Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Learning in Belgium

Being a first year U23 is difficult. You can go from being an internationally competitive Junior to trying to survive being thrust into this 4 year age category, a lot of the time racing against Professionals and adults with 20+ years of racing experience. I came into my european trip fairly confident I would be in contention right away. I had just finished Tour of Gila and was feeling strong. And in a way, I was right. Because my first race in France, was U23 and I was competive. The speeds were higher with adult gears, but I was able to finish in the chasing group after blocking for my Teammate in the breakaway. However what I didn't realize was that the rest of my races would be open category. Everyone 19+ who doesn't have a Professional contract, not just U23s. Many of the racers were former pros who still train and race hard.
The drive to the race in France was very pretty

Not only were the fields incredibly competitive, but I had to learn a completely new discipline, Kermesse racing. Kermesses are held on a 5-12k loop. Longer than a Criterium, not point to point like a road race, and to twisty and aggressive to be a circuit race. After racing these, I like to imagine the race organizers have a meeting to discuss what roads the course should consist of. “Ok everyone, give me the twistiest, thinnest, most dangerous roads in this area. Bonus points if you can find cobblestones!”. The features in the tamest Kermesse would never even be considered in an American race. 180 degree corners on bike path width roads, roundabouts, corners on cobblestones... all at 45-60kph!

I got sick after my first race in France and had to skip some of the early Kermesses. Even when I started racing again it took me two races to feel fully better. It took much longer to learn how to position myself far enough up in a 100-200 man field on tiny roads. The leaders of the race would purposefully go slow through the corners to create an accordion effect farther back. Some times, if you were too far back, you would slow down to 10kph, and then accelerate to 55kph out of the corner. This incredible rubber band effect made it so hard that typically only 20-60 people would even finish the race.

The pace in these races was relentless. The first 40 minutes to an hour was absolutely all out. There was no holding back for this first part. After this there was usually a 20 minute lull, and then, go all out for the last hour or so with everything you have left in the tank. The intensity that the Belgians race with, while terrifying, is exhilarating. You get the feeling that this is real racing. These people are not shrinking from doing work or going through pain, they want to go as fast as the possibly can.

It took me a long time to learn how to race the Kermesses. Things started clicking in the last two races. The final race before leaving I was in the breakaway the entire almost 3 hour race until being dropped back to the second group with 3 laps to go from an awful bonk.
Me in the Breakaway
Despite not getting any results, I felt like my time in was well spent in Belgium. I learned a ton about racing, learned how to suffer even more than ever before, and drastically improved one of my biggest weaknesses; Acceleration. The racing prepared me for National Championships by pushing me in a way I could never replicate through training. 

A HUGE thanks to Gregg and Holly at the chainstay for putting together such a wonderful camp and providing such a well supported environment. 

A small taste of the training in Belgium
 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tour of Gila

Tour of Gila is a special race. I've done it once before in the Category 3s two years ago. Unable to do it last year I was looking forward to it this year. There was a bit of a scare early on in the year, the main sponsor stepped out and it looked like it wasn't going to happen until an unnamed Masters rider from Colorado donated enough money to allow the race to continue. To who ever this person is, thank you very much!

The reason why the Tour of Gila is such an amazing race is it is so hard. This is the hardest amateur climbing stage race in the country, something very rare and hard to find since most people don't want to go through that much pain. In the Category 1/2 race, there was 21,000 feet (6700m) of climbing over 320 miles (516km) in 5 stages. Although this was an extremely early race for me (only my 3rd race of the season) I was excited and felt fairly prepared with all the climbing I did in California. In this race I guest rode for the Californian devo team Rokform. This put me in a nice visible bright orange kit, just my style.

