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This is a man who just loves to ride his bike

By Jim Barclay | Aug 11, 2016

Race name: Couri Insurance Stage Race
Race date:Sunday, Aug 7, 2016

[Todd] It is Sunday and welcome to live coverage of the 4th and final stage of the Couri Insurance Stage race.  This race started with a hill climb time trial on Friday before continuing on with a road race yesterday followed by an individual time-trial last night.  A quick look at the standings as we start the final stage <graphic>
1.  Kris Wiatr Got Wind
2.  Jim Barclay xXx racing +:05
3.  Nicholas Hardt Chilkoot +:11

We will be taking you to live action soon but let’s join Bob Roll, Christian Vande Velde and Jens Voigt in studio to recap how we got here and analyze the GC contenders’ prospects. 

[Bob] Well Jim Barclay put in a solid effort Friday night in the hill climb TT.  Last year Rob Whittier won that stage with a time of 3:46 and when Barclay crossed the line at 3:48 he probably assumed he would be on the podium.  But Nicholas Hardt came in a full 15 seconds faster at 3:33 and #2-4 were all bunched up at about the 3:43-46 mark.  That left Barclay in 5th place.  That’s a lot of time to make up especially with former pro and national crit champion winner Kris Wiatr finishing 2nd.  That guy will undoubtedly be a force in the road races as he is a proven winner and absolutely devastating in a sprint. 

[Christian] And Bob is absolutely right.  That is a tall order especially because of all the competition around 1-5.  Nick Hardt is a small climber-type who probably wouldn’t hold on to the lead in the road races or the flat TT but still… But then Barclay surprised everybody yesterday by not only coming in 3rd in the road race but also 2nd in the intermediate sprint point.  In the past you never would have thought him much of a sprinter but, let me tell you, this year something is different.  He’s learned a lot about sprinting from guys like Tyler George and Dave Hudson.  Not to mention Tracy Dangott—who is really good at positioning in the finale.  I know Jim has been working on his positioning and trying to conserve energy in the race.  That is something you have to do—absolutely must do—if you have any chance of sprinting in the end.  And did you guys notice this:  in both of those sprints yesterday Barclay was actually accelerating through the line. He had something left in the tank.  I personally think he needs to start his sprint earlier.  He might not have the “jump” that someone like Wiatr has but he was definitely closing the gap on him.  If he can make that adjustment—just time his sprint a little better—I think he can win. 

[Todd] We are going to our “ask Bobke” segment now.  “Monty” writes, “Dear Bobke, what is the deal with a stage race?  How is it different from just an omnium?”

[Bob] Well Monty, a stage race is purely based on time—like all the grand tours.  The person with the lowest total time wins the overall.  Now in a shorter race like this, there are significant time bonuses given in the sprint points so it really pays to position well and sprint for those bonuses.  The format really favors more of an all around rider—not just a TT guy, not just a sprinter but someone who can do it all reasonably well.

[Todd]  But that said, Saturday night’s TT was a bit longer—4 miles—and really offered the best opportunity for someone to put time into his rivals.  If anyone knows about suffering out there it’s Jens Voigt. Jensie, tell us what happened last night.

[Jens]  Thanks Steve.  What happened is Jim Barclay threw down the gauntlet and said “I have the best legs of all of you!”  You know, he had done some TT’s earlier this spring and has really prepared for time in the “pain cave.”  Not only that, he figured it would be about a 9:15-9:30 effort and knew exactly what kind of power he could do for that amount of time.  When it was all said and done he clocked in at 9:19—a full 10 seconds faster than the next fastest rider.  He absolutely destroyed that field and I think that, not only did that move him up solidly into #2 overall, it also gave him a lot of confidence.  Sometimes when you are out there on a long breakaway and your legs are screaming at you, you need to have the confidence to know you belong on the top step—that your training has paid off and you can win.  I think he has that now.

[Todd] Before we send you out on the road it’s time for our predictions for today’s stage win:

Paul Kris Wiatr—he’s a former pro and will deliver in the sprint.
Phil Nicholas Hardt—the uphill finish suits him
Jens Matt Wurz—he’s been riding strong all weekend but just hasn’t found the right combination.  Today is his day.
Bob David Reddinger.  Dave is 4th overall and a really strong rider.  Barclay’s TT effort yesterday will come back to haunt him today.  He will be lucky to finish with the field.
Christian I’m going to go with Jim Barclay.  He’s been training all year for this—since being hospitalized last November with a staph infection.  Back then he was off the bike for two whole months but has had laser-like focus in his comeback.  All those hours in the gym, all those long rides out to Barrington, all those trainer sessions…  Now is the time it pays off.  He knows what he has to do and will get it done. 

[Todd] And with that we send it out on the road for live coverage with Phil & Paul

[Phil] Well thank you Todd. It is just a perfect day for bike racing here in Delafield, WI.  Alongside me is Paul Sherwin and right now the peloton is fast approaching the intermediate sprint point.  Paul, what can you tell us about this course?

[Paul] Well Phil looking at the profile we see a mostly rolling course with a few opportunities to break up the field.  However, I think this is going to come down to the sprint all the way.  The top 5 GC contenders are all bunched up within about 12 seconds of each other so I doubt anything is going to get away.  Both the intermediate and final sprints are on the same line—just before the I94 overpass.  That’s a road the many of the local Chicago racers know as “the Edens expressway”  But the leadup to the sprint is a nasty little climb the that then levels out to a false flat and I think that is where we will really see that cat set amongst the pigeons.

[Phil] And here they come, around the right hand corner and up the climb.  Wiatr is second wheel and kicks at the top of the hill.  Barclay follows him but can’t catch him and—oh my—gets pipped just at the line by Matt Wurz.  So looking at the result Wiatr gets first with Barclay third.  That pretty much solidifies the race results for the overall, barring some argy bargy.  Wiatr should win the overall with Barclay finishing 2nd and Nick Hardt in 3rd.  The have 3 laps to go which is a perfect time to go inside the race with Steve Porino.  Steve, what can you tell us about the end of this race?

[Steve] Well you know Phil, I was just talking to the xXx team car and they are saying that even though Barclay has 2nd place overall wrapped up he still wants to go for the stage win.  They say that he saw where Kris Wiatr jumped at the top of the hill and that they think he will have to go before that in order to beat him.  It’s a tall order but—going back to what Christian was saying earlier—Barclay has a good, long sprint so they are hoping that is enough to hold off Wiatr and the others.  One more thing: they told me that at least 5 other riders in the peloton have rolled up to Jim during the race and expressed their support—offering to help him in his effort should the situation arise.  This is despite the fact that he has been racing all weekend long without any teammates in this race—it’s guys from other teams pledging their support for Jim.  This is pretty cool and it’s a lesson for all you younger riders out there: it pays to be kind and gracious in your races—even when you don’t do well.  You never know when the guy you congratulate may come back and offer to lead you out down the road. 

[Phil] Well that is true Steve and it’s great to hear.  The riders are seeing 1 to go now and the speed is really picking up.  Both Wiatr and Barclay are in the top 5 wheels just protecting their position on the back side of the—oh there’s an attack!

[Paul] There’s an attack from one of the LAPT riders who is not in the overall.  He has a gap but Kris Wiatr’s teammate is working to reel him back in.  That tells me that Wiatr is also going for the stage win. 

[Phi]  The have just made a right turn and in about 1K they will see the final right turn into the finishing straight.  They are single file now, Got Wind is on the front setting it up for their man, Kris Wiatr.  But just behind him red, white and black jersey of xXx’s Jim Barclay, locked onto a rider from team Velocause and not letting Wiatr out of his site.

[Paul] Phil the field is riding riding at almost 45KPH—that’s 27mph in “old money.”  In just a moment they will come around the final right turn and start to climb up the hill to the finish.  Now it does flatten out somewhat after the steepest part for about 200m before the line but riders will have to time their sprint and not go too early or they will get swallowed up after the hill. 

[Phil] And they’re through the final corner and headed up the climb, Wiatr 2nd wheel following his teammate and Barclay fourth wheel.  And—what’s this?  Barclay kicks halfway up the hill and comes around them all.  Oh my goodness that is early!  He’s over the hill with a gap but can he hold it?  They come to the line—Wiatr was initially closing but now can’t seem to gain ground.  Barclay is still out of the saddle!

[Paul] He is riding like a man possessed!

[Phil] And they come to the line and it is going to be Barclay first and Wiatr a bike length behind him!  Barclay did a bike throw but didn’t really need to—that’s how badly he wanted the win!

[Paul] This man, Jim Barclay, just did the ride of his life.  My hat’s off to him.  Phil, I don’t think anyone imagined he would hold his sprint for that long after the initial kick.  On this day he showed them that he has the what it takes to win a bike race. 

[Phil] Well Paul, that he most certainly did.


By Ryan O'Boyle | Jun 30, 2016

Race name: NSGP
Race date:Wednesday, Jun 15, 2016

This isn’t your average everyday race report—this is the behind-the-scenes, the real stuff. It’s going to taste like the bottom of a beer, like crap. So, if you don’t like cold beers, fast bike racing, dirty mustaches, and “slappin’ it in the big dog,” then go read something else.

Stage 1: TT
It started with the time trial in the morning and a crit at night. We were pretty accustomed to this since we’ve been doing it these last two months in the Midwest Flyover Series. We started by waking up, going to the closest coffee shop, getting some fresh brews and breakfast, and then it was time to start our warm up. None of us were expecting anything great, but the time you lose here means nothing in the days to come. We all finished right around where we thought—mid-pack with the exception of one of the Aussies who finished 22nd.  It was a very solid ride. Now it was time to sit around and relax until the crit later on at 7pm.

Stage 2: St. Paul Crit
It was very hectic getting to the race because traffic was terrible. Big Smokey (Jake) finally weaseled us into a parking space. We all got kitted up, rode to the course, and basically went straight to staging. Since staging starts about a half an hour before, you have to get there early to get a good spot. After multiple crashes in the pro women’s race, it was neutralized. Since the woman protested the course setup, they switched it at the last minute to having us race the course backwards like it was last year, which I was fine with since that is what I raced the last two years. The Aussies were sort of pissed because the crit before was all left handers, which is all they’re accustomed to, but now they had to do all right handers. Liam had a call up, and this is the part where I admire the Aussies the most. They don’t give a shit if you’re a pro, amateur, or a national champion. If you piss them off they will spray you in a heartbeat. Nick, the other Aussie, followed his brother up to the front. People were complaining that he hadn’t been called up, and with his thick Aussie accent, he said “I don’t care, I’m already up here, and I’m not turning around,” which is pretty badass if you ask me. The race was hot from the gun and it was a lot safer this year—last year there were a lot of crashes. There were only a few this year, and one of them took out Nick. Unfortunately, it also took him out for the rest of the series with a broken bike and dislocated shoulder. The pace of the race really started to pick up with 10 to go. Myself, Tyler, Nick, and Michael were pretty close together, mid-pack. There was a small split at the end in one of the last corners. Tyler was the team’s top finisher at 41st place. The rest of us finished slightly behind him.

Stage 3: Canyon Falls RR
Now this is the part of the race where things get filthy. Picture a Disney movie before the race. We were all optimistic, happy-go-lucky, feeling good, and crackin’ jokes. Little did we know of the dangers that were to come. It’s like I walked into the race a boy, and came out an army veteran. Like I have seen some shit. The neutral start was hot which always is the case in these NRC fields. The pace was much higher than in most local crits. We had a tail wind and we were flying. I was riding right behind Big Smokey, and then I heard a sound like a snake hissing and looked down and noticed that Jake had a flat. I was thinking “Man, that’s some bad luck, I hope he gets back on.” Little did I know he was actually very lucky because about a mile later, while we were flying down the road, I heard a sound that makes every rider squirm—the sound of breaking carbon. As I watched rider after rider tumble, I tried to hit my brakes and pull off to the side, but we were going too fast and I slammed into the rider in front of me. I flipped over my handle bars, and went flying into a ditch thinking “Man, I am going to be hurtin’ bad after this one.” I heard the echoing voice of Old Man Winter (Danny Pate) saying “This race ain’t right, this race ain’t right,” like one of them birds. I got up in a daze, and I guess the best I can put it is that it looked like the beginning scene of Saving Private Ryan. Instead of bullet casings, there were bottles everywhere. Instead of body parts, there were bike parts, people moaning and screaming in pain. I got up thinking I was actually okay, until I realized I couldn’t move my right leg. It felt like it was completely cramped up. Plus, the right side of my shorts were completely missing, so my ass was hanging out. Aaron came running up to me with Nick asking if I needed anything and I was thinking “Yeah, I could use a lot of things including a cold beer,” but in reality what I really needed was a front wheel. It turns out my chain was bent and I had a few broken spokes. Tyler also went down and he broke his front wheel and had a little bit of road rash. Thank god the officials neutralized the race for about 20 minutes, since about half the field needed spare parts, spare bikes, or wheels. The race finally got back underway and was a lot more calm. No one wanted something like that to happen again. There were quite a few times that I would see a large man coming up on my right side and realize it was the race leader, Tom Zirbel. Seeing him so far back made me realize the calmness of this race. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts where the race would pick up and you thought like you were going to get popped, but that would only last a few minutes and then it would calm back down. Jake ended up getting another flat and that was the last time I saw him. We finally made it to the circuit at the end of the stage, and I was thinking “Man, I made it,” until I heard that sound again. Once again I tried to brake and get out of the way, but I could not. I slammed into the rider in front of me and flipped over my bike AGAIN. The official ran up asking if I was okay, and as I threw my chain on I said “I hope so.” I finally finished the race solo four minutes down. Our Aussie/Swiss guest riders and Tyler did outstanding. Our top finisher was Michael in 22nd and Liam right behind him in 23rd.

Stage 4: Uptown Minneapolis Crit
We were all sore and tired, but we had almost a day to recover since this stage was so late in the day. My right leg was still shot, Jake was pretty beat up, and Tyler was pretty sore, so today’s goal was to just finish. I was really nervous because it started to rain and I didn’t want to crash anymore. I didn’t feel very good at first, but I started to move up half way through the race. Tyler crashed at some point, loosening his handlebars and causing them to slip. Liam was tearing it up, making moves off the front in his famous Rob Whittier jersey, the rarest xXx jersey of them all. Jake and I got stuck behind a crash and I chased back on. I made it, but blew my load. Jake played it safe and saved his legs by pulling the plug after making the time cut. Liam was our best finisher again at 13th. After a race, I don’t need no protein drink—I just have Aaron give me a cold beer. I try to enjoy the moment and give the crowd high fives.

Stage 5: North Mankato RR
It was a really hot day for a long road race with a huge climb mixed in. The race was actually pretty chill except when you hit the wall. I remember going past the KOM sign for the first time and going over a small little bump of a hill thinking “Man was that it? Where’s the hill?” Then we came up to a left hand turn which we all took pretty fast, and you couldn’t see what was around the corner. That’s when we came up to the wall, and it took everyone by surprise the first time. I just heard the sound of gears shifting and rear derailleur’s popping. At some point during the race, Tyler dropped his chain at the bottom of the climb and that was the last time I saw him. Going up the wall the last time was when the race really exploded. I was in a bad position, got gapped, and found myself in the second group. Me and two others chased and just got back on before the final circuit at the end of the stage, but I was dead. Finishing toward the back of the lead group, I ended up in 44th place. Our top finisher was again Liam in 15th place.

Stage 6: Stillwater Crit
Stillwater, the queen stage, known as the toughest crit in the Midwest… but if you ask me it’s the toughest crit I’ve done in the U.S. This was it. We finally made it to the last stage. It was a 24 lap race and we started at the very base of the climb. I think it tops out at 23%. This stage is epic. People line the climb, heckle and cheer you on every time you’re on your way up. There were 111 people left out of 144 starters. I was just hoping to finish today’s stage and not get pulled. I remember the first time up being harder than it was last year and thinking “I can’t do this thing 23 more times.” After about 5 laps, half the field was gone and I found myself at the back struggling to hang on. Tyler at some point dropped his chain at the base of the climb.  Man that guy has some bad luck, and I felt really bad. I remember going past with 14 to go completely dead. I made it to 10 to go and then I got dropped and pulled a lap later. I pulled off to the side where I was met by Aaron, Jake and Tyler. I was completely cracked. Aaron must know me pretty well because he handed me a cold beer. I found a little bit of shade, sat down and tried to collect my marbles. Took my shoes and helmet off, walked halfway up the climb and joined the rest of the spectators to watch the finish. I ended up finishing 48th and Liam ended up finishing without being pulled at 26th.
It was a great experience for xXx to have this opportunity to be a part of North Star. We didn’t do half bad, finishing 13th out of 26 teams. Hopefully this is the start of greater things to come.

All Focused in the Driftless

By Jim Barclay | May 10, 2016

Race name: La Crosse Omnium
Race date:Friday, May 6, 2016

I’ve been waiting a long time to write this report.  Candidly, most of my race reports are missives on what not to do:  mistakes I have made, lessons learned, or epic tales of heroism that ended—like the greatest of classic tragedies—with our hero falling short and the resulting catharsis blah blah blah something, something AP English…

Spoiler alert: this is not one of those tragic tales. 

I’ve done the La Crosse Omnium the last two years in a row and I cannot say enough good things about this race. It is located in the “Driftless” region of the upper midwest—an area carved out by glaciers and the Mississippi river.  It is challenging, it is well run and it is very accessible to us Chicago folks, being only 4 hours away.  It kicks off with a hill climb time trial on Friday evening, a road race on Saturday and a criterium in downtown La Crosse on Sunday.  I had been talking this up for months now and was lucky enough to rally a formidable team around me to race the Masters 35+ Cat 3/4 field.  Myself, Tracy Dangott, Michael Kirby & Matt Grosspietsch would do the entire Omnium.  Kevin Corcoran couldn’t make the Friday night TT (something about having a “job”) but would join us for the RR & crit.  I was not shy about assuming the role of team leader for this race.  I had raced it before.  I had played a supportive role in helping Rob Whittier take 2nd overall in 2015.  I knew the courses and I felt it set up well for me.  The week prior we sent rounds of emails out discussing possible strategies, outcomes and contingencies.  Self confidence has always been a weakness of mine but I did my best to push aside any negative feelings.  “I can podium in this,” I said, trying bolster my resolve with my own words. 

Act I: Grandad Bluff TT.
It all begins with the TT.  2.5 miles almost all uphill.  If I don’t have a good result here then all the strategy and tactics don’t amount to squat.  This is on me and I either bring my A game or we regroup to talk about individual stage wins. 

I brought my A game. 

I don’t have a huge TT engine but it’s good enough.  And while my 5’8” frame has disappointed me at many a rock concert, it sure helps my power to weight ratio.  I pre-rode the course to remind myself where I wanted to shift to the big ring as it flattens out near the top.  While warming up I was blabbering on about what tire pressure to run and Kirby—for the first of many times throughout the weekend—offered me some sage advice:  “get out of your head.”  Yeah.  Damn straight.  Don’t think.  Just pedal.  5-4-3-2-1 off!  For the next 9’23” I buried myself—improving on my time from last year by 10 seconds.  When the dust settled I was 3rd and elated to be on the podium.  I had tackled job #1 and now it was on to the road race which I figured would be where I would shine.

Act II: Road Race.
I’ve put a lot of training in over the last few months and, honestly, a 40 mile road race seemed almost too easy.  The profile is simple enough: 3 laps with a decisive climb each lap.  I had enough experience to know the power I needed to put out for the climb and was familiar enough with the Masters 34 field to know they wouldn’t hit it that hard.  Or so I thought.  There are always cross winds up here but this year they came from the north instead of typical westerly winds.  The field was also really frisky.  Neutral roll out?  Hardly.  We were racing from the first clip in. 

The plan was to keep a hard tempo for the first two laps and look for a winning selection to be made at the top of the hill on lap 3.  I would keep myself safe in the pack until that moment and then make sure I was with the leaders.  Unfortunately the “plan” didn’t involve crosswinds shredding the field by mile 2 including, unfortunately, Matt G who nonetheless rode out the full 3 laps.  Echelons all over the place, guys getting guttered and then spit out the back.  When we hit the first climb I was caught out of position and a little out of breath.  A gap opened up and I watched my dreams crest the top of the hill with a lead group I couldn’t connect with.  Fortunately Kevin and Tracy did connect with that group and realized I wasn’t there.  Tracy dropped back to assist me as I had hooked up with a group of 6 other chasers.  The next 90 minutes were some of the hardest I’ve spent on a bike.  We chased hard but there was almost nowhere to really recover.  Anyone not paying attention to the winds could find themselves kicked out the back.  Some surges happened on the hill but basically the group stayed together.  Given the nature of the chase I didn’t really have the luxury of sitting in but Tracy was especially vigilant of where I was and what I was doing.  He was always there to lend a wheel, pace me and otherwise keep me protected as best he could.  As we resigned ourselves that the leaders were away for good we set up for the sprint and I parked myself on Tracy’s wheel.  You would think that 8 riders on a full lane of road would have plenty of room to maneuver but the crosswinds had us bunched up on the far right side of the road.  With the finish line in sight I was boxed in but I just stayed calm and put my faith in Tracy. I knew if there was a way through the mess of riders he would find it and he did.  At 200m he had cleared a lane for us by 100m I had jumped clear of any other opponents.  I opted to not kick and come around Tracy because 1) he had done a ton of work and he deserved to cross the line first and 2) I thought there were only 2 or 3 riders up the road.  This was a mistake as I soon learned there were 6 in the lead group.  It was quite possibly the hardest race I have done but when it all shook out I was off the podium, sitting in 5th.  It was a disappointing day but I took solace that only 8 points separated me from #2. 


We spent the rest of the day eating dinner (Sushi Pirate!) and while relaxing in our B&B and I stalked my competition online relentlessly.  I looked up their numbers and decided that none of them were particularly dominant crit racers.  The problem was, neither am I, by all accounts. I have had a couple podiums but I typically find myself out of position in the final laps and end of sprinting for 15th.  That couldn’t happen this time.  If it did I would be nowhere near the omnium.  In discussing the math Kevin summed it up matter of factly: “you have to be on the podium.”  On another day I would have resigned myself to failure—told myself it was OK and that a top 5 omnium finish was something to be proud of.  Not on this day.  Not on your life. 

Act III: The Crit. 
The plan was simple:  mark the overall GC guys 2, 3, 4 & 6 (who was a few points behind me.)  They could not get away in a break.  Tracy and Kevin would monitor them and chase them down as needed.  If the overall leader tried for a break I would go with him on the assumption we could work together (I wasn’t realistically a threat to beat him.) In Kirby’s words: “let 2, 3 & 4 worry about #1.  You worry about knocking off 2, 3 & 4.”  Kirby would shepherd me through the early part of the race, keeping me safe, keeping tabs on the competition and, when the time came, move me into position in the final laps.  With two to go Kevin would pick up tempo at the front and I would park myself on Tracy’s wheel and not let go. 

I’ll be damned if that’s not the way it went down. 

Kirby got into an early break that allowed us to just sit in an rest.  When that came back the GC guys attacked but got nowhere thanks to Kevin & Tracy’s vigilance.  A late race prime was called and I went with the group contending to see which of the GC guys had a good sprint.  Only one of them did but I knew I could beat him in a drag race. With 4 to go Kirby appears next to me and says “let’s go,” then pulls me right up to the front.  As we hit the backside of the course on the bell lap Tracy was on front, me second wheel.  “Green light” I yelled and he ramped it up.  Into a headwind I was worried that we might get swarmed but not with the watts he was laying down.  He OWNED that stretch of road.  Turn three and I’m yelling “big dog”—the cue appropriated from the Elite team to empty the tank—and he did.  Tracy set me up perfectly.  I jumped at 200m and wound it up for a second place finish—narrowly getting pipped at the line by a non-GC contender.  In hindsight if I had jumped just a bit earlier and wound up one more cog I think I would have held it for #1.  I honestly think I had a little more in my legs.  No matter.  I did what I had set out to do.  All that was left was the math. 

After a few tense minutes the overall results came down:  I had moved from 5th to 2nd in the GC, technically tied for points with #3 but my better TT placing (3rd to his 6th) gave me the edge.  I was ecstatic.  We had made a plan and executed it with focus every step of the way.  When we needed to make adjustments we were able to do that.  My wonderful teammates fulfilled their roles with grace—it was TRULY a team effort and a team win.  For my part I conquered some personal demons.  I can say with pride that I rose to the challenge I had set for myself and delivered for my team and my friends who put their faith in me.  It was, by any measure, a great weekend in La Crosse. 

Joe Martin 2.0

By Ben LaForce | Apr 29, 2016

Race name: Joe Martin Stage Race
Race date:Thursday, Apr 21, 2016

Joe Martin is the race that gets me to do intervals in February when there is 12 inches of snow on the ground.  It’s a huge race with tons of talent at just the right time of year for winter motivation.  I’ve done it twice now; last year was pretty pathetic I was one of the last places in the time trial, lost about 20 minutes each of the two road race days and then got pulled half way through the crit.  This time around would be different I told myself, I knew the courses, had a better idea of the competition and was more motivated.  I set some lofty goals to get myself ready both in terms of power numbers and weight.  Now you think I’m going to tell you that I killed it and crushed those goals, nope I think I missed every single one of them.  That turned out to be ok it gave me something to shoot for and getting most of the way there put me in a solid spot on the starting line.

The race allows teams of up to 8 and so we sent a full squad this year (as did many teams) including our 3 cat 1’s Tyler (here on out Bone Collector), Jake (Big Smokey) and Diesel (I’m not even sure he has a real name).  After those 3 guys leading our team we had Austin (who’s been riding strong in California all winter) and myself who were both part of the team last year and 3 new guys to the 1/2 JM race in Nikos, Fay and Aaron (Baker Soda).  Everybody had different strengths and weaknesses and I think we put together one of the most solid teams at the race.  No superstar sprinter or 120lb climbing TT specialist but overall not a weak link anywhere.

The race takes place down in Fayetteville, Arkansas so via all different methods and over several days we made our way to the Airbnb house that we’d stay in for the race.  We also had Courtney, Katie Sue and Wilfred (when he decided to pay us a visit) in the house so we crammed in pretty tight.  The house could not have been located in a better spot, right downtown, 3 doors down from the crit course and equally as important, a really good coffee shop.  The Time Trial started the race off; it was a new course this year, still at Devil’s Pen state park but going the other direction up from the river and a bit longer at 3 miles.  Essentially 2 miles of switchbacks and elevation gain followed by another mile of rollers at the top.  I was nervous, am I really in better shape than last year? 

You never feel fully prepared when you finally get to the thing you’ve been training for.  We thought Big Smokey would be our best finisher but Baker was a wildcard with all his Tucson riding and maybe myself or one of the other guys could have a surprising result.  When the dust finally settled Big Smokey was our top placed rider in 23rd of the 120 starters.  He was closely followed by Diesel, Bone Collector and then the rest of us.  We were all sort of in the middle, we were solid, not great not horrible but now we knew where everyone stood.  Riders came from all over including a Japanese cycling champion and Columbian and Canadian teams so we knew this wouldn’t be easy.

That night we reviewed the route and profile for stage 2, the 110 mile road race, and came up with the game plan.  The big feature on the 2nd day is Gaylor Mountain, a 10 mile climb that begins at mile 71, its not steep, in fact it only averages 2.9% but after a few hours in the legs it hurts, and it whittles down the field.  After Gaylor, everyone that’s left bombs down the next 30 miles in a fast run in to town.  The finish is tricky though, with about 1K to go there is a left turn then quick right followed by some rollers before a right turn to the uphill finish.  The plan was to put together a lead-out for Jake to try to steal a few seconds in the time bonuses, or at the least with some splits over the final rollers that were certain to happen.  Well now we had our plan at least. 

I was the lucky one that got to sleep on the couch so the next morning I woke up to the warm aroma of Diesel and Big Smokey making coffee with the aeropress, we all sort of fell into different roles, theirs became coffee duty.  We had a long morning before the race so we did all the normal stuff, we ate, worked on bikes (this became my role), drank enough coffee to support a local coffee shop, pinned numbers, etc…  It was nice to be close enough to the start of the race to leave the vehicles and ride over so we rolled over the couple miles to the wal-mart parking lot where the race began.  Finally we could see the competition, in a TT you miss so much because you’re so focused on your race and you’re not all out on the course together. 

So we were off, one thing that makes Joe Martin so cool is what’s called rolling enclosures, a police escort to use the entire road for the whole race.  When there’s oncoming traffic the cops ahead push them off to the side of the road and we got to use all lanes, it makes for a funny feeling when you’re so used to the yellow line rule that many of the smaller races enforce.  There was a feed zone at mile 41 with a 1-2 minute hill where things got fast but other than that the race was pretty chill going into Gaylor.  We lost Baker to a flat around the first feed zone but otherwise we had 7 of 8 guys with us at the base.  Half way into the climb I felt good, surprisingly good.  Fitness was there and I finally knew I’d get over that hump (haha) that burned me so bad last year.  When we finally made it to the top we lost a couple but still had 5, we were headed down for the finish to execute the lead-out.  For me, I didn’t have much in the way of legs especially when things started getting fast at about 10 miles left. 

I could hang but wasn’t able to help beyond that.  It was up to Austin the Bone Collector and Diesel to get Jake where he needed to be.  Austin did his thing getting those guys in position with a couple K left then handed the rains to the Bone Collector and it was a beautiful thing watching him lead Diesel and then Big Smokey through the quick left right corners with the whole peloton in tow.  They dropped Jake off on the top of one of the rollers before the finish to slog it out with whoever else could maintain the pace on the rollers.  There was still a long way to go so we wouldn’t know how it finished until we reached that point ourselves.  It turned out Jake got us our first top 10 of the weekend with a 7th place, and all the sudden we gained the confidence that would come along with making a plan and being able to execute.  It turned out to be a pivotal finish for us because with several riders up towards the front we knew we’d gain time with splits just like in previous years due to the difficulty of the finish.  Due to a crash with about 1k to go they ended up same timing everyone that made it over Gaylor Mountain which was over 60 guys so unfortunately without the time gaps it wouldn’t matter where you placed.  It took what would have been a major GC shakeup and essentially made it so any racing at the finish was unnecessary.  That stung a bit as time gaps would have clearly given us all a big jump in the GC standings. 

Day 3 was an 86 mile road race, a ‘stick’ followed by 3x 23 mile loops.  Last year there were major selections on this day with only about 1/3 of the field going to the line together.  Personally this day was hell; I barely hung on to the group I was with that lost 20 minutes.  Yesterdays race gave me some confidence but I knew today was tougher.  Each lap there is a solid vo2 effort climb which sheds some of the field and most of the rest of the lap is flat or downhill where you can recover if you sit in.  This year the race was a lot chiller and it showed with 80 riders coming to the line, most of the action came in the last 5 miles on the run in where we had a tailwind and were flying to the finish.  It was a constant battle to move up or even just hold position.  There was bumping and some yelling but at this level people are pretty good bike handlers and everyone kept upright.  In the end it was Tyler who took our top spot this time with another top 10.  Every single teammate made it to the finish, I was astonished. 

I was sitting in 53rd, Jake was our best placed rider in 22nd, and we needed a hard day with some real splits or to get in a breakaway to have any chance to move up.  I was finally feeling confident in my abilities this year and felt as good as I had all week.  My legs are funny that way, they need a little warming up, I was ready for hard, actually hoping for it, the crit was the last chance to have a solid placing and as a team the last chance to crack the top 20.  I remember the day well last year, legs were dead, body was dead and all I wanted to do was stick in the race long enough to not be time cut, not the best mental spot to be in.  I was confident this year would be different. 

The crit is 8 corners with a pretty steep climb on the finishing straight with a leg zapping false flat leading into it.  The race was hot from the gun, I learned my lesson last year and stayed in the top 30 wheels at all times, or at least that was the goal.  It was hard there weren’t too many time we’d have an easy lap to look around and I was confident we’d be moving up.  With 5 laps to go I looked back and saw the field had dwindled quite a bit.  On the final lap I came around the second of last corner and was starting to get gassed, my guys passed me, I was happy to see they still had legs for a strong finish.  I gave it everything up to the line, Tyler killed it again taking another top 10.  The field was decimated; only 30 guys made it to the finish line, 5 of them were us.  Tyler’s result made for 3 out of 3 days of top 10 finishes for the team.  In the end Jake jumped 4 spots to 18th giving xXx a top 20 on GC.  Diesel, Tyler, Austin and I all moved up considerably to finish GC the top 40, or top 1/3 of starters.  Fay, Nikos and Baker all had solid results as well finishing their first Joe Martin 1/2 race which is a hard enough task on its own.
The crew we had down there was the best part about the weekend, everyone was selfless both on and off the bike.  I’m looking forward to many more of these adventures as the year goes on, and remember as Diesel always says when in doubt Slap it in the Big dog.

Eagle Creek Crit Win!

By Katie George | Apr 25, 2016

Race name: Eagle Creek Crit
Race date:Sunday, Apr 10, 2016

After some great, hard riding at women’s camp, nine of our girls decided to do a women’s open crit in Indy on the way home.  When looking at registration the day before, we found out that 1) we would be 9 of about 18 girls in the race and 2) our race was combined with the 30 or 40 riders in the Masters 40/50+ men’s race, with the men’s race taking off 1 minute ahead of us.  So as you can imagine, we had mixed feelings…

The course itself was an oval that took about 2-3 minutes a lap.  There was something that could moderately be called a corner heading into the finishing stretch.  It didn’t require any braking but you could easily be pushed out in it.  This would come into play later.

Rounding out our field was a team from Indy and a few solo riders, including a junior from the Twenty16 junior development program.  When we all lined up, we were told that it was possible our race could go from 2 laps to go to 0 if the men’s race passed us on their finishing lap.  This was because after finishing, they would be cooling down all over the course while we would be trying to race our last lap.  This, too, would come into play later.

The race began and a girl from the other team tried to attack but we easily brought it back.  As we came around our first lap, the field was slow and quiet.  Into the wind, I attacked as hard as I could to get a gap.  Within a quarter lap I hear “I’m here Katie!”  Sarah London had followed my attack and we were off the field together.  Sarah is one of our category 4 riders we were looking to get upgrade points so this was a great development. I dug in for a good pull and looked over my shoulder to see a group that looked like the field coming up on us.  “I think we are caught,” I told Sarah.  Then when I looked closer, I saw it was the junior (I would learn during the race from her cheering parents that her name was Kate), another random rider, and Courtney joining our break.  “Oh, its on now…” I thought.

We did our part taking pulls for a while, and then Courtney and Sarah started throwing out attacks, trying to thin out our group.  The other two girls were strong and responded to each one.  I too threw out an attack that was immediately brought back.  I rolled up to Courtney and told her we would need to wait for the sprint and make sure this breakaway stayed away.  Since we wanted the sprint for Sarah, we decided to have her stop doing any work. 

The course itself was completely tree lined so we had been out of sight of the peloton for quite a while.  The next time we came around we had about 15 minutes left in our 45 minute race.  Randy told us we were only 30 seconds from catching the peloton!  I relayed the message to our group of five and we did a short rotation of pulls.  Then the next time the junior was on the front (with me on her wheel), the peloton came into sight.  It would take a big pull into the wind to catch them and I knew if she came off to early it would be my energy spent to get us there, so I decided to try some of the mental games I had heard so many people talk about.  I started cheering in the loudest and most enthusiastic voice I could, “There they are, Kate!  We can do this!  Come on, push harder, you got this!  Go go go!”  To my amazement, it worked.  She got in her drops and put in a huge effort into the wind on the only slight uphill on the course, nearly closing the entire gap herself.  When she came off I didn’t have more than 10 seconds of work to finish it off.  Mission accomplished: we lapped the field and the strongest opponent in our group had just burned a ton of matches. 

Once we got in the peloton there was about 4 or so laps left.  We began organizing ourselves.  I was marking Kate and Courtney was marking our other breakaway companion, which Sarah staying behind both of us, ready to follow whichever of us had to chase our mark down.  With 2 to go, Sue went to the front and started drilling to bring the pace up.  I lined up a bike or two from the front with Court on my wheel and Sarah on hers, ready for a full lap leadout when we crossed with one to go.  Then it happened, the men’s field came around us in what was essentially the final corner.  I hear Court yell “GO KATIE!” as them passing us on their last lap meant we too were now on our final lap (and thus in our final straightaway).  I kicked hard and as I approached the line, I looked back and Court was sitting my wheel with Sarah just a bit off behind her and a good gap to the rest of the field.  We crossed the line 1, 2, 3!  It was a beautiful thing.

Although I didn’t view it first hand, I hear the girls in the peloton were doing some monster blocking and controlling of the field, with even Jess going off to try to bridge up to us (she ended up soloing the rest of the race and finished 6th).  It was an all around great team effort!

Lanterne Rouge in the Gravel

By Keith Buescher | Apr 13, 2016

Race name: Tour of Hermann Gravel Challenge
Race date:Sunday, Apr 10, 2016

Lanterne Rouge in the Gravel

Ever done a race on gravel?  A really long one?  Well, here is my first foray into writing a race report, and as a new member of xXx, I hope to keep it entertaining and informative.

First of all, I am getting old.  Old enough at age 55 to really not want to crash out in a crit.  My last face plant at 30 mph was four years ago, resulting in some tooth loss, a perforated lip, and 28 stitches.  My son, Jake, whom you may know by his entertaining posts here, was there for that crash and suggested I not do that again.  Crashing.  Good luck on that.  However, the seed was planted to get me thinking about other cycling genre, and as you may have noticed lately, gravel riding, racing, and “grinding” is gaining popularity.  So, I began riding gravel and then entering gravel race events.

A slight digression here:  Riding a bicycle on gravel roads, for me, is unlike any other type of cycling.  It seems one part road bike, one part mountain bike, and one part snowboard.  Speeds are slower, though I’ve reached 45 mph on gravel downhills.  My gravel bike is similar to my ‘cross bike, but with slacker angles and a hybrid of road and mountain bike drivetrains.  I run a 50/34 up front with an 11-42 in the rear.  Yep a 42.  Big pizza pie in the back.  I’ve climbed 20 percent grades in Missouri at times, having to sit the whole time to avoid wheel spin.  The snowboard part is the drift and slide riding gravel, especially on certain types of gravel where the rock resembles golf balls and baseballs.  The variety and diversity of the terrain make gravel riding so very interesting and adventurous.

Now the race:  The Tour of Hermann (MO) Gravel Challenge is a two day, 201 mile race that climbs a cumulative 15,296 feet, and is about 95% gravel.  There are five distinct loops, two north of the Missouri River and three south of the river.  Day one is 96 miles made up of three 32 mile loops and day two is two 52 plus mile loops.  Time cuts are placed for each loop.  Winner is the lowest cumulative time and you get a bottle of German wine for your winning efforts.  The rest get a Mason jar full of gravel.

My buddy, Chuck, and I arrived a day early, to do a fifty mile “opener” on the KATY trail that slices east to west through most of the middle of Missouri.  We checked into the Hermann Motel the previous night, last remodeled in 1973, but clean and challenging when the toilet seat falls off.  A little diner is next door where we eat breakfast every morning with the same locals there, every morning.  Conversation is the usual “How do you sit on that seat?” and “Why would you want to ride your bike for 200 miles this weekend?” or, my favorite, “I’d put an engine on that thing.”  Friday night, three other friends arrive and we have our team with an agreement that no one gets dropped (for fear of the buck-toothed, porch-sitting banjo player commonly found near gravel courses).

Day one, Saturday.  Thirty two degrees and sunny.  Roll out with 142 other fools by following a pick-up truck that’s up so high you need a ladder to enter.  About four miles of neutral start over the Missouri River bridge gets boring and I notice there’s a line of cars and trucks hauling livestock trailers (full of pigs) going just a bit faster than us.  I suggest to my buddies that we draft a bit so as not to burn any matches prematurely.  I jump on the bumper of a small sedan following the pigs and enjoy the pull for about 50 meters until the driver, apparently thinking the rules do not allow motor pacing, hits his brakes to send a signal and I avoid another 28 stitches by millimeters, but endure the wrath of 10 cyclists behind me swerving to avoid carnage.  Snowboarding already.

The start flag is dropped just off the pavement and the selection already begins.  We hit the KATY trail double, then single file as the pace quickens.  In about five miles we pull off the trail onto a short section of pavement, then climb up to the first of many gravel climbs.  And then the peloton shatters.  This is where gravel racing reminds me of mounting bike racing.  Race for the hole shot, single file, then, for the most part, time trialing solo.  And so the first loop goes:  some creek crossings, some drift on the descents, and no banjo players spotted.  We narrowly avoid a farm cat; last year a rider went down after a collision with a cat, fracturing his collar bone and ending his 200 mile race after the first 10 miles.  We cruise back to Hermann beating the time cut by an easy hour.  Life is good.

Loop 2 goes south of the River and the road surface is very different:  large, loose gravel constantly jarring my whole body.  Pace is slower and I begin to focus on my nutrition.  I’m making my own energy bars now and love the outcome, but the wrapping needs refinement and I lose a good deal of my bar to the bumps.  I decide to eat only on the climbs, but they’re really steep and I slalom a bit while packing, chipmunk-like, the bolus of sticky rice, spiced beef and onion in my cheeks, then slowly eat between breaths.  Works like a charm.  And, yes, sticky rice, spiced beef and onion is really good.  The secret ingredient is molasses.  We find ourselves back to Hermann and the checkpoint with another hour to spare.  No mechanicals.  No bonks.  Life is good.

Loop 3 also goes south of the river, but has more climbs, one requiring some of us to walk at about 20 percent grade.  I ride, a source of pride, but notice my buddy walking faster than I am riding.  My Garmin goes into “auto stop” mode even though I am moving.  I will not walk…I will not walk.  So, a digression here:  Is generating 350 watts riding 2.2 mph burning those matches?  Is walking smarter (though so uncool)?  We finish the day in 8:32 total time, pretty spent, but ecstatic that we beat last year’s time by 76 minutes over the three loops.  I cross the line 50th place out of the 142 starters.

We celebrate by eating Mexican in this German town.  As with all events cycling, food never tastes better than after a hard effort:  4311 kJ, 8593 feet climb, and 96 miles, nearly all gravel.

Sleep is sweet in the Hermann Motel.  Until the two waves of partiers roll in at 1:00 and 2:00 a.m.  I’m thinking they are laughing inside our room, but they are not, and the ruckus dies as my legs also do upon awakening.  Should have gone for that recovery drink.

Day Two:  105 miles of gravel in store.  We roll out with a fraction of the group from yesterday.  Maybe 50 starters today.  This is a race of attrition!  I remind myself to not motor pace behind the pig trucks this morning and all is well on the neutral start.  Except the pickup this time is gone up the road quickly and the group decides to hammer at 28 miles an hour on the pavement.  My group mutters we are burning matches at mile 2 of 105.  Clouds darken and lightning cracks just 15 minutes into the day.  Riders pull over on the gravel and don rain attire.  Several riders seek shelter near a rock bluff.  We push on into the large drops for a couple of minutes.  Then the rain stops, but the road is a bit like peanut butter as we sink to rim level, spinning and drifting.  It evidently poured buckets in front of us, then the cloudburst rotated away, leaving a slog for a good hour.  Things are going south a bit.

At this point I will fast forward:  Dropped rice cakes.  Pulling off layers – it’s steamy hot now.  A pinch flat.  I’m running out of hydration.  And finally, a buddy’s flat about 8 miles out.  We calculate the time.  Crap!  We may miss the time cut.  Change the tire.  Hammer.  Crap.  My buddy’s saddle bag, left open, has left a trail of necessary bike minutia.  Gotta go back and get it.  Valuable stuff.  An Easter egg hunt of sorts.  Got it.  Hammer.  Pace line.  Monster pull by Jeff.  Into Hermann.  Make the time cut by 8 minutes.  Race organizer says, “The time cut is when you pull out of here!”  Argh!  Get new bottles, get new nutrition, get new chamois butter (ahhhhhh, feels sooooo good).  And OUT.  With 30 seconds to go.  Whew.

Loop 5:  We are high on adrenaline.  Adrenaline will not last for four or five hours, I think to myself.  But maybe it will?  So, the last loop is really a kind of a multiple roller for 52 miles.  No monster climbs like yesterday and we enjoy the coasters.  An animal farm of sorts evolves:  we spy deer, odd colored domestic ducks, lots of cows, horses, and Missouri mules.  No banjo players.  We turn a corner and right out of a Hitchcock movie is a gigantic dead tree with six vultures staring at us.  We ride under the tree and the vultures alight, following us for a while, giving me the willies.

Perhaps the vultures are a harbinger to what happens next.  I have my nutrition technique down to a science now:  take half a spiced beef and onion rice cake, cram it equally into each cheek, like the chipmunk, add a couple of shots of water and let it sit for a while.  Chew slowly and all is good.  Ten miles from the finish!  The pace picks up.  I’m chipmunking it just fine.  Darn.  Need to breath a little more with the pace.  I’ll breath through my mouth.  At this point, the word ASPIRATE best describes what happens.  A bolus of sticky rice/spiced beef/onion and molasses enters my lung(s).  The sounds one makes when that happens cannot be easily described; perhaps a blend of a child’s high screech and a pig snorting, like I heard motor pacing the day before, comes close.  I keep pedaling.  Eventually, a kind of self-Heimlich causes what was once in my lungs to shower all over my bike and kit.  I never stopped pedaling. 

  Two more flats and an hour later a magnificent white owl paces us overhead, just out of reach.  We roll into Hermann at 8:08 moving time, but well over an hour of down time between mechanicals and the thunderstorm.  4200Kj, 6700 feet of climb, 105 miles The finish line is empty except for five Mason jars filled to the brim with gravel.  We are, for sure, Lanterne Rouge.

Post-script:  At the time of this writing, I do not know the final placement we received; it is not yet posted.  We spoke to the 5th place finisher, who was camping nearby, who told us maybe 20 finished the entire five loops.  So, maybe 20th out of 142?  That would be the top 15%, eh?  Or, dead last of the finishers.  Lanterne Rouge never felt so good.

Keith Buescher, Springfield, IL
April 9-10, 2016 – Tour of Hermann

Daenerys, Set Me Free

By Matt Talbert | Apr 7, 2016

Race name: Skyway Classic
Race date:Tuesday, Apr 5, 2016

This was originally going to be a race report about how my self-confidence, or lack thereof, has been a hindrance to me. That is still a major theme here. However, as I started writing and proofing, this was sounding more like an affirmation of my new machine.

To one of the two major themes, I’m sure you have heard me say the following: I stink. I’ll be in the back of this field. I’ll be dropped. University avenue signals bye bye for me.

I’m sure these thoughts were a self-fulfilled prophecy. I’ve had a good race here or there, but it wasn’t the norm. Anxiety was clearly an issue, as I consistently rode very well at LaBagh practice crits…which did not count. I arrived to the 2nd night of the Skyway Classic 4/5 with the same negative attitude. While warming up into the wind, I felt like things might not go so wonderfully and thought “here we go again.” Nevertheless, I channeled the advice of more seasoned members of xXx and positioned myself in front before the race started knowing I am probably not the strongest in the field. When the whistle blew I got a solid clip and I took off. Right away something felt different about this race. Just before the first corner, 3 to 4 riders took a charge ahead of the pack, one of them being Kevin Corcoran. Right there was some sort of spark of confidence as I decided to join him and charge to his wheel with a rather foreign thought: “I can totally do this.” There I was leading the charge with some strong riders. As I said, something felt different about this race. What could it possibly be? Maybe my recently acquired Cervélo R2, which henceforth shall be known as Daenerys. My old bike, fondly known as Shadowfax, and fondly remembered for breaking down, was a cheap and heavy Schwinn klunker. Really a poor testament to Middle Earth’s King of Horses. I was more than excited to finally get Daenerys out on a crit after a couple weeks of taking her for some strong rides. I know the rider matters and I could give credit to the hard work I put in this off-season, but I can certainly tell the Dragon Queen has enhanced my capabilities. Maybe it’s that Targaryen dragon blood, maybe it’s psychological and Daenerys is causing a placebo effect, but I don’t quite buy that. It was much less difficult to stay with the strong riders with Daenerys than Shadowfax. So was it the bike? Yes. Was it the off-season computrainer classes? Yes! Was it increased confidence? YES! I don’t believe any of these to be mutually exclusive, and I can Roll: with that.

It was only at the end of the final lap where that ugly negative voice told me “I’m out of gas.” I did not let it hold me back as much this time and at least sprinted. Even when out of gas, I could tell the sprinting power was an improvement. I didn’t jockey up for a better spot, but I also didn’t get lit up in the sprint and allow myself to fall further back. I may have been out of gas, but in doing a postmortem of this race, I could have expended more at the last turn. More postmortem, I wish I had sprinted before that last turn because people tend to slow down there, so I could have used that as an opportunity to move up. In the end, I was satisfied with 11 in a field of 35, which is a pretty good start for someone who needs a kick in the butt.

So the dragon queen helped the most of all. That’s okay. What matters is I finally felt a sense of empowerment in a race. I was one of those dudes charging in the front. I belonged up there. I do have to make a diffusing argument: I have performed well in the past, and had what I call “find it” moments. Glencoe last year had glimmers of this, as read in my previous race report. Perhaps we are supposed to keep having “find it” moments, and they should never stop as we evolve in our bike racing. This was also Skyway, aka Gapers Block. We know it’s just a simple loop and a 4/5 race. I don’t think that should discredit my efforts. The course is the same for everyone, and for most it was their first race of the season. I also should realize this does not mark the end of struggles, but maybe that doesn’t have to be the norm anymore. When rough days happen, I cannot return to my poor attitude.

Sometimes a great baseball player gets it going with an infield hit. If it took a nice new bike and a good performance in a non-technical race, then I can build upon that to start having having thoughts like this: I can take this field, I can get that prime. I can get on that podium.

Might as Well Have Another Espresso

By Jacob Buescher | Mar 22, 2016

Race name: Tour of St. Louis
Race date:Saturday, Mar 19, 2016

Stage 1 Centaur TT

Only Diesel and I were game for the TT.  Igor and Ben opted for sleep and not thrashing their legs for 25 minutes before the afternoon crit, which seemed like a wise idea in hindsight.

Over-caffeinated, aero as possible, and as warm as I was going to get (40 degrees and only a skinsuit on), I rolled to the start line.  The timer made a joke about me not wearing gloves.  I chuckled while shivering and teeth chattering.  Joke’s on her!  I’m going to shave off .2 seconds with that move.

The 11.6 mile course was rolling and probably very pretty.  I don’t recall as my vision was blurred the majority of the TT and I was looking at nothing but the pavement 15 feet in front of me.  Ryan and I had guesstimated what a top 10 time would be and I was at the top end of that range about 500 meters from the finish line.  Either way, I came across the line at 25:50 in an all-out effort.  Nothing was left on the road.

Ryan went off about 15 minutes behind me and was not a happy camper when he rolled over to the car after finishing.  He, along with many others, made a brief wrong turn up a hill where no course marshal was present – just a police officer that would bleep his sirens if you went the wrong way.  This wrong turn probably tacked on 15-20 seconds to Ryan’s time.  We ended up 5th and 8th.  He notched a 25:55 that would have surely been a 5th place for him had the wrong turn not been made.
Either way, omnium points were allocated 10 deep (1st – 10, 2nd – 9, etc.) and we had nabbed a few before the afternoon crit. 

Stage 2 Carondolet Park Crit

63 starters and lots of big team representation for the 65 minute crit.  The course was flowy and had a little elevation gain on the back side and through the start/finish.  The cold and wind played a big factor.

It was an aggressive race.  Everyone wanted to be in the move, but knew it had to contain all the major teams in the field – LAPT, Bissel, Roadhouse, Mercy, Dogfish, SBR.  I relaxed and observed for the first 20 minutes or so until legs started to tire at the front.  At that point, I was feeling relatively good.  Ben and Ryan had been mixing it up off the front in short-lived moves.  It seemed like the appropriate time to take a one lap flyer and… nevermind.  That was a bad idea.

I reassessed, somehow recovered relatively quickly, and went again. Still no dice. 

Rinse, repeat, and go off again and this time I got a gap that stuck.  Riders bridged until we had 6 in the break.  Break was two Dogfish, Roadhouse, SBR, and Jadon Jaeger who could have probably pulled the entire field around all day.  He was good to have in the move.

We rotated HARD for a couple laps, really trying to pry the gap open.  Roughly 3 laps to go or so, Bissel (Hogan Sills) bridged up.  A significant effort to say the least.  At this point, I knew there were two guys that could outsprint me in the move – Hogan and Grant (SBR).  Options were leave it up to a sprint and get 3rd (at best) or attack early, go for the W and probably take 7th if that doesn’t work.

I opted for the latter and attacked with about 600-700m to the line.  I pried open a small gap until the final corner, but it was closed down and I ended up crawling to the line for 5th.

Ryan and I drove back to my parent’s place that night in Springfield.  We spent the drive eating gas station pizza and discussing the different scenarios the omnium could play out on Sunday.  Seemingly, every situation ended with “yeah, so you need to get in the top 10”.

Stage 3 Forest Park Criterium

Similar to the day prior, the crit wasn’t easy.  I was aggressive early, but nothing seemed to be sticking.  The course was too flat and wind on the back stretch took the motivation out of a lot of moves.  After 20 minutes or so, I needed to recover.

Chaos developed into a bit more organized chaos for the next thirty minutes.  Attacks were more short-lived and less threatening.  The bunch seemed to be accepting that a sprint finish was probably the most likely outcome.

Just as we were seeing 5 laps to go, the pace had lulled after a short move was brought back.  I was sitting in the top 5 wheels on the right side of the road and, as if Diesel had read my mind, there he went up the left side smashing a perfectly timed attack.  He drew out 6 riders from the field, and a late break was formed.

We’d discussed the situation he found himself in prior to the start.  What if Ryan gets in a move that seems promising?  Well, as long as there aren’t any contenders for the overall in that move, it’s a win-win for him to drive that break to the line.  There were 7 in his move.  If they stick it, they nab up all but 3, 2, and 1 for omnium points.  That makes it much more likely that I keep my podium spot overall and that Ryan gets a stage result.  On the other hand, if there are overall contenders in the move, Ryan tries to kill it and just sits on.

From what I could see, there were no overall contenders in that move with Ryan.  He noticed the same.  With that in mind, I was perfectly content sitting top 10 wheels and watching the gap grow with Diesel’s move.

I was hearing 10 second gap or so with 3 laps to go.  At that point, Bissel (who weren’t represented in the move), put in a huge lap and a half effort to close down the break.  Ryan’s move was caught with 1.5 laps to go and I was in good position for what was going to be a bunch kick.

I surfed around for the final lap, always making sure there was some daylight in front of me as there was no organized leadout train.  Things were messy.  Grant jumped on the backside and Hogan latched right onto his wheel.  They pried open a gap and no one was intent on closing it down.  With the fear that I’d waste myself jumping over to that move and not have anything left on the finishing stretch, I stayed put.  I came into the final corner 3rd wheel, latched onto the right hand curb so no one could come on my inside.  The way the tailwind was working on the finishing stretch gave me the push I needed to take 3rd as Hogan and Grant went 1-2 a second or so in front of us.

I ended up tied for points with Hogan on the omnium and the tie-breaker was the final crit placing.  Bummed, but it seemed only fair that a guy winning two days in a row takes the overall in a crit-heavy competition.  The final stage podium was almost identical to the overall series podium.  Grant and I simply had to do a swap from 3rd to 2nd step.

I’m very happy with how we all raced this weekend.  It’s pretty gratifying to know that less than half of our elite team can be competitive and almost victorious in a tough field.  Ryan set up my 2nd place in the overall with his move at Forest Park.  Ben was able to nab two top 20s and was aggressive at the front, clearly showing some good form.  Igor raced very well considering this was his first P/1/2 event.  We’re off to a good start and I can’t wait to see what we’re capable of as a full squad.

xXx Elite Team Training Camp: Phoenix and Tucson

By Aaron Baker | Mar 5, 2016

Race name: Elite Training Camp
Race date:Sunday, Feb 21, 2016

xXx Elite Cycling Camp: Tucson and Phoenix

On the second to last day of camp, I’m descending Mt Lemmon solo because as the Elite’s team’s historically most inconsistent (okay, worst) descender I wanted a head start from the cookie shop on the summit. It’s twenty one miles down. Pine trees and slush on the roadside at 8000 feet gradually give way to more familiar desert landscapes—saguaro and cholla cacti, creosote shrubs, shale slides and sand. My new bike carves through the air—I’m feeling stable, low-slung, and leaning well into the turns. A hot wind blows up out of the ravines, and I’ve very quickly gone from too cold to too hot. I roll down my arm warmers on one of the straights.

I manage to stay away for some twenty miles until a few turns from the base when Jake Buescher, Travis McCabe of Hincapie, and Josh Berry of Jelly Belly come bombing past me. Jake has a huge grin on his face and says something unintelligible as they pass. And there the three of them go, leaning hard into the last corner before the road straightens and flattens toward Tucson.

Jake and I stop to wait for the team at an intersection, and a couple members of EGO roll up to us going the opposite way—small world. They snap a few pictures of Jake (who is inexplicably wearing a pair of EGO bibs), try to sell us something (leafblowers I think), and then start up the mountain. The rest of our team arrives soon after and we discard the torn pieces of pizza boxes we’d stuffed down the fronts of our jerseys for the descent.

The West has long occupied an important place in the American imagination, a refuge and respite both literally and metaphorically from the more developed and populated eastern regions. In a July 13, 1865 editorial in the New York Tribune, famed editor Horace Greeley advised veterans of the Civil War to take advantage of the Homestead Act, to leave behind the battle-torn and economically depressed post-war American urban centers and settle the untamed lands lying to the west. “Go West Young Man” became a motto for the age.

Greeley may not have been thinking of the desert Southwest’s mild February mornings and seventy degree afternoons, but the number of pro riders you see in Phoenix and Tucson this time of year is testament to Arizona’s draw for cyclists. Those who say they enjoy winter riding in the Midwest clearly suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, a form of pathological hopelessness masquerading as cheer (Stockholm, you see, has winters much like Chicago’s).

I’ve been out here a month already, a refugee from winter, writing mornings and riding in the afternoons. But finally it’s February 11, the first day of the xXx Elite Team’s Arizona training camp.The plan is to race the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in the Phoenix area and then wagon-train it down to Tucson for a solid week of riding.

Ben LaForce is the first to meet me at our Phoenix rental. Tomorrow is the TT, so we put clip-on aerobars on our bikes and set out to experiment with our modified rigs. As a triathlete, Ben looks right at home in the aero position. Aero, I’d say, as hell. For the first of several times this weekend, I notice a teammate’s clear initial pleasure and surprise to find himself outside on a bicycle and in summer kit in the middle of February.

Soon Austin arrives with Taylor Warren, who’ll be riding with us. Ben goes to the airport to pick up Jake Buescher, Tyler George, and Ryan O’Boyle. Eventually the sound of a garage door opening, luggage rollers on concrete, and there finally are Jake, Tyler, and Ryan coming into the kitchen. Austin has clearly worked out how this needs to go: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” begins at ear-splitting volume and he’s dancing. I won’t look for the words to describe either the dance or the feelings it stirred. All I can say is if we’re ever captured by an enemy general and required to choose one of us to dance for the lives of all, it will be Austin. Arizona Camp is officially on.

The next morning, we’re building bikes in an open garage in front of a sun-bathed, palm-tree lined street.

On the third and final day of the Valley of the Sun Stage Race, Austin goes off the front in the Cat 2 criterium. I see him doing it and move up into the top ten, then into the front five as the field starts to string out. When he’s caught, I go, drawing out two riders, and then I’m in what appears a fairly promising three-man break. After a few laps, two riders from teams with GC contenders bridge up and sit on, effectively killing the break.

In the last lap, Ben leads me up the inside line through the first turn, and I eventually work up to fourth wheel just before the final corner. For an instant I’m startled to find myself exactly where I want to be with mere seconds left in the race, but then I start to overthink my positioning and decide I’ll try to come in on one of the wheels ahead. The three ahead start to fade though, a small group draws even with us on the left, and then I’m starting my sprint an instant too late. I end up with 10th, and LaForce is 15th. The results could have been much better, but it’s more than we thought we’d be doing against a field like this at this time of year. We feel good about our early season teamwork—it’s something to build on.

Our Cat 1s raced earlier and are already in street clothes. We eat Mexican food on an off-street restaurant patio and then drive through the dark to our next rental house in the Tanque Verde neighborhood of Tucson at the base of Mount Lemmon.

Here’s the drill: one guy rolls off the front as the rest of us soft-pedal for three minutes. Then we chase him across the desert, ride him down hard like a posse of gun-slingers after a horse thieving varmint. If you can stay from this group for twenty minutes, you’re doing very well. Thirty minutes and you deserve a category upgrade. Once a guy’s caught, the next guy goes—the three minutes soft-pedal, then the chase. Rinse and repeat.

I’m the first to go, straight into a headwind, and I’m thinking immediately that three minutes won’t be nearly long enough when I’ve got a pack of hungry hounds like O’Boyle, Taylor, Tyler, Ben, and Austin bearing down on me. Watts, like metaphors, are flying everywhere. I watch the power meter. My only hope to delay the catch is to get into those hills wavering in the distance, but the hills never materialize until Taylor, who’s gone early, catches me.

I sit up until the group arrives and then we go. A flaw in our planning becomes immediately clear: the benefits of working together in a chase are greatly reduced on climbs, and Taylor is probably the strongest climber in our group. He’s floating uphill and out of sight. When we manage to catch him it’s because he’s pulled over and waiting for us by the side of the road. 

Jake is the next to go, and as we fly down the backside of Sonoita Mountain we inadvertently blow past a border control checkpoint with armed officers. After a water stop at a service state, we chase O’Boyle back up the mountain and down the backside. The border control agents see us coming and wave us through—they seem to get that this is no time for dawdling. After we hunt down O’Boyle, we have to chase Tyler. This isn’t getting any easier.

Eating and drinking take on special urgency.

