Friday, November 13, 2009

the thrilling life of a cyclist in offseason

My offseason life has been pretty uneventful thus far, mostly school work, trainer time, and getting in college applications. That and getting those dreadful SAT's finally done with. I had surgery about a month and half ago to take the metal out of my leg, and have just been slowly getting back into the swing of things as far as "training" is concerned. Unfortunately, I think I've missed most of the late fall outdoor riding, but who knows, there might still be some warm days to come!
I spent thursday and friday at the UVM campus, staying with some of my cycling friends there. I got the tour and sat in on some classes and we went for a couple short rides. I also got my first parking ticket (just a warning actually) for not having a student permit for the car, so it's good to know I've got a bad reputation at a college before I ever attend!
I did some hunting this weekend, but it seems to me that all the deer in the area are pretty safe, and I haven't had any luck. Eric got one on youth weekend, so I really would like to get a bigger one than he got.
The cold weather also means skiing; and I'm looking forward to going up to Mount Saint Anne's near Quebec City with the ski team soon. I should probably be waxing my skis by now, but I'll probably end up waiting to the last minute. I also need to avoid becoming permanently stuck in any snowbanks while I am up there.
Oh and our Springer Spaniel, Molly, is getting better and better at finding food that she's not supposed to find, including some pizza I had been saving.
As you can tell, my offseason is a really exciting time, full of thrilling stories. I'll stop wasting your time now. If I get a deer bigger than Eric's I'll let you know.

P.S. I also designed a pretty sweet killer pumpkin.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Surgery update

On October first I went into the Fletcher Allen Hospital where Dr. Bartlett and company took out all the metal objects that had made my leg their resting spot for the past year. The surgery was successful, and I was able to go home the same day. Now I am impatiently waiting for when my leg will be well enough to throw away these crutches for good. I came down with a doozy of a cold the same day, so the combined effects of surgery, meds, and sickness have me a bit out of it. Everything is really sore and unhappy with me at the moment, but I expect to be up and about shortly; and perhaps back in school by Monday.
Oh, and I got to keep the metal too...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The end of the season

My 2009 racing season concluded on Monday morning, as I boarded my flight home from Brussels, Belgium. My last two races of the season were Interclubs (UCI one-day events) taking place on Saturday and Sunday. Both races saw me and teammate Ryan Eastman make the final split but were unable to give the group the slip. Saturday's race featured an all-star start list of Belgian talent, including Junior Paris-Roubaix champ Guillame, the Belgian National Champion, and no less than the newly crowned World Champion himself, all decked out in rainbow stripes from head to toe. The next day's race featured an 800 meter section of very rough cobblestones that we crossed six times, jettisoning both my bottles on the first time. Both races featured start lists of nearly 200 riders. I think I finished 25th one day and 47th the other. After the races had ended and we were back at the house, we celebrated the end of the season by going to the town square where the town festival was taking place. There we spent what Euros we had left on the bumper carts and frites.

The next morning we were up bright and early for 24 hours of travel time that would take me back to Vermont. I guess I couldn't really help but do a little reflecting during that long flight. I have been racing pretty much non-stop since February, and in a year that was supposed to be more about recovery than results due to my leg, I have to say that I am happy how it turned out. But for right now, it feels good not to have a race that I'm training for. Looking back, the low point of this year would definitely be in Germany when I had re injured my leg, and the high point would be either the team stage victory at Kentucky or the Best Young Rider's Jersey in Abitibi. I think I have improved myself from just another rider, to someone who is a danger for the win in most races. I am looking forward to next year when I am hoping to secure some good results in Europe, go to the World Championships in Italy, and enjoy my last year as a junior bike racer. Until then, I have a lot of catch-up work to do in school, and recharging of the figurative batteries. Not to mention the consumption of a whole heap of Belgian Chocolates!

The other big upcoming event is surgery on October 1st that will remove all of the various metal pieces from my leg and hip. Although this surgery isn't mandatory, I feel that removing the hardware will make racing easier and safer, and the date should give me plenty of recovery time.

Now that the season is over, I realize that I have a lot of people who I need to thank. I don't have room to name them all so I'm going to have to be sort of general. Thank you to everyone who helped me through the tough times and congratulated me on the good times. A year ago I wasn't sure I would be racing a bike again, and your support was just as big a reason for that happening as anything else. Thank you to the doctors who were extra careful to put me back together again so well that I could keep racing. Thank you to my team for having both patience and faith in me for this season. Thank you to all the people who have given me advice and mentoring, and all the other countless people who have helped me out through the years. Thankyou to Kevin Bessett who beat me up cross-country skiing, but don't ever believe his story about beating me up Beech Mountain! And an especially big thank you to my parents who have supported me every step of the way, and my brother Eric, who still puts up with me.

One year ago...

....Racing with the team in Belgium this year.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Life in Belgium

