Tuesday, October 22, 2013

'Cross the pond #1; Valkenburg World Cup

I arrived in Belgium at 8:30am CET. I was tired and stressed from being stuck in a tube with a bunch of sick people for 8 hours. I just wanted to get my bags and leave but I guess that just isn't how it was meant to be. I grabbed my luggage and wheel box at the baggage claim and waited anxiously for my bike box to arrive... it never did. I can't describe the feeling of dread a cyclist gets when he or she finds out their bikes are missing... After speaking to the airport officials I was informed that my bikes were still in the USA and would be flown over the following morning. Realizing there was nothing more to do, I went through security and into the pickup area of the Brussels airport. Maxx Chance -one of the other juniors on the National Team- was waiting for me and soon David Lombardo (another Junior) and Marc Gullickson (the MTB and CX program director for USAC) arrived. We drove to USA Cycling's house in the Netherlands and got settled in. Thanks to Tom Segers I was able to get my bikes the next day.
After that whole Fiasco, it was all about physically and mentally preparing for my first race in Europe, the World Cup!

Once race day came around on Sunday, I was a little nervous. But excited! I had pre rode the course Saturday. It was very hard, hilly, and technical.

For this one race, my UCI points from nationals last year would count so I had a second row start. In Europe instead of counting down till the start, there is a light. at any time it can flash from green to yellow. It's a very nerve racking and intense way to start... and all the more nerve racking for me this time. As I start, the rider next to me swerves and his pedal jams into my spokes, stopping me just when I desperately need to be going! When I hit the first corner, I was dead last out of 64 people.

The rest of the race was a game of catch up. I wasn't really feeling fast, so most of the ground I made up was in the technical sections, of which there were plenty. It was a game of put your head down and go. I crossed the line 32nd place, a disappointing four and a half minutes behind the winner. Maxx took 27th and David 35th.

Despite the frustrating race, I had a lot of fun. Plus, it was an incredible honor to represent my county in the first World Cup.

Later I enjoyed some great rides, and got to visit my 5th country, Germany!

Big thanks to Patricia for the excellent photo, Tom for all the help,

HED Cycling, Apex Physical Therapy, Challenge tires, Enzo's Cycling Products, Lazer Helmets, Cuore of Switzerland, the Thirsty Pagan, the Skihut, Intelligentsia Coffee, Focus Bikes, and my newest sponsor, Honey Stinger!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Providence CX Festival, the First UCI Race.

Now is when my Cyclocross season truly starts. October has come, faster than expected and more vividly than imagined. Providence is the first of only 3 races I will do in the US from here out. The rest are in Europe, according to the plan... this thought refuses to cease blowing my mind, yet I don't even think it has even fully hit me.
Providence is a huge, prestigious event that finishes off the 'Cross "holy week" on the east coast. It is hosted in the city of Providence Rhode Island and is arguably the biggest race in America besides CrossVegas. More importantly to the other Juniors and I, this is the very first UCI race for the 17-18 category in North America. The only opportunity to snag some points in the USA before the first World Cup (which is in a week as I write this, when did that happen?) and for me, most likely the only UCI race I'll do here besides National Championships.
This inherently created a high pressure environment for myself coming into this race, albeit a unavoidable one. What I mean is I had a really hard time not viewing this as my only chance to get some UCI points. This thought is totally inaccurate of course, every single race but two on my schedule are UCI races, they'll just be harder to place in as they will be the competitive European fields. Harder but by no means undo-able.
However, I knew that I can't put that much pressure on such an early season race. So I gritted my teeth and did my best to stay cool and keep the pressure off.

I flew from Minneapolis with Dad to the small providence airport late Thursday night. Our flight was suppose to have arrived 4 hours earlier but there was unexpected maintenance on our airplane and the airport had to find a new plane on short notice. Luckily we flew Thursday and not Friday! 
Once safely landed, Gavin and John Haley picked us up, having endured the long 15 hour drive from Louisville in their van since the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately we had a great place to stay, some close family friends of ours, the Miners. They lived just 40 minutes away from the course and offered to host us for the weekend. I hadn't seen them in a while, so not only did we have a super comfortable weekend but I got the chance to hang out with some good friends!

Friday morning Gavin, myself, and our dads loaded up the van and drove to the course. Before we prerode, we picked up some stuff I have been looking forward to for a while, Our awesome new Lazer Helmets and Cuore of Switzerland cycling kits!