We finish a ten pound bag of Whey Protein isolate before the week is over. Our team recovery drink mixologist (Ben) makes us each a peanut butter and whey recovery shake at the end of each day’s ride.

No matter how many bananas we buy, it’s never enough.

Clif, Bonk Breaker, and Fig Newton wrappers accumulate on counter-tops, floors, and sofas. Dirty dishes are left piled and teetering upon every available surface.

The house has a piano and a big-screen television but a pathetically unsuitable mini coffee pot. While a nuisance, I quickly realize that the coffee maker is in fact a vital instrument measuring the inherent moral character of each of my teammates. Who watches as you prepare a new batch and is first to refill his own mug as soon as the coffee is brewed? Who would drain the pot of a batch made by another? You may not speak of such things, but you do notice and store the knowledge away.

The meat O’Boyle grilled wasn’t chicken but pork. Why do you keep saying it was chicken? It was delicious even if it wasn’t kosher. “Chicken chops” enters the team vocabulary. “Hey Diesel, when you gonna make us more of those chicken chops?”

A five pound bag of bacon. Three tubs of oatmeal. A third day that same stack of empty pizza boxes has sat in the kitchen.

Within the slightly deranged alternate reality of camp, our relationship to sleep has also changed. One night, everyone is in bed by 9:30.

In the morning we can be found on the backyard patio, surrounded by our bikes in various states of assembly, groggily eating bowls of oatmeal and looking at Strava and Training Peaks on our laptops as we plan the day ahead.

Mount Lemmon, the highest peak in the Catalina Mountains and named for the botanist Sara Lemmon, is the dominant feature of the cycling landscape in Tucson. It’s a twenty-one mile climb with excellent gradually winding roads rising skyward from the desert floor. At the twenty-one mile point, the road tops off before descending, then rising again briefly to a fork where you can either dive down into the ski town of Summerhaven or turn right and climb to the mountain’s true summit, the observatory hill at 9000+ feet. Hardly anyone goes to the observatory, largely because doing so involves ducking under a gate (trespassing).

On our first ascent, O’Boyle and I have decided to go all the way up, but we miss the turn to the observatory. It’s not the first time I’ve lost my sense of direction on a bike, and O’Boyle’s habit generally is to just charge ahead like a bull. By the time my Garmin alerts me with the dreaded “Off Course” message, O’Boyle is already flying downhill into Summerhaven. I yell a couple times to no effect and finally just pull up and wait for him to return. As he climbs back, he’s yelling “Baker!” every few seconds. “Baker!” “Baker!” I’m not sure how to read his tone—whether its recrimination, telling me to wait up, some combination of both. But we’ve been climbing for over an hour and half and now I’m mostly just thinking about food.

After we’ve ducked under the gate and begun the final slog up through the slushy sandy road to Lemmon’s true summit, I notice something that I’ll notice again on subsequent climbs of the mountain: I appear to have more trouble than others with altitude. My perceived effort and power readings are utterly at odds.

It’s cold at the top. Ryan and I stop, snap a couple photos, and head down to the cookie shop to meet up with the team.

We’ve got it in mind to take a certain Strava KOM (Saguaro National Park 3 Hill Climb), but we’re turned away at the park entrance because we don’t have passes and they don’t accept credit cards.  As we ride away from the ranger station, we’re stopped by a local cyclist pulling a child in a carrier. He offers to take us in as guests with his season’s pass. We agree but then the ranger informs him that we’re one too many guests.  So Scott (our benefactor) takes out his wallet and pays cash to get the last of us in. The kindness of strangers.

The eight mile circuit through the park is a gorgeous piece of road. After our first reconnoitering loop, we line up for the KOM attempt. There’s some uncertainty about where the segment begins and ends. Tyler and Ben lead things off with strong pulls, I end up doing a pretty short one, and then Buescher goes hard for the finish, ending up with a respectable 4th on the leaderboard—a tie with Tommy Danielson. After the group regathers, we do another loop through the park and turn for home.

Amidst the constant riding, eating, sleeping, and fiddling mechanically with our bikes, there are many small unscheduled moments of solitude and introspection.

The most constant and palpable reality is, as always, the landscape, and here it is so different from home—wide-open vistas under almost always cloudless skies, the desert seemingly bare until you really look at it and see how much variety of plant and and animal life there really is. Roadrunners , rabbits, coyotes, desert-dwelling doves and wrens, mesquite and ironwood trees, and of course everywhere the many varieties of cactus.

At Le Buzz Café, which is something of a gathering point for cyclists of truly every variet, you’ll see everyone from world tour cyclists who’ve you’ve watched on television to the ubiquitous touring cyclists with helmet-mounted mirrors and loose-fitting lycra. What would it be like, I can’t help wondering, to just move out here? Well, summer as many are quick to remind me, is a scorching hell.

I recall a quote from Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice in which the protagonist regards the Venetian landscape and weather: “The burning void of the sky, day after day, weighs one down; the high coloration, the enormous naïveté of the unrefracted light—they do, I dare say, induce light-heartedness, a carefree mood born of immunity from downpours and other meteorological caprices. But slowly, slowly, there makes itself felt a lack: the deeper, more complex needs of the northern soul remain unsatisfied. You are left barren-even it may be, in time, a little contemptuous.”

I may not dwell much on the complex needs of the northern soul while riding the trainer day after day for two months Chicago, but after having been in Arizona for more than a month now, I do remember that Chicago is still my truest home. Perhaps moving between two places may allow me to see both places with fresh eyes and make the best of my time in each. Do I buy that? Not completely. I’ve said more than once out here that they’ll have to take me home in handcuffs. But truthfully, there are still many moments and days when I miss my life and friends back in Stockholm.

The final ride of camp is the famed Saturday morning Shootout, which leaves from the UA campus and goes south to Madera Canyon. Because of its reputation, our anticipation has built steadily for it over the last week. The ride is everything it’s reputed to be—hard, furious, and exciting. And afterwards we spend most of the afternoon people-watching and drinking beers on University Avenue.

What stands out for me more than the Shootout though is our group’s last ascent of Mt Lemmon, which encapsulates many of the things I’d hoped to get out of camp.
As the team’s newest member, I’d wondered what my place might be among such a strong and accomplished group of bike racers. Our earlier ascent of Lemmon had become something of a contest, with attacks, counterattacks, a climb punctuated with numerous unsustainable efforts intended simply to hurt each other. It was a load of fun, and undoubtedly useful training, but this time is something different.

I ride up with Tyler this time, and with our team captain on my wheel, give all my attention to setting what I think will be a tough but sustainable pace. We climb steadily for an hour and a half, and I watch the power meter the entire time, trying to hold at around 290 while the miles and minutes tick away.

Eventually the cacti and saguaro give way to the pine trees and snow and the temperature dives. Tyler looks impressively strong, and has enough left at the end to come around with me a good kick. Not someone you’d usually think of us a climber, he achieves 64th on all-time leaderboard for the Mt Lemmon climb, a remarkable result when you look at all the people on that list.

I’ve noticed again how much trouble I have breathing up here. Tayler told me after this happened before that a greater need for oxygen, more noticeable at altitude, may be the result of a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers. I’ll take that as bad news for climbing at altitude and good news for my sprint.

But first a cookie at the Cookie Shack. With two scoops of ice cream. And also a giant cup of Pepsi. And also a slice of pizza.

After I get everyone off to the airport on Sunday morning, I return to the rental house, which suddenly seems huge, empty, and weirdly soulless. You never want to be the last person left at a party.

Among the many items I find left in the house are a front wheel (still unclaimed—how can someone fail to notice he’s missing a front wheel?), a pair of green Speedplay pedals, a pair of blue cotton shorts (size medium), a Notorious B.IG. t-shirt, three slices of uneaten pizza, a half canister of Vitargo, a bottle of fish oil supplements, and a pair of xXx socks.

I’ll be staying another couple weeks at a nearby (and much smaller) rental before making my way north to rendezvous with the team for SLO camp. Arizona camp has been a success. Everyone rode well, and all the signs look good for the race season ahead. Now as my teammates are all winging their way back to C-town and I’m waiting for the landlady to arrive and check me out, my thoughts turn vaguely toward unfinished manuscripts and the afternoon’s ride. In the meantime, I make another pot of coffee—all for me.

Valley of the Sun Stage Race

By Tyler George | Feb 25, 2016

Race name: Valley of the Sun Stage Race
Race date:Friday, Feb 12, 2016

The Valley of the Sun Stage Race was a true timed stage race event consisting of a time trial, road race, and criterium. The race had separate P/1 and 2’s fields so Jake, O’Boyle, and I tackled the P/1 event while Aaron, Austin, and Ben did the 2’s race.

We showed up to the time trial in classic Bad News Bears fashion. Given our mismatching kits, our last minute thrown-on clip on bars, and whatever other aero equipment we could find we set out to ‘compete’ against a fully aero-legal field in the more-likely-trained-than-us southern portion of our country. The time trial course was roughly 14.5 miles long, which is among the longer individual efforts you’ll find to start off a stage race. One thing you can bank on if you use power and haven’t trained your time trial position is that your power numbers will not necessarily equate to your normal numbers when pushing in the aero position. My numbers looked a bit low, so I poorly decided to give it a little more gas and ended up paying for it on the back half of the course. I wasn’t used to pushing those numbers in that position. In the end, we all gave it a good effort, but none of us really posted a result—which was completely expected. O’Boyle actually posted a really good time given his setup (maybe even worthy of a top 20 result had he had a full aero setup). I think we were mostly relieved to have that effort behind us and were looking forward to the true tests coming up, particularly the road race the following day.

The road race for both fields was 95 miles long, seemingly matching the temperature outside (it was hot).  We expected the course to be pretty flat with a little hill each circuit that with our YouTube reconnaissance looked like it might be an effort but not something to worry about. The first time we hit that hill, I can tell you it was something to worry about. It ended up being a roughly 3 mile ascent and at least for the last mile was at a concerning grade…the fresh legs in the peloton made sure we felt it. The feed zone was classically located right before the top of the climb, which is a seemingly nice place to put it as speeds are lower, except for the fact that that’s when the race is most on as you’re either attacking or struggling to stay in contact. Thankfully Ben’s brother Chase was in the feed zone for us throughout the day, but given the race conditions, it often was a challenge taking feeds as the decision to take one often meant that you were signing yourself up for a nice 60 second all-out effort afterwards to stay in contact. The P/1 race settled down afterwards. With about one lap to go, O’Boyle got caught behind a crash and put in a massive effort to catch back on while the race was at its hottest. As we approached the final climb, I felt relatively okay and Jake decided to move me up into position. I was placed right up near the front third of the field and Jake pulled off. The speed up the climb proved to be too much for me, and I just barely was able to hang on to the group until becoming detached near the finish.  Always disappointing to not be able to deliver a result when a teammate did a ton of work for you, but it was super promising to be able to work that well as teammates in February, especially in the finale of a big P/1 road race. The 2’s race had a breakaway group get off the front and stay away. The course was great for Baker, who ended up coming up the climb 8th in the field (good for 19th), while Austin and Ben were right behind.

Sometime inbetween the road race and crit I assume Jake ate three bags of jelly beans, O’Boyle had a gallon of Dairy Queen ice cream, Baker Soda made two death-defying last minute four lane highway changes, Austin cooked all of the bacon, and I fell into a pool. But Ben made us all incredible recovery drinks, so we were ready.

The crit was fairly wide open as the course had a massive passing zone on the backside into a soft headwind. I don’t think we felt the need to get a result as a team, but I think it was understood that we wanted one. I felt great all race and focused on moving up through the pack from the halfway point on, finding several nice passing zones throughout the afternoon. I was able to position well late, but messed up the last 200m as I lost momentum exiting the final turn when I thought I was chopping someone as I was about to come out of my saddle to sprint, which made the finish more of a drag race for me. But I ended up finishing 16th in a good early season P/1 field which bodes well for the year ahead. After Jake, O’Boyle, and I finished, we got to kick back and watch the 2’s race, which was a nice scheduling surprise. They raced so well together. Aaron was off the front, then Austin was off the front, and sure enough Ben was in perfect blocking position each time. They raced smart, they raced aggressively, and just unfortunately nothing stuck. However Baker and Ben positioned well late, nabbing 10th and 15th place honors in the sprint.

It was a fun weekend getting our racing legs back under us. We had a lot of positive takeaways, and in the end it was absolutely a great first test event before a big season ahead.

Find Your Weakness

By Jared Verbeke | Dec 8, 2015

Race name: Jingle Cross
Race date:Saturday, Dec 5, 2015

As the old saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20,” and as cliché as that sounds, it rings so true in bike racing. I was, I thought, prepared for Jingle Cross and I expected to come home with some of my best results of the year.

It had been 3 weeks since I raced at Indian Lakes and those races didn’t go as well as I had hoped. As a brand new Cat 3, I felt nerves on the start line and I wasn’t sure how the extra time would affect my abilities. Long story short, I suffered through some of the worst back pain I’ve ever felt, my chain snapped on Saturday, and after racing for 61 minutes in the P123 race my legs felt hollow on Sunday. I left that weekend thinking that to make top 20 in Cat 3 I was going to need to go deeper and I would need to fix the pain issues.

So, fast-forward to Jingle. Since Indian Lakes I had tweaked my bike fit and my back pain was gone. I hit the trainer hard and continued to do my weekly cross practices. At those practices I was doing my fastest lap times of the year, so I had big expectations. I ‘thought’ I was prepared for this race because I was feeling strong and had figured out my nagging back pain issues.

Friday night I raced under the lights at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. The conditions: muddy, 34 degrees, and looooong. Let me break down the mud first. This mud was nothing like the mud at Rhythm and Blues. That mud was slimy; it kind of fell off the bike and because the course was flat I didn’t seem to care much about it weighing my bike down. The mud at Jingle? It was full of grass – long long grass that clogged up everything and it was so deep in places. The result was a course that necessitated 3 long running sections. All with uphill portions, where the mud was in places 4-6 inches deep. You couldn’t see your shoes it was that deep.  With your bike slung on your shoulder, about all you could manage was to slog through the stuff, hoping to keep your HR in check to put out power through the rest of the tough course, before your next running sections.

Looking at Strava, there was 4 minutes of running per lap on Sunday. Mt. Krumpit is famous for its brutality and on Strava the segment is aptly titled “Run up?” because you cannot run this beast. You trot, slog, and stammer up it to the immense noise of the crowd and on Friday night, the blaring loud speakers from the DJ booth.  My fastest time up Mt Krumpit was 1:15, with other laps hovering around 1:30.  On Saturday the backside Mt. Krumpit climb was unrideable for all but the top pros. My times on that run up were averaging 3 minutes. My HR, was averaging 184. Total running for the weekend, was somewhere around 30 minutes; most of it uphill, with a 25-30lb muddy bike and a heart that was about to explode. Point is? I was definitely not ready for what I experienced this weekend.

The best way to get better, to improve yourself, is to do what challenges you most. Take your weakness and make it your strength. Can’t run, practice running. Can’t corner without braking, take corners fast in practice. Attacking your weaknesses and trying something that is harder than anything you’ve done before will transform your results. I may not have been ready for the brutal run ups at Jingle Cross this year, but yesterday I was in the gym on the stair machine because Jingle Cross ’16 is less than a year away! ?

Race Across the Sky

By Tracy Dangott | Aug 24, 2015

Race name: Leadville Trail 100 MTB
Race date:Sunday, Aug 16, 2015

From: Norm DePlume

Leadville, Co

The mountain air was just above freezing in the spooky pre-dawn darkness. Main Street was teeming with activity.  An announcer rattled on over a PA, but no one paid attention to what he is saying. Athletes were decked out in the latest tech wear, some however layered with low-tech blankets or sweatshirts to keep warm before the start of the race.  They scurry to find their corrals at a starting line two thousand riders deep.

There are many races. In fact there are many mountain bike races, but the Leadville trail 100 is special. It was started, as a shot in the dark, by an old shift boss when the Climax Mine in Leadville shut down in 1982. Ken Chlouber dreamed up the race as a chance to draw some money into a town that would whither without the mining jobs. Now, he is a part of the fabric, character and spirit of this ultra endurance event. He’s got his special sayings that are part of the branding of the race:

“To finish the Leadville Trail 100, you’ve got to make like the miners out here. You gotta dig deep.”
“Within each of us is an inexhaustible well of grit, guts and determination.”
“You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.”
“I commit, I won’t quit.”

With his cowboy swagger and a face seasoned by decades of hard living, he coughs out those lines like an IPod on shuffle repeat. However, the repetition doesn’t annoy like a pop song. The lines are more like your school’s fight song. They let you know it’s game time.

Ken’s economic infusion plan hung on a leap of faith, that somewhere out in the world is a voluntary suffering class. People would want to travel to a largely unknown town in Colorado for the chance to toil in misery. The race takes mountain bikers from the center of town, a little over 50 miles up and over three mountain ranges, loose dirt, water ruts and boulders to the high point atop the Columbine mine. Then it tracks back over the same mountains to Main Street. Over the 104.2-mile course, riders climb just under 13,000 feet. Leadville is highest altitude race of its kind. The starting line is at 10,200 feet above sea level. That earns the title “The race across the sky,” and removes oxygen from the available resources.

The plan worked.

People come from all over the states and all over the world.  The biggest names in cycling and the Tour De France have lined up here. Lance Armstrong raced here before his fall from grace, Floyd Patterson as well.  Names known to Mountain Bikers: Todd Wells, Rebecca Rusch, Dave Weins are all connected to the Leadville race. Leadville has become as big a name with ultra endurance events as Kona is to triathlons and Boston is to Marathons. The coveted belt buckle is a badge of honor, which says you finished the race in under 12 hours and joined this odd fraternity that Chlouber now calls “the Leadville family.”

So, as the Sun starts to tilt shadows down and expose the Colorado Rockies, just under two thousand are crowded in the center of this otherwise dead mining town.  I am in their ranks. Leadville has become a special place to me, because of the race and because of the team on which I compete.

I’m wearing the uniform of Ride 2 Recovery, a non-profit that outfits veterans with bikes and gets them out riding. The beauty of cycling is that there is a mechanical element that can be adjusted to accommodate for missing limbs or other injuries.  Cycling levels the playing field. However, I think the most significant impact for veterans is on unseen battle scars.  A guy out for a training ride is the opposite of the depressed combat vet shut in his apartment with the blinds drawn.  A competitor who just put 100 miles behind him stands in sharp contrast to someone who feels so helpless that suicide seems like a reasonable option.

One of my teammates is here to support. Nathan Dewalt, a US Navy veteran who lost the use of his legs when he was hit by a car.  He is an active para-triathalete. However, although hand bikes, even off-road hand bikes have been developed, we have yet to design a bike that could get a guy over the severe and treacherous terrain of Leadville without his legs. But Nate is a determined guy and he is here to scout the course and come up with a plan to get the buckle. Despite his injuries, I‘ve only known Nate to be cheerful and ambitious. It’s hard to have anything but respect for that. A couple of nights before the race Nate approached me and asked, “During the later miles, is there anything I could shout that could give you the inspiration to keep going?”
“Oh, Man,” I responded. “Just having you here is enough.”
“No really,” He pushed. “There’s gotta be something.”
There are no magic words to pull you out of the hurt locker. So, I said, “Just shout,
I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”
And we had a good laugh.

On race day, I am crowded in my starting corral. Jeff Wise a submariner and White House liaison for the Navy is off my right shoulder. Mt. Massive is off in the distance, flecked with patches of snow and illuminated with an orange morning alpenglow.

At this point, I think I’m going to throw up.

I lecture the veterans to eat a stout breakfast before a big endurance event like this, but it’s not sitting well.  Maybe it’s nerves. The first time I did this race, the pressure was just to make the 12-hour cutoff.  I made it. The second time I did the race, I had my sights set on a nine-hour deadline.  To finish sub-nine earns you something race organizers call “the gold buckle.” The ratio of gold to silver is just the same as the 12-hour buckle, it’s just bigger. To the outside world, it’s meaningless and gaudy.  To the Leadville family, the big buckle means you are in the big boy club. I got my big buckle in 2013 with a time of 8:41. Now, I’m feeling the pressure to beat that time and I feel like I’ll let the guys down if I can’t repeat.  The heart rate monitor on my bike computer showed 110. I’m usually 60 at rest.

Oh, man. I thought, don’t barf in front of all the other riders.

The national anthem tugs at the heartstrings a bit more when you are on a team of veterans. The emotion was a nice distraction from the nervousness. Soon, race director Josh Colley fired an old H&R single barrel shotgun with the word Leadville and a mountain scape crudely burned into the stock. The 2015 Leadville 100 was on.

The start is slightly downhill on the paved road out of town. So, the first time I looked at my bike computer, the pack was moving at 38 mph.  At second glance 40 and the racers were mere mere inches from each other. If two guys bump into each other, dozens will wreck. Guys are pointlessly jockeying for position and flirting with disaster in an ever -thickening cloud of dust as we leave the paved road. Jeff passed me and I let him go. I opt for caution in the early stages. I hate this part of any race. I can’t wait to get to the first climb.

The climb up St. Kevin’s comes in about 4 miles. This is the part I like. I wait for gaps to open and I fill them. Progress is slow, over the rocky, loose fire road but you can put a lot of competitors behind you on the uphill. My technique is just to ride in the wheel track and cut in line. If I’m on the right and a gap opens on the left, I jump across. Sometimes, I make my own path up the middle to find an opening. I’m not really feeling my best, but I’m advancing. I passed Jeff and kept gaining ground uphill.

The first climb ends on a paved section. It gives riders a chance to spread out and hot-dog descenders get their first chance to try to show what daredevils they are. The riders spread out pretty well on this section of road. So, the show offs don’t really threaten to cause may wrecks. However, the speedy downhill really does not do them much good. I kept it conservative on the downhill (about 40 mph) then caught everyone who passed me as soon as the road flattened out.  Then I passed them as we began the next climb.

The start up the Sugarloaf climb begins with a relatively smooth dirt road and it felt like it had recently been grated. Riders were forming up packs. I jumped on the draft of a small pack and worked my way up to the front. I felt some guy’s handlebar jab me in the kidney and I ignored it. He then reached out a hand and gave me a shove saying, “Hey asshole, you’re crowding me.”  I turned my head said, “You’re responsible for your front wheel, and you’re behind me.”

The beauty of athletics is the ability to mete out instant justice. No mediator, no judge, no jury. If a guy bugs you, you can just beat him. In boxing you can slug him. In wrestling, you stick him to the mat. In mountain biking, you leave him in your dust. So, I left that pack and buried him.

As the climb got steeper and we got to the first switchback, I was able to get a look at that jerk. He was at least 400 meters behind.  I still felt like hell, but I was passing guys on the uphill. As the climb flattened out, the route got rockier. This is the prelude to the infamous powerline descent.  It is loose, water rutted and rocky. If you have ever seen a you-tube clip of a wreck in Leadville it was most likely on the powerline descent.  No one has ever won the race by bombing powerline, but many races have ended there with broken bike or broken rider. Still, the guys who can’t make time uphill and fancy themselves badass mountain bikers can’t resist screaming down the descent and shouting for others to get out of their way. I wouldn’t mind, but they threaten to cause me to wreck and end my race as well.

One guy in a pink jersey came screaming past me – literally – as he shouted at other riders. About 2 minutes later, I saw him off to the side of the racecourse trying to fix his bike. When we got to the steep section, some guy came riding up my ass talking shit. I didn’t let him fluster me. I handled my descent at my speed and made a mental note of him when he passed. A couple more did the same thing; I imprinted their jerseys in my memory.

When powerline flattened out, I told myself all the race-ending treachery is behind you now. One way or another, you’ll finish.  I had lectured the veterans that this is the first chance to get a big pull of water and something to eat. However, I could barely force myself to drink and I could only handle one bite of an energy bar. My stomach was still in a bad way.  I stuck a shot block in my cheek like it was a wad of chewing tobacco and set off to go after the guys who passed me on the descent.

I got them all. I was gobbling up riders like Pac Man. I felt like hell, but I was getting results. I came upon a pack of riders in the flats. One was marshaling an effort to form a pace line. I thought this could work and we could make some time across the flats working together. However, only half of the mountain bikers knew how to ride a pace line. So, in execution, I would ride the draft until I came to the front, then I ended up pulling a bunch of riders and no one would take the front to give me a break. Screw this, I thought. I dumped that pack and blazed off across the flats on my own in search of another wheel to draft.  I found a few guys to draft, but kept jumping to the next wheel.

To my surprise, when I arrived at the first feed station I was 10 minutes off the split time I needed to finish in 8:30. I got a new water bottle and another bar, even though I hadn’t eaten the first one. Nate was working the feed zone from his wheel chair.  He said, “You are doing awesome, Man.” “No,” I responded. “I’m slow. I need to make up some time.” I got out of there quickly.

Within 20 minutes, I was at the only section of single track on the Leadville racecourse.  It’s got a moderate downhill. I took it fast enough.  Still another downhiller came riding up from behind, screaming something like “on your left.” He cut off a section of the course to pass me on a downhill switch back and almost took out my front wheel.  I hollered at him, “Don’t cause a wreck. You’re not making that much time.”
“Learn how to go downhill,” was his response. Then I watched him do the same thing to another rider in the distance.

I buried him about two minutes after the course flattened out.

I was pissed off and it was good. I probably put another 30 riders behind me screaming across the relatively flat section. I found some guys to work with and that helped. However, when I arrived at the second feed station, I had not done much damage to my lag time. I was still off my split.  It was hot, hotter than races in years past. I downed some electrolyte tabs, chugged the little bit of water my stomach could handle, took a bite of a bar and stuffed another shot block in my cheek.

Now, I was beginning the grueling climb to the top of the Columbine mine, but I love this crap.  I don’t have many gifts. I can’t dunk a basketball, do complex math or dance the lambada but I can push things up a hill.  I was in my element, stomping my way up and leaving riders behind me.  One of the most exiting parts of the Leadville 100 occurs on the way up Columbine. The biggest of the big boys come screaming back down.  First the moto, then riders Alban Lakatam, Kristian Hynek and Christoph Sauser in a breakaway en route to set a course record. They all pass just about a foot away at around 45 mph.

On the big climbs, I make an effort to get out of the saddle, do some of the race standing, some of it sitting just to use muscle groups differently and change up the blood flow. I stood up and something felt wrong. It’s hard to explain, but my quads just didn’t feel right. Soon, when I was back in the saddle, my groin muscles started sending out those little electric twinges signaling they were about to cramp. No way, I told myself. I’m not even half way. I’m not cramping. I’m just going to will it not to be so.

My left groin muscle was the first to seize up.  I rubbed it with my right hand and told myself I could ride through it. Then the right leg went.  I managed to unclip without wrecking and hopped on one foot yelping like a scalded dog. There was no choice but to stop and stretch. When I tried to stretch my groin, something in my hip would seize up. When I tried to stretch my quads, my hamstrings would lock up. I reached my hand to the back of my thigh and it felt like someone had inserted an unripe apple underneath my skin.

So, I walked the bike up the hill.  All those riders I passed on the way up or even in the flats, they were passing me now. I don’t know what hurt worse, my legs or my ego.  When the climb flattened, I got back on and rode, but even a moderate climb caused more spasms.

Then I did the math. I was shooting for 8:30. I was 10 minutes slow on the way out. So, that’s 20 minutes on the way back if I could maintain the same speed. I was only getting slower. The day was only getting hotter. I was going to cramp more. If I slowed as much as 11 seconds per mile, I would not make the 9 hour cutoff to get another big buckle, which my fragile, little ego needs to tell me I am somehow worthy.

My ambitions for this year’s Leadville were gone.  I am unworthy.

I first thought was to quit. Just finish Columbine, ride back down to the Ride 2 Recovery tent at the feed station and say it wasn’t my year. However, I’m on the Ride 2 Recovery team. The essence of what we do is resilience and tenacity.  There are guys on this racecourse, in some part because of me, who survived IED attacks.  Matt DeWitt lost both hands to an RPG in Baghdad and he is still on his way up the mountain.  Guys in this operation go to places so dark that giving up means taking their own lives.  I’m supposed to be here encouraging them to fight on.  Nate is still down there without the use of his legs waiting to give me a fresh water bottle and something to eat. Your legs hurt? At least you can feel your legs! At least you have a leg…pus boy!

This race was no longer about hitting my PR. The race was no longer about the big buckle. Now, it was about salvaging dignity.  I hear you Ken Chlouber: I commit, I won’t quit.

As you leave the tree line, the route gets steeper and looser. Any attempt to ride the steep stuff again just led to more yelping and stretching. I pushed as far as I could to the right, so I would not force any other riders into the path of the bikes coming back down. I recognized a voice coming up behind me. It was a combat soldier who suffered such severe depression he didn’t leave the house for weeks at a time.  He announced my name in that good to see ya bro kind of way, “How ya doing?”
“I’m having a bad race pal.”
“Isn’t this awesome?”
I remembered feeling that way at the top of Columbine once.  It was good to see him happy. It made me feel like the whole thing was working, like being here was doing some good and it wasn’t about my race. That soldier ended up getting the sub-9 buckle.

Eventually, the mountain flattens out at the top. I was able to ride again. I didn’t take in the view.  This time, I just wanted off the mountain.  For the first time, I got a look at the faces coming up, faces of racers I knew. I saw people that could not have looked more miserable if they were doing time in a Turkish prison. The heat was getting to a lot of riders. I think cramps were running through this race like the black plague ran through Europe.

I was even more cautious descending from Columbine. Now, I was giving up ground that I would not make up again. I was just letting riders go.

Juan Carlos Hernandez lost his lower leg to an RPG in Afghanistan and has become an elite rider. When the ride flattened out, he rode up behind and asked, “How are you doing?”
“I’m suffering.”
“Me too,” He said.  Then he passed me.
Juan Carlos also went sub-9…with one leg.

I limped back re-tracing the route to town.  When the hill got steep, I soft pedaled until my legs locked up again then walked the bike. The heat was oppressive and despite the forecast for rain, the Sun gave no mercy.  Every chance I had to drink water, I did. R2R President John Wordin once told me that the big sugar and caffeine dump from a can of Coke will bring you back from the dead. I tried it, but it didn’t go down easy and I think what I needed was water and salt.  My stomach wasn’t working right and whatever I could stuff down the pipe, wasn’t making it to my leg muscles. 

As I was returning to the first feed station, I head someone bellow from the side of the racecourse:


I looked off to the side and saw Nate in his wheelchair laughing himself silly.  Who knew, there really are words that could bring you out of the hurt locker? If Nate can be in his chair having a hoot, I can enjoy this race with a few cramps.  I loaded up my bottle cages, took a hit of water and I was out of the feed station. Not really stomping, but I was re-energized.

Whatever inspiration a rider acquires, it is gone by the time he returns to go back up powerline.  Everyone suffers and few make the climb without getting off to hiking the bike up the mountain.  I gave up that quest early and started walking as soon as it got steep. Powerline has several false summits on the way back up. It’s a notorious spirit breaker, but I was already broken.  All I needed to do was endure until I was on a long descent. Then I would know it was over.  After that, one more climb up a paved section.

To my surprise, some strength was returning to my legs.  I was able to do the last climb in the big ring and keep a somewhat respectable pace sans yelping. The heat was only getting worse.  I was given a bottle of cold water, which I dumped over my head.  All I could taste was salt cause all of the sweat crusted on my face washed into my mouth.

At the top of the last climb, I spotted the neon yellow on the shoulders of one of the jerseys R2R was wearing this year. It was Jayme Brown, who manages one of Ride 2 Recovery training chapters. He had passed me as I was crawling through the moderate hilly sections after Columbine.  When I caught up to him he asked, “Do you want to finish together?”
                “Well, we’re not getting on the podium,” I responded.

Jayme still had some mojo on the descents. I was a bit of a rattled mess. My clumsiness caused me to ride the brakes harder than I normally do.  He was about a quarter mile ahead by the time I arrived at the bottom of St. Kevin’s, but given all the soft-pedaling and hiking, I still had some gas in the tank.  I caught him, told him to get on my wheel and we ripped along at about 24 miles per hour in the final 8 miles of the race. You do a little uphill, one loose rocky section then come back to the paved road.

It seems surreal when you crest the final hill coming back to town.  Leadville looks like a teeming ant farm with a red carpet in the center.  A wall of sound hits you.  The announcer is still there, music is blasting and the crowd of spectators seems as exited for us mediocre finishers as they were for the race leaders.  When you get close to town the crowd mimics Tour spectators on Alpe DuHuez barely giving enough space for the bikes to get through and you can hear they have gone hoarse from shouting for each rider, as if he was just as exiting as the first.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Jayme. We were going to finish precisely together. I locked my arm in his and advanced through the surging crowd.  This is what it is all about isn’t it?  Clearly I’d like the visual to communicate to the vets that they are not alone. But maybe there is a metaphor for life. That, for the good days and the bad days, you have to do the race alone.  If you have a team, you’ll get support along the way. If you are lucky, you’ll find a teammate and finish together.

My finish time ended up about an hour off my goal: 9:33. No big buckle this time.  However, I think the little buckle from this race was harder earned and may shine a bit brighter than the other two.  My girlfriend was at the finish. I had to fight off signs that I was getting misty. Don’t ask me why, but Leadville is an emotional place, an emotional experience.  It’s trendy for men to cry in public now, but I still think they look like wusses.

I don’t know what I did wrong.  Cramping is usually an indication that you screwed up your hydration or nutrition. As much as I pride myself in my ability to zip up to altitude without difficulty, I suspect my problem was acclimation.  I had been tied down with work and unable to get to the mountains until a few days before the race.  When oxygen is unavailable or your blood is unable to deliver enough of it and you create a big 02 draw with your legs, your body will pick which systems it needs.  Digestion is not an immediate crisis. So, digestion shuts down.  I think, feeling like my gut was going to burst the whole race, that my digestion just was not moving things along and all the water and electrolytes were not getting to my legs.

Possibly, sidetracked by work and a never-ending stream of race riots, I missed too much training and I was just not as fit as I was two years ago.  Possibly, living in Chicago, it was a fool’s effort to substitute intervals for real hill climbs.  Maybe I went too hard, too early, trying to hit my split times and beat guys who pissed me off; maybe all of the above.

You and what army?  Oh, that one.

By Jim Barclay | Aug 21, 2015

Race name: Gaslight Criterium
Race date:Sunday, Aug 16, 2015

We have talked a lot this year about team tactics and it is a delight to see squads throughout the categories—men and women—employing the ideas we have discussed and even practiced at LaBagh.  It is also interesting to be on the other side of such maneuvers to truly appreciate how effective they can be. 

The Gaslight Criterium in Grand Rapids, MI was just such an occasion.  It’s getting late in the season and there aren’t many more opportunities to race on the road so, despite a 3 hour drive, I decided to make the trip.  I will say I really have enjoyed the Masters races this year.  Make no mistake:  you do not want to mess with older cat 1’s & 2’s.  Despite a few gray hairs and wrinkles those guys can still dish out the pain but there also seems to me more of an element of strategy involved.  I suspect that is because the fields are collectively wise enough to know that not everyone can win in a sprint so they try different things. 

The race course was more or less a 4 corner crit with a long back straight leading into an acute left hand turn, slight elevation before turn 4 and then about 250 to the finish line.  The whistle went off and I had a few objectives in mind:  race smart, conserve as much energy as possible whenever possible and use my “bullets” at the appropriate time to either get in a breakaway or maintain position (something that has been plaguing me recently.)  Also, it was 95 degrees and sunny so drinking enough water and not blowing myself up were important too.  The pace was fast from the start but I succeeded in finding good wheels and staying in the top 10 for the first few laps, lest I get caught napping and find myself off the back.  Once the pace settled down I was able to pretty much move through the field at will either by powering my way to the front or taking open lines through the big, wide corners. 

A few small attacks happened but the field was pretty much staying together.  About 1/2 way through the 50 min race I attacked out of turn 4 and had a gap through the start/finish.  But I was by myself and didn’t want to push it too hard in the heat.  When the field caught me the a Bissell rider counter attacked.  A rider from EPS (a local team,) and another jumped on his wheel.  Just like that a three man break started up the road and all I could do was try to recover quickly and hope it wouldn’t stick. 

Spoiler alert: it did.  But how it stuck was work of art.  They were going hard, yes, and one could assume that, being from the same locale, they knew each other and thus were working efficiently.  But the work that team EPS did to control the race was nothing short of textbook.  As soon as the break went off, they immediately sent riders to the front (they had probably 3 or 4 others in the race—a significant number for the 30 person field.)  Once there, they would set a respectable tempo—neither too fast to close down the gap nor too slow so as to be obvious.  Whenever we hit the corners they would coast just a little too early and start pedaling a little too late.  Presumably the break was railing those same turns and gaining a precious second or two in each one.  Several times I and others came around the EPS rider on the front in an effort to chase and every time one of their teammates would be on our wheel.  When the lead chaser got tired EPS was back in front again, setting tempo.  A few smaller groups did manage to break away from the field and, again, each time EPS was represented.  With EPS generally mucking up the paceline those groups went nowhere and were eventually absorbed back into the peloton.  The race was over because of the tactics of EPS.  Solo riders like myself or teams without equally strong numbers were of no match.  It was so brilliantly executed I would say I enjoyed watching it accept that it was ruining my race! 

So the break stuck and finished probably a minute + up on us.  For the field sprint I found myself in good position in the top 3 wheels until just before turn 3 on the bell lap.  Then the swarm came…and came…and came.  I was boxed in and wound up pretty much at the back on the pack going into turn 4.  I had good legs and was able to make up several spots but could only manage a mid-pack finish from where I had begun.  Still, it was a fun, fast race that solidified my belief that good teamwork and smart racing are a formidable match for even the strongest riders.  I hope that we continue to practice tactics so that we are the riders in the winning move and others are writing race reports lauding our brilliance.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

By Monika Kowalska | Aug 17, 2015

Race name: Gift from the Heart Grand Prix / Polonaise Championship
Race date:Monday, Aug 17, 2015

I write this report with a heavy heart, in the aftermath of a race filled with hopes, dreams, extraordinary teamwork, fierce efforts, love, strategy, tireless support and selflessness. It all started with a little dream of a Polonaise Championship, seeded by the MDP. I couldn’t pass this up but it would mean I had to race in the women’s open, my only prior experience in that field was getting dropped within the first two laps, so I knew I needed my teammates. I was amazed how quickly the xXx ladies jumped on the opportunity to help me, they really really like me. None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into since nobody pre registered, so it was tough to figure out what to do and how best to keep me from dying. We did the 3/4s race in the morning to feel out the group, try things out, and for me to learn to do minimal work while fully leaning on my teammates. The girls kicked butt we got 1st and 2nd on the podium (GREAT SUCCESS!) and I honed in my new slacker skills and managed to do no work and get paid for it. So far so good.

The women’s open was at 12:30pm, the temperatures rose (I think it was close to a 100 degrees), the competition trickled in, and friends/family came out to cheer and support. I was getting more and more anxious. The loooooonnnng (50min) of racing began right as the temperature was extra toasty. If I had to summarize the race in one sentence I would say: I HAVE THE BEST TEAM. Sue, Courtney, Katie and Erika worked hard, awfully hard. Attacking, working the front, blocking, pulling me, coaching and instructing me, checking in on me, truly taking care of me. Anytime I needed a wheel one of my teammates was always right there and ready to help. As a result I was able to stay in the front of the group and race with the big girls, which was pretty amazing.

Things were looking good and I was feeling good, then there was the last corner. I jumped on a team wheel and we approached the turn, things happened quickly, the wheel was lost, lines were crossed. I was squeezed out into a positions with two choices: the curb or brakes. The good thing is, nobody crashed. The heartbreaking thing is, despite everybody’s hard work we did not accomplish our goals. It’s tough to lose, but it’s tougher to lose as a team. I was angry, disappointed, and wishing that I could have done things differently, that I could have done better for my team.

As tough as the end result has been to digest, it does not take away from the fact that we have a phenomenal squad of female racers. We are a team and we race like one. #winninginlife

Click, Click, Boom: The LAPT Lakes Area Stage Race

By Rob Whittier | Aug 10, 2015

Race name: The LAPT Lakes Area Stage Race
Race date:Sunday, Aug 9, 2015

Sometimes, things just click. You spend the winter building base, you spend the summer focusing on specific fitness, you race and practice and hone your tactics and savvy, you race some more, you lose a few, you win a couple, but at every step along the way you learn what you’re good at and where you need to improve and you focus on building on those strengths and addressing the weaknesses to whatever degree you can. And then a race comes along that gives you a chance to showcase that, and you just need to make it all click.

The LAPT Lakes Area Stage Race (“omnium”, but more on that shortly) was that race for me. Everybody that knows me well is aware that I’m no fan of flat, four-corner crits. But here, like a gift from Heaven, was an omnium with NO crits. And a few teammates might know of my secret and inexplicable penchant for time trials, well this weekend featured TWO including an uphill TT that rewards w/kg and a willingness to suffer. And last but by no means least, it was actually being run as a stage race, with the winner decided not by points awarded per event but by time, like most pro races are run. Stage races, coincidentally, also offer a different level of upgrade points, but
Stage 1 – The Pain Cave Prologue TT - Good Preparation Pays Off

I had checked out the course online and I knew that this 1 mile uphill TT would be short and therefor a VERY hard effort. I figured that the best P1/2 time would be about 3:30 and that I just needed to be within 20 seconds or so of that. Knowing this would be a V02 max/spring I arrived over an hour early and found a spot under an awning (yeah, it was drizzling) and hit the trainer, a big change for a guy who rarely warms up adequately. I also pre-rode with Kyle and got a good feel for the course, all big ring if you were going hard enough, probably out of the saddle on the final rise. I got a little lucky and was staged 2nd to last, which I always prefer so I can hunt my 30 sec or minute guy. I got a little excited and went a bit hard for the first 30 seconds but then hit the hill proper and settled in to my 52x26 and hammered my way up the first rise. “A little too hard” I thought to myself, you need to finish strong. There was a short flat and then it pitched up again and as planned I got out of the saddle and smashed it and crossed the line at 3:46, Good enough for 1st and a 14 second lead on 2nd. CLICK. Incidentally also good enough for 3rd in the Masters 123 category, more on that at the very end.

Stage 2 – The Couri Circuit Race - Le Coup de Chacal

Saturday’s weather was perfect and again I arrived a little early to check out the course. It was a beautiful 4.2 mile loop with some rollers and an interesting start/finish on some narrow roads in an old mission. Most stage races will also feature some time bonuses mid-race and at the finish so I knew this narrow uphill section could play an important role in the race. I went in with the advantage of 14 seconds but with as much as 30 seconds of time bonus available, I knew that wasn’t nearly enough. Rather than chance going after the time bonuses with a top 5 finish, I was going to grab some time at the intermediate sprint. I marked the 2nd and 3rd place guys in the GC and a guy from Gryphon racing that I knew was strong having raced with him at the LaCrosse Omnium. All I had to do was make sure that none of those guys got in a break or grabbed too many time bonuses and I could move on to the TT where I was sure I could get some more time on the field. The first few laps were surgey but not too fast and for the most part the riding was safe but I did get squeezed over the yellow line a couple times. On the 4th lap with about 2k to go it happened again but this time the moto rolled up and relegated me to the back of the field. “Nooooo, we’re coming up on the intermediate sprint” I thought. I didn’t waste a moment arguing and fell back quickly knowing that I had to get back to work right away. Channeling my inner Dave Hudson, I methodically worked my way back up to the front six riders and when the field topped a small rise with about 1k to go, I attacked. I got a lot of separation, clearly everybody thought it was too early and was off guard but I practice this distance a LOT during Wed night worlds. (Look up “coup de chacal” On Wikipedia)

I hit the narrow mission roads with a good gap but the field was closing, I saw the Gryphon rider jump out with some heat and he edged my by a bike length but I grabbed a time bonus and the guy in 2nd in the GC got nothing. I had to recover quickly in case he tried to counter but nothing came and the next lap and half was relatively tame until we approached that finishing straight again. This time a flurry of attacks came but I was able to surf wheels until one came that had real pace. I jumped on that wheel and rode it into the mission but then I made a mistake, I sat on it about 2 seconds to long and riders started to swarm on the right. I’ve had this happen before and I wasn’t going to let it happen again, there was a gap after the 3rd wheel and I jumped out and hammered it up the finishing straight and finished 4th, more time bonus and again, my gap on the 2nd place GC grew. CLICK.

Stage 3 – The Wheel and Spoke TT - Fast But Not Fast Enough

A relatively short 5.8 mile TT, which was actually the same as the circuit that we’d be doing later in the day. It’s obviously a huge advantage to be staged last (because of my GC lead) and know that 2nd place is your 30 second guy. I was up on him about 24 seconds, and if I could catch him I could basically lock the overall, but if I lost time to him I’d be vulnerable because the next stage had time bonuses as well. I set a goal of 340 watts, that’s all I could do, and lined up at the start. What can you say about a TT, I went a little hard on the opening hill but an old teammate Jake Buescher always told me, make up time where you’re strong and try not to lose it anywhere else. In the end I average about 330, tough to maintain the watts on the downhill rollers, and finished 3rd. But the winner was 2nd in the GC…I lost 6 seconds to him.

Stage 4 – The Badger Orthotics Circuit Race - The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

In case you hadn’t noticed it, I haven’t mentioned my teammates much, which isn’t my style. But that’s because between the multiple races in Chicago and other commitments, I didn’t have any. PRO TIP: If you don’t have any teammates, find yourself some. I had spent a fair amount of time after each of the stages chatting with the LAPT guys, and a couple IS Corp Guys, and the Gryphon guy, and it was about to pay off. Recall that I had an 18 second lead and no teammates and there were enough time bonus points out there to cost me the race. Within the first 5 minutes of the race, a rider from LAPT rolled up to me and told me they just wanted to get their guy, who was sitting 4th, on the podium, and that they thought the 2nd and 3rd place guys were within but that I wasn’t. By halfway through the 2nd lap, with an intermediate sprint approaching, I was riding 3 wide with LAPT with another line of LAPT behind me, blocking any attacks (the visual is helpful). When we hit the right hander and started up the hill to the sprint point, I was on the inside line and was first wheel (not ideal) and heard Sammy’s riders shouting support from the sidelines I jammed on the pedals. But I had gone early and I saw the red skinsuit of Revolution cycles, the #2 GC guy coming on my left and an LAPT guy coming even harder on my right. I jumped on that wheel and rode it for about 50m and then unleased my deadly (sarcarm) sprint. It was enough, I took first in the sprint and basically locked up the GC. BOOM.

On the last lap I shared pulls with LAPT and ISCorp (they wanted a bunch sprint for their guy Russ, who was also my new BFF) to keep it fast enough to discourage attacks but when the guys started amping up for the final sprint I jumped on the train and rode it to 20 meter before a slight chicane that started the proper sprint and let them have at it. I didn’t need to win or even place, I just needed to finish safely.

This is long winded but it sums up an entire weekend of racing so here’s the key takeaways. As you train and race, learn your strengths, understand your best opportunity to win or to help a teammate win. Practice those moves, I won at Intelligensia’s Waukegan with a breakaway that was eerily similar to a move and wattage I’d tried successfully a Lebagh, and I got my time bonuses at the Lakes Area circuit with the coup de chacal that I’ve honed on Turin and the CCC. Know your fellow racers, know who’s strong, know who’s a potential ally who has something to gain from working with you. And have a plan and race smart, especially for a multi-day race. Know when you have a chance to gain an advantage and race to your strengths. I didn’t win by being a great sprinter or TT guy, I won by grabbing time where I needed to. For me this all came together this weekend, everything clicked. This was my last M3/4 race and I’m glad to go out with a gentle boom…

A week of crashes and podiums

By Courtney O'Neill | Aug 4, 2015

Race name: Intelligenstia Cup
Race date:Sunday, Jul 19, 2015

It happened early on in the Willow Springs Road Race, lap 2?  I was sitting pretty 4th wheel back when right before my eyes I witnessed the two girls in front of me knock handlebars and go down.  They took out about 1/3 of the field including myself and Sue.  Cat (because she is and AWESOME teammate) stopped to make sure we were okay.  After about a minute of gathering ourselves together I asked if Sue and Cat we okay and yelled “Let’s go!”  The three of us spent the next two laps team time trialing back to the field.  And we made it!  I sat back in with about 7 laps to go, feeling pretty good save for my banged up elbow and fingers.  Luckily no one attacked on the hill until the end of the race and I was able to contest the final sprint.  As I stood up to sprint up the final hill my legs decided that they were done and I crossed the line 12th.  BUT because it was a 2/3 field and some racers were from out of state, I ended up being the 2nd IL Cat 3 to finish and got a sweet medal and a podium pic.

Fast forward a week to the Chicago Crit.  I had been racing in some sketchy 3/4’s fields earlier in the week and was excited to race with 2/3’s this time around.  Most of the race was great.  Smooth, predictable, fast.  Until we came around turn three with 2 to go.  Crash.  Luckily it was behind me, and I sprinted out of the corner to find a nice spot on Maria Larkin’s wheel as we heard the bell ring one to go.  On the very next corner, a girl in front of me squeezed Maria in the corner and took herself out.  As well as myself and a few others.  I think Fernanda even endo-ed over me.  I got some awesome road rash on my butt and hobbled to the finish line for 22nd (out of 23). Womp womp. 

Mostly I was just worried about being able to race the Fixed Gear Crit later that afternoon.  I had the guy at medical bandage me up and Alberto helped make sure that I didn’t tighten up too much before the race.  Snowy Mountain Photography took some rad photos of all the ladies before the race, and soon I was lining up for what I hope will be a yearly tradition: the Women’s Fixed Gear Crit.  Early on in the race Annie from BFF went off the front and sustained it for way longer than I had thought or hoped.  Maria Larkin and I did most of the work to try to catch her (which was exhausting), and finally with about 5 to go we made the catch.  At this point I decided that sitting in and waiting for the final sprint was probably the way to go.  On the last lap Maria attacked into corner 3 and I was right on her wheel.  I used her as my lead out and came around her for a LONG sprint to the finish line.  I barely held off Annie for the win!  It was really awesome to have so many cheering spectators for this race and I’m really appreciative of everyone’s efforts to not only get a dedicated women’s field but also to match the purse and prizes.  I also can’t express how fun it is to race a crit on your track bike.  Definitely think about signing up for this race next year.

Tulsa Tough Recap

By Jim Phelan | Jun 18, 2015

Race name: Tulsa Tough
Race date:Saturday, Jun 13, 2015

I’m gonna keep this short and direct and with little drama…

2015 was intended to be a turnaround year as a CAT 4 after a very difficult 2014 as a CAT 5.  I think I broke the team record for “leaving my bike involuntarily” during a race or training ride.

I decided I was going to do TulsaTough for two reasons. 

#1) I was determined to make this a comeback year by doing some races I have yet to do including Snake Alley

#2) I have two sisters that live in Tulsa and it was the 3rd birthday weekend of my amazing little twin nephew and niece.

Tulsa Tough is said to be one of the best races in the country for Pros and Amateurs.  Its on the NCC calendar and the prize money is over $100,000

The weekend started with 3 CRITS Friday late Friday afternoon with the CAT3, CAT 1,2, and PROs which were in an artsy neighborhood downtown Tulsa.  I had to pickup my race #, which was down at the race.  When I arrived at the race around 7PM the CAT 3’s were in the heat of it.  There were literally thousands of spectators cheering for them as they pounded their way through the city.  It was F’ing awesome to see this!!!!  I looked up and there was a jumbotron showing a live video feed of the action, and speakers all throughout the course broadcasting the professional announcer. I truly felt at that point that I didn’t deserve to be a part of something that had such an phenomenal presence.  The production value to put this race on is second to none.  Nothing I’ve seen in Chicago compares.  Unfortunately…

My first race was Saturday in another artsy neighborhood of Tulsa.  Seriously, who would have thought that Tulsa was kinda cool?  The quality of the race I saw Friday night was now my race.  It was beautiful.  There’s the jumbotron, the professional announcer, the cameras all over the course for streaming live coverage.  Holy hell, what did I get myself into?  There were 103 riders all from the Southwest, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and one from Colorado, one from California, and the sucker from Chicago! Ha!  This was beyond the largest group that I have raced.  This was a mildly technical course with a bit of a hill on the backside which tended to separate the field on each lap.  My typical strategy with a crit is to sit near the back for the first few laps then start to make my way upstream.  This strategy worked like a charm.  There were a few crashes as I expected with a field this size and our experience.  I did my thing and slowly moved my way through the pack to end up third wheel with 3 laps to go.  The heat turned up on lap two and I did my best to hold a wheel in the front of the group which I did but letting a few riders slip by.  The last lap was mentally brutal, but I held on and at this point I wanted a top 10.  I looked around and put my head down and just mashed.  The sprint finish wasn’t as violent as I expected, and I regret not trying harder.  I put in a strong effort and finished 9th place out of 103 who started. Paid out to 15 spots, yeah!

Day 2 was the famous CryBabyHill which is in a residential neighborhood just a few blocks outside of downtown.  My race wasn’t until 11am so I spent the morning watching the races live to get an idea of what to expect.  The rain held off, but was another 90 degree + humidity day.  The race before mine there was a rider who went down who’s heart stopped and was resuscitated by a Tulsa policeman.  This cop is currently a Tulsa hero.  Once again the course setup production was unbelievable.  This race is the THE race of the weekend.  It brings the most riders, sponsors, spectators, and just craziness!  Its a 3/4 mile course that has a hill (CBH) that is about 10% grade on average.  It starts out with a short steep climb for 50meters, and then a hard right turn onto CBH to continue the climb for another 100meters.  CBH is where things get weird.  Just go to YouTube and search CryBabyHill and you will see what I’m talking about.  Its a party and a bike race breaks out.  Grown men wearing diapers, women wearing next to nothing, live DJ, beer handouts, every one of them screaming for your success to get over the hill.  Its fucking awesome!!!!!!!!  total debauchery.  My field was 106 riders today, and it was the hardest crit I’ve even been in.  Quickly the field was shredded and my strategy to stay toward the back was not ideal.  I could never catch up.  I ended up in a group a 3 off the main pack.  We were all hurting.  I didn’t realize but they started pulling riders halfway through the race.  I ended up on my own off the back of the main group for 2 laps and I saw the pace car in my rear.  Dammit.  I made it to the top of CBH with 5 laps to go and I got pulled.  Ended up 46th place out of 106.  Over 70 riders were pulled.  I felt better when I saw every race riders were pulled.  The CAT 1/2 over 50 riders were pulled. 

What I learned:

1) This is by far without a doubt the more professional race I’ve been a part of.
2) My sisters, bro-in-law, nephews and nieces and Mom got to watch me race and they absolutely loved it
3) This race brings in ridiculous talent, there was $2500 prime for a single lap for the ladies P12 on Sunday.  WOW!!!!!!!
4) Don’t start in the back of the group on CBH
5) I will definitely do this race again next year
6) I WANT YOU!!! to join me next year at this awesome event!  I’m pretty sure my sisters will have room smile

Alone Time

By Nick Hartman | Jun 11, 2015

Race name: Tour of Galena TT, RR and Crit
Race date:Saturday, Jun 6, 2015

Mile 57 was a very lonely mile. I thought about my future, the meaning of life, and how good beer was going to taste at the finish line. I was silently commenting to myself about how my legs have never felt more useless in my entire life, and how this next climb may never, ever end. But let’s go back in time a little bit…

7:00 am, Galena, Ill.

Early wake up call! At 7:00am, Anthony Vicino and I rolled out of our plush cabana (thanks Eagle Ridge!) and into the rising sun for the morning Time Trial. Driving like Dale Earnhardt from Valparaiso the night before, I hadn’t gotten a chance to preride it like many other had the day before, so I was just excited to get out there and get real pain cavey for about 15 minutes. I don’t really enjoy time trialing, but the constant undulation of the course made me feel like I may not really have time to think about that. After a quick coffee and a great warm-up, I toed the line.

9:01am, Galena, Ill.

HOLY SHIT MAN! I yelled to myself as I cornered the descent (you know which one I’m talking about, Veinhuizen?). I was not quite halfway in and I knew the rest of the TT was going to be an interesting time. My legs felt pretty good though, so I kept pushing and ended up with a solid 15:01 time, landing me a respectable 8th place. I was happy to grab some points, but knew well my competition that was ahead of me on the standings, and knew I would need a big day at the road race.

4:00pm, Galena, Ill.

So, the road race. About that. Being basically raised on the hills of Bloomington, Indiana while at school, I’ve always enjoyed (and had some good success) at climbing. So when I saw that there was a KOM jersey up for grabs (ed. note: make it polka dot next year!!!), that immediately became my goal. The first lap and a half or so of the race were pretty uneventful; although I had little problem staying in the front group on the climbs, the descents were a little tricky for me and I kept rolling back to the back. After awhile of this yo-yo, I was kind of fed up. The nice thing was the climbs were starting to play the attrition game with the peloton, and right before the 500 to go mark at the KOM on lap 2, the lead group had been whittled down to about 10 riders, with Vicino playing enforcer at the front. We gave each other a nod, and I started my ascent. Forrest Russell from ISCorp started the attack, and Andrew Schmidt, a 15 year old junior from Hincapie who weighs roughly 72 pounds followed, and I stuck to them like glue. At our current pace I knew I would be able to pop around them, but wanted to wait for the perfect time. So with about 175m to go, I swung around and dug deep until I crested the top for full KOM points (and the still-standing Strava KOM, if I may…). Right as I crossed the line I sat up, looked around, and saw myself alone.

Now, let’s get something straight: my goal WAS NOT to go off the front, alone, for 30 miles on a blustery day. But I knew that I had only downhill with a slight tailwind behind me, so I decided to work my gap and see what could happen. I mainly just wanted to make it to the feed zone alone to get some solid #facetime and show off a little, so I threw caution to the wind and went for it. After making it through the feed zone still alone (and with my gap seemingly rising), I started to think this move could last in earnest. I’m well-suited to both the sharp punchy ascents, as well as the rolling flats (Northwest Indiana and all). So onward I went, for some looong and lonely time in the saddle.

7:00pm, Mile 57, Galena, Ill.

I’ll never, ever forget what the back of an orange Subaru Crosstrek looks like, because I stared at that thing for a long. ass. time. It was about now that we return to where our story started, and I am hurting more than I ever had on a bicycle before. Not that quad busting, ripping feeling some have when climbing steep things or doing squats, but that ‘I may never be able to walk after this’ feeling of having absolutely nothing left in the tank. But up I climbed. I knew that after this, I would get a bit of respite downhill and then and hit the KOM to claim my last points to lock up the KOM jersey. It was about here that Rob Whittier’s pink socks refused to let me have any of his water, but his words of encouragement were enough to will me up over the climb, for the points, into the downhill into town. It was about here that I knew I had it. So I kept pushing and rolled in for what will probably be the most satisfying win of my entire cycling career, no matter where I find myself. Nothing beats the feeling of rolling in with your hands off the bars, not a care in your mind. Special shoutout to Anthony Vicino who enjoyed RELENTLESS bitching from the chase for not pulling or doing much of anything besides being annoying, and to the rest of the #cat3squad for helping me throughout the entirety of the race.

3:00pm Sunday. Crit time.

Now, I don’t really like crits. I like the idea of crits, but in practice I’m not great. I was in the leader’s jersey though, so today I had to like crits. After missing out on the mid-crit omnium points and becoming the virtual not leader, I got kinda pissed and decided to do what I do best: break away solo again. I quickly built up a 23 second gap on the field and thought there was a possibility I could do it again, as there was only really one dude (Hincapie) who was going to chase me. I kept rolling and picked up a nice little merch prime (still need to pick that up…) and some sprint points. Suddenly, my gap of 20ish second was pulled down to 6 in the matter of about a lap, so I knew my fairy tale was over. I sat up and let the tide of a testosterone-y cat 3 peloton wash over me. I tried to stay at the front, but the weekend’s work made my legs completely useless. I rolled in for a field sprint, disappointed in myself that I had let the team down and lost the leader’s jersey. Everyone was awesome, though and told me how great my mid-race move was. Next year!

Thanks to everyone for putting on a great race, and I’m so happy to now have some familiar faces to look at around the xXx tents on racedays. See you all around, add me on Facebook, and I hope you enjoyed this rather long-winded report!

Death by a Thousand Cuts

By Rob Whittier | Jun 3, 2015

Race name: The Mohican 100
Race date:Saturday, May 30, 2015

Death by a Thousand Cuts - Posted by Rob Whittier for Mikal Landa

An unexpected development turned my Friday workday into a 15-hour pressure fest. That delayed my departure from Chicago and set a cascade into effect that meant I had only two hours of sleep under my belt when I met my friends at the starting line in Loudonville, Ohio.

Hunter Stoneking is a Marine who battled severe depression and survivor’s guilt since retuning from Iraq. Adam McCann is also a Marine who survived physical injuries. Adam is one of the veterans invited to ride with President Bush in the W-100 this year. For different reasons, they have both benefitted from cycling as a form of rehabilitation. Therefore, I feel it’s a special opportunity to race with them. That’s about the only reason I didn’t bail on the five and a half hour drive to Loudonville when work went into overtime.

None of us had a fantasy of getting on the podium. So, we were fine settling in the back of the pack at the starting line while I was still polishing off my breakfast burrito. The start was unusually calm. Maybe that was a result of lining up far behind those who have not made peace with their competitive issues. We got into a reasonable climb pretty quickly. The Irony of racing MTB with friends is that you generally get separated at the start and don’t see each other till the end. This race was no exception.  I was on my own by the time I entered the first single track.

It was challenging; lots of rocks and tree roots. The recent rain left the trails muddy. Some guy rode up behind me and started a conversation, “First time doing this race?”

“It is,” I responded.
“How do you like the hills?”
“I love climbing hills.”
“You’ll have enough hills by the end of this race.”
“Nah, these aren’t very big.”
“No, they aren’t. But it’s death by a thousand cuts.” 