Cyclists in America often day dream about what it would be like to be an elite bike racer living and racing in Europe. They invision riding on beautiful alpine roads and eating nothing but baguettes and crepes all day. One might imagine how nice the free time would be and the pampered life of massages and flowers and podium girls. While all of this does indeed occur to some degree, America's best young racers do not live an idyllic and exciting life in the U23 house in Izegem, Belgium. Training here is constantly dodging traffic furniture and trucks in the rain while fixing flat tires on endless pancake flat roads. While we are well provided for by the USA Cycling staff, all that free time means bringing one or two books over to read will not be enough to stay busy. One can focus soley on racing, but when racing does not go well, it is easy to become a bit depressed. The culture is more closed than what Americans are used to, and at night every house has metal curtains lowered over its windows.
The payoff, of course, is that the world's most competitive bike racing takes place in this distant country. The new American riders are dumbfounded when the realize that good local junior racers here are escorted to and from races by fanclubs, complete with t-shirts emblazened with a photo their riders face. For my 5 junior teammates and I, these three weeks are a chance to hone our skills in a higher level, and see just how we stack up against these mighty Euros.
After our first race, the day after our arrival, we did back-to-back kermesse races that weekend. In the first one, I was unable to figure out why my chain kept jumping all over the cassette. Half-way through, I realized that my rear skewer had popped open and the wheel was on the verge of popping out. I stopped and re-installed the wheel, then had to chase like crazy in the tough cross-wind section. I've never heard of a skewer popping open before, so I have to assume it was user error and I didn't put in on tight enough. Anyways, the race came down to me, teammates Juan Carmona and Ryan Eastman, along with a belgian, chasing a lone rider. We brought the gap down from 1:30 to 15 seconds, but couldn't catch him before the finish. The other Belgian took advantage of our long chase and took second, leaving us with 3rd, 4th, and 5th places.
The next day's kermess involved more of the same flat, windy roads. Half way through the race, Ryan Eastman, Juan Carmona, and I decided to try to crack the field on a tough cross-wind section. We didn't exactly crack it, but instead Ryan and I found ourselves bridging alone up to the breakaway that included the Belgian National Champion. The rest of the race was brutal attacking and counter-attacking from the lead group. Ryan and my efforts were for naught, and we finished 8th and 9th.
Later that week, Tejay Van Garderen of Rabobank (riding with Columbia Highroad in 2010) took us out on a 4 hour training ride and basically just killed us all. He was pretty much breathing through one nostril the whole time. Coming into this weekend, team USA was still looking for that elusive first victory for this trip. Yesterday's kermesse was overshadowed by the presence of junior Paris-Roubaix winner Guillame Van Kiersblick. By far the strongest rider in the pack, he drove the pace and pretty much made it known that he was the best. Team Director Ben Sharp and I had disgussed that I would try a different tactic this time and not expend any more energy than absolutely necessary to keep up for the first 2/3 of the race. Watching breakaways go up the road without me, I was pretty much pulling my hair out, but sure enough, half way through the break was about to be caught and I felt good and had not made any sort of effort yet. Coming out of a corner I up shifted and got out of the saddle for the 300th time that day and -BANG!- my chain snapped. Kermesse races have no neutral or team suppport of any kind, so my day was done. I scootered my way back on my chainless bike to the car and watched the rest of the race from the sidelines. Watching a bike race you were just taking part in is no fun at all and I was getting pretty bummed. Ryan and Juan once again made the lead group and Paris-Roubaix winner Guillame powered away solo to take the win in front of his fan club. I was dissapointed by my bad luck, but had to keep it all in perspective. The Kooigem kermesse wasn't exactly the World Championships.
I had been keeping track of what the local bars and taverns had my odds of winning set for on the betting boards, and after not finishing that race, they had dropped from a pretty good 1-6 to 1-11. Juan and I had a running competition to see who would be given the best odds.
Today's race, the Criterium International of Bavkove had a junior race at 2 PM (including 10 Euros worth of start money) and a Pro race afterwords, featuring the presence of Frank VandenBrouke, several Silence-Lotto riders, a Columbia rider, Alessandro Pettachi, and two time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador. Needless to say, the town was packed. Once again, we were lining up against yesterday's winner Mr. Guillame, whose Paris-Roubaix win had earned him a contract with Quick-Step for next year. This race however, was a Criterium instead of a Kermesse, so I wasn't exactly sure how that would pan out in a European race. It ended up being just like a kermesse, except everyone wanted to burn all their energy in half as much distance. Guillame rode off the front a couple laps in and looked set to dominate again. This time however, Ryan Eastman and I took off after him and caught him in a lap or two. Four laps into a 33 lap event, the three of us had a 7 second gap over the rest of the field. It stayed less than 15 seconds for what seemed forever, before the elastic finally snapped and we built up a gap steadily. I was seriously wishing we could have waited much longer before embarking on this long breakaway, but once we were over 1:10, Ben told us to back it off a tad so we wouldn't lap the field. Considering how much crashing was being done by over-zealous Belgians in the pack, we didn't really want to be in there. Now we had to figure out how to beat this 6' 3" powerhouse. Ryan attacked him with five and a half laps to go, and I followed Guillame as he chased him down. Then I pulled through and Guillame missed my wheel, and suddenly I had a gap. I rode hard to make him chase again. We were all pretty winded after it came together again, so we just rode another couple of laps steady. With three and a half laps to go, Guillame attacked. Ryan took off after him with me on his wheel. Ryan slowly but surely closed in on him, and Guillame sat up. In a split second decision, I decided this was my moment to go for it all and really put myself in a world of hurt. I came flying by and attacked with whatever I had left. I opened a gap immediately and set about the unenviable task of holding off this beastly rider for three laps. The gap maxed out at maybe 5 seconds, it was slowly coming down, but with one lap left I thought I would be able to pull it off. However, I guess you don't become Paris-Roubaix champion on charm and good luck, because he caught me with less then 200 meters left, paused for a second, and then kicked to the line, barely beating Ryan in the sprint and leaving me to slowly plod across the line.
All was not lost however, since it turned out that Ryan had won a $150 Euro watch as a prime, and I won the same value in 15 cases of Belgian beer. National team regulations as well as the opinion of my parents who may be reading this blog, meant that I could not consume even some of this hefty prize winnings; so I spent the rest of the afternoon selling certificates entitling the bearer to a case of beer for 5 euros apiece. As the crowd got drunker (watching the pro race) I made better business, and with the help of some friendly translaters sold them all for a grand total of something over 80 euros.
In between my salesmanship, I got to enjoy the spectacle of a Belgian Pro Crit. It seemed that all of Belgium had turned out to watch, and the 1.8 km course was packed all the way round, with hardly a spot to sit down. It was about the same effect that would occur if Tom Brady and Tony Romo came to Fairfax, Vermont to play some football. European pro crits are a show, (Contador was paid 1000 euros per lap, in the 50 lap race) and the finish and most of the race is pre-scripted. All the same, the people get to see the heros only inches from them, the riders make money, the pubs sell beer, and the town economy makes a jump. An Eddie Merckx impersonater rode around, and had me fooled before I got a closer look at him. Contador apparently has switched from being a mountain goat to a crit specialist, because he destroyed super sprinter Petachi and everyone else and took the win, wearing his yellow jersey. I had had thoughts about trying to get an autograph, but the size of the mob that followed him and the bodyguards that repelled them, I quickly gave up the idea.
The hardest part of the day was getting out of there in the large team Sprinter van, and traffic was the sort you might see in New York city. And all because of some bike racer with a yellow jersey, imagine....
So I have one more week as a bike racer in Belgium, while I survive the weather and the boredom and enjoy the racing and the craziness. We have two more races next weekend (Interclub races, meaning invitation only UCI races, which will be a higher level of competition than kermesses) and then I will return to Vermont and be a normal kid for a while. For now, I'm going to enjoy one experience at a time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Return to Belgium

It's no secret that my last trip to Belgium had it share of ups and downs; a big up being our kermesse win and a big down being the cumulative injuries, sickness, and just wanting to be home. So when I got the invite from the national team to stay at the u23 house in Izegem for three weeks, it wasn't a quick or easy decision. I could stay home, get ready for school and an upcoming surgery to remove the metal from my leg, race my home race the GMSR and generally enjoy the last of Vermont's summer; or risk my hide and general self-esteem while taking another shot at euro-style racing. Well, as you can tell from the title of this post, I decided to make the trek across the atlantic and give it another try. The flight was uneventful, no bikes or luggage were lost, and I was picked up in the airport by National Team director Ben Sharp. After putting my bike together and going for a quick ride, I spent the rest of the day trying to stay awake until 9PM to help with the jet-lag. My fellow national team-mates arrived later in the day.

The next morning we went for another ride into Kortrijk to stretch out the legs before our afternoon kermesse race. The kermesse was about as standard as they get, short, dead flat laps, with lots of wind. We started the race knowing that the day after some serious travel time we were far from %100, but we might as well give it our best shot. After registering in the typical smelly, smoke-filled bar, we started off at standard belgian full-speed. Then things relaxed and the game of trying to pick the best breakaway to get in began. Since I didn't really know who any of the fast guys were, I just followed a ton of attacks. Enthusiasm got the better of me and I found myself off the front on way too many occasions early on. After many breakaways and counter-attacks, we had a group of a dozen or so coming into the last few laps. The legs started telling me that they weren't really happy with the situation at hand, and this wasn't a great thing to be doing the day after transatlantic travel. Anyway's I ran out of gas about ten km from the end of the 120km race and missed the final break. I suffered to the finish for tenth place and road home with the rest of the team.

Our next race is on sunday in Roselaare, until then I'm going to be getting lost on remote Belgian roads and enjoying waffles!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Road Nationals

My last series of races during my 2nd extended travel period of the '09 season was road nationals, held in Bend Oregon. I was hoping my good form would carry over into some nice results, but first I had to complete the several thousand mile trek from northern Canada to the Northwest of the US. After finishing the Tour de l'Abitibi, the Baraboo Sharks team and I drove from 3:30 AM until 11:00 PM to team manager Mark Meyer's house in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I was able to sleep in a real bed for the first time in over a month courtesy of the Meyers, and then left at 4:00 AM to catch an early flight. After two flights and a 4 hour bus drive, I arrived in Bend. My teammate Ian Boswell's dad picked me up at the bus station and took me to his house where I and Ben Gabardi would spend the week. I was feeling pretty tired and had a heck of a cold by this point, so I was extremely grateful for a nice air-conditioned house and I did some serious napping.