The morning of stage 1 was pleasantly cool at 65F. The wind was also really mild so the 152 kilometer stage was very uneventful. There was quite a few attacks early on but only one breakaway made it stick. These two riders made it all the way until the final feedzone with 20k to go. At this point two riders counter attacked. One of the riders, Fortunato, had been attacking all day so I figured there was no way he would make till the finish. He won the stage and held the GC lead for the rest of the race. When we hit the bottom of the VERY short climb (6km) everyone was rested and sprinted at the bottom. The altitude and my lack of race fitness hit me really hard, I was dropped and lost 5:36 on the stage. This was my low point in the race, I felt very frustrated being put out of competition for the General Classification on the very first stage of a race that was supposed to be really good for me. It took a while to get things back in perspective and realize that not only were almost all the riders from a high altitude place, but this was the middle or even end of their racing season. Most of them were in peak form and I was only just getting started. Once I got out of my head and decided to just race I did far better.

Stage 2 was about racing for vengeance. Knowing that I was out of competition barring a miracle, it was time to make the race really hard for everyone. Right off the gun I got second in the bonus sprint, and going up the first climb I went to the front and set the pace with Fortunato, the race leader. While this didn't drop very many people immediately, it caused plenty of fatigue that came into play later on. The highlight of my day was one of the riders behind me yelling, slightly out of breath; "what the F***?!". This of course, just made me go harder.

 There was a short technical downhill into the next hill. A hard pace was set up this as well, and some of the riders started to show some fatigue. At the start of the fastest and twistiest downhill of the entire race -Sapillo Creek- I made sure to get up front. One of the riders had been pre riding this downhill since Saturday and set a vicious pace, flying through the corners. I stayed in fourth wheel, pushing my technical abilities to the limit trying to keep him within sight. When we got to the bottom, the whole field was strung out and a bit shattered. I turned to Fortunato and said; "There's that separation you wanted, lets get on it!". Fortunato and I had been trying to split the field all day and this was our chance. The two of us and about 6 other riders set up a rotating pace line at the front for about 20 minutes. Unfortunately it was not quite organized enough to cause any real damage and the field came back together. I sat back into the field, drank some water, ate, and rested. One of the other riders warned me that the last climb of the day was going be the hardest because of fatigue so I made sure to be prepared for it. While resting farther back in the pelaton, two or three riders attacked. The field had no interest in chasing them down so it stayed away. The motorcycle referee was giving us time checks. 1 minute. 2 minutes. 5 minutes. Then 7 minutes! At this point people started to panic and work at the front, the gap went down slowly. When we hit the final climb of the day, it was still at four and a half minutes. I made sure to be on Fotunato's wheel going up the climb knowing he would set a really hard pace. If no one else could follow, I wanted to get away with him. The next 20k or so were a blur of pain. There was a brutal head wind and rolling hills that teased with supposed endings before going right back uphill. Finally we were in the last 5k of the stage, and the front group had been shattered down to just 19 riders. The break away was hanging on by a thread just thirty seconds up the road. This is when the cat and mouse games began. People attacking, being chased down. Knowing I had one really good effort left in my legs that if timed right could win the sprint, I sat in. Two of the stronger riders attacked together. I reacted out of excitement, knowing as it happened that it was a mistake and went after them. Unable to get on their wheel I was pulled back into the field. With nothing left for the sprint I finished in the pack, happy that I had moved up into the top twenty overall with such a whittled down front group.

Stage 3 was the Time Trial, and this year I was prepared for it. With no junior gear regulations imposed upon me, I ran a 55 tooth chain ring in the front with a 12 in the back. This gave me a big enough gear to pedal the long descent down to the finish. 

One of the most important pieces of equipment in a Time Trial is an Aero helmet (since it's one of the first things to hit the air) and my Lazer WASP Air is one of the fastest helmets in the world.

 Most importantly I had a TT bike that I was familiar with and had trained on a lot, my Focus Chrono. I was fit to this bike, comfortable in the position, had my HED Cycling Aerobars set up correctly and knew how the deep dish wheels would handle. Time trialing is very different from normal racing, and spending time in that aggressive and different position is vital.
The TT it self went really well. I had a perfect warm up, passed plenty of guys on the hills, and was able to stay in my big ring the whole race without dropping below 90rpm. In the end I finished 11th place, just one minute off the podium. I have a lot of work to do on my TT skills, but it was encouraging to see all the work I've put in to this discipline start to pay off!