The hazard of starting in the back is traffic jams, particularly when there is a lot of single track. I tried to spot the back ups ahead and dump down into the granny gears to prevent burning energy that would get me nowhere. The terrain was challenging; wet rocks and slick tree roots. Navigating them slowly was a new challenge in balance and dexterity. Gone was the ability to take “29’er privilege” and blast over little obstacles, ignoring the perfect line.  A poorly placed front wheel created a dump in the dirt.  When you could pick up speed the rocks and roots were just the right size to create an unrelenting gauntlet of scrotum thumping. The single track went on for mind-numbing hours. It got painful. I concentrated on trying to keep my sit-bones over the strike zone when the seat would come blasting up toward my nether-regions. I wanted to prevent a dynamic in which I would, one day, be dependent on the little blue pill to arrive at Shangri-La, all because of a mountain bike race.

The race was painfully slow. With the mud & slick rocks, the back wheel frequently spun out. Reasonable steep climbs were all ankle deep hike-a-bike. Descents were washed out and loose. I lost track of how many times I wrecked and then slowly extracted myself from the briars on the side of the trail.  Dismounting, then slogging down with the bike was often the prudent option. There was never a grand moment of topping out a big climb. There was only toil, ass-bang and mud. By the time my Garmin showed 50 miles, the timer read 6 hours 22 minutes.

The summertime heat kicked in. The Mohican national forest was a steamy terrarium. When I stopped at an aid station, I could feel my ears and the sides of my head burning. One of the volunteers said that Joe Malone, the single speed champion from last year, had been taken away with heat exhaustion.  When I finally reached sections of fire road, I thought I could lay into the pedals and put some miles behind me. However, in the heat, my groin muscles were sending those little electric signals that they were about to cramp a big effort now would seize up my legs and end the day.

Then it rained.

The upside is that the rain came with some cold air and little by little I gained confidence in putting some power into my pedals.  The downside is that there is fresh mud to be flung up from other racer’s tires. My glasses had fogged and been pocketed. My eyes were filled with so much funk-soul-brother, that I would have shown a weight gain had I stepped on a scale. I rationalized that at least I had maxed out and the human eye could hold no more foreign matter. Then a bug flew in my eye, and I was wrong.

I digressed into a zombie-like state. I was the cycling dead. My brain was firing so slowly that I saw a wet tree root and thought, I better handle that obstacle or it will shoot my front wheel out to the left and send me tumbling in the mud. I did nothing. The tree root shot my front wheel out to the left and sent me tumbling in the mud.

So, was my toil. 10,548 feet of elevation gain without a remarkable climb. Promoters of the Mohican 100 sell the race as an arduous suffer-fest, and you get a growler of beer at the finish. They don’t disappoint.

I was handed my brown jug and, after a while, reunited with Adam and Hunter.

We drank our beer and Hunter asked, “should I reserve a cabin so we can do this again next year?”
I responded, “My man-taint is swollen. I can’t make decisions right now.”

God Made Dirt and Dirt Don’t Hurt - But Trees Do

By Rob Whittier | Jun 1, 2015

Race name: Battle of Camrock - WORS Race #2
Race date:Monday, Jun 1, 2015

God Made Dirt and Dirt Don’t Hurt (But Trees Do)

History: My first foray into competitive cycling was over 20 years ago, on a fat tired Specialized Stumpjumper M2 with one of the first Rockshox ever made. It was the Pando Challenge in Michigan and thanks to a season of running cross-county, I won some medal or something. I raced about 4 more times but didn’t have many friends that were into it and even though I kept on digging mountain bikes it would be a long time until I was racing anything with two wheels again.

Current State: I’d made a commitment to race at least one or two MTB events this year, just to add some variety to the mind-numbing season of 4-6 corner crits that make up the Midwest race calendar. And although I was registered for Glencoe in the 2/3s, a nasty nasal infection, a trip to the Dr’s office, and the weather forecast has me second guessing that decision mid-week. But on Sunday, just a couple hours north, was the closest WORS race on their calendar and the forecast was 60+ and Sunny. I chatted with Bill Barnes and he suggested that I upgrade from Cat 3 (First timer and Citizen) to Cat 2 (Sport and Comp) lest I start my dirt season as a sandbagger. On Friday afternoon, with a dose of antibiotics and some amount of regret, I made the decision to bail on the sufferfest that would be Glencoe and to give the dirtbag thing a shot. I drove up on Saturday evening because I was borrowing Bill’s Specialized Epic Carbon 29’er with 1x10?, full-suspension wunderbike bike and he wisely hoped that I would get some practice laps in before racing his baby at speed. Halfway through my drive up I learned that pre-ride was cancelled due to course conditions…sweet. (More on this later)

WORS: First let me say that the MTB atmosphere is pretty amazing. It’s like a CX race with hundreds of spectators lined up at key areas, a huge compound of sponsor tents, barbecues everywhere, and a generally more laid back atmosphere. (#NowIknowwhyroadisdead). Jessica and I were able to get in about 1/2 of a lap of practice before seeing junior racers (including the Scheers) on course but: 1) We were doing the “short course”, which was not what we’d be racing on and 2) We didn’t get to the most technical sections. (More on this later).

The action: Mountain bike racing is awesome. That is all. Ok not quite. The men’s 35-49 were staged to go off first in the 11:30 wave and after the first row of call ups, I was able to sneak into the last slot in the second row. I’d heard the start was incredibly important, much like CX, but that it’s even harder to pass once the race enters single-track which a LOT of this was. But, much to my chagrin this was an uphill start of about 200m with a short flat and another climb of 40m just after that and when the horn sounded I dropped the hammer and worked my way past my new friends and emerged form the top of the second climb leading the pack. There was about 3-4 minutes of relatively flat trails after that, and I did my best to act like I knew what I was doing but I could tell by the sounds of brakes and chains just behind me that I was holding up a few eager dudes. When things opened up again, two gentlemen kindly informed me that they were about to pass and I kindly moved aside and then watched them take the technical turns and berms at a speed that terrified me to watch, I held on to them for about…10 seconds.

But my early road-fitness inspired efforts (read as Vo2 max) had opened up a large gap and for the remainder of lap one I had only one other rider near me. he stayed on my wheel and I offered to let him pass but he declined, instead he gave me coaching about upcoming sections; “it’s wide open for the next few minutes, no brakes, just let it flow” and “watch these trees, it’s tight”. Cajunkkkk, I smashed a tree with my bar and then my shoulder and grunted. He asked if I was ok and we continued on! About 3/4 of the way through the course he has seen enough, he knew I was a roadie and that I was going to hold him up. He asked to pass and I obliged but this time, with a little more confidence I stayed within 5-10m of him for the rest of the lap. He’d gap me in technical areas and I’d reel him in on the open single-track. This worked all the though much of the 2nd lap until…cajunkkk. My God, I’d hit the same tree (I’m certain of it). This time he opened up a big gap and I could never close it but I managed to clip 3-4 more trees for good measure. But despite that my 2nd lap was much faster, I felt confidence growing, both in myself and in the machine. Many of the rocky sections I tried to pick my way through on the first lap I was “bombing” and I was taking the berms much faster. ?I never caught the Trek rider but I came across the line 4th in that wave but those dudes were all younger so…1st in my age group. After the race the guys ahead of me were very complimentary of my roadie fitness/climbing and we all had some laughs about my bike handling and love of the trees.

Take-aways: ?
??MTB is awesome, you should all try it.
But maybe before you enter a race you should ride a mountain bike a few times. Or at least once.
The Specialized Epic Carbon 29’er with 1x10, if you have the means I recommend picking one up (borrowing one works).
Pre-ride the course, the WHOLE course, especially tight or technical sections. Do it at race speed. (Jeremy Powers talks about this in Behind the Barriers).
MTB is awesome, you should all try it…

The Double Dash Alliance

By Matt Talbert | May 31, 2015

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix
Race date:Sunday, May 31, 2015

I highly anticipated the Glencoe Grand Prix this year. I had been riding very strong on team rides as of late and been able to stay in the pack for my more recent races. Whatever it was, something clicked at one of the practice races. Could have been improved pedaling and greater will. Since that “ah-ha” moment, my teammates and I have noticed great improvement in my riding. Now that my ability to race was no longer in question, my only issue was being too afraid to burn matches by taking a pull or not knowing when to heat things up. This time I expected to be more aggressive…except for one contingency: rain. In the internal debate between being aggressive and being safe, I gave more credence safety as Glencoe has a reputation for crashes for some reason. The rain would only worsen that, and I did not want to risk the entire season. Despite the forecast raining on my excitement, the day got off to a great start. I had a good solid breakfast and blasted The Birthday Massacre on my iPod on the drive to Glencoe to get into my calm zone.

I had raced on the treacherous Elgin course several weeks prior in the rain, but in a much smaller and spread out field. Those variables lessened the slick danger somewhat. Glencoe would surely be more dangerous with a bigger field. I will however say what I learned from Elgin and Glencoe. If you are scared of the slick surface, then so is everyone else, especially CAT 5 racers. That is exactly what happened. All turns were slowed, much more so than other dry crits which I have participated in. Since they slowed, I did not have to sprint on every turn. I slowed down less than everyone else to keep my momentum, and while most of the field was trying to sprint after a slow down, all I had to do was pick it up with minimal effort to stay in, while also expending less energy.

As is common with Glencoe, a crash did indeed occur. Luckily it did not take me down, but unluckily I had to slow down to avoid eating the pavement. I was actually rather proud of myself for that moment. When you see another crash you may be inclined to panic which can result in a fall. I managed to hold it together and stay up. Another unfortunate event resulting from this was that a whole bunch of riders who were ahead of the crash were able to take advantage and take off.

Well fiddlesticks. I had been riding strong and crash screws it up for me again (a crash took me out of contention at the Elgin 5A race when I had been in the top 5 the whole time), leaving me out of the lead pack. I also had no teammates nearby to work with, so I was in big trouble. My only solution was to make an alliance with another rider who was willing. I took notice of strong rider nearby whom I was keeping pace with in the pack and who also happen to be team-less. I told him what the deal was: “We are both far back, we are both riding well and neither of us have teammates to help. How about we work together and take turns riding on each other’s wheel to catch up.” In the occurrences of luck and back luck through this race, luck was on my side this time as he agreed. Phew. I wasn’t about to waste breath to negotiate alliances with other riders while I was expending more energy than I should.

This proved to work like a charm. When one of us needed a break, we did the good old elbow wave and the other took charge. The race turned into a solid round of Mario Kart: Double Dash, and the two of us had a bunch of red koopa shells. One rider after another, passed up. In the final 5 laps we were able to move up 7-8 spots as we took turns getting a breather. Do this allowed the both of us to have enough energy for the final sprint. Toward the end, we both knew what the deal was. We worked together to catch up, but on the last lap, we were on our own.

Finally, I had fuel for a sprint in a tough race. I also finally knew when I should start lighting it up. At Elgin, it was way to late before I started sprinting, and I lost a great opportunity. What I learned from Elgin, is that even on the last lap, there will be a slow down at turns. Remembering this, I started to sprint before the last turn to pass up other riders reluctant to sprint too soon. That gave me separation and less worry about cornering fast next to too many riders. Another trick that worked like a charm. On the final pull, I finally experienced that “give everything you have moment” with enough power to make it work. I thought briefly of that video I saw of the final sprint of the Tour of California, and pedaled that crank like an insane person. I beat several riders on the final sprint which lead to my first top 10 finish.

For once, everything went right, at least everything I was able to control. There was a crash in front of me (out of my control), but I overcame the slowdown. There were no stupid mistakes this time and no poor judgment calls. Quite the opposite occurred, in addition to great strength and focus. Things are starting to fall into place. My speed and skills have improved and I have been able to learn an apply strategy. Finishing 10th at Glencoe is something to be proud of, but I know I can do better.

The Snake Bites… but so do I

By Monika Kowalska | May 27, 2015

Race name: Snake Alley
Race date:Saturday, May 23, 2015

I have heard countless tales of the Snake and those who fought it, but since I fold under peer pressure like origami I jumped on the pre-reg band wagon. Then I watched a video of a prior race and broke out in cold sweat.

Fast forward almost three months and here we are arriving in Burlington brimming with anxiety. After some rapping, hip hopping and an impromptu dance party we head over to registration and this is where I get my first glance at the Snake. My heart skips a beat and my stomach somersaults 6 times (once for each lap we were about to do). I begin to negotiate with myself and my legs, since somewhere in the last few weeks I decided I wanted this podium. Things got blurry; I somehow registered, pre-rode the course, and almost missed my race (thankfully it was running a few minutes late). As we line up at the start and my legs begin to shake I hear my jam (“Throw Sum Mo”) being rapped by my fellow Spider Monkey comrades. So naturally we bust a tiny move and throw sum Mo. I imagine people thought we were insane but it was just what I needed to disperse my nervous energy a bit.

The whistle blows and we gun it for the Snake. Not knowing how the pace will be or how bad the snake will bite I was conservative and stayed mid pack to protect my legs and feel things out. The Snake did bite (A LOT) and my rear wheel kept sliding out more than I would have liked, but I managed to keep moving up on the climbs and even more so on the descends/corners. Being funsized I don’t descend as fast so I knew I could not afford to use my breaks, but thanks to the CWEC cornering clinic a week earlier I was able to corner at speeds not previously imaginable to me, so I was pretty stoked and giggled a few times even. I kicked things up a bit on lap 3/4 and found myself out in the front. The slight headwind in the back of the course (my Archilles Heel) managed to zap my legs a bit and soon Margeaux Claude (she is awesome!) got to me and told me to jump on her wheel so we can work together. She was in beast mode and I was not able to hold on to her wheel for too long. Soon another Minnesotan passed me. I was third on the last lap and was not able to see anybody behind me, but I went ballz-out on the last descend to ensure a spot on the podium. In the end Margeaux did a phenomenal job and dominated the Snake, 14 seconds later Melissa took second, and 6 seconds after I “sprinted” across the finish. In the end I was overwhelmed physically, mentally and emotionally. The Snake lived up and surpassed all of my expectations; it was the worst and best race EVER! It was especially amazing because a ton of Chicago ladies represented and dominated the Snake!!!

Special thanks to Spider Monkeys for hosting and taking care of me all weekend long!!! Could not have done this without you, nor would I have had as much fun.

Fox River Omnium

By Tyler George | May 26, 2015

Race name: Fox River Omnium
Race date:Monday, May 18, 2015

The Fox River Omnium is a race consisting of three stages all with their own character hosted by local Chicago staple and owner of Psimet Wheels, Rob Curtis. Personally, I had very little hopes or ambitions entering the race. Ideally, if I could score a Top 5 result in a stage, support my teammates, or just simply have some fun getting some good workouts in - I’d be pretty happy with the weekend.

East Dundee Cycling Shootout
This course was fairly simple with the only real note being a sharp 120 degree turn very shortly after the start/finish line. Austin was super active per usual early trying to find the move. Several went off (most with Austin in them) but none gained a significant enough amount of time to stick. With about 10 laps to go I pretty much assumed it would come down to a sprint and started moving up to just get in a better position. Two local teams: Sammy’s and Intelligentsia were two of the most active teams throughout the day and with about 8 laps to go a rider from each went up the road. I was third wheel behind two Intelligentsia riders who started to spread across the road to block. A small hole opened up that I knew if I shot through no one else would be able to follow. I launched to make sure we had representation in that move. After about a 20 second bridge I was connected and we were off. It took a small while to gain full cooperation and effort within the break, but eventually everyone was working pretty well. I heard time gaps of 10, 12, 13 seconds shouted by Michael Kirby on the side of the road…and then 8 at which point I put in a serious dig and heard the gap jump right back up on the next lap. With about 2 to go I had a good feeling we were going to stay away. On the final lap at the 120 degree turn the Intelligentsia rider jumped around me to close a small gap up to the Sammy’s rider. As soon as the catch happened I attacked (with about 1/2 lap to go), got a gap, and held it to the finish line for the win. This also meant that I’d be wearing the leaders jersey during the next stage and would have a full team around me to try and defend it - which would be the heavy goal. Funny how quickly things change.

Elgin Cycling Classic
The course is simple with the exception of one off-camber chicane 200m from the finish line which is tricky. Luckily, the forecasted rain stayed away for our race which made for a safer event. There were two intermediate sprints during the day (3,2,1) which I’d have to go for and the Top 5 places in the race would all receive 13 points, so ideally, I needed to score points at the intermediate sprints and finish in the top five of the race to retain the jersey. The first sprint came, I was in decent position and ended up second to my main rival on Sammy’s which left us tied currently on points. The second sprint came and I was way out of position. Luckily there was a lull in the pack and I was able to move up significantly on the backstretch and kicked after the chicane good enough for 2nd in the sprint while my rival on Sammy’s failed to score points, giving me a two point lead virtually on the road. So as long as I finished Top 5, I’d be in the leaders jersey entering the final stage. With three laps to go I was in great position…until the riders in front of me slowed on the backstretch and it felt like the entire field swarmed around me pushing me all the way to the back at the most vital moment of the race. I needed to move up fast without blowing myself up. Luckily, I found Ben LaForce on the backstretch with two to go and he shot me through half of the field. On the last lap I positioned myself as well as I could. Two riders got off the front late which meant I’d need to finish Top 3 in the field sprint to take max points. On the final lap, my rival on Sammy’s shot up the road after the chicane and there was no way I was catching him. I kicked as hard as I could and could feel the entire pack behind me. I crossed the line…good for 3rd in the field sprint and 5th overall, which meant maximum points and we’d retain the jersey. Winning East Dundee was awesome, but getting through today still in the leaders jersey behind a full team effort felt just as good.

Fox River Grove Criterium
This course is just not my cup of tea. A short little circuit with a serious climb each lap meant that there was a good chance with the caliber of riders at the race that I wasn’t going to finish in the Top 10 and score points at the finish (Top 10 score points). There were however two hilltop omnium sprints during the race. I decided that it would be more prudent to go all out after those points and see where it took me. At the start of the race I was 2 points up on second and several points up on the rest. The first sprint came and I was locked into a serious position battle with my rival from Sammy’s. We hit the climb and I was terribly in the wrong gear. Regardless, I stood and just hit it as hard as I could. I looked behind and it was clear I was going to beat the rider from Sammy’s to the mark, but a young local pro from Jamis overtook me at the line. I was good for 2nd and the Sammy’s rider 3rd - giving me a 3 point lead. We crested the top and I was completely fried. By the start of the next climb I was moving back hard. Everyone on my team did what they could for me, but I just couldn’t make it over in contact. Nikos, a teammate of mine, was there and tried to pace me back for a few laps, but it was to no avail. So at this point, I’d need my rival to not take points on the 2nd hilltop sprint or finish no better than 9th to remain ahead of him. At the final hilltop sprint with two riders off the front and my rival looking to score a point in the hill climb, Ryan O’Boyle, shot up the climb and took the remaining point available just ahead of the Sammy’s rider. This officially meant that my rival needed 8th or better to overtake me in the Omnium at which point 8 riders where up the road, so I was likely safe. My rival hit the line 9th meaning I was ahead of him, but the Jamis rider overtook us both in the standings by winning both intermediate sprints and soloing to victory. I finished the Omnium good for 2nd. A huge weekend for me and the team.

Our Elite road 1/2 team has been outstanding this year, but at this race Austin, LaForce, Fay, O’Boyle, and Nikos were incredible and without a doubt put me on that podium. I don’t know if we’re riding with a chip on our shoulder or not given where people thought our team would be this year after losing some key members - but rather it’s more likely just a whole lot of hard work from our guys paying off. We’re riding smart, we’re riding confidently, and we’re riding as a unit. Needless to say, it’s been a fun spring.

“I’m here and we have a gap”

By Tom Perotti | May 11, 2015

Race name: Monsters of the Midway (Cat 4)
Race date:Saturday, May 9, 2015

“I’m here and we have a gap” - approximately the words that Igor said to me as we headed toward turn 3 on the last lap of the Cat 4 race at Monsters of the Midway. It was all I needed to hear.

I knew Igor had been sprinting well recently, as had Jim Phelan. My training hadn’t been very consistent the past several weeks, so I was in no position to ask my teammates to help me make it a target race. Instead I offered up my services as a domestique. Monsters is a pretty basic 4-corner crit with two long straightaways, one of which is usually into the wind, and in the lower categories, it’s difficult for breaks to form, let alone stay away, so we went in assuming it would come down to a bunch sprint, but one that was perfect for putting together a strong lead-out train.

We didn’t go into the race with a plan, really. Jim said his training hadn’t been great the past couple weeks either, so I told Igor he was our sprinter and that I would lead him out if I could get myself into position to do so. How exactly we would execute said lead-out was not discussed; we simply lined up and agreed to try to stay near the front and out of trouble.

The race was a pretty typical 4s race with a smattering of riding abilities, including guys that probably should have had to do another 10 mass starts before upgrading. There was a lot of swerving to avoid pot holes that simply should have been ridden over, dive-bombing corners from the inside, and a general inability to hold lines. I was in close proximity to two crashes - after crossing the start/finish line about midway through, I heard the telltale “oh fudge!” behind me and glanced over my shoulder just in time to see some dude sliding into the gutter/curb. Then later at the apex of turn 3, I saw two riders lock handlebars immediately to my left (inside line); I put in a small acceleration just in time to narrowly miss having my rear wheel taken out by the ensuing carnage.

And then there were the constant variations in the speed that are so common in the 4s, which is why I often found myself going from the first five wheels to nearly the back, as the front guys would suddenly sit up and the back of the pack would just swarm and overtake us, leaving me to have to work my way back up to the front. Igor seemingly did a much better job of maintaining position through these transitions and managed to stay near the front the entire race. I think in these situations I should have simply let myself drift up alongside the front riders that sat up so that I could be in a better position to slot into the swarm, whereas I simply stayed behind the sitters-up, right on their wheels, leaving myself boxed in.

Fortunately for me, though, apparently no one in the 4s has yet figured out how to use gutters in the crosswinds and the group left the protected side fully open on EVERY SINGLE LAP, so moving back up was not very difficult or taxing. The pace picked up in the last two laps, and coming out of turn 2 on the last lap, I found myself about half way back and could see Igor sitting at about 3rd wheel.

I knew I needed to move up if I had any hope of providing Igor the promised lead-out, and once again, I had plenty of protection on the left and moved up swiftly on the right. As I was doing so, two things happened simultaneously that were purely magical. 1. The front sat up, 2. Igor looked over his shoulder and saw me moving up. At this magical moment I jumped, HARD.

I easily cleared the front of the pack, and then I heard: “Tom! I’m here! We have a gap!” With that, I put my nose to the stem and gave Igor everything I had, and he was cheering me loudly from behind. As we approached turn 3, I could feel my legs beginning to revolt, so I shouted “I’m done, I’m done, GO GO GO!!” Igor sling-shotted around me through turns 3/4 and put in a strong dig on the exit. I tried to continue grinding the pedals in the hopes of holding off the field down the long straight to the finish, but it was not meant to be; I got swarmed about 40m from the line. But on the bright side, I was in perfect position to watch Igor coast across the line with hands raised for fir….errr, second?... did I mention some dude rode away from the field on the first lap and NO ONE NOTICED? (I didn’t, I started at the back…my bad)

Well regardless, our move was THE move of the race in my opinion (if we pretend that other guy wasn’t there), and it was a lot of fun to be a part of it and see my teammate get on the [non-existent] podium (seriously monsters, where was the podium?). It was the first time that I felt like I legitimately helped a teammate succeed in a race, and dammit, it felt good. A lot of it was luck - right place right time - but knowing a teammate was on my wheel heading into the last two turns allowed me to dig deeper than I ever have before at the end of a race. Maybe if I had trained a little more I would have held on for third… I still managed to limp across the line in 16th in a field of 45, so not a bad result, and managed to finally beat my nemesis - some polish masters dude that has a surprisingly strong sprint and seems to beat me every time - not today! (17th)

Congrats again Igor, and good luck in the 3s!!! (now let’s see your report from the 4/5…)

13 Lady Monsters on the Midway

By Courtney O'Neill | May 10, 2015

Race name: Monsters of the Midway
Race date:Saturday, May 9, 2015

I was on the biggest endorphin high this afternoon/evening (and the beers at the Cycle Smithy open house certainly didn’t hurt…).  No, I didn’t win Monsters.  But it’s almost even better. 

After Sue, Monika Ellen and I raced the Women’s Open (congrats on 5th Ellen!), thirteen xXx ladies lines up for the 3/4s.  13!  A few of us were a little concerned about the sketch factor, so I had decided that I was just going to stay at the front of this one to avoid it.  There were some tentative plans about getting one or two xXx’ers off the front with Psimet, but that was about it in terms of race plans/goals.  We get the whistle, there’s a hustle to get to the front of the field, and about 1/3 of a lap in I saw an opportunity.  I attacked up the outside of the backstretch, knowing that I had good teammates at the front to block, and it stuck!  I was off the front of the race by myself for about 3 laps (during which a crash occurred, but luckily none of us were caught up in it) before 4 racers from various teams caught me, and while we organized a rotating paceline, Sue was smart enough to decide that the odds were not in my favor and organized an effort to bring the field up to us.  Maybe a lap later (just enough time for me to catch my breath) Emily followed the wheel of an Albertos’ rider and attacked.  Alberto’s, however didn’t have the staying power and Emily had popped her within no time flat.  Even though Emily has won Lincoln Park off the front, by herself… no one in the field seemed to concerned for awhile.  Perfect I thought, let her grow the lead and then she’ll be able to stay away.  xXx blocked like champs.  I made it my goal to stay 2nd wheel the whole race, and every time I looked around I’d see another matching jersey backing me up.  Christine Thornburg of Psimet did a ton of work for the field (seemingly with little backup) and the blocking worked beautifully.  Towards the end of the race it became clear that Emily was solid for the W, and we began preparing for the sprint.  In addition to Emily’s win, Sue pulled out an awesome 3rd, Erika 5th, myself 6th, Katie 7th, Sarah 10th, Gia 13th, Kim 17th!, Monika 25th, Sharon 26th, April 31st, Michele 32nd, Kiki 33rd.

We were 37% of the field, 60% of the top 10, 66.6% of the podium, and 100% team awesome!  I have never been more proud of our ladies racing squad as I was today.

Joe Martin Stage Race

By Tyler George | May 5, 2015

Race name: Joe Martin Stage Race
Race date:Friday, Apr 24, 2015

The Men’s 1/2 Joe Martin Stage Race consisted of a short uphill time trial on Thursday, a 110 mile road race on Friday, an 86 mile road race on Saturday, and a 50 minute hill crit on Sunday. Seven of us made the journey down: Ryan O’Boyle, Austin Venhuizen, Tom Briney, Ben LaForce, Randy Warren, myself, and Randy’s nephew Taylor, who guest rode for us. Our goals I think were pretty simple: do as well as we could individually while providing as much support for our GC guys; Taylor and Ryan as possible.


125 riders started the 2.7 mile uphill time trial on Thursday which had an average grade of 6.8%. Many people suggested that the time trial wouldn’t really matter as the time gaps on the road stages would prove to be severe. I anticipated that they would matter for the front guys, but less so for the rest of the field. Anyways, Taylor (11th @ 0:26) and Ryan (22nd @ 0:41) scorched the course, while the rest of us Austin (80th @ 1:29), Ben (93rd @ 1:43), Tyler (97th @ 1:45), Randy (102nd @ 1:57), and Tom (104th @ 2:05) merely ‘got through it’. At this point - personally - with 200 miles of hilly road racing ahead and having it appear as if you’re in the bottom quarter of dudes in the race - the thought of just not getting time cut quickly became a real goal on my end. To make matters worse, the caliber of racing this year may have been better than it had been in awhile. Many teams ended up getting denied entry in the P/1 race which meant…they’d be racing the 1/2 race with us.


The Friday Road Race consisted of small climbs at miles 20 & 40 and an 11 mile rolling climb up Mt. Gaylor at mile 70. I figured if I could get to the base of mile 70 intact with the leaders, I’d be able to not lose 15% (~a little less than an hour) to the leaders over the next 40 miles and be able to race into the weekend. The first two pre Mount Gaylor climbs ended up being certainly effort-inducing but not fatal. The only hiccup was dropping my chain on the second one early in the climb when shifting from my big to small ring causing me to fall off the back, fix it, and chase back on - not the worst effort in the world, but an effort nonetheless. The miles went by quickly and soon enough we were at the base of Mount Gaylor (which I assumed I’d get popped on). My only objective at that point was to see how long I’d stay on. The climb wasn’t straight up but instead it rather rolled up, so it’d go up and then flatten out a bit, and repeated like that all the way to the top. The draft was rather immense through this section with nice wide and paved roads, so sitting midpack really helped mitigate its difficulty. Mile by mile rolled by and I was still within my limits and I started having the thought that I could make it over this thing intact - which would be huge, because the remaining 30 miles would be all slightly downhill, which would almost be a full recovery ride to the finish line. Some of the front guys kept trying to get away, but the pack seemed fresh enough and attentive enough to not let anything go, which effectively made the back half of the climb a little easier than it probably should have been with some of the stronger guys beaten up and/or discouraged from trying to get away. Finally I saw the feed zone, which indicated the top of the climb, and it was all downhill from there. I was a little amped at this point and started being a little overly active at the front, trying to pull back the breakaway group and even momentarily seeing if I could get into a chase move. Eventually, I pumped the brakes and tried to save what I had left for the finish. The finish ended up being a bit more technical given the rain than expected (which it was doing for half the ride - luckily it wasn’t the tornado that they had forecasted though!). The finish had several decent kickers in it which I think surprised everyone. I positioned myself relatively well entering the technical section with roughly 1k to go. Immediately the rider in front of me dumped it, which put me into a full brake mode as I was able to cut to the inside of him and carry on. The final corner approached, I thought I baby’d it a bit too much entering the turn but saw the rider’s wheel in front of me slip out (he saved it) - which caused me to feather the brakes again as a few guys whipped by me for the sprint. I kicked as hard as I could just trying to see how far up I could place. I hit the line - good enough for 22nd place. The breakaway group stayed away putting roughly 30 seconds into the field. Taylor (9th @ 0:32 stage, 10th @ 0:39 overall) finished really strong. Several of us made it through the day intact with the leaders and started positioning ourselves better overall in the race: Tyler (22nd @ 0:35 stg, 67th @ 2:03 ovr), Ryan (30th @ 0:43 stg, 26th @ 1:07 ovr), and Austin (41st @ 0:35 stg, 59th @ 1:47 ovr). There was a split in the group caused by a wreck and the officials sort of arbitrarily gave some guys the same time as the leaders and others not. Ryan was an unfortunate casualty losing some time here even though he finished ahead of guys who gave up less time. If you’re confused, I kind of am too…


The Saturday road race was a three lap circuit that totaled 86 miles and contained a good short climb each time. The route had more elevation gain than the 110 mile road race and certainly proved to be a more difficult course - as Briney put it: ‘it’s a course that feels like you’re always going up’. And if any of you went to San Luis Obispo with me, generally, climbing is not something I have excelled at - so again, the intimidation factor was high.

The group hit the first climb together and it was certainly tough, but doable. The climb consisted of a good steep mile long section that crested with a feed zone at the top, followed by a nice short recovery descent, and then followed by 1.5-3.0 more miles of steadier climbing. We hit the feed zone at the top of the first peak and everyone, per usual, seemed to start ramping up the pace making getting a feed chaotic. After my experience yesterday and at Boulder-Roubaix at feeds, I was done getting caught out at this point and made a point to make sure I was moving up through the feeds. I heard a lot of people had to do some chasing to catch back on, so yeah…

The 2nd lap climb came and all of the sudden it seemed like people were hurting (as was I). One of our former teammates who was there was moving up the left side. I quickly sprung on his wheel and just tried to relax while ascending it - mentally, I was just trying to act like it’s just me and him on a group ride (not in a 1-2 national level race going up a hill). He cruised up the hill, and with me in tow, we ended up passing dozens of people which certainly gave me some confidence. This was a point where many people ended up getting popped and where even a few riders who I expected to be far stronger than me actually pulled out of the race. I made it to the top again and focused on trying to recover for the next 15 miles.

The 3rd lap climb came and it seemed a little neutral at the beginning and then the attacks came. Even with a slow start we ended up ascending the climb much faster than the other laps. Uneventfully, but ever so thankfully, I made it to the top intact with the leaders.

There was a break that went off earlier in the day that was a minute forty up the road. This would have knocked Taylor out of the top 10 on GC. Although gassed after the climbs, we needed to organize a chase and inject a little pace into the race in hopes of bringing the group back. Ryan came by me yelling that we organize a chase and communicated with a few other teams to put some guys on the front. We found Austin as well and moved our way up front for some digs. After a few rotations, the Hincapie team was lined up on our wheels putting in some good pulls and helping bring back the chase. Eventually we had the breakaway in sight and reeled them in with 10 miles or so to go. With 6 to go there was a big wreck, I hadn’t seen O’Boyle much after that so I assumed he got collected.

I was trying to figure out where the finish was, but was mostly happy to know that I was going to certainly finish with the leaders time again today as there was nothing else challenging about the route towards the finish. We made a right hand turn and low-and-behold, the finish line was 200 meters away. Completely unaware that the finish was so close I launched a sprint and ended up finishing 18th on the day. We ended up with 3 Top 20 finishes on the day as a team which was incredible in a field of this caliber. Just as shocking was how hard the course was on the field. Many riders who I expected to make it through the day had a lot of time put into them.  We continued to move up the standings in GC, however O’Boyle came limping through 4 minutes after we did having been collected in that wreck. He had some serious gashes in his leg and his prospects of even lining up tomorrow were in jeopardy. However, as a team we generally continued to move up the GC standings: Taylor (6th @ 0:00 stg, 9th @ 0:39 ovr), Austin (11th @ 0:00 stg, 42nd @ 1:47 ovr), Tyler (18th @ 0:00 stg, 45th @ 2:03 ovr), Ryan (60th @ 4:21 stg, 56th @ 5:28 ovr). Ben, Randy, and Tom did an excellent job getting through the day as well and avoided the dreaded time cut which means we’d be lining up our full squad in the crit on Sunday.


We got to the crit course and I was a little stunned by how hard the course looked. The first thing you notice is the climb. A good 25 second steep uphill kicker right before the start/finish line loomed - to make it harder it was sandwiched in-between two false flat sections that would end up taking their toll on the field. However, at the time I was much more concerned that what goes up, must come down - and on a 2.5 minute course, the descent/speed/corning combination on the backside would have to be intense. I wasn’t able to preview the course, so I was a little timid entering the ‘recovery’ part of the crit.

Anyways, it was clear that positioning on this course was going to be hard to come by. The pro race was immediately in front of our race and so everyone lined up on both sides of the fencing ready to pounce towards the start/finish line as soon as the race was over. The main pack of the pro race finished up and everyone was getting twitchy to line up. After a few seconds someone was ballsy enough to pull the trigger causing everyone to pull the trigger on racing up to line-up. A few stragglers of the pro-race came through complaining (rightfully so) and the chief judge told everyone to take a lap. I rolled through the line and immediately got off the course and rolled back right before the start/finish line until the officials actually called us up. This gave me decent positioning for the start.

The race went off and my timidness on the backside of the course showed a little as I let a few people go by through the turns while I gained comfort moving through them (which came quickly). The hill came and was tough - I think by the 2nd or 3rd lap I was already thinking about how long I’d be able to solo off the back without getting pulled, but I ended up doing a really good job of finding recovery points throughout the course - especially mentally - whenever I felt like I wasn’t going all out, I was reassuring myself that I was relaxing and recovering. The first time I looked down at my Garmin was the 25 minute mark (halfway). This was significant because 1) it meant half the race had already gone by and 2) it meant that I had officially not been time-cut from the race as you would be scored even if you didn’t finish. My main goal for the week had be complete, however, I knew that if I could somehow stay with the pack and score the leaders time, I’d likely move up onto the first page on General Classification. The officials finally gave the call - ‘7 laps to go’. The next 5 laps or so were fast. At one point a split in the field about 4 guys ahead of me occurred - luckily I felt ok enough at this point to put in a big turn of speed and leapfrog myself back onto the main pack, but I’m pretty sure a split in the field occurred at that point. Soon enough we were on the last lap and it was all bonus at this point. I kicked as hard as I could up the hill and ended up 20th on the day. Taylor finished well again and was able to secure a Top 10 finish in GC, which was our team’s main objective entering the race. O’Boyle, who I was just happy to see on the start line, finished the day incredibly well after a tough wreck yesterday in the lead pack. Only 34 of the 100 starters would finish on the lead group’s time, proving just how hard that course was. Again, our team did a fantastic job of putting up some good results: Taylor (9th @ 0:05 stg, 9th @ 0:39 ovr), Tyler (20th @ 0:05 stg, 33rd @ 2:03 ovr), Ryan (24th @ 0:05 stg, 53rd @ 5:28 ovr), Austin (45th @ 0:52 stg, 41st @ 2:34 ovr), Ben (64th @ 1:30 stg, 78th @ 31:28 ovr), Tom (70th @ 3:55 stg, 84th @ 53:22), Randy (79th @ 3:55 Stg, 83rd @ 49:42 ovr).

You see all those? Those are times behind every rider’s name. Our team came down to the race with seven guys and crossed the finish line with seven guys. That’s a huge accomplishment. Further, we ended up finishing 5th in the team classification (which can be found here <>), merely 1:40 back of the winning team and surrounded by some incredible teams. I sort of wanted to ride around the course one more time with everyone with a champagne glass in hand ala the Champs-Elysees, but I’m not sure where I’d have been able to have taken a sip between the hill, false flats, descents, or corners…so we just had to settle for Sonic and Dairy Queen instead. At the end of the day, the time trial played a huge part in the final standings. Anyone placing in the top 45 in the race could have been in or near the Top 10 with a great time trial. But regardless, we couldn’t be happier with how we did overall as a team.


It was a great weekend of racing. The race itself is top notch. From being able to use the full roads without center-line in the P/1 and 1-2 fields to the quality of the numbers themselves, it felt like a professional race. It’s a race I’ll certainly do in the future and if you haven’t done, you should do once. A huge thanks goes out to Kevin Whitford and Dean Warren for providing feeds and helping out the team a lot during those first few days of the race - very much appreciated. Anyways, probably one of the better starts to the season on the road our team has had in awhile. Looking forward to seeing how our team builds off of it for the rest of the year!

All in a Day’s Work

By Jim Barclay | May 5, 2015

Race name: La Crosse Road Race/Omnium
Race date:Sunday, May 3, 2015

LaCrosse is an omnium weekend consisting of a hill TT on Friday night, a crit on Saturday and a road race on Sunday.  This had initially been a target race for me and I had a strong time trial (5th) but bad placement in the bell lap left me with a disappointing 15th in the crit.  However, Rob Whittier had an even better TT (2nd) and pulled off a great solo flyer with 2 to go in the crit to take 2nd. Aaron Baker also finished 3rd in the crit and would be joining us for the road race. We talked it over and decided that Rob was our strongest hand and we needed to work for him. He now sat 2nd in the overall behind Chris Stevens—a former triathlete with huge power.  Chris had won the TT by 30 seconds which meant he could climb and he soloed away to win the crit on Saturday so we knew he could sustain his power.  We obviously would mark him in the road race but there were also a handful of other riders within striking distance of Rob’s 2nd place. 

I went into the road race on Sunday knowing that I had a job to do and a role to play.  1) Cover the race leader, Chris Stevens.  He had the strength to solo away from the field if given the opportunity.  2) Do whatever I could to reduce the field so that the final group was as small as possible while also including Aaron and Rob.  3) Keep Rob safe and well rested for the finish. 

The road race course is a good one.  After a neutral roll out, it runs east through some rolling hills before turning south and down a long, non-technical descent.  The road flattens, turns west then begins to climb gradually before ending into a solid mile long, 5% grade climb.  The road flattens, turns north then another right hand turn puts us headed east on the start/finish straight.  A 15mph wind out of the SSW would play into the strategy as much as the climb itself. 

Lap one started out pleasantly.  The pace lifted after the neutral roll out but the descent was cautious at best and the group remained together when we hit the base of the climb.  As the grade increased I listened to the riders.  I felt fine but heard a lot of heavy breathing around me.  That can only mean one thing: Attack!  As we crested the hill Aaron was at the front and a little gap had opened.  I ramped it up and slingshotted around him. When I had the nerve to look back I saw that no one was chasing so I kept pushing.  I made the right hand turn north to pick up some tail wind established a solo break away that continued for the next 25 minutes.  I passed through the finish line with a 40 second gap.  Perfect.  If I could make it into the rolling hills and the descent I might be able to stay out of sight and hold it.  More than likely—and this was my intent all along—I would force the field to do some work.  Some riders would fall off in the chase but I knew Rob was going to be nice and comfy letting the field pull him along.  When the catch finally happened it was Aaron who had bridged up to me—partly to animate the field even more and partly to give me a friendly wheel to recover on which I greatly appreciated. 

The descent in the second lap just pissed me off.  The initial drop was fine but once it leveled off no one on the front wanted to pedal and the pace slowed to a comfy 19 mph.  This brought the group right back together as we began the 2nd time up the hill.  I parked myself on Chris Steven’s wheel and waited.  Sure enough, he attacked and I jumped with him.  He looked back and gave up.  We settled back into the group.  He did it again and again I jumped on his wheel.  He sat up.  One more time he attacked as we climbed into the steep portion and again I went with.  Finally he sat up but this one hurt me.  I started to worry about getting myself into trouble toward the top.  I wisely found Aaron’s wheel just in case I needed someone to keep me in touch with the group.  It proved unnecessary as the pace never really picked up and by the time we made the turn north with the tailwind I was starting to recover enough to think about what the endgame might be. 

As the passed through the finish line to begin the final lap I had one goal in mind:  keep the group strung out enough so we would hit the 3rd climb in single file.  We had shed the weakest riders by that point but I still saw a couple big muscular sprinter types in the field.  There was no way I wanted them battling it out with Rob in the final sprint.  They needed to be dealt with so the lead group over the hill would be small and manageable—but include both Rob and Aaron.  I went to the front and looked for every opportunity I could to make the group single file.  In the rolling hills I stood on the uphills to keep the pace from slowing.  We turned south and picked up a head/cross wind from the right so I put my wheel on to the center line and the rest of the field in the gutter.  No one wanted to fight the cross wind to come around me and we hit the descent single file.  I was second wheel going downhill behind a huge IScorp guy and when we hit the bottom made sure we kept the pace hot.  On the run up IScorp guy started to slow and I moved back up to the front.  I felt my right quad start to twinge a bit and immediately devoured the remaining blocks I had in my jersey pocket—no time for leg cramps!  I glanced back and could see the field was thinning so I just kept on it.  Then we hit the steep pitch and I knew I was cooked.  A 25 min solo break, chasing down attacks and setting tempo had taken its toll.  A few riders came around me and I was elated to see Rob—and then Aaron—parked comfortably on Chris Steven’s wheel.  I gave it one more kick but couldn’t stay with that group of 6. Then I looked back:  nothing.  The nearest riders were a good 30m behind me.  The lead group was away and I felt confident that, with two teammates in a 6 man group, xXx had a great opportunity to be on the podium. 

And they were.  When the dust settled Aaron was 2nd (missed the win by a bike throw,) and Rob 3rd, ahead of Chris Stevens.  The points kept Rob comfortably in 2nd place for the overall omnium.  I don’t think I have ever been as tired at the end of a race—rolling in to take 11th.  My legs were jello.  I could barely wait to cross the finish line to stop my Garmin, switch to the small ring and start to spin them out. 

It was a great day to cap off an equally great weekend for xXx.  I am so proud of my teammates and the way we raced: smart, strong and with panache!

50 Min of Gritty Water in My Face

By Tracy Dangott | Apr 20, 2015

Race name: Tilles Park
Race date:Monday, Apr 20, 2015

The day following a ton of work and the success of putting Nikos on the podium at Hillsboro, Tom P., Trisha, Monika, Courtney and I continued our trek south to race Sunday at Tilles Park in St. Louis. Tilles park is a smooth pavement course within a city park. 8/10 of a mile, not a hard corner to be found and a gentle rise 1/3 of the way in. This is as non-technical a course as they come, a cupcake course, much like our Sherman Park race used to be, with the only consideration being that the course is fairly narrow throughout.

We arrive at the race to a light drizzle and I was thankful I didn’t pre-reg. Tom, Courtney and Mo were all better planners and pre-registered… they were committed. I was not and was leaning towards bailing.

I watched Tom, Mo and Courtney race in the drizzle and come out of it messy, but none too worse for wear. Courtney in particular looked like a hardened warrior, with a dirt & grime goatee, but she was smiling with the success of having reeled in a strong PSIMET break for a pack finish. Mo loves the dirt and had a blast. I realized I couldn’t turn my back on the opportunity and after all, it was only a light drizzle, so I kitted up and got my number. And that’s when it started to rain in earnest.

Great. I’ve just dropped 45 bucks and it’s raining. Oh well.

We line up to the most anti-climactic acoustic guitar music (no Johnny Cash for us), warn each other to be safe and after 2 short laps I’m soaked and questioning how long I’ll be able to even see, when the attacks start. It’s a Masters’ 1-3 field and St. Louis generally has a fast masters group, owing to their long season and warmer weather.

There were four different teams represented in the field with multiple riders each and these guys were frisky. The Cyclery and Big Shark in particular kept sending guys up the road and someone from another team would always get up there with him. Then you’d have two teams blocking hard and no-one had the will power or desire to break through and chase in the rain. Except for me. Oh, why did it have to be me?

Over and over I would lead the chase to reel in a break and a few times, just when we’d catch, a counter-attack would launch. When you’ve got 3-4 guys blocking, it’s just effective. The final break was 18 seconds off the front and only one person would barely help me chase. For this one, I dug hard into the pain cave and when we caught, I couldn’t see through the left side of my glasses and was blowing gritty snot out of my nose. I thought to myself, if they counter again, I’ll be lucky to hang on to the pack, if I even see it happen. Then, a miracle! The pace slowed so I could recover (and rinse the dirt out of my mouth).

With about four laps to go, attacks simply stopped (thank goodness!). Everyone settled in for a pack finish, leaving me thinking, “I’m with the pack, job well done.” I concentrated on race position and refused to give up second wheel, neither to advance or fall back, for the final few laps, being assaulted by the spray of gritty water the entire time. The last two laps in particular were hot as two teams each sent a guy up to crank the pace and string us out. Then, with a quarter lap to go, the pace slacked and no-one (me included) would advance, despite people yelling at us to, “keep it hot!”

As we came to the last bend, the pace then picked up hard, real hard, almost a mini sprint. This was a group of mainly Cat 2 riders, they were familiar with how to finish the course and it showed. At about 400 meters to go, I feel the swarming start and I’m struggling to stay on the 5th wheel, thinking, “No, no, no! It’s too early for me!” I find myself just trying to hold some semblance of position long enough to get into my sprint window, all the while, feeling all my hard work slip away. Then I’m in-range and I see my lane open up. It’s time.

I move off the 5th wheel and kick in my sprint. I dart around 5th, fly past 4th wheel and I am no longer worried about the guy in 3rd. That’s because I looked up and saw the two leaders and felt they were within reach. I found a second kick and moved my sprint to 42 mph (I didn’t believe it either), with me closing real fast on the two leaders. At the end, the podium hit the line with half a wheel between each of us and it was my bike throw that put me into second (thanks for the spring drills last week, Randy!).

Although I didn’t win, I’m chalking up the day as a victory after the amount of effort I put in to reel in the many breaks. I was proud to add to xXx Racing’s time on the podium this weekend, where our team put someone in the top three at every race we attended (Hillsboro, TTT Nats, Tilles Park and Menomonee Park)!

Also, for those going to St. Louis in the future with a Friday or Saturday overnight stay, be sure to ask anyone on this weekend’s trip about our restaurant choice. It’s worth a visit and was quite “unique.”

Bricks, Bratwurst and Breakaways

By Nikos Hessert | Apr 20, 2015

Race name: Hillsboro Roubaix
Race date:Saturday, Apr 18, 2015

Rolling to the start line the morning of the race, the only thought on my mind was… well, actually, I have no Idea what the only thought on my mind was, but I’ve got a thing for cliche openers, and it was probably something completely unrelated to the race anyways.  So, after 20 minutes of self introspection or something, I arrived at registration, pinned on my numbers, kitted up, and was ready to race. 

As we lined up (20 mins early, because apparently the holeshot in a 60 mile road race is crucial) the announcer began a prayer for all the riders.  As he wrapped up thanking god for what seemed like every last brick on the course, Johnny Cash started to flow from the loudspeakers, and we were off.

Right from the gun, the entire xXx squad went to the front.  Why, I don’t know, but if there were any photographers, it would’ve made for some great photos.  The action began quickly, with our own supreme leader Tracy Dangott oddly eager to make a breakaway happen.  First, he attacked solo, leading to a spirited chase from a smattering of teams, and a quickly recaptured Dangott.  Undeterred, he soon made it into an early three man break that lasted through the rest of the first lap.

As soon as he break was caught, counterattacks began to fly.  I made a few, but the majority came from Bonkers and some team in a neon kit that I will now refer to as team Kermit.  The winning move came around 20k to go, when on of the bonkers riders rolled off the front chasing down an unmotivated solo counter from one of our felt, froggy friends.  The attack wasn’t exactly brutal, but the field was fed up with chasing.  A few kilometers later, the Team Kermit rider had sat up, but Bonkers was nowhere to be found.

The group, tired from the unending attacks and counters, bunched together and began to set themselves up for a sprint.  A group of two gaped the field down a descent unintentionally, and seeing the widening gap, I joined them.  We looked back, and seeing a 5 second gap on the field, they immediately sat up.  I rolled the dice, figuring the field would be tired of chasing by now, and hoping that I still had a few legs left, I put my head down and dug.  Hard.  Soon, I had extended the gap to 30 seconds, and before long, the field was just a dot on the road as I looked back. 

From there, it was just an extremely painful matter of keeping the pedals turning though 12 kilometers of rolling IL roads.  No one ever did catch the bonkers rider who won, nor did I get within sight of him, but I managed to hold a significant gap over the field for second, and Aaron Baker proved he had more watts than the common cold, sprinting for 4th.  All around, a great team effort, and a great way to close the book on one of Illinois best (and only) road races.

Lincoln Park Criterium

By Tyler George | Apr 6, 2015

Race name: Lincoln Park Criterium
Race date:Saturday, Apr 4, 2015

Our team’s true annual road kickoff was yesterday at Lincoln Park. The elite squad was almost completely represented with several guys looking to have some success, notably Austin Venhuizen and Ryan O’Boyle.

The Lincoln Park P/1/2/3 race is pretty simple at its core, but generally has a few consistent aspects each year. 1) The wind. Half the field generally DNF’s as they find themselves out of position or just not strong enough to hold the pace, particularly on the backside of the course going over the bridge and 2) generally a strong-man break wins the day.

Let’s start with the wind. Navigating this course can be a whole lot easier if you play it right through the corners. As the crosswind the past two years has come directly from the west (towards the lake) positioning yourself throughout the course is critical to saving some precious race-saving watts. Anyways, the way I navigate the course (to each their own) is I try to enter the first long swooping turn with no one on my left side. Once I hit the midpoint of the sharper left-hander I try to carve it off a bit, which keeps me on the leftside throughout the backstretch shielded from the wind. At this point, after cresting the hill, I start thinking about setting myself up for the frontstretch. As I make my way towards the 90 degree righthand turn that leads up towards the 180, generally (if the race is at speed) it will be hit single file or nearly single file and upon the exit of the turn I push myself right towards the gutter. As I hit the 180, this allows me to stay on the outside…thus allowing me to exit on the right which guarantees that I’ll be shielded from the wind down the front stretch as well. If I failed to stay outside upon the exit of the hairpin, generally I’d let the guy on my outside go past on the exit which makes way for me to squeeze in behind in a single file manner heading towards the finish - such that again, I’m positioned directly behind or just to the right of the rider in front of me, shielded from the wind. Repeat. (Also, staying up front helps significantly as it allows me to have more flexibility in where I want to go and it of course allows me to avoid the constant whiplash throughout the day which can quickly kill a race, especially once riders start peeling off in front of you).

Also, as an aside, the wind today actually made the race significantly less technical than it could have been. The day before, Austin and I previewed the course with the wind direction coming directly from the North. While doing a jump and hitting the right hand turn heading up towards the 180 we hit nearly 40mph which might have caused a few people to run into the fencing throughout the day had it stayed strong in that direction. But instead, it compacted the race at that point and naturally mitigated the speed through the 180. Anyways on to the race…

A few thoughts entering the day included trying to get one of our strong guys in the move (O’Boyle, Austin, etc) and trying to mitigate Sammy’s from launching people up towards the break - as they successfully did last year. Whenever several Sammy’s riders hit the front near the 180, our goal was to have a rider near them such that they could either disrupt the move or get in the launch themselves. So, back to that strong-man aspect of the course: Ryan O’Boyle. The guy has a serious knack for finding the right move and not surprisingly found the right move about a third of the way into the race. Austin had attacked several times early but eventually got off the front after the O’Boyle move was established with one other guy that went to the finish ahead of that pack but behind O’Boyle’s break-of-the-day. Given that Sammy’s had a rider in the break-of-the-day that was almost sure to be outsprinted by several guys with a solid kick, they stacked the front and slowed the peloton down (particularly around the 180) in hopes of allowing the O’Boyle break to lap the field. If it did, I’d assume they’d try to create a long leadout train for him as that might be the only way to take the W. It worked and the move lapped the field with about 2 to go. O’Boyle made his way through the field to the front with 1 to go. I asked him if he was looking to launch a move early or field sprint: field sprint was the answer which sent me on one-man one-lap-to-go leadout mission for him. As we crossed the start/finish I hit the front hard and looked back to make sure he was on my wheel. As we hit the riser over the bridge, I made sure to flush far enough left to leave a clean line for O’Boyle but no one else (as anyone who wanted to go over the top of me would have had to come through the wind on the right). Still on the front through the right hand turn and up towards the hairpin I started to feel it. We hit the 180 1-2 and I started giving it just about everything I had upon the exit. I heard Ryan say “1 More Tyler” which made me pause for a second thinking…wait, was this NOT the last lap??? At that point my effort slightly decreased and the sprint went off…and I quickly was reassured that yes, this was in fact the last lap…thank god…and I coasted through the line. Anyways, Ryan ended up sprinting for 4th which is a solid result. Had I given it slightly more for a bit longer heading towards the finish line maybe he gets 3rd, but oh well. Austin also attacked his man late grabbing a 6th place finish. Can’t be too disappointed putting two guys in the top six. A nice start to the season and hopefully a platform for many more results ahead!

…oh…and here’s the last lap…enjoy.

Starting to Click

By Tom Perotti | Apr 5, 2015

Race name: Lincoln Park Crit
Race date:Sunday, Apr 5, 2015

Last year, I was brand new to bike racing, taking corners at speed terrified me, and I had no clue how to race strategically. Through the season, I became more confident at cornering and slowly learned how to hide from the wind, how to properly launch an attack, and how/when to do work at the front. I did some work in the fall and winter and added some more power. I knew coming into this season I was much more prepared than last, but I still wasn’t feeling too sure of myself. Then, a couple weeks ago on the team ride, as we approached the Judson/Green Bay Rd sprint, I didn’t feel like I wanted to sprint, but was feeling good about providing a lead out so that everyone else could duke it out. Turns out, though, I ended up riding everyone but Dave Hudson off my wheel. At that point I thought, “maybe I can do some damage this year.”

In the week leading up to LPC, I decided I wanted to try (for the first time) doing a mid-race attack, and not one of those, creep-up-the-outside “attacks” that are so common in the 4s, but a real, out-of-the-saddle, big gear attack. I decided on the Masters 4/5 race to try it and visualized the attack many times. The visualizations were helpful, but also somewhat worrying, as my heart would race and my legs would tense up every time I did so…is that normal? I began to get worried I would psych myself out.

Masters 30+ 4/5
Although my plan was to try my attack about mid-way into the 40min race, Rob Curtis announced a prime on lap 3, and I decided I might as well try; I had never won a prime before, after all. So as we came around the first turn and approached the bridge, I up-shifted, got out of the saddle, and hammered it up hill. I quickly opened up a sizeable gap, sat down, and fell into a strong rhythm. I took the prime with ease (free month at FFC). Eventually another rider bridged up to me without towing the field with him, and for a brief moment, I thought the winning break was forming, along with my ticket to my first podium. I was half correct; it was the winning break, but I didn’t stay in it for long. He quickly rode me off his wheel and about five laps later I was caught by the group.

I managed to slot in about 4th wheel and stayed near the front for most of the rest of the race. I’m terrified of crashing and know that the 180 on the LPC course can get hairy in the last lap, so I knew I wanted to be first into that turn. With two to go, I moved up from about 8th wheel to 4th, and as we came around the 1st turn on the last lap, I attacked again and rode out of the saddle all the way to the top of the bridge, and continued hammering down the other side. I made it through the 180 quick and clean. Andrew Nordyke from Cuttin Crew had gotten off the front a few laps earlier and as I continued to hammer it down the finish straight, it appeared as if I was going to catch him - he was toast. It was too little too late, though, and I also got nipped at line by one other rider. I ended up 4th for my best finish ever, and first time in the money ($20!). I was disappointed that I couldn’t hold on for the last spot on the podium, but was very satisfied with the huge improvement over last year’s performance at this race (33 in the masters race, and got pulled early).

Cat 4
The second race of the day was the Cat 4s. It was several hours after my first but my quads were killing me all day after the first effort, so I didn’t think I would play a factor in this race. After a very easy spin warm-up, though, my legs felt better. I started the race with a plan to just sit in and see what happened. Johnny immediately went off the front and Kevin, Jim, and I went to work blocking the field. Andrew Nordyke and Thomas Gaines of Volharden didn’t seem to like that much and eventually put in an attack and got away. Johnny was far enough away (he ended up lapping us) that we didn’t need to worry about blocking anyone else, so I tried to organize a chase of the other two.

No one seemed to want to help, though, so I decided to hurt them a bit. There was a strong cross-wind coming across the finish stretch from the NW, so whenever I was on the front coming across the finish stretch, I guttered the group on the right side along the barricades so that any attack would be forced to go out into the wind. What was interesting, though, and played to my advantage, is that no one else used that tactic when they were at the front, choosing instead to ride all the way to the left, the “inside” line. So after my turn at the front, I’d drift almost to the back of the pack to recover, and then when I wanted to move up again, I’d just wait for the finish stretch and use the entire group to block the wind as I moved up (rather easily) along the right side. Coming into the bell lap, I was able to use this tactic again to move from the back of the pack to third wheel without much effort. As we came around the first turn, I saw Kevin over my left shoulder and immediately started thinking “lead out!”. So once again, I ramped it up out of the first turn so that Kevin and I could be first into the 180. It turns out, however, I inadvertently gapped Kevin, so he decided it would be better to not tow the group back up to me and let me go instead. Unfortunately two guys that didn’t do much work most of the race were able to latch on and came around me as we exited the 180. I tried to ride their wheel into the sprint, but I was toast and couldn’t come back around them. So with three guys up the road and third in the field sprint, I ended up 6th.

Two top-10s in one day, a result I never thought I’d achieve. I’ve been joking since I completed my 10 Cat 5 races last year that I would be a Cat 4 for life, but I think I showed some signs of life at LPC, and now am hopeful that a Cat 3 upgrade is within reach, possibly next season.

Another Brick in the Backside of the Wall - SLO TTT

By Rob Whittier | Apr 3, 2015

Race name: SLO Camp - The Wall TTT
Race date:Saturday, Mar 14, 2015

  Another Brick in the Backside of the Wall - SLO Training Camp TT

  (with audiovisual and Stravalabs @1:45, best enjoyed with headphones or in a private room)

For many of us, xXx team camp in San Luis Obispo is our first chance to test our legs after a long winter of grueling trainer work and frozen-bottle hardman rides. Every single day has some climbing, some fast flats, some terrifying descents, a sprint or two, and for many of us there’s a “bit” of friendly competition involved. Nobody should be trying to “win” camp, I’m told but I recall a quote, perhaps it was Mark Twain who said that “anytime two cyclists are together, it may be considered a race”.

And while every day at SLO ends up with a little friendly competition, every bump becomes a KOM point and every paceline pushes us beyond what we thought possible, there’s only one day that’s designed to be a race; the penultimate day where teams compete in a time trial to reach the top of “The Wall”.

Teams and Planning – 8/10 - It’s clear that Coach Randy puts a great deal of thought into team selection, mixing in experience, fitness, riding styles, etc. but this year I was surprised by several things! First, that he selected himself for the second to last group, along with Dave Hudson who can climb pretty well (two climbers?!) Second, that he armed his group with Briney and Tyler, that’s quite a paceline. Third, that he chose me for the last group, which was a shock (and honor) last year as a Cat 4 and a surprise again this year as I had cracked on one climb earlier in the week and wasn’t feeling as strong as 2014 and that we had two climbers with Ben LaForce who had had been floating up hills all week. To take nothing away from Tracy and Fay who had been climbing lights out, but it’s fair to say that Fay and Ben Cartwright knew their role. Ben and I discussed
the idea that we might both be designated as the team’s climbers and that we’d sort it out, like   Porte and Froome do, based on who was feeling strongest. I guessed that it was 80% likely to be him after watching him disappear on Black Mountain which he lost** I think that planning for this flexibility was a huge benefit, it made it easier to make tough decisions when they because necessary.

Pre-race prep – 9/10 – The waiting is the hardest part and as we watched the other groups go off, the butterflies started to build. I haven’t been racing long but learning how to control this (somewhat), and harness it (a bit) has been an area that I’ve improved on dramatically. I stayed relaxed, ate some Cliff Blocks, joked with my teammates, and prepared mentally for the hour plus of suffering ahead. When the 2nd to last group went off, I couldn’t hold it in any more: Two minutes to go-time, a hella strong team, and one objective…  win.