After I emerged from hibernation, I got to take a look around Bend. Between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, it had barely enough altitude to notice. The extremely hot and dry air was contrasted by the snowpack-fed Les Chutes river. The Boswell's made us feel very welcome and made for a great stay in Bend.

My first event was the road race, which was about 110km long and featured some tough climbs. I was a bit nervous about the heat, but our race was early enough that it never soared to the triple digits that had been reached earlier in the week. The road race quickly became one of the most tedious I had ever been in. I was the only Hot Tuber attending, since the rest of the team was at worlds, and Ben Gabardi was doing the 15-16 race. The tactics of the race were basically Andrew Barker, Charlie Avis, and I marking each other's every move. The rest of the pack quickly caught on and it became a race of attacking and sitting up. When any of us three attacked, the pack chased like their lives depended on it. But there was no reaction when a group of three or four other strong riders went up the road and stayed away. The stop and go pace made the race feel hard even though almost no one got dropped. I rolled into the finish in a big group feeling like I had just wasted 2 1/2 hours of my day.

A day later was the time trial, which I was feeling pretty optimistic about. My cold was finally receding, and the course was long and featured a steady climb all the way to the turn around. I got a good warm-up in and started off at a good tempo. The excitement of having a long climb wore off in a hurry, and I could feel that I was definitely struggling on the steeper parts. Maybe a month plus of racing and travelling had finally caught up to me. I got to the turnaround and started back, trying to stay as low and aero as possible. I came into the last KM and drilled it as hard as I could over the finish. Then I went through my standard 10 minutes of semi-unconsciousness following any kind of hard effort in heat. This time I didn't pass out though, and announcer Dave Towle said I had the best time so far by over a minute. A US Anti-Doping chaperon came over to make sure I didn't sneak off to any corners to grab a fake bag of urine. Then I just had to sit and wait while everyone took a shot at beating my time. The times were starting to get within 45 seconds but there was nothing really close yet. Then, with only a few riders left to finish, Charlie Avis powered in with a time 10 seconds faster than mine. My anti-doping chaperon took off like I had the plague to find the new leader. Defending national champion, Adam Leibovitz came in one second behind my time. These were incredibly small gaps for a 36 minute race. Dope control came running back over to find me because they remembered that they wanted to test second place as well.

The team was going white water rafting afterwords, so I had to hurry through dope control if I wanted to make it to the river in time. Everyone else who had been selected was sitting there waiting to be able to go, so I just walked into the bathroom, peed real quick, and walked back out. Everyone else looked pretty mad that I had already finished and was off to go rafting now.

After rafting, we headed over to the awards ceremony where I collected my silver medal. Once again, I was extremely happy to have gotten second, but couldn't help wondering where I might have lost 10 seconds. Was it in the turnaround where I had been forced to let up as I came around another rider? Was it the corner where I didn't sprint out of it fast enough? Or could I have gone just a tiny bit faster all the way up the climb? I finally got myself to stop with those maddening thoughts (after all, I only beat third place by one second!) and enjoyed the rest of the day.
The rest of the trip was spent playing on the river, as well as doing the crit. I was pretty tired by the criterium, but put in a few attacks and stayed out of trouble. Then Ben Gabardi and I floated down the river for an hour on one single tube. We thought we had finally gotten the hang of it, until we flipped it in the coldest, deepest part. We then found it nearly impossible to re-board while sailing.
After we had completed our adventures, I started my long journey home. After two days of travel, I finally arrived home again, just in time for the blueberries to be in peak harvest. Talk about perfect timing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

6 days of racing in the arctic circle

The Tour de l'Abitibi is renowned for both the fact that it is North America's only junior Nations Cup race and the fact that the town of Val d'Or in which it takes place is basically in the North Pole. My journey to the tundra started in Kentucky, where I had just finished the UCI 2.1 Tour of Red River Gorge. Since Hot Tubes would not be going to the Tour de l'Abitibi, I travelled as a guest member of the Wisconsin based team the Baraboo Sharks, who had been in need of a sixth rider. The sharks and I loaded up our bikes and equipment in the trailer and packed into our team manager, Mark Meyer's SUV. I got to know my new teammates quite well in the two day journey to Val d'Or. We finally arrived, to a much cooler climate than that which we had left in Kentucky. The race "hotel" was the town's high school, where each team was given one classroom for a weeks lodging and bike maintenance. Sleeping arrangements were the lines of foam pads on the floor. I was actually pretty pumped, since this would be the first time I got to sleep in class without getting in trouble.
The Tour de l'Abitibi consists of 7 stages over 6 days in and around the town of Val d'Or. Most of the stages consisted of about 90km on a dead flat, dead straight, wide road from some town, into Val d'Or, followed by a bunch of dangerous circuits through town. The townspeople are very enthusiastic about their race, which I suppose gives them a distraction from hunting polar bears.

Day One's stage ended in the standard sprint finish. The favorite's all took a couple digs in the last few laps, but sprinting powerhouse team Austria brought everything back in time for their sprinter to take the win. Stage 2 included a gravel section early in, so I made sure to stay near the front for it. Soon I was in a breakaway group of about 15 riders who were working together well. The break was rolling pretty fast and built up a gap of over three minutes by the time we hit the circuits in town. Attacks came thick and fast from the USA and Canadian National teams, and Canadian rider (and fellow Hot Tuber) Stuart Wight took the win ahead of Charlie Avis and Antoine Duchesne. This pretty much meant that the overall winner would be one of the dozen or so riders who had gained so much time on the pack.
The next day's Time Trial is the signature stage of the race. The 15km race is different from any other I have ever done, since it started underground. Based on our start times, we were taken in waves in a mine-cart (which kind of looks like a tractor-wagon combo) down a narrow mine-shaft. We were told to don our tt helmets for the way down, since the roof was so low. Lighting was scarce, and we all looked a bit apprehensive when we saw how dark the subterranean corners were that we would have to navigate. Once underground, we were kept in a holding room/cave that had water and some oranges. The temperature was under 50degrees, even though it was reaching the mid to high 70's up above. For a warm-up, we were each given 5 minutes on a fitness-center-like stationary bike and then exactly five minutes on our own bike. Race commissares and mine workers who looked like they meant business timed us with a stop watch and made sure that no one snuck any extra seconds of warm up in. Feeling like I was in some kind of far-fetched movie, I received my count-down and started, knowing that this could be one of the most important time trials I have done so far. While climbing the mine shaft, I remembered to stay seated, so that my tires would not slip on the wet rock, and so I wouldn't hit my head on the low ceiling. I also tried to remember where the sharp left hand corner was, where a lone light had recently died. Very grateful that my team had installed small lights on the front of my bike, I finally popped out on the surface.

Once my underground adventure was done with, I got down to the business of turning over the pedals as fast as I could. I felt strong and was able to catch my one and two minute men by the finish. After returning to the school, the results arrived and said that I had finished 4th in the stage and was 3rd overall, behind the USA National team's Andrew Barker and Charlie Avis. I was also in the blue jersey of best 17 year old rider. In the evening, we had a 50km out and back road race. This time it was pouring rain and very cold. Now with a jersey and a GC position to worry about, I got even more perturbed by sketchy shenanigans going on in the pack. We finished safely in a group sprint.

The rest of the week consisted of staying out of the multitude of crashes that went on in the windy flat roads that we raced over. 4th place rider Taylor Gunnman from the New Zealand National team took some time bonuses to displace me from 3rd overall. My moment of panic happened on the 5th stage, when I went down in a crash and had to chase back on with a spare bike. Fortunately some teammates were on hand to help me back and I didn't lose any time.

