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2014 Race Season Is Here

Despite the countless posts on Facebook telling everyone that we should be riding “winter pace” right now, this weekend marked the 2nd weekend of the race season in the Southeast.  Last weekend, the Greenville Spring Series kicked off with some great riders, and I was not surprised to see Winston David take his first win.  He is a massive talent for Lupus cycling, and he has put in a ton of work this winter.  I know he has worked hard over the winter because I follow him on Strava and shake my head everyday I’m not riding, and I see that he has completed a 100 mile ride already that day.   With the wife starting her own law firm, kids catching multiple colds, and my work travel picking up, it has been a struggle to get quality training this winter.  When you add in the bad weather, it was even harder.  Luckily, Brendan Sullivan, Andy Lougher, Kirk Corsello, and John Atkins were crushing the Airport Ride every Sunday, so I was able to get in some hard sustained efforts at least once a weekend.  I started to add in the occasional Six Flags ride on Saturday morning when it was too cold to ride alone, and it allowed me to create just enough fitness where I’m only about 10% – 15% below last winter.  If I can stay healthy, I can make up some of that difference in March assuming the weather isn’t terrible.

The theme for last year’s posts were basically centered on one topic, weight loss.  Unfortunately, I never motivated enough to lose the weight that was required to take my season to the next level.  I knew that my legs were strong enough to get me through the rolling hills, so I would only get massively penalized on a few courses.   I guess that’s one way of looking at it, but if you are serious about cycling, carrying around 10 – 15lbs of extra weight over and above your prior season weight is not smart.  So, the question is whether I’ll motivate to lose the weight this season.  It’s interesting to watch me try to lose weight.  If I am riding a lot with a ton of repeatable structure such as same breakfast/lunch/dinner, no illness, wife’s healthy too, kids healthy, work stress is at normal levels, etc….then I can lose weight.  Sometimes, I’ll put together a week or two weeks where I can feel that I’m headed for success.  Then, something happens like business travel, sick child, wife sick, etc…whatever the case, life happens, and I turn to food to deal with it.  We’re not talking about turning to food like the TV show “Biggest Loser” or anything like that.  It’s just that I can’t lose the weight and quickly gain back whatever was previously dropped.  So, it is a “mental” issue and a level of focus that I lack in most cases.  That’s an excuse, I know, but trying to be honest about it.  I raced well in 2012 between 162lbs – 164lbs, but I’m sitting at 173lbs right now.  I raced most of last year between 171lbs – 176lbs, so I should be able to get down to 166lbs – 168lbs without too much effort by April.  Once I get there, it’s easier to have a dedicated focus prior to a hilly race in two weeks or whatever immediate goal is ahead.  When you’re over 10lbs from your target, it’s too easy to give up.  I think a natural race weight target should be 165lbs which allows me to easily drop down to 162lbs for a climbing race or slip a little up to 168lbs during heavy crit periods.  Let’s be honest, after not racing more than a couple races in the 167-168lbs range last year, I’d happily accept that all season over last season’s weight.

On the bright side of last season, my 60 minute power was much higher.  My 20 minute power did not improve between 2012 and 2013.  It hovered in the 365 – 370 watts range during peak early season testing, but my 60 minute improved dramatically with a peak around 340 watts.  In the past, I struggled to hold anything longer than 20 minutes and really couldn’t deliver 2×20 minute intervals without massive power drop-offs on the 2nd interval.   The issue was due to bad execution in training.  I was so focused on the first interval hitting some target number for 20 minutes that I failed to have enough left over for the 2nd interval.  Once I pushed my ego out of the way, I was able to dial back the 20 minute targets to levels that were not impressive, however, they allowed for the completion of two full intervals without any decrease on the 2nd interval.  The numbers were not good at first, but over time my body was able to push harder and longer with slow incremental power increases on the 2nd interval.  It was the classic case of pacing and by going easy at first, I was able to go harder in the end.  In this case, it meant that I needed several weeks of targeting numbers that were too easy until I could consistently hit them and repeat them in multiple intervals.  The key to intervals isn’t how hard you can do them, the key is how many you can do at what level of effort.  I learned that it’s better for a rider to hit numbers 10% below their peak ability for several weeks and focus on completing 2 and 3 intervals in row.