The approach – 8/10 - The stretch from Cayucos to Cambria is brutal with the last few teams hoping to gain as much time as possible while still together before launching their climbers at some point after the turn onto Santa Rosa Creek road. The two hills on that stretch don’t make things any easier and can test even the best team’s ability to paceline to use their resources effectively. We had a very solid paceline going with fair pulls being done by all,
Fay’s being a bit fairer than some and we hammered the flats and attacked the climbs, as evidenced by our   team’s times up Harmony Hill.

As we approach the last ¼ of the hill, with mouthes agape and snot flying, I became aware of a rider dropping off the back. Unsure who it was I yelled at Fay just ahead of me and when we looked we could see that LaForce was cracking. Decision time, do we slow up the paceline to keep our 5<sup>th</sup> rider and potential CLIMBER in the group? Fay showed all of the quality of a leader when he made the call, decisive and in my opinion dead on. If he’s hurting now, he’s not going to able to contribute much on Santa Rosa creek and probably won’t be the dude that we   launch.

Santa Rosa Creek – 9/10 – As we made the turn the team was clicking perfectly. Fay, Tracy, and Ben were taking long pulls and looking at wattage, I was pitching in about as hard but I knew that the hard work lay ahead, I just didn’t know when. We shortly passed our first rider, Kirby, who having done service for his team was obviously gathering himself for the descent. This was a booster to all of us, and a reminder that a lot of work lay ahead. About 8 minutes in I think Ben felt himself starting to fade and came to the front for a couple more hard rips and then Tracy did the same. Both faded back at a bit (2:30 here) and it was just Fay and I to finish it off.

The Climbs – 9/10 – If I haven’t been clear about this, Fay is a beast in a TT and you couldn’t possibly ask for a better teammate for this day. He averaged 362W during the run in to the steeps, taking huge pulls when we had Tracy and Ben with us and pulling me for another 15 minutes after they dropped off while we close HARD on Randy and Dave As things started to get steeper, we caught Briney who jumped on our wheels for a bit but Fay’s relentless pace shed him and then as the grade increased another percent, I knew it was time.

There is an amazing feeling being a part of a team; knowing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself and that you’re needed to help that thing succeed and if you excel, you may be able to help lift that team to victory. It can drive you to push harder than you thought possible. With that in mind, I jumped…(2:45 here).

The next 18 minutes were brutally hard, but also utterly euphoric. Climbing hard is what I love most about cycling, doing it in the service of my team is even better. I came up on Tyler shortly after I parted with Fay and asked (expecting a lie) how far back I was. He told me a number meant to discourage me but I remember the moment perfectly as I thought, “I can do that…” I knew that only and handful of riders lay between myself and the leaders and with each one I passed I felt stronger. When I passed Hudson I figured Randy couldn’t be far off but I needed to resist the urge to bury myself as the steepest sections were still ahead! Finally as I saw the left-hander ahead and the steeps sections came into view, I saw Randy.

The gap wasn’t small, maybe 45 seconds, but I was feeling strong and I knew that I might be able to gain a little time on the steepest parts. This is where Randy’s experience came into play. I’d surge and close the gap but then as the grade lessened he’d open it back up again. Where I was never totally sure of how hard to bury myself without knowing exactly what was around the corner, Randy knew exactly…

As we neared the last flattish section I realized that I couldn’t catch the Coach, and dialed it back a bit, and rolled in slow for the all-important   photo op. But working with an amazing team we did reel in 1:30 of the starting gap and I set the KOM for the route in the process. As I turned around to see who would roll in third I expected to see the sprightly Dave Hudson round the bend but to my amazement, it was my teammate who had slaughtered himself for the team all day, Ryan Fay.

First Ironman

By andrew mullen | Sep 16, 2014

Race name: Ironman Wisconsin
Race date:Sunday, Sep 7, 2014

So not exactly a pure bike race, but has a long bike segment non the less! smile  This was my first Ironman and hopefully first of many. I have done a handful of Ironman 70.3 races over the past two years but learned that a full is a whole new world.  As a background as well, this is only my second year of triathlons in general and only my second year of swimming and biking.  So here is a brief race report for anyone interested:

Famous IMOO mass swim start.  I am a pretty decent swimmer so I lined up left of the boat ramp about 3-4 rows back… soon learned not the best decision as I got trampled when the cannon went off.  Lots of contact until the first few turn buoys and then it opened up a little.  Tried to keep as stead of an effort as possible.  Ended up getting out of the water at 1:09 so not too bad!

Biking is still my weakness…luckily I have ridden this course before with my tri team and coach so I knew what to expect.  Kept my effort right where the coach told me and ended up being a pretty uneventful ride.  The crowds on the hills were awesome and the Plasma worked great on the hills and catching some decent speed on the straights.  Can in off the bike around 6:20 so about where I had planned.

Nothing like saving a marathon for last after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles on a hilly course! Went out running around a 9:00 mpm pace and then walking the aid stations and observatory hill.  I was around 2:11 or something for the first half so a 10:00 mpm pace with the walking so right where I wanted to be for a 4:30 marathon.  Kept chugging along until mile 20 when the wheels came off.  Covered in salt, dizzy, and a little stumble; I decided to walk and take in as much salt and fluid I could.  Walked for four miles until I got re-hydrated enough to slowly jog in the last two miles.  Ended up coming in at a 5:08… not where I wanted to be but finished! Overall I ended up at 12:51 so under my 13:00 goal for this course. 

Now off to focus on bike fitness! smile

View From the Back of the Bus: Part 2

By Austin David Venhuizen | Sep 8, 2014

Race name: Green Mountain Stage Race - Cat 2
Race date:Saturday, Aug 30, 2014

Chapter 3: The Circuit Race

When I awoke on the morning of the stage race, dreams of racing glory gave way to the scene of destruction laid out before me. Sweaty skinsuits and cycling garp draped over air conditioning units, on towel hangers, from the ceiling, even in front of the open window which was to be our only source of fresh air for the weekend. I gulped in my first breath of the “Fresh, Clean Vermont air” that I was promised on the hotel website and my eyes began to burn as I choked on the chlorine gas which we had synthesized overnight while terra-forming a fairly nice hotel room into a World War I trench.

Pretty Ricky and Diesel had already gone downstairs to eat while Jake and I were still sleeping. This gave way to yet another harrowing discovery as I stepped into the bathroom, which had been (redacted) left in (redacted) bad condition. The point being, if you’re stage racing with a couple of bros, wake up first or at least have the foresight to bring a gas mask, a snorkel, or, should your now weakened immune system succumb to the cholera, some means of taking an honorable death (see: Samurai sword).

Jake and I slowly made our way downstairs and were greeted by a bountiful feast of bagels, Eggo waffles, and high-grade Vermont maple syrup (thus separating us from the apes). After exchanging a few tense, knowing glances with the clearly self-satisfied perpetrators of the assault on common decency witnessed just moments before, we scarfed down our sustenance and left for the circuit race.

The order of the day was 3 and 3/4 laps around a roughly 19 mile circuit: a total of 72 miles with around 4,000 feet of climbing. According to Jake, the day’s course was “made for him,” a reasonable statement for a man whose training typically consists of 800 feet of elevation change over the course of a century. Before the stage, Diesel had advised that we sit in and save energy for the queen stage and to “not do anything stupid.” Considering he had placed second in this stage the previous year and finished eighth in the GC, I was inclined to listen to him.

Jakobie was not. He went on a solo campaign at the first sight of an incline, maybe 6 miles into the first lap. “Well, speaking of not doing anything stupid” I sarcastically announced when I spotted Jake’s helmet perched atop his fiery flow 20 seconds ahead of the peloton. I gathered myself and moved to the front, slowly coming to grips with the idea that I now had to block for Jake at mile 6… out of 72.

As I moved to the front, one of the riders spearheading the chase and I met one another’s gaze and, in a totally platonic moment my purpose was betrayed. We locked eyes and he saw deep in to my soul (nothing sexual) and knew that I was going to block the (expletive) out of them. He attacked. I followed. Not because we had experienced a deep, cosmic connection in the heat of battle, but out of my duty as a teammate (See? Totally platonic).

Much to my surprise, I looked back and our chase group of three which had nearly reached Jakobie had put some convincing time on the field. “Well (expletive),” I thought, “now I’m in the early breakaway along with my dangerously insane teammate.” Jake looked back and smiled, though his smile offered no comfort. Barely concealed behind his pleasant countenance lay a simple, singular message: “Welcome to Hell.”

As opposed to the Katy Perry abomination which played on a loop in my head the day before, my mantra for the breakaway more closely resembled “Super-cali-fragilistic-expi-ali-docious” if you replaced each syllable with a swear word more distasteful than the last. We went HARD. Then maybe a few of us went HARD. Then Jake went HARD. Then I got dropped HARD. I was powerless to do anything but watch Jake and his lone breakaway companion stay off the front up the first KOM climb with the field steadily closing on me. 10 miles, 2 new all-time power records, existential pain. I desperately waited for the draft of the peloton to wash over me.

I rested in the peloton for a few miles, continually aware that Jake still had not rejoined the pack. I considered trying to guilt Pretty Ricky into blocking for Jake, but we were saving Ricky for the climb on the following day and it was decidedly my burden to shoulder. The yellow jersey team had finally rallied to the front and decided that Jakobie’s time was nigh, so back to the front I went.

Despite my best efforts, Jakobie’s group had been nearly reeled back in by the time we reached the KOM for the second time. I had moved to what I believed to be mid-pack before the climb to save some energy, though I was much closer to the rear than I should have been. Much like Nemo, I touched the butt (of the peloton). The pack sprinted for the KOM and I got gapped along with a few others who began to chase.

The neutral support car had gone by and an organized chase was just beginning to form when the unimaginable happened. Pshhhh… shk, shk, shk… flat. (Expletive)‘n flat. Hopelessness gave way to despair as road imperfections and gravel greedily munched away at the carbon brake track.

To keep it short, I had to stop several times to discuss my fate with course officials, who eventually agreed to not time cut me provided I completed the distance on a wheel lent to me by SRAM neutral support. I began my final 3/4 of the lap when the pack finished the race, so a dismal time was assured. Also, they took down the course markings at all major turns, so I had to stop and ask a kindly old man which way the race went. I crossed the line an hour adrift of my compatriots and rode back towards the car, another 5.7 miles away.

It was right around then, from the pits of despair, that a gleaming white chariot emerged from around a tree line. There it stood, a vision in white, resplendent in its Minivan-ness. The Mystery Machine beckoned with its sliding side passenger door opened wide, the yawning chasm of interior space and ample legroom realized through Stow-N-Go seating. Never have I loved a van so much, nor shall I ever love another.

As I hopped in, the prime directive became food. This duty was quickly taken up by the ever-famished Diesel, who brought us to an iconic local burrito joint (Vermont: Muy Authentico!!) which provided us with some only moderately authentic Mexican food, seeing as we were in the middle of nowhere in Vermont.

Though my metaphorical GC ship had been abandoned, scuttled, and submerged long enough to foster an artificial reef, reprieve came in learning that Jake had come in sixth on the stage. The cost was justified and I allowed myself the faintest notion that every bit of blocking and work in the breakaway had somehow contributed to his success (though we all know who was dragging who). All that was left was to eat, recover, and rally together whatever form I had to defend Jake in the Queen Stage.

Apologies for the length on this one! Please comment if you’d like coverage of the Queen Stage and the Crit!!

View from the back of the Bus: Part 1

By Austin David Venhuizen | Sep 3, 2014

Race name: Green Mountain Stage Race - Cat 2
Race date:Friday, Aug 29, 2014

The cast:

Jake “Jakobie” Buescher
Ryan “Diesel” O’boyle
Richard “Pretty Ricky” Arnopol
Austin “Reverse Breakaway Artist” Venhuizen
The Mystery Machine

The setting:

(Ver)dant (Mont)ains of New England, a land clearly settled by harder men than I….

Chapter 1: The Drive

It was late afternoon on Thursday, the 28th of August, when I got the call. “We’re here,” the voice on the other end of the line squeaked in the eerily boyish tone that announced the arrival of Jake Buescher. I brought my things up the single flight of stairs which end in an awkward combination of plunging stairs, a jutting handrail, and a door which often forces me to decide which of the previous two I’d rather use to destroy my spine. It was then that I spotted the white Dodge minivan, which will be referred to henceforth as “The Mystery Machine.” I’m complete [expletive] at foreshadowing, but if you can imagine a mix between a savior, mobile home, locker room, and 2013 Dodge Caravan, you can grasp the impact it will have upon my journey.

After managing to Tetris my things in to the back of the vehicle around what I will only assume to be the mountain of hair supplies that keep jakes “flow” (e.g. Conan O’brien) in check, I had my first experience with Pretty Ricky. A recent transplant from Seattle, Pretty Ricky had spent the last year working part-time at a bike shop and training/racing full-time for at least two national events. And we were heading to the mountains. And he weighed 125 pounds. “Nice to meet you,” Ricky said as he extended his featherweight hands, the bones of which I assume were replaced with carbon fiber. Afraid to show weakness, I firmly shook his hand. Damn, no carbon fiber, I’m just [expletive]d.

We went down to Three Floyd’s in Munster to unite our happy troupe with a man who requires no introduction, but I’ll give you one anyways. Ryan “Diesel” O’boyle, a mythical creature rumored to be a former Centaur who underwent a human-ectomy to comply with UCI rules. “Hey, I’m Diesel” he signaled to us in Morse code by flexing his quads, which are visible up to two miles and have been used to save no less than two nautical vessels while he was out on training rides. We hopped in the Mystery Machine and began the 15 hour drive to Vermont.

For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that the drive was long and monotonous, though I’m still pretty sure that the girl in New York was totally giving me the eye and we need to finish R. Kelly’s R&B masterpiece “Trapped in the Closet” as we only reached Chapter 19. If there was anything to be learned from the experience, it’s that Febreeze should be kept readily available whenever you pack four cyclists into a car for 15 hours while they’re all “carbo-loading.” We arrived with just enough time to spin up the nearest “small” climb (which made all climbs in Chicago look laugh-tacular) and hit the sack, quads twitching in anticipation of the flogging to come.

Chapter 2: The TT

Our cadre of watt assassins descended upon the TT course right around 9, allowing ample time to spin around and open up before TT. We were eagerly accosted by a local mountain man who warned us of the drinking water and how happy he was to have all the cyclists in the area. He then described how lonely it can get in the mountains and offered up bedrooms in his shanty for us to stay the weekend. Pretty Ricky,  Jakobie, and I conferred on the offer for a moment. “This mountain man has hungry eyes, Pretty Ricky,” I offered, “and you’re too pretty.” Ricky nodded in agreement, though Jakobie was clearly disappointed to refuse the mountain bro.

After watching Diesel gallop off in to the sunrise, we circled back to warmup before the effort to come. Pretty Ricky departed at 11:27:30, I left at 11:33:30, with Jakobie at 11:35:30. I assured Jakobie that I would pull over to the side of road and observe the ancient tradition of Hara Kiri if he passed me as his two-minute man and took my place in the line of those who were about to be sacrificed.

The TT itself made self-flagellation look about as pleasurable as a wine-infused soak in the hottub at the Welshly Arms hotel with your Love-ah. Though it was only a 5.7 mile prologue, the initial 7.5-8 minutes were uphill, with grades just tickling the 11-12 percent. The remainder was a slight downhill with a 50 mph drop straight into a 12 percent uphill slog in to the finish over the last 0.7 mile. We had been informed that, as opposed to last year, the entire TT had a “nasty headwind.” They were not lying. A stream of expletives mashed crudely into Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” became my mantra as I hammered up the course.

Somewhere in the fever dream of watts and pain, I caught my 30-second man, which had the brief side-effect of breathing new life in to my legs. I paid dearly for taking advantage of said “life” for about a minute and was fairly certain I was on the verge of an aneurysm when I finally spotted the downhill. In any normal setting, this would have been greeted as a welcome reprieve if not for the devastatingly conspicuous wall which loomed, teeth bared, right over the dip. The foul Katy Perry played on.

I became acutely aware that I was on the verge of total explosion (both from exertion and from dinner the night before) while I was sprinting up the wall, a fleeting moment of amusement washed across my face, yielded to utter pain, and then the legs quit. I sprinted again. They quit again. I must have tried to impose stricter demands on my legs (sprinting) at least three times in the final 500 meters, but they continued to strike like underpaid laborers until I finally conceded to their demands and essentially coasted across the line.

I bled seconds, minutes? Finishing a TT normally yields to some kind of catharsis. Not this time. The falling action after the ride was decided more similar to the “Not the Bees!” scene from Nic Cage’s opus Wicker Man. At not-so-long-last, I saw Jake cross the finish line. “Good, I really did want to keep my samurai sword clean” I thought as I began the arduous spin back to the car.

Though I should have led with this, let it be known that Vermont is drop-dead-Scarlett-Johannson-in-leather-pants gorgeous. The mountains, the valleys, the rolling hills, all beautiful. Nestled in the quiet town which hosted the TT was the Warren Store which featured craft beers (which had been bottled the day before!) and tons of Maple Syrup products. We made our way in and got a couple of sandwiches with High Grade syrup infused bread, ham, and turkey. Holy Yeezus be praised was that good. Go to Vermont. Just Go.

Back to the point, Diesel finished the course in 15:50, a time which was 1:20 slower than the previous year. Diesel was upset, but nothing that a couple of beers and sandwiches couldn’t turn around. Jakobie finished in 15:18 which, while 18 seconds adrift of the goal he had set for himself, was good for 11th in the GC on account of the headwind. I finished in 16:01,  a half second slower than Pretty Ricky who was also at 16:01 which left us 40th and 41st. I set several power records during the TT and still only managed 41st in the field? Well [expletive], Jake is our man.

We headed back to town, had a couple delicious sandwiches in Middlebury, agreed that we all needed to stop spending so much money on food, downed some craft brews, and began dreaming (dreading?) of the days to follow.

To be continued…..

I am not a Jedi yet.

By Jim Barclay | Aug 15, 2014

Race name: Wood Dale Crit (ABR State Championship)
Race date:Saturday, Aug 9, 2014

After imploding the second half of Prairie State in what can only be described as “spectacular fashion” (2 crashes and 1 flat in the final 4 races,) I was feeling pretty low.  Like, “do I even want to race anymore” low.  Well that passed soon enough (mostly,) and then I was faced with the reality that the next racing I could do was at Gateway Cup over Labor Day.  I was looking for a tune up race in between, mostly just to shake off my bad juju.  This little race popped up and I figured “why not.” 

The Wood Dale crit is the state championship for ABR (American Bike Racing.) It is a smaller, competing organization to USAC and not held under USAC guidelines.  As such, some choose to look down on the ABR races as substandard.  I’ll get this out of the way right now: there was nothing substandard about this race.  It was organized, safe and well officiated.  There wasn’t a lot of flourish but, honestly, after the pomp and circumstance of Prairie State, a nice little office park crit was just what I needed.  I had no teammates in the race—none of those pesky “team tactics”—just me, my legs and my brain. 

And did I mention it actually was in an office park? 

The course itself was nice, safe—really only one legit right hander—with some elevation between turns 3 & 4 and a noticeable cross-wind on the back straight before turn 3.  Even still, I was pretty much looking for any reason to bail up until the whistle went off.  The memories of crashing don’t fade fast.  But then the whistle blew and just like that I was off with a small pack of guys who had big dreams of putting on the snazzy, half zip ABR state champ jersey. 

It took us a while to get going, really.  The first several laps were, um, gentlemanly, but about 10 min into the 40 min crit some things started to happen.  It was a hot day and my heart rate was definitely up but I could feel my legs opening up nicely.  I played around—attacking here and there just to see who would chase.  The back straight with the crosswind was a perfect place to attack and when a prime was called I saw a Got Wind rider make a great move to get away.  I identified him as Kris Wiatr—the former domestic pro and national criterium champion who has been kicking around in the masters ? races as of late.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all that he would be out here trying to win a jersey.

Now, say what you will about the ethics of a former pro (and national champ,) racing with Cat 4’s.  Kris has a reputation for riding aggressively and chopping wheels in turns.  I haven’t personally witnessed that but I have seen him positioned perfectly in the final sprint on several occasions. The guy is a smart racer and I decided to mark him.  If this came down to a bunch sprint, I was going to take his wheel.  He would be savvy in the last few turns and I knew I could just let him take me to the final 200m and then come around. 

Several attacks went off and came back.  Finally about 30 min in I made a dig on the back straight and opened up a decent gap.  I solo’d for a lap or so then was joined by 3 others.  “This is it—the winning break,” I thought.  I looked back and we had a good 100m on the main field and started to organize.  Unfortunately it wasn’t super smooth and after another lap and ½  off the front our group came back.  That’s Ok, though.  I was ready for this sprint—ready to follow my unknowing Polish accomplice to victory.  I sat in and recovered and waited as the group sped up in the bell lap.  Just like clockwork, I saw the Got Wind jersey move up on the inside and I deftly moved to take his wheel on the back straight.  I was fourth wheel as we approached turn 3.  Perfect.

Then a funny thing happened: my lead out started falling back a bit.  I felt like we should be moving faster but resisted the urge to jump then, even though guys were coming around us.  “Don’t panic,” I thought.  “He’s just pulling some super slick move to slingshot out of the turn…or something.”  Out of the turn 3 and into the hill, and Kris is now very much going backward. Damn. Time to improvise.  I jump around him and dive on the inside of turn 4 but by this time we have been passed by a lot of guys.  The sprint is slightly downhill so I go as soon as I clear the corner but I knew it was too late.  I passed a few but ended up 13th and rather disappointed. 

On the cool down lap I looked over to see the Got Wind jersey and, to my horror, I realized it was NOT Kris Wiatr.  It never was.  It was just another older Got Wind racer with Kris’ squatty build but not his fast twitch muscle fibers.  Nooooooo!!!!!!! 

I had marked the wrong guy.  I had raced a good race and many of the guys ahead of me are men I routinely beat.  My legs were there but I outsmarted myself.  I felt like an idiot. I should have trusted my instincts and not let myself fall back—no matter who I thought was in front of me.  It’s like Luke Skywalker opting to leave his targeting computer on and telling the ghost of Obi Wan to piss off.

Just go out and have fun

By Matt Talbert | Jul 27, 2014

Race name: Prairie State Chicago Criterium
Race date:Saturday, Jul 26, 2014

Although my fourth ever crit, this is my first race report, as this race was clearly my best and more so eventful than the previous three. Strangely enough, I lacked confidence going into this race. My speed had diminished somewhat thanks to being bikelessly out of town for two weeks in early July, in addition to not being able to race since Glencoe on May 31st. Additionally, I embarrassingly crashed during a team ride several weeks ago on a horrendously botched corner. I realized that the crash was more the result of psychological fear of corners than lack of skill. To overcome this, I went back to fundamentals by working on corners and doing some figure 8’s at LaBaugh Woods the night before the Prairie State Chicago Crit. I built my corner confidence back up, but still feared my speed was not entirely where it needed to be.

Despite some of my apprehensions, I was eager to participate. My attitude was simply “go out, have fun, and whatever happens, happens.” It helped that my day got off to a pretty good start. I got a full eight hours of restful sleep, ate a proper pre-race breakfast and arrived with sufficient time to warm up.

When the CAT 5’s were called to the start, my familiar pre-race jitters kicked in, which was clearly another psychological element for me to overcome. However, my “just go have fun” attitude helped keep those jitters at bay. When getting up to the line I was up in the front with a few teammates, but decided I did not feel comfortable starting in front of everyone else, so relocated to the middle of the pack.
When the race started several riders zoomed past me, but unlike my previous three races, I was able to stay in sight of the pack. After the first very successful corners I thought “hey, that wasn’t so bad.” I also later realized there were no issues with my speed. Although not near the front, I certainly was not near the back. While I will admit that the corners of the race were not particularly difficult, I felt I handled them exceptionally well, and exceeded my own expectations. After all the corner fear prior to this race, the corners interestingly were a great part of my success. I had noticed that at each corner I was able to pass a few riders and build some speed off a solid turn.

At what I felt was my strongest point of the race was an unfortunate end for another. When coming around the turn on Paulina Ave., I noticed a Spider Monkey rider down, bloody in the face and close to unconsciousness. It was a sobering realization that the sport can surely be dangerous. As a result of his crash, the race was suspended for around 10 minutes to allow the ambulance to take in the rider and vacate the course. During the delay, the official had told everyone that the riders in the front pack had to be the first to start, while those that were in the back had to stay near the back at the restart of the race, lest they face disqualification. Two riders disregarded this instruction and of course were disqualified. As I did not desire a similar outcome, I complied with the official’s request and let the lead pack take off.

The race had only four laps after the injury delay. Upon resuming I was in the back-middle just as I was before. I realized at this point I needed to change the way my cycling brain works. Although new to the racing scene, I have always been an avid cyclist, often going for rides that were anywhere from 40 to 70 miles in distance. For those particular rides, I was very cognizant of my energy levels, and refrained from any bursts of power that could result in inefficiency in the long run or a premature bonk out. I also briefly thought of the Glencoe race, where I had worried too much about how much was in my energy reserves to a point where I did not use it and refrained from sprinting. The lack of sprinting and pulling was obvious to me after Glencoe, as did not exactly feel as if I had just done a crit after the race. This time I pushed hard thinking, “this is only for four more laps, then you can recover AFTER the race.” For the first time ever I tried sprinting which allowed me to position myself toward the back of the front pack. I threw all the energy I had in the final laps and found that this time I was actually passing other riders, and not being the one passed. On the last lap I pedaled with every ounce of strength I had. I felt like a beastly lion charging hard. On the final Paulina-Walton turn, I sprinted like mad. With my best estimate, I would say I passed three to four riders on the final sprint. Although it does not sound like much, that reflected a great improvement for me.

While I did not finish near the front (31 out of 43), I felt that my racing had improved significantly as I finished the entire race and not getting lapped. It should also be noted that the pack was pretty close, so my race time reflected a significant improvement as well. Despite the low difficulty of corners, I conquered my fear of corners, and even found them to work to my advantage. I was able to stay within reach of the pack, which is a major step from Glencoe where I found myself lapped and finished a lap short. For the first time, I worried less about my energy reserves, confidently sprinted and took some pulls. While the crit season is coming to a close, I feel a great boost in confidence and much to build off of the Prairie State Chicago Crit. I will conclude with some lessons learned: Always keep fundamentals sharp (i.e. cornering), don’t be too frightened to expend energy with sprints or pulls, and most importantly, just have fun.

Opportunity Lost, Opportunity Found

By John Mitchell | Jul 25, 2014

Race name: Intelligentsia Cup - Waukegan
Race date:Friday, Jul 18, 2014

Last Friday was the first day of the Intelligentsia Cup Series.  As I drove up to Waukegan I focused on my goals for the race – manage my fear of crits (i.e. crashing hard), practice taking optimal lines through corners and practice holding a good wheel near the front.  Those goals were ringing in my head as I parked my car and hopped on my bike to find Registration.  As a police officer directed me to the Genesse Theater a loud voice behind me proclaimed, “you aren’t going to race in those clothes are you?  Those clothes do not meet the regulations.”  I looked down at my cargo shorts, t-shirt and running shoes and decided that indeed, my clothes did not meet USAC regs and certainly they weren’t a good choice for a bike ride.  That’s why I had my kit back in my car.

I entered the Theater and proceeded through the day-of registration process.  The voice followed me into the Theater.  “Do you have the right clothes to wear for this race?  You are not going to be allowed to race!  Do you know what you are doing?!”  I turned around to see who was heckling me (Rob Curtis was nowhere in sight) and saw a young man who was probably in his late teens or early 20’s in a solid blue jersey and solid black shorts.  I told him that the officials would probably give me a pass and let me ride in my current attire and then continued through the registration process.

As I started to leave the Theater the young man walked up to me and asked if I had ridden the race before, if I was fast, if I was planning to try to win and if I was going to change my clothes.  It suddenly hit me that this enthusiastic and excited young man had some sort of developmental disability.  I stopped and answered his questions and asked him what his goals were for the race.  He told me that he used to worry about winning but he had a bad crash that resulted in many injuries.  Now he didn’t worry about winning, he worried about staying safe.  I told him that I never worry about winning or losing and that I always think about staying safe.  He then proceeded to tell me and another guy all about his crash injuries.  A woman (his Mom) suddenly stepped forward and said, “Yeah, it was pretty bad.  He had to get two plates and a bunch of pins put in after that crash.”  The young man then proceeded to show me and everyone else in the area the parts of his body that had been beaten up in the crash.  I wished him well and headed back to my car to change into my kit.

Warm up laps convinced me that I could find a good line through the corners.  My other goals would have to wait for the race itself.  We lined up for the start.  I was bummed to see that I had no teammates in the race.  I was on my own.  As the USAC official called out our numbers to his colleague I heard a voice behind me shout, “Hey, you changed your clothes.  You have a uniform!  What team is that?”  Everyone around me turned to see the young man excitedly begin to grill me with a series of questions.  The guys on either side of me began to make a series of sarcastic comments about the young man.  I softly said, “I think he has a developmental disability and . . . ” and then the USAC official began his pre-race lecture which cut me off – an opportunity lost. 

My new friend continued to fire questions at me and everyone else in front of him.  One official blew his whistle as another tried to give us starting directions – and with that the race was on.  Before I knew it, the race was over.  I had taken good lines on many (but not all corners), I had a lot of success holding good wheels near the front (until the last turn when somehow I went from the front to the middle/back in a split second) and I managed to choke down my fear long enough to get through the race upright.

I was just about to finish my first cool down lap when I heard a race official screaming at someone to slow down.  My new friend was flying toward the finish and was weaving in and out of the field of riders who were sitting up and cooling down.  Apparently, he realized that he had been lapped and wanted to go hard for as many laps as the rest of the field.  Oblivious to the screaming official he raced to the line, crossed under the finish banner and pumped his fist in a victory salute.  The guys around me all laughed and commented on a “lapped rider victory salute.”  I didn’t say anything.  Another opportunity lost.

During my second cool down lap I heard a familiar voice ride up behind me.  “Hey!  How’d you do?  Was it fun?  Did you win? Are you going to do this race again?”  Rather than answering his questions I turned the tables on him and asked him how his race went.  “I didn’t crash, it was great!”  Then I asked what he had learned.  He replied,  “it is more important to be safe, finish the race without crashing and to have fun than it is to win.”  Liking his answers I asked another question – “will you continue to race?”  His answer was emphatic, “I’m not on a team.  I want to join a team so I can race with other people.  I definitely want to do more races.”  He had a big smile on his face during this entire conversation.  I congratulated him on a great race and pedaled toward my car.  As I passed the start/finish I saw his Mom standing next to the barrier.  She smiled broadly as she watched her son ride up the finishing straight with a big smile on his face.

While pedaling to my car I thought about the pissing and moaning my colleagues (i.e. those who did not win) and I had done during the cool down laps.  We talked about riders who took bad lines, riders who were erratic, riders who didn’t know when to get out of the wind, the #(*$*& Wisconsin riders who come down here and win our races and all of the other complaints that Cat 5 racers seem to come up with at every race.  Then I thought about my new friend – smiling, happy and ready for his next ride.  He’s out there for the sheer love of the ride – opportunity found!

Post Script: I headed up to Lake Bluff on Saturday. Same goals as on Friday. The field was almost twice the size of Friday’s event.  I moved to one side to start with a group of teammates who were lined up near the front.  As I settled into my spot I looked back at the rest of the field.  My new friend was there.  Dressed in a red jersey and a big smile!

Keep on keeping on

By John Neal | Jul 22, 2014

Race name: WORS/Palos
Race date:Sunday, Jul 20, 2014

Keep on keeping on

This is a report about two races with similar results

Race 1 July 11th at Cascade Mountain, WORS Short Track mountain bike (think mountain bike crit on 2 mile course)
I drove with the family on Friday afternoon to Cascade Mountain for the WORS Subaru Cup races (Short Track, Down Hill & Cross Country Race). This is a great venue, popular with WORS racers, popular with folks in the mountain bike scene not just in the Midwest but also, all over the country. This race occurs a week before nationals, so the draw is high.
This was my first short track race, I was definitely pumped to participate.  I had a great warm-up, was fueled up, hydrated, & my bike set up to hit it. My race started at 6:30 with 36 in my wave.  I was in the 4th row for the start and the place is just packed. (Lots of spectators, loud music, cowbells)
Within 45 seconds of the start I picked my way on the outside to the front with a couple passes next to the tape (the course is the width of a typical cross race so there’s plenty of room to make some decisions) Anyway, at the end of first lap I’m in the lead group, which are 4.  I’m completely thinking of all my fellow XXXr’s and the crit races I’ve watched this summer and could only have positive thoughts of ‘oh this is why people like it’. Laps 1 & 2 I’m in front, laps 3 & 4 I’m third and lap 5 I’m back at the front but it’s clear that the other 3 are waiting for their opportunity and letting me lead the way.  I make a decision that no way is that happening and I drop back to fourth and as I assess the other 3 I know there’s no way in hell they can beat me. I figure I’ll hang back and capitalized when the time is right. Well the music is loud, spectators are on the tape cheering and as I look at the digital lap counter I see it’s broken. I think “hey no problem I’ll hear the bell for last lap.” I’m still in a group of 4 and I’m still thinking “no way in hell I’m losing.” Getting ready because I think it’s the last lap and… it’s over. 4th. “What the??” I didn’t hear the bell, digital lap counter was not working and I completely coast across the finish line.
I was so focused on trying to win that the ever so slight details escaped me. There was a manual lap counter right next to the digital one. Had I been paying attention, most certainly a different result would have occurred. Keep on keeping on to the next race

Race 2 July 20 at Palos. I’ve done well here before. Gotten 1st age, 1st overall in cat 3’s, did well last year in my early goings of cat 2.  Goal for the race was 1st/1st. Pretty good start and I’m into the single track sitting 4th out of the 75+ in the wave. I know this course & trails well. I’m making my way to the front of my wave pretty quick and I’m catching the stragglers from the previous wave that went off 90 seconds before me. By the mid point or so of lap 1 of 2 I’m in good position, but I’m greedy and I don’t like people in front of me so I continue to pass on corners, up hill, down hill wherever there’s opportunity. I’m coming up to group of 3 to 4 riders and I think I can get them all. It’s a straightaway and I give the first guy a heads up “passing on your left can you slide over”. He slides but as I pass he moves back towards me and Kaa Pow I’m over the bars aka Tien Style (sorry Tien), still clipped in and I land on my side and arm. Amazingly after 2 minutes to collect myself and do an assessment and determine nothing is broken I’m back on the bike. Good News is I’m ok bike ok Bad News is 20+ riders pass me. Short memory is in this case a characteristic of mine that is working. I’m passing people again and although I don’t know if it’s the same ones who just passed me or ones I would of passed anyway is a mystery. After 10-15 minutes I feel good and I’m moving up. I hook up with an individual who is near my pace and we ride together, I pass and lead for a bit only to have.. Ka Pow II happen with another over the bars from a pedal strike on a rock. This should of never happened, I was catching a breath but instead of having pedals at 3:00/9:00 I had them at 12:00/6:00.  Details again ignored. This crash isn’t anywhere near as violent but it takes me out for 30-60 seconds and I lose the guy I was riding with. I end up passing one and getting passed for the first time in the race by one other rider (who happens to be our strong junior rider Jan Geirlach). I end up 4th in age out of 57 and 14th overall out of 160 but this was not what I was looking for as the outcome.

So what do these races have in common? In my opinion it’s the small details. In the WORS race if I just would of broadened my scope I would have seen the manual counter. At Palos I had 1st/1st but if I just would of waited a few minutes to pass in a better spot or pass one at a time and kept my head on straight about pedal position I would of accomplished my goal.

Aggressive riding is how I race but every once in awhile I think I need to just sit back and think a little more about the big picture. This morning, even though I’m beat up and sore I was on the LakePath for an hour, this afternoon I was at The Garden with my kids to work on some cornering with my cross bike.

Keep on keeping on

We were well represented at Palos- Juan V, Brian P, Mark B & Juniors Jan (1st age and 13th overall cat 2) & Pelle Gierlach all raced and did well, Which was great to see.

Weekend in Michigan

By Brian Piotrowski | Jul 14, 2014

Race name: Miller Energy Criterium/Michigan State Road Championship
Race date:Sunday, Jul 13, 2014

Kalamazoo Crit

Not having raced in over a month I wasn’t sure how my form was going to be. The weekend began with a crit in Kalamazoo. The crit is not difficult, a few right turns with a riser, then a slight downhill into the finish. The weather was perfect for the race sun and a light breeze.

As I lined up at the start line for my 8 am start time. I had a realization I was the only person I knew in the field. Since joining xXx I have always lined up knowing at least one other person in the field. Not today! I lined up last row with the intent of not doing any work or making a move for at least the first 25 minutes of a 40 minute crit.

The whistle blew and the surges happened quickly after the first lap. At 8 to go the race got interesting. It started with a crash on the backside of the course that I barely avoided. There was a gap in between the concrete and curb just big enough for a wheel to slide into. A racer’s wheel slide into the gap and ended up crashing himself and two others out. I ended up going over the curb into the grass to avoid the crash. I started chasing the lead group not knowing how many other people got caught-up in the crash. At about 6 to go I noticed the field was back together from the crash. About the same time Team CMS (which had about 10 people in the race) started to organize. I was watching them organize a lead out train with 5 to go. I immediately jump on the last wheel of Team CMS. With about 3 to go CMS’s lead out train started to be over taken by surges from the field. I followed the surges to the front of the field and noticed 5 guys had gone off the front and started to chase them down. 2 to go all together again. Now I just wanted good position for the sprint. I was getting swarmed and starting to get nervous. I’d love to see a friendly wheel but I don’t know anyone. I was probably 20th coming into the final lap. By the final corner I was probably sitting 10th in the final right corner. Take the corner the guy in front of me takes a bad line and I tap my brakes.  I had to start sprinting again out of the corner going up the slight riser I am not making up any time and got past by a few people since I had to tap the brakes. I finish 14th on to tomorrow.

Michigan State Road Race

Coming into this race I really wanted a win. I still haven’t ever been on the top step of the podium. Fortunately, I had a teammate in this race. Kevin Corcoran was going to race this with me. I had much of the same game plan as the day before do as little work as possible and be towards the front the last 15 miles of a 60 mile road race to cover attacks if they go off. 

The course was 4 laps of a 15 mile loop of rural Michigan. It had a few rolling hills but no major climbs. My first three laps I didn’t do much work, Kevin was at the front of the field taking occasional pulls. My concern at that time was that final corner into the long straight away. There was a long gradual decent into the last left turn then the sprint. I knew I had three opportunities to test the best line was to carry the most speed into the finishing straight. At the start of the 4th lap I realized a single rider had gone off the front and had about 40 seconds on the field. I was almost the last man in the field and starting to get nervous. I knew I had to get to the front. A few miles into the last lap we approached the first hill of the lap. Again, not a major climb but some of the racers were getting tired and gaps started forming where I was able to fish my way through the field up the climb. I was able to get myself 3 wheels behind Kevin. Probably 6 miles from the finish we caught the two off the front and I some how ended up on the front. I took a short pull and let someone else pull through. At the final climb of the day I was sitting about 15th. The rider up and to the right of me was tired and hurting. He stood up to power through the climb and tapped wheel with the guy in front of him. He crashed himself out and a few other people. I dodged left and avoided the crash.

Due to the crash there was now a 17 men off the front of the field with 4 miles left. I knew I had a real fighting chance now for the win. I just had to beat 17 people now and not 45. I had to be smart! We started our decent into town and I was sitting 10th wheel. I couldn’t give up that wheel! We approached the last corner, having taken the corner three different ways I knew the line I wanted to take. I was still sitting 10th and the 3 riders in front of me take poor lines and I was able to carry more speed around them. Now sitting 7th wheel and people are starting to pop with about 500 meters to go. I was gaining on the people in front of me and I knew I had to dig deeper and freelance off the wheel in front of me. I ended my sprint throwing my bike 3rd. Now, I was wondering if Kevin crashed. He didn’t crash but was slowed down by the crash.

Nikos and Johnny Win Nationals

By Nikos Hessert | Jul 1, 2014

Race name: Jr. Track National Championships
Race date:Saturday, Jul 26, 2014

I came to nationals this year looking for vengeance.  Last year as many of you know I won the points race, but due to USAC rules, all juniors under 17-18 competed in an omnium of all their events.  I hung onto the lead for a while, but eventually was pushed down to third due to my inability to sprint worth a damn.  This year however, the stakes were higher, and not just because I’m pretty sure California cows are into some weird stuff.  Not only did the winner of each event get a jersey for that individual event, they would also have a chance to race with team USA at the Jr WORLD championships in South Korea.  So as I walked into the Velodrome on that faithful Friday morning, I knew what I had to do, and that I could do it. 

Unfortunately, nationals started off on the wrong foot.  My first event was the individual pursuit, and i was going in fresh.  When I got to the start line, the time to beat was a 3:34.8 or about 32mph over 3k.  Definitely a fast time, but given the times I had been able to run back home, certainly not unfeasible.  The starting gate opened, and I took off like a bat out of hell.  Sure enough, however, I went out way too fast.  My splits were almost a second too fast the first 2 or 3 laps, and my first kilo was 2 seconds faster than intended.  Unfortunately, soon afterwards my splits started to tank.  I died in the worst possible of ways, ending up with a disappointing 3:40 (30mph) and a slightly less disappointing 2nd place.  As I finished my pursuit, however, there was only one thought in my mind: “Crap, how do I walk again?”

After a slightly demoralizing loss in the morning, it was time for my last real shot at a jersey in the individual events.  My old standard, the points race.  Having won this last year, I was worried getting off the front would be impossible, but fortunately, no one works together at nationals.  I was able to roll off solo to grab the first set of points, but was then quickly brought back.  I sat in for the next set of points, then went looking for another breakaway.  Soon, I had found it.  A break of 4, with one guy hanging off the back.  We had to keep ourselves in the redline for a good while, and it felt more like a sprint than a breakaway, but soon we had half a lap and the field sat up.  I was in a bad position to contest the next series of points, and only ended of 3rd in the break, but soon after that we were in sight of the field.

As we neared the now fairly stagnate field, 3 of the 5 imeadiatly jumped right in, taking the 20 points available for lapping the field.  However, noticing that there were still a few points sprints left, i chose to remain just off the back, lurking in wait.  As the 5th man entered the group, i knew the race was now mine to win.  I remained just far enough off the back to remain the leader on track, but i had to keep a carefull eye on the field.  If they picked up the pace too much, or one of the origional breakaway started to lap again, i was done.  Fortunately, the field kept breaks in check, and never went too much faster than around 28 mph.  So, after sweeping up the last possible sprint, and ignoring many calls from the stands to lap the field, i jumped back in to take 20 points and the lead.

However, there was still one more sprint, and i only had a 5 point lead over 2nd place, the favorite to win, and almost impossible to bring back once off the front.  With about 5 to go, he attacked, and i waited for the field to jump on him.  When that didnt happen imeadiately, I put on my most athoritative voice and yelled at the field to chase him the hell down.  When that didnt work, i jumped after him myself.  Unfortunately, it was now clear hed take 1st in the last sprint, and that id have to get at least a point in the last sprint.  The final bell rung, and i hit the gas hard.  I was on the front, and soon, a rider came around me, then annother.  As we hit the homestraight, the 4th rider started to come around and i dug into every last bit i had.  I ended up winning the last sprint, and my first national championship with a bike throw for 4th place.  Needless to say, I was elated.  I recieved my first jersey soon after, and the next day, i was a part of team USA.

There was also a scratch race, but if im honest, it was hard to focus on a race id never done well at after having already accomplished everything i wanted.  So, when i found out one of my good friends from california, Chazmichael Morales, still needed a spot on the worlds team, i agreed to cover breakaways for him.  I figured id be doing that anyways since i cant sprint, and besides, im always willing to help out a friend in need.  So as the race wore on, it became clear that it was going to come down to a sprint finish.  Mostly because i chased down and broke the hearts of many people trying fuitilely to escape.  There were a few breaks that were extremely menacing, at one point, i ended up otf with the 1st and 3rd fastest pursuiters with a little over 3k to go, but NOONE took a pull.  Joke was on them, as the race hit 5 to go, my work was done, nothing was going to get off the front, time to sit in and nab a nice respectable 5th in the spri… OH CRAP where’d all of these people come from?!  In the few seconds that i relaxed, i was roughly shoved to the back, and fuitiley tried to make up some positions as the pack hit 40mph.  As we hit the last turn, i saw Chaz ignite his sprint, but get edged out by a bike throw by the race predictor favorite.  Still, since there were 2 spots on tea USA available, i got another friend for the LOOOOONG plane ride out of LAX. 

Finally, Nationals concluded with the team events.  We already had team pursuit in the bag.  3 of the to 5 were on our team, the other two didnt want to play.  The 4th guy on our team was another very strong rider who had been extremely competitive years past at road nats, just missing the podium on a few ocasions, but decided rightfully that track was better.  Our opponents were 2 average sprinters and 2 pursuiters that had failed to crack the last two places in the result.  We won by almost 40 seconds, having never ridden a pursuit together before.  One of my favorite moments of nationals was getting to see our 4th guy, Weston’s, reaction to winning his first national championship.  As i look back on it, being able to get 2 of my friends an offer from team USA and seeing the happiness on westons face was the proudest moment of vertainly this month, and probably my cycling career.  Winning a jersey was a monkey off my back, but it turns out what they say about giving vs receiving is true.  Then again, i didnt have to choose, so all the better!  After that, in the team sprint, we managed to take second on horsepower alone (we executed so badly it wasn’t even funny).  But i was able to get weston and i another medal, and on the last event of his last nationals as a junior, we got out 3rd man his first medal. 

This was by far the best week of my life, and as i write about it all the same great moments come right back to me.  I learned many valuable lessons, met even more great friends, and won a 2 jerseys most people wont be able to strap on once.  As always, I owe it all to my incredible team, Coach Randy who taught me nearly everything i know about elite track racing, my parents who everyone knows by now are the most amazing people ever, and every single person ive met along the way whos believed in me when even my oversized ego was starting to doubt itself.  I cant wait to get home and see all of you again, i certainly owe a few of you chipotle.

The Road to Chocolate Milk

By Tom Babinski | Jul 1, 2014

Race name: TOAD 35+ 3/4
Race date:Sunday, Jun 29, 2014

This year, I decided to race all of TOAD, in the Masters 35+ 3/4.  This is how it went down:

Friday, June 20th. 
Two hours at work, drive north, then park the car in East Troy.  Race a tight 6 corner crit in the midpack.  Try to move up in the last 5 laps, then die in the last 500 meters.  39th of 53.  A leg opener.

Saturday, June 21st.
Warmup on the trainer, no messing around today Grafton.  Ride in the front of the race or die.  Move up on the hill each lap.  Avoid a crash in turn 3 of 6 on the bell lap, bridge to the leaders on the downhill.  Did I really just hit the brakes on the last turn before the sprint!?!?  8th of 86.

Sunday, June 22nd.
A tight corner going from two lanes to one, and a drop-off going into a right-hander.  Try to stay upright!  Sprint for two primes at Waukesha, finish second in both.  Use whatever you have left to finish respectably.  25th of 73.

Monday, June 23rd.
At Beloit, watch the entire W3/4 field go down in turn 2 in Beloit.  Win a prime by accident.  Fight for position on the last 2 laps, but get no respect from 250lb dudes on bikes.  15th of 57.

Tuesday, June 24th.
Want a rest day, but Schlitz Park has a hill!  It’s Fox River Grove but a full 50 minutes.  Spend all warmup agonizing about the descent while the other 48 starters agonize about the climb.  Climb well, descend nervously.  By the 10th lap, consider giving up on TOAD and cycling in general.  Make my move on the last climb, but get passed on the descent.  7th of 48.

Wednesday, June 25th.
Really want a rest day, but Road America is a road race, on a race track, with hills.  Ride comfortably in the front of the field.  Climb well, corner well.  Baker appears from nowhere on the last lap.  We’re top 10 running in to the final uphill sprint.  He sprints, I sprint.  6th for him and 9th for me, of 84.

Thursday, June 26th.
Rest Day!  An hour of small ring joy.

Friday, June 27th.
Straight up 4-corner goodness at Fond du Lac.  Ride smart, stay in the front.  Caught behind a crash with 5 to go; burn a match to get back in it.  Burn another, and another, and another to move into position.  Put myself into the headwind to move into top 10 for the sprint.  Implode with 200m to go.  A tricycle with streamers and basket passes me.  I cross the line.  34th of 70.

Saturday, June 28th
Me, Hudson, and Tracy line up for Downer’s.  15 minutes easy riding, then lightening hits.  A 30 minute pause, then it starts again, as I watch from the sidelines.  1 lap to go, Hudson in the midpack.  Then crosses the line 9th.

Sunday, June 29th
Let’s get this over with already.  Wauwatosa, last race.  Warmup for an hour and twenty on the trainer, 93 degrees.  Roll to the line and study Hudson a few laps.  Outside line in all corners, and a sip from the bottle after corner 2 each time; I’ll do the same.  15 minutes in, time to move up.  Prime lap.  Rail corner 4 and jump early, uphill to the line.  Win $50 and a membership to a breakaway with the series leader.  4 laps of hell; get pulled in.  Recover.  8 to go, time to move up again.  Sit behind two teams as they chase a solo break 20 seconds up the road.  3rd wheel with 1 to go, behind the series leader and his still-chasing domestique.  Gap at 7 seconds now.  Rail corner 4.  Out-of-the-saddle now, still behind the cow jersey.  Hill kicks up, I kick hard.  Come around the series leader, then fly around the solo break.  Cross the line 1st and scream like a madman.  Drink chocolate milk and go home.  Hudson in 7th, of 63.

Ride report- 1st time dirt baggin

By April L Whitworth | Jun 30, 2014

Race name: Kettle Moraine trails
Race date:Sunday, Jun 29, 2014

This isn’t a race report to talk about how I won something…I didn’t, but I did win.

This weekend Jessica invited the WDP to join her up in Wisconsin to try mountain biking. I’ve been curious about mountain biking for a while, but never took the plunge….mostly due to what I consider to be possessing a dreadful lack of skills in cyclocross, I foolishly assumed my fate would be the same mountain biking. I was delighted to find out that I was wrong.

I rented a hardtail 29’er. Before this past weekend, I had no idea what that even meant. I learned that it means the bike has wonderful squishy love-fest in the front of the bike, and a stiff hard back end to keep you honest, but help drive your bike up steep embankments. 29’er refers to the size of the tires. I was most skeptical of this. I typically ride 650c tires on the road, and assumed that I would be an out of control mess on big tires. Boy was I wrong! Despite the fact that my ride looked like a frankenbike (tiny frame, huge wheels), it was an amazingly good fit. My 5’1” body loved this bike.

When we arrived at the trail-head, Mark B took us through some tips and tricks. We all in a little row paraded through the beginners course. No problem. Time to up the ante!  I’m not gonna lie, it took me a long time to “trust the tires”.  Before I knew it I was driving those massive rubber tires over rocks and branches, thick root systems, and deep mud and sand. WHAT LIBERATION! I felt indestructible!  I cruised down steep embankments, climbed twisty switchbacks, squeezed through tight spots, taking in gulps of breath while thinking the whole time “trust the bike! trust the bike!”.

I write this, not to say that I have discovered some untapped talent for being a great mountain biker (I haven’t), but moreover for the new people (men or ladies or juniors) who join the team: TRY IT ALL!  You never know what fun is waiting for you on two wheels. It was exhilarating and I will definitely be back.  For me, I’ve let fear stop me from doing some of the most fun things in life, glad this wasn’t one of them…who knows, maybe I’ll try the track after all…


Tomasz Pac Memorial Points Race

By Tyler George | Jun 27, 2014

Race name: Tomasz Pac Memorial Points Race
Race date:Friday, Jun 27, 2014

Last night was the 100 Lap Tomasz Pac Memorial Points Race at the Northbrook Velodrome, certainly one of races each year that gets circled on the calendar. My track form each week seems like it’s been progressing, so I was hoping I’d be ready to give it a good go at this race. Last year - Tom, Randy, and I got off the front and hovered just behind the back of the field with Nikos playing spoiler as we mopped up all the points and got Randy the win. Yesterday however, with all those players absent, I knew it would be more difficult, but luckily I had an on-form Kirby to help in any instance I needed.

Randy always talks about preparation - well mine couldn’t have been worse yesterday. My workday was awful. Fire-drill after fire-drill left me leaving far later than I wanted to and more importantly I didn’t have a second to get up and grab lunch. I was starving by the time I left, grabbed some Potbelly, Divvy’d home, and ate roughly 1100 calories between the sandwich and a Clif bar in about 5 minutes in the car. Logically, I figured between not having eaten properly, not getting a warm up in, and feeling panic’d most of the day - I would not be feeling good during a 100 lap race with sprints every 5. However, I like to try to play mind games with myself before any race and trick myself into thinking that everything’s good, that I’ve done everything to plan, and that I’m just as prepared, fit, and ready as any other guy on the track when I step onto it. Well, here’s to hoping that has any value. I ended up showing up about 5 minutes before the start of the first race of the night which ended up being a perfect warm-up, a 25 lap scratch race, and I just sat in trying to prep for the big race later in the evening. Afterwards, I just sat around and tried to normalize as much as possible for the main event that would come shortly.

Everything below is what I *think* had happened during the race. It’s a long points race which can be a blur as so much tends to go on and my memory isn’t outstanding in the first place…so with a grain of salt…


For those of you who aren’t sure how this race works, every 5 laps points are scored for the first riders across the line (5,3,2,1) and if you lap the field you are awarded a nice gift of 20 points. The most points at the end wins.

My goal for this race was to be in the move that lapped the field. If I did that, I’d be in a position to win. I let the first few sprints go in hopes of being a little fresher later on to make that move when people wore down. After the second sprint I tested out where the field was as I followed the sprinters and made a good dig. I looked back after a quarter lap to see what the reaction was. I had certainly had a gap , but could tell that the field was itchy, strung out, and I wasn’t going to go anywhere.

Over the next few sprints (laps 85-65ish to go) I stayed at the front and if points were there I’d take them. I ended up with maybe 6 or so points while saving as many matches for the big move that had to come later. I think it was around lap 60 where I got a nice run on the inside and decided this was a great opportunity to go and went. Almost as if it were timed, the heavens opened and Jason Garner (Garner), one of the fastest guys on the track, jumped from the high side down into the sprinter’s lane and I linked up with him using almost no effort. Immediately we had a big gap on the field. Brian Haas (PACT), another super fast guy, bridged up and three of us formed what would be the move of the race (each team was very well represented in the field too, another thanks to Kirby). We were able to stay off the front for what I think I remember to be 3 sprints, mopping up those points before deciding to make the junction and each grab our 20.

It was at this point where not only did I know I had a shot to win this thing, but I realized that I felt fantastic relatively. I tried to find another move and sneak away again off the front. Grzegorz Monko (WDT) and I went and got another nice gap on the field. Brian Haas bridged up again and we got several more points before being swept up by the field several laps later. At this point, like many of the guys out there, I could definitely start feeling some cramping sensations in both legs and was just hoping that I could limit the damage. Luckily, the next few sprints went to some of the other guys in the field and we approached the last dozen or so laps.

I could hear the announcer say that I had something to the effect of a one point lead with about 14 to go. A bunch of non-contenders had gotten off the front which was ideal as they’d grab all the available points. However, I heard that Chris Mosora (SF) was in the group about a half lap up and could be a danger man points-wise if he ended up connecting and getting 20. It’s tough to do the math on 35 guys, I had to trust what I was hearing and Kirby and I got to the front and set tempo. This also created a situation where Brian couldn’t get any opportunities to score since the guys off the front could potentially limbo out there for the rest of the race taking the rest of the points, a good thing for me.

Here’s where it gets tricky. 7 to go…for the field.

Mosora was about to connect, there was nothing I could do. He was in a group of 3 I believe, and I think I remember another group of two off the front. I was still pulling at the front and noticed him about to connect and decided to slow down the pace a bit, hoping that, if nothing else, he’d integrate just before he could grab those 5 points, so he’d only get 20, instead of 25. He connected right as we rolled off turn four and I rolled through the line first. Brian Haas set himself up for the sprint and nipped me at the line on the next lap. It appeared as if he’d taken the lead. I tried with what little I had left against the pure sprinters and fresher guys in the field, but couldn’t manage breaking into the top 4 for points on the last lap. I thought I had lost it.

As I rolled up, Jared was saying that I won…so was Kirby. The thought was that once the Mosora group connected we were actually on lap 6 at that point, a bell lap, and I had rolled through for points. The sprint lap that I had lost to Brian actually wasn’t a sprint lap at all. I wasn’t 100% sure until they said my name last at the podiums and it didn’t hit me fully that I had won until immediately afterwards (and to be honest I’m not sure it still has).


It’s days like this that you dream of when you’re sitting on your trainer in the dead of winter or rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn to ride before a day of work. Each year rolls by and sometimes you get the results you really want and sometimes you don’t. It’s innately a tough and unforgiving sport. It draws in people who tend to give everything they have to be successful at it. The amount of respect I have for the guys that race out there is immense. From the guys who can just seem to solo forever to guys that can just sprint on another level and everything in-between. Those are the guys that force me to be on my trainer all winter. Those are the guys that make me work harder than I did the year before. It’s an odd game that develops us all and in those rare moments that you find pure success, it makes it all the more gratifying. There’s several more big races this season and I think with the team we have, we can continue to put up big results at the track…at every level. Really looking forward to the rest of the season!

Yearly borrow-a-bike-race, 2014 edition.

By Bill Barnes | Jun 23, 2014

Race name: IL Mountain Bike State Championship series, Jubilee Challenge
Race date:Sunday, Jun 22, 2014

So, it’s somehow become a tradition, that about once a year, Jessica talks me into borrowing someone’s mountain bike and going to do an off road race with her.  In the past, I’ve gotten 2nd during my first attempt (Matt Stevenson’s awesome carbon stumpjumper on a flat course), DNF’d my second attempt (Tom’s gigantic aluminum downhill full suspension bike in a hilly race), but managed to enjoy myself every time.

This time, at the last moment I wound up borrowing Brian P’s brand new, never ridden (since he’s been too busy being a roadie) 29’er hardtail, and drove three hours out to Peoria to meet the folks from PAMBA and get in a race since I was there.

Things I knew ahead of time:
1 - Jessica needed to do this race to qualify for MTB Master’s Nationals as a cat 1. I’m a cat 2, basically just because I picked that option after hitting the podium at my first attempt and felt like I had some innate off road ability (I was wrong).  So for me, this was my once or twice a year fun time, but for her, this was serious business.
2 - The bike I am racing on has never been ridden by me, or anyone else.
3 - I’m pretty out of shape, and at the end of a “Let’s force ourselves back into shape” block of training that’s left me pretty much unable to get up my stairs.
4 - This race starts on pavement for a long haul like a UCI cross race.

Things I didn’t know ahead of time:
1 - On a clear, sunny day, the folks in Peoria consider this course pretty hard.
2 - There would be lots and lots of elevation changes.
3 - It would rain enough that likely, if this were Palos, the trail would be closed, but since it’s not, that meant racing in mud.
4 - Brian’s brand new bike was REALLY brand new. (more on that later)

Anyway, off the races.

I pre-rode part of the course, and not being a regular disc brake user, noticed the brakes were a little on the grabby side, but was more focused on seatpost height and how comfortably I could manipulate the shift levers to think about this, then got in my position to start the race.  At the last second, I see Jessica’s wave, sans Jessica, about to start, and that she’s talking to another Chicago racer about eye-sight away.  I start waving around like an idiot, and eventually she notices me and my sign language for “You’re about to miss your start, we drove 3 hours to get here, so hurry up and get over here in the next 2 minutes” is received and understood by Jessica, so I watch her race over to the start in time to leave with her cat 1 group. (I would later find out she had interpreted this as “Do you think I’m running the right pressure?  Can you remind me again how people race without drafting?”, but the result was the same)

Knowing Jessica is faster than me on a good day when we’re not on road bikes, and faster than me on a bad day we’re on anything but road bikes, I was glad that her group was going off in front of mine, as it would spare me the historical indignity of her catching me and having to hear about that for a three hour drive home. My group ultimately started a few minutes after hers, and being a cat 2, I had only two laps of this 8ish mile course to do to her three, so I was already going to finish ahead of her and my masculinity would remain intact as far as anyone knew.

Or so I thought.  This course, in no uncertain terms, kicked the crap out of me.  I’m not sure why I continue to think jumping on a bike I’ve never ridden, on a course I’ve never seen, is a good idea.  Not to mention, apparently with new disc brakes one must “bed them in” meaning stop a lot to wear down the pads to make them even and get good brake modulation.  Something that a brand new borrowed bike hasn’t yet had done.

So, 20 minutes into my first hour lap, the brakes are finally starting to work good, instead of instantly locking up the wheels and making them skid all over the mud.  I am finally getting used to the handling of this new bike, with stock ultra-wide handlebars, at about the same point in the race where I’m pretty much completely spent.  Every climb is either a feat of sheer willpower or a rage-inducing walk up a steep muddy hill behind my other back of the pack companions who’ve unclipped at least a full second or two before I would have had to and thus forced me to spend at least a full second or two hauling the bike up a climb on foot.

I really want to blame someone else, at this point, but I’m starting to remember I don’t know what I’m doing here, am on a new bike, and also have no idea what I’m doing here.

Anyway, fast forward to about the 40 minute point, and I’m now able to modulate the brakes well, need to use them less as I’ve remembered the basics of riding a mountain bike, and kind of getting into the race.  All the while, my head is on complete fire as there’s no wind, no relief from climbing, and nothing but muddy, technical turns down rutted singletrack to remind me that even though I’m feeling better, I’m still really, really bad at this.  I am overheating badly, and sipping on the camelbak much more than I probably should be, but every single drink feels AMAZING.  When having a sip of water 40 minutes into a race feels that good, you can take note that you’re probably in a pretty bad way, hydration-wise. 

I decide to ignore that basic knowledge, since now I remember how to ride a mountain bike, and the brakes work, and I’m gonna catch the main field, and come back into this race.  Really, I am. 