Going into the circuit race on the second to last day, I figured it would be my best chance to make up the 25 seconds I was from first place overall. I bided my time and waited until the last two 9-kilometer laps. Then I started attacking. I put in 4 attacks and each time got a gap with a couple other riders, but wasn't able to stay away in front of the USA, Austrian, and New Zealand national teams that were chasing. The day ended in another field sprint won by (surprise!) Austria. That night, I started feeling awful. The cold that I had felt coming on had gotten exponentially worse after racing in the rain all week.

I started the last stage feeling pretty out of it, with a doozy of a cold; but it was my birthday and I was in a leader's jersey and I figured I might as well take one more shot at the win. Out on the road, I managed to take second in a time sprint, which put me into 3rd place overall again. Gunmann won the next one and I got third, so I was back in 4th, but a little closer to the overall win. In the town circuits, it was pouring rain and there were crashes just about every corner. With two laps to go I gave a last-gasp attack. I got a gap and pretty much was riding all out, but once again got hauled back with one lap to go. I finished, managing to circumnavigate the huge pile-up in the last corner, to end my Tour de l'Abitibi.

Racing all-out in the rain with a bad cold probably wasn't a great idea, and within a couple of hours I felt like I might die. I talked to the race doctor about some cold medicine or something, but with Nationals coming up, I couldn't take anything, since it might cause a positive test result. So I staggered to the awards ceremony, which they made a huge production out of. I also got a "happy birthday" from the announcer when I collected my best young rider trophy, so I was pretty pumped. I think some people thought I was drunk, but I was actually just really sick.

And with that, the Tour de l'Abitibi came to a close, and the Sharks and I packed up our bags and began the long drive to Wisconsin. I was pretty happy with my first 6-day stage race, and felt like I had already made big improvements from just a month or two earlier. I collected 4th overall, 19 seconds down, and the best young rider's jersey. All this less than a year after I thought my cycling might be over from breaking my leg.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

UCI racing hits the US at the Tour of Red River Gorge

The USA has never had a UCI junior race, so I suppose when it finally came about it might as well be in the center of US racing country. Of course, to the locals of the Kentucky towns we passed through, racing that didn't involve four legs or four engines was a foreign affair. So my Hot Tubes teammates and I arrived in Lexington, KY ready to give the locals, and the field, a demonstration of international racing. The UCI 2.1 Tour of Red River Gorge featured four days and five stages of racing in the South-East's trademark steep hills and hot weather.

In accordance with UCI rules, all teams stayed at the race provided "hotel", otherwise known as the freshman dorms at the University of Kentucky. Besides the cockroaches in the bathroom and the bunk beds threatening to crash down at any minute, accommodations and food were pretty good.

The other interesting aspect of an international race in the US was the race caravan, which 90% of the riders and team directors were not accustomed to. Stage 1 was a 1.6km prologue. Not exactly my favorite distance, but how much time can you really lose in one mile? Of course, I quickly gave up any thoughts I may have had of becoming a kilo rider, when I lost 8 seconds off the best time of two minutes. None of my teammates managed to crack the top three, so we went into the afternoon's road race without having to defend the yellow jersey.

Stage 2 went off that afternoon in the hottest part of the day. The hilly course took its toll on the riders but most of the pack stayed together for the first half of the race. Ian Boswell snuck into an early move with about 8 riders, and I bridged across with two other riders about 35km in. My teammate Nate Brown came across shortly thereafter, and we started driving it. The gap got up to about a minute and we just kept hammering. The race was pretty uneventful from there in besides a missed turn that split our group up a bit. With 5km to go there were only six riders left, half of them Hot Tubes riders. I attacked and got a gap. When I was just starting to run out of steam, Nate bridged up to me. We drove it in as hard as we could and finished 1-2, giving me my first UCI stage win. Behind, Ian Boswell gave the rest of the group the slip to steal some more seconds from the group. Nate took the Yellow Jersey and I took both the Red points jersey and the White best 17-year old rider's jersey. In exchange, the three of us had to donate a goodly amount of urine to the USADA dope police after the race.

Stage 3 was a hard time trial of about 25km and lots of hills. I got to start in the bright red points leader skinsuit, so I'm pretty sure nobody missed me as I rode around the course. Only a couple of kilometers in I could tell that I was not on a great day and was struggling on every climb. I forced the peddles around and rolled into the finish with the 9th best time. Teammate Lawson Craddock took the time trial win in spectacular fashion and Nate Brown defended his yellow jersey with a fast 2nd place time. With me keeping the white and red jerseys, Hot Tubes had all but the climber's polka dot jersey and the top gc spots.

Going into Thursday's Stage 4 epic Battle of the Byway road race, we knew there were only a few riders we really needed to watch, but we could expect aggressive riding from just about everyone. The 115km stage featured 8,000 feet of climbing and a long/unlighted tunnel. The race started off with the Garmin team ramping it up at the front. While we were bewildered by their tactics, it certainly helped our cause, since it kept breaks from going up the road and made it a little bit safer. We all just rode in the pack until we hit the first KOM, and then we ramped up the pace. The interesting thing about the KOM was that it was about a kilometer passed the top, on a windy descent. We hit the top of the climb, and then disappeared into a long tunnel. The one light bulb in the middle had the affect of maybe a single candle, so I just pointed my bike in a straight line and hoped for the best. We emerged from the tunnel and then started our descent.

Then all hell broke loose. Nate's chain got stuck. Less than 100 meters later, Lawson's tire blew up. Gavin and Stuart went back to help them return while Ian and I tried to slow down the front. All the other teams saw what had happened and started driving it. Our team caught back up, but then Gavin went down in one of the massive wrecks that took place on the descent, sliding about 30 feet. Stuart couldn't recover from his massive effort and was dropped on the next climb.

By the end of the stage however, the race weeded out riders a couple at a time, and we were left with maybe 8 riders, 4 of whom were Hot Tubes. In the ensuing attacks Nate finished just behind Jacob Rathe and I came in about 45 seconds later in 6th place. Once again, the heat had taken a huge toll on me and I spent the next half hour with my head in an ice-soaked towel.

We started the final stage on friday having all the jersey's except for polka-dot, and the top four in GC. This being a criterium, the general idea was to just stay out of trouble. This was my first twilight criterium, so I was pretty pumped. I forgoed a warm-up, so the first 15 minutes of the 90 minute race were pretty painful. Eventually, I found myself in a breakaway with Cody Foster, Graham Dewart, Ryan Eastman, Ty Magner, and my teammate Gavin Mannion. The gap never got much bigger than 20 seconds, but with dark coming on and a ever growing crowd, we kept pushing the pace. Much of the spectators were drunk by then, and I think they decided that horses and cars be darned, they were ready to party for any race. The group came down to 4 riders, and with less than two laps left I couldn't cover an attack and got gapped. Gavin took the sprint and I rode in 6 seconds later for fourth. Nate took the field sprint behind and my efforts had moved me into 3rd overall and the white jersey. We had our podium ceremony and then rode back to the dorms. I had had a pretty good week, finishing in the breakaway on every stage as well as getting a stage win, so I can certainly draw some confidence from that.

We packed our bags and the next morning we took off in different directions. The rest of the team went to finish preparations for the World Championships. Since I had not been selected for World's, I travelled with the Wisconsin based team, The Baraboo Sharks, to the Tour de l'Abitibi in Canada.

