hill with a lot of the reserves left at this point.  Unfortunately, I did not eat enough (or at all?) in the break during the prior hour, so I created a bad situation going into a tough climb.  I did drink both of my bottles, but that isn’t enough calories at the front of an hour breakaway which probably burned around 1,000 calories alone.  I think 2 bottles may have given me 200 calories since I decided not to make it too strong that day.  As we started the climb, our break split into two groups.  The front group of Brendan Sullivan, Chris Brown, Ryan Sullivan (I think), and Jonathan Jacob went ahead.  I latched on the back, but I was focused on riding a slightly slower pace.  I tried to keep them within about 20 yards for the first 1k, about 40 yards in the next 1k, etc…for 4k.  By the top, they were out of sight and about 45 seconds ahead of me.  I was riding about 30 watts below my 10 min peak on a 12 – 13 min climb, so I wasn’t going too hard, but given that I was in a breakaway the prior hour, it was pretty hard.  I crested the mountain, grabbed two bottles from Tim’s dad, and then started waiting for the others from the break.  He’s the deal….why ride ahead of the others at a faster pace only to sit up and wait for them while alone at the top?  What was I doing?   My thought process was that a minute gap required me to ride at a certain pace that was harder to crest with the leaders in the chase group likely coming up behind us from the field.  In reality, I waited for about 10 – 15 seconds, then I soft pedaled for another 30 seconds before I could see anyone cresting.  Finally, I saw a group of four way behind me at this point.  I continued to soft pedal, and they reached me a couple minutes later.  At this point, I was reunited with my teammate and breakmate Tim Henry plus a friend from Alabama named Brian Toone.  There were two other riders with them.  Even though I was soft pedaling, I suddenly realized that I was bonking.  I quickly got on the back of their group and started to eat instead of rotating.  I told Brian that I’d start pulling as soon as I could eat some food.  I always feel more comfortable eating on the back when I’m with guys who know I’m not playing games and legitimately need to eat.  When I was done, I came to the front to pull as we started our descent.  As soon as I pulled off, Mike Olheiser (CashCall Mortgage) flew, and I mean flew, by me at about 50mph.  We were probably going 40mph, and he came by at 50mph about a few inches to my left on the descent.  I didn’t see or expect him, so I’m glad I didn’t do anything stupid as I pulled off.  Then, it was on, and the descent was suddenly a swarm of fast climbers who were rested and recovered and ready to race the final 30 miles of River Gorge.  With about half the race left, I could feel that I was still tired, but I was recovered (I thought) and ready to follow along.  I sat in the draft of the next 17 miles until we hit some stair steps.  I came to the front to help cover moves, and I immediately felt very little energy.  As soon as Mike Stone and Olheiser attacked the front group of now 15 riders, my legs locked up for the first time all day.  It was at that time that I realized one of my best races was going to quickly disintegrate into something terrible if I didn’t conserve immediately.  I tried to stay to the front with my teammates, but more cramping followed.  I didn’t try to survive, just stayed there a few more minutes and faded off the back.  I did my job well, but I also rode too aggressively and was paying the price.  I don’t have the time to hit the gaps on long training days due to work/life, so my longest climb is 550 feet at Kennesaw Mountain at 1.2 miles in length.  The 2.5+ mile Sand Mountain at the end of a 1hr break filled with climbs was just too much climbing for me, and my legs were now making me pay the price.  I came off and soft pedaled with a teammate in a similar situation.  We soft pedaled for about 3 minutes recovering before we saw the next chase group of 15 – 20 riders who had no idea how far back they were from the lead chase group which contained most of the top 5 riders in the end.  They were going pretty hard, so we let them and another group of stragglers go ahead.   That was essentially the end of the race for us.  It was my first race riding in a break ahead of one of the most crucial sections in a lead break or chase in 5th position only to end up near last.  The casual race fan doesn’t understand that this is all part of racing as a team and the reason why riders go off in breaks only to get caught and finish near last as the pack swarms them.   However, they have a rested teammate who didn’t have to chase the entire race as a result of their effort, so it is more important than sometimes apparent.