Then there’s this one turn that I don’t anticipate, and in a split second I’m no longer burdened with this bicycle, but flying.  The lightness I feel is offset only by the last second realization that I’m actually supposed to be on a bike, and that tree ahead looks like it might break my glasses, so I should put my head down a littl….smash.  I’m suddenly no longer moving, and holy crap, please tell me that the brand new bike I borrowed is ok.  Dang, there’s a huge foam piece hanging from the sky right onto the front wheel.  Brian is going to be pissed.  Except, it moves with my head, for some reason.  And there’s nothing foam on the bike.  The bike is fine, there’s not a scratch on it, but my helmet is dangling in pieces from my head.  I stop for a second, take off my helmet after glancing around (I saw starship troopers, you must always think carefully before removing a malfunctioning helmet) and examine it.  The front of it is broken into several pieces.  I tear them off completely and shove them in my jersey pocket in the event that I might suffer some concussion later and some doctor wants to examine them.  This all makes complete sense to me as I hop back on the bike, ensure there’s not a thing wrong with it, and get going again.

I am soft pedaling and just waiting to finish lap one with my busted helmet and new found Completely Valid Excuse To End All Of This Suffering And DNF that it’s afforded me.  Then I hear a voice up ahead.  It’s a voice I know well, saying “yeah, it’s just a flat.”  Crap.  I’ve caught Jessica.  She’s just out of sight around this corner talking to the guy that just asked ME if I was ok.  She’s on lap one, I know she needs to finish this race well to qualify for nationals, and I know if she sees my busted helmet, she’s going to worry about me and quit.

So I do the only pro thing I can think of, and turn my head away as I pass her saying “You good?” after seeing she’s fixed the flat mid race and about to hop back on.  I probably come off as the most insensitive boyfriend ever not bothering to stop and check, but we’re racing, and this is me being a good team mate by making sure she doesn’t realize that my helmet is in pieces and I’ve crashed my head into a tree moments before.  I continue to soft pedal and once again turn to the right, hiding my broken helmet, as I pull over motioning for her to pass me on the left.  She does, and I’m finally safe to roll into the finish halfway through my race to quit and make sure my skull isn’t in similar shape to my helmet.  (It isn’t, and I’m fine - Helmets FTW)

Two hours later, her race finishes and I admit to the crash and DNF, showing her my helmet.  Her response proves what I’ve been thinking for the last hour:

“You really need to get your own bike.”

A Crit in Canada, Eh?

By Tom Babinski | Jun 17, 2014

Race name: Preston St Crit
Race date:Sunday, Jun 15, 2014

While the rest of xXx was riding 8 wide and crashing each other out on Sheridan Road this weekend, I was doing the same… but in the 3/4 field at Preston Street Crit in Ottawa.

It was about the safest looking criterium course I raced this year.  Four easy, wide corners, with no major road issues to speak of.  The racing, however, was anything but safe. 

A motley crew of cyclists took to the line.  There were 3’s, 4’s, juniors, and champions of such-and-such doing their first crit.  As I waited for the gun, I realized two things.  With the hills and closed-to-traffic roads at Gatineau State Park only a 15 minute, protected-bike-lane ride from the city, there would be some strong guys at this race.  Next, with hardly any crits on the calendar in a 100 mile radius from Ottawa, there would be some dangerous guys at this race.  Many would turn out to be both.

About 96 meters into the race, I joined an attack from one of the few well-represented teams in the race.  With a field as varied as it was, I thought we might separate wheat from chaff as early as possible.  About 1096 meters into the race, I realized I was wrong.

I took some time to recover, and watched in horror as guys overcooked corners, clipped pedals, and overlapped wheels with reckless abandon, all-the-while riding with arms stiffer than a 4-inch diameter aluminum down tube.  For no reason whatsoever, I was being muscled off a wheel, on lap two during a lull.  Someone was bunny hoping a curb after overshooting a corner at 23mph. 

I took the inside line on an inconsequential mid-race left-hander.  As I exited, a handlebar was in my hip, and a racer was now fighting an oscillating front wheel to keep himself upright, which he did, albeit barely.  I looked back and saw a junior, took back everything I was about to say, and instead, over the next kilometer gave him a stern but polite lesson on the safe way to take the inside line from someone in a race.  Which he later did.  To me.

Guys were tiring and I didn’t feel like being in the field, so when I saw a Canuck jumping hard from 6th wheel I decided to follow.  Well, apparently it wasn’t a breakaway attempt; rather, your typical out-of-the saddle, 120% effort to move from 6th wheel to 1st wheel during a meaningless moment of the race.  Well, I’m not really made for solo breakaways.  I’m built like a 13 year-old Kenyan marathoner-in-training and sometimes get knocked over when I turn on my ceiling fan.  But my girlfriend was watching and they were ringing the prime bell quite a bit, so….

It was the longest break of the race; I lasted some large number of laps, got my name and nationality called out by the race announcer.  And the prime bell finally did ring… right when I was caught.

Back in the field I was too concerned with the Brownian motion of my peleton-mates to be worried about the lap count.  But then I looked up:  two to go.  I moved into a good position behind a bigger guy that seemed strong.  Well he wasn’t, and his size blocked my view of the gap he allowed to open.  When I saw it, there was one-to-go on a 1k circuit.  No time for fooling around; I would pass him where I could: on his right side before the left-hand turn one.  I was mostly clear of him when he turned hard to the right and into my hip.  Yes, that’s right, there’s no typo here.  This was a left hand turn and he turned his bike to the right.  Perhaps he aimed to swing wide to take a wider line.  In any case, soon after his handlebars collided with my butt they did so with the ground.  I hate crashes, and my heart sunk for this guy, who was later taken away with either a broken collarbone, clavicle or concussion (those were the collective injuries on Preston St that day). 

Though I was dragging what was left of the field in tow, I had no choice but to give everything to bridge the gap.  I had little chance of out-sprinting the 5 or so ahead of me after I bridged, but I had zero chance of doing so if I didn’t.  I did, but was gassed, and a few guys out-sprinted me once we rounded turn 4. 

I finished 9th.  Not bad, eh?

A Good Race Gone Ugly

By Rob Whittier | Jun 12, 2014

Race name: Tour of Galena - Cat # RR
Race date:Sunday, Jun 8, 2014

Despite a rough start as a Cat 3 I went into the ToG TT with some confidence. I felt fit and a little climbing jam session earlier in the week with xXx’s mini-Schleck Ben O’Malley had me feeling dialed in. But this year I had to do the dreaded long course with its steeply descending left-hander and of course the painful climb up it on the return leg.  I made the decision to eschew the TT rig to roll with my (aero) road frame and clip-on bars with the idea that I could descend faster, carry more speed into the flats, and climb better.

The ToG long-course is tough, it’s too hilly to use your powermeter effectively so I had to go on PRE/heart rate and in the end I know that I went too hard trying to catch the guys ahead of me on hills back in and that hurt my time. I finished 17th and well behind some guys that I’m confident I could beat but I had to put that behind me to focus on what we were going to do as a team later that afternoon.

Nikos had, as I predicted, crushed the TT with a 2nd place behind Scarlet Fire’s Daniel Mackey.  I knew Daniel, really great guy and we’d chatted at some races (one thing about being a 3 is that you start to have a better idea of who you’re racing with) and I had an idea that the three laps and the climbs might be rough for him so now we just had one job to do, well maybe two. The obvious one was to work for Nikos, I knew that I could climb with almost anybody out there and could do a lot to control the race, but a prerequisite to that was to convince Nikos that he could win. Kyle and I set to work on the latter and we discussed a plan for the road race that was pretty different than what we’d bandied about in emails earlier in the week. The plan put simply was 1) Chase breaks with GC contenders 2) Keep the pace solid to discourage too many others but not so hard on the hills that we’d shatter our GC guy.

Things started off well enough, the moto was VERY tough on offenders right off the gun so after the neutral start I got jammed into mid-pack and was struggling to move up a bit. I tried the gutter but that was occupied and gravelly, I tried moving up the middle but it was early, the field was tight, and nobody was giving up much space. Finally about 6 miles in Kyle faded back and said “Bobo, we need you up there” and I realized I wasn’t doing a lick of good so I slowly worked my way to the left, asking riders for room and indicating my intentions with a point (this works in Cat 3, not as much in Cat 4/5). I made it to the outside and quickly worked my way to the front.

From there we put our plan in motion, a break happened almost right after that,Tracy pointed out that we had nobody in it and I noticed my old friend Mike Conroy, a climber, and a little runt from Hincapie, were in the group. Time to make the doughnuts; I dropped the hammer and took a long pull and bridged just to the start of the Winery Hill and up it a quarter of the way and then we all climbed as a group. Kyle pulled up to me on the climb and grinned and started pushing the pace and I could see Nikos and Del and Anthony and Tracy were all right there with us. From that point on Kyle and I alternated a lot of time near the front alternately controlling the pace to keep it comfortable for out track/TT/GC guy and chasing down small attacks. Nikos communicated well, pace was good, little less on the climbs, but he was gellin’. When we finished the first lap things seemed in control and I pulled the group up through the feed zone with (purposely) enough pace to let people know that I felt frickin’ awesome.

The xXx control continued through the first part of the 2nd lap, we alternated pulls with one or two other teams at a pretty deliberate pace. Mistake #1: In retrospect we probably should have gone a bit harder because we were just inviting an attack and then, at the second time at Ford Road just past the winery, it came.  Three riders including Hincapie and Mitsu-Laser hit it hard about 1/3 of the way up the climb but Nikos and I were sitting at the front and contemplated responding. “No” we decided, there aren’t GC guys in there. Mistake #2: The RR points are big enough that they can MAKE your GC.  By the time we were at the Guilfoil Rd. climb I still saw all of us in the group up that climbs but I could sense some of our dudes were fatiguing and it had become clear that we were going to have to be the guys to chase. I was just gearing up to try to organize that effort when it started.

A drop at first, then another, then a light sprinkle, then a mini-deluge. “This is fine”, I thought, “I’m fine with rain, but we need to get this chase going quickly”. “Hmm, I’ve never really done much descending with these Enves, I wonder what…what the, OH NOOOooo!”

On the first serious descent after the Guilford Road climb I realized my worst nightmare. I was bottoming out my brake levers and not…really…slowing…down…at…all. I had the right pads (Swissstop Black), I had my brakes adjusted (sort of, more on that later), but I was getting zero stopping power. I lost all confidence, my mind went into survival mode, I gave up on trying to finish well…I just wanted to finish upright. After that I started braking before descents even started and losing 50-100 meters on the field and then hammering it to catch up. I came extremely close to bailing after the 2nd lap but I thought maybe I can help out a little more and then drop off after a few miles but BEFORE the railroad tracks. I stayed with the field but was stuck on the back end, unwilling to enter the fray with my complete and utter lack of stopping power and when I came to the pre-track descent I was fully locked on, losing another 100 meters and crawling past Kevin and Ed shrieking “I have no brakes!”

I was mentally broken, scared, and starting to shiver, but by then it made no sense to turn back. I spend the next 15 miles on the back of the field being useless and cowering when I saw a descent and frankly at one point I thought I wasn’t going to be able to bridge but I did and when we finally came to the long, gentle rolling stretch into town and I knew I had made it I almost cried with relief. Just a few miles left, and the rain had let up. You’re with the field, this is a fine finish, just coast on home. Things started to heat up a bit with a half mile to go as rider tried to jockey for that first sharp right-hander into Galena but I was having no part of it. It’s 14 riders, it’s gonna get sloppy up there, you can’t use your brakes much, just coast on home…

As that right-hander approached things were pretty strung out and I was following the wheel ahead of me, with a little space to keep things safe. I saw that Nikos was in the fray, Kyle was up there too, I had done my job and lived through it. I sighed again, disappointing but…“oh no, why are you”? “Oh…no”. A Bonkers rider had locked up his brake and hit the deck HARD. He was right in front of me, squarely in my line and I was already leaned in and entering the turn, there was nowhere to go but…ouch.

In the end Nikos got 6th, enough to keep him near the top of the GC which he’d eventually lock down so I’m pleased with that. Kyle was 11th, that’s not bad either. And I walked away with nothing worse than a terrible hip pointer/road-rash and a strained hip-flexor and some damage to my shifters. I think John (Bonkers dude) was ok and that’s a good thing too. I learned a lot that day though, it’s just a shame that these lessons need to come at the expense of blood and carbon…

1) Practice riding in the rain on your carbon race wheels, better yet practice descending in the rain on them AND
2) Make sure your equipment is tuned for the conditions. I have a lot of flex in my front wheel so I run the pads a little loose. This definitely didn’t help AND
3) Make sure you chose the RIGHT equipment. I do own a decent set of alloy clinchers, I would have paid $100 to be able to swap to them mid-race. Whatever aero benefits I got from my uber-tubulars was more than eliminated by my lack of confidence in the wet AND
4) It’s awesome to work for a teammate, I knew I wasn’t in the GC but I felt like I had purpose up until my courage evaporated and I became a useless quivering blob AND
5) Bring your tegaderm with you, I leaked blood and serous fluid (thank you Erica Gaddy - all over my car…

A Good Race Gone Good

By Ben Cartwright | Jun 12, 2014

Race name: Tour of Galena, Masters 4/5
Race date:Saturday, Jun 7, 2014

Whilst putting myself at severe risk of stating the blindingly obvious, I must say that the Tour of Galena is a seriously fun weekend of bike racing. You all know that by now.  I had one of my best racing experiences to date, marked by fast, safe-ish racing with the masters group, brilliant XXX teamwork, and the overcoming of my own usual weaknesses on the bike (riding up hills) to secure a great final result.

My targets going into the race were to feature in the omnium, and perhaps go for the crit, where I usually feel confident with a half-decent sprint on a good day.  I wouldn’t have a chance in the road race (and was easily dropped by the lead climbers last year) so that would just be for fun or helping team mates…

The TT is short, and not so sweet.  I gave it everything on the way out and just tried to hold on to the pace as much as possible on the way back.  I was definitely well spent by the line, which I know is probably a good thing, and was delighted to finish in 6th place to pick up a few points. 

The Road Race was a surprise to say the least, and the result will be a happy memory that may last for a while.  A large front bunch mainly stayed together for the first lap or so, and XXX did a lot of work.  Adam, Kevin, and Jim set a good pace for long sections, with other strong riders taking long pulls as well.  I took a few myself and tried to push the speed on a few flat and downhill sections to mix things up a bit too. There weren’t too many mammoth attacks until the closing stages.  There are two key points for the Galena course which I kept in mind throughout, and used to good effect:

1) get to the front of the group at the start of the climbs so that you have time to fall back without getting dropped, and

2) make an early charge on the closing stages of the finish, before the sharp, difficult corners coming back into to town. 

I followed point 1 as much as possible on each climb, including the final ascent of the North Ford Road Winery hill.  The lead group did not hit it at a fast pace, and, crucially for me, nobody made a huge attack at the start of the climb.  I started the hill at the very front of the race and dropped back many places, but felt I was still in it as we crested the top, where a small group had gone off the front.  I could see it was a now or never moment and summoned a second wind to give an all-out chase to the lead group of about 6 riders.  One other rider tried to go too but didn’t make it, and I had just enough in the tank to bridge solo, joining just as we hit a long descent.  Myself and Mark Elsdon, of Great Dane Velo who eventually finished second, both sensed that the break could stick and screamed at the others to work together as much as possible to keep it going; we kept a tentative lead on the chasing group, which was still in place at the start of the final Guildford Road climb.  I have dreamt of getting into a bona fide break since I started cycling and loved every second of it: there would be no way I would allow myself to be dropped on the final testing hill.  I dug very deep and stayed in touch to the top whilst we shed two or three of the others, leaving a final group of (I think) four.  Fourth would be a great result for me on a race like this, but as we approached Galena I started to think about my potential as a sprinter, and focus on the strategy for the finish (Point 2 above).  The other guys were clearly much better climbers, but perhaps none of them had fully gone for it on the hills, so I had a chance to capitalize.  We had to keep working to maintain the break, and most were happy to pull, while the few lone attacks on the closing flat and downhill stretches were easy enough to hold on to.  As the town came into view I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Sitting in about second wheel, I bided my time as we took the left-hand corner downhill into Galena and attacked just before the tight right-hander, took the lead and gunned it up the small sharp hill.  I lead the race into the first left turn, and the second, went as fast as I dared around the final right hander onto the finishing straight, then stood on the pedals and opened both taps for the line.  A textbook Randy Warren Bike Throw just in case and the win was mine.  I still don’t know how far behind the other guys were, but I know that starting the technical final section in the lead was crucial.  Happy Days.

The Omnium table was very tight overnight, meaning Sunday was going to be fun.  Mark Elsdon and Peter Monko (of Spidermonkey) had finished behind me in the road race, but at the front of the TT, meaning they shared a 3 point lead overnight.  But I happened to fancy the crit, and there were tons of points on offer.  Still on a high from the previous day, the crit was such fun to be a part of from start to finish.  XXX set the pace for a good chunk of the race and I had some strong team mates to follow.  Andrew Lowe of Psimet Racing made a brilliant lone attack after an early prime and did a great ride to hold off the pack to the end: I was happy for him and he wasn’t an omnium threat.  In retrospect perhaps I could have tried to go with him for maximum omnium points, but it wasn’t an option if I wanted to feature at the end of the race too.  Nikos’ solo move on the sprint points to take the Cat 3 omnium was a thing of beauty, but there is only one of him on the team.

I tried to be as aggressive as possible in both the mid-race sprint and the finish, and teammates were right there as usual.  I went head to head with Monko for both: he beat me by a tire width for fourth in sprint, but Elsdon didn’t feature so I cut his omnium lead on me to two points.  The recovery was very tough but I managed to stay near the front as the pace ramped up again for the finish.  In the final two laps, the Barclay Wheel was a brilliant one to follow and pulled me right through the start/finish straight at the head of the race; just as Jim began to tire, Kevin came through perfectly and I surged to get in behind him.  Kevin pulled all the way round to the final corner at an amazing speed, and was very close to catching Lowe, who was still hovering out in the lead.  After some controversial maneuvering, a Got Wind rider attacked from behind us but couldn’t pass Lowe on the line, who held on for a nice win.  Behind them I was left to duke it out with Monko again, and this time beat him in the sprint to the line, finishing in third place.  Elsdon was too far back, so I overtook him for the second step of the omnium while Monko finished two points ahead at the top. 

A full set of awesome Bill Barnes original medals was a nice prize for a great weekend: bronze for the crit, silver for the omnium and gold for the road race.  Adam and Kevin both got top ten results as well, while Jim got the annoying 11th spot, no doubt as a result of working too much for others all weekend.  Saturday’s breakaway and win were a highlight of the weekend, as was flying round Sunday’s course on Jim’s and then Kevin’s wheels at the front of the pack on the final lap.  I hope I can return their awesome sacrifice sometime soon and can’t wait to help them in future races: perhaps I’ll mow their lawns and alphabetize their DVD collections as well. 

My good fortunate came whilst other far more talented team mates had some rotten luck with far too many nasty crashes over the weekend, and it was too bad to hear about the various falls and broken bones.  RIP Josie III, Long Live Josie IV.

A Good Race Gone Bad

By Tracy Dangott | Jun 10, 2014

Race name: Tour of Galena- Cat 3 Crit
Race date:Sunday, Jun 8, 2014

The Tour of Galena takes a lot to pull off. Volunteering, helping our race directors, AND trying to race took it’s toll and the weekend wasn’t so lucky for me. A crappy TT where my time was two minutes longer than last year. An abandoned RR after an a half lap in the rain just a few painful minutes off the back. A decent 9th place finish in my first crit. But the story happens in the second crit.

Second crit, Cat 3, last race of the day. The beginning of the race was dominated by a few of us disrupting the pack so Nikos could stay out in no-man’s land off the front. I’m not sure why no-one figured it out, but Nikos was sure-as-hell going for the mid-race omnium points, just like he said he would, and he got them. As soon as he did, he drifted back and I think that started a collective worry in the pack that the omnium had just been shaken up. Speed picks up, and the bigger field’s dynamics come into play. More bunching, more hurry up/slow down tactics. A few attacks. More aggressive moves up the outside in the straightaways. Each straightaway was at a jack-rabbit pace. Each set of corners was mobbed and multiple bikes across. We had ourselves a race, but everyone was riding like a gentleman.

With a few laps to go, Hudson and I start moving up and get into fairly decent position, with the plan being he’d be my lead out. I was ready. I had a series of crappy races to redeem myself for.

On the bell lap, we’re sitting in the top 10 wheels but I’m in front of Hudson. Oops. That’s not gonna work. Heading down the back straightaway, I see an opening to move up in the middle of the pack and slot-in behind Delabre.  Others are also trying to move up on the outside. I start to make my move for the slot behind Delabre when shouting from the left starts and a bike is quickly moving left-to-right, clearly past that point of recovery… past the point where you just know it’s going down. I start making my move left to cut behind the back of the crashing bike and I start believing I’m gonna make it. But then he hits someone and comes back left—- right into my escape lane! I get a sinking feeling in my gut and know I am so screwed.

I crash right into the bike, breaking my front carbon tubular rim. I launch airborne and land on my hands, then shoulder and start my slide. As I hit the ground, time truly slowed down and I thought, didn’t break color bone. Good. Didn’t hit head. Good. Sliding on shoulder and hands but not burning up a ton of skin. Good. Stopped. Whew.

As I’m ruminating on my excellent crash-luck, a guy behind me is hitting my just landed bike. Right as I stop sliding, the now airborne rider and bike crash-land. On… me. 

Dude gets off me. I lay down for a spell and catch my breath. Realize I’m still okay, just banged up. Someone helps me up and that’s when I realize the true damage… Broken front wheel. Broken top tube. Broken right pedal. I broke a pedal… snapped the front right off. Who does that?!? I was so upset about the bike as I carried it back to the start, I forgot that I was also hurt and bleeding. God bless adreneline.

In the end, Nikos took the omnium win based on his early race gambit and strong prior results. Delabre sprinted to third in the crit. I am walking with minimal road rash and a couple of bruised ribs (thank you base layer and gloves!). The next iteration of Josie will be here in a week and I’ll have another week from there to get into some semblance of shape for ToAD!

Even though it ended rough for me, ToG was a great weekend for xXx Racing and the Midwest cycling community. I received tons of positive feedback about the production value of the race, the friendliness of our team’s volunteers and the awesomeness of the course.

Great job, xXx Racing!

RIP Josie III.

I am not Superman!

By Randy Warren | Jun 8, 2014

Race name: Galena P/1/2 Circuit Race
Race date:Friday, Jun 6, 2014

As the Elite Team was planning our schedule for the season back in the winter, I committed myself to riding 2 bigger Elite races to help out our younger guys. Joe Martin, in April, was the first race and I did OK there. Galena was the second race. That meant that I’d be doing the circuit race on Friday for the first time.

I pre-drove the course while I was helping to set things up (and sweep some potentially dangerous spots on the road), so I was a bit familiar with the route. It looked TOUGH! I was glad that I’d be doing just 5 laps instead of the 8 that they did the first year that we held Galena.

The first lap wasn’t easy and I drifted to the back of the field on the climbs. Still I finished the first lap at the back of the lead group. Unfortunately, I got gapped off the back on the 2nd lap on the steep KOM hill and was chasing after that. I could see the lead group ahead of me and couldn’t see the guys who were behind me so I kept chasing hard. On the first lap, when I was with the pack, I felt that they were being way too conservative on the descents. I was kind of happy to get to descend on my own at this point as I was able to open it up and have some fun on the descents.

Unfortunately, I hit one of the descents (after Cemetery Rd.) a bit too fast and almost lost it. I was able to save it, however, and made a note to not go quite so fast around that corner on the next lap.

On the third lap I was still chasing and hit a downhill that had a bit of a decreasing radius turn that was also pretty steep. On the first two laps, when I was in the pack, I thought that we took this corner way to slow and I was certain that I could make up a bit of time by blasting through the corner.

Unfortunately, on this time around I discovered that the pavement was much bumpier than I had realized and the additional speed I was carrying really emphasized this. I was coming in too hot and had to break hard to scrub enough speed to get around safely. Breaking hard, my rear wheel popped up into the air over several of the bumps and locked up in the air. When it landed it skidded and washed out. With the road quickly turning to my left, I was sliding to my right and ended up on my side and in a ditch.

I was so surprised. I’m a really good descender. I really never doubted that I’d make that corner (or else I would have slowed down more). It just goes to show you that no matter how good you are at something, there is still a limit to what you can do.

Fortunately, Tracy was right there and was able to call for help. Brian came around and took me to bee seen by Tiber and Charles took me to the hospital. Sue drove my car to the hotel so that Kari and Matthew could get to the hospital. Thank you to everyone who helped me out!

Now, I’m left with three broken ribs and lots of road rash. My summer goal of the Open TT at Elite Nationals is in jeopardy. This is when the “flexible” part of my goal setting workshop comes in. I’ll have to re-evaluate things as I go through my next week (which was planned to be a rest week anyway). At that point I should be able to decide if I can still properly prepare for the TT at Nationals or if I need to look to a goal further down the road.

Fortunately, I’ve had these type of setbacks before (broke my collar bone and needed surgery at Galena in 2011), so I know that I’ll bounce back. It is a long road and it is challenging, but I can do it.


Race #2 on the way to Nationals ITT

By Randy Warren | Jun 8, 2014

Race name: Harvard 33.3k ITT
Race date:Sunday, Jun 1, 2014

I hadn’t been to the track yet this season, so I went there on Thursday, which meant that I’d skip Glencoe on Saturday. Matthew had an orientation for his Facets Film Camp either Thursday night or Saturday morning. This was a bit of a protest on my part of Glencoe making the masters 45+ do the short course this year. That was a serious sign of disrespect and I was OK missing the race this year to protest that decision.
  So, I headed to Harvard with Bill Barnes. Sue Wellinghoff and Ryan Fay were also there and we found a super windy but mostly fresh paved course.
  I actually placed worse this week than I did in Kankakee 2 weeks ago, was 3rd today v 2nd in Kankakee. I did, however, feel much better this week than last. My butt hurt after the Harvard TT, so I knew that I had done it right. Definitely another positive step in the right direction towards Nationals.
  Ryan won the P/1/2 category with the 2nd fastest time of the day. Once again, the fastest time of the day came in my 50+ category! Again, that’s fine as I am happy with my effort and I felt better in the TT position. I’m on my way to a good ride at Nationals!

That moment when time stands still

By Tom Perotti | Jun 2, 2014

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix
Race date:Sunday, Jun 1, 2014

I had been getting pretty excited about the Glencoe Grand Prix. I knew it was a big event in the area and that it was a well-organized race. In addition, I had been getting more and more confident in my ability to maintain good position, in my ability to corner, and in my understanding of race flow.

While I was bummed that the Cat 5 race was relegated to the non-technical four-corner short course, I also felt this played into my strengths - being a heavier rider with a relatively high threshold, a flat non-technical course suits me and allows me to carry a lot of speed through corners. I envisioned launching a late attack (2-to-go) from a few wheels back in the pack and then TTing to victory. I’m not delusional, and knew the plan had a slim chance of succeeding, but I thought maybe I’d have enough of a jump attacking from behind and enough energy saved from sitting in all race, that I just might be able to pull it off.

I ended up getting bib #8, which gave me the last spot on the front row of the starting grid, which gave xXx three total in the front row. Jim and Kevin were aware of my plan and were planning to launch attacks earlier in the race to string out the field, and then be ready to slow down the chase when I jumped with two to go.

From the start, things were a little uneasy. Approaching the first corner, I noticed the group bunching up 4 or 5 wide, and I didn’t think it would turn out well for me, as I was on the inside, so I immediately throttled up and went to the front, giving me a clean line through the corner. I kept the pace steady and eventually a couple guys came around and I found a wheel. We made it through turn 3 with no issues, but the pace slowed again and the group started to cluster again heading into turn 4. Kevin came up on my right, and there were a couple of others to the right of him, putting them way to the inside of the approaching turn. I commented to Kevin: “that’s not a good line” and had a bad feeling about the approaching corner. Kevin laughed in agreement, and in that very same moment, a rider to my left suddenly lost control and fell sideways into me (yes, we were still going straight at this point).

That’s when time seemed to stand still for a few moments. Several thoughts simultaneously went through my head:
1. well this sucks
2. I’m about to hit the deck at well over 20mph
3. this sucks
4. there goes my plan
5. hey, this is going to be my first bike crash!
6. this is really gonna suck
7. remember to tuck and roll!

As surreal and still as the moment seemed, before I knew it I was getting up off the ground and searching for my bike. One or more bikes had hit my body while I was on the ground, but I’m really not sure where they struck, because everything kind of hurt. I looked around, and spotted my bike, about 20 yards further down the rode. I ran over, my thoughts scrambling, not sure what to do. I picked up my bike and noticed I was missing a bar-end cap. Found it, plugged it. Then I saw my sunglasses, still intact, yay! Then I saw a Garmin on the ground, quick check, mine was still attached to my bike. Felix was spectating near the crash and yelled at me that my chain was off. I tried to simply use the shifter to get it back on, and per Einstein’s definition of insanity, kept trying to do that, to no avail.

I was in a lot of pain and kept telling myself my day was over, but Felix kept yelling at me, and I thought, no, I’m not done, I get a free lap. Still not having yet fixed my chain, I started running with my bike and for some reason thought I had to stay off the course so I ran through pit row back to the start. I finally got my chain back on there and rode to the wheel pit, just as the pack was passing. I yelled at the judge, “crashed out, free lap?” He said “where the hell have you been? it’s already been a lap.” I didn’t have a good answer for him, and never really stopped…I just asked over my shoulder “can I go?” I didn’t wait to hear his answer, I just hammered it and caught on to the back of the pack as they hit turn 1. (I didn’t get DQed so I guess I was ok!)

The back of the pack was being rubber-banded very badly and I was suffering as a result. I tried to remedy that by passing a couple riders on every straight, trying to work my way back to at least the middle of the pack - it seems most that I passed eventually got dropped, so this was good. I finally got to about mid-pack with two laps to go, and thought, “well, I could still try my plan,” even though I knew I burned through a ton of matches just getting back into the race. My justification was that at the very least, I could set up Kevin for a counter-attack, even if he didn’t know it was coming. So as we came around the final corner to hit the 2-to-go mark, I jumped, and jumped hard, passing the entire field from about 20 wheels back before turn 1. Having come from so far back and having already burned so many matches, I didn’t pass the front with as much speed as I had originally planned, but coming out of turn 1 I heard one rider on my wheel yelling “we got a gap, keep going!” I was starting to feel it and flicked my elbow hoping he’d come around and help us both break away, but he refused, I ran out of gas, and we were both swallowed up.

I found a wheel in about the same position from which I had launched my attack, but I did my job, the field was strung out. The pace slowed a touch, but then picked back up on the bell lap. I didn’t have much left, but managed to finish at the back of the field for 25th out of 52 starters. Not bad for a crash in the first lap, I guess.

In the end, I escaped my first crash with very little road rash. Decent sized patch on my elbow and a couple small scrapes on my legs. Overall I was just plain stiff and sore. I decided to skip the masters race and call it a day, and will soon take my upgrade to Cat 4 with the hopes of escaping such demolition derbies in the future (there were 3-4 total crashes throughout the race, one racer left in an ambulance).

Never Get Out of the Boat

By Jim Barclay | Jun 1, 2014

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix
Race date:Sunday, Jun 1, 2014

Glencoe Grand Prix 2014

“Never get out of the boat.  Absolutely g*dd&#n right.  Unless you were going all the way.”
-Cpt. Willard, Apocalypse Now
Translation: “stick to the plan”

Briney (v) - to relentlessly attack a field (sometimes with the aid of teammates) and in doing so keep the pace so high that other riders are shed off the back of the race, effectively neutralizing the competition.  Named for early 21st century Cat 2 bike racer Tom Briney, who is known to do this not only in races but also on training rides, AR trips to the grocery and possibly even while riding rollers alone in his basement. 

We had a plan going into the Glencoe Grand Prix and it made a lot of sense.  With five of us staged in the first two rows (myself, Ben Cartwright, Michael Baldus, Kevin Whitford and Brian Johnson,) and a very technical course known for crashes and few opportunities to move up, it made sense to keep the pace as hot as possible and not concede any position, ever.  Stay in front, attack and counterattack to keep the pace hot.  When one person gets reeled back in, attack again.  Baldus is riding really strong right now and we discussed the possibility of him making one of those attacks stick.  Glencoe is also a course where if you get enough of a lead the field will lose sight of you and a small break or even solo rider can make it stick until the end.  Failing that, we would have whittled down the field and set up Ben for a very manageable bunch sprint. 

The whistle blew and we set about putting this plan into action.  Kevin got off the line first and did, in fact, start us off strong.  Brian and I settled in behind him and traded pulls through the first lap.  Then the fun began.  A few other riders were mixed in with us at this point and Michael attacked.  I stayed top 3 and waited.  A lap later when he came back in I attacked.  This scenario repeated a few times and I could hear the announcers say we were single file as we came through the start/finish.  Damn—we were doing it!  Michael was getting good gaps but it didn’t seem like anything was really getting away—we were simply moving too fast and the east wind was pretty strong in the stretch before the final turn.  I looked back a few times around corners to see a completely thinned out field.  We destroyed it.  I mean, we Briney’d it!  I knew Ben and Michael were still nearby so this was playing out perfectly.

With 5 laps to go they announced a prime.  As we came through the downhill this little voice in my head said “hey, Jim, they offer really nice merchandize primes here.  You should go for it.”  It wasn’t, “the plan” but it wasn’t that big a deal, right?  I was 4th wheel as we ascended the hill and picked my spot to attack just as we crested.  I figured I might catch some guys sitting up.  I don’t know if I actually did or not but we turned left then right into the wind before the final turn.  I could see a shadow behind me and feel my legs getting heavy fighting the wind.  I should sit up, concede the prime, and get ready to finish this thing.  But that little voice spoke up again “like, really, really nice primes.  I heard Fay won a watch!”  With that I jumped before the turn, hoping to get a gap.  No dice.  Riders swarmed around me in the finishing straight and didn’t even bother to thank me for leading them out.  I looked desperately for a wheel to grab but they were coming by pretty fast and my options were dwindling.  Ben let me in but after turn one I was still not recovered and a gap was starting to form.  He and a remaining few came around me to form the lead group and I could only huff and puff and wonder what would have happened if I had played it “safe.” 

I solo’d the final 3 ½ laps and rolled in 16th.  Ben took 7th and Michael unfortunately crashed, spoiling a fine day of racing.  As the rest of the field came through and chatted on the cool down lap more than a few guys complimented our teamwork.  “You guys really shredded that field!”  We did.  We really did.  Our plan was solid and we executed it well.  I take a lot of pride in that but I’m left to wonder about what almost was.  The lead group was made up of names I recognize—and have beaten.  If I had played my cards right and not chased the golden ring (or watch or whatever the merch prime was,) I would have been there to help Ben.  I made a bad decision and it cost me places for both myself and my teammate.  Lesson learned.  Stay focused on the plan, especially when it is working.  Never get out of the boat.

The Snake

By Michael Baldus | May 28, 2014

Race name: Snake Alley
Race date:Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday May 24th, I was bitten by the snake.

In weeks preceding I had debated whether I would take on what many proclaim to be the toughest crit in the Midwest, but after some deliberation I made up my mind.  I took Jim Barclay’s registration and with that my date with the snake was set.

On the morning of my demise I awoke from a deflated air mattress on the floor of my sister’s Peoria apartment.  Feeling the lack of sleep from the preceding week, combined with 6 hours of sleep on a hardwood floor, Kevin Whitford and I set off to Burlington.  On the drive over Kevin and I were rather quiet, each a bit nervous of the test to come, yet poised slay the snake.

Upon entry to the Mississippi river valley intimidation set in.  From the gentle rolling hills of Southwestern Illinois we were greeted by things unbeknownst to those native to the Chicagoland; real hills.  We had made it to Burlington, found parking and found registration with time to spare.  Walking to registration and back to our car the extent of these “hills” really became apparent.  My nervousness increased, and I hadn’t yet seen the snake. 

Kevin was set to do battle first, so I made my way to the xXx tent at the top of the hill to watch my brethren set course.  At the top of the hill I was introduced to the snake, and oh what a lovely snake she was, paved with red brick and lined with brilliant emerald grass under the seat of scores of spectators.  This, I thought to myself, is what it’s all about.
Standing at the top of the hill with Brian, after finding a chicken avocado sandwich, minus the chicken- everything in Iowa has meat; we watched and cheered (well I cheered, he more-or-less kindly harassed) our fellow teammates as they climbed the snake.  The first couple laps the group stayed fairly tight, the faces looked relaxed and the battle against the snake seemed fairly even.  Yet, as the race progressed those faces changed and the snake started winning.  About half way through the 30+ 1/2/3/4 the field split, and the faces changed dramatically, the snake was definitely taking its toll.  The race came to a conclusion and I decided it was time.

I kitted up and took a run at the course.  Starting on the downhill of course, I looked for that rumored “perfect line” and quickly found that there were strategically placed manholes on each turn.  Making it down the backside, past the starting line my heart rate increased.  I could suddenly feel my heart pounding, thumping, faster, faster… and there it was, looking ever so innocent, ready to attack.  I made my way up the initial climb to the base of the snake and rode over the rough, windy brick road.  To my surprise, it wasn’t THAT bad.  I made it to the top, found my breath, and decided to take the decent again.

During my pre-ride I was thrown a bit of a curveball.  I saw a couple familiar faces, and a couple more that I didn’t expect to see.  To my surprise, my grandparents who live in Leighton, Iowa (about 2 hours away) had made the trip over to watch the race, so in total I had: Mom, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, Grandpa, and Grandma, all there to watch my race.  If I didn’t feel pressure before, I certainly did now.

After taking the course a couple times, I looked down at my Garmin and the time had come.  I made my way to the starting line and again my heart rate escalated.  Sitting there, anticipating the race, I tried to stay as calm as possible while remembering what I had read about the race; to get a good start and make it to the snake before everyone else.  Luckily Jim doesn’t procrastinate the way I do, and my positioning at the start line was in the front row, a few spaces down from Brian.  I sat on my top tube, said a couple Hail Mary’s and cleared my mind.  The whistle blew once….. nothing.  The first whistle was to be the signal for the lead car to clear the course.  Apparently the geriatric driving the car didn’t hear.  The whistle blew again, and again.  We all laughed nervously.  The whistle blew again and the car took off.  My heart beat, thump, thump, thump…. The whistle blew again and this time no one laughed. 

I clipped in easily and took the outside line into the first corner.  A couple young guns tried to sneak through to the front, but in general the pack stayed safe and upright.  I took a deep breath as our first round against the snake began; left, right, left, right, left, right….
Making it to the top of the first climb I quickly made my way to the outside left, about as close to the curb as I could get.  I took the line that I had practiced and fell in, about 3rd wheel.  With the intentions of not tapping the breaks I quickly found that I would have to, a downfall of sucking off the wheel in front of me.  We made our day through the streets of “downtown” Burlington, to the flats and the pace leveled out.  We made it through the first round.  I looked around and found that, as usual, no one wanted to pull.  I did my best and stayed 3rd, and 4th wheel back from the front.  11 laps to go.

Round two started similar to the first, with people anxious to find their place to battle the snake, but again no one really wanting to take the lead.  I kept my position and felt out the group.  I remained calm and again, left, right, left, right, left, right.  Making it again to the top of the snake I felt as though I was in control, that I had won round two and what, only 10 more? Easy. 

The second decent went much like the first, and I soon realized that it wasn’t just staying on the wheel that caused me to hit the brakes, I was also twice the weight of the little 14 year old Hincapie kid pulling.  We took another lap; I looked at my grandparents watching and again remained calm.  Going into the 3rd round against the snake, left, right, left, right, left, right… this time instead of pulling up and waiting for the group I just kept going.  I figured the little HIncapie kid wouldn’t do me any good anyway, so I put the pedal down, found my line and took the decent.  As the decent leveled out I had about 10 yards on the guy behind me.  Without thinking twice, I put the pedal down. 

As I turned the corner into the straight before the finish line, I checked behind and waited; didn’t see anyone.  I checked again, nothing.  Finally as I looked over a third time I saw the group coming around the bend.  There it was I had a break.

Though it wasn’t planned, I didn’t let up.  I took my battle to be between myself and the snake, rather than myself and the group.  I didn’t wait and kept the pedal down.  After the first lap off the front I was feeling great, I looked over and saw the lap counter… 8 to go.  I knew I had a decent break and all I had to do was not die, don’t die, but like a snake with slow venom it took its toll.

At points throughout the race I had about a 15 second break, or so my uncle had told me, but the venom caught me.  With 4 laps to go I was taking the decent.  That “perfect line” was much harder to find.  This time I hit every manhole cover, and at one point I felt the back end kick out.  I felt I was coming to my demise.  As the course leveled out, so did my gas.  I knew they were coming for me, and at this point the snake was doing the slaying.  As we passed the finish line I was swallowed up by a group of 6, which included Brian, the rest of the field had thinned and I did everything in my power to grab on.  I was able to hold on until we got to the snake.  With three to go the snake and I butted heads.  My legs were gone, and I wanted to quit.  Never before have I wanted to pull myself from a race like I wanted to here. 

I made it to the top and thought to myself, “two more!!!  I don’t think I can do two more.”  Cheers from the xXx tent echoed in my head and I did everything I could to get back up to the group, but I was spent.  I had to recover.  I made it around and at the base of the second to last climb I was seconds away from pulling up, from turning, breaking veg and buying a corndog like the spectator I should have been.  Then I heard my mom and aunt, cheering from the emerald grass which so beautifully highlights the snake; I had to go on, and I did.

I made it to the top and with that I made it past my darkest place, only one more to go.  Passing the finish line the bell went off, final lap, time to slay the snake one last time.  Surprisingly, this time was easier than the last.  I made it to the top, got in my big ring and found the line that I wanted.  Took it like the first lap and carried my momentum into the flats.  Looked around and gave it everything I had left, which wasn’t much, but I managed to catch one of those young guns and easily took the final stretch.  I finished the day in 7th, but with that took a lot of experience and proved to myself that I could push through the darkest depths. 

Waiting for me at the end of the race was my 82 year old grandma with a big smile.  It made the whole thing worth it.  I had battled that snake, given it everything I had, and though I didn’t come up with the win, I had emptied my tank and my grandma knew it. 
Though I was bitten by the snake, I lived to tell about it and I am stronger because of it.  I will definitely be back next year, and I look forward to yet another challenge.

-Mike Baldus


By Sue Wellinghoff | May 28, 2014

Race name: Northbrook Velodrome Thursday Night Racing
Race date:Thursday, May 22, 2014

While I am a roadie forever, last year I started heading up to the Northbrook Velodrome fairly regularly for the Thursday Night Racing series that happens May – September.  Track was always a challenge that I was trying to figure out; only one fixed gear, a bike with no brakes, and every race had some different way to win or math involved (bleh, math).  Even the shortest races could leave me wheezing and coughing (the infamous “track hack”) like I’ve never experienced in a road effort.  It quickly became something I looked forward to on Thursday nights due to the 3 chances of racing a night, as well as when you weren’t racing, the opportunity to sit in the infield with a group of fantastic teammates and cheer, talk tactics, talk non-bike stuff, laugh a lot, eat food, and watch a lot of really amazing bike racing.  Last year was fantastic for me as I learned so much from being up there, both on the bike and as a spectator.

The 2014 season has been awesome in that there’s been a regular showing of ladies up there, which makes an already great time even more fun for me as I really love having teammates to race with.  Though this past Thursday was only our second night out there, Courtney O’Neill, Katie George and I had an amazing showing of tactics and teamwork.

Race 1 – Devil’s Scratch

*this is a combination of a miss-and-out, where the last person each lap gets pulled, and a scratch race – basically a crit on the track: first over the line at the end wins.  In the Devil’s scratch, the “Devil takes the hindmost” as you do a miss and out to get rid of half the field, and then a 3 lap crit to determine the winner.

I haaate the miss and out. In usual fashion opening night, found myself boxed in and was pulled first, after only one lap.  So last Thursday I decided that would not happen, and set a fast pace from the whistle, pulling the entire group behind me.  It worked the first lap, and while people fought to not be last, I kept my ideal front spot and survived lap one.  While not the best tactic in a large field, our smaller field allowed me to keep up this plan and I didn’t even see what was going on behind me the rest of the first half of the race as I just kept the hammer down and crossed the line first each lap.  While this could really backfire on me in the latter portion of the race, at least it would get me to the scratch.  With one final pull lap remaining, I told myself just don’t get pulled, and then I could sit up and recover on the “neutral lap” before the 3 scratch laps started.  I crossed the line first and immediately slowed, trying to get my breath.  I then did a quick peek over my shoulder to see who was still with me. In our little group of 4, I was shocked and delighted to see that both Court and Katie had made the cut! It was now 3 vs. 1 for the scratch!  Excellent.

I happily took another slow lap and a half at the front, still trying to recover.  I knew the four of us were still in a line, and I definitely had a teammate on my wheel, so I thought with 2 to go, I’d jump and try to get away.  Lynn Rivier was the non-teammate in our group, and while I have lost numerous sprints to her as she’s really strong and a great track racer, hoped the element of surprise, as well as the fact she was so much farther behind me in the line would help me get away, or else she’d pull my teammates up to me and they could counter.  I jumped hard and got away, and created a great gap, while the girls blocked.  With ¾ of a lap to go, and my legs shutting down (track efforts are so different from road!) I tried to hold it as best I could, and crossed the line first.  And Katie and Courtney finished right behind me – xXx podium sweep!!!

Race 2 – 8 lap Tempo

*Tempo is where points are given every lap: 2 points for first across the line, 1 point for second, and nothing for the rest.  So it can make for a very fast race.

The ideal situation for a tempo is to have people off the front, winning all the points, while the field was kept in control.  We actually decided we wanted to attempt a 2 woman xXx break, and planned to try a singular attack before launching 2 people.  Katie was going to attack first, but Courtney found herself at the front with me behind her, and I suddenly saw Katie Paradis from Bicycle Heaven come flying by me in a strong attack.  With no one on her wheel. “Courtney!! Go with that!!!” I yelped and she took off, and immediately Katie George was at my shoulder helping block the field.  Courtney and K.P. took turns 1-2 over the line, scooping up all the points.  I was waiting for the field to shut this down, and as expected, Lynn came around with Hannah Goc and our pace exploded.  I reminded myself to just hang on and stay attached, and found myself third in the line.  Lynn pulled off for Hannah to take over, Hannah took a strong pull at the front, and then it was my turn and I settled back in to a slower pace, not chasing down my teammate.  This happened again, and then it was evident Courtney and K.P. would not be caught, so with one lap to go, Katie and I started thinking about third.  Katie jumped and while the field tried to follow, they were all pretty exhausted from earlier chase attempts.  I took a higher line up the track and managed to come around everyone chasing Katie, and followed her across the line to take 4th.  Which was a pretty amazing revelation for me – there are some strong women in this group, but tactics really work, especially when you’ve got Courtney doing a beastly breakaway effort for a full 8 laps!!

Race 3 – 9 lap Points Race

*In a points race, every X number of laps (perhaps every 4 laps in a 12 lap race) would be a points lap.  The officials will ring a bell, and the next lap the winner gets 5 points, second gets 3, third gets 2, and fourth gets 1.  The rest of the field gets nothing.

This race is a lost cause for me as there is a lot more math involved, and last year I’d usually just stick to the pavlovian response of “hear bell, go fast”.  But having teammates to help with attacks, I knew this could play out well for us.  We were told there would be points on lap 4 and the final.  Katie the beast being Katie attacked at the start of lap 3, and took off.  She got a decent gap, but the field also wanted points and was having none of Courtney and my blocking efforts, so it became an all out group sprint.  I watched our gap to Katie closing rapidly, and was worried she wouldn’t be able to hold it, but she managed to just claim the 5 points as Lynn, Courtney and I came screaming across the line right behind her, grabbing 3,2, and 1 point respectively.  I looked back and saw the four of us were now on our own, so called out “hey, all points for us if we can stay away”, and tried to set a faster pace.  But we were tired, and the chase group determined, and we were all back together within the next lap.  I was really feeling the drain of earlier races, and tried to sit in, and with one to go, the group took off again.  I again sat in trying to save myself as I watched Katie again sprinting away at the front, then saw Lynn closing in on her too with Courtney right behind.  Mustered all the effort I could to take a higher line and come around the group at the top, and started yelling at Katie to take my wheel and I’d lead her out.  I went as hard as I could down the final stretch and Katie stayed glued to me but couldn’t come around, and we finished just in front of Courtney and Lynn.  My 5 points on that lap put me in 2nd for the race, and Katie’s 3 points put her in first, with Lynn in 3rd and Courtney in 4th.  Another stellar effort.  I was bummed that we didn’t get Katie across the line first, but my wonderful spectating teammates said that was absolutely the right thing to do – by me grabbing the 5 points and reducing the max amount of points Lynn could take to 3 (though Katie won those and Courtney and Lynn took the remainder), I thus helped Katie win.  Cool!

Using our tactics, Katie, Courtney and I managed a xXx sweep of the overall evening omnium podium!  More importantly, we had a ton of fun working together and seeing how tactics really can make a huge difference, whether it be at the track or on the road. 

I really encourage people to come to the Velodrome on Thursdays, as in addition to the ladies, the cat 5, 4, 3, and P/1/2 races are also filled with very talented teammates that really put on quite a show and are amazing to watch.  And it’s just a really fun time.  It’s going to be a great year for xXx at the track!

Turn the Bike Around

By Jim Barclay | May 26, 2014

Race name: MOSH Criterium 2014
Race date:Sunday, May 25, 2014

MOSH Criterium 2014

I’ve heard of some cyclocross courses derisively referred to as “grass crits”—lots of turns but little else of interest.  The Midwest Orthopedic Surgery Hospital (MOSH) Criterium could then be called a “grass crit in a parking lot.”  Give it a minute…I swear it makes sense…There, you got it?  Good.

.7 miles.  11 turns.  1 round-about complete with manhole cover right in the middle of the apex.  A back stretch—IN AN ACTUAL PARKING LOT!—of turns made out of barricades and tape.  A few swooping descents into hard, curbed 90-degree turns.  “Serpentine” doesn’t begin begin to describe it.  This is far and away the most technical crit I have encountered.

Thankfully the masters ? field was small.  Actually, all the fields were, relatively.  I can’t imagine 75 racers trying to navigate this thing.  Something this technical was plumb for a good crash or two so I wanted to stay up front. 

Of course I would have trouble clipping in.  Of course I would…
3 turns later I finally got my left cleat clipped in and started working my way through the pack.  Thankfully there were two longer straightaway sections (one uphill in to the finish,) that allowed such things.  I parked myself near the front and focused on figuring out which turns I could pedal through and which I couldn’t.  When the first of three primes was called I attacked through the start finish and by turn two had a decent gap.  I didn’t even care what the prime was for—I didn’t have much warm up and needed to wake up my legs.  I also wanted to see what the field would do.  I wanted to use the course to my advantage, knowing I could take the technical sections faster on my own than they could even as a small chase group.  I gave a few looks back and saw some chasers but by the time I was through the most technical sections in the back side of the course I knew I could hold them off.  I stayed off front for another two laps and then settled back in.  The second prime was called and I passed a few guys in the uphill sprint but was a bike length behind the winner, Jason Balden of Team Wisconsin. He kept on the gas and I thought for a second about going with him before deciding to settle back in.  Wrong decision.  He ended up staying away the whole race.  He was a strong rider but benefitted greatly from disorganization in the main field.  Rudy Zarate (the other xXx’er in this race,) and I spent a good portion of the rest of the race on the front keeping him in sight but nobody else would chase—despite me yelling at them that the gap was growing.  With three to go I knew it was a lost cause and started to think about the bunch sprint. 

On the bell lap I again went to the front.  I figured the odds of a crash were going up exponentially at that point and I didn’t want to get caught in it.  This time I drilled it pretty hard but took a wide turn in the back section and let two guys come around me.  I was 3rd wheel—set up perfectly—for the uphill sprint but we were overtaking a lapped rider right in the final corner and the 2nd wheel understandably hesitated a second.  That allowed the first guy to open just a bit of a gap.  I sprinted for 3rd with a solid bike throw. 

10 minutes later I was lined up for the Master’s ¾ race.  I am getting close to my upgrade I was anxious to see how I would compete with in the harder field.  Pretty good, actually.  The race started out much hotter but then settled into a pace I was comfortable with.  We were 4 laps into the 45 min race, I was 6th wheel going into the back half when a guy slid out taking me and another rider with.  The rider in front of me basically broke my fall (and his collarbone…sorry dude.) I realized I was Ok I jumped up and headed to the start finish.  The hot tempo, the corners and the crash all helped to fracture the field pretty well at this point but I kept calm and waited for the refs to put me back in.

”You are with the next group.”  and with that, off I went, grateful that I was rightfully inserted with the lead group. 

Except I wasn’t. 

A few laps later I noticed a profound lack of urgency in my little group of seven.  The pace was hot but not, “we have to stay away” hot.  I was getting suspicious and asked another rider where we were in the race.  “Definitely outside of top 10,” was the answer.  With that I broke off and used the next couple laps as threshold work and cornering practice.  A few others eventually caught on and we had a nice little group of four going into the bell lap.  Again I positioned myself well for the sprint—2nd wheel coming out of the last corner and this time there were thankfully no lapped riders in it.  At 100m I kicked hard and came around the leader to take…something…the refs gave me 12th but I’m not even sure they knew.  Whatever, I’ll take it. 

All in all it was a great day.  Since sliding out in a corner at SLO I have taken about 1000 turns in an effort to improve my cornering.  Practice helps.  A year ago a crazy technical course like this would have had me peeing myself.  Today I saw it as an opportunity to create scenarios and then used those scenarios to my advantage.

Coming Home

By Tom Babinski | May 20, 2014

Race name: Lucarelli and Castaldi Cup P123
Race date:Monday, May 19, 2014

Last weekend I went back home to NJ to see my family.  Not liking the idea of missing yet another weekend of riding, I decided to bring the bike along.  A quick google search revealed that I could race in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, at the Lucarelli and Castaldi Cup.  Immediately, I was taken back 20 years, to when I raced as a junior on an aluminum Trek with downtube shifters and 8 gears.  I remembered my brother coming home from a long night out to find me eating breakfast at 4:30am the morning of one of these races.  And my Cranford Bike Team teammate, Dave Jussell, who would pick me up and drive me out to them, equipped with PowerBars, bananas, and coffee.

So I packed my bike and brought it to the airport.  $300 later in oversize and overweight fees later, I was unpacking my bike in the house I grew up in.  In store for me was a hard training ride on Saturday (intervals in the park where it all started), and then the P123 on Sunday morning at 6am.

The race was the same as I remembered it: a race for racers.  There are no spectators and not much more than a registration table and a line of duct tape across the road.  The officials spoke their piece and the 100 of us set out to race 45 miles.  The circuit around Prospect park is just shy of 4 miles and has one big ring climb of about 75 feet.  My goal was to finish and get in some good training; there weren’t going to be any podiums here with me being a lowly 3 and quite a few 1’s on 2’s on the start list.

I stayed in the front 3rd of the race and there were some attacks in the first 3 laps that didn’t stick.  Then, in a moment of chaos, there was a break.  5 guys up the road with a 5 second gap.  3 guys bridged, making it 8.  2 more bridged.  10 up the road.  This was serious.  I noticed the desparation in these guys as they bridged.  2 more went.  3 more.  I had to go, but I hesitated.  I didn’t know anyone in this field, and I was worried about wasting too much energy this early in a race where I was outmatched.  I should have trusted my instincts.  That was the winning break and I should have went with it.  P123 race or not, I could have latched myself to the back of that break and ignored the insults I would surely receive for doing no work.  16th place would be in the bag.  But I didn’t.

Eventually the field organized and chased for a lap.  The break got further away, and we gave up.  Well, now my goal was to work on one of my biggest weaknesses:  maintaining a good position without working too hard to do so, and having a good position going into the field sprint.  To my surprise, I did a good job at that.  I discovered that I race pretty well when there’s nothing on the line.

I started thinking about my position for the field sprint about 5 miles before the finish; much earlier than I normally do.  I surfed wheels pretty well and found myself around 14th position going into the last mile.  There was a key point about 750m before the line, just before a constriction and twist in the road.  I needed to be in a good position here, or make a surprise attack if the field was sleeping.  Instead, there was an acceleration quite a bit earlier.  I had a lot of energy, I felt good, and unfortunately I followed it.  Now I found myself 3rd wheel behind two guys who had just emptied their gas tanks, and there was still about 1k to go: not good.  Before the constriction, as anticipated, a big acceleration and a swarm to my left.  I fought to catch the swarm but I followed the wrong wheel and there was a separation.  8 guys in a line with a 15 foot gap.  I jumped on a chaser’s wheel.  15ft became 10ft became 5ft.  Almost there.  My chaser died, and I would close the final few feet.  But now we are in a full-on sprint, and I couldn’t.  The 8 guys took 16th through 23rd, a few came around me and I finished 27th.

It was nice to be home.

Going Uphills!

By Alice Sheu | May 20, 2014

Race name: PSIMET's Fox River Grove Criterium
Race date:Sunday, May 18, 2014

Absolutely love the course of the Fox River Grove Criterium.

<Spoiler alert: this report was written by a beginner, and is necessarily long.>

I registered for three races in the same day, per Sue’s encouragement. The first one was Masters 30+. I was happy that there were only 9 people in the race. Come the hill I switched to my lightest gear possible, and practiced getting out of the saddle, a new trick I learned last month from the sprint training. I stood up all the way through the climb every lap, but while it wasn’t too hard to pedal down I also wasn’t able to go too fast. I wobbled a bit throughout the climb, keeping my hands on the drop as in sprint practice. My chains jumped a bit between the gears. I was the last to get out of the first climb but I was able to chase down one or two women ahead of me in the later laps and only got lapped once by the end. I was feeling more mentally tired than physically tired. Finished #8, which, is the second-to-last place but hey, I was biking with cat 3/2/pro riders! Being able to bike with uber-fast ladies was sensational.

While waiting around for the Cat 4 race a friend told me that my gears were too light going uphills. He said that I didn’t look like I was suffering, and the fact that my bike was wobbling means that I had extra power that I was not utilizing. Really? I had always thought the wobbling was because my bad bike handling skills. I had more power? I had always thought the 3.2 power-to-weight ratio on computrainer was just a joke. What if I go into a gear that is too heavy and fall off my bike halfway through the climb? The “Big-ChainRing Theory” popular among the gentlemen most likely doesn’t apply, as normalization to my weight (~100 lbs) should be required. But since I have a triple, perhaps I could try move up a few notches in my rear gear and see how it works.

Had my chains worked on and tried biking on the flats down the road for 20 min before the second race to spin out my legs. And then the race started! The moment I started uphill I I felt the significant increase in the leg-response-time, and with it my heart sank. Nevertheless I was on the incline so I had no choice but to keep pedaling. I saw Gia and the other girls speeding away—“Damn it had I only had my legs in the first race!” But anyways I started focusing on my experiment with my gears. I cautiously went up 3 notches in my rear—and miraculously my bike became very smooth and stable. It felt good and I was able to go in a straight line, although every pedal stroke was hard, as I could clearly feel the lactose built up in my muscles. I had to sit down when approaching the no-climb point. I got up the hill behind two riders and wasn’t happy that I needed to brake when I followed them downhills.

My “moment” of the race then came, at the 2nd lap, when I “heroically” overtook the rider in front of me close to the top of the hill (at ~ 5pmh, suffering) and was able to descend without riders in front of me thereafter. The hill became increasingly harder afterwards, and I really had to push my cardio very hard, and just keep believing that I could keep pedaling until that yellow sign shows up. Once I left my big chain-ring up front and needless to say was having trouble pedaling down. But then I heard Sue cheering loudly and I thought “Come on! I couldn’t have deteriorated so quickly. This hill is not that steep. There has to be a mistake! I only fell off my bike going uphills once in the past and that was it, it will not happen again!” So I randomly played around with my left hand then, for a moment, enjoyed the newly found power released by a lower gear.

I was getting quite exhausted but wasn’t going to let go my first legitimate bid of not getting pulled from the race. I had a chance at the Monsters to finish with the pack, but crashed and didn’t know how to get my free lap and finished #30. I was determined, and when I made it up the last uphill I knew that I did it, because I know they wouldn’t pull a rider off the course now that she is already descending. I was able to put up a celebratory sprint towards the end.

I placed #9 in the Cat 4 race, just behind Gia—which was my goal! Although I probably would have been able to stay close to the leading riders if it were not for the first race, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to go faster Gia anyways. So yes, mission accomplished!   

Pulled myself out of the third race - although I love to have more hill practice but I wasn’t confident how much I would further deteriorate after another 2+ hrs. I was exhausted, but so thrilled about all the adrenaline built up towards that yellow sign halfway up the hill. Going downhill was sensational—my slow acceleration was compensated by gravity and spinning my legs out downhills through those sweeping wide turns was just mesmerizing.

I love the kind of the race that made me exhausted at the end, be it cardio, endurance, or mental strength. This race does it all. Love it.

Darien Dash 10k

By Michelle Edwards | May 20, 2014

Race name: Darien Dash 10k
Race date:Sunday, May 18, 2014

I am entering a run (SACRILEGE!) into race reports because I represented xXx in our awesome new triathlon kit. Tough run for me as my ankle was bothering me. I had a great team ride on Saturday but fear that effort in concert with my recent virus of the spring left me without much gas in the tank. Overall pace of 9:52 with Randy’s prescribed pace of 8:56 untouched. 4/6 in 50-59 Women’s. 1st place was 7:37. 8:56 would have netted 3rd place. Bummer.

