Saturday, August 30, 2008

USPRO TT: out like a lion, in like a lamb

Whoever said it is better to run "negative splits" was definitely on to something! I just got done with the USPRO TT in Greenville, South Carolina, a three lap affair with three roundabouts and many turns and undulations, not to mention some considerable heat and humidity. I came in 18th, just over three minutes down on the Z-man himself, Dave Zabriskie. However, if you took my first-lap split and tripled it, I would have come in just 1:24 down and slotted in for sixth place! Let's just say I got myself a little in over my head after the first lap's blazing effort.

I really liked the course, essentially a north and a south loop with an out and back thrown in for good measure. There were some corners that could be taken at full speed, sometimes even in the aerobars, but they were quite exhilarating to say the least. There were many spectators and photographers, as well as follow vehicles, to keep one motivated, but that was definitely not my problem! It's funny, in only the third time trial I have done all year I have basically run the gamut in terms of time trial "don'ts": at Nature Valley, I dropped my chain three times on the considerable final climb to the finish and had to big-ring it, then at U23 Nationals in California I didn't push it hard enough in the middle 50% of the course while I was all alone and I also didn't hydrate well or stay cool, and now I made the most amateur yet common mistake of just going out at 105% and paying for it in the middle!

I am relaxing up in a cabin on top of a mountain at Jamie Bennette's father's vacation home with Daniel Ramsey and Mike Stoop, half-watching Constantine and trying to recover for tomorrow. We are scheduled for 110 miles, in the hottest part of the day with four trips up a considerable 10-minute climb called Paris Mountain. The climb has been made famous after two years of deciding the US Professional Champion, and George Hincapie even lives on the climb. He will have his work cutout for him tomorrow, as Slipstream is obviously the team to beat with leaders such as Christian Vande Velde, Danny Pate, Tom Danielson, and Dave Zabriskie, not to mention Will Frischkorn, Steven Cozza, and Tom Peterson!!

Our plan tomorrow is to just do as little work as possible, conserving the legs as much as we can, until the Paris Mountain ascents. At that point, it really is every man for himself. I know that I need to see the front of the race at the base of the climb in order to mentally enter the pain cave, and I need to ride a very consistent tempo and not slow down during any hesitations. I also need to keep a very high cadence, around 100-110. However, MOST importantly, I have to make sure to stay cool. Paris Mountain is mostly concealed by trees, but feeding with plenty of Dedicated Athlete Rapidaide as well as numerous socks filled with ice is what will allow us to consistently stay in the front group for as long as possible. I don't have any illusions about tomorrow--it is at nearly the same level as Philly. However, I know I'm riding very well right now, and I want to give it my best shot and see how it works out. I know that if I can make it over the top of Paris without too much of a gap to the lead group, I can descend like a madman and make the catch!

Thanks for reading, and check back to Cyclingnews for results from the TT and maybe even some pictures of me or the Time Pro Cycling boys! I also promise to get up a report from the U23 Nationals RR, Downer's Grove USPRO Crit, and Chris Thater Invitational!!!

P.S. they are going to have LIVE coverage of the race on the USPRO website tomorrow from 1PM to 5:30PM EST!!! Also check this website if the USPRO website isn't working.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Finally, some good legs at the U23 Nationals!

Right now I am in the team van rocking out to some techno with my teammate Eric Barlevav and another rider, Miles, driving from Binghamton, NY to Philly then Richmond then Winston-Salem. I figured now would be just as good (read: terrible) a time as any for my latest (and very late) blog entry!

I have been traveling pretty much three weeks straight now, save for a few days of training in Winston-Salem. Young Andy Baker and I were in California at U23 Nationals with Eric Barlevav and Jackie Simes, then we flew back to NC and drove home before packing up again to fly to Chicago for one of my favorite races: the Downer’s Grove USPRO National Criterium! We had a stacked team there, but only Tom Soladay and Eric stayed with me afterwards in a far-south Chicago suburb for a few days before high-tailing it across the Northeast to NYC for a night and then up to Binghamton, NY for the Chris Thater Invitational today.

I do not profess to be a cycling coach—rather, I learn by experience, trial, and [much] error. Example: the drive from Chicago to Binghamton is only 11 hours, but we decided to save a few dollars on a hotel room and Tom wanted to see his sister in NYC, so we drove for 13 hours on Friday. Not bad . . . until we found ourselves on the road (and in a ton of traffic) for another 5 hours BACK ON THE SAME ROAD up to Binghamton on Saturday! NOT good for the legs, and I definitely felt it during the first hour of today’s race at Thater.

So, do as I say, NOT as I do! But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the Cali trip . . .

Andy and I were the only two on our team slotted in for the U23 TT, and we gave up our spots at our team’s home races (Charlotte and Haynes Park). The team ripped it up at those two races, and I was very jealous that I could not take part in the glory (and the incredible dough!) . . . just more motivation to kill it at Nationals, right?

The TT course was definitely not your daddy’s run-of-the-mill flat out-and-back! To get the legs nice and seared, there was a 1000+ foot climb from the gun, then a fast but short downhill followed by mostly flat with some spikes before a turnaround and a final leg to the base of what was the downhill on the way out. I thought long and hard about how to ride my fastest race, although I knew going into it that my preparation was far from optimal or even close to what it was last year when I won. However, a time trial is just you and the clock, and you have to figure out how to get from A to B as fast as you can without worrying about where others will go faster or slower. I always have trouble with “slow” time trials, where the average speed is low and there are many areas on the course that require super-threshold efforts followed by sub-threshold recovery periods, and this course definitely favored climbing and unsteady pacing. I decided I would ride fast but steady on the hill, recover on the descent, and hold back until the turnaround because the headwind, uphill final leg would be the most crucial portion of the race.