The race finished well for Litespeed-BMW.  My teammate who made it over the climb from our original 7 man break, Chris Brown, was caught in the final section of the finishing climb to get 12th and our best climber, Anders Swanson, finished a very strong 7th place.  When we get top results like that, it makes all the hard work and sometimes bad personal finishes all worthwhile!

Next up is a little time on my new Litespeed cyclocross bike to get used to dirt again while continuing road training with a final race on the calendar in Greenville, SC on Sept. 14th and 15th at the SRS Southeast Region Championship Series crit/road race.  Then, the first cyclocross race is two weeks later in Dalton, GA…..  No rest for the working and racing man…..

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Been a few weeks since the last blog post, so I’ll recap the last three events and my Cat 1 upgrade.

State TT – Serenbe

The Georgia State Time Trial Championships was held at a cool planned community in Serenbe called Serenbe Farms.  If you’ve never been down there to see it firsthand, it’s definitely worth a quick trip south.  This was my first real time trial of any decent distance, so I was a little concerned with pacing.  I took the old, but very new to me, TT O’Flames bike out and gave it my best.  I ended up with a time of 52s 59m for 40k which was 4th fastest on the day and 2nd in Cat 2.   Since it was only my 3rd TT and maybe 4th time on the TT bike, my fit is terrible and my Adamo Road Racing seat is way too wide.  I have no clue what I’m doing with my TT setup, but I hate the idea of spending more money on a fit than the TT bike cost.  I’m going to race TT O’Flames another year before I invest in a new bike and fit.  However, the wide Adamo stretched my groin to the point where I could be barely bend over after the race and took me at least a full week to repair those muscles.   Based on the pictures from the race, I do know that I have to shorten up my reach so I am less stretched out next year, but I don’t want to worry too much about something that I’ll maybe do three or four times all season.

Litespeed-BM East Atlanta Twilight Criterium

By far, this is one of the coolest races on the calendar.  Our team and sponsors host this race, but I’d say that regardless because it is an incredible setting for a criterium.  The atmosphere down there at night is electric, and it is a perfect venue for spectating.  We had bad weather all day, but it was clear with only damp conditions for the Pro/1/2 race at 8pm.   I’m a good bike handler, but I am not a confident bike handler.  There is a small distinction, so I’ll explain.  If you told me that I would be paid to rail a specific tight corner in the rain at 30 mph which was extremely dangerous, I could probably stick it perfectly.  However, it would require extreme focus and confidence that I can’t seem to generate for every turn throughout a race.  My natural instinct is to play it safe on corners, give up spots wherever I feel there could be danger, and try to use my sprint to close the gaps that I’m creating for myself with an overly cautious approach.  I think that I do this more than most riders on a dry course in a P/1/2 race, but it is less severe differences, and I can jump harder coming out of turns to make up the gap faster.  On a wet course, my gaps were hard to close since I was uncomfortable stomping on the pedals until I was more upright to avoid sliding out the rear which is common when riders start pedaling hard on a wet corner.   I think this contributed to my struggles at EAV, but there was another factor that I felt.  I train very hard on Tuesday Night Crit and Tucker to sprint for 10 sec out of the saddle and then settle into a VO2 / level 5 zone at what is a very high 5 minute – 15 minute wattage.  However, I very rarely train where I’m jumping hard out of the saddle and sprinting for 5 seconds every 10 – 15 seconds.  I felt totally overwhelmed by the repeated jumps and felt my body unable to sustain the pace only 12 minutes into the race.   The interesting thing is that it felt just like the start to a cyclocross race, and I could feel myself having that same sensation that I get in cx when I get the hole shot and start to blow by lap 2.   So, I know that I probably have nowhere near the anaerobic condition required for cyclocross nor for shorter distance criterium courses.  Unfortunately, this means I need to start doing short/hard intervals after River Gorge is complete next weekend.  I hate doing those intervals, but it’s clear that I need to do them to fill this hole in my training.