The plan is to either get in another good training weekend next weekend or possible head up to Greenville on Saturday for Fork Shoals Road Race.   Now, I haven’t done a single interval yet this season, so if I had any brains at all, I’d take my own advice and start training before I drive off to these races….but, I’m not that smart, so we’ll see.

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I’m not planning to write a lot over winter.  My goals for 2014 are still being reviewed, and I have been swamped with work which makes cycling a low priority right now in December.  However, I know that I need to get closer to my 2012 weight to get to the next level in 2014.  I have allowed my CTL to drop lower this winter which hasn’t helped the weight issue either.  With lower CTL also comes lower FT which I felt during a family trip to Naples, FL last week.  I was able to ride several days with the great riders at Naples Velo.  All I can say is they are fast!  If I was in midseason form, it would have felt easy, but my low CTL combined with winter paced training left me hurting on a few rides.  I had no speed and no sprint which is fine in ATL in December, but not good in Naples.  The family was with me, so my rides were pretty short all week.  With the wife opening her new law firm, Gearhart Law Group, she was busy a lot, as well.  Her firm is focused on helping injured workers, so check them out if you get injured at work.  Otherwise, have fun this winter and stay safe on the roads.

This weekend simultaneously marked the end of my road season while kicking-off my cyclocross season.  It is a bitter sweet end to the road season as my legs have finally come around with my CTL settling into a nice all time high point while maintaining a fresh positive TSB.  