Team presentations are tonight and racing starts tomorrow, so I am excited and hope my good form carries over to some more results here in the Artic circle!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fitchburg stages 3&4

The Fitchburg road race featured the chance to either lose or gain huge chunks of time. The 4 ten mile circuits had tough climbs and a 50+ mph descent. For our team this was a chance to clinch the overall victory. The plan was for Ben Gabardi to cover the early moves, and for the rest of us to look for our chances later on. Ben made sure no one of importance was able to get away, and then Nate rode a fast tempo up the climb. By the time we reached the top, all that was left was our team, Charlie Avis, and Nathan Wilson. Then Nate, Lawson, and Gavin attacked again with Nathan Wilson on their wheel. The rest of us went back to the pack and started policing the pack to keep groups from getting across. I followed a Hincapie rider on an attack, and then saw that Gavin had had bike trouble and been dropped out of the breakaway. I bridged up to him and we decided to see if we could get back to the leaders. The pack, however, was chasing all out, and we finally gave up and went back to the pack.

It was pretty evident that the breakaway would stick, and all we were concerned with was mopping up the remaining places. Ian Boswell and I found ourself off the front with two other riders in the last lap. The pack chased us hard again but we stayed away to the finish. Lawson won the stage up ahead and Nate retained his overall lead.

Going into the final stage's citerium we knew that we had the GC pretty much wrapped up but we didn't intend to be caught napping if some spirited riders decided to go on any Hail Mary attacks. In fact, we decided to start it off on the offensive, and Lawson attacked early, taking Charlie Avis with him. I bridged up to the group, and we started riding hard. A few laps before the finish, Gavin started bridging. I stayed with Charlie while Lawson sat up and waited for Gavin. He then helped Gavin make it up the rest of the way while I sat on Charlie's wheel. With the odds three to one in our favor, we started attacking in the last lap, but were unable to shake a resilient Charlie Avis. The pack was starting to close in, so I just hit the front and rode hard to the last corner. Gavin jumped and took the win. Unfortunately, I was gapped before the line and lost several seconds, which cost me my top five GC spot. Not that it really mattered, Hot Tubes won every stage, the points classification, and 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th on GC.

After our crit, we hung out to watch the Pro crit, where we were treated to an epic finish to Fitchburg's 50th anniversery race. Now I am staying at Toby's house with my teammates and getting ready to go to the Tour of Red River Gorge in Kentucky; followed by Tour de l'Abitibi. Most important, bragging rights are on the line for tomorrow's wednesday time trial.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fitchburg Stages 1&2

Fitchburg is the beginning of my second big block of races. Since getting back from World's Qualifiers in Tennessee, I hadn't done much racing other than some practice crits and time trials and the Housatonic Hills Pro/1/2 road race where I came in 7th.

When I arrived at Toby's house this past wednesday, it was cold and pouring rain. Conditions didn't change much by thursday morning's time trial, when I was awoken by the sound of pounding rain and deafening lightning strikes. The fact that I was comfortably lying on a mattress was made even better by the knowledge that my family was tenting in a campground and probably swimming by now.

The time trial was happily uneventful and I came in 4th place. Nate won with an average speed of over 29mph, and the team took 3rd, 9th, and 12th places. The next day's stage was a fast circuit race of 22 miles featuring a hard 5oo meter hill. Before the race, I was informed by certain doubters that a breakaway was impossible on this course and had never succeeded. Most of our team got front row call ups for the start of the race, so we began with good position. Nothing much happened early on other than a short-lived breakaway of 5 riders that I tagged along with. Then my teammate Ian Boswell attacked and was holding a slim lead over the field. When Nathan Wilson, who was sitting top ten after the time trial, went to bridge across I covered the move and soon found myself in a three man group just off the front.

We rode hard but the pack was strung out and doing about 40mph down the wide slightly downhill back stretch of the course. They brought the gap down to about 5 seconds, and it looked like our little adventure off the front was done. But we kept hammering and the next time I looked back the gap had shot back up again. Another rider had bridged across while we were close to the pack so now we had 4 riders. We drove the break hard until the finish. Boswell took the win and I came in with the same time at 4th place. The pack came in nearly a minute down. Ian had also taken some points sprints so he had captured the green jersey. Nate Brown kept his leader's jersey behind, and I moved up to 2nd place in the overall.

Afterwords, we came back to watch the pro race. The thunderclouds that had been looming all day finally rolled in and the race took place under a deluge. A breakaway including Vermont boy Will Duggan and Cyclo-cross champion Tim Johnson held off a hard chasing pack to the finish. The pain on their faces gave me a good idea of what to expect in a couple years.

With two out of four stages completed, our team is in good position to take the lead all the way through the final stage. I'm also considering sending my family some snorkels to help with the camping in the flood water.

Monday, June 15, 2009

good to be home!

Travelling is a blast. I love going places I haven't gone before and racing all over the world. Buttttttt..... after 6 or 7 weeks away from home, I was pretty happy when I finally drove up the driveway again. World's Qualifiers went well for the team as we qualified both Nate and Lawson. I was 7th in the time trial and was able to help the team in the road race.

After returning home, I took a week off from riding. My coach reminded me that I had been training and racing pretty much flat out since I was able to walk reasonably well again in mid-january. It was definately time to recharge the batteries a bit. This was accomplished by a house-boating adventure with my family in the Thousand Islands. Although it rained a fair bit, and being stuck on a boat with your family for five days isn't exactly every 16-year old's dream vacation, I spent most of it sleeping or fishing, and actually had a great time. Being lazy is something that I never intend to get too out of practice at.

I'm now back on the bike and training hard. The next goal is Fitchburg, and after that a UCI 2.1 junior race in Kentucky, which may also qualify one more person for World's. Until then I'll be riding and racing hard and enjoying the short (but sweet!) Vermont summer. Hope you'll be doing much of the same!
And I didn't crash the boat! :-)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

European Racing Part 2

The second part of my European escapades took place wearing the stars and stripes of the USA national team. After Morbihan, my Hot Tubes teammates packed up and left for the states, and Hot Tubes graduate and current Lotto-Davo rider Simon Lambert-Lemay took me to the National Team house in Izegem, Belgium. Unfortunately, this is also when things started to go downhill for me. For starters, I came down with a wicked cold that left me exhausted and pretty much feeling lousy. I also had a significant amount of fatigue and scrapes et cetera left over from my Morbihan adventure. There was very little rest for the weary and I was off to Germany before I knew it for another UCI 2.1 stage race. Also on the Germany team were Charlie Avis, Austin Arguello, Ryan Eastman, Andrew Barker, and fellow Hot Tuber Ian Boswell, with Ben Sharp directing. This race was without a doubt the lowest point in the '09 season for me so far. Stage One ended in a deluge so heavy I couldn't see the road, and I crashed hard on my bad hip/leg. I finished but soon afterwords realized that everything was not quite okay, as I was limping bad, in a lot of pain, and unable to produce adequate power in that leg. Anti-biotics were unavailable so I would just have to risk the potentially dangerous infection that could come from the road rash in the area. Needless to say I was in pretty low moral when I got up after a sleepless night in our German Hostel the next morning.

The next stage started off well enough and I made the lead group over the decisive climb of the day. On the descent, however, I saw our team leader Ian standing by the side of the road with a mangled bike and copious amounts of road rash. At least at that point in the race I still had the presence of mind to stop and give him my bike to get him going again. Because of the large climb we had just ascended, the team cars were minutes back. I had time to take a pee and admire the scenery before our car finally came up. I ended up rolling in to the finish on the spair machine, ten minutes back but making the time cut. Ian made the main group but was unable to catch the leaders since the bike didn't fit him.