Grant Park Criterium

Grant Park is one of my favorite races every year.  The location, beer vending trucks, picnic atmosphere on a Sunday, you just can’t beat it.  I got a call-up at EAV and Grant Park for leading the GCS standings in Cat 2 this season.  It is great to start at the front for most riders, but when I start front row, it’s similar to giving Anthony Weiner a camera phone and asking him not to use it.  I want to be patient, but I want to cover dangerous moves so our team has someone in the break if an early move gets away.   If I’m starting upfront, that person is going to be me early in the race.  I covered a ton of early moves and joined several small moves that didn’t get very far.  This year, I can recover quickly and go again and again.  Unlike a the short EAV course where the front was being drilled and driving the bike was important, this was more my speed where we road at 26mph with breaks going off around 30mph.  I like the Grant Park turns because my heavy body maintains a high speed through the sweeping turns, so it takes much, much less effort to get my bike back up to speed.  Since I weigh 10lbs more this season and likely 20lbs more than the top riders, it is so hard to take a my bike from 21mph  – 22mph up to 30mph compared to a sweeping turn where we never get below 24 – 25mph.  My ideal crit course is Oak Business Park where there is really no turn that can’t be taken at full speed with a hard lean over and smooth pavement coming into and exciting the turn.   When I’m off the front there, I can ride the whole course and never get below 26mph on any section with speeds just bouncing between 26mph – 35mph….ahhh heaven!  Midway through the race I saw my teammate Gary Gomez attack on the straight.  Emile Abraham (Predator) went with the move.  Then, Thomas Wrona (Hincapie Development) chased so I marked him by chasing after him.  We were about 20 minutes into the race, and Gary was tired from the prior day, so they passed him, and I came through underneath him at turn 1.   Thomas, Emile, and I got a quick gap, but Thomas wouldn’t work.  He was marking the move for Ty Magner (Hincapie), Joey Rosskoft (Hincapie), and Oscar Clark (Hincapie).  Emile took the downhill section slowly without expending energy with Thomas on his wheel and me sitting third wheel.  Unless you are a top NCC/NRC rider like Emile, it’s really hard to stick a move that early with a guy sitting onto two other riders wheels.  I knew that Emile was thinking he was stuck with a nice gap, but one guy sitting on and another guy without enough power to stick the move.  However, if I knew if we were given enough of a gap, I could get into TT mode and help drive the break a lot faster than expected since I ride faster outside the pack where I get to choose my lines and have smooth accelerations.  I came to the front at the bottom of the hill after turn 3 and proceeded to pull most of the front stretch.  Unfortunately, the pack could see that we were getting a gap, so guys started launching.  I was pulling hard enough that most were not making a ton of ground, but it put the pack into more of a chase mode which meant they were not sitting up.  For our break to succeed, we needed the pack to sit up and look at each other a bit longer.  Emile and I rotated a couple times, but we were caught at the bottom of turn 4 on the next lap.  I have mixed feelings about moves like that since it was nice to give it a shot, but wasting a couple matches only to end up back where I started two laps later is frustrating and a recipe for failure.  The break went shortly after this effort as I was recovering in the middle of the pack.  A few laps later, I came back to the front since I could see a potential chase group was forming as guys were getting tired as we approached the 35 minute mark.  A group of 5 with my teammate, Tim Henry, got off the front.  The group contained Charles Planet who won the night before at EAV from Team Novo Nordisk and a few other strong riders.  I could see that Novo was looking to drop guys back to create a blocking move for the pack so this group could slip off the front.  I yelled at Tim to go with the move when I saw they were riding tempo and already out of sight behind us.  My immediate thought was to sit up with the Novo Nordisk rider on my left and let the 5 go ahead without us.  Often times, when the pack can’t see a break and they chase only to reach a couple “dropped” riders from the pack, they assume the break is far ahead and the riders are collateral damage of that move.  It suggests the break is long gone, and most of the guys on the front of the pack will ride up to the riders who were dropped and look to draft off them if they are moving at a good clip still.  At this point, the break will stay away.  That was my thinking, I could seal up this move of 5 and get my teammate in the move if I just sit up.  Unfortunately, I looked back again and didn’t see the pack after several more seconds, so I just decided that 7 riders with two riders from Litespeed-BMW was even better.  I sprinted up to the back of them, and we headed down the back stretch.  Unfortunately, this group of 7 went across the road spread out at the turn and fanned across the road as nobody wanted to pull.  Without the Novo Nordisk rider and myself in between, I think the pack kept flying down the hill and gained several seconds on the break so they turned the corner only 6 or 7 seconds back.  Finally, the move with 7 of us got a few guys to drive it, but it was too late at this point.  With the gap still around 5 seconds, a few guys started drilling it uphill, but the pack was too big and motivated, so we were caught near turn 1.  This was probably my fourth or fifth failed break attempt, and I was now starting to feel my back hurt from so much jumping, bridging, and pulling up.  I was riding way to conservatively on the bottom of turn 3 and creating gaps for myself every lap.  It wasn’t until the last 2 laps that I concentrated on staying close and keeping my momentum coming out of turn 3.  Wow, did it make a huge difference when I tried to focus on sticking my wheel further up going into turn 3 so I was nicely drafted coming out of the turn.  Prior to the final 2 laps, I was just downshifting, floating bike a full bike length, and then sprinting as the guy in front pulled to around 2 bike lengths from me coming out of the turn.  In the final 2 laps, I was concentrating and kept that to 1/2 a bike length and noticed how much less effort it took to close down.   With 1 to go, I sprinted up the side of the pack, came through turn 1 about 10 riders back, then sprinted across the top and pretty hard down the back side.  I was flying, so when I want to go hard and fast through the turns with concentration, I can do it, but usually I am not focused on picking spots and smoothly riding aero until last lap when I’m already tired.  I bridged up to a group who pulled ahead on the downhill and came out of turn 4 in about 9th wheel.  I got passed by 3 riders and passed on myself to finish 13th overall since  Ty and Joey lapped the field.