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The field was stacked with a full squad from Hincapie Development including Ty Magner, Oscar Clark, Joe Lewis, and Joey Rosskopf.   In total, they had over 8 riders who each can impact or win a race.  Then, you add in several other large squads such as Stans No Tubes, Global Bike, and a lot of solid Pro riders mixed into the fray as individuals or pairs of teammates.  The course consisted of a 4 mile out and 4 mile back with 8 x 8 mile laps with about 1,000 feet of climbing per lap.  The pace on lap 1 was very fast.  I have to admit that I have been spending a bit of time getting acquainted with my new Litespeed CX bike, so I haven’t ridden any hills since River Gorge last month.  I felt good enough to go harder on lap 1 and attempt to get in the early break, but I was concerned that type of move would put me in the red and potentially result in getting caught or blowing up.  I was very glad that I didn’t hung back in the chase group as we quickly caught riders who tried to make the break and were shed at some point.  That would have been me, and it would have left me very fatigued with no benefit to my overall race position.  As we were racing, I assumed the Hincapie team would create the break by force and anyone in the pack would get put into race of attrition mode.  After the first 2 laps, we settled into a decent tempo with the occasional full speed 5 min efforts where the field was lined out, but for the most part, it was lap after lap, shedding riders slowly off the back every time we hit the midway up the KOM climb.  On the last lap, the pack was still pretty large with about 40 of the original 75 riders still in the main field.  It was clear that it was likely going to break apart into several large groups for a field sprint of several groups separated by very few seconds.  I crested the KOM around 10th wheel and desceded the hill pretty quick with the other riders.  It got scary as attacks and counter attacks went up the road and riders swarmed the narrow road from the back while trying to ride up the yellow line and far right side pavement shoulder / gravel combination.  With about 2 miles to go, riders finally attacked hard enough to line out the pack which allowed several open lines to move up.  After we hit 1k to go, there was a slight lull in the field, but the road wasn’t open until around 200m, so nobody could move at all.  There was no 500m sign that I could see, but we could see the finish line barriers.  In hindsight, I’m not sure what would have been a better move since there were few holes behind the first row of four riders.  I was sitting about 5th wheel and noticed Oleg take a flier, so I jumped his wheel.  He started to slow, so I went left around him at around 100m and threw my wheel just past Winston David for 4th in the field sprint and 14th overall.  2 riders snuck off the front somewhere, so we were sprinting for 9th or 10th place, I think.  It wasn’t a great result, but when you figure I had no chance to make the break of 9 guys given my inability to ride hills that fast, it was probably as good as can be expected for a heavier rider doing 6,500 ft elevation in 70 miles of racing.  The numbers were not that impressive for the day since it was all up and down with some rolling areas.  NP was decent, but it wasn’t anywhere near a peak.  The hardest part of the race was the first part of lap 1 when I recorded 416 watts for peak 5 minutes.  My personal best 5 minutes is 445 watts, so this was hard, but I wasn’t killing myself either.  It’s important to remember that peaks are peaks for a reason, and they are hard to achieve without a few minutes of rest afterwards.  If you are planning to go hard enough to get a peak 5 min or peak 20 min and then continue racing for the next 3 hours afterwards while doing another 6k ft of climbing, it may not be a good idea to go after the breakaway if it means hitting your peak.  That was my scenario as I probably had enough power to reach or stick the break, but not enough to stay in the break, so I chose to dial it back and do lap 1 well within my ability which meant I had plenty of sprint left after 70 miles and 6k ft of climbing.  Since I only had a few seconds coming off Oleg’s wheel in the wind, my sprint was limited to 3 seconds, but it was around 1,312 watts, so mission accomplished on conserving my efforts.  With the road season over, I’ll write a subsequent blog post on lessons learned and observations from this season.  Off the top of my head, I can easily see a few things bubbling to the top that are obvious.  First, my weight was too high all season.  I raced Sunday at 173lbs which was 11lbs above my low last season.  I planned to race at 160lbs this year, but I didn’t have the dedication to do it.  My results were just good enough most of the season that I never forced myself to diet really strictly and cut calories below 2k which is required to drop weight.  I’m not sure if I’ll have that drive next year, but if I want to drop the weight, I now realize it has to be in the spring before the hard racing.  When I’m racing long races, I can’t diet and recover.  Another learning is that I now have enough FTP to race well, and I need more repeatability and high end race fitness earlier in the year.  It was interesting how I got stronger when I added a few punchy group rides into my Thursday night training and chased a few Strava segments for fun.  Doing several 100% efforts for 30 seconds chasing a Strava KOM was actually helpful to my fitness.  In a perfect world, I’d do hard intervals, but I hate them so much.  If there are a few segments on a group ride that require 100% effort to get going, so be it.  I also realize that I need to work in Tucker Saturdays with 86 mile to/from efforts earlier into my spring.  I need 4 straight weeks of these Saturdays to built CTL.  Then, I need to add in one multi-day stage race to bump CTL way up.  I normally race in the low 90’s, but this season, I hit a CTL of 110 after the 6th race in 5 days at the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix.  I didn’t maintain that level, but it is so easy to maintain a high CTL in the high 90’s after you get bumped above 100 for a few days.  If it looked like I was stronger end of season, it was because I was starting races with a positive TSB and a CTL at 100 versus post injury races in March / April with a slightly negative TSB and a CTL of mid 80’s.  I’m not a math expert, but a 25% increase in CTL coupled with a move from negative to positive TSB will make any rider much better.  If I can stay injury free in the spring next year, then I’ll hopefully get to the 90’s before late summer and stay there all season with long Tucker Saturdays.

Now, I turn my attention to cyclocross where none of my road fitness seems to help me at all.  I need to quickly build muscles that I have been ignoring all season.  I need to develop off road skills that I don’t possess.  I need to go hard for 1 hour instead of pacing myself for 4 hours.  Let the fun begin….first race this Saturday in Chattanooga.