After yet another sleepless night, thanks to road rash on every part of my body, the party that was going on in our Hostel, a nasty cold, and the uncertainty of limping and feeling a large amount of pain in my leg for the first time since February, I got up for the last stage at an all-time low for the season. My right leg felt like it had about half of the power it normally had and I got dropped on the second climb. And with that my painful Germany experience came to an end. Ian finished fourth on the stage, and Andrew Barker finished 9th on GC.

After that, sitting in the Izegem house, and having been away from home for almost two months, I was seriously questioning whether or not I wanted to continue. A day or two later however, I embarked on an epic ride with two other juniors down into the flemish ardennes, the heart of the Tour of Flanders. I was starting to feel better, and a good old fashioned ride of constantly getting lost and just trying to find the biggest and coolest hills we could find sort of brought the fun back.

I was feeling much better by the end of the week when my final European stage race, the Vlaamse Ardennen, began. We started this race a little short-handed, with only 5 riders instead of the normal 6, but we were still excited for a chance to get some good results in the flemish ardennes. The first stage was a bit of a relief for me, as I was able to ride strong and at the front. Our team was sort of put behind the 8-ball when a large group got 30 seconds up the road. Ian and I chased hard, but most of the other teams had representation in the break and weren't willing to help. After losing that much time, most of our GC hopes were pretty much done.

The next day's stage was epically (is that a word??) hard, with 8 laps up one of the Tour of Flanders climbs. The climb was between one and two kilometers long, and was wicked steep. The width of the road was cut in half by the spectators crowding the sides of the road. Of course, the lousy thing about climbs in Europe is that you suffer to climb as hard as you can, and then you look back and see that the entire pack is still there. The early part of the stage was pretty uneventful, other than a large group off the front that I snuck into. After that came back, the pack was starting to get antsy in anticipation of the last laps. Breaks that went were starting to get more time so I stayed at the front looking for my chance. I got in several moves before finally bridging up to a promising move with two or three laps left. The group slowed and started to get caught so I attacked out of it with a couple others. In the end however, everything came together for a group sprint. Only in Europe does an all-out hilly 115km race in the heat end in a 130 man group sprint!

The next day was a double day, with a team time trial in the morning and an 84km road race in the afternoon. None of us had ever done a team time trial before, and the extremely technical 9km course didn't seem like ideal conditions to learn. We did two laps of the course in warmup to try to get the feel of it. Kit Karzen and Ian Moir were down on GC, so they drilled it as hard as they could in the first half, and then dropped off. Then it was up to Ian Boswell, Juan Carmona, and I to bring it home. We drilled it as hard as we could and finished with the best time so far. Then a team came in a beat our time by .4 of a second. Then another team beat us by .5 of a second. Then the winning team came in a beat us by 22 seconds. At least we didn't have to agonize over losing by half a second, and fourth place out of 32+ teams was a pretty good result.

The final stage of my European racing adventures started off fast enough. Team USA took great pains to line up early for a front row spot, but our dear friends in the UCI decided to switch the start-line at the last minute so we would all have a back of the pack start instead. The super-technical/narrow course meant that it took a while to move up. After 3-4 of our 8 laps, I was at the front looking for moves. Then, at probably the most inopportune moment in the course, I flatted. I drifted back, signalled the commissaire and then waited for the car to come up. I got the spair wheel and started the arduous task of trying to catch back up. For some reason my new wheel was not working with the derailleur and I couldn't shift into my 14 tooth cog. It took two laps for me to finally catch the pack, and by then I was so winded I couldn't fight my way through the pack. It came down to another field sprint, with a spectacular crash in the last 100 meters. I picked my way through the carnage okay without going down and finished in the same time as everyone else. I think my GC was 21st, and 6th (???) in the best young rider.

And with that, my European adventures came to an end. Everything did not go as I had hoped, but I survived my crash course in elite level UCI junior racing and came out of it smarter, stronger, and tougher. Getting a win in Belgium was also a huge bonus, and am still hoping to secure an elusive spot on the World's team. After returning from Belgium, I spent a week in Massachusetts with my teammates before flying down to Nasheville for World's Qualifiers where we hope to send some Hot Tubers to Moscow to represent in the World Championships.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Morbihan race

One of the races that Hot Tubes has always made a point of attending during it's European trips is a race in western France called Trophee Centre Morbihan (or something like that). It's a UCI 2.1, meaning that it is a World Championships qualifier, and all the big international guns are there with their squads. 25 teams were invited, each with 5 man squads. With Nate Brown, last year's winner (and one of only three riders in history to have a chance to win it twice) on our team, we knew we would be marked.

But first, we had to get to the race. It was only about 8 hours of driving away, but it turned out to be a much bigger adventure. About 200km over the border into france (which really isn't a border anymore, since the advent of the EU), the front wheel on the van pretty much exploded. I was in the the race station wagon, and driving behind the van at 20 km an hour we could hear the metal grinding away. We managed to limp off the interstate until the brakes started to fail, and we pulled over in a desolate field in northern france. With Stuart Wight, our lone french-speaking rider, as translater, Toby drove from town to town in the car searching for a garage that would fix the van. Finally, one sent a tow-truck, and we headed off to a tiny town called Neuf-Chatal. There they showed us that the wheel was about to fall off, and also informed us that they couldn't fix it for a very long time ("Oh, tres grave monsieur. Big cost, eh?")

Toby, Gabriella, and Stuart went off in search of a rental car. The nearest was about an hour's drive again, and when they arrived, the rental car place claimed to be closed. Meanwhile, I and the rest of my teammates wandered the town (where nobody spoke english) searching for food. By the time we finally procured a rental car, and moved all of our stuff from the van, it was at least seven o'clock PM. So we gave up on making it to our destination and stayed in Rouen. The next day, we made it to our race provided hotel. It was an interesting place. For starters, our room was about the size of an economy car. There was no bathroom, or even a hole in the ground. The toilet was down the hall, and constantly out of toilet paper. The shower was in the room, basically a clear plastic box about two feet by two feet, so your roomate was sitting right next to you when you showered behind the clear plastic. The owners of the hotel (and restaurant, and bar) spoke no english, so it was up to Stuart (or Stueee as we call him) to translate for us. When he wasn't available I had to put my measly French speaking skills into use.

Then it was time to race. The race is the biggest junior stage race in France, and people from all the surrounding regions come to watch. We had a Hot Tubes fan club at all the stages. The team presentation was the night before, in what appeared to be a huge conference hall. Mayors and sponsors and business people and other important persons sipped wine and ate copious amounts of the food while the riders sat in circles with their teammates, nervously waiting to be called up to the podium and introduced. As the defending champion, we were called up last. We sat or stood where we were directed while the announcer rambled on incoherrently, getting more crazy as he went on. Even Stueee couldn't understand the announcer anymore. Then he called in "Naaataaaaaan Braaaaawnnn!!!!!!!!!!" and the crowd went pretty much crazy. When the announcer tried to ask us some questions in French we just nodded, smiled, and pointed to Stueee. He appeared to be answering well for us, but afterwords he revealed that he had really no idea what the man was saying, the announcer in such a frenzy. Then they played our national anthem and we left the stage.

This race was huge, not just for the riders, but also for the populous, and our defending champion Nate was pretty much a celebrity. Before the race, he was asked to sign pictures people had taken with him last year, and an old lady in a wheelchair wanted to meet him. People begged for our water bottles, which we couldn't give away until the end of the race, because we were running a bit low. Nate also had a sizeable number of female fans that followed him around and somehow managed to be right next to him when he collapsed after the finish line. Fans and those who had simply heard where we were staying came to the hotel to look at us I guess. I have no idea what they were hoping to gain by peering at us from their car windows while we assembled bikes.