Stage 4 was the Criterium, which had little effect on the overall. I conserved energy, stayed safe (although I narrowly avoided a big crash) and lead out my Rokform Team mate Aubrey for second in the field sprint, with me finishing third. Unfortunately there was a small Break away a few seconds up the road so I didn't get any prize money but this gave me confidence in my sprinting abilities for the next day.

Stage Five, or the Gila Monster, was a beast of a stage. 103 miles, 9000 feet of climbing, 4 categorized climbs one of them 18 miles long, and a lowest elevation on the entire course of 6300 feet. This was real mountain racing. The race started out very easy, with three riders going for a break away and no one chasing. We knew what would happen to them on the climb. After a small Category 3 climb to begin the day, on which a moderate pace was set, we started climbing Emory pass. This was a complete monster of a climb that took us up to an altitude of nearly 9000 feet. On a climb this long you simply can't set the same pace possible up other, shorter climbs. But grinding up such a long mountain after so many stages at any pace will hurt. The pace set up this climb, while not all out at first, was still fast enough to make people suffer.

About three quarters up the climb I started to feel antsy. We had caught the break away, but not many people were getting dropped, the pace was not hard enough. While considering going to the front myself, the grade kicked up to a more difficult 7%. This was when people started to hurt. I had to pick my draft carefully at this point, a rider in front of me would look in control, and suddenly start pedaling squares, decelerating at an alarming rate. As I went by these riders, I could see the looks of defeat in their posture. They were utterly spent. By the time we hit the top at Emory Pass, there was only 12 riders left in the front group. We turned around and went back down the mountain on the same road, passing by the shattered remnants of the pelaton. However at the bottom, many riders had caught back up and the group size increased to 30. At first this irritated me, but then I realized they would be dropped on the final climb of the day just as they were on Emory pass. 

As we rode through the valley on our approach to the penultimate climbs, the pace grew slower an slower. Everyone was tired from climbing and had no interest in working. We slowed to a pace of just 15mph, Ridiculously slow. If we hit the climb at this pace, everyone would be recovered, and I would lose my advantage. I needed everyone to be tired hitting the climb so that no one would sprint at the bottom. Weighing my options, I decided sitting around was not doing any good. I made a solo attack at the feed zone with 51km to go. My intentions with this attack were not necessarily to solo all the way to the finish, but to get enough of a gap that if the field did catch me, it would be the small front group half way up or at the top of the climb and I could simply slot right in. Keeping this in mind, I set a good fast pace but didn't overreach. I quickly lost sight of the field in the winding, twisty roads. However, for some reason no one was giving me time checks. I had no idea how far ahead I was. Later after the race, some of my friends told me that the referee was giving time checks to the field despite myself not getting any. He said at one point I had 4 and a half minutes! If I had known this I would have gone all out up the climb and could have possibly made it to the finish solo. Not knowing this fact however, I set a moderate pace up the climb. After being caught three quarters up the Sapillo creek climb I slotted in to the pack feeling fine. After the top of the climb on the false flat following, the group accelerated and the person in front of me was a smaller rider. I couldn't get enough draft off of him and started to drift back ever so slightly. The group picked up momentum, riders started going past me and I didn't quite have enough energy to accelerate onto a wheel. The first 10 riders got away. I worked with the second group on the road and managed to bring the time gap down by a minute, but no one would work with me on the downhill leading to the finish and the front group got away. I finished with the second group on the road at 17th on the stage and the hard day moved me up to a decent 16th overall.

While The Tour of the Gila didn't not go perfectly for me, I'm happy with my performance considering it was my 3rd race and that I had no altitude acclimation. I gained a lot of race fitness and overcame some mental road blocks.