Gavin & I posing in the Miner's backyard. 
We kitted up and jumped on the course for the brief one hour pre-ride window. It was fast, wide, and fairly technical due to a few interesting course features and the sheer speed of the ridden in grassy surface. In short, a quintessentially American course. The most unique aspect of it besides the obstacles was the start-finish, which was slightly uphill and curved to the left. This reflected the surprising amount of elevation change on venue, which I definitely liked. No actual hills, but enough punchy bumps to make the course physically challenging. There was three obstacles, a set of barriers on a slight downhill with a very fast approach, a short 5 meter long wooden staircase, and finally the most intriguing obstacle of the three, two sets of square wooden barriers on a twisty uphill that you had the option of either riding or running. Overall, it was a very fun, fast & flowing course. Not my style but I still looked forward to racing it.

Riding the the first set of the double obstacles in the race Sunday. Photo credit; Joe miner

Day 1

Gavin and I got the rare opportunity of sleeping in on race day since we didn't race until 2:30pm... I had hoped for some east coast rain but had no such luck.
The course was dusty from races the night before and loose dirt added some technical aspect to it. After riding a lap or two, Gavin and I warmed up on our trainers.

Then it was time to head to the start and ride around until call ups began. I was called up to first row, and Gavin was third row. I had an okay start and Gavin's was great. Half way through the first lap we were both in the front group.

Gavin & I in the 9 man lead group, lap 1. Photo credit; Joe miner
On lap two the group started to break up and a gap started to form. Gavin was gone, while at the time I had no idea why, I later found that he rolled his tire and DNF'ed.
Two other riders and I worked together to catch back up to the lead group on lap three. We caught up to them on the start finish stretch and I was in the front group for half of lap four but was separated on the run by a handful of seconds. I quickly closed down the gap that lap.
By the start of the fifth lap (one to go!) The front group had been whittled down to just five riders plus myself. Coming around a sweeping corner another rider and I got a a little to close and bumped for a split second... On a fast course like this though, that's all it takes. We both were split from the group, and I found myself just a three agonizingly long seconds of seconds behind him, In 6th.

Nano-seconds before the collision... Photo credit; Joe miner
Towards the end of the lap one of the riders in the front group broke his chain. This put me back in 5th place so all I had to do was hold my position for one lap, and I would have UCI points. Unfortunately, it was not to be as Maxx Chance caught me from behind. We worked together to try and catch fourth, still just seconds ahead but it was an uneasy alliance, we knew we were battling for UCI points and that makes it hard to work together. Especially when you're on the last lap. Still, it was worth it since we were so close and could clearly see 4th was suffering.
With half a lap to go I put in put in a slightly desperate attack to try and get away. I went through a few corners leading into the run up hot. Riding the run up I took the outside line but Maxx was still close enough behind me to simply slip by me and run in front of me, preventing me from getting away. My half-hearted attempt neutralized, I sat on his wheel, physically and mentally preparing for the sprint.

We hit the pavement sprinting... I came around him into the line... a second too late! It was probably one of my better sprints but Maxx is an excellent sprinter. So I missed 5th place by a split second for the third time. Bittersweet.

Day 2

I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of rain. It wasn't much, but when we got to the course it was a little greasy. I lined up in the same position as the first day, as did Gavin. We both had a pretty identical start to the previous day. Because of the lack of traction, the front group broke up quickly. Peter, Austin, and Cooper slipped away off the front on the first lap. 
Gavin came by me in the first half a lap or so, and I latched on to his wheel as we moved through the traffic. We got into the top ten and then Gavin separated from me a little on the run up. He stayed seconds ahead of me for the rest of the race.
I kept steadily working my way up through the field until I caught the riders I would ultimately finish with, Maxx & David Lombardo. Collectively the three of us were in 6th place, trying to catch 5th place, who was a little behind Gavin. We worked together but when the bell for one lap to go was rung, we still hadn't caught 5th. Ethan Reynolds also caught up to us on the last lap. By the time we came into the finish it was a four way sprint for 6th place. Ethan won the sprint, and I finished 9th. Gavin scored a point finishing 4th!

Despite the frustrations, I had fun, learned from my mistakes, and am super happy my team mate Gavin had a good race.

Big thank you to the always wonderful Miner family for hosting us and taking such wonderful photos! Thank you to my Dad for always being there to help and my Mom for being ever-strong, supportive, and loving... On the team and sponsor side of things, Thank you to John Haley, HED Cycling, Apex Physical Therapy, Challenge tires, Enzo's Cycling Products, Lazer Helmets, Cuore of Switzerland, the Thirsty Pagan, the Skihut, and Focus Bikes!