All this attention, while pretty cool I must admit, pretty much meant that we couldn't so much as go to the bathroom without the entire pack wanting to follow us. The first stage went okay for us. We drew last position in the caravan, which meant that if we had mechanical trouble, we were pretty much out of luck. I tried to cover as many moves as possible, and got in a good early move over the kom climb. We got caught, and then Nate and Stuart bridged up to a big move, with Lawson already in it. Then Lawson flatted out, and four riders were still clear from Nate's move. All Lawson, Gavin, and I could do was try to respond to the constant efforts to get accross by the Belgian and French teams. Up ahead, Nate and Stuart were desperately trying to catch the four leaders, but the rest of their fifteen or so man group refused to help the race favorite. In the circuits, there was a nice 400-500 meter climb right at the finish line. I would start it at the front, drift back to about 20th by the top, then go like a madman to close any gaps, pretty much maxing out the whole time. Then I would look back to see the entire pack still there. I took awhile to get used to the fact that at this level, pretty much everyone is as good as me, and the pack won't get decimated just because we go hard up a hill. The stage finished with four men away, then Nate and Stuart in the break about 25 seconds back, and then the pack with the rest of us at about a minute.

This left us in decent position. Nate and Stuart were both very close to the lead, but not conspicuously placed in the top three. The rest of us were still within striking distance. The time trial on sunday was where we were hoping to make up ground. It was a little over 7km, with a couple good hills in it. I clipped some aero bars on and tried to get it as close to my real tt position as possible. Then I took off. I had Toby in the car behind me, shouting encouragement. I felt pretty good. I got into a rythm fast, and was pretty much spinning all out on the flats. At the climbs, I sprinted from bottom to top out of the saddle and in the drops. Approaching the finish, I caught my minute man and sprinted up the last climb to the line. I thought it was a pretty good ride. Then I looked up at the electronic time keeping board. My time was 10:22; the best time so far was 9:25. The day went downhill from there.

Lawson was our only rider who managed to break 10 with a 9:58. Nate's chain got stuck in the disk only 300 meters in and was delayed for nearly a minute while they tried to fix it (he still finished with a time of about 10:30). To make matters worse, the winner of the time trial (with a rediculous time of 9:15) was the winner of the previous stage. I wasn't even on the top page of the results, in about 50th. I have no idea what happened.

Going into the final stage that afternoon, we were pretty far down, with only Nate and Stuart in striking distance of the win. Toby told us that we were racing for all or nothing; he couldn't care less about 9th or 10th place, and that today would take an extraordinary amount of courage. We were aiming for a 2006 Floyd Landis comeback, minus the drugs. We pretty much had to crack the big teams such as Avia and Predictor-Lotto and DCM that were so interested in following Nate's every move. Then Nate would have to give an amazing effort to get back nearly two minutes. So we kitted up and headed over to the start line, ready to start the fireworks early. And boy did they, at least for me.

About ten km in, Gavin attacked. Immediately Avia and Predictor-Lotto sent people after him. I jumped as hard as possible and went after the Avia wheel. Next thing I knew, I went from 35mph to 0 in about half a second. It was the strangest crash. I think another rider from the other side of the pack was going after the same wheel. We both had our heads down and never saw each other. His bars were rapped around my seatpost, and we were sliding sideways down the road. I hit the ground hard. Luckily I didn't hit my bad hip, but just about everything else hurt and was bleeding pretty bad. I was in a daze, and just lay in a fetal position until the pack passed me by. The race doctor came up to me and started asking me questions in French, I still felt paralized and not quite awake. Then all of the sudden, I heard Toby's voice, "Anders, what are you going to do?!". That pretty much woke me from my daze, and I just yelled, "I gotta ride!" So Toby went to work on my bike, while Gabriella helped me limp accross the road and avoid the impatient team directors threatening to run me over. The bike was a mess, and took quite a bit of work to repair. We were so far off the back that we weren't even sure we were going the right way any more. Toby motorpaced me at about 70km/ hour until we regained the caravan. That was quite an adventure since my bars were still bent. My elbow was the worst, and I couldn't bend it as it got more and more swollen. I zoomed back through the caravan towards the pack. The dutch team, who was sharing the same hotel with us, gave me a thumbs up as I came through. I caught my breath behind the last car before the pack. Then I sprinted up and into the pack. I decided that if I was going to keep riding in this kind of condition, then I wasn't going to mess around. My elbows were pretty messy, so I couldn't use them to fight for position, so I moved up by just riding straight up the side of the road, with no draft. I got to the front to see DCM and the the Yellow Jersey's team going all out on the front. I found Lawson and asked what was going on. Apparently Nate had gotten up the road with a small group and the pack was in a panic. The gap was staying at 25 seconds.

Eventually Nate's group got caught, so I attacked as soon as it did. It was a pathetic looking attack, since I couldn't bend my arm to sprint, but I got away all the same. Gavin and an Avia rider came across, and we drilled it as hard as we could. Like Nate's group, we got 25 seconds, and no more. Apparently, once again, DCM and Predictor-Lotto and all the others were chasing flat out. Our Avia companion refused to help, and we started going back to the group. Just before getting caught I attacked again, this time a Frenchman came with me, and the best young rider. We stayed away until we reached the circuits in town, and were swallowed up.

Up until that point I had been riding on adrenaline and a kind of ticked off attitude. But now that was worn off, and I realized just how bad everything hurt. I was also on the edge of bonking, after all that time off the front. I slipped back through the pack, and with 4 seven km circuits remaining, was at the very back. I couldn't stand up to sprint after the corners well, and my seat was twisted out of position. I got dropped a bunch of times, and was ready to call it quits. For some reason I didn't, and I caught back on again and again. I suffered more in those last laps then I can remember suffering in any bike race. At the finish, I gave one last gasp effort to close a gap from me to the wheel in front of me so as to keep the same time as the rest of the pack. Up ahead, our heroics had not gotten the job done, and none of our attacks had stayed away. As soon as I stopped, I collapsed, and spent the next thirty minutes getting pavement picked out of me by the race doctor.

So the race was definately not a resounding success for Hot Tubes, but Stuart did save the day by securing our lone piece of swag, third place in the best young rider (17 year olds) competition. I was tenth in that classification. Now my teammates have flown back to the USA and I am getting ready to go over to Izegem with the USA National team to start the second part of my European adventures. I think I go to Germany next, but I'm not really sure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

First Races In Belgium

Going to Belgium to race must be like what it feels like for a 5th round draft pick quarterback who suddenly finds himself starting against the Baltimore Ravens. Bike racing in Belgium does indeed feel like football in the USA, with local stars seen stopping by pastry and coffee shops; revered as the next Tom Boonen or Stijn Devolder by their supporters. As the owner of the small cycling-oriented hotel we are staying at said, "Tourists come and go with economy, but racing goes on no matter." In fact, the bike seems to be inherant in just about every part of life here, from the 40lbs town bikes that carry the commuters, to the 60 year olds out for a weekend spin, to the various levels of competitive riders always seen on the narrow roads of Belgium. So telling an inquisitive Belgian that we are a cycling team here to race means we can puff out our chests a little bit.

The flight across the atlantic was uneventfull and my Hot Tubes teammates and I were picked up by Hot Tubes graduate Simon Lambert-Lemay (currently riding for Belgian U23 team Devo-Lotto) from the airport. We then arrived at our place of residence in Oudenaarde, called the Hafter Kammen; which is a sort of hotel/bed and breakfast geared towards cyclists and cycling teams and is only a few kilometers from the Koppenberg. My teammates and I assembled bikes and had a day to work the kinks out of our legs before it was time for our first European race of the year in Hoboken. The race was 120km long and was a UCI 1.14 Interclub, which basically means it is as hard as it can be without being a world championship qualifyer. 32 teams were invited, each fielding 5 or 6 man squads, so the total start list came to 185. The USA national team was also present.