Choosing the road less traveled

By Randy Warren | May 19, 2014

Race name: Kankakee 20K ITT
Race date:Monday, May 19, 2014

Last year I decided to do the open ITT at Elite Nationals Road Championships since it was in Madison (close by) and several Warren Cycling and xXx Racing-Athletico athletes would be there. I used to be a pretty good time trialist, especially when I lived in California, but haven’t done a lot of TT’ing lately. Still, I thought, even without much specific preparation, that I’d be respectable, even finishing around 1/2 way back at this race at Elite Nationals.

My good friend Peter Strittmatter loaned me his P4 and I tinkered around with the position a bit and trained on it twice (both rides in the week before the race at nationals) and headed off for my effort, fully expecting to have a decent ride.

I didn’t feel good that day and I placed horribly, far from respectably (3rd from LAST and minutes out of the 50th percentile).

Knowing that Elite Nationals was returning to Madison in 2014 I began to think about coming back for a redemptive effort this summer. Until recently, I had not committed to this goal. Decision time is upon me as the event is now just 7 weeks away.

I still have Peter’s bike and I picked out 3 ITT’s in addition to our Galena ITT and committed to try for some sort of respectable finish for 2014. I no longer think that I can place in the 50th percentile (times were amazingly fast last year), but after placing 71st out of 100 at Joe Martin in the HCTT, I do think that I can beat 20 or so guys and do a ride that I consider respectable.

So, instead of doing Fox River Grove on Sunday (which I’ve won and placed 2nd in before AND a lot of teammates would be there) I decided to go to Kankakee to start my quest for respectability as a TTalist once again. Fortunately, Bill Barnes, Rick LaCour and Jared Rogers also wanted to do a 20K ITT, so it was nice to have some teammates at the event.

We arrived a bit late and I had a whole 6 minutes of warm up before starting in the absolute last spot available AND my Vector pedals were not reading correct wattage (much lower, which can be a bit discouraging in a TT) but I did a satisfactory TT for the day. I was 2nd overall but also 2nd in the 50-54 age group. Reed Oliff beat me by about half a minute but he is a good TT’er and I KNOW that I will be much faster as I move towards my July 4th goal. The 50+ age group is tough around here for TT’ing with Reed and Mark Swartzendruber both to compete with, but I’m OK with that. Tough competition makes you tough.

Now, I’m looking forward to the Harvard 33.3K ITT on June 1st. That will probably mean that I’ll just do the 45+ race at Glencoe (on the shorter course this year) the day before, but those are the sacrifices that you make when you set a goal, even when that goal may be a bit crazy. I mean, really, who focuses half their summer on getting 60 something place at a race?

Setting goals is crucially important to being successful. As I always say, winning is doing your absolute best under the given set of circumstances. Sometimes that is crossing the line first. In this case, however, I will have WON if I do my respectable ride at Elite Nationals on July 4th.


That usual story; Different version

By Jin Choi | May 12, 2014

Race name: Monsters of the Midway Cat 5
Race date:Sunday, May 11, 2014

Going into what was my 6th race, my race preparation was less than “ideal”. I was feeling terrible throughout the day prior to the race, which quickly taught me an obvious lesson that no matter what time the race is the next day, GO TO BED. After drinking plenty of fluid and gathering myself, I rode down to the race.

With previous races I had learned a few things about my ability and developed this simple strategy accordingly. (All of which I heard many times over from our seasoned teammates but finally starting to become “my” knowledge)
1. I don’t have the power or the endurance (yet) to make any significant moves and hold it for a prolonged period of time
- Stay toward the front, HIDE and CONSERVE but do not fall back

2. It takes me longer than most to recover after considerable efforts so constant surges will have devastating effects on me
- Stay towards the front so I don’t have to go through constant surges that come with the accordion effect
- Pedal through the corners whenever possible, close that gap right away
(Bob Willems said, “few hard kicks will save loads of energy later)

3. I get to the limit of myself quickly but hold it there for a bit longer than most can. Ever so slightly but longer.

My goal for this race was to finish with the pack.

I made sure I had my wheels on the line and immediately from the start, there were three of us xXx’ers in the front. Ryan pulled, Dave pulled, then it was my turn. I really wanted to have the beer company team guy who was yapping in the back pull but I had no choice.
Then I decided I’m not going to do any favors for anyone and slowed down significantly,  looking from side to side to make sure I know when there is a group swarming from the flanks. Here I learned that the group will rather slow down than come to the front and become a shield, a lesson that I thought I may be able to use some other time.
As anticipated, there was that impatient guy who surged ahead with another handful of guys that decided to follow. I found a small space in between and started to settle in there.

Throughout the race, there were surges in pace here and there with a few guys making attacks that went futile.
There were few occasions I ended up out in the front again and pushed out to the flanks but for the most part, I made sure that I was hiding whenever I can, putting in small efforts to close down gaps immediately after corners, ensuring that I was on a wheel of someone as we bridged up to gaps. Until the last 4 laps.

With around 4 laps to go, which I wasn’t even aware by the way, I heard a bell and the pace started to pick up and the pack started shifting around. I was fairly confident that it was the prime lap but I wanted to make sure that if it was the bell lap, then I was going to be in a decent position.
Going into turn 3, I was sitting on a wheel of another rider who started to fade as we approached the line. I decided to come to the front and there it was; my first prime.

As I crossed that line, winning a prime lap which I did not want to or had planned to, I saw the lap counter showed 2.
Once again, as happened in Gapers, I realized I put in too much for a lap that wasn’t the bell lap; a luxury I can’t afford.
I was spent a bit, out in front and needed to fall back and recover. Like I did a few times during the race to fall behind a wheel, I slowed down but this time surges were coming from left and I was completely spent.
Without having made any recovery, I started falling back quickly in the echelon, deep in the pain cave, panting for breath. My abs were in horrible pain as I gasped for air. I wished the race was over, or I really wanted to quit. I went against everything I had planned for.
By the time I was able to regained my thoughts, I was far back towards the end of the pack, long line of riders ahead. I saw Tom and Kevin make surges and reminded myself that they are on their 2nd of back to back races and I better not get dropped here.

With my goal of finishing in the pack literally far out ahead of me, I figured fighting the pain would be futile and decided to sit in where I was and recover for a lap; without slowing down for turns. I remembered reading somewhere it may be worth it to go wide and keep the speed up than trying to nail the apex every time.
After about 4 corners, I was starting to crawl up towards the front again and learned that moving up the pack can be done without jumping into the pain cave. That toward end of the race, there are plenty of “ladders” that connect to the front and I can jump from one to another to get back up.
Finally on the last turn in the last lap, I was able to slingshot myself into the front of the group and started pedaling as hard as I can to the finish. Again, not having the ability to recover fast, I didn’t have the energy left to get out of my saddle to sprint but I pedaled hard. Couple of people passed me in the last couple of hundred meters and I passed a couple of people. Then it was over. 7th place.
My first prime, first pack finish, first top 10.

Again, boasting the status of unofficial weakest guy on the team, I put in everything I had in the shallow tank of mine and it was painful after the finish. But I also gained confidence that I can play my cards right and be competitive. Also learned that everyone is pretty spent at the end and it’s whomever that has that little bit left and/or that can endure the pain for extra ten seconds.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I hate pain but I’ more curious to find out if my plans will stick next time and how the race may unfold.
They say that’s part of the fun. They said that’s why one keeps coming back.
I guess they were right because I am typing this in lycra and will be going out to train for the next race as soon as I click on the “Submit” button.

Dear Scarlett

By Tom Perotti | May 11, 2014

Race name: Monsters of the Midway
Race date:Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear Scarlett,

We only met a few days ago, and only got to spend some real quality time together for the first time this morning, a quick stroll around the block a few times, but after our performance at Monsters of the Midway, I already feel we have a winning relationship on our hands. We just seem so in-sync. When we dance around the crit course, I feel as if we are not two, but one. I feel confident leaning left, as I know you’ll dive into the corner on just the line I picked for us, and you’ll remain steady throughout. It’s as if you anticipate my every move. And when I stand to mash the pedals, I feel you roar to life below me as my heart races.

In the cat 4/5 race, we worked together to maneuver around two crashes. Your snappy response was key. We managed to say near the front, and when I decided it was time to attack into the wind on the second-to-last lap heading into turn 3, you were quick to oblige as we provided a lead-out for Brian and Kevin, sling-shotting the former into position for a top-five finish. I feel bad that I didn’t have the energy to keep going, but we did our job, and you were there when I needed you.

In the cat 5 race, I didn’t really feel ready for a 2nd round so quickly; usually I need a good 30 minutes to recoup, but we didn’t have much of a choice. The pace was fairly steady for the first half of the race, and it gave us time to get back into our groove. Once again, we stayed near the front, and as we came into the start/finish to start the second-to-last lap, I had a mental lapse and thought I heard the bell for the last lap, though I missed the lap counter (turns out it was a cowbell in the crowd). You didn’t question me as I maneuvered us toward the front, nor again when I ramped up the pace coming out of turn 4 in first position, only to see the lap counter showing 1 lap left and hear the real bell ringing. Alas, I was once again out of gas, and we cruised to a back-of-the-back finish.

I promise I’ll make better decisions in the future, as long as you continue to respond with the same snap and nimbleness I have so quickly come to love. If we both hold up our end of the bargain, I have no doubt we will soon climb atop the podium.



By Kevin Whitford | Apr 30, 2014

Race name: Hillsboro Roubaix
Race date:Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

This was the first time for me to do this race, and second road race ever so was excited for it.  Me, Mike Baldus and Ben LaForce drove down that morning and for once made it with more than ten minutes before registration closed/race started so that helped not feeling rushed.  Race started off smooth, I was next to Mike for the beginning with Aaron and Brian close to the front along with some other of our teammates. There were some familiar faces in the race, Tuxedo Thunder guys, Half Acre and a few others who I had raced with before so confident in the group.  Everyone seemed to hold their lines well, never experiencing any close calls for the most part. Someone’s wheel exploded at one point going up a hill, not sure what happened but when we rode by him his spokes were everywhere.  By about mile 15 I was toward the back too much so starting to feel the affects of the yo-yoing when people ahead would slow for the corners so made moves to get back closer ahead.  Was with the group all the way until about mile 35, where the pack starting picking up chasing the solo rider out in front.  we dropped quite a few riders, Aaron, Brian and Mike doing work in the front.  I again made the mistake of drifting back too far to the end and by mile 45 couldn’t hang on any more so dropped.  Overall was happy with the race, the team did great.  Aaron getting 4th, Mike and Brian doing work in the front and I learned a lot in regards to positioning and my fitness.  If you aren’t going passing people you’re getting passed which was definitely true in this case.  Looking forward to next year.

The path to the finish: pavé with good intentions

By Kevin Corcoran | Apr 29, 2014

Race name: Hillsboro-Roubaix Cat5
Race date:Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

I like to think that xXx has a group of strong riders in the Cat 5’s, which has made it all the more frustrating that none of us has seen the podium so far this year.  With mandatory upgrades to the 4’s looming on the horizon for many, the 29-mile road race of Hillsboro-Roubaix presented a good opportunity for one of us to take a top three before moving on to race in a more seasoned field. 

Coming into the race, there were three factors that inspired confidence that this would be our race: 1) with 5 of us making the trip, we fielded the biggest team in the race; 2) we had the collective wisdom of many teammates who’d raced Hillsboro before, and WE ACTUALLY TALKED TO THEM ABOUT IT; 3) personally, I was feeling well-rested and ready to go to work. 

With respect to point #2, I need to thank Adam Herndon, who answered a bunch of questions on the forum.  I also want to give a shout-out to Tracy Dangott and Erik Didriksen, who over Reubens at the No-Lycra Lunch the day before the race dished out some sage advice as well.  Their collective wisdom:

1) The first race of the day is for staging.  Be up front.
2) Stay near the front.  The roads are narrow and the field is big, leaving little room for forward movement. 
3) Don’t go for it on the final hill.  You’re more likely to blow up than to drop anyone.
4) The brick section, though relatively short, is rough and will beat the crap out of your legs.

Armed with this knowledge, Tom Perotti, Jin Choi, Felix Rosen, and I got to staging early and lined up with our front wheels on the line.  Jin, Tom, and I pulled the field for the first 8 miles of the race.  This may seem like a lot of work, but it served a purpose: set a manageable tempo at the start, avoid any mid-pack mayhem (I heard later there was a crash on the first corner…), and be one of the first through the hairpin left at mile 8.  Not surprisingly, the other 60+ riders were content to let me sit up front and set a pace that knew I could keep up all day, and the peloton quickly settled into the race.  Coming out of the turn at mile 8, I was able to slide back to 4th-5th wheel, settle in, and take a welcome break.

Tom and Jin had pre-driven the course that morning and had decided on a good spot to make a move.  Just past 14 miles, Tom pulled back up to the front with me and we conspired to ramp up the pace around the next corner.  We made a right turn into the wind and cranked it up, stringing out the pack and dropping even more riders.  Riders from other teams began to take up the mantle as well to keep the pressure on.  Out of nowhere, Jin made a furious move around the left, catching everyone by surprise,  quickly opening a sizable gap and inciting panic in the field.  Tom and I tried to put the brakes on the peloton, but the others weren’t having it.  The one rider that had managed to go with Jin flamed out, and the now surging peloton caught them up. 

After the rush to chase down Jin’s break, I found myself sitting around 15th with 8 miles to go.  We turned onto the one wide, well-paved road in Montgomery County, and it was off to the races.  A small gap opened in front of me, and when I turned around to see who was there to help me bridge back up, there was only one rider behind me.  We had shed 75% of the field.  The bad news was that I’d be bridging the gap on my own.  I lit another match, threw up in my mouth a little bit (not kidding), and made it back to the pack before the climb into town.  A crosswind had us strung out in an echelon across nearly the entire road (yellow line rule be damned), making any more forward movement impossible.  We hit the hill hard, but I maintained my pace, insistent on leaving something in my legs for the finish.  Back down the hill, onto the bricks, and my legs were starting to feel the effects of having spent so much time in front.  I managed to pass a few more riders on the way home, could not match the sprint of the rider who’d been sitting on my wheel, and crossed the line…unhappy that I missed the podium, but still satisfied at having made a plan, kept to it, and finished in the top 20. 

It was only later when Tom, Jin, and I were recapping the race that Felix let me know I’d taken 10th.  Given the size of the field and the work it took to get there, that was by far my best finish yet.  And with the way we worked together as a team, both in preparation for and during the race, I’m confident one of us will be standing on that podium in the next few weeks.

Breakin’ Too?  Electric Sprintaloo.

By Jim Barclay | Apr 27, 2014

Race name: 2014 Whitnall Park Spring Classic
Race date:Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

First things first:  xXx must attend this race in the future.  In great numbers.  It’s 90 minutes away, a great course and an excellent opportunity to come in with a large team and do some damage.  There were some glitches in the organization (more on that,) but I highly recommend you put it on your calendar next year.  There are lots of categories and easy to races multiple times in a day.  I reg’d for three back to back—4’s, masters ? and masters ¾.  It promised to be a long day!

Now then, on to the races.  This course has a lot happening for it tactically.  It’s a 1.1 mile loop around a state park and features a hill that encompasses most of the 2nd half of the course.  It’s actually three hills strung together with a false flat between #1 & 2 and a slight downhill before 3 which climbs the final 350m to the finish line.  [yeah, I know I’m mixing standard and metric measurements but that’s American bike racing, isn’t it?] 

The 4’s race was a lot of fun.  It was a hot pace with a few breakaway attempts.  Nothing really stuck.  Early on I picked up that a Belgian Wercks rider, Steven Trebatoski, was strong and knew what he was doing tactically.  At one point we chatted and considered a move together.  We both had concerns about the wind stifling anything through the start/finish but he agreed to go with me if I felt the urge.  Going into the bell lap I attacked up hill #3—through the start/finish.  Alas he and most of the peloton went with me and and as I neared mid-course I was swallowed back up.  I knew there was no slowing the pace at this point so I did my best to not fall past mid-pack and “will” myself to recover for the inevitable sprint finish.  I mentioned “glitches in organization.”  Well as the pack rounded the final downhill turn into the finishing climb we were greeted with at least 6-7 riders across the width of course warming up for the next race.  I’m pretty sure there were a few lapped riders thrown in also for good measure. With a pack of amateur cyclists going hell-for-leather trying to win Clif product/upgrade points, it could have been a disaster.  I started into my sprint early weaving in and out of riders and managed to take 8th.  Trebatoski took first and thanked me for “thinning out the pack.”  In hindsight my attempt at a solo flyer was my undoing but at least I stayed upright and was ready to race again…10 minutes later.

The masters ? race started out decidedly slower and I instantly could sense a lack of bike handling skills amongst my fellow racers.  Hey boy and girls, the handlebars curve downwards for a reason.  Get in the drops!  After two laps I considered either dropping out for my own safety or attacking to try to string out the pack.  I chose the latter, except I didn’t go all in.  There was a lot of racing left and I knew I wouldn’t stay away which was fine.  It did string things out but the paced slowed back down again after I was caught.  It pretty much stayed that way the rest of the race.  It became a pretty textbook master ? race—guys would be riding strong then vanish, then reappear.  Some guys rode like idiots.  Some guys yelled at other guys.  Mostly it was guys riding like idiots yelling at other riders for riding like idiots…sigh.  Nothing much happened tactically until the bell lap.  The pace picked up and after the first hill a rider whom I hadn’t seen all race launched a blistering attack on the right side.  I mean, it was strong—the guy took off like a shot and two Team Extreme riders just barely jumped on his wheel.  I was boxed in and had no hope of getting to them which was unfortunate.  The original attacker was fading but the Team Extreme guys were working together and that was a real problem. They had enough of a gap that it would be hard for the group to catch them with less than ½ the course to go. The pace was picking up but I decided to concede 1st & 2nd place to Team Extreme: my chances were better sprinting with the pack for 3rd than trying to bridge up.  I also decided I was going to win the damn field sprint.

I sat second wheel as we went through the final corner and into the uphill sprint.  Attacks came from both left and right as I saw riders jump right out of the corner.  I wisely just got on their wheel.  Predictably they started to flame out and once we hit 200m I launched.  For the first time in my cycling life it felt easy.  I picked off the remaining 4 sprinters and told myself not to let up until the line.  I sensed there was no one close but I threw my bike anyway just to be safe.  My first podium spot and a box of Clif bars were mine! 

As I rode my cool down lap I did a quick check-in with my body.  My legs felt tired but good enough to race again.  After a quick podium photo I changed into a different jersey with the masters ¾ number.  I was zipping up as they said “riders ready.”  Sure I am. 

Or not.  As soon as we hit the hill in lap one I cramped up in my right leg.  I soft pedaled a minute but by then the pack was 150 up the road.  I knew I couldn’t close that gap nursing a twitching quad.  I considered whether I wanted to ride solo for another 40+ minutes and decided I had had enough.  I pulled out at the start/finish and chose to call it a day.

And I will call it a good day.  I rode thoughtfully and tactically but, when all that failed—as it so often does—I had the sense to improvise and the strength to gut it out.  The year is still early but I feel like I am already seeing a lot of hard work come to fruition.

First Field Finish

By Tom Perotti | Apr 6, 2014

Race name: Spring Super Crit
Race date:Sunday, Apr 6, 2014

I spent the week of Super Crit learning how to race in a pack, which I quickly discovered is much different from riding in a pack. Gapers Block Days 1-3 were my first crits, and were quite a learning experience. Here’s a brief summary of those three days before getting into Super Crit. 

Day 1: I realized in the first turn that I was clueless as to how to take a corner at 24mph with 30 of my closest friends all looking for the same line. I quickly fell to the back of the pack and survived the rubber band for two laps before it finally snapped and I was pit out the back. I eventually got lapped and got spit out again, but I finished.

Day 2: After learning in Day 1 that I didn’t need to break into the turns, I was a little more confident about my cornering ability - I lasted three laps with the pack this time and then soloed to a new 20-min power record and finished without getting lapped - small victories.

Day 3: Confidence growing, I made it five laps with the pack, even spending some time at the front. Once I got dropped this time, though, the first two days of soloing caught up to me and my legs refused to do it again, DNF.

Onto Super Crit: My confidence grew throughout the week, but I was still nervous about riding in my first real crit of the season, with a larger field and arguably more at stake. Lucky for me, the Blackhawk Farms Raceway has very forgiving turns and this race would be a great opportunity for me to simply work on my handling in a race pack.

From the whistle, I made an effort to get toward the front (but not on it). I have heard that most problems, especially in a Cat 5 race, occur toward the middle/back of the pack so it’s a good idea to stay up front. This lesson was, unfortunately, reinforced early in the race; before we even finished the first lap I had a crash right behind me and later learned some poor bike handling by an unknown rider had taken out four of my teammates (Kevin, Will, Jim, Felix). There was a lot of poor bike handling going on with several riders appearing to not have ever even done a group training ride. One guy bumped forearms with me and immediately started shaking his handlebars back and forth, which sounds very similar to what happened when Kevin was taken out in the first lap. Additionally, there were several riders that could not hold their line in a straight-away, let alone a turn.

After the lap 1 crash, the race was rather uneventful. There were a few attacks here and there, and if they were on my side of the group, I would try to grab a wheel, and if they were on the other side (and didn’t include xXx), I would yell it out to the front group to make sure the attack didn’t go unnoticed.

As we came in for the bell, I sense an attack coming up my left side and I timed the acceleration perfectly to hop on his wheel. He pulled me straight to the front and I was sitting 2nd wheel headed into turn 1. Soon after my chauffeur puttered out and I glanced left to see another train coming up on the left. I tried to slot in and get out of the wind, but wasn’t able (or wasn’t aggressive enough) to do so. I was quickly back to mid-pack but finally found a wheel. I rode that around to the back half of the track and into the last turn. i took the turn wide and resisted the temptation to launch a sprint as many others were doing since it was a LONG finishing stretch. Instead I found a wheel and got myself a lead-out, then sling-shot around for a final effort (not a sprint so much, I wasn’t in contention). I managed to move up about ten spots in that final stretch to finish 17th.

It was the first time I managed to survive the whole race with the pack and finished top-20 in a starting field of 55. Feeling pretty good about it and confidence is still on an upward trajectory, but the technical corners at Lincoln Park next week or going to be a whole other ball game.

First Race

By Tom Perotti | Dec 24, 2013

Race name: Afterglow
Race date:Saturday, Dec 21, 2013

I started doing the xXx team rides this summer to mix up my triathlon training and really enjoyed the dynamic, so I decided to join the team with the plan to try bike racing in 2014. After getting some encouragement from Rob Whittier at the team banquet to try cross, however, I thought “why wait for 2014?” and signed up for the Afterglow. So thanks to Brian Piotrowski and Ryan Fay I had a cross bike to ride and a jersey to wear. My cross “training” consisted of one 30-minute session on a Tuesday night after work riding through the snow and around trees over by soldier field.

Race day: got there early to get in a few practice laps and after only one did I start to think I was in over my head. The soft terrain and ever-changing course topography took way more out of my legs and lungs than I anticipated. But I had fun. Did three practice laps in total and it was a different course each time as it continued to deteriorate throughout the day.

By the time the 4/5 race rolled around it was a sloppy mess but I was excited to see how I’d do. I had two goals, make through the whole race and don’t finish last. I lined up near the back as I didn’t want to be the noob that screws up other people’s races. After a very long and cold wait they finally started us. I had a slow start but made it through the first few sections without incident despite the large pack, I even made a few passes. The race quickly spread out and I spent the first lap riding with a group led by a junior girl named Ella who supposedly was going to get a $1 for every adult male she beat. I finally passed her at the end of the first laps, along with a couple other guys in the group ahead of me. I felt I handled all of the course great except for the barriers - my attempt to remount and clip back in was painfully slow all three laps due to their and snow; I’d always get passed by people I had picked off and would have then have to try to pass them again.

I made it through almost the whole race without incident and had made several passss that stuck. Coming back down to the start/finish area, I got passed by a dude with blue hair. I followed his wheel down the hill and into the sand trap, where he suddenly got stuck. I slammed into his back wheel and went ass over tea kettle into the ground. Luckily it was a soft landing, but I may have dropped an F-bomb nonetheless. Everyone was ok so I quickly hopped back on the bike and got going. Blue hair made the mistake of running his bike over the ensuing mud pit and I was able to pass him back just in time for the finish.

I ended up 36th out of 53 finishers. Not bad for my first go at it. I had a blast and can’t wait to do some more cx next fall (and some road in the spring). Now I just need to convince my gf I need a 4th bike..might have to buy her some hardware first.

A Bridge Too Far - The Lowell 50

By Rob Whittier | Oct 28, 2013

Race name: Lowell 50 - 57 Miler
Race date:Saturday, Oct 26, 2013

In my short time racing bicycles, I’ve already developed a love/hate relationship with gravel racing. One of my best results was in the Cone-Azalia gravel race this spring but I knew going in that the Lowell 50 gravel race had the potential be as hard as any race out there – physically and emotionally – and I was right. Eight xXx’ers made the commitment to this little sufferfest in Southeastern Michigan and I think we all had unique but great experiences so here is a little bit about mine.

The prologue: One unique challenge of gravel racing is gear selection – road bike or cross bike (or mountain bike!), which tires, knobbies, grasstreads or road tires (but that would just be foolish), what cages will hold bottles best, skinsuit for warmth or jersey for pockets for the possibly critical tubes and CO2. I had good beta on this course from Bill Barnes and Jim who had done it the year before on CX bikes but it sounded like having road gearing was a possible advantage and that there was a lot more hardpack dirt than “gravel” so burly 25mm road tires run at 90 PSI might work. I thought a lot about this and decided that since my CX tires were full on mud tread (Clement PDX) that as long as it was dry, the road rig with the Conti 4-Seasons was the ticket. It was NOT dry, it rained all night and was raining in the morning when we woke up…

Another bit of intel that was shared with me was the importance of getting up in the lead group from the start as a few hundred riders of very different abilities would start en masse and make their way pretty quickly to one of the more technical hills with a lot of loose gravel, sand and mud. Well I didn’t do that very well either…

Lining up mid-pack as I’m prone to do in road races where I’ll usually have time to sort things out I quickly realized just after the start that a complete messy cluster was developing in this huge pack of riders on slick mud and gravel and I started working my way toward the front but as we hit the aforementioned hill I realized I was already in trouble. Riders started losing traction and going down, some weaving their way up this short steep slowing everyone down and I saw up ahead that a lead group was getting away. I grunted and SAT DOWN to maintain traction on my skinny tires and by the time we crested the rise I had moved up 20 or more spots but the damage had been done, things were stringing out already with a few small packs at least 200 meters ahead and I had work to do.

We hit a flat and I dropped the hammer, putting in what I have to believe was one of my hardest 5 minute efforts in a race to date (Powertap didn’t sync), I passed some teammates and urged them to grab my wheel but I may have been moving a little fast for that with late notice and soon I bridged up to a small group pulling 3 or 4 guys with me. Within a minute I realized that this group wasn’t organized or going fast enough to catch the lead group so I grunted again and pulled out and put in another one of my hardest efforts. I guess I passed a couple more teammates who later shared that wished that they had made the move with me but my head was down and I didn’t notice much except my breathing and the pain. It felt like a TT for another 4 minutes or so and when I bridged up to the next group, a couple guys that I had dragged thanked me for the effort but I was utterly cooked and couldn’t say you’re welcome. I sat with this group for a few minutes but I could still see a lead pack of 5-6 riders a few hundred meters ahead and gaining distance on us and I knew that I had to act. I waited another minute to recover then worked my way up to the front and dropped a cog and made one more desperate attempt to bridge to the lead group. This time one rider came with me and the two of us made a hard push for the next 8-10 kilometers, swapping pulls and giving it everything we had to bridge to the lead group but I felt heavy legs coming on and we weren’t gaining ground so I made a decision that I’m convinced kept me in the top 10. I looked back and saw 8-10 riders from the last group I had been in two minutes or so back so I sat up and let him pull away, I took in food and water and I lived to fight another day…

The next 50k or so I worked with a good, strong group of riders, all of whom were from Michigan teams (Einstein, Bissel, Haggerty) and had done the race before. We caught the guy that I had tried my last bridge with and he joined us for a bit but was too gassed. I imagine I would have been too. But I regained my legs and with about 20k left a couple guys started to push the pace and I felt good enough to help them. One-by-one we started cracking riders and when we hit the hills again we dropped another few guys and my wolfpack was down to three. I was mentally and physically beat but I knew now if I could hang with these two hardmen I’d be close to a top ten. The next 10k were among the toughest I’ve done; a mix of sticky mud and hills and cold weather and fatigue and these very strong dudes had me deep in the pain cave but I took my pulls and we never saw those guys behind us and when we rounded the final corner onto the asphalt I took one last hard pull and then stood up to sprint beating one guy and just missing the other by a few bike lengths for 8th overall and 5th in the 30+. USAC tells me that both those guys I jumped and stuck with race Cat 1/2 so I’m sure not ashamed about that and all of the guys ahead of me in 30+ were all Cat 1/2 as well so there’s that.

Lessons learned – 1) Take the advice of those that raced before you 2) When you decide on a setup, commit to it and don’t second guess yourself when the race starts; adapt on the course if you must 3) Go with your instincts and make the hard move, if you hesitate you might not get a second chance 4) Know your limits and when it’s time to change strategy commit to that too 5) Go like hell and believe you can hang with anyone; who knows, maybe you can…

First Race / First Break

By Michael Smith | Sep 22, 2013

Race name: Fall Fling Criterium #1
Race date:Saturday, Sep 21, 2013

So today I competed in my first race after joining the team (I have done one other race… but didn’t finish it due to a crash) with Kevin.  I was very excited about the course for the first crit of the ABD Fall Fling series.  It is basically an oval.  There is only one turn that could possibly be called a corner and it was super super wide.  So coming into the race, I was confident I would at least finish and not get taken out in the last corner on the last lap again (sigh). 

The only notable course feature was that there was a pretty wicked cross/head wind on the second half of the course.  We knew this was going to make the race a lot slower than it would have been otherwise.

There were 31 riders in the Cat 5 race.  I saw a few familiar faces from the Wednesday night CCC rides but that was all.  Anyway, now for the race..

The start was very, very tame to say the least.  There were a couple of have hearted attacks in the first couple laps, but each was quickly reeled back in when we hit the wind on the backstretch of the course.  I got squeezed out to the outside for the first couple laps so I couldn’t really draft off anyone, but the pace was so slow I didn’t really mind.  On I believe the 3rd lap the pace picked up a fair amount when we hit the tailwind and I realized it too late and fell to nearly last place.  I started to accelerate to maintain contact at the same time that everyone else was hitting the wind on the backstretch and slowing down accordingly. 

I decided to just go for it.  I stayed on the left, maintained my pace, passed the entire group, and went alone off the front.  I was a little concerned coming around the last turn as thats where the worst of the headwind was and my heart rate immediately spiked.  For the first time during a race I switched my bike computer to show my power numbers so I could start pacing myself. 

I assumed that I would immediately be chased down as it seems Cat 5 racers always chase, but I think a combination of the headwind and Kevin blocking kept the group at bay.  I got a decent gap pretty quickly and decided to just dig in and go for it.  I rode 3 or so laps solo before another rider bridged up.  Soon after, another rider bridged and the 3 of us rode most of the remainder of the race alone. 

This is where I made a really significant strategic error.  I kept getting suckered into taking my pulls on the last turn, where the worst of the headwind was.  My break started about 6.5 minutes into the 30 minute race, so each of these pulls really added a lot of work for me.  The guy that would eventually win the race took almost all of his pulls where we had the tailwind.  I should have either made him work more in the wind or attacked again to make him work to close the gap.  Live and learn.

By the point we got to the last lap I was pretty gassed.  I tried to sprint at the end but couldn’t really do anything.  Someone managed to bridge at the very end of the race and apparently beat me at the line, so I ended up fourth rather than 3rd like I thought.

All in all, I’m happy with how the race went.  Who knows really what the race would have looked like had I not started the break as I did.  I don’t think that ~25ish minute threshold power is really where my edge is right now, but I’m glad I gave something different/hard a shot.  It is definitely motivation to do threshold work in the offseason.  I’m also excited to have Kevin and other teammates racing Cat 5 next year so we can work together to get some good results.  I think we will be very strong. smile

My garmin file is visible via the team garmin connect page, if anyone is curious about details.

Lead out trains in a 4/5 field? That’s crazy talk!

By Jim Barclay | Aug 13, 2013

Race name: Vernon Hills Grand Prix
Race date:Sunday, Aug 11, 2013

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take these out of order—starting with the 3/4’s race that happened later in the day and ending with the 4/5’s from the morning.  Partially because I’d like to get the “bad” out of the way first and partially because, well, it just makes for a better story arc.  It’s called artistic license, see.

So the Vernon Hills Crit is actually my one year anniversary of racing.  That’s right: the 2012 edition was my first ever race so I was excited to see how this year’s compared.  The 3/4’s race was all-in-all a very solid race.  With over 50 on the start line it was the biggest field of the day and we were lucky to start 6 xXx jerseys.  The one true 90º turn unfortunately yielded a crash that took out teammate Brian Johnson about mid race but he took his free lap, got back in and finished strong.  Do you know why?  Because he is a hard man, that’s why!  (Unfortunately he later discovered a crack in his frame so if you know of anyone selling a 56 cm hook him up.)  My race was going very well and with 3 to go I was right where I wanted to be—4th wheel and feeling strong.  Going into turn 4 I felt the rider behind me nudge my back tire but other than the faint smell of rubber it was all very benign.  Or so I thought.  After the turn the tempo picked up and I went to match it but felt myself really fighting.  “Fighting” is putting it mildly.  I was falling back like a rock.  I looked down, saw I was putting out good power numbers and wondered what the hell was going on.  As the peloton rode away I reached back and flipped my rear brake quick release and immediately pedaled freely—somehow the wheel bump had cause my brake to rub hmmm.  Unfortunately I was now a good 20m off the back and never really could get back on.  I finished 36th and was none too pleased about it.

But enough of that…let’s talk about the 4-5 race.  I was really excited to see how this race would go, not only because I now had a full year of racing under my belt but we also had a good quartet lined up: myself, Tien Nguyen, Rob Whittier and Brian Johnson (he, of the 56cm frame needing Johnsons…ahem. Help a brother out, will ya?) The race is a big open course surrounding an athletic park.  There is only one really sketchy turn (#3 which narrows somewhat unexpectedly out of the exit,) a few little rises that could hurt those less-fit and plenty of room to move around if the pace wasn’t too crazy.  Our pace was fast—avg 25.6mph for 45min—but not brutally so.  Going into it we had the strategy to take turns launching attacks in an effort to wear down the field.  However, a couple of Leadout racing guys seemed to have the same plan so we just let them do it for us and the field thinned nicely.  The second part of our plan was to stay in communication and start to group up in the final laps.  Easier said than done but the course lent itself to movement and you’d be surprised at how simple words and phrases—”Jim, it’s Rob at 6 o’clock,”—helped in that effort.  It was also nice to have friendly wheels in the mix.  Moving up or catching onto a swarm is much easier when you have a teammate willing to let you in.  I experienced this from both sides—as the one yelling “get in, take that wheel on the left” and the one who another time—thankfully—heard, “Jim, let’s go! On me”

On the bell lap we entered the long start/finish straight and I was moving up on the outside, intending to slot in when I could.  However, I soon noticed that all 3 of my teammates were lined up at the front.  I decided right then to be a leadout man.  I positioned myself in front and started ramping it up.  Through turn 1 I felt good but the pavement was rising and I was going all out.  Pretty soon the road would start to descend into turn 2 and I would get a bit of a break but I knew to keep hammering.  Turn 2—a 90º turn but, hey, I don’t have to worry about being boxed in, I’m on the front.  Go.  Set up wide, exit wide.  Another rise in the pavement.  Red lining.  Burn the last match.  Fire the last round.  Exhaust the last cliche.  Whatever.  Out of the turn I muscled my way up the rising pavement until I was cooked.  I pulled to the right and let Rob, Brian, Tien and the rest of the field come by me.  As soon as I had regained any lung capacity I heard myself shouting “go go go!” 

A crash in turn 3 allowed me to recover slightly, get by some guys and make up some spots. I took 20th which, given the way things unfolded, I was fine with.  Brian took 7th, Tien 10th and Rob 14th.  Could it have been better? Sure. I question myself:  did I start my leadout too early? Could I have gone a little faster?  A little farther?  Maybe.  Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.  Andrew Santos, who won, is a fast mother scratcher—I give him a lot of credit.  Regardless, I take a huge victory in what we did accomplish: we communicated, rode strong and did what they say couldn’t be done:  organize a lead out train in a 4-5 race.  Several others in our race actually complimented us afterwards on our organization.  Rob put it best—if we keep doing that, you will see a lot of xXx jerseys on the podium in 2014.

Gold, but no jersey.

By Nikos Hessert | Aug 8, 2013

Race name: Usac Jr. Track Nationals
Race date:Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013

Track nationals has been the biggest target of my season since mid-last year, last year, i went and wasn’t able to manage anything more than 16th.  Immediately afterwards, i decided when I went back, I’d be on the podium at some point.  this year there were 52 other kids, including kids from specialized, garmin, and hincapie.  So lets see how it went:
DAY 1:

Sprints:  This was the first event of the week, and it definitely let a bit of air out of my tires.  In the 200 meter qualifier,  it all stated off well. I was the second man out, and set a pr time, and one that would have qualified about 5th last year.  As the better sprinters started to leave the gates however, it became painfully obvious i was not going to qualify for this event.  i ended up 12th.  Fortunately, i had a points race coming up to distract me.

Points:  This and the pursuit were clearly outlined as my best events.  Where else can you win with little or no sprint?  i easily qualified for the finals, then after some words of encouragement from my parents and Jon Fraely, i took to the start line. I made sure to line up at the front, knowing that for the first few laps, the pack would spread out over the whole track and move fairly slowly.  I still got boxed in, but i managed to sit second from the front on the rail, behind a hincape rider.  the pack was a solid wall up the track until the first sprint, and when it engaged, i stayed calm on hincape kid’s wheel, and let him drag me to the front of the group.  i came around him with 50m to go to snag second in the first sprint.  I receded into the pack for a few laps, then with a few to go until the next sprint, attacked.  I very quickly realized my legs were not completely recovered from the previous heat, so after snagging the points, i shut it down.  For the next few sets of sprints, i sat in the pack, leaving it to specialized and Hincapie to cover any moves.  then, sensing a lull in the speed, i wound up another attack, and flew off the front.  Sam, who was sitting on the front, saw my attack, and threw a hard block, shutting down any kind of chase until i had a safe gap.  I looked up at the lap counter, and realized that 1. i had no idea when the next sprint was and 2. my legs didn’t feel any better on the second attack.  Using a lot of “shut up legs” and a lot of HTFU, i crouched into the t-rex position, and set too it.  way too many laps later, the bell for points rang, and lucky me, i was still solo off the front.  i swept up the points easily and pulled up the track.  Unfortunately, there’s no rest for the wicked, and soon after i got back to the group, garmin went on the attack.  i followed, and was joined by two specialized kids, both with multiple national titles.  we soon formed one of the hardest breaks I’ve been in, even dropping garmin.  Specialized stayed at the front of the 3 man group, controlling it, until, with half a lap to points, they both mysteriously pulled up-track and let me sweep up another 5 points with no fight.  soon after, my supply of jens magic ran out, and specialized started to gap me.  Fortunately, that was quickly replaced by Italian intimidation, as Emanuele yelled at me from the side to get on.  I reattached to the group with help from a bridging rider with 4 to go in the race.  we got on soon after, but this time, specialized meant business.  they led out their man Gage Hecht, who has a reputation for winning everything.  I ended up with 3rd in the last sprint.  As we crossed the line, i had no idea where i came, so i asked Emanuele as i rolled past on the cool-down lap.  His look filled in what i couldn’t hear.  I had won by 8 points over my nearest challenger.  I spent the rest of the day getting hugs from everyone i knew in the infield.  Unfortunately, since USAC does not do individual events, i did not receive a jersey, and would have to continue winning events to receive my precious.  i did get s shiny medal though!!!!

Day 2:

Pursuit:  the individual pursuit is a 3 km tt on the track, where two people start opposite each other, in opposite directions, hence the pursuit.  I got the last heat, which as you know, means you’re the most bad-ass rider in the event.  When the gun went off, i made sure not to go out too fast, and indeed, my first kilometer was the 10th slowest on the day.  But i soon made up the time, finishing in 2nd, 2 seconds behind specialized’s Gage Hecht, and only half a second ahead of third.  The top 5 or 6 riders were all within a few seconds of each other, proving that indeed, aero is everything.  with a pair of gloves, or a 50mm instead of 90mm front wheel, i would have been 3rd or 4th instead of 2nd.  Fortunately, me and my aerodynamics were still leading the omnium by a precarious 3 points.

Scratch:  This event has always been my weakness.  Its the most simple race on the track, first across the line wins.  “its just a crit on the track” Bill Barnes and many other people told me, problem is, IM NOT THAT GOOD AT CRITS!!!!!!!, that’s why i do track.  Oh well, as i took the line, with the velodrome playing “lose yourself” i decided i was going to be good at track crits.  As we went out, it was clear i would not get a breakaway.  If i went without specialized, they chased me down, and if i went with specialized, they shut down the break so Gage could make up ground in the omnium.  finally, i was attacked-out, and decided to trust the pack to chase anything, and the sprinters to beat Gage.  besides being body checked into the apron (held it up!!), the middle of the race was pretty uneventful, until gage attacked.  I was too far back to get him, and specialized immediately used their whole team to shut down any chase.  I tried to jump for 2nd with one to go, but got swamped in turn 3, and ended up in tenth.  In the omnium, i was tied for second, with the best 500 racer in the nation, going into the 500.  Johnny Khufal grabbed 3rd however, so we still had something to celebrate in the CVC tent.

Day 3:

Team Events:
-Pursuit: There were 6 teams in our field, a pretty good showing, especially since they didn’t combine age groups this year.  I led out our team, and everything went really well.  Sam held the speed, Johnny didn’t accelerate like crazy as soon as he hit the front, i took double pulls, and Luke had a great last lap, that got us the fast time with one team to go.  Unfortunately, that team was specialized, and they wasted no time winning the event, even without their fast man Gage.
-Sprint:  Someone foolishly gave me the responsibility of registering our team, so when Shrek and Friends took the start line, we had expectations of a medal.  mostly because there were 5 teams and 5 medals.  Unfortunately, Samuele unclipped twice, and we were not allowed to ride.

500m TT:
this was the final event of the omnium, and i was all but locked into 3rd.  to move up, id have to get 1st or 2nd in my worst event by far, and to move down, the guy in 4th would have to do the same.  Due to rain, it was 10 before i left in the second to last heat.  Sure enough, i slotted into 16th place, ahead of 4th place.  The next heat, the top sprinter in the field, Domonic Suozzi blew away the field to take the win in the 500 and the omnium.

I was a bit disappointed to not get the jersey, but i still got 4 medals, and beat some very strong jr development teams.  Overall, it was a great cap to an already amazing track season, and with a few big races still to come, hopefully it wont have to be the cap.


By Jared Rogers | Jul 26, 2013

Race name: Northbrook Velodrome Track Races
Race date:Friday, Jul 19, 2013

“One more time, just one more time” is what I was thinking.  I had just finished sprint number two and there was only one more to go and the last race of the night (a 15 lap points race) would be over.  One of the Half Acre riders was right on my wheel and then I caught the other shadow out of the corner of my eye.  “Crap..” Jason Fergurson countered my sprint and was off for a 5 lap tear until the last sprint and there was no one to chase him down.

This is how the last race of my track upgrade campaign was shaking out.  All I needed to do was win this omnium and I would have enough points to submit.  I had finished second in each race before this one so if I didn’t finish first in this race then I wouldn’t win the omnium.  I got knocked out of the first sprint which means I had 0 points on the board until I won the second sprint.  But I HAD to win the last sprint as there was no chance anyone could top 10 points; that is unless Fergurson took it.

Anyone who races track will tell you that it is a hard discipline.  The races are sometimes confusing and each night either favors the endurance riders or the sprinters.  Me?  Yeah, I’m a self proclaimed sprinter and I had to come to terms with the fact that I would have to be better at the endurance races (like the points race) if I was ever going to move up.  Throw in the mix that upgrade points are awarded based on how well you do in all 3 races (the omnium) each night and you can see that a track upgrade can take forever.  I’ve been a Cat 4 on the track for the last 5 years.  Last year I was seriously on the upgrade hunt, but after a broken wrist and a pack of hungry competitors, my upgrade hopes faltered during the late season.

Fergurson had about a 100M gap and I had the Half Acre rider in front of me.  He was doing his best to keep pace but it wasn’t enough to make up any time.  Sure, I could come around him now and risk blowing up, but I figured there might be someone behind me who would get itchy and close it down for me.  No sooner than I thought that, one of the recently upgraded Cat 4s pulled in front and started to go to work.

The one thing about 2013 is that I had been consistent from just about day one.  I revisited my training log and rode the same base mile schedule I rode in 2011 when I got my road upgrade.  Every race I just tried to be in the top 3, usually winding up 2nd and occasionally sneaking out a W.  I worked hard on my endurance and even made sure I did the FCTT course every other week just so I could keep my threshold efforts fresh.  But would it all work?  Would I be strong enough?  Did I have enough in the tank to finally get this done?

The bell rang.  One lap to go.  I’m sitting 2nd wheel and this kid is motoring to get Jason.  Fergurson has about 50M on us and I know if I wait too long, I’ll never get him.  Out of turn 2 I start to hear the Half Acre rider start his wind up.  “You’ve got to go now or it’s over” is all I thought.  I come around my leadout and put all I have into it.  Once clear I swing back into the sprinters lane hoping that I can catch any tiny vapors of Jason’s draft to help me cut the distance.  Turn 3 and I’m passing him on the outside.  Turn 4 and I’ve cleared him.  Back into the sprinters lane and I pray that I don’t get caught.

Today at 10:44AM my phone alerts me to a new email.  “Dear, Jared Rogers,  The following request to change your Road category has been approved and processed.” 

I just smile and nod my head.

Thanks to everyone at the track who cheered me on, worked for me in a race or just wished me luck before I rode.  Part of this belongs to you.

Un Jour Sans

By Ben OMalley | Jul 11, 2013

Race name: Junior 17-18 Nationals
Race date:Sunday, Jul 7, 2013

Time Trial: In most cases, the strength of your legs trumps any little aero advantage or a bit nicer equipment but not in most time trials. The course was shaped like a lollipop with an out then loop and back in on the same road, and was pretty flat other than a fair amount of rollers thrown in. Average speeds were extremely fast for the entire day and our races were no exception. Neither Kyle nor I would use a TT bike so we were at a major disadvantage. We both headed out and gave it our all but ended up a few minutes off the winners pace. Oh well. Next year I will be much better prepared equipment wise… anyone have a 56-58cm TT bike to loan?

The Road Race: I came into this race with some high expectations. The course was a 12 mile loop around Blue Mounds State Park with a lot of climbing and fast technical descending. Every lap we would tackle the Blue Mound climb which was about 3 kilometers with pitches maxing out at 20%. The last lap extended the climb for another 1 kilometer to the very top of the park. It was my dream course.  Not only was this the hardest course I had raced on so far but this would also be my hardest competition. I was up against the nation’s best juniors, who are also some of the nation’s best riders! I was sooo nervous during the morning of the race. I usually have butterflies before every big race but this morning was extreme. I could hardly eat before the race which would not help me later on. My race started at 8 so we arrived at 7:15 thinking it was enough time to complete my final preparations and warm-up.  Its 7:30 and I start to spin around for my warm-up when all of a sudden I hear the announcer cracking jokes with the Garmin Junior Development Team about lining up. What! 30 minutes before the race and kids are lining up already? I rushed over to the starting line with a half an hour still to go and was 50 kids back already. I decided to stay in line and figured that I could warm up during the race since the first 9 miles are either downhill or flat. I ate a Clif Shot and eventually we were off! The race was supposed to be neutralized for the first 1k down the mound but that didn’t stop kids from trying to move up through the pack, myself included. You know how everyone blames juniors for being sketchy? Imagine 150 of us in the same race. Yes, it was very sketchy. The pace car rolled off and we instantly went from 10 to 50mph in a few seconds. The 2k downhill felt like a scene in any action movie fighter jet or car chase scene. One by one, kids would just fly off the side of the road. Instead of the usually explosion in the movies, all we could hear is the dreaded sound of crashed carbon. It was absolute chaos but I survived. I was about 40 riders back now and tried my best to move up but it was almost impossible. We took up the entire road. Kids were trying to ride up on the grass shoulder at some points. I wasn’t willing to make some stupid move and instead waited for the climb to try and move up. Our group hit the climb and right away I knew my legs were not 100%. I got caught behind a crash midway up but managed to make it back onto the peloton at the bottom of the descent. I sat in the field for the rest of the lap trying to brace myself for another assault of the mound. We hit the climb a second time and instead of making my way through the now broken up field, everyone else was going around me. My legs felt fine – no cramping, not sore – but for some reason I just couldn’t go any harder. Kids who I had raced against and beat in the early season were now pedaling away from me with ease. It was frustrating to watch the front of the pack ride away and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I thought my tires were flat or my brakes were rubbing. They weren’t, my legs just weren’t working. It was Un Jour Sans or “a day without”. I spent the next lap in a 15 man chase group but was dropped from it after the third time up Blue Mounds. I hadn’t eaten anything since my pre-race shot so now my legs and body began to work against me. I was picked up by one final chase group before the final time up the climb and hung on for 101st place. I was both devastated and destroyed. Sometimes you just don’t have the legs and frustratingly, today was one of those days. Live and learn. Next year I will have another shot at this race and will be much better prepared and know what to expect.

Fortunately we were given a rest day after the Road Race. USA Cycling put on a college night specific for cycling which we all went to. Nikos and I also got a taste of being pro and went on a ride with the Predator Carbon Repair Elite Cycling Team. Pretty cool!

Crit: The Criterium was the classic downtown Madison Crit. The course is a four block square running counter-clockwise around the capital building. The course was not very technical but contained numerous potholes and crack which combined with high speeds made for a very dangerous race. Like most crits, staring position is key. Kids were lined up at the opening gate an hour before start with their trainers set up. Again, I made it there with a half an hour before the start and was lined up very close to the back of the field. This time I got in a really good warm-up before though. I was expecting the race to be fast from the gun. The gates were opened and a flood of kids started sprinting for the starting line! Full on 30mph sprint just to get to the starting line and the race hadn’t even begun.  I found myself closer to the back than I would have liked so I had a ton of work to do to get to the front. I just wanted to test myself against this field all the while staying safe and upright. The whistle is blown and we take off! The first few laps were pretty hectic as expected. Only a few laps in and one kid ran his handlebars into my side. I didn’t budge and somehow we both managed to stay up. With our speed never dipping below 30, it was difficult to move up on the inside. The inside lines in the corners seemed to contain a few more potholes than the outside too so I made my way to the outside of the pack. Most of the kids were braking a bit before hitting the outside lines of the turns and the road always widened up a few feet before entering the turns too. I would jump around to the outside right before the turns and take a hard aggressive line. Almost every turn, I would make up between 1-3 spots. This strategy continued to work until about 15 laps in. Coming around the final turn before the finish one rider hit the barricades and all of a sudden I smacked right into another rider and hit the deck. Luckily my bike was fine and so was my body. I rushed over to the start to get my free lap. Actually I was pretty happy that I went down. I got a few minutes to catch my breath, drink some much needed water and recharge my engine with a ton of adrenaline! I jumped back into the back of the field and just went all out. I took every chance possible to get up to the front and within 5 to 10 laps, I found myself right up in the front row action. Now was my chance to attack and possibly bridge up to a lone rider off the front. The pace lulled and I hesitated for one second too long. Another kid jumped, the field reacted and I was swarmed. Missed opportunity. I spent the rest of the race maintaining my position in the mid-front of the field until 10 to go. Going through the final turn again, one kid got a few spokes ripped out of his wheel from riding into another’s derailleur and I lost about 15 spots while moving out of the way for him having to drift back through the pack. I found the wheel of local rider David Lombardo and followed him to try and move back up the pack. We started to gain some ground but suddenly a crash with 5 laps to go caused me to come to a dead stop. I never went down but there was no way I could bridge back up to the blistering fast field. I gave it my all in an attempt to not get pulled but with 3 to go, I was done. Dave ended up with a top 30 so I knew if I never went down, I could have gotten a respectable result. Even though I got screwed in the end, I couldn’t be disappointed with my race. I gave it everything I had and rode a strong race against the best field I had faced all year.  I got some personal redemption for the weekend and learned so much for next year.

Thank you so much to my family, especially my Dad for the endless support that I have gotten this weekend and the entire season. I couldn’t do anything without their support. Thank you to Coach Randy for giving me the legs and lungs to compete against these kids and for coming up to Madison for the weekend. Thanks a ton for everyone else who has helped me, given advice or kicked my butt this season!

To Go Or Not To Go

By William Pankonin | Jun 19, 2013

Race name: O'Fallon Road Race
Race date:Saturday, Jun 15, 2013

I engraved the O’Fallon road race onto my calendar last January.  Since then, I have been planning for it to be my last race before a long period of rest and recovery.  If all went according to plan, I would be going good for Galena and would then taper slightly for O’Fallon, the IL Championship masters’ road race.  I wouldn’t participate in the omnium so that I could save everything for the road race and hopefully bring home the championship jersey.  I wasn’t alone in that thinking.  No other IL rider raced the TT the night before.  I know.  I was there spying -I mean watching.

We would race for two and one half laps or a mere 54 miles.  The first lap was pretty tame.  My only concern for it would be to make sure nothing rode off the front early.  We were a small field of 12, with six racers from IL.  This made maneuvering and watching quite easy, but I still wanted to make sure I kept near the front.  There were three guys from Gateway Cycling Club, and one of them smoked the TT for the W, so I marked him.  I figured he would be their guy to win.  The MO riders guessed that the IL riders would be most aggressive, so they were content to sit in towards the back of our little field.  Before the end of lap one, I had ridden at endurance pace on the front for a few minutes, chased down two guys while dragging the rest with me, and probed with some tempo while on the front with strong crosswinds.  No real fireworks.  One of the Gateway racers strung us out for a while.  My legs were getting warm and ready as we approached the end of the 22 mile lap, and the only real significant hill.  It was not Galena significant, but it was sharp enough to be a race factor.

I marked this moment as an opportunity to make my first move.  I didn’t want to attack, but wanted to charge up the hill fast enough to inflict some damage.  My hope was to shed riders and possibly get myself into a move that contained a strong Gateway racer.  If their fastest guy marked the move and we got away, and he had better legs than me, it wouldn’t necessarily mean my losing the jersey, but would mean that we would be able to stay safely away from the group, which was the objective.  So I hammered up the hill, got over the top and glanced back.  The only rider on my wheel was an IL rider.

Bicycle Heaven racer Marc, who won the ToG road race, was glued onto my wheel.  I heard teammates screaming at us as we whizzed by the Athletico tent.  We turned and looked back.  We had stretched the gap significantly.  I continued for a few minutes and flicked my elbow.  Marc pulled through, and we exchanged a few words of encouragement.  We were now committed.  Do or die.  Game on.

As we worked together, I thought about how this was now a tad harder than I had planned.  Two IL guys riding for the championship meant second place was not an option.  I would need to now figure out a way to win.

As we finished the second lap, I went up the hill faster than I had done previously, wondering if I could shake my partner.  Up the hill we went.  It was now late in the day, and hot, and as we reached the top of the hill for the second time, I could see his shadow all up in my business.  There was no shaking him.  This was concerning.  Previously, my partner had shown a few signs of fatigue, and I was convinced he was tiring after riding hard that second lap.  But now however, I was beginning to believe all that was wise bluffing, and that he had used me as a launching pad and then wind shield.  Also, anytime I went hard up a rise, I never gapped him. Oh the trickery!  We went through the feed zone and he told me he was going for water.  I was fuming.  We left Kyle road and headed out again for the half lap.  I flicked my elbow; he didn’t pull through.  I had been played.  This guy was planning to rip my legs off.  I flicked again and he pulled through.  Our pace slowed significantly.  It was the first time we had dialed down the intensity.  This was mentally taxing, because when you’re in the break, if you’re not riding until it hurts, you’ll get caught.  Was our gap large enough to continue at this slower pace? I didn’t know.  I looked back.  The coast looked clear.  We were in good shape, for now.  10 miles to go.

Maybe Marc would miss the half-lap cut-off road? I could leave him on the front until then. I decided to go with that plan for the time being.  But no, that’s no way to win.  We crawled up a hill and I let out a few dramatic breaths.  I could play the bluffing game too.  I was ready to go if he attacked me.  I sat on his wheel, thinking.  He seemed to be ready to race.  At the top of the hill, I shifted back to the large chain ring.  He stayed in the small.  He drank some water.  His head dropped slightly.  What’s his game? Wait…no; he was tired!  Should I attack now?

Sometimes racers just know when to attack, and they do without any hesitation.  This has often been the case for me.  This time though, after the idea of an attack came to mind, I reconsidered.  Should I go? I could hear my voice in my head second guessing myself.  I moved slightly to the left of his wheel.  I gripped the drops.  He was still in the small ring and on the hoods.  I got out of the saddle and launched my last nuke of the road season.

It worked.  By the time I needed to sit back down in the saddle, breathe and clear the stars, I was all alone.  I would now need to settle in at threshold and stay there.  I approached the last 8 or so miles like I do our team’s fitness check time trials.  I would save nothing and go to my limit.  I had already eaten, drank, and stretched out a bit and would now be locked into a tuck position for the remainder of the race.  My PSIMET wheels hummed along over the 100+ degree asphalt.  At one turn, I thought I heard a marshal shout something about someone being right behind me. Really? I looked back and could make out four figures beyond the previous 90 degree turn; they were no more than a mile back! Oh no! I pedaled faster, but now I had to be concerned about blowing up and losing too much power.  I had been going along at 91 percent, and as I glanced down occasionally, I saw 92, 93, and even 94.  This was dangerous.  I hit the 5K to go sign and looked back.  Nothing.  I entered the woods before the hill.  Still clear.  I passed other riders broken off the back of different races.  500M to go.  I got out of the saddle and brought myself to within 100M.  I looked back.  Nothing.  I zipped up, and crossed the line with my arms held high.

I’d like to thank the race organizers and all the officials and all the volunteers who helped out.  Marc, it was a pleasure riding with you, dude! As the fellas told stories and chatted about the race, I learned that Marc had been caught by three chasers.  They caught him shortly before our half-lap cut-off turn.  Actually, they reeled Marc in soon after I had attacked him.  How soon? I was told that they saw me make the attack!  The hardest part in winning this championship was not pedaling around the course.  No, the most difficult aspect was the preparation. This win was months in the making.  All I needed to do was try my best and have fun.  Sometimes, we absolutely destroy ourselves for the victory; often times, that is just the way it goes.  At O’Fallon, however, the hardest part entailed the training and planning, and the self-imposed expectation of only winning this race.  The winter months, focusing on rest and recovery, those tough 3rd and 4th build weeks, the rain, the super tough races you do, the driving, and all that time alone! Man, this bike racing stuff really doesn’t get any easier.

Attack and Release

By Rob Whittier | Jun 12, 2013

Race name: Tour of Galena - Road Race
Race date:Sunday, Jun 9, 2013

Attack and Release* (The Fool on the Hill**)

March 12th was a tough, tough day for me. That wasn’t the day I hit the deck on the Cuesta grade at 40+mph. It was the day I left SLO on a train to LA and my flight home with 10 hours alone to think about when I might be able to ride again. I’d only done one crit in my life and this was supposed to be my first season of racing. A well-meaning teammate has tried to cheer me up earlier saying - “Think positive, you can definitely make it back racing by cross season.” “No way”, I told myself, I’m gonna make it back for Galena…

The next few weeks were rough as I managed to get on the trainer a few times and then slowly but surely I was back up to my pre-SLO trainer routine. The broken wrist still hurt too much to hold on to a bar but the legs worked fine and a nasty Chicago spring and Netflix made the trainer tolerable. Shortly afterwards, three important things happened: 1) In late March, I watched Cancellara destroy Sagan on the Paterberg 2) In a momentary lapse of reason I decided that a good 2nd race back from a wrist fracture would be the Cone-Azalia gravel race and I eked out a 2nd 3) After a day on the Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier, I caught a terrible fever and woke up believing that I was a climber.

Fast forward to June 3rd – After the team meeting I chatted with Will Pankonin up about my plans for Galena. I explained that I’d never tried any sort of attack in any race but thanks to a decent May and Giro infused delusions of grandeur I explained that I was going to attack Pantani style at the base of the first big climb. “That’s pretty early”, he reminded me, “but if you do it, commit; do it all the way…”

The TT was a blur. Literally, I had one of Galena’s now famous gnats in my eye and it was watering for the entire course but when it was done and my little aerobar experiment was over I was in 5th place and that did nothing to temper my foolish bravado. The next morning I warmed up for a few laps with Jim Barclay, rode the short kicker at the start of the course. The climb was fine but then we turned back for the short descent the reality set in that I hadn’t been over 40mph on a downhill since…the Cuesta Grade. So with that pleasant thought and a half-baked plan (but a plan nonetheless) I headed to the start.

At the start, I recognized a few guys from Spider Monkey, The Bike Haven and Half Acre and it felt great to have Bob, Tiber, Kevin, and John near me. If I imploded, maybe one of these guys would take pity and nurse me home? We started off and rounded a few corners as we left Galena in the neutral roll out, nerves settled and then we turned left to climb the short hill and as I watched a few guys struggle with short 11%(?) pitch, I gained a little confidence that an attack on the hill might work. Commit, I reminded myself.

The next 20 minutes went by quickly as I stayed close to John Mitchell who was riding well near the middle-front of the pack. It was early and my experience in Cat 5 races (all 6 of them) had me confident that nobody would attack with any conviction so my strategy was to sit in and being safe. But then we hit the descent to the railroad tracks and a little hell broke loose, I heard squealing and screaming (and bullwhips cracking), smelled brake pads and saw a rider go off the road and I remembered in horror that I was in a Cat 5 race with some huge descents coming up. This only strengthened my resolve; get away from these guys before those descents, I’ll actually be safer too.

