Saturday, November 28, 2015

Graduated from highschool and my big announcment

Greetings, I know it's been a really really really long time, my Dad reminds me of this every day. Although I did not formally graduate from highschool with a big ceremony, these last six months have been a time of searching and contemplation. The expected normal avenue for one to take would have been for me to commit to a college, do collegiate cycling, and pursue a degree in something. However I've long known this would most likely not be the path I want to follow. So I spent this year based more in the US, doing the mountain stage races around the country, working on the farm, and enjoying my family. Not having the pressure to race a full cross season but enjoying being home during the fall, my favorite season in Minnesota, and helping my family grow its business has been refreshing. As I have reflected on the experiences and travels of my past, one thing has stood out more then the rest, the one thing I have known I wanted to get back to. So without further ado, with great excitement, I can finally announce that I will be going back to Basque country to race. This time for the U23/Elite team Hostal Latorre/Telco'm Gimex. The opportunity to go back to the mountains and race road excites me so much I am at a loss for words. This is my dream and it's happening right now. I cannot thank my parents enough for continuing to support me when they have every right to kick my out of the house. It all starts off with moving to Tuscon for the winter. I hope you will continue to follow along with me in my adventures, thanks for being with me this far. The following is a thought out summary of my K through 12 education. 

I started homeschooling part way through first grade. At the time my family raced dogs. We were traveling to Alaska to do the Iditarod and my teachers said I would miss too much school. So my parents pulled me out of school and life changed for the better.

The kind of homeschooling I do is called Unschooling. This means self selection of subjects to study and self motivation. Unschooling has fostered a love of learning. A large part of Unschooling is done through reading and through my travels and experiences. Traveling to 8 different countries and over half the states in the USA gives you the opportunity to study language, culture, cuisine, history, and more just by immersing in the experience

Homeschooling has been an integral part in pursuing cycling. During the winter, the best time of the day to train is around noon, when it is relatively warm. Because of my flexible schedule the daylight hours are free and I am not forced to ride in the dark. In addition, Homeschooling, specifically Unschooling has allowed for time spent traveling. Most of my senior year was spent away from home. Pursuing athleticism at a high level makes it extremely difficult to work around a normal school day. There are riders who do it, but something is always sacrificed.

As a child the days were spent out in the woods with the dogs. Our property was backed up to thousands of acres of state land that I would explore with some dogs by my side, going further and further each time. Homeschooling allowed me to pursue a love of more "outdoor" sciences such a Biology, Entomology, Geology, Botany, Ecology, and Ornithology. Essentially exploring nature, becoming curious, and looking up the things that were seen.

Most of my education has been through reading. By now, I've read thousands of books throughout all genres and about many subjects. Interestingly, Homeschooling has also provided a social life. I was a part of many Homeschool groups and met good friends who I still enjoy socializing with today.

4H was a primary activity  early on. Showing chickens, science projects, talking about dog sledding, and meeting friends. This tied into my love of animals and contributed to raising the first pigs sold on our farm to pay for cycling expenses. 

 In addition to reading and life experiences I learned from adults in many diverse careers. Politicians, Physiologists, Professional mushers, Professional cyclists, Mechanics, Farmers, and even professional rally car drivers.

During Highschool I traveled all over the states and the world. EuroCrossCamp was the first venture in Europe. The memory is still vivid. I was so excited. This had been a major goal for me. To race on the legendary courses all the professionals raced on. I worked extremely hard to get there and the whole trip was like being a kid in candyland. The first thing you notice in a foreign country is the different language. Most people in Belgium speak English, but I made an effort to learn some rudimentary Dutch in order to exchange pleasantries with the local and be able to read the road signs a little better. The second time in Belgium was a much longer trip and started with a World Cup in the Netherlands. This trip lasted for a few months and culmated with the World Cup at Koksijde. During this time I stayed with a local Belgian host family -the Segers- who became life long friends who I enjoy visiting whenever I am in the area. They were very kind, welcoming me into the family and showing me really cool architecture such as the Atomnium in Brussels, the unbelievably massive Saint Nicholas' church, and the castle Het Gravensteen in Ghent.

Het Gravensteen
the Atomnium

Saint Nicholas' church

The next trip was to Basque country in the north of Spain. I had a wonderful Host family, the Munixtas, who welcomed me into their home and family and cheered me up when I felt homesick. My host mother even took care of me when I had road rash. This was my longest trip so far and I learned so much. Basque culture is very different from Spanish, they have their own language, cuisine, and landscape. During my stay in Basque country, my team took a trip to watch The Tour De France, which was an amazing experience. Watching the best in my sport duke it out in person was incredible, and the French landscape in the Pyrenees is very beautiful. A few weeks later was my first trip to the UK, wherein I spent a fair amount of time in Scotland, interestingly, while the discussion for the vote for independence was happening. Riding on the left side of the road was difficult, and the whole transportation situation created by the much higher gas prices was different. Because of the vote that was going on, there was a lot of Scottish cultural pride parades and protests. Hearing and reading both sides of the argument was fascinating
Basque Country

Tour De France


This year I spent time in Arkansas, California, and Belgium. Experiencing California for the first time was amazing. Belgium was, as always, very fun and knowing even more about the culture it felt easier to go in depth and learn more.

The freedom to learn what you want when you want it allows you to enjoy learning for what it is, a lot of fun! I don't dread learning, I enjoy it, and because I enjoy it, I retain it.

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.