A huge shout out to the staff of this amazing race for making it another incredible year! Tour of Gila truly is an incredible race with amazing terrain, I hope to do this race again in the future.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My plans for the season

It's been a tough first few months of winter. I've put in some big hours in ungodly cold temperatures, but it's time to head south for warmer climates, and from here the year starts quickly. I've left for Arkansas for a little under a month to get some solid training in a place where there is no risk of frostbite. I will be home in march, then will leave for California to do a big block and stay with the Haley's. Towards the end of that trip we will race Sea Otter, then it's out to New Mexico to race the tour of Gila. Shortly after which it's time to get on a plane for Belgium to race internationally for a few weeks. In June I will head west to do Nationals in California, and the Cascade classic in Bend Oregon. I will finish off my road season with another trip to Belgium and will fit in some local races when possible

This will be my first year U23 on the road so my focus will be learning and getting good results to build my resume. I will be racing with Flanders Cycling, a local Minnesota team. The owners, the Flanders brothers have developed a TON of experience over their long Cycling careers. It is an honor to race for a team with such a history and there will be a lot to learn from them.

Putting in the hours I do in 10 degree and below temperatures was extremely mentally (and physically) taxing. It got to the point where a 30 degree day felt so warm I would walk outside to do chores in a sweater. Now all there is to deal with is sunshine and a little wind! It's been 40-60 degrees, with some rain sprinkled in. With my Lazer Helmets Aeroshell this feels like paradise. 

Being in colder weather really increases air drag, between the denser air and the baggy clothes it makes a huge difference. In Minnesota on a road bike I was training at around 28-30kph, now at the same effort level in Arkansas it's 38-42kph. This does wonders for your motivation because part of the fun of riding is you get to go relatively fast under your own power, and the faster you go the more you see while riding.

So far there hasn't been too much of an issue with the traffic down here in the deep south. I've only had one guy buzz me. However, it's obvious I'm in a city, not the out in the sticks. Luckily it's only a short ride on the bike trail to get out of the city!

So far Arkansas seems like a diamond in the rough to me. On the surface it seems like just another urbanized industrial area... However once you do some exploring it rolls back the curtains and shows you some fairly impressive natural grandeur.
When you live in a place with winters as intense as Minnesota, there are certain things you just forget. Like the sound of waves washing ashore on a lake, the sight of sunlight bouncing off a rippling river, the sound of frogs chirping in a marsh, and what the color green really looks like. it's nice to be remind of those things and others a few months early.
It's been fun riding somewhere new and meeting new people. I do miss home a little, but not training there. The training really isn't THAT bad when it's 20s or higher, it's mostly that I've ridden everything around my house. Exploring is fun and makes training significantly easier, so when you already know exactly what you'll see it can take the wind out of your sails. Learning how to deal with that however, is a key thing in training for any outdoor sport. So when the time comes to train at home, I'll be ready. For now, it's just about enjoying what's happening in the present.
What's over the top of that hill? something I've never seen before.

Friday, December 26, 2014

What's been going on this Winter

As the nights get colder, my life and training starts to transition. I'm done riding my road bike now, it's time to give my MTB and 'Cross bike their time in the spotlight. There has been a lot of snow riding, whether it's on gravel roads or on singletrack. I've also been in the gym and doing uphill running for leg strength. After the first few weeks of winter training, it always starts to get hard to motivate yourself to go out and get the big hours in. You really have to dig deep and figure out why you're doing this. Because I'll be honest, most of the time winter training is not fun. It's cold, slow, limited, and boring. Once in a while you'll get that perfect day with sun, no wind, and perfectly packed ice/snow, but that rarely happens. This year it has helped a ton to have groomed MTB trails to ride on in mission creek.