Cat 1 Upgrade

Last week, I finally upgraded to Category 1 which was an end of season goal.  The upgrade points required this season changed so there were more points required to upgrade, but points didn’t expire like past years.  However, I had a solid number of P/1/2 podiums and had plenty of points to upgrade under the previous points system and a lot of points under the new system.  Several people have asked me why I wanted to upgrade.  I don’t have a good answer other than I had accumulated enough points and felt that I could ride consistent with many of the local Cat 1’s, so why not upgrade.  The idea of staying in a lower category to win the occasionally offered Cat 2 only or Cat 2/3 race doesn’t interest me.  I’d prefer to race in the Pro/1 races without dealing with invitation wait lists and invitation only approvals.   Those are usually easy to handle, but it’s much nicer to plan for your race by using the normal registration process.  I think that I’ll do Athens Twilight next year, and I’m looking forward to using the normal Speedweek registration site and joining the grid qualifiers if I decide to go that route and do the race as planned.

Next Race: River Gorge Road Race

Next weekend is the River Gorge Road Race in Chattanooga which is a great race, and usually one of my favorite races.  I’ve only done it twice, but it is a ton of fun.  Unfortunately, I’ll be racing it 10lbs heavier this season compared to last season, so I am not expecting to do quite as well this season.  On the other hand, hopefully I can avoid some of the things from last year who made the race harder for me.  I’m hoping that fewer issues, more experience, and a little more power can help to offset some of the weight.  In the end, the lower w/kg will play out, and I’ll struggle, but I’ll still have fun.

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I spent a lot of tonight reading past blog posts looking back at the highs and lows of last season.  It’s interesting how I often forget the bad stretches of last season and only notice peak power numbers that still show up in my mean maximal power charts.  While I had a much lower weight and higher power last season, it wasn’t the entire season.  It was a few weeks two different times during the season, so it’s possible to get back there again with more focus than I have right now.

This weekend is the Newton County Omnium followed by the Georgia State Road Race Championships.  As I write, I’m not sure if I’m able to race both days in Newton, and it’s likely that I’ll just make Sunday due to family commitments.   I will be able to race the following weekend in Rome, GA for the championship race.  They cut out the big climb in Rome, so it will either have a break or finish in a mass sprint.

Now that the heavy part of crit racing is over, my legs will have a little time to recover, and I can focus on longer efforts again.  I realize that my legs are not strong enough to attack and counter attack in crits, but I can make breaks if I’m more careful with early moves and do a better job reading the race.  Seeing the selection form is a skillset that all the best racers do very well, and I’m getting better at it slowly.

Weight is still about 7lbs above race weight and power is down about 20 watts on FTP, maybe 30.  However, crit fitness is decent and sprint power is decent right now.  So, it’s like a pie.  If one area of my riding gets stronger, it likely has taken away from another area of my riding.  Stay tuned for race recap next week from Newton County Road Race.

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