I ended up 7th, which I was satisfied with, all things considered. It was disappointing to go into Nationals without the TT preparation that I had hoped for, but I was super happy to be right up there with small time gaps to truly standout riders in the U23 category. In retrospect, I would have only changed a few things: I needed to start out with an ice pack under my jersey and drink more water during the race, because it was super hot, and I also needed to go harder after the climb and before the turnaround because there was never any wind to make one section much harder than another. I kept telling myself that the most time would be won or lost after the turnaround during the final 8k of the TT, but it turned out to be just more of the same, coupled with intense, stifling heat.

Andy and I found respite back at our swanky hotel right next to Disneyland and then we had an excellent dinner with my parents (who FLEW TO CA FROM IOWA!) at a hole-in-the-wall home style Italian restaurant: wonderful service, an incredible beverage menu, and amazing food. We got a nice night’s sleep and then spun around the next morning with my old Hottubes teammate Spencer Beamer and his DLP teammate Scott Jackson. We checked out the criterium course and watched the finish of the U23 Women, and I also ran into Avery May, the Webcor soigneur and our savior at the Tour of PA. It was nice to catch up, although we wish she were still working for us!

After killing some time, and then twiddling our thumbs, and then people watching, we left our internet oasis at the Hilton and went to race in the middle of a gigantic asphalt parking lot. Apparently this is quite common in LA: erect a bunch of barricades in a very sketchy, snake-like configuration and watch the fireworks and carnage ensue as Lycra and skin are shredded! I had amazing legs after getting opened up in the previous day’s TT, and was very active off the front with the obviously-dominate Slipstream. I basically followed most dangerous moves, the counters to those moves, and then finished most attacks off with a solo effort in the hopes a little group would come up to me. Well, none of those three things worked by the end of the race, and our only hope was getting our sprinter, Eric Barlevav, a clear shot at the win.

Well, the last few laps were some of the most dangerous and twitchy of any race that I have done this season. Basically, the race was too short and way too easy to cause any selections, so everyone went crazy at the end, which is even worse in the U23 category because many riders do not know how to handle their bikes very well. I soft-pedaled the last lap after almost crashing three times and watching an excellent rider on Toshiba, Bobby Sweating, go down in a gnarly wreck with two to go. Eric came in for fourth in a photo-finish for the books, but he never even got the chance to get a true sprint off when the eventual winner, Justin Williams of Rock Racing, shot the gap between Jake Keough (Kelly Benefits) and the barricades. He was frustrated, as using brakes and sprinting are not supposed to happen at the same time, but I was happy with our overall result: Andy and I were in tons of moves and I felt great, Jackie was active, and Eric was in the perfect position to win—it just wasn’t his day.

Thanks for reading, and check back soon for my report on the road race, followed by Downer’s Grove and Thater in another post!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Another Crossroads race and a super-smooth flight to Cali

Well, after the Mocksville race on Tuesday and a tough two rides on Wednesday with some VO2 and steady-state intervals, I was goaded into racing Thursday night! We sent most of the guys who wouldn't be racing in the big weekend races (Jon Hamblen, Tom Soladay, Andy Baker, Jackie Simes, David Duncan, and yours truly). I knew the legs were super tired, but I figured then I could take it really easy Friday and Saturday before packing up and flying out to Nationals in LA on Sunday morning.

The race was fast, but I really enjoy the figure-eight course and relatively smooth turns. I didn't enjoy the risks taken by many racers in such a "local" event, but I stayed safe and was able to go off the front and do some big efforts to help out Tom for the finish. Jon Hamblen was super active as usual, and our combined efforts meant that Tom only had to follow others in pursuit of us. He was in perfect position for the sprint, and had followed Lucca Damiani (Colavita rider who won the top-level CSC Invitational at the beginning of Philly Week this year) and they had even gapped Davide Fratini! Just as Tom was coming around Lucca in the final stretch (he said he wasn't even working that hard to come around!) Lucca swung him from the middle of the road over to the barriers. Tom unclipped and almost crashed, rolling in for third after Lucca won and Davide sprinted by.

FRUSTRATING! I felt really bad for Tom, as he hasn't had a win this season even though he has really had a breakout year in some of the biggest races on the calendar. I told him it would come, that he is lucky to be safe and going well for this weekend. I myself was very happy to get one final hard hour effort in and stay safe. I could tell that the legs are going to feel excellent after some serious recovery!

Now Andy Baker and I are chilling in a two-room suite at the Hampton Inn near Disneyland in LA. We drove to Pat Raines' house last night, then woke up at 3:45 AM EST to pack up into a cab, go to the Raleigh airport, and then fly to Charlotte and then LAX. The flights were quite nice and perfectly on time, not stressful at all, and they even checked my wheels for free after there was no coat storage on the plane! After landing in beautiful Cali, Andy and I took a friendly shuttle to the Advantage rental car agency, happily paid $830 for a week-long van rental (!!!), and then went and got some authentic Mexican at a local drive-thru! I love it here.

After we unpacked and built up our road and TT bikes, we rode the later for an hour and made sure everything worked and that our slightly modified positions were dialed in (Andy is on a completely new TT bike and has only raced a TT two other times in his life, while I just changed to the new ISM seat which I am absolutely IN LOVE with!). I think we might chill in the pool or watch the first Godfather before getting an early sleep and wrecking shop at the continental breakfast tomorrow morning (gotta get breakfast, lunch, AND dinner in the morning, after all!) and then heading out to ride the TT course and get in some good final efforts before the big morning on Wednesday.

PSYCHED FOR NATIONALS! Thanks for reading!