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.