It's also been a bit weird to be home during Christmas, I keep feeling like I should be in Belgium racing. A lot of my friends are out racing in Belgium and I kinda feel... out of the loop. While everyone else is out racing in the mud, I'm here riding snow. On one hand it feels good. I couldn't have kept racing after the road season I did, I would have been below par fitness wise and mentally. The strain of everything being super serious and disciplined is not there either, which is nice. After the last few years of racing almost year round, I got used to constantly feeling like everything has to be perfect, which isn't healthy.

Outside of Cycling, the farm has been doing well. We currently have 7 litters of little piglets on the farm so most of the chores are localized to the barn. The snow and freezing temperature has kept the farm from getting crazy messy like it does in the spring and summer. We've now had 25 litters on the farm in less than a year, and some of our sows are approaching their 2nd or 3rd litter on the farm. The nice thing about chores is it keeps you outside and is never boring, the pigs always have something to say and want attention. It's been less than a year of doing pigs full time and we're already supplying 8 restaurants and the Duluth Co-op.

Things have been tough, but that's just a part of life, athlete or not. Some how I have to find the strength to push through the snow.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Summer in Basque Country part 2: The Racing

The races in Basque country are hilly. Mountainous in fact. When I first arrived, I looked at the race profiles and thought "really? Only 70k? That doesn't sound very far." When the road goes up and down though, it's long enough. Still, the races are pretty short. Usually only about two or two and half hours with some of bigger races being three. This allows them to be vicious and punchy, with tons of attacks and accelerations. As time went on I learned when to react and when to sit in. I was amazed how serious the racing was. Closed roads, full race caravans... In the first few races my seat was too low, which affected me a lot. I went to a bike shop and fixed that but shortly after I crashed hard. I feel like I never reached my full potential due to that injury but nevertheless I raced hard and learned a lot.

After racing in Basque Country for a while we went to Belgium for a week. I did a small Kermesse and a really big one called the Johan Museeuw classic. I was amazed at how incredibly fast the races there are. I had fun seeing some of my friends from 'Cross season while in Belgium, it felt good to be in a familiar place where I knew at least a little bit of the language.

One of the cool parts about racing over there is how team orientated things were. We trained together, raced together, traveled together and sometimes slept together. We had races where we'd have vague jobs to do for the team without compartmentalizing individuals. I did two big tours, The tour of Bizkaia and the Tour of Pamplona.

As the racing went on I got in more and more breakaways. None of them made it to the finish, but I kept going for them. Eventually, in my last race in Basque country, one did. I got away with one other rider before the big climb of the day with 4 riders up ahead. When the lead group of six riders caught us, the rest of the field was no where to be seen. I finished 10th that day.

To conclude my trip, I traveled to the UK to race the tour of Wales. The final stage was wet and miserable, just the way I like it. A group of riders got away and once I realized they wouldn't be pulled back I attacked. One other rider stayed with me and we worked together for a while, but he wasn't strong enough and was quickly dropped. I was solo with about ten seconds on the field for a while when two riders bridged up to me. We worked together well and the gap up to the front group slowly ticked down. When we caught the breakaway, we had a minute and a half on the field. The group worked together well up until about 10k to go. I had no idea how long it was until the final climb and started to get nervous. I should have attacked right there and then. Just as we hit the climb, the race leader came blazing by us with others in tow. Away in the break away all day only to be caught with 4k to go.

That concluded my final junior race. The last one I would ever do. I enjoyed my next week in Scotland, sight seeing and exploring, then flew home.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My summer in Basque country part 1: The culture

As promised here is the first of a several part series on my experience this past summer in Basque country with the Basque Junior team Beste Alde Orue Eskola.