Blog – Some 2013 Insights

The season isn’t over yet, and I have one more criterium and road race this weekend in Greenville, SC before I hang up the road bike and switch to the cross bike.  However, I quickly scanned some posts from June and noticed the fatigue issues that bothered me back in June.  I think the biggest difference between then and now (recovering quickly) is the introduction (or reintroduction) of punchy group rides.  I focus on a lot of SST / FTP type efforts in the early Spring to raise FTP.  Once you go down that path, it is very painful and uncomfortable to add in intensity.  I added in intensity via Tuesday Night Crit, but it isn’t the same type of intensity that you find on a Strava segment where you go 100% for 1 min, recovery for 5 min at fast tempo and do it again.  The Tuesday Night Crit has attacks and counter attacks,  but they are short 5 – 10 sec efforts followed by hard 5 – 10 min efforts off the front.  It is working more VO2 and FTP.  The other major difference was the lack of Tucker rides prior to June this season.  There was a lot of rain this year, and I also had a lot of Saturday’s booked with racing, so I didn’t get a stretch of Tucker rides until late June.  I find that 4 weekends in a row of 86 miles to/from Tucker with hard efforts off the front plus a few hard midweek / Strava chasing group rides can be a nice ying/yang with hard / long mixed with short / hard.  That combination (long Tucker and shorter intown) is a nice mix if I’ve already built up FTP in January – March.  So, hopefully Mother Nature and maybe a little less March racing will get me in better shape faster next season.

Next Up: Greenville SRS Championship Finale Race Weekend September 14th and 15th.  Then, it’s on to September 28th Rocky Face, GA for Georgia Cyclocross race #1.  It never ends around here….

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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In my day job, we constantly speak to our clients about capturing their baseline/current state metrics and then tracking their improvements or “lift” after they implement our software solutions.  Selling software which captures and tracks sales, customer service, and marketing activities helps me get into this “measurement” mindset, and I try to apply those same concepts to cycling training.  Without a doubt, everything I know and have learned is based on Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen’s booked Training and Racing with a Power Meter.  If you train with power, and you should, then this book is the equivalent of the bible for power training.  

 
I spent some time last week reviewing a few old blog posts from 2008-2009, and I was surprised to read my posts with old baseline and target metrics.  For example, in 2008, I was estimating my FTP at 300 watts, and I was targeting 330 watts for 2009.  In reality, I now realize that my FTP was closer to 285 watts in 2008, and maybe it was 300 watts in 2009.  Based on my peak 60 minute power numbers, it was nowhere near my estimates at the time which explained a lot of the challenges I faced when I first started doing 2×20 minute intervals.  At first, I could never hold my power for the full 20 minutes mainly because I had overestimated my FTP in the first place.  In very punching group rides, I could generate a NP above 300, so I made some incorrect assumptions which made some of my expectations and measurement improvements somewhat skewed.  I was improving faster on 1 min, 5 min, and 10 min power than I was in the 20 min and 60 min power mainly due to a training plan that consisted of mainly intown group rides which have zero hard efforts longer than 5 min.  If we fast forward to 2013, I now see the difference between peak numbers and consistently achieved numbers.  In 2012, I achieved peak numbers that have not been repeated this season in 5 minute power.  However, most of my 5 min peak power numbers achieved last year were not at that peak outlier level.  This season, I have not exceeded peaks in anything except 60 minute power, but my typical 5 min power is about 7 watts higher than a typical 5 min power on a typical ride last season.   So, it highlights that I’m now chasing an 1 – 2% improvements as realistic goals.  On the flip side, when I first started training in 2008, I would see 10 – 15% annual gains, but over time that shrinks to 1% as you get closer to your ultimate potential.  Since I was fat and reduced weight from 195lbs in 2008 to 162lbs in 2013, there was a second factor driving w/kg improvements.  Now, my weight has moved back into high 160’s and power is increasing slowly at .5% to 1% annually.  On the bright side, I don’t need a lot of wattage improvements anymore, and I can instead focus on repeatability.  I can now go hard, get in a break, get caught, go again in the counter move, get caught, recover in the pack for 60 seconds, and then then go hard again with the final move that likely sticks.  It is far more important for me to have this repeatability than a few more absolute watts or a little less weight (higher w/kg).  Unfortunately, road races with big climbs like this Saturday’s River Gorge road race are one of the few races where it’s all about higher w/kg, and my repeatability is less important than the fact that I’m heavier this year.  As a result, I’m realistic about the challenges associated with a few races on the calendar where I’m just not built for strong results.  
 
Net/net, it’s important to capture your baseline every year, create achievable targets, and then measure success every month or every year.  Racing is much more than measuring power, but the combination of power, w/kg, and repeatability will give a rider a clear blueprint for their likely success or challenges in a variety of races.

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.