As we wound our way onto N Ford Rd, the pace slowed a little as the pack prepared for the first real ascent and, sitting about 7th wheel, I took a look back for John and Kevin who I’d seen a few minutes before, took a deep breath and thought one more time - commit, don’t stop, do it all the way from here till you finish or drop – and I went.

The next ten miles were unquestionably the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike. My attack on the 3 mile Ford Road climb felt good, I hadn’t looked back the entire time and when I crested the top, I had created enough of a gap where I couldn’t see the riders behind me so I looked ahead at the pace car and pictured Tracy Dangott grinning and laughing and though I never crushed the pedals on the downhill and peaked at about 44 mph, it all felt “right”. The next seven miles of down and up felt awesome, I know I was grinning from ear to ear even on the 2nd climb as I set a new power curve (as a caveat, it’s a new Powertap;). I’d attacked for the first time in a bike race, it seemingly had worked, and I was riding Galena’s amazing hills without hesitation or fear.

At mile 21 reality set in as I approached the bridge and I realized that a rider had closed the gap, but just one. Did I have enough left to work with him to get the two of us to 1 and 2 on the podium? He shot by faster than I’d like to admit, I buckled down and surged up to him and we agreed that we’d try it. That worked for a few miles at which point he called out that we had three riders closing and that he thought we’d get caught so we softened up a bit and my wolfpack had become five. Five riders with nobody else in sight with about a mile left to Galena. In the end I couldn’t do much when we got into town, I was gassed and as we rounded the last little turn to the finish I couldn’t muster up much of a sprint but I knew I was going to get 5th place, my best finish in a field of this size. As far as I was concerned, the attack, my first, had done its job.

Confidence high, I went into next day’s Crit thinking that an Omnium podium was in reach with a top 10 finish and after hanging in mid-pack for most of the race I started to formulate a plan here too. “Tough to get around guys on that last turn”, I thought, “This thing will be won by positioning into the 3rd turn”. I can’t explain how much it helped to see our team at the Marshall stations, for some reason seeing Fay and Briney at #1 and #6 just made me feel like I had to step up. The pace picked up at the bell lap but it was nothing too brutal and I moved to take the inside line at turns 1 and 2 to position myself for a jump on the back straight. About halfway down the straight I was sitting 5th wheel in the pack and I knew it was time; I attacked (2nd time now) and I heard a yell behind me “he’s going”, “go, go, GO!” I came into the 3rd turn 1st in the group and got the line I wanted for the final turn. I came out of the apex and stood to mash as hard as I could and managed to skip my front wheel off the ground but with a big grin I refocused and drove as hard as I could to the finish to a 2nd in the sprint, 3rd overall and a 3rd in the omnium.

I can’t really sum up how much this weekend meant to me; with a little grit, some luck, and great teammates I got some confidence back and was able to salvage a decent first season of bike racing. I’ve got a few more road races on the calendar this summer and I’m sure that Cat 4 is going to be challenging and humbling and a lot like starting all over again. But, to be honest, I can’t wait…

*”Attack and Release” is the property of The Black Keys
** “The Fool on the Hill” is the property of The Beatles

Flat Tire, Flat Heart

By Jim Barclay | Jun 3, 2013

Race name: Glencoe Grand Prix 2013
Race date:Saturday, Jun 1, 2013

I remember going to the 2012 Glencoe Grand Prix as a spectator.  I was new to the team, new to any form of competitive cycling and really just there to drink it all in.  What I saw blew my mind.  It was like a cool street fair with food and music and happy people all around.  On top of that, every few minutes a group of cyclists would come screaming by at speeds I couldn’t even imagine on a bicycle.  At the time I really wasn’t sure I would ever race at all but I knew that if I did I wanted to race here, in this atmosphere.

Fast forward a year.  Not only did I decide to race but I kinda fell down the rabbit hole with it (I’m not the first, I know—many of you probably have a similar story.) Here I was, lined up for my first of two races on Saturday.  First up was the Master’s 4/5 and I was really happy to be in the 2nd row.  Side note: I really like the staging format they used.  I much prefer that to cutting my warm up short and lining up 15 minutes before the whistle just to get a decent starting position. 

The race itself was way hotter than I expected.  There was constant movement and more than a little “argy bargy” as Phil Liggett might say.  Positioning is probably my biggest weakness right now—I’m still learning the finer points of reading the race, anticipating movement etc.  As touchy as the race was, I found myself braking into corners more than I wanted and spending way too much energy coming out of them.  As we got into the final laps I could feel it taking a toll on me.  Aaron Delabre, Ben Cartwright and I were all near the front in the final lap but a few swarms and a particularly angry crash coming into the final turns had me too far back to really contend for much in the sprint.  Aaron was up the road and would eventually take 5th.  I knew Ben was close behind me so I gave it everything I could into the last corner to lead him out.  It was a satisfying consolation to see him come around me and then pass a few others to take 11th.  I ended up 15th in a field of over 60 starters.

At this point I couldn’t imagine racing a second race.  I was spent and just wanted to gather my things and ride home. 

The ability of the human body to recover is truly a remarkable thing, though.  Just as remarkable is the ability of the mind to go from not wanting anything to do with bike racing to getting psyched to do it all again.  After a little rest and some great strategy talk from Adam Herndon, I found myself lined up for the 4’s race.  I didn’t have a particular plan for this race other than to communicate better with my teammates and try to make something happen.  The 4’s race had a completely different feel to it.  Fast, no doubt, but much more in control than the Master’s.  My cornering was much stronger this time and I found myself emerging from corners right on the wheel in front of me.  [slaps forehead] Bike racing is much easier that way!  I was feeling really, really good and took half a lap at the front early on just to push the pace a bit. I then dropped back knowing that I had several matches yet to burn.  I found Patch Cebrzynski and we quickly formed a plan:  sit in until 3 to go, then move up together to form up with Aaron for the finish.  This was turning into the kind of race that I had only read about: one where fitness is a given and tactics and teamwork are what win the race. 

Then all hell broke loose.

With 4 to go I was about 15 back and headed into the long, straight descent before the hill.  As I tucked into the right-hand turn I looked up to see—right in my line—two guys on the ground and two more about to be.  I have no idea how I didn’t hit the deck but after about 1000 micro shifts of my weight and much fishtailing of my back tire I was able to barely stay clear.  I then did what any smart cyclist would do:  gun it to take advantage of the break in the group.  As I turned the corner into the hill I heard a BANG and knew immediately it was me.  One too many fish tails perhaps?  Whatever it was, any hopes I had of getting into the small break that would eventually contend for the podium were shredded along with my rear tire.  I clipped out and ran to the neutral wheel pit where I was promptly told that, yes, they had a wheel for me and, no, there were no more free laps. 

“Do you still want the wheel?”
“Yes please”
“You have to chase”
“I know.”  At least those were the words that came out of my mouth.  In my head I’m thinking “just give me the g@#d&*n wheel and let me finish my race!!!!” 

Sadly, this is not Breaking Away and I was not Dennis Quaid.  I TT’d it for a lap and ½  before getting pulled.  Heartbroken, I got to watch a much-fractured race finish from the team tent. 

For me this is a year of firsts:  first time racing, first time for mistakes and first time for successes.  I did a lot right this day. One guy actually came up to me afterwards to say “great save—I thought for sure you were going to end up in that pile up.”  I have all my skin and I have a lot to feel good about but that’s not what I left with.  The results don’t have an asterisk next to my name.  It doesn’t include the footnote that explains how strong I was riding or how my teammates and I had a good plan—that I was betrayed by a failing rubber tube.  It just shows 54/59.  This day was, unfortunately, a new first for me: first time catching a bad break. 

And yet for almost two entire races I was one of those guys that—a year earlier—I couldn’t imagine being, tearing around the village of Glencoe really fast on a bicycle.  So I take away from it everything I can and see the rest as cruel fate. 

Change my tire.  Recover my body.  Reset my mind.

See you in Galena.

New City

By Jake Buescher | May 9, 2013

Race name: New City Time Trial
Race date:Thursday, May 9, 2013

New City

I’ve been doing a local time trial southeast of Springfield, IL (my hometown) for the past five years now.  It’s not sanctioned, you get nothing for winning, and results are posted without placings.  Similar to our FCTT, New City is truly you against yourself.  The course has been used for decades now and measures out to an exact 10.85 miles.  Strava says 10.9, but you’re wrong Strava.  It’s an out and back course that’s about as flat as a pancake besides a very slight rise after the turn around.  The only marker to where the turn around is located is a bright pink “X” painted in the middle of the road.  You have to be pretty vigilant or you’ll fly right by it.  You don’t pin any numbers on, but rather write your assigned number on your hand with permanent marker so you can yell it out as you cross the finish line to help timers.  It is about as grass roots as a time trial gets.

As a matter of fact, New City was the first “race” I ever competed in back in 2009 when I was just getting into cycling.  I showed up riding my mom’s old 1980 Cannondale road bike, with gym shorts, hairy legs, and tennis shoes on.  I think I threw down a wicked fast time averaging 18 mph or something.  As I got into triathlon and riding more, my dad started letting me borrow his TT bike and I eventually got my own.  I’ve now ridden with the exact same equipment (maybe a change in skinsuit here and there) since 2010.  Besides some variation in weather, everything has been constant.  For the past three seasons, it’s been the best way for me to see how fit I really am compared to the past. 

I threw down my best time back in 2011 when I had just decided to focus on road racing and stop all that silly running and swimming.  Ideal conditions that day left me coming in at 23:37 at an average speed of 27.5 mph.  It was a fast day for sure.  While I didn’t do New City a lot last season (living in Chicago for the summer), I never came close to that personal best.

Now, I come into 2013 feeling great.  I actually have a training plan, a coach, and clearly defined goals for the season.  Sadly, these are three things I hadn’t really done in the past.  However, my spring target race, Joe Martin, didn’t go as planned.  My time trial was purely mediocre.  While I did well finishing with the main group on the 110 mile road race on Friday, the third stage was a disaster as I missed the time cut and was promptly cut from the GC, not allowed to race the criterium the following day.  It was a bummer, to say the least.

After Joe Martin, I was kind of in limbo.  I had come into the race with aspirations for a top 10 on GC and surprisingly watched the peloton ride away an hour into the third stage.  I wasn’t really sure if I was as fit as I thought.  So, I turned to the testing grounds I had used for years:  New City.

I went out there on Wednesday night with my dad and rode a personal best, something I hadn’t been able to say for a couple years.  It was the same crowd that I’ve gotten to know over the years, really nice weather, and that same TT feeling of “I want to curl into a ball and die”.  I came in at 23:11, averaging 28.1 mph, 26 seconds better than my PR back in 2011.  Power was a tad lower than I expected coming off of a cold, but I couldn’t be upset with the result.  Better yet, I’m now 35 seconds off the course record.

With an up and down spring, physically seeing that I’m the strongest I’ve ever been is a true confidence booster.  This is one of the reasons why I love time trialing, especially on a course you’ve consistently competed on for multiple seasons.  Your performance truly dictates if you’re stronger or not.  You might pay attention to times of guys you’re usually close to, but for the most part you’re solely focused on if you’ve gotten faster or slower.  There’s no luck involved with time trials and there’s no drafting.  It’s purely a race against your own mind and body.  As Bradley Wiggins has said, “keep turning the screw until it breaks… you never know how high you can tighten something until it breaks.”  My target race for the season is U23 TT Nationals in Madison, WI.  Time trialing is certainly coming around for me this year and last night at New City only reaffirmed this.  Here’s to a good summer of racing.


Perfect Weekend, 3 for 3

By Nikos Hessert | Apr 15, 2013

Race name: Lincoln Park & John Fraser Memorial TT
Race date:Saturday, Apr 13, 2013


Let me say first and foremost thank you to my teammates, specifically Aaron Delabre and Byron Knoll (sorry if I misspelled that), and also to Adam Herndon and Rob Curtis for being the best announcing team ever (Rob’s wheels aren’t half-bad either).  Now without further ado, lets get race reporting!

Win #1: Juniors 15-18: It’s a Trap!!!!
It was a very small field, probably due to the snowy, Milan-Sanremo-esque conditions (yes I have now unofficially won a spring classic).  It ended up being 6 xXx juniors Vs 2 from our rival gang, the 87th street Chicago Velo Campus (little did they know they had fallen into a trap).  The race played out very quickly.  Ben attacked and got away, CVC chased hard for a bit, but unable to catch Ben “the fighting Irish” O’Malley pulled off, then I attacked and bridged.  The next lap we got Kyle with us and about a minute gap on the CVC, we all sat up (CVC too), and discussed who would win the race.  All Ben wanted was a podium sweep, and we had that, so I gave Ben and Kyle each a prime and took the win. as Rob Whittier told me after the race “thank you for the most boring finish ever”.

Win #2: Cat 4: Shrek Wins!
Ahhhh, the NikosAttack(tm) possibly the most stupid and yet somehow effective tool in my arsenal (and the only one).  It’s pretty simple: I attack from the gun….and that’s it.  Anyway, that’s what I did in the fours race.  I had a hole shot worthy of any cyclocross race as I took off with the fury of Shrek after Donkey tried to make waffles in his ogre hut.  Anyway, I had a good gap after lap one, and won the prime Adam had decided to put on the first lap before the race “so Nikos will be able to win something” Aaron Delabre and Byron then got up to the front and blocked hard.  Delabre ended up then winning the $50 field prime announced on the second lap, and my gap was already up to 30 seconds.  As I rode deeper and deeper into the pain cave, increasingly having to remember rule #5*, I was encouraged by a very ecstatic Ben O’Malley, and my personal photographer for the day, Max Ryan (who later complained I never gave him any chance to get shots of the pack), as well as a more and more excited Adam Herndon, even more motivating with a microphone, and every single course marshal.  Thanks to Delabre and Byron blocking back in the pack, there was no chase whatsoever, just me avoiding many opportunities to use my other tactic: crashing badly for no apparent reason.  With 4-5 laps to go, I had about a 40 second gap, and by two to go, I was fist pumping the air as
I went by the spectators.  As I came across the Finish line, it still hadn’t hit me that i had won.  It wasn’t until halfway through the cool down lap that it struck me: “holy s***, i just won in a solo break from the gun”.  As I finished my cool down lap, I saw Ben and Max running toward me from the pace car.  I immediately grabbed both of them in an overenthusiastic bear hug, accidentally backhanding Max’s very nice camera (yes, even in my moments of glory i’m still Shrek and a huge klutz, at least the camera was fine).  I repeatedly thanked my teammates, cooled down, and consumed approximately 45.6 billion donuts, which Ben had knowingly grabbed immediately.

Win #3: John Fraser Memorial TT: Wait, I Thought I Just Did This Yesterday!

This time however, I had a much more well equipped bike. In a huge (some might say ill-advised, given my history with the ground) show of confidence by my amazing mentor, Bill Barnes lent me his rocket ship of a tt bike.  At the tt, having never ridden an actual tt bike before, I was shaky in the huge crosswinds, but still managed to easily take the 4’s by a comfortable 18 seconds over an only 9.3 mile TT course (a time that would have put me 5th in the 3’s).  Bill’s bike went like a bat out of hell though.  I felt like a fighter pilot the whole time, and I definitely didn’t make machine gun noises when I passed riders ;(  Thanks to a tailwind over the second half, and the coolest not-my-new-tk1 bike I’ve ever ridden, I had a great day, and rounded out a great, undefeated weekend.

(why can i write this effortlessly, but cant get an essay done to save my life?)
*Rule #5: HTFU (Harden The F*** UP)

Aw, baby’s first crit!

By Dana Kotler | Apr 10, 2013

Race name: Gapers Block Crits
Race date:Wednesday, Mar 27, 2013

[modified from an article originally written for]

Gapers Block Criterium is a 4-day series held at Calumet Park, hosted by Half Acre Cycling.  This year marked the 5th anniversary.  The races are open to everyone, new and experienced, and are held at the beginning of the season to give newer racers a chance to get their feet wet, in these so-called “practice crits.” 

Tuesday Night:
I missed Monday’s races due the commemoration of my people’s exodus from Egypt (Passover), and started with the Tuesday night race.  Here’s how it went.  I retrieved my bike from the office where I had stashed it, and made my way down to Calumet Park (95th St) by about 5:20.  I changed into my riding gear, and jumped on my bike to check out the simple rectangular course.  Tuesday night it was a counter-clockwise loop, starting and finishing on the west side of the loop (Avenue G).  I bundled up (it was in the upper 30s) and pedalled around the course 5-6 times, taking note of the wind, and obstacles including rough road, potholes, cracks, manhole covers that might throw me during the race.  Then I stopped to register at the tent and pick up my number. 

The women’s race was called for 6:50.  I watched the men’s Cat 5 race, and then took a few more practice laps.  I lined up, they gave out a couple of raffle prizes, then the whistle blew and off we went!  My goal was to stay with the pack, which I was able to do for about 1/3 of the race.  In the straights and going into corners, I would catch the riders in front of me but then would start to drift back as the group sprinted out of each corner.  As I drifted to the back of the pack, it required more and more effort to hang on after each corner.  About 2/3 of the way through the race my legs were feeling the effort, and I was off the back, so I decided to ride as hard and fast as I could to finish without getting lapped.  I was able to do this for a while, but long story short, I did get lapped, first by the ridiculously strong Annie Byrne who had broken off the front of the pack to earn herself a HUGE GAP (amazing!), and then by the pack, but not until the last 2 corners.  It happens.  Not bad for a first crit ever.  I had planned to watch the men’s race, but unforunately the city of Chicago decided to turn off the streetlights in Calumet Park, so the Cat 4/5 men couldn’t race.

Wednesday Night:
To shake things up a bit, Half Acre reversed the direction of the course.  The warmup and preparation for the race went the same or better, I was feeling good, practiced a couple of sprints.  A couple of XXX teammates showed up for the women’s race too.  The goal for Wednesday was the same as last night’s had been, STAY WITH THE PACK.  Whistle blew, off we went.  This time I directed all of my energy to staying in the middle of the pack, rather than at the back.  I took every opportunity to coast or pedal easily behind someone in order to have enough power in my legs left to sprint out of every single corner.  And guess what? IT WORKED.  I stayed with the pack for the entire race, finishing the half hour race with an average of over 20 miles per hour.  YES!

Thursday Night:
So, I tried to figure out the difference between the Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s races.  Was I faster?  Or just smarter in my riding?  Or was everybody going slower?  I asked around and according to others who had been in both Tuesday and Wednesday’s races, Wednesday’s race was appreciably faster, so I guess I rode smarter.  My goal of night #3 was to repeat night #2, to make sure it wasn’t just luck.  April and I were the only 2 women racing for XXX on Thursday, with the exception of the remarkable Sue Wellington, who raced with the men’s 4/5s (and did GREAT), so we were aiming make the team proud.  My start was horrendous.  I was in way to hard a gear, and I fumbled clipping in (and I could swear I heard someone laugh at me), but shook it off and took the same strategy as the night before, stay with the other riders.  This time, though, I took every opportunity to move up within the pack.  If I saw a gap in front of me, I’d put myself there.  This took more confidence in my bike-handling skills than sticking to the back, but was worth it.  I was never off the back of the pack, and mostly somewhere in the middle to the back end.  Again, I took every opportunity to save energy by drafting.  The race was quick, there were some fast accelerations,and I felt strong, with energy to spare.  I kept my eyes peeled for people speeding up, listened for gear changes, and made sure to be in a good gear to sprint out of each corner.  In the last couple of turns the pack spread way out, and I was towards the back (but I knew I still had a few people behind me).  Since I didn’t have any riders right next to me, I took a good line throught the last corner, and sprinted as hard as I could for the finish.  I saw a rider in front of me, and I was determined to pass her.  And I did.  AND THEN I PASSED THE RIDER IN FRONT OF HER.  And then I was neck and neck with another rider; I have no idea who crossed the line first (since they only ranked the first 12 finishers and the rest of us got 13th place by default), and I don’t care.  The improvement I made over the 3 days of racing was mindblowing.


breakaways and Russian Roulette

By Nikos Hessert | Apr 8, 2013

Race name: Burnam spring super crit
Race date:Sunday, Apr 7, 2013

Juniors: The rise and fall of the Is-corp empire
This past Saturday i raced in the Spring Super Crit, along with most of the other juniors on the team.  Weeks before the race, Ben O’Malley had been going over tactics for the race.  I thought we should take advantage of the long straight and our superior numbers to launch Kyle (short Kyle) to a sprint victory.  He thought i should attack from the gun, and make it look like a joke (Only an idiot would attack so early).  Being said idiot, i decided “why not” and in the first corner, flew off the front.  The first thoughts that ran through my head were “don’t look back, Jens Voight always says never look back”, and “no way i can hold this off”. the evil Empire, or is corp, started a chase, but Ben and Kyle (only half acting) loudly pointed out that I’m an idiot who does this all the time, and that id soon get brought back.  by the second lap it was clear the only problem id have would be looking cool coming across the finish line in first.  with a 90 second advantage, and Ben Sam and Kyle blocking what was left of a shattered pack, i easily won the juniors race, while Ben came in second.

Cat 4’s: the empire strikes back
The fours race started out normally enough, with a few bumps and a few jokers, but quickly descended into utter chaos.  The race soon became about survival.  at the end of the race, i rolled across the line somewhere around mid-pack, happy to have finished without crashing.  i felt liked i had survived 45 minutes of Russian roulette.

Barry-Roubaix, Spinal Tap Style

By Jim Barclay | Mar 25, 2013

Race name: Barry-Roubaix
Race date:Saturday, Mar 23, 2013

“This is like riding through peanut butter,” yelled Didi. 

He was right.  Skippy Super Chunk, to be precise.  We were doing a short recon ride Friday night and the Killer Gravel Road Race was looking like it would be a Killer Mud Fest.  The truth is, I don’t like mud.  Or, more to the point, I don’t know what to do with it.  I’ve never done a ‘cross race, never even been on a mountain bike and the one gravel race I did last fall was so dry it might as well have been pavement.  Nonetheless, here I was with my newly built ‘cross bike out for her debut race.  The course starts out in town but turns to a dirt (i.e. mud,) road about 3 miles into it.  Almost immediately you hit three progressively steeper climbs—the Three Sisters.  Here we sat atop the Third Sister.  My pulse was racing and I was aghast to find it took every gear I had just to get here. This was my first race of my first full season of racing and I wanted it all to start well.  Instead, it looked to surely be a disaster.

The morning of the race was colder than forecast—well below freezing—which meant that one could expect little thawing of ice in the early waves.  I was lucky (?) enough to be in wave 5 of 16.  Each wave was separated by 3 minutes.  Still, my age group was huge—144 men age 40-42 and most of them starting in that wave.  We launched out of town on the firm pavement for a few miles and I made sure to move up near the front of the pack. If I was going to sink into the mud I wanted to be one of the first to do so. 

Then a strange thing happened.  We turned off the pavement and on to Yeckley Road and I looked up to see thick, hard-pack dirt.  I don’t know if it was groomed over night or the cold just hardened it up but I realized it wasn’t peanut butter any more. 

This is different.  I can race on this. Game on.

Without hesitation, I opened the throttle into the descent of the first Sister and before I knew it, I was up and over the Third Sister still in mid-cassette.  Thank you SLO, and thank you adrenaline!  I was passing everybody.  While it was a huge field, it was also very spread out and I realized I wouldn’t stay with any one group for the duration.  Nonetheless, I thought I should find a buddy to at least share some work.  Without any xXx’ers around I found the strongest, most agile rider nearby and followed his wheel.  He took good lines—maneuvering through the mess of bone-shaking potholes, icy patches, fallen riders, slower riders and about 1000 dropped water bottles.  We traded a few pulls and then he fell off.  Again I was on my own but that was OK.  I felt strong—really strong—and with the constantly undulating terrain, the downhills would offer me an occasional break.  I knew I could keep this up for a while if I had to. 

About that terrain: Don’t think that just because the dirt was packed that it was easy.  It was not! Parts of it were definitely more chewed up and some sections were very icy. I saw riders going down all around me and had a couple of skids myself but managed to keep it upright. At least twice I got a “nice save” from nearby riders.  I guess 25 years of playing the drums have taught me something about balancing on my butt.  I kept moving up and getting more confident—about my fitness, about my bike handling, about my choices.  Spending a week in SLO did wonders for my climbing but also my shifting.  Some of of the rollers were manageable in the big ring but others definitely were not.  I didn’t want to fatigue myself in too big a gear.  On this day I seemed to be hitting all my shifts perfectly—keeping my cadence right where I wanted it, moving to the big ring as I crested and sometimes “shifting with my legs” to just power up over hills that others were falling back on.  On the steepest grades I was hesitant to get out of the saddle too much for fear of skidding but it didn’t seem to matter.  Most of the people I was passing now were guys from the earlier waves on mountain bikes and, with the drier roads, I flew past them on the rollers

About 12 miles in I hooked up with a fairly strong rider in an orange kit.  He was riding a ‘cross bike and pushing an enormous gear.  I think it was a compact but might have even been a 52: always down in the cassette and at a very low cadence. We traded pulls on the paved sections but it was uneven.  He would ride strong and then fade.  He would fall off and then, a few miles down the road, he would show up again.  In the dirt we’d hit the rollers and I’d drop him. Then on the flat sections he would appear on my left kicking a steady 70 RPM.  Still, I was happy to have a wheel to be on for a bit.

With about 10 miles to go I started to sense I was doing pretty well.  The race was chip timed so I couldn’t really gauge it by the pack.  Still, my unscientific analysis was that I was passing many, many more people than were passing me.  Now I started to think about staying upright—I was one pothole or icy patch away from ruining what was turning out to be pretty good race. Also, was it just me or were my bars rotating down ever so slightly?  All of this bumpy terrain had me thinking I should have checked my stem bolts with a torque wrench.  I was glad when we hit the final stretch of pavement leading back into town.  I wasn’t so happy to see that Orange Kit guy had managed to crawl his way back and was now a bike length in front of me with a little over a mile to go.

Here’s one more thing about Orange Kit Guy:  he had enormous legs.  The dude just looked like a bike racer.  I had no idea what wave he started in or if this was going to end in a sprint but I wagered that with his gearing and his quads he would probably out sprint me.  I also new that he would push that big gear until he was tired and decided I would attack when I saw him start to fade about 1 mile from the finish.  Sure enough, I got a pretty good gap on him but I had jumped too soon.  There was just too much road left and he recovered to pull ahead of me going into the last turn.  The finish line was closer to the corner than I had expected but I gave it what I had.  I jumped again.  Not happening.  I saw I wasn’t getting around him.  I was pretty exhausted and hoped the chances of us competing in the same age group and wave were relatively remote.

No such luck.

Out of 144 riders in my age group I came in 11th with a time of 1:54:29.  Orange Kit was #10 at 1:54:28.  However, rather than get down about 1 second, I choose instead to paraphrase that great guitarist/philosopher Nigel Tufnel: while most top 10‘s only go up to 10, mine goes up to 11.  It’s one better than 10. 

Which is to say, on that icy, technical course and that huge field, I’m extremely happy to start my season with that result!

Masters CX Worlds

By Chris MacFarland | Feb 16, 2013

Race name: UCI Cyclocross Masters World Championships - 40-44
Race date:Friday, Feb 1, 2013

So 2012 was the year we were blessed with the addition of little Owen to our family, and subsequently, one that would see me not do a road or track race all year, with the exception of Barry Roubaix. So it was the Masters 40+ of the CCC that was calling me and which comprised my season. It was all cross this year and it was fun!

When Worlds were announced, I initially only bought tickets to go watch the elite races over the weekend. I kept telling myself I didn’t have the fitness to race Masters Worlds. But the idea kept gnawing at me and I finally decided I would be crazy NOT to race. So I registered and booked a hotel that was literally a 3 minute ride to the venue. So close you could do your trainer warm up in the hotel room and pedal over for staging. (Something I wish I would have done actually.)

As it’s getting closer to the date, I nearly bail on the whole thing. The demands of having an infant in the house were taking more and more of my time and my training into the winter really declined. I was really beating myself up over the fact that I wasn’t going to be at my best for Worlds. Not that I had any illusions I would be racing for a top 10 or whatever, but it was a high level race and it’s only natural to want to be at your best. But with support from Melody and a series of “getting stoked” texts with John Boggs, I kept my head straight and decided to stay in the race. I would race as hard as I could with what I have and leave it at that. My goal is to race in the final.

Tuesday night at Louisville. Rain. Tornado sirens. Rain. Little sleep. My qualifier is at 11:30, course opens at 8:00 for pre-ride. Even as I approach the absolute disaster area that is the race course, it didn’t dawn on me that things might be delayed and off I go to pre-ride. Much of the course is under water and It’s a mucky mess. I ride two laps and I’m soaked, covered in mud. We then get official word of the 2 hour delay. I get my bike power washed and head back to the hotel and wait for my race, getting in a quick nap.

Top 24 in my heat make it to the final. I’m staged in the 4th row. I look up to see Melody and Owen at the start line. This makes me happy. I’m glad I’m here. Off we go and as we move off the pavement and hit the muddy water, it was like hitting a huge puddle with your car. Spray everywhere. It was kind of funny actually. I was afraid of people going down at that point and pulled off the gas a little bit. But we all managed it safely, at least as far as I could tell. Once we were in it, the mud was relentless, a deep river mud that sucked on your wheels. It felt like riding though sand with some joker holding onto your saddle the whole time. After riding clean in my pre-ride laps, I thought I could manage my lines. But in the scruff, I go down twice on the first lap, dropping my chain on the second crash, losing precious spots as I curse my Paul chain keeper. I’m back on and ride cleanly through the rest and take back a few spots, but fall short of a qualifying spot and finish 30th.

That was the hardest 2 laps of anything I’ve done and now if I want to race in the final I have to do it again, in 2 hours. I briefly consider bailing, but quickly drop that idea and mentally prepare to race again. The top 8 from the Repechage round will make it into the final. We’re racing for the last row!

I had my bike power washed between races, so it’s looking good. I, however, am not. Off we go and it’s much the same. I know what to expect and how to get through it, which was nothing more than grinding it out and staying upright. No other race tactics come into play in these conditions. I ride clean. A group of us quickly separate and we were being told by some spectators that we were in the top 8. That was a relief and I was really hoping they weren’t just messing with us. I was with 3 other guys and we kept going back and forth. It was actually kind of fun and we were pretty confident we were all in the final as nobody was close off the back. On the second lap, I lost my shifting and was stuck in my easiest gear. I lost a little ground on the flat, extra muddy sections as one click down was the ideal gear for me, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference. I come down the hill on the final lap to someone yelling “you’re number 7” to me. And so I’m in the final. Relieved.

The cold rolls in, which I’m happy to see. Anything to harden up that course I think. I’d rather deal with frozen ruts than that muck. But the morning’s races, sunshine and warming temps into the mid 20’s quell those hopes. I pre-ride a few sections and quickly realize that conditions on Friday are actually worse than Wednesday. The course is 1/3 frozen and 2/3 muck. The slow speeds from the mud made the ruts hard to maneuver through, no momentum. I finish my warm up on a trainer in the big tent and see pit crews running around trying to gather materials to clean the bikes. Guys are running out to gas stations and hardware stores for supplies. Windshield washer fluid seemed a popular choice. (The power washers had been left out in the cold and were now frozen and useless.) At this point I’m realizing just how bad it is out there.

I line up, number 79 of 80, checking in! I’m wearing my spiffy new skin suit and feel bad for what I’m about to subject it to. Off again with a little less of a splash this time. Within a 1/2 lap, I realize that my bike is getting very heavy. Everything is sticking, immediately freezing to the bike and building up at an alarming rate. The brakes are practically useless, but somehow I can still shift. By the second lap, my bike is barely ridable and I knew that would be my last lap. I saw the pit crews frantically trying to clean bikes as I hobbled by the pits. As I approached the last steep descent before the finish, I decided to run my bike. I had ridden the hill every time before, but my bike was in such poor condition that I didn’t trust it and there was no way I was risking a downhill crash at this point. I was happy and disappointed to be pulled. I placed 67th out of 80, gaining 12 spots from my staging position. After my race I grabbed some tasty Frites with mayo and a Sierra Nevada, and chatted with a couple from Colorado who came out to watch for the week. By this point, my bike is completely frozen up. Nothing would move. I throw it up on my shoulder and walk back to my hotel, satisfied with my result.

In the end, I am very happy I decided to go through with racing at CX Worlds. I learned a lot about personal expectations, balance and preparation. It has me motivated to try some higher level, regional CX races this year. I have to say that the people there were the friendliest damn people around, both the racing crowd and the locals. I encountered some of the most supportive and friendly racers I’ve seen, nothing but smiles and encouragement. That says a lot about our sport and I’m proud to be associated with it. Louisville is a great town and I look forward to heading back to race the USGP event there. You should go!

Master’s Worlds

By John Boggs | Feb 9, 2013

Race name: 2013 UCI Masters Cyclocross World Championships
Race date:Saturday, Feb 2, 2013

Not having the greatest road season in 2012, I decided to focus more on cross in the fall and have fun with it.  Back in October, registration opened up for the Master’s Cyclocross World Championships.  The races were being held in Louisville, not too far away, and I think should I?  I chatted with Coach Randy Warren about it, and he was like why wouldn’t you.  So decision made, I register and started focusing on worlds. 

Fast forward 3 months or so, the bike is all cleaned up, things are loaded up, and we’re ready to head south to Louisville.  Two other teammates, Andy Anderson and Chris MacFarland, are racing as well, and we’re all looking to have a great time in Louisville.  Tuesday afternoon sees rain in Chicago, delaying getting on the road and getting down south later than expected after forgetting my toiletries bag and a few other things.  That night torrential downpours set in to the area, topped off with tornado sirens a little after 4 am Wednesday morning.  Not exactly the best lead in for my qualifying heat.

Wednesday morning after a short sleep, I’m up early with both boys, and tired.  Decided to skip the 8 a.m. pre-ride session and grab breakfast.  Light rain is still falling from the sky.  Andy and I head over to pick up our race numbers.  While picking them up, we hear about some of the damage the storms have done.  The whole course was supposedly under a couple inches of water and starting races were delayed 2 hours.  Silver lining to the storm clouds though, through the random draw, I’d be the 3rd rider called up for my heat.  So we drove over to check out the course.  Organizers and volunteers were hard at work doing what they could to get the course in a ride-able shape.  There was a lot of water on the course, and it was sure to be a sloppy, muddy, good time.

After some good time in the pool “relaxing” with the boys, we headed back over around noon to check out the course.  The amount of mud and slop was really indescribable.  I’ve really never seen a course like that.  With the conditions, not wanting to spend time cleaning the bike twice in one day, and multiple racers advising to absolutely not do it, I opted out of the pre-ride.  Heat races had also been cut from 3 laps to 2 laps to make up for the delay in the morning.  Got in a good warm up, seeing several pros riding around the area, and then rolled to staging on my sweet new PSIMET tubulars.  Top 24 in the heat advance to Friday.  I haven’t had many front line starts in cross, but I could definitely get used to the view up there.  Unfortunately my awesome wife was lugging 2 boys around in the mud and missed the great photo op.  Whistle blows and we’re off.  The start is on pavement for 65 meters or so, into a pond of mud.  Water and mud everywhere (just like when your mom told you not to ride in the rain), it was good to be in the front here, and shortly into it is where the pace slowed.  It was like riding through sand the whole lap, and though only 2 laps long, one of the hardest races I’ve ridden.  I finished 14th, so I was in and very happy about it.

Wednesday night and all day Thursday a cold front moved in to the area.  There were some good snow showers passing through the area, but not accumulating.  That afternoon, we rode over to check out course conditions.  Temps were dropping throughout the day, and the course was still sloppy with temps hovering around freezing.  We picked up our numbers for the championship that afternoon, I had 42nd in the callup after times from all 3 heats were tallied.  Went to bed hoping for the course to harden up overnight.
Friday morning came and woke up to a light dusting of snow.  I drove over to check out the course shortly after breakfast.  The course was frozen solid for the early races, with ruts everywhere and ice where puddles of water were the day before.  Unfortunately with the forecast of mid-20s and lots of sunshine, I didn’t think it would last.  After lunch, we headed over to warm up and get ready, and as I had suspected, the course was back to a slow, grinding slopfest. Got a good warm up on the trainer under the tent out of the elements and then headed to staging.  Starting in the middle of the pack I planned to get as far up the front as I could after the whistle.  A slight chilly delay in our new, slick Pactimo skinsuits, and then we were off.  Immediately off the pavement into the slop, a guy goes does right in front of me.  Through some luck I squeaked by.  The slop seemed to be even slower than Wednesday.  Rounding a corner into the hole shot, I hear another crash beside me, and then another one behind me.  I’d made it through all of those safely and started focusing on the next rider in front of me.  About 1/3 of a lap through, I dismounted to run.  Some sections were faster on foot that trying to pedal through the wheel sucking mud.  I thought wow, this bike seems really heavy.  The mud was piling up at an alarming rate, and freezing hard as concrete to the bike.  My brakes were frozen stiff with the mud and I had to dismount to go down the couple hills.  Things only continued to get worse as the second lap came to an end and I was pulled.  I think only the top 10 riders actually finished the whole race.  The guys who were still out there had pit crews working feverishly, and were changing bikes twice a lap.  Without that kind of support, there was no hope to finish.  Final results had me listed at 55th, which although a little bummed due to the conditions, I was very happy with that finish.  I was more focused training and preparing for these races than I ever have been and very satisfied with the level of fitness I’d brought to the race.  Sometimes the intangibles have a different plan for your day.  Hey, that’s racing.

New Year’s Resolution

By William Pankonin | Jan 7, 2013

Race name: CCC New Year's Resolution
Race date:Sunday, Jan 6, 2013

The first section of the New Year’s Resolution course reminded me of a criterium.  The race is categorized as a UCI C2 race and starts straight and into a strong headwind on pavement with a little turn followed by a slight rise, a sharper turn on a paved path, and finally a sweeping “S” turn before leaving this pavement section and onto gravel.  The starts of these types of races can be compared to how a crit often finishes –thrilling or horrifying, depending on what you like.

On Saturday, the rest of the course was frozen hard and fast.  I received a good call up in the front row and chose my spot.  After a lot of hard work in a grueling CCC series, and a couple of good results, it was nice to have my work pay off with a good Crossresults ranking.  After pre-riding the course a few times yesterday, I knew I wanted to be towards the right because I felt the right side offered the smoothest and fastest line.  I waited for the whistle in silence with some really fast racers, including the Flatlandia guys, Gatto, and Euro-crosser David Lombardo.  We were off and with a good start, I was able to maintain position and get clear of all the elbows and handlebars.  By the time we exited the beginning of the course, we were single file with me sitting around 6th wheel.  We approached the hill full throttle, bounced our way down, and sailed across the course in the jet-stream tailwind.  The course and our speed began the stretch out the field.

The first move came within the first lap and saw Lombardo and Miller gain some separation on five or six of us.  I passed a rider and attempted to cover the move going into the headwind dragging three along, but I was unsuccessful as the two leaders now smelled blood in the water.  They increased their speed and worked the course so that their gap increased.  We now became a chase group of four during laps two and three.  This is my favorite type of course because I’m able to keep the pressure high for a long time, and I did so for two whole laps remaining mostly in the front trying to catch the leaders and trying to drop one or two of our group.  Mr. Haupt once flicked his elbow in the headwind and I had no problem pulling through as hard as possible.  I began to realize, however, that I would need to change plans as we began lap four with around three to go, because my pressure was having no effect on my competition.

I managed to pull off the front and get on a wheel to breathe a little and assess the situation.  The two leaders were now gone, and the four of us were now fighting for the third podium position.  We all took shots to the gut and face as the three of them punched and kicked with all their strength.  We covered attacks and counters, and used all our might to concentrate on the few little technical sections like the triple zig-zag double-barrier.  We all rode it once, ran it later, and one time some of us ran it while others rode it.  One of us rode the high line through sand, the same line Powers would later ride in the Pro race.  On one of these laps, Mr. Haupt flicked his elbow with me on his wheel, this time though, I did not pull through.  I could hear Busteed over the speakers illustrating our tactics to those watching.  While coming up on one lap to go, I began to feel fresh again.  I was second wheel into the headwind through the start/finish with the last lap bell clanging.  We rode up the little paved rise, turned and prepared for the “S” curve.

I have a lot of experience on this course, and there was one race last year where I found myself in a group of four with one to go.  During that race, I waited for one late moment to launch an attack in hopes of winning.  It didn’t work.  Thanks to Warren Cycling, I know my strengths and weaknesses with sharp clarity, and I knew I couldn’t wait for the end today.  I would not make that mistake again.

As we approached the “S” turn, the rider in front eased up and looked back at me.  I attacked into the turn.  It wasn’t pre-planned; it just felt good.  The others would now have to decide whether or not to use risky speed in the turn in order to defend the move.  I knew that this would be a good first place to begin a series of attacks with constant high pressure.  You couldn’t go full gas through the turn, but you could after you exited, and that created a good gap for me.  They closed it slightly while going into the next technical turn, but it hurt them.  It hurt all of us.  I attacked with everything I had up the hill and buried my chain into the small cog on the way down.  Another gap now grew, and it stretched slightly.  We hammered and camp up on the far side of the wheel-pit, where I was absolutely shocked to see Lombardo running with his bike on his shoulder.  He was waving one arm trying to flag his pit person.  Really sorry about that David, but holy smokes! We all realized that there were now two UCI podium spots up for grabs with a half lap to go.

As we maneuvered through the zig-zig, through blurry vision, I was able to see that there were still racers behind me.  This was okay though, because my plan was to hurt myself enough throughout the lap, so that by the end, my three competitors would not be able to beat me sprinting.  After I remounted I delivered my final attack, which I held until I could see the pavement of the start/finish.  I heard Kirby yell something about sprinting for second! I got out of the saddle and with my hands in the drops, I sprinted as hard as I could, which was probably tantamount to the attacks I had previously delivered during this last lap.

A little bad luck for one guy is often someone else’s good luck.  Last Saturday, I had the good luck.  My tactical racing prevented a four person sprint at the race’s end, which I would have probably lost.  So tactics with a little luck had me throwing my bike at the line for second place.  I never looked back, but know now that Mr. Haupt was strong enough to chase me down after the zig-zag, and smart enough to use my slipstream to beat me at the line.  I was very happy to share the podium with him, and congratulations to Mr. Miller on his well-deserved win.


Coach Randy often reminds athletes to always try to imitate in practice what you will experience in competition.  So on Sunday, I lined up for the earliest race, the 8:00 40+ masters race because that is when I’ll start my race at nationals next weekend in Verona.  In the morning, we found the start/finish area and entire beginning straight-away covered in smooth, slick ice.  I would never dream to practice on anything like this, and would instead avoid it at all costs! But, we lined up anyway and calmed ourselves by deciding to not go hard over the ice.  A few racers even announced a neutral start until safely over the ice.  It was funny to begin a cross race in the saddle.  We all stayed in the saddle because you would slip and fall if you shifted any weight and disturbed your delicate balance.  We went hard though, and still took some risks.  I managed to maintain a good position at second wheel.  After the leader’s back wheel slipped dramatically in front of me, we all lined up and rode the safest line off the ice.  Whew!

I stayed second wheel until we left the first off-camber section.  With the hill straight ahead, and with good ground under our wheels, we were now free to fly.  I passed the leader and pedaled up and down the hill and through the straight-away as hard as possible.  I had caused some damage.  Looking behind me, I saw only two riders on my wheel.  I eased up a bit, still keeping it fast, but not fast as possible, or not “Met het hol open,” if you’re familiar with the Dutch version.

As the three of us carefully rode a couple laps, I thought about how to win the race, or actually, how not to lose the race.  The ice was my main concern.  One fall on it could result in a missed podium or worse.  I weighed the risks with USAC cyclocross nationals next weekend, and it was easy to decide that I would not take ANY risks.  Nationals was my main concern.  But how to win?

If we remained together by riding at this pace, then eventually, someone might attack, taking a risk, and maybe causing a slide-out.  Or perhaps the slide out would happen while covering the attack.  I didn’t want to be a part of quick and sudden attacks, nor did I want to attempt to out-sprint a racer on ice, so I decided I wanted to be away off the front, even if it meant riding alone for three laps.  Also, I did not know these guys, but I knew they had fast legs, good skills and crafty tactics.  On the next section of safe ground, I applied high pressure and kept at it for a lap until I had created a gap.  It is hard to ride solo because you might be tempted to ease up on the throttle.  I did my best to gauge the time gap, and I heard someone yell out that I had ten seconds.  I wasn’t too comfortable with that, so I tried to race even faster, except over any section that was covered in ice, and there were plenty!

With one to go, I knew I would win the race, barring any mishaps on the ice.  I managed a careful post-up, but even that made me nervous because I was thinking about not being able to race in Verona because I took my hands off the bars on ice!

Thank you to Chicago Cyclocross Cup, the Indian Lakes Hilton, USAC, ICA, the announcers, all the volunteers, all the clubs, all the hecklers and shouters and to everyone who came out and helped make the 2013 New Year’s Resolution so fun and memorable.  See ya in Wisco!


By Bill Barnes | Oct 28, 2012

Race name: Lowell 50 gravel Road Race
Race date:Saturday, Oct 27, 2012

A few years ago, when I started playing bike racer in my spare time, my typical pre-race prep looked something like this:

Hear about a race.  Register for a race.  Go to a race. 

Finish in the middle or quit because I’m angry I got dropped.

I’m sure somewhere along the line, the sheer amount of times I’ve done it have made me a little better, but one thing I know has helped has been changing my pre-race prep to something like this:

Hear about a race.  Search internet for previous year’s race reports.  Look at the course.  Decide if course is suited for me.  Register regardless.  Plan out attire.  Pre-ride or pre-scout the course.  Race. 

Finish race in the middle, or the front because I felt particularly great that day.  Occasionally get dropped or quit because something broke.

It was with this new and slightly improved strategy that I heard about the Lowell 50 gravel grinder from a teammate, started scouring the internet for blog posts, and read a few.  One theme seemed to be somewhat recurring.  Since this is a mixed mountain bike/road bike/cross bike type of race, mountain bikers have a different take on racing than us roadies do.  I read more than one race report complaining of “skinsuit wearing roadies” showing up to this race, and complaints of wheel sucking and drafting.  So basically, road racing. 

So, I did the only prudent thing I could think of, and showed up with a perfectly clean cross bike that matched my long sleeve skinsuit perfectly.  Our team’s reputation had apparently preceded me, as we overheard someone say “Oh look, xxx is here too.” with some modicum of either respect, annoyance, or worry in their voice, on our way to registration.

I lined up near the middle behind all sorts of racers.  Mountain bikers, road bikers (with 23c tires and 53/11 cranksets), tandems here and there, you name it.  As one big mass start event, I knew I’d have little trouble moving up to the front before I needed to.  At the airhorn’s signaled start, I decided to just get up to the front immediately, which took very little effort at all.  The pavement rollout seemed to be neutral by consensus, if not officially.  By the time we hit turn one I was around 6th wheel or so.  Turn one was a short climb, and right about there, the group started to fracture into the different races within the race.  About a mile later the first real gravel climb of the day came, and knowing that I climb like uh, facebook’s post-IPO stock price, I got in the front to limit the damage.  Turns out I wasn’t really in deep trouble like I would be in a typical road race.  The few folks on road bikes got some separation, and the guys on mountain bikes started fighting their suspensions as they stood up.  We crested the climb and the terrain turned back into pavement.  This was dangerous as the smooth tire crowd ahead had about three seconds at this point.  At this point I was realizing that I’d brought a knife to a gun fight, and what I thought was going to be gravel was really just very, very hard packed dirt.  Absolutely nothing you couldn’t manage on a road bike.  Note to self for next year.

I decided that letting the road bike group get away was a bad idea and decided to bridge up to them.  This was probably the biggest effort I put in in the entire race, and it was no more than 15 minutes in at this point.  I started to doubt my ability to hang with this group for the rest of it.  Regardless, I made it up, and took a solid group of 10 or 15 guys on various bikes with me in the effort.  One of the smooth-tires attacked again within seconds, and I fell back to 5th wheel or so to hope someone else would chase.  They did, and we let him dangle out there for probably 5 miles or so.  At this point I look back and realize there’s only about 25 or so folks left in the group, so I know I’m in the group that’s going to finish in front.  This group is too big to fail.  I’m in a good place.

Attacks happen from this point here and there, but nothing is really allowed to get away again after the first smooth-tire guy stayed off for so long.  I’m really happy that the group I’m in all seem to be very good riders, even the few mountain bikes that have made it with the mostly cross-bike crowd we’re in ride like they know what they’re doing.  I start to make talk where I can, asking ages, starting to try to decide who’s a threat and who’s not.  The overall finish is a possibility, but I know I can’t outsprint the smooth tire guys without a lot of luck (the finish is long and on pavement), so I’m aiming for age group victory at this point.  As we got closer to the finish, things heated up a lot.  Several times I was in my max gear of 46/11, spinning out on tailwinds and slightly downhill spots.  Kudos to anyone on a mountain bike who managed to stay at this point.

We made the final transition to pavement and the all-in race finishing moves started.  None but one looked very dangerous to me, but the one that did I got blocked from following.  So much for the overall with 500 meters to go.  I looked around and realized I could probably salvage a top 5 or so, and got on a good wheel into the finish.  A guy I would later find out was my only 30+ competitor left at the finish.  He seemed to blow up right before the line and I came around him with inches to spare and did a textbook bike throw to pip him at the line. 

After the race, chip timing would show him having beaten me, and gotten second.  I thought this was a pretty good result, and felt good about the day.  The announcer mentioned something about reviewing the video, but I wasn’t sure it applied to me or not.  Turns out it did, and as the race is scored on wheels, not chips, I barely edged out my competitor there for first.  It was a good hour or so before podium ceremonies, and 3rd place had gone home, but I knew I had one thing to do before I left: 

Get a picture of a skinsuit wearing roadie on the top step of the podium.

In Pursuit of an Olympian

By Liam Donoghue | Oct 12, 2012

Race name: Elite Track Nationals Individual Pursuit
Race date:Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

The first year I went to Elite Track Nationals, it was purely for the experience, and never once did I consider results an important component to the trip. I entered the omnium (six events over two days, decathlon-style), as well as all the individual endurance events, and pretty well got destroyed in them all. This was 2010. I didn’t even qualify for either the points or scratch race final. I was happy just to get some national-level races under my belt and see how far I still needed to go in both fitness and tactics.

2011 was a small improvement; I qualified for both the scratch and points race finals, where I took 11th in both. I also did the individual pursuit, and got 11th. Consistency, I guess. But saying definitively that I was the 11th-best endurance track racer in the country left a sour taste in my mouth, because I thought surely I was in the top 10.

They say the third time’s a charm, so I ate a bunch of Mallow Oats (generic knockoff of Lucky Charms) in the weeks leading up to this year’s race, just to be safe.

I came in with what could easily be considered lofty goals: Win a national championship by beating everyone in the points race, and get 2nd to Bobby Lea in the pursuit. A silver in that event, I said to several people, would be my equivalent of the gold medal, since Bobby is currently putting down times right around 4:30. No one but Taylor Phinney has gone faster in the last six years.

So there I was, Thursday morning, warming up for my first event, the pursuit qualifier. The top 4 move on to the finals, where 3rd place races 4th for the bronze medal and 1st goes against 2nd for the gold/silver. I wanted to qualify for the finals in the individual pursuit, but secretly wouldn’t have been happy with 4th or 3rd. I wanted to know what it felt like to lose to an Olympian. I’d somehow convinced myself over the preceding couple months that this was a legitimate goal.

The pursuit is a straightforward event. Sixteen laps of the 250-meter track from a standing start, with one guy starting from each straightaway. Hence the name: you’re chasing that other guy. Nothing to it but getting out of the gate, riding really fast and pacing oneself. The pacing ultimately comes down to sticking to a set schedule, and the schedule can be estimated by previous times over 4km, as well as known five-minute power. The previous month I had put down my personal best at Omnium Nationals in Rock Hill, SC, with a 4:46. I can easily shave a few seconds off that, I told myself.

That time in Rock Hill was good enough to make them seed me 4th in the qualifiers, which means nothing, really, except that I raced in the penultimate heat, and was able to see the times of everyone who went before me. The idea is that the people in charge roughly estimate who has the best chance of putting down the fastest times, based on previous national-level events, so that the times get progressively faster until the last guy, who’s the previous year’s national champ. The two guys to go after me were Bobby Lea, who would undoubtedly go faster than I, and Dan Holt, whom I beat by an insurmountable margin of 13 seconds at Rock Hill.

All I had to do was beat everyone who went before me, as well as Zack Noonan, the guy starting on the opposite straightaway in my heat. Noonan was one of the ten dudes who beat me last year.

When it’s your turn to go, they place your bike into the starting gate, and once you climb onto it, the countdown begins. Fifty seconds to get inside your own head just a little bit more than you already have for the past few weeks or months or years. Not that many people showed up to spectate at 8am on a Thursday, but the whole place gets fairly quiet, and you’re able to hear your own thoughts. Jobs are forgotten, girls no longer matter, and you can almost taste the pain you’re about to inflict upon yourself. A metallic taste, like swallowing a pill.

The pursuit is straightforward, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to master. Every velodrome is different, so a 4:46 at one place may correspond to a 4:43 at another, because of wind conditions, humidity, whether the surface is wood vs. concrete, etc. The only constant from one effort to the next is how much power you’re applying to the pedals.

Chris Hoy talked about how at the 2008 Olympics, he sat and watched all the guys go before him in the Kilo, and he saw guys set lightning-fast time after lightning-fast time. It didn’t phase him. Not even when, if I recall correctly, Theo Bos put down a new Kilo world record. Hoy just kept going through his warm-up routine, thinking, Well OK, now I just have to go faster than that. Textbook confidence.

Fast, German, recently naturalized U.S citizen and all-around nice guy Stefan Rothe was in the heat previous to mine, so as I sat in the chair trackside waiting my turn to ride, I watched him put down a blistering 4:43. The new fastest time. Dave saw me watching the scoreboard and tried to divert my attention, tried to keep me focused on my ride, because he knew what time I was aiming for. But he didn’t realize I needed to look at the scoreboard, needed to see Stefan’s fast time, because this piece of information changed everything: I still knew I’d set the second-fastest time and get to race Bobby Lea in the finals, but in setting my own schedule at 4:43, I’d sold myself short. With my form, I now knew I could possibly go sub-4:40. Only question is: would Noonan do the same?

Once the race started, I knew I was flying. I was going one- to three-tenths of a second faster than my schedule every lap, and at one point even held back a bit for fear of blowing up and losing time at the end. Quick mental calculations done while on the absolute verge of complete body shutdown doesn’t always yield calculator-accurate results, but I knew I was going as fast as I needed to in order to set the new fastest time. Every lap was so much faster than I’d anticipated. Dave was yelling splits for me, and I could sense his giddiness at how fast I was going. That was a really cool feeling, in a race that’s normally as eerily solo as can be, to hear my teammate, the guy who’s been perhaps the most instrumental in my budding cycling career, feeling the speed and feeding on the power. I quickly got Noonan in my sights. He was never in fear of being caught, but I knew I didn’t have to worry about him beating me. The laps counted down, and I ended up saving way too much for the final couple laps. Whoops. I stopped the clock, now four kilometers after takeoff, and and saw the scoreboard read 4:40 and change. I had beaten Stefan and set the new fastest time.

Bobby would beat my time in the next heat, I knew, but I had gotten second place. I’d race an Olympian later that night in the gold medal final, lose to him, and win myself a silver medal.

But because just losing to an Olympian isn’t quite cool enough on its own, I decided, with the help of Randy, to try to put a good scare into Lea. In the gold medal final, I went out on his schedule, set on both making him nervous when he realized after 1.5km that he was level with me, and also making sure to force him to race all 4km to earn his gold medal. I promised myself I would not get lapped.

Tom was calling splits, and also giving me a hand signal each lap to tell me whether I was up, down, or level with the olympian. For the first three laps, we were level. After the fourth lap, I was ahead. Ha! For a split-second, I told myself it was possible to beat him, to win gold. Then the split-second ended, and my legs laughed maniacally at my silly wishful thinking. We were level for a couple laps after that, but then my lap times plummeted, and the second half of the race hurt. In the final kilometer, with the race already well-decided (and not in my favor), I could sense Bobby was on the same straightaway, mere feet behind me. I was determined not to get lapped. I think I felt his breath on me during the final lap, when I just barely squeaked away from him as he crossed his finish line. A half-lap later and I crossed my finish, somehow putting down a 4:39 despite the fact that I felt like I’d never ridden a bike slower for the final 2km. New PR, and mission accomplished.

A silver medal in the first event of the weekend, only losing to a now-13-time elite national champion.

In other words: complete success.

No Room for Mistakes

By Heidi Sarna | Sep 23, 2012

Race name: 2012 Duathlon Elite World Championship
Race date:Saturday, Sep 22, 2012

The 2012 Duathlon National Team leaves Nancy, France with unfinished business.

Our race strategy was to send one runner out with the main run group and have the rest of the team stay within sight, and group up immediately on the bike to work together.  We executed our team strategy to the best of our ability, but we didn’t have time for any mistakes.  The bike course was only 4.5K per lap and the lead pack was gaining speed as we fought to stay within the lap-out distance. We were organized and taking the technical turns aggressively, but crash and then a flat took us out of the groove.  With only 2 laps to go, we were left with only one US contender.

Day two gave us the opportunity to redeem ourselves with the mixed relay, two men and two women from each country racing on a sprint course.  I was selected as the third leg.  We decided to put our fastest runner first, but she had to pull out due to an injury, so our team was unable to continue.

Thank you for your support!  I’m looking forward to some fall riding.

Them’s the brakes

By Luke Seemann | Sep 17, 2012

Race name: Jackson Park Cyclocross
Race date:Sunday, Sep 16, 2012

I had tempered expectations heading into the first Chicago Cyclocross Cup of the year. My fitness wasn’t where it had been in previous years, there were many strong and skilled riders in my field, and the course, ingeniously designed as it was, was one that would shine a klieg light on my weaknesses (read as: steering, turning and handling). Mostly I just wanted to finish in the top eight, as that would guarantee a front-row call-up in the next race and hopefully beyond.

Fortunately I had a new set of Psimet wheels beneath me. This would be the first time racing with tubulars of my own. Turns that on clinchers I would take slowly and gingerly I could now bomb like a sweeping turn in a criterium: fast and worry-free.

Before the race I studied the starting chute. There were quite a few holes I knew I’d want to avoid. It looked like the best line would be on the far left along the fencing.

I lined up next to top-seed John Gatto, who shrewedly lined up on the far left. Behind him was Eric Drummer, who appeared to have also scouted out the fast line up the left.

Unlike me, Drummer has a great start, and before I’d even gotten on top of my gear he sped by. But he was so far ahead of the rider behind him that I could slip into his draft, thus getting a free ride and avoiding the danger spots en route to the hole shot, where I breathed a sigh of relief: I was still with the leaders and had not lost much ground in the start’s argy-barginess.

A half lap later I took inventory. A group of about 10 had made a clear separation from the back. Teammate Chris St. Peter was hanging on at the pack. This was perfect. If I could just hang on to this group, I had a good shot at my goal.

I started taking aggressive lines in the corners to pass people. The Psimet wheels performed admirably, letting me take turns I wouldn’t have ever tried before. By the time we hit the U-Turns for the second time I was in second place, just behind Gatto. Now my eyes were starting to get big—could I win this race?

Just then I was brought back to earth—literally. On the final U-Turn I hit a hidden sprinkler head and wiped out. I got up quickly but now I was chasing.

A lap later I made contact with a chase group of four. I recovered for a bit, then attacked as we hit the start/finish. These straightaways are my strength, and in the distance I could see Gatto and Drummer, now the race’s sole leaders, starting to play some cat-and-mouse. I put my head down and caught up to them by the time we hit the barriers.

It would be the three of us for the rest of the race, closely tailed and occasionally joined by Mike Heagney, one of the area’s strongest masters riders. We each took turns leading, but it was clear we were all holding something back and sizing one another up, working just hard enough to keep any chasers at bay.

With two to go I put in a few attacks in the straightaways, and then as we hit the start/finish for the last time I put everything I had left into one final dig. I had a good lead heading down the starting chute. I was hoping that Drummer and Gatto would start battling each other instead of chasing, but they were on my tail by the time we hit the double barriers. The effort had drained me. In the U-turns that followed, they took advantage of my exhaustion and raised the tempo enough to drop me.

But I still had a podium finish in hand—or so I thought. On the final barrier, Heagney came from nowhere to pass me, then took a brave line through the trees. For a moment I was certain he was going to go straight into a giant tree, and when I, following him closely, clipped my shoulder on said tree’s trunk, it was game over for me. I wouldn’t get within 30 meters of him again and would have to settle for fourth.

It was hard not to think of what could have been—a podium, or maybe even a win—but it easily could have been a lot worse. And now I can look forward to a prime starting position in two weeks in Dekalb.

I had no business in this race, but I needed to build up my fitness, so I doubled up. Somehow I was the eighth seed in this race, giving me the final call-up in the front row, but that meant the farthest to the right, where the turf was bumpiest. I immediately considered lining up in the second row to have the better line, but it was already two late.

My start wasn’t terrible, but just as I got up to top speed, the rider in front of me hit a bump and wiped out. I T-boned him, hitting the ground hard and then getting run into by at least one other rider.

After the scrum cleared out, I inspected the bike. The handlebars were about 20 degrees off-center and refused to budge, the chain had dropped, and, most serious, the rear brake cable had snapped.

An official was stationed there and asked if I was going to drop out. I shrugged. I certainly couldn’t ride, but I might as well run for a lap and put on a good show. Onto my shoulder the bike went and I proceeded down the course.

At the hole shot a spectator asked what had happened and I explained the broken brake cable.