First of, you may ask the question; why Basque Country? Most people haven't even heard of this place, let alone thought of racing there. To answer this I have to go back to the fall of 2013 in Belgium, specifically the Chainstay in Oudenaarde. One of the other people staying there at the time happened to be the father of a Scottish Junior who had done an exchange program with Beste Alde. He talked about it very favorably and I liked the idea of racing in the mountains with big junior fields so I contacted the coach of the team and things went from there. More specifically you may ask WHY Basque Country, not just why it happened. I'm a climber, I prefer mountainous terrain and really hard races that are very hard to find in the US, especially if you're not a pro. I also knew firsthand from the previous year in Belgium how much racing against European Juniors teaches you. Especially when the fields are 100-200 riders deep. I decided on the time frame of the end of June to the beginning of September, which had me miss US Nationals but do a lot of very high level races like the Tour of Bizkaia, Tour of Pamaplona, and Tour of Wales. The purpose of this trip was to learn how to race in such big fields, learn how to climb better, and grow as a rider and person.

While I was in the Basque Country I lived with a host family. They were my friends, replacement family, and support crew for the summer. When I crashed and got road rash, Begonia (The mother) took care of me with love and I didn't have to cook a single meal while I was there. Josu (the father) drove me to many races and taught me about Basque Country despite his limited knowledge of English. Txomin and Jon (the sons) were great friends and made sure I was included when everyone was rattling off in Basque and I didn't understand what was going on. They are incredibly generous people who welcomed me into their home without reserve. Their house was located in a incredibly scenic spot, right outside the small town of Abadiño which is just outside of Durango. Every morning I woke up to a view of the Pyrenees.

The Community in Abadiño is very tightly knit, most everyone knows everyone. In general throughout Basque Country, there is a lot of Holidays/Parties, or "Fiestas" during the summer months. There was quite a few times where I was unable to go shopping because I forgot there was some Fiesta that day and all the shops were closed. Family, extended family, friends, and Neighbors all gathered for Birthday parties. While I was there I attended Jon's Grandmother's Birthday party. There was a lot of wine snacks, and a cake. What made it different from the US is how many people were there celebrating this woman. A good portion of the veggies at the party were grown in gardens around town. Pretty much everyone with enough space grows their own vegetables.
A lot of the food is vegetables, cured red meats, bread, and sea food. The food was incredible, similar yet different from the food I eat on my own farm. Much to my delight the first meal I had while there was Cured Coppa, one of the specialties of one of the Restaurants we supply. My generous Host Mother cooked me a lot of amazing dishes, one I had a lot was two slices of ham deep fried in butter with melted cheese in between. Yes it's as good as it sounds. 
All in all, Basque country is a fantastic place full of amazing people, food, and places. I had the time of my life over there and will remember the experience for the rest of my life.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chequamegon Short & Fat 2014

I'm still working on my blogs for the summer, but I thought I'd do a quick update on how the Chequamegon went. This was my sixth time doing the race, and I really wanted to win it. I've been 100 something, 15th, 7th, and 3rd the previous years. This year I decided to take a risk and ride my 'Cross bike. I pre-rode the course on it and decided that while it was rough on the rocky sections, the extra speed on the hills and gravel was worth it.  I opted to run my HED Ardennes with Challenge Chicanes.

The morning of the race was very frosty and cold. I warmed up for 50 minutes with heavy clothes, but my legs were still stiff at the start. The plan was to make an attack at the second, larger gravel hill. When I made my attack I remember thinking that that attacked wasn't fast enough. I doubted that anyone was dropped but when I looked back, only one rider was on my wheel, Fletcher Arlen. We worked together for a while, trading attacks, until he made one that stuck in the rocky section after the Birkie. I was at a slight disadvantage because of my 'Cross bike. However I just got on top of a gear and started to close down the small gap. Once I could see him I decided to let him dangle until the finish so he'd be tired coming into the finale. We hit the gravel and I attacked! The Cross bike was a huge advantage on the gravel, and all the road racing helped. 




After the Short and fat I tried doing a few races but felt extremely tired from my big summer. After having my friend Gavin over for one last week of base training, I am now taking a few weeks to a month off the bike. I might do some racing later in the season, but I'm not promising anything. I also have been working on blog posts recapping the summer in Basque Country, so look forward to that soon.