“What do you need brakes for?”

She was right. What did I need brakes for?

I stopped to remove what was left of the brake caliber, remounted the chain and started pedaling again. Except for the handlebars, everything worked fine. Might was well get a workout in. That was what I was there for anyhow, right?

And it turned out to be a perfect drill. What better way to practice not braking in turns? An hour later my technique had improved greatly. Thanks to my new wheels and halving my braking power, I was darn near fearless.

And despite my much-delayed start, I didn’t even come in last!

A Day in Yellow

By Jake Buescher | Aug 9, 2012

Race name: Tour of the Valley
Race date:Friday, Jul 13, 2012

I decided to make the trek out to Youngstown, OH for an omnium race called the Tour of the Valley July 13-15 chasing upgrade points.  I was trying to secure the majority of the points through a high GC placing, but was also really gunning for the hilly road race.  The opening time trial also suited my abilities—short and flat.  I was racing along side Mr. Andy Anderson, a native to the area who grew up only about an hour south of Youngstown.  My dad made the trip with me too. 

We left on the Thursday before the Friday night TT to get all the driving done in one day and have a day to relax before the prologue.  I ended up getting some cassettes swapped around and a wheel true from a shop in Youngstown (Cycle Sales Co.) who did all the work on the house!  Was a great first impression of Ohio never having been before the race.

Time Trial

We got to the TT course and I was able to scout it out with Andy before hand.  Besides the course being flat and mainly covered by overhanging trees, the only technical part was a 120° turn.  It was an out-and-back “J” looking course, so we’d hit that sharp turn twice. 

I got a great warm up in—was drenched in sweat and slobber before the start.  That’s how you’re supposed to get warmed up for a short TT, right?? I got my countdown and dropped out of the start house full steam.  I navigated the hairpin the first time with ease.  I passed my 30-second man at the turn around which definitely gave me a mental boost.  Coming up to the hairpin with about a mile and a half to go, I even passed Andy—my two-minute man.  I though either I was killing it, Andy was having a bad day, or a combination of the two.  I skirted around Andy, took the turn way too gingerly, and cooked it for the last mile with a nice little tailwind.

I hit the line and just collapsed on my bike.  It was one of those feelings where shifting into your granny gear takes all the effort you have.  Subsequently turning over the easiest gear on my bike took about two or three minutes for me to accomplish.  I probably coasted for a half mile.

I saw Andy and we both said something like “Sdsfa jklasdfj seein’ stars man asfjkaieqifj”.  I ended up getting on my trainer and spinning out all the gunk while my dad, Andy, and I discussed.  I had timed myself at 19:27 for the 8.88 miles and my dad said he didn’t see anyone close to finishing 30 seconds behind me.  So, as of then, I figured I had bested a third of the field or so.  I was thinking top 5 would be satisfactory, but a win would be absolutely amazing.

We waited for results for about an hour.  When they came out I had been timed at 19:35 and sat 6th.  Whaaaaaat?  Protest time.  It turned out they mistimed me, and the top two guys had completely incorrect times.  I ended up getting slotted into 4th after everything was said and done.  I was happy, but the 4th place was bittersweet as 3rd beat me by one second and 2nd beat me by two seconds.  I had fourteen omnium points, some cash, and sat nine points off the lead after stage one.

Road Race

The road race was right up my alley—two laps of a 27-mile loop and 3300 feet of short, pitchy climb after climb.  The yellow jersey sat on the shoulders of someone from a team in New York.  They had five guys in the race including the yellow jersey and were the most stacked team in the omnium.  There was a team GC competition that they ended up winning.  Andy and I couldn’t compete because we were one teammate short!

The yellow jersey squad lined their men up at the front of the start line.  I sat in the second row and was just focused on the task at hand—a top five.  I looked at the weekend like this:  consistency, consistency, and more consistency.  Most likely three top fives in a row would win the omnium with how the points system was set up.  I know I can fare well in a bunch sprint.  I might not have the Cavendish kick to oust the field by 10 bike lengths, but I can manage a top five in a road race field sprint for sure.  So, that was the plan.  I wasn’t going to try a ‘one-or-none’ move.  Any placing outside the top 6 or 7 meant the yellow jersey was probably out of reach.

The race started off somewhat oddly.  TBS (the New York team in yellow) launched a solo attack at mile two or something crazy.  I tried to figure out why.  With five guys in the race, that was a very expensive bullet to launch.  I can see doing something like with a full squad of eight or so, but it seemed like a waste of a resource for them.  He ended up getting gobbled up right at the start of the ten-mile kicker section anyways.

The climbs were great.  You’d put in a 3-4 minute tough effort, get a one minute breather descending at 40mph+, then repeat. We got through the first lap all together with a few getting shelled off the back.

To try and paint a visual, the second lap went a little something like this.  If you can imagine the peloton as a fisherman and the attempts at breakaways as fish, I was the baited hook.  With so much team representation, no one was willing to chase down attacks because every forming breakaway would have a guy from teams at the front in it.  I had to start taking things into my own hands and try to keep the peloton together.  After all, I was looking for this to end in a sprint.  Bridge efforts would usually only be a minute or so and I always seemed to find the pack closing down on the break a minute or so after I had bridged.  This process repeated three or four times: two or three guys would launch, I would wait for an ascent to make a move, and then I would bridge.

We got through the kicker section all together again.  With about four miles of flats left, I felt great.  There was an antsy rider who kept going for solo shots over and over again.  They were usually easy to counter as myself and two or three other guys would take turns chasing him down until he tired out.  This repeated until about a mile to go.  All of a sudden, the pace just came to a stand still.  Everyone at the front didn’t want to be there that early so we lulled to about 17-18 mph.

As we were rolling along at a crawling pace, the 1k sign pops up and someone dropped the hammer.  All of a sudden we were racing again 30mph+ barreling into an open course finish.  When the pace lit up, I was probably a half second slower to react than I should have been.  I wound up sitting at about 15th wheel or so boxed in on the far right of the road.  I picked a super tight line and got around a slower rider in front of me by darting around the right of him just before the barriers started at the 200m sign.

The rest of the sprint, if you can call it that, was like a game of leapfrog.  The pack never got strung out and it was more of a positioning battle rather than actual leg strength.  It wasn’t until about 50m to go that I actually looked up to see enough room in front of me to get into the top five.  I went from probably 8th or 9th to finishing 4th in that last 50 meters, finally seeing some daylight in front of me.

Whatever.  Not ideal, but I was pretty sure that I was going to be in yellow with back-to-back 4th places.  The yellow jersey was nowhere to be seen at the finish and guys I had marked in 2nd and 3rd were nowhere as well.  After about an hour wait for results again, it was official: I was sitting in the GC lead by four points and was to wear the leader’s yellow jersey for the criterium in downtown Youngstown the following day.

It was a pretty surreal moment.  I hadn’t been awarded a jersey for anything until then.  I had came so close in a lot of omnium competition but never actually got a hold of the coveted leader’s jersey.


The criterium course was about as ideal as I could ask for.  Four corners, a gradual downhill section, and a significant pitchy ascent before the finish line was appealing to me.  The gradient on the climb had to be 10%+, but it was only 30 meters long at most.

Things started out hot and I had a similar game plan to the road race—chase down attacks, bring it together, top five in the sprint, GC win!  If I were to make any attacks, they would be chased down immediately because the GC race was so tight.

So, that’s how it played out.  I chased down countless attack after attack, always advanced my position on the climb, and stayed in the top ten spots—out of trouble but not putting in a lot of unnecessary work at the front.  Everything was going according to plan until about seven laps to go and the sky let loose with a torrential downpour.

I was a little nervous having been in a few crashes already this season, but everyone seemed to be navigating the slippery downhill left very cautiously.  There was a lot of pack communication, no one was tacking dodgy lines, and everything was shaping up well.  Free laps ended at three to go.  I made note of this at I saw “4” on the lap counter coming through start/finish.

We took the downhill left and BOOM; the rider two spots in front of me hit the deck.  The rider in front of me tried to keep a steady line and veered right.  I locked up my brakes, ended up sliding out, and came down on my right side with force.  I went from cloud nine, racing in sunshine wearing the yellow jersey, to wet, bloody, and on the ground.

I got up and winced.  My whole right side was stiff and sore as could be.  I picked my bike up and had to just drape my head and assess whether I was in the right condition to finish the race.  Then it dawned on me—I still had a free lap!!  At that moment, the pain went away.  I fixed my front brake which had gotten knocked around, opened up both calipers all the way assuming my wheels might be a tad out of true, and hopped on.  OWWWW.  Every pedal rev was a decent effort with my right leg.

I made sure shifting was all right and sure enough, it wasn’t.  I couldn’t shift into anything left of the middle of the cassette without hearing a tink-tink-tink of the rear derailleur skimming my rear spokes.  Looking down, it seemed that the rear hanger had gotten bent pretty well to the left.  Oh well, looked like it was going to be a mash the rest of the race.

I was given first position in the pit for getting pushed back into the race—perks of the yellow I guess.  Everything for the next three laps was pretty crummy.  Every time I hit the climb I would be over geared and hurting pretty bad.  On top of everything, I had this mental block with the downhill left where I had crashed.  I took it so easily to avoid wrecking a second time that I might have ruined my chances at a good placing.

I ended up hitting the final climb at about 70 rpm, not gaining any ground and not losing any.  I rolled across the line in 10th and just dropped my head.  There was no way I was keeping yellow with only two omnium points gained in the crit.  I was both mentally and physically toasted. 

Sure enough, I lost the yellow jersey to a kid who got 2nd in the TT and won the crit.  Another rider who was sitting in second before the crit stayed where he was and I was slotted into 3rd on the GC.  What can ya do?  I was definitely bummed, but made sure to wear that yellow jersey until I was certain I had lost it.  I hobbled around to the medical tent, was given some Advil by a random woman, threw on my XXX jersey for podium pics, and got engaged in several conversations with whoever wanted to throw in their two cents.  I’ve learned that if you show up to a race in a leaders jersey, you’re going to make some new friends.

Even though I lost the yellow, I had gained 10 more upgrade points through the road race and GC placing.  I was 1 point short of my upgrade.  I contemplated racing the next weekend, but could barely get on the bike with my right hip deeply bruised.  I decided to put in the upgrade request and hope that my TT results from the past year would suffice for being one point shy.  They did and I about screamed like a little girl when I saw the green checkmark on USA Cycling denoting an approved request. 

If I had a nickel for every times I said “what if ________” after the weekend, I’d have a few quarters or something.  I tried not imagining what could have been, but it was hard keeping my mind off how close I truly came to a GC win.  What if I had navigated that corner a little better in the TT and made up those two seconds?  What if I had reacted a little quicker in the road race and won the whole thing?  What if it hadn’t started raining during the crit?  What if I didn’t crash?  I could ponder these scenarios forever, but it didn’t matter anymore.  My end goal for the season was an upgrade and I had achieved that.

All in all, this was my best result so far for a full weekend of racing.  I remained relatively consistent despite a heartbreaking final stage.  I really owe a huge thanks to Andy and his family.  Andy ended up dropping from the crit and every time I hit the climb during the race I heard his whole family screaming my name.  It definitely kept me motivated.  Most of all, a huge thanks goes out to my dad.  He’s been with me since my first triathlon in ’09 and it was great for him to be there and see me cap off my time as a cat 3 racer.

Next race up: Gateway Cup.  This should be fun.

Back to the third grade

By David Heckelsmiller | Aug 5, 2012

Race name: Galena GOATS Ride
Race date:Sunday, Aug 5, 2012

Since I began cycling competitively several years ago, I have had a great many memorable experiences while out riding. In many cases, such anecdotes have arisen from the heat of racing. However, from time to time, there is a training ride that is especially worthy of note. It is this latter event that has driven me to compose a race report today.

This morning, I had an opportunity to visit Galena. The circumstances that motivated me to make this visit are inconsequential, but suffice it to say that the primary reason I hit the road this morning at 4am was not to go riding, although that definitely was a consideration.

At this point, the GOATS (Go Out and Tour Somewhere, cycling club of Galena come into the picture. Each Sunday, they mass somewhere in the vicinity of the town that formerly served as the residence of Ulysses S. Grant around 8am and embark on a ride to parts unknown. Quite honestly, the destination is inconsequential, because regardless of the direction- North, South, East, or West- one is assured to encounter hills, cows, corn, and breathtaking pastoral awesomeness. This morning, I had the pleasure of joining them for this ride. It was terrific in every aspect- the route, the scenery, the weather, and the company.

However, these aspects are characteristic of a great many rides, and alone do not suffice to distinguish this particular experience from the rest. When I left home this morning, in my haste and half awaken stupor, I brought all the essentials except for one crucial element: my pedals, which were attached to my TT set-up from the Bryce Master 19k the day previous. Of course, despite the sneaking suspicion I had forgotten something from the get-go, I did not realize this critical error until just past Rockford.

It is with this that I arrive at both the solution to my dilemma and the meaning of the title of this report, “Back to the Third Grade.” While still in transit (7am), I touched bases with Duff Stewart, a key figure in the GOATS, native of Galena, and integral member of our Tour of Galena team. By 7:30, after calling God knows how many people, he had found a pair of pedals.  However, instead of typical Shimano SPD-SLs, these were your typical clip-less, basket-less stock pedals- something I was far more accustomed to in Elementary School. Suffice it to say they worked- sans upstroke- and in spite of the SPD-SL cleats that were still affixed to my shoes, and a great time was had by all. Thank you Duff and thank you GOATS. I look forward to riding with you again- and with the right pedals.

Now, off to Germany. Yee-haw.

Mt. Bachelor

By William Pankonin | Jul 27, 2012

Race name: Cascade Cycling Classic
Race date:Saturday, Jul 21, 2012

I flew to Oregon to race the Cascade Cycling Classic.  For the U.S. professional, the event in and around Bend is arguably one of our country’s most prestigious events.  For the amateur, it is –well, really hard. For a guy from Flatsville Illinois, it is –well, even more hard.  The first stage, the road race, consisted of one seventy mile loop around the Bachelor Mountain ski resort at about 6100 feet above sea level.  To begin the race, we would descend approximately 2000 feet, race over a few elevated bumps on the valley floor, and then climb back up the mountain’s base for a total race elevation of roughly 3300 feet.  Randy, Taylor and I pre-rode the last ten up-hill miles of the course the day before, and we discovered its steepest pitches to be around seven to nine percent.  Most of the climb, however, was a gradual four to six percent grades, not exactly the best type of climb for me.  I would have preferred something to force people into the small ring for the entire ten miles.  Snow fell from a patchy blue sky as we prepared to pre-ride, and I immediately wished I had warmer clothes for our initial descent.  The ride would be ten miles down and ten back up.  The landscape offered views of snow-capped mountain peaks, crystal blue lakes, lush green forests and lots of large deer with massive antlers.  After we turned around midway into our reconnaissance ride, our hopes of warming up wile climbing dissipated as an ominous cloud let pea-size hail fall all over the road and onto us.  Randy and Taylor jumped into the van before the worst of the squall, but I began to enjoy the climb so pedaled on.  Fifteen minutes later, I was off the road taking shelter under a rock overhang.  The van came along and I scrambled in.

110 guys queued to start; impressive as the Cascade amateur events are not held under a USAC permit and only organized by the Oregon Bike Racing Association.  I felt like I had rolled into another dimension here on Mt. Bachelor, and with all the racers coming from Colorado, Idaho, California and Utah, it didn’t take me long to convince myself that these guys would be “Forte.”  The last time I had climbed anything over 100 feet, or anything of significance, was this past June at the Tour of Galena, which was also before a stuff-my-face-with-French-pastries trip to Paris with my wife.  I had one block of training in my legs since Paris, and now I could only hope that it would be enough because the whistle just blew.  We plummeted down off the base of the mountain.

Coach Randy told me to make sure I was at the front fifteen miles in, where the road leveled off, turned, and then narrowed.  As we neared 50 mph through the twists and turns, I waited for a moment where I could complete my first task.  The pack was fluid and comfy, even as cross winds hit all the deep dish wheels.  While looking up into the pack, I could see racers’ elbows flap with precision adjustments according to how the wind blew at the bikes.  The peloton sailed swiftly down the mountain, the wind roaring, wheels droning in the background, eagles watching from above.

As riders echeloned to the left, I used the right side to position myself within the top fifteen.  The road turned and narrowed as we funneled in and proceeded deeper into the forest.  The pace was high, but not high enough to dissuade attacks.  As individuals attempted these, one and then two riders would always immediately grab hold, with more guys grabbing hold of them so that eventually the front of the race resembled a human tow rope pulling a mess of men and carbon.  For roughly 20 miles this happened with me sitting often in the top ten positions.  On occasion, I was the third or fourth rider to follow attacks.  It’s definitely more efficient to sit in the pack while the attack game is played, but then if an attack sticks, and racers break away, you have less control over the race’s outcome.  In the event of a break getting away, I don’t enjoy being in the pack waiting for teams to chase, if they chase, and nor do I like being one of the racers to organize the chase without teammates.  In any case, my actions were such that if a break occurred, I would make sure I got involved sooner before later, and as an aggressor, not the chaser.  As the race wore on, we encountered a few hills, but nothing that required anyone to expend lots of energy.  I remained alert and rode with restrained aggression, until after we approached the last right hand turn of the race course, where four racers did manage to put a sizable gap on the bunch, which is also evidence to show that my nose was not out in the wind for too long of periods.  (As further evidence, and as I attempt to convince myself that I was racing smart, another small group had snuck away in front of them, unbeknownst to me.)  Lead group; chase one; peloton.

The bunch turned right and continued down a long stretch of flat, straight highway, and we could see the little group ahead drift further and further away, so that eventually, the lead vehicle swung left to allow them to pass, and then floated back into the right lane, dropping a curtain and stopping any visual contact.  I was the third wheel at the moment, and was becoming increasingly nervous.  I looked around as folks ate and drank.  I looked behind and ninety or so mirrored lenses stared back.  Presently, I did not have an awareness of my feelings, but I missed my teammates.  I missed having someone there to tell me to relax and not worry, to come back into the fold.  The peloton sat up and the pace slowed.  I had instinctively moved into first position, but seemingly not by much intentional effort; am I in control? Without increasing too much power, I noticed I began to float off.  First it was a bike length, then five meters, then ten.  I looked back and without much effort, had gained twenty meters on the bunch, which meant the front of the group was not concerned about my move at the moment.  They were currently not concerned with the break, and also not concerned with anyone who might feel obliged to bridge the gap.  I got out of the saddle and pushed down the throttle.  Lead: chase one, me, peloton.

As my distance between them grew, so grew the distance between the lead car and pack as it remained in front of me.  Also, like before, as I reached the appropriate distance away from the group, the car swung left to allow me to pass, and then ducked in behind me.  I liked this as I was now out of view.  The car would now slow and drift back to just in front of the group.  The group could now no longer keep track with certainty my advantage; I could once again just make out the group of four.  I pedaled harder.  Another bit of information I did not know at the moment, was that there were two lead cars for our race, and one of them held its position at the very front of the race, in front of the true race leaders.  As I drove on, I occasionally looked back, monitoring how the vehicle became smaller and smaller, and also, how another rider had flown the coup just as I had done.  I eased up slightly and after a few minutes was joined by another racer.  We traded pulls, but I did most of the work by pulling longer and harder.  One time he slipped off the back of my wheel.  The group in front was now near, but the road also began to twist slightly.  The minutes passed and when I looked back again, I was surprised to see yet another group of four coming on.  Lead group: chase one: chase two: peloton. 

I had been out for ten miles now and was grateful for the extra help upon their arrival, even though it meant pedaling hard and holding intense concentration.  The few times I glanced over my shoulder, I could not see the lead car or the group.  The break in front of us was nearer and it was no longer a matter of “if” but when.  We caught the break, and I was informed of the other break up the road, the lead.  We organized and rode well together.  I never missed a pull, and each pull was as strong if not stronger than the others.  There were eight or nine of us, but some riders did not do their share of work.  The road began to undulate, reminding us that before the race ended, we would have to climb over 2000 feet within ten miles.  I was thrilled.  Focused on the job at hand, I forgot about the pack and the first break.  Being a part of the break gave me an independent and dark type of faith in our work and its results, and I willingly experienced the pain with indescribable pleasure.  I remembered reading once somewhere that the bike racer must be categorized in one of two ways: as one who most enjoys making others suffer, or as one who most enjoys hurting himself.  We would arrive at the feed zone soon.  For the past sixteen miles, my heart rate had averaged 180 beat per minute –very deep into my threshold.  Soon after the feed, we would be on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor, where I would need to continue this same effort, and even go deeper.  To date, my longest climbing effort had been one hour averaging the same heart rate.  Today’s race, upon a hypothetical and successful completion, would be more than twice those efforts.

Randy’s brother Dean, and Dean’s wife Ginger were waiting for me off the side of the road with water bottles.  After the feed, we drilled it up an incline.  186 bpm.  We went single file and I slipped back after a pull.  In two miles, we would begin the real climb.  One of our allies attacked us, but presently I’m not sure why.  We stretched out but still held together.  Then another attack; I was delirious and off the back.  I tried to reattach –out of the saddle, mouth gaping wide, legs filled with crud.  They were looking back, as if assessing whether or not I had been dropped.  I didn’t understand.  I was confused.  These moves were our last moments of breath –our death throes.  They didn’t care about me, they cared about the tsunami behind them; the storm known as the peloton, ready to sweep us aside, wiping the road clean of trouble.  Lead group: peloton.

I knew to sit in and get ready to climb.  I was in the middle of the front of the bunch.  I needed to switch gears because the one I was in was too hard.  After switching, my cadence went too high and I lost speed, slipping back in the bunch.  I shifted back down, but was not able to maintain speed.  I lost more places.  I did this gear dance once again, all the while losing places.  We were now officially climbing; it was time to race.  Panic filled me as if I were having a nightmare; it’s that one where you try to run from evil but keep falling down.  I tried to stay in the group but could not.  I was slowly dying.  When I looked back, I found myself with the pieces of other shattered racers.  I saw the long team vehicle caravan; I looked down at my bottles and shoes.  I looked at my cog and chain.  The sun was out, and the pines were gorgeous.  I heard the wind whisper threw them.  Complete beauty.  I recognized where we rode yesterday on our recon ride.  They left me.  I was hyper-sensitive to this real reality, but I had no more panic, no more alarm bells.  There were no back-up plans while in this deep.  I had been under too long and was in need of breath.  I breathed.

There’s always next year

By Ben OMalley | Jul 17, 2012

Race name: Maple Hill RR
Race date:Sunday, Jul 15, 2012

My season started with two podiums on my first night of racing at Gapers and killer form from SLO. Wow, this was going to be easier than I expected. Well, I never did reach the podium again this season, but was hoping for one more chance this year at The Maple Hill RR.

The start finish was only 10 miles away from my Grandparent’s house and my whole family planned on watching the last few laps. I couldn’t disappoint. No butterflies, no nerves, fresh legs. I was there to get the job done.

The course consisted of a few moderate inclines but a 300 meter drag to the finish, totaling in 52 miles of racing. A few riders attacked and stayed off, but I knew that the race would end in a sprint. Two Michigan teams started fighting for position at the front with about 10 miles to go and reeled in all the late attacks. I found the sprinter of one of the teams, and was on his wheel with 4 to go. As I sat on the rider who would soon end up second place, another rider suddenly swung left and put the rear of his bike into my front wheel. I was hoping to contest the sprint and put on a show in front of my family. I now sat on the side of the road with a damaged bike and bloody body. I was pissed off at everyone and rode the last 4 miles contemplating my entire season and this race. I ended up finishing in front of my worried family and paranoid grandma. Things happen but this was a bummer. 

I have now unofficially ended my racing season and am looking forward to team/group rides, state tt and embarrassing anybody who will be wearing a team sky kit in the next few weeks. Like myself and other cubs fans, There’s always next year.

Welcome Back Rogers

By Jared Rogers | Jul 1, 2012

Race name: Tour De Villas 30+
Race date:Saturday, Jul 28, 2012

Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out. Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about.

Well the names have all changed since you hung around, But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.

Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya) Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)….

9 months since my last crit and I’m finally back. Kinda feels like coming back to school after a long summer break.  First day and I’ve got 8 periods in the Tour De Villas 30 plus? Andy, Rudy and Tom were all in school as well.  Let’s do it!

1st Period – History
What do you get when you have 4 teamates and a bunch of solo riders? A slow race!  How do you combat that? Line up the train at the front. How do you break spirits? Jared gets on the front and drives the pace.

2nd Period – Gym
Field flies by and xXx goes back to work. Rudy has been riding with us at the track and is not shy about doing work.  He showed that here as he tried to keep the pace up and make others work.  Tom also did a good job as well.

3rd Period - Physics
There are 20 riders in a field. Andy takes a flyer and brings three riders with him. They are riding at 27 mph and the field is riding at 24.  If the remaining riders increase their speed to 26 mph, but the wind increases to a NNW 5 mph crosswind, at what time will the sun set?  Jared: I don’t care for this question so I’m going to respond that when Andy gets caught I’m gonna take a flyer!

4th Period – Calculus
About half way in I go all in.  Why?  I have no real idea other than it was the instinctive thing to do when your teammate gets caught.  Gap goes up quickly.  I’m not known as a breakaway artist so I know they are letting me dangle.  But I also have 3 teammates back there so I know Andy and crew are making them work to catch me.  2 ½ laps off and I get bridged to with the field only like 100 meters behind.  A Panache rider bridges and rockets past me and I have no answer.  Time to get sucked back up.

5th Period – Recess
They call for a preme of pain relief cream.  I don’t think I need that but Andy apparently wanted it.  Fun and games and good times.  Too bad he got nipped at the line.  Counter attack launched and the field is breaking apart.  I’m on the wrong side of this gap, but I solider on and eventually get back on.

6th Period – English
Subject Verb Direct Object: Race is slow. Next class please!

7th Period – Spanish
Como se dice “Go faster or I’m going to sleep” en Espanol por favor?  Unfortunately things wouldn’t pick up until about 3 laps to go.

8th Period - Drivers Ed
You and two vehicles are in the fast lane doing a decent pace.  Three vehicles make an illegal pass on the right.  What do you do? A) blow your horn and tell the head vehicle (Rudy) to go faster. B) Go with the illegal move and hope that the cops aren’t around. C) Do nothing and ride it out?  Umm, I think I like B as this is 2 laps to go and the end of the race!

Unfortunately, the move was a little too much for me with the work I did earlier and my “limited” form.  I held on for as long as I could but when we hit 1 to go there was nothing but vapors in the tank. C’est La Vie!

I set my goal for this race as simply “seeing where my form was” as I had no idea where I stood in comparison to last year.  Ultimately, I think I’m decent but still a ways off from being where I could be.  No worries, it will come back with time.  Our guys rode hard and that is something I’m more proud of.

Toad Day 2

By Adam Herndon | Jun 24, 2012

Race name: Grafton
Race date:Saturday, Jun 23, 2012

This was a race I would have won. Nice drag race finish just like Super Crit. Small little climb and forced acceleration prior just like Lincoln Park. Only difference between this race and others was that I didn’t flat both wheels in those races.

Once again I had Jake in the race and Chris St. Peter came up to get his feet wet. The plan was for them to string it out during the final lap so that I could position myself and not get swamped by other riders. This would have worked great except my 2nd flat came at the end of lap 6 and the end of free laps. So no dice.

Tomorrow will be another day.

Some of the better things.
We started the day with a nice spin around Milwaukee to move the legs. Nice open streets with no traffic, made for a nice refreshing morning.

I’ve also been able to read a good amount. One book, the third of the hunger games, has bothered me with one question; where are other countries? Is the world so messed up that they are ok with a country killing off it’s kids?

Toad Day 1

By Adam Herndon | Jun 23, 2012

Race name: East Troy
Race date:Friday, Jun 22, 2012

Day 1, Cat 2/3. 50min crit with left inside 200m from the finish.

The biggest part of this race was you can sense how nervous people were. No team wanted to take control thus the race became chaotic. Lots of silly crashes(one 30secs after the start and one 30secs from the finish).
Staying near he front and out of danger was the key. Jake joined me in the race but was caught up in the crash at the finish.

Overall it was a good start, 9th plus one of the larger primes. And no one likes singing on the line apparently.

Some free advice; If you crash don’t try to spread out your body as much as possible. Instead ball up. Practice it. As I almost had to make a choice between a rider’s head or neck.

Toad Day 0

By Adam Herndon | Jun 22, 2012

Race name: Tour of America's Dairyland
Race date:Thursday, Jun 21, 2012

Tomorrow begins ten straight days of racing, 8 crits and 2 road races, north of the cheese curtain. There are about 30-35 people signed up for all ten. All of whom planned in advance, made housing and travel arraignments, and said good bye to someone. Chances are none have made those plans just to see what will happen and maybe do ok. They are not coming from California and Colorado just to see if it is an interesting course.

And so like them I have planned, plotted and prepared. I have taken off of my actual job so that I can live for a week like riding my bike is my job;
Check in at 2.
Check out an hour later.
Repeat the next day.

Coup d’étape

By Liam Donoghue | May 24, 2012

Race name: West Michigan Stage Race
Race date:Saturday, May 19, 2012

Part One. The Time Trial.

“I want a photo of you, just the way you are,” Peter yells at me across the road. I’m staged in the time trial start house, maybe five minutes before I go off. He mentions my lightweight (for 2006) aluminum climbing wheels. He laughs at my clip-on aero bars atop my six-year-old road bike frame. And the idiotic mutton chops I decided to sport for the occasion. Compared to the guys in front of and behind me, as well as the masters racers who were already cooling down on their trainers nearby, I looked the part of the Cat 4 racer who hadn’t yet amassed enough equipment to compete properly at this level. Except for the $200 skinsuit with thumbholes. That surely made me look fast. But to Peter — pontificating on the dichotomy of how fast I am versus how fast I look, seeing my lack of fully aerodynamic gear, like a big red sore thumb in the company of nine perfect digits — it’s as if I’m rocking a Schwinn hybrid amidst tens of thousands of dollars of deep-dish carbon fiber. I’m the hairy-legged dude who shows up to the race with a Bert & Ernie Primal Wear jersey. Bet you $50 I pass at least two guys, I think to myself, and laugh.

I spend the next 15 minutes trying to dodge the wind. I could only avoid it so much. I screwed up the pacing, didn’t scout the course to know the exact point of the turnaround, and planned for a 17-minute effort when the course was shorter and faster than last year and ended up a 15-minute effort. Whoops.

I was 8th on GC, Peter was 10 seconds behind me in 10th, and two Bissell/ABG/NUVO riders were 1-2. Not cool.

Part Two. Criterium. New. Improved.

Important things to note: four 10-second time bonus primes would be given out throughout our 60-minute race, in addition to 30-, 20- and 10-second time bonuses for the top three placings at the finish, respectively. Coolest thing: turns! A course like Sherman Park works when it’s a standalone event, because breaks will be allowed to get off. But in a stage race where 90 seconds separates first place from 20th place, a circular crit course will end in a bunch sprint, sure as you’re born. Which is how it played out last year. But this year there were turns!

As is to be expected in a stage race like this, everyone was extremely close on GC, so those time bonuses would inevitably shake up the classification. Meaning each one would be hotly contested. Knowing how I fared in them last year (poorly) I deflected all potential time bonus dreams to HVAC Slinger and Future Cat 1 Peter Strittmatter. If I could somehow rack one up, I’d move up to 6th on GC, and if Peter could rack one up, he’d move up to 8th on GC. If he wins two of them… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

The plan was essentially if he or I were near the front when they called a time prime, we’d give her a go. Preferably with me leading him out or moving him up. But otherwise, I was just thinking try to be near the front late and give Peter a shot to sprint for the mega 30-second bonus. Wishful thinking.

Prime one comes along and Peter is near enough to the front that he goes for it. I am not involved. Poor clip in means I took a few laps to get anywhere near the front of the race. Peter gets pipped at the line, and the group comes back together. Several laps later I pull alongside Peter as the prime bell is clanging away to signify another 10-second bonus and ask him, “You want to go for it?” I believe his exact words were: “Ehhh.” OK. Save it for the finish.

Prime two is nabbed by Nate Williams, the Bissell/ABG/NUVO rider who was in 2nd on GC coming into today. I wonder to myself if this is all part of Bissell’s plan; perhaps Nate is the better sprinter of the 1-2 Bissell combo and they plan to pass the leader’s jersey off to him via time bonuses? When he would later win a second time bonus sprint, moving into virtual GC leader, I knew this was the case.

For whatever reason, maybe just to see if I can, maybe because I feel I won’t have a chance in the inevitable bunch sprint finish, I decide to put in a monster dig for the 3rd time bonus prime. Rather than sprint for it though, I decide it’d be much more fun to go from well over a half-lap out. So I do.

Last year, the course was just a big circle around the Kent Intermediate Schools, with two almost-turns. This year, it was the same circle, but with two pie chunks taken out; two separate left-right-lefts into and out of the parking lots. In my head, all I could think was genus edition.


Which meant it was more technical than last year (i.e. there are more than zero turns), and more chance that a solo rider could go on a ¾-lap flier and hold it off for 10 glorious seconds of time bonus. I take my chance. About halfway around the orange Sports & Leisure wedge (how appropriate), I attack, and don’t look back. I’m lying. I look back many times, to see how close all the other guys are to stealing what’s rightfully mine. I gain a second on the chasers in each of the left-right-left parking lots, generally taking the turns better and faster than the groups behind me. I make the final left turn and pedal furiously toward the finish line. I look back and see I have enough time to slow down, catch my breath, take the time bonus (success!) and try to hop on the Bissell Express that’s coming through.

Lots of times a prime can be the cause of a split in the field, as the peloton stretches out and people hit their limits, so anytime you’re attacking for a prime you must be aware of this possibility. I miss the first group, as I’m gasping like I just won the race (nope, still 10+ laps to go!), so I wait for the next group of three and hop on. I suspect at this stage in the race, Bissell may be willing to go for it, having a big group of teammates working the field over back there, and knowing we all get the same time even if there are time gaps (always read the race bible carefully). So long as no one goes a lap up, everyone gets the same time as the winner. But hopes for a seven-man breakaway with four or five Bissell guys is not in the cards, as they all immediately sit up. So it goes. Everyone is back together. But I’m up 10 seconds!

A few laps later Williams easily takes that second time bonus I alluded to earlier, and the race is on full-gas. We have maybe six laps to go, and Jake Rytlewski, former Kenda, current Astellas, strong dude, is right behind me. This is a good time to jump. Surely he’ll go with me, maybe we can make it stick, I can magically outsprint him in the end. I jump. Rytlewski follows. We have a very small gap. Small, but not negligible, at this point in the race. Bissell and others are not content to give us any kind of leash. After maybe ½ a lap, I give up and go back while Jake plods on for a couple hundred extra meters. I was upset it didn’t even come close to working, especially because I didn’t feel particularly good while putting in the effort. Again: not cool.

Five laps to go. Bissell comes to the front, setting a hard tempo. With nine of them in the race, and most of them in the top 20 wheels, it feels claustrophobic. So many Bissell guys. This must be how a dust mite feels when it’s about to get vacuumed up. Four laps to go. I’m trying to stick to the front 10 wheels. Three laps to go. Now two. A green train zooms along and sets up at the head of the race. It’s three guys from Priority Health, and one guy from Carbon Racing. Do not confuse the two teams, despite their exact same neon green and black kit color scheme. One has thin grey pinstripes and the other doesn’t. We take the final left turn and know we’re going to hear the bell for one lap to go. I’m sitting sixth wheel, behind Bissell’s Alex Vanias, winner of the time trial earlier that day and the GC in the Cat 1-2 Joe Martin Stage Race last month. In front of him is the aforementioned train of green. Peter is slotted in several guys behind me, 11th wheel to be exact. Priority Health are setting a hard pace at the front, trying to lead out for their sprinter sitting a comfortable third wheel, but coming around the yellow History wedge portion of the course, they seem to slow down, or maybe my brain just wants me to think they’re slowing down and that I have a chance. We’re strung out single-file on the right side of the course, setting up for the left turn. I attack on the left side, about 800 meters to go to the finish, sprinting as if the left turn coming up is actually the end of the race. I take the turn inside-out — on that turn, one could keep speed and just swing out wide — and continue to hammer it.

This time I don’t look back. I’m through the turn and behind me I hear a gunshot. Someone just got shot with a massive revolver, like shot dead with whatever the opposite of a silencer is. I imagine gallons of blood splattered everyw— Oh, that must have been Peter’s wheel exploding. Call it women’s intuition, but I just knew it was Peter involved in something catastrophic. No time to think about that, though. Task at hand, Liam. Task at hand.

I set up for the slowest turn of the course, the last right-hander. The course doubles back on itself enough that I can sense, without directly looking for them, how close the Priority and Bissell guys are, but there’s still 400 meters and one turn to the finish. I take the turn, and have a gap. From here it’s just aggression and desire and multiple repetitive circular movements of my legs. I hold off the charging pack and win, jubilantly throwing my arms in the air like a crazy person, immediately asking the other guys if it was Peter who went down.

[Photo courtesy Julia Williams]

As I ask, I realize Peter’s tire exploding may have taken a significant impetus out of any riders behind him at the time, and it may have slowed the field down just enough to secure my escape. And surely he moved up from 11th wheel by the time he made that turn. I get confirmation that it was him, but that he kept the bike upright. I can’t be fully happy, as I know if he hadn’t blown a tire, there may have been two of us on the podium. Bummer. Still very happy, and glad he didn’t go down.

The win gives me 30 seconds of time bonus, and the extra 10-second sprint I won meant I was now 2nd place on GC, in a Bissell sandwich: five seconds behind Nate Williams in 1st place and five seconds in front of Alex Vanias in 3rd place. Oh, what a painful road race it will be tomorrow.

Part three. Road Race. Another surprise? (Hint: No.)

I spend the majority of the race thinking about how awesome I would be if I somehow get a time bonus at the line (again 30-, 20- and 10-second bonuses up for grabs at the finish), beat Nate, and steal 1st place from Bissell. I’d probably be the coolest person I knew, and I know that guy from the Dos Equis commercials. Similar to how I daydream about what I’d do with millions in lottery winnings, I think about how many babes I would get, how brilliant my race report on the xXx Racing website would be, how many millions of dollars in sponsorship money I would make, and how many sets of Podium Legs I would buy from Phil Gaimon.

Then we raced, I didn’t do much, tried futilely to attack near the end, finished with the main bunch, 10 seconds or so back from a small break that had a few Bissell dudes in it (who won, obviously), finishing right next to Nate, hanging on to my 2nd place overall.

Ask Peter how his race went, though. He was up at the front all day, working like a dog, trying to get into a bunch of early moves to cover my GC position, then recruiting other teams to help bring moves back, then hanging tough at the end when things started heating up on the flat run-in to the finish. “That was the hardest race I’ve ever done,” he says, immediately after the finish. He rode a lot harder than I did to protect my GC, and for that I’m grateful.

We managed to pull off a stage win, a 2nd and 11th place on GC, and two top 10s in the time trial. Not a bad weekend.

I’ve heard, from numerous sources, that it is ill-advised to bring a knife to a gunfight. Luckily Peter and I stopped at the gun shop on the way out of town. BOOM!

They say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Luckily Peter and I prefer cats. SCHNAP!

What did one bike-racing earthquake say to the other bike-racing earthquake? It wasn’t my fault! Hooooo, that doesn’t even have anything to do with anything!

Big, big thanks to Al, our gracious host in Marne, MI. Much appreciated.

Chapeau to Bissell for generally slaying it over the course of the weekend. Hope to see them (and every human reading this) at Galena June 8-10 for some more stage racing action!

On the up and up

By Luke Seemann | May 23, 2012

Race name: Tower Tour/Fox River Grove
Race date:Saturday, May 19, 2012

This season has been hit-or-miss for me. Monsters of the Midway was particularly bad, one of my worst days of racing in years. So this weekend I headed where any climber goes when he needs a confidence boost: the hills. Wisconsin hills.

Tour Tower
I’ve always loved the Baraboo road races, and somehow the courses get more fun each year. This year’s edition was no exception. Each 15-mile lap had about 1,000 feet of climbing, including a steady, milelong rise into the start/finish that was right in my wheelhouse.

William Pankonin joined me for the expedition. We had about 30 riders in our field. ISCorp and Trek Midwest had 4-5 riders each. After a solo escapee had been brought back at the end of the first lap, Will and I both traded attacks, but we weren’t too committed to any of them. My hope was just to probe the field and soften it a bit. I fancied that if they saw enough of my attacks going nowhere, they would react poorly when I would put in a real attack later on.

My opportunity came at the end of the second lap: I was surprised to see we had successfully isolated all the teams. Other than us with two and Trek Midwest with three, no team had more than one rider. That usually bodes well for a breakaway. I shared the news with Will as we rode comfortably near the front.

As we started the main climb into the finish, a rider was about 15 seconds down the road. Quietly I got into position and into the right gear and then burst off in pursuit. Someone yelled “Up!” but I had successfully flown the coop alone. I stayed out of the saddle for most of the climb, scooping up the escapee and, hearing him wheeze behind me, urging him to stay on my wheel. I would need him.

We recovered on the descent and quickly got into a good rotation. The key would be to stay out of sight in the flat portion, and for the next five miles it was looking good. Unlike my previous bluffs, this time I was all-in.

But then the heat set in. Did I mention the heat? It was hot, and my colleague and I were exposed in the sun like ants under a magnifying glass. After 20 minutes at threshold, I could suddenly barely muster my endurance power.

Soon we were no longer out of sight, and unfortunately for me the catch came right before the steepest climb on the course. At this point my arms had goosebumps and I was a bit dizzy-headed ... I decided not to chance it. I pulled off and accepted water and strawberries from some generous course marshals.

My race was done. I’d gone all-in, but my rivals had called, and today they had the nut. That’s racing. At some point in every single race you gotta put all your cards on the table. Sometimes they’ll stand up. Usually they won’t. But you’ll never rake in a pot if you never raise the stakes.

After a long respite in the shade I made my way to the finish to await the sprint. I felt bad leaving Will alone in the field, because my plan had been to lead him out for the sprint.

Sprint? Ha! I was expecting to see a small group behind the pace car, but instead there was only the distinctive black and red of XXX. Will had broken away and was riding—with nobody in the picture—to a classy win.


Fox River Grove 35+
This is one of the area’s most fun and challenging criteriums, so I was excited to stay over at Will’s and join him for the masters race in the morning. The field was about 25 riders, split between 35+ and 45+, including more than a few Enzo’s riders, who surely would be hoping to secure omnium points and defend their successes from Saturday’s races in Elgin.

One of the keys on this course is to always be in the lead group. Unlike other courses, breaks do not often get reeled in here. If you’re not in the lead group, you’re in a losing group, and never the twain shall meet.

So I was happy to see Will and Dave Hudson shoot off the line and surge up the hill. This meant I could take it a little easier, knowing that if a group formed one of them would be in it.

By the top, Will and a few Enzo’s riders had a gap. Riders were chasing, so I tucked in and enjoyed a free ride. On the second or third time up the hill, we were not far behind Will’s group, so I kept it in the big ring and charged up the hill. Meanwhile, the Enzo’s riders were attacking at the top to get the hill-climb sprints. I kept my momentum, passed them and went over the top alone with Will.

I gave him a quick respite on the downhill, and then let him float away. Meanwhile, three riders had made their way to my wheel and were happy to be there. At least one of them didn’t even know Will was down the road. Even better, they were all 45+ riders.

Only one of them was willing to do any work on the descent or flat, so Will’s lead ballooned as we toodled our way around. I, of course, was pushing it hard on the climb, and with one to go I was finally able to shake the others and cruised in for a solo 2nd place.

I’d never gone 1-2 in a race with a teammate before. It’s pretty awesome, even better than winning. And in this case the win couldn’t have gone to a more deserving and hard-working teammate.

Fox River Grove P/1/2/3
Adam Herndon, Dave Moyer and I lined up for this one against a pretty solid field, including Enzo’s A-Team and UCI rider Alex Bowden. We’d have our work cut out for us.

Herndon got to work right away and went off the front on the first lap. It may have cost him the race, but it was a useful rabbit to have early, and it made it known that we were here to control this race.

I didn’t think I’d have an entire race in my legs, so I made it count when I could, trying to attack any time there was a lull on the hill. If I wasn’t attacking, I was “accidentally” letting gaps open in the flats and forcing oxygen-starved opponents to sprint forward to close them. I wanted to make enough riders hurt so that we could isolate the other teams and give Dave a better shot in the sprint.

Finally the right split happened. After one of my attacks I got caught at the base of the hill. Naturally it would have to happen on a points lap, so a handful of riders rocketed by me. I told Dave to “go get them,” hopefully conveying the fact that I was pretty useless at this moment, and get them he did.

It was here that the final groups formed: Dave in the front group with four others, all isolated, and me in the first chase group of four. Since three of us had teammates down the road, we had zero impetus to push hard. And with payout going 5 deep, there wasn’t much incentive to challenge for 6th.

I tried to escape a few times on the hill, but the legs were pretty shot. And when the attack came on the final lap, I couldn’t even be bothered to answer. I excused myself and casually rolled in for 9th—or so I thought! As I coasted down the hill, my mind on dinner and a nice long shower, two riders I had long ago left for dead sprinted by me. Blast! Always sprint for the line, friends!

Fortunately Dave did a better job of keeping his focus, getting 3rd place and give us the last of what were quite a few podiums on the day.

On to Galena!

13 times 180.

By Bill Barnes | May 13, 2012

Race name: Matt Wittig Memorial Criterium
Race date:Saturday, May 12, 2012

As anyone who knows me may tell you, I have a fondness for craft beer, and a lack of restraint that goes along with my fondness.  That, and a generally sedentary winter have me now sitting at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life - 180 pounds.  At San Luis Obispo team camp, this basically meant sitting off the back of most of the big nasty climbs for a week.  Not that camp wasn’t an amazing experience - it was - but suffice to say, gravity is a constant and all those winter beers have been haunting me lately on anything vertical.

So, I did what anyone else would do and signed up for a crit with a 100 foot climb every lap.

A bit of back story here.. I’d actually pre-registered to race monsters of the midway today.  It’s a nice flat oval with only one real significant turn in it, almost tailor made for a bigger guy like myself.  However, I’d heard some rumblings about this race, and that XXX has won the cat 4 race two years in a row, so I thought it’d be a pity if we didn’t even show up to defend our title.

Fortunately, I wasn’t alone in the race.  I rode up with Ben O’Malley - one of our ultra-light climbing juniors, and Nick V was at the race as well when we rolled up.  This was good, as I’d seen Ben in action at camp when it came to going up, and he’d had some good results in races with climbs recently.  Nick was our climber on back side of the wall day, so I was starting this race optimistic.

The start of the race faces up the second part of the stair step climb.  It’s quite literally an uphill race start.  I knew we were racing for 40 minutes, and started doing the math in my head as we stood there awaiting the whistle.  I’d done one warm up lap as hard as I could to get the lap time, which was a bit under 3 minutes when I did it.  So, we were looking at 13 or 14 laps.  That meant that I only had to get up this little hill at most 14 times, and I was good to go.

Lap 1.  The whistle goes, and I’m in the second row.  Perhaps because it was uphill, many racers, myself included, bumbled the clip in a bit.  I got it sorted long before the guy ahead of me did, and charged up the hill to settle in 10-12 wheels.  At the crest of the hill almost immediately the road levels off for a moment, then heads downhill into the single turn of the race.  A very wide, slightly rough right hander that could be taken at full speed.  We of course did not take it at full speed lap one, as I think some of the guys were a little afraid of that turn until they got comfortable.  As we reached the start/finish, I was in about 3rd wheel…

Lap 2. Which is where from experience I know I need to be if there’s a climb.  I’m going to move backwards on every hill.  It’s a given.  Now, if I move backwards from 3rd wheel, to mid pack, I haven’t lost much in the way of position, but if I move backwards from the back of the pack, I’ll be chasing on when the group accelerates at the top.  That’s bad.  So, reading reports from years past, I know that both Will P and Ryan F have won this race on the downhill, somehow.  I decide to see what the deal is with this, and take a flier as hard as I can.  Which gets me about a foot on the pack.  No, there’s no breaking off today - this race is going to end together.  This pack isn’t letting anyone go, so further attacks may not be a great idea.  One thing this does do though, is put us through the turn at the full speed I want to.  Perhaps this woke the rest of the pack up, because we wouldn’t have too many more slow downs into the turn for the rest of the race.

Lap 3.  Now I hurt a little.  That attack wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done.  The lap counter still isn’t set, so I have no clue how many more times I have to get up this hill.  I drift back a little far for my liking and get back on the group on the downhill.

Laps 4-6. The race settles into a groove here.  It’s go hard up the climb, coast, go hard down the hill, slow, turn, fight back up to the front,  move backwards, fight up to the front on the rest of the lap.  It’s starting to get ugly when I climb the hill.

Lap 7.  Lap counter is in action now.  7 to go as we cross the line.  So it’s going to be 13 laps.  The fact that I have one less lap to climb makes me happy.  I begin to start talking to myself in my head.  7 more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 7 more times.

Lap 8. Six more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 6 more times.

Lap 9. Five more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 5 more times.

Lap 10. Four more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 4 more times.

Lap 11. Three more times Bill, you only have to get up this thing 3 more.. Crap, too far back, move up again or you’re doing this for nothing.  Where’s my team?  Nick doesn’t look happy, but Ben’s 5th wheel.  Move up to talk to him.  “When are you gonna go, Ben?”  “I’m not strong enough to go.”  Ok, then I suppose I’ve just become the de facto sprint finisher for the team.  I start to hope it’s going to slow up as the final laps start.

Lap 12. Two to go.  Noone’s attacking.  The field wants this to end in a sprint.  I’m feeling better going up this hill at this speed.  Contrary to every other crit I’ve done, I know I want to be first wheel across the start / finish (for the reasons mentioned above).

Lap 13.  This is it, last time up this thing.  And it’s a charge.  The climbers have let loose, the sprinters are moving up with all they’ve got, and I’m.. going backwards.  It’s ok though.  Don’t panic.  This is why you wanted to be first into this lap.  You’ve heard rumblings from wisconsin teams to each other about first one out of that turn is the winner.  You know they are wrong.  It’s 600 meters from that final turn, on very wide, open roads.  Noone is going to take that to the line in this race.  Not when it’s flat for 450 meters of it.  You’re safe letting them fight this out to the corner.  And they do.  We overtake some dropped riders through the corner and up front I see panic and chaos.  That’s not my fight though, It’s not my fight until.. now.  After the last corner I start my long slow rev up to speed.  I’m heavy, and my sprint is not what anyone would call explosive, but give me a long enough launch pad with enough room to move, and I can hit 40 mph in a straight no problem.  37 today.  I moved from near last and overtook all but one man in the field.  I feel like a rocket amongst firecrackers for a brief moment.  You’ve all made the mistake of giving me time to get going, and now I’m going to win.  Well, except for this UofW rider who’s done the same thing and I can’t hold his wheel.  Crap.  Oh, and look at that, my legs aren’t really responding to my commands anymore.  That’s because we’re going up now.  Another guy sprints past.  I’m overgeared for this, but if I stop fighting and shift, I won’t have a chance at the top ten.  I muscle through and mash my way to a photo finish bike throw for third place.  My legs nearly completely give way as we cross the line, but I don’t want to be that guy who causes a wreck in front of the field, so I push it far enough to get half way up the hill and then the glorious downshift to get the searing pain to go away.  I audibly grunt when I can finally let up. 

And I’ll take third, happily.  I put my 180 pound behind up that hill 13 times, and while I couldn’t hold our streak, at least we can say we’ve been on the podium three years running in this race.  This race ended playing textbook into my strengths, and made me fight it every single lap.  I hit 193bpm in the sprint, which is apparently a new max heartrate for me by a beat.  I’m not sure I would do anything different, other than maybe going one gear lower in the final sprint, but then, that might have put me further back anyway.  I exploded at the finish, so I can’t say I had anything else to give that race.  Perhaps being mid pack instead of rear pack when I started winding up?  Probably would have just led someone out then.  Anyway, that’s Bike Racin, as Luke would say. And Bike Racin is fun.

“First” Part 2

By Sue Wellinghoff | May 8, 2012

Race name: Leland Kermesse
Race date:Saturday, Apr 21, 2012


My first experience at Leland was in 2011 – the year of legend.  When people were freezing to their bikes, and polar bears were attacking, and all that.  I shouldn’t joke, the conditions really were dangerous and awful, but luckily I went early in the morning before the temps really dropped and the sleet started.  I just had to contend with the gravel-paste, the nice clay we had to bike through for 40% of the race.  It was freezing, windy, cold and I hate gravel of any kind, but it was a real mental win for me last year when I powered through it, a lot of it alone, and finished 5th.  And I had a really good time in the process for some reason, so I had been looking forward to returning this year.

You know when you just feel it – those days that you are on, and everything goes perfectly, and you know you’re invincible?  That wasn’t today.  The previous week I had spent dealing with my swollen Popeye arm (what some people were calling it, sigh) from my Hillsboro crash, as well as two business trips in 3 days.  I was absolutely exhausted when I got home Friday, and when the alarm went off Saturday morning before the sun even came up, the negative thoughts started creeping into my head: “you’re a crit racer, and this is a gravel road race – what are you doing?”

For those who don’t know Leland, it is a 25K flat course with 3 significant gravel sections.  That plus the winds almost guarantee that the race will absolutely shatter.  My race would consist of two laps of this and then a left turn down a long stretch to the finish. We got there nice and early and conditions were dry, chilly and windy.  But it was sunny, and that almost seemed too nice for the battle ahead.  I was just happy the gravel was dry.  I had volunteered to take Tamara’s registration spot since she was still injured, and she was sending me the ever encouraging texts that I could eat this gravel for breakfast.  We saw Ellen (our newest cat 3, hooray!) off in the W1/2/3 race, and then I went back to my car still completely confused about what to wear.  I didn’t want to freeze, but I didn’t want to overheat either, and settled on just a jersey, arm warmers and vest.  Not going to lie, my warm up consisted of me riding around in the parking lot for about 5 minutes, I just wasn’t feeling it.  My plan was to camp out near the front but not on the front, and just keep my eyes open.  This race can blow up in mere seconds.

We took off and were neutralized down the sprint stretch approaching the start of the lap, as groups from earlier races were coming around and they wanted to safely merge us in.  Once on course, our lead car honked once to signify the start of racing, and the fun began.  This was not Hillsboro – people were on the far side of the road in the other lane, ignoring the center line and trying to charge ahead.  On top of that, things were a lot more physical in the pack.  Moving all over the place fighting for positions, and I was on full defense mode protecting my bars like Randy teaches in skills clinics; exchanging some elbows and shoulders. This was enough to make up my mind that I would happily burn a match or two to get into that first gravel section near the front of the pack, not to attack but just for safety.  Until then, I was quite content to move near the outside and grab Kristi Hanson’s wheel, a solid Spidermonkey who I know and trust as I couldn’t find Jess and Sandra in the chaos. 

We had a few attacks, one strong one coming from Eleanor Blick, and I took off to go with her.  We made a turn and both soon realized that what we thought was the start of the gravel section was actually farther down the course.  She had the same plan as I – get to that gravel first.  We tried to compare notes before getting lost in the pack, and a mile or so later, I started to recognize the course and knew exactly where we were.  No time to mess around - I took off as hard as I could, only looking back once to see if everyone came with.  I felt a wave of relief as I realized I was going to hit that gravel first, and thus could choose my line and my speed going in.

I hit the gravel and tried to steady myself.  Gritting my teeth and trying not to stiffen up too much, I was cursing myself for choosing a shaky gravel race for my first race back after a crash.  Ok, just breathe, keep going, this isn’t so bad.  I was wondering how our resident cyclocross champion Sandra was doing behind me, and didn’t have to wait long to find out.  People always seem to advise that the key to winning Leland is being first into the gravel.  I’m sure that is true 99% of the time.  I was pretty pleased with myself for being first in until the entire contingent of the Chicago Cross Cup blew by me.  “Freaking cross racers!” I thought in my head, and tried to pedal faster.  Ellie, who I am learning this year to be one of the nicest people in bike racing, cheered as she zoomed by “great job Sue! Keep it up!”  Sigh.  Doing a little evaluation, I realized I was seriously feeling not well and started worrying that I wouldn’t be able to even finish this race with the pack.  Trying to shove those thoughts aside, I transported myself back to Gapers when I thought I was completely done and then still managed to pull off numerous attacks and a crazy sprint, and kept forcing myself to keep up.  When you don’t think you can go on – you can.  So do it.

That section of gravel seemed to go on FOREVER.  I was getting so tired of it when we finally hit pavement.  Thank goodness, I quickly got back into my normal position near the front and found we still had a great deal of people with us.  I overheard Ellie saying that she thought the third section of gravel would have a tailwind, and that would be the place to attack.  Most of the attacks were either dying out on their own or being caught.  We hit the second gravel section in what seemed to me like only moments after we left the first, and this time I noticed had a strong tailwind pushing us along.  I made note of that too, and quickly looked for Ellie, curious if she would attack here.  Back on the pavement, we were a bit more strung out and then it was into the third gravel section.  I was about 8 or 9 wheels back, and we were all in a line.  There wasn’t a tailwind, but I looked up and saw the front girls charging away.  And the girl in front of me, who had kept up the rest of the time, started letting a large gap open.  I sat there a few more seconds seeing if the attack would die, and of course it didn’t.  Reality hit me like the Hillsboro pavement – this is it.  That is the break, and you are being dropped.  You now either dig deep and put in everything you’ve got to catch those girls, or you will be racing for scraps.  And I charged.

I chased the rest of the gravel section.  I saw people falling off, I felt my legs burning, but I kept going, carefully picking my way around exhausted riders.  We finally hit pavement, and to the lead ladies’ credit, they did not slow down.  Neither did I, and I just kept fighting and fighting both physically and mentally.  I kept telling myself just GET there, get there, and you can rest, and enjoy a draft, and it will be ok, and for as close as I was, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.  But I refused to give up and put in another hard effort, and I suddenly found myself at the back of the four remaining attackers, and what riders at that. 

Eleanor Blick, who won the Gapers overall and who I’ve spent time with in a break before.  Excellent.  Kristi Hanson again, a strong rider who definitely knows the way of the rotating paceline.  Christina Peck, who I don’t have much experience racing with but I know she is well respected in the Cat 4 peloton, and Mara Baltabos, probably an unknown rider to most of the Cat 4 group but who I have lots of experience with as we battled for the overall at Fall Fling last year.  She is solid, and that girl has NO fear of sitting on the front of a group driving the pace.  I could not have had better breakmates and looking over my shoulder, knew that if we organized, there was no way we would be caught.  Kristi vocalized this immediately and called us to a rotating paceline to take quick strong pulls and then recover.  No matter what the experience level in our little break, everyone picked up on it quickly and we worked extremely well together as we started lap #2.

In the gravel sections, completely unplanned, we worked out a nice little system where someone would take a long pull at the front, drop off to the left into area a bit more compacted from the left tires of car traffic, and move back over to get in back.  I know bike racing can be so strange, where you work together with these wonderful people just to know you’re eventually going to have to turn on them to try to win, but we were a pretty cohesive unit.  I think everyone was just happy to have the teamwork getting us through the race, and it was further improved when a strong junior named Carson joined our paceline (we could work together because we started at the same time).  He was with us for a while and then took off in the third gravel section, and I was curious to see if anyone would go with him, but we all stuck together, content with the company and worn out.  I started mentally talking myself up for what was to come: this was going to be a sprint, and I like sprinting, and if I position myself right…

Approaching the final turn where confusion has happened in the past, Mara was on the front.  I thought this might be her first time racing Leland, and yelled “Mara, go left” as some riders make the right to go back into the feed zone and do another lap.  I believe she rotated off as we turned and I prepared for pain, but no one went yet as we were still far away.  I was either 4th or 5th, and it was perfect – exactly where I wanted to be.  I stayed close and Christina was on the front, not wanting to be there but none of us would go around.  She kept waiting, and waiting, and we all were waiting and waiting, and I could see the two little neon orange dots in the distance that were the parking cones on each side of the finish line slowly getting bigger.  Patience…steady…in the drops…

The next part happened so fast, and it was just instinct taking over.  Christina went into the drops, and as I expected, Mara came flying past me all out, causing Christina to really drop the hammer.  I was ready for this and jumped on Mara’s wheel, and then it was a blur. I can’t remember exactly but I remember the cones, I remember the line, and I remember thinking – it’s a ways out still, but you must go NOW.  I stood up and went around, and just kept going as hard as I could.  I was waiting to sense someone on either side of me, but I didn’t, and the line was still getting closer.  In my all-out effort, all I could focus on was that line, and getting to it, drowning out everything else around me.  In the final seconds, I remember thinking “I might just pull this off” when I saw motion to the right of me as Ellie pulled into sight.  NO! Just…a few more…AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHH.  I was actually yelling from the effort at this point, and knew a bike throw could be crucial, and next thing I know I crossed the line.  First, by about half a bike length.  There were a few seconds of absolute shock and disbelief “I did NOT just win LELAND?!?” and then suddenly it hit me.  Screaming at the top of my lungs, fist pumping down that entire stretch, almost tearing up from sheer emotion.  Normally the first thing I do after the finish line is look for my teammates, or my breakmates, and congratulate everyone, but today, I took a liiiittle extra time for myself to shout like a crazy person down that long stretch. Then I stopped, turned, and the five of us met for congratulatory high fives and appreciation of all the hard work everyone did during the race.  It was finally starting to sink in when Sandra came barreling across the finish line not too far behind us, and asked how I did, and I just raised one finger.  She looked at me and more screaming commenced. 

Of course Tamara was the first person I called to let her know I did her registration spot proud, and it was so fantastic to spend the rest of the morning celebrating with all the xXx men and women who braved Leland, as well as get our traditional women’s team group victory photo after the podium.  Leland is such a fantastic and unique race that everyone should experience.  I may always hate gravel, but I will always love Leland.

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