This was my first experience with big-time european racing, and I have to say, it wasn't all that pleasant. We only had four riders, since Lawson Craddock had to finish exams before flying in the next day. The course consisted of two dead flat 50 km loops (each with over 30 corners) and then two and a half 10km finishing circuits through town. The highest climb was a bridge. I started in about 50th position and was working hard to move up, but so was everyone else and I was pretty much getting slaughtered. Then a bunch of guys decided that a good way to move up was to jump through some traffic dividers to get onto a walking path; unfortunately they drilled a pole instead and caused a massive pileup right in front of me. I went down on the pile of bodies, very grateful that I had remembered to insert the crash pad over my bad hip. Besides some chainring punctures in my leg, everything was fine. I started chasing through the caravan. I finally got up to the race and began trying to move up from the back again. This time, I was able to slowly but surely make progress. I had just about made it to the top 20 when I felt my rear tire go flat. I managed to get out of the way of the crazy Belgian pack and put my hand up. The chief referee radioed my number to Toby back in the caravan. Luckily we had drawn car number 8, so I didn't have to wait long. I got a good fast wheel change and was once again chasing through the cars. There was just no way I was going to get off that easily in my first Euro race of the year apparently, because when I finally made it back through the pack, I was caught in another crash. I didn't actually fall, but my bike was on the bottom of the pile and I was standing in a ditch. At that point I wasn't sure if I was going to start laughing or crying, but instead I just waited while the Belgians frantically pulled their bikes and my bike apart. I chased back again and made contact. All this happened in the first 50 km.

While all of this had been happening to me, Gavin had made it into the winning move, and Nate and Stuart were patrolling the front. I was pretty much winded from my interval training in the caravan, and only saw the front for small patches of time after that. I tried to help cover moves with Stuart, but in all honesty, I was pretty much a non-factor in the race after that, something I'm never really psyched about. The finishing circuits were pretty bizarre, especially since they involved a 40mph gradual descent followed by a hard turn onto a cobblestone section, then a u-turn, over railroad tracks, on cobbles, followed by a sprint up a bridge. We did this three times. The last time I was actually sitting in decent position, when three riders right in front of me fell on the railroad tracks, while doing about 8mph. I did a big loop around them, and by the time I got going again, was way out of position. Gavin got the best USA result of the day in 14th. I suffered home midpack at 91st, with Nate and Stuart in between. There's a velonews article about the race covering the USA national team's escapades at the race at .

This wasn't all that great of a way for me (or the team) to start off our Euro racing calendar, so at yesterday's kermesse race in Vingte, we were all anxious to put matters to rights. This course featured 13 circuits on narrow roads totalling about 100km, and a fierce wind. A kermesse is by no means as competitive as an Interclub, but with a field of 80-90, an American team can expect plenty of opposition from the home teams. With Lawson Craddock having arrived, we were fielding a full five man squad. We started things off with a bang by sending Lawson up the road. Then Nate and Gavin bridged up with a couple of Belgian riders. Then a large group of about ten attacked in an attempt to get across, so I covered it. With three out of five in the move ahead, our team was in an ideal position, so I just sat on. This earned me an earful of more flemish curses and death wishes than I thought imaginable, along with a few attempts at my front wheel by angry riders; but I still refused to take any real pulls. I tried to bridge alone to the leading group, but a group of three came up to me, so I sat on that group. Despite my refusing to help, they were closing the gap on my teammates in the lead group. As soon as they made the junction, I attacked with Lawson on my wheel. We quickly built a large gap over the small group behind us, since there were two Hot Tubes teammates in it. Then we looked back to see Nate bridging across. We waited, and soon we had a three man team time trial going. With Gavin in the group of four behind us, and Stuart policing the pack behind that, we built a big lead in a hurry. The family that owns the hotel had come to watch the race, along with all the other guests staying there, so we had our own fan club spread all around the course. It felt pretty pro to have all those people yelling for " 'ot Tubes, 'ot Tubes!". With a kilometer to go, Nate, Lawson, and I started talking about how we should finish. Nate, our team captain, unselfishly decided that I would cross the line first, followed by Lawson and then himself. We jacked up the speed as we came into town, and crossed the line, hands raised. Behind, Gavin took 6th to complete our team dominance.

I haven't won a race in a very long time, but that wasn't the reason that this day was so special for me. After breaking my leg last August, and waking up from surgery to the sight of hospital lights, I thought my racing days might be behind me. Through the winter, as I struggled to complete twenty minute trainer rides at 100 watts, I wanted to quit and just be content with being able to walk again more times than I can count. The team win felt like I had come full circle, and all that had happened to me was finally behind me.

I have been in need of a haircut for some time now, so today I finally headed into town, race winnings in hand, and got the Euro hair-cut. It's not quite Tom Boonen, but it's pretty different than the standard buzz cut that I usually get. The other interesting thing that happened today was when a Rabobank rider came out of a side road in front of us while we were training. We tried to catch him, but I get the feeling he didn't want company, because he got in the drops and started hammering as soon as we came up behind him.

On Wednesday we leave for France, where we will be competing in the country's biggest junior race, a three stage event in Morbihan. I think it is ranked UCI 2.1, which basically means it's the craziest thing I will see until I manage to go pro. We have the defending champion, Nate Brown, on our team, so the crosshairs will be on us. I'm psyched for the chance to get Hot Tubes on the top step of the podium again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hot Tubes Training Camp

Training Camp is undoubtedly my favorite week of the year. Brand new equipment, an ipeccably clean bike, riding in the North Georgia mountains, catching up old with teammates and meeting new ones, and embarking on team adventures combine to make the Team Camp an exciting time. This year I left for camp from the Tour of the Battenkill with my two teammates, Gavin Mannion and Stuart Wight, Toby and Gabriella taking turns driving the van. We returned to the Muir's beautiful house at the top of a mountain in Tiger, Georgia; where we met up with the rest of our 7-man team. Once again, our team has riders from a wide variety of locations around North America. The team is comprised of returning riders; Nate Brown of Memphis, Gavin Mannion from Massachusetts, and myself; and new riders Lawson Craddock from Houston, Ben Gabardi from Mississippi, and Ian Boswell of Bend Oregon, and Stuart Wight from New Brunswick.

The first night was spent unloading the van and fitting our new Cervelo R3 Sl's. We then enjoyed "Christmas in April" as Toby distributed team equipment and clothing articles. We rode along the roads made famous by the Tour de Georgia, including Hogpen Gap and the infamous Brasstown Bald. Spair time was spent checking e-mails, playing ping-pong and pool, and a wee bit of school work. We also took a trip to the movie theater and had our annual bowling tournament (of which I was once again last pick while selecting teams).

The undisputed most exciting part of the camp was our white water rafting expedition on section 4 Chatooga river. We arose early and rode the 17-20 miles to the rafting headquarters. Then we rode in an ancient re-badged school bus to the put-in. The water was once again a high and did not dissapoint when it came to thrills. The "climax" of the day came in a particularly difficult and dangerous part of the river known as "jawbone" or some other ominous name. We struck a rock with a "Ka-Boom" and we all landed in the bottom of the raft. We were all laughing until somebody yelled, "Where'd she go, where'd she go?!" referring to our raft guide. We looked around and couldn't see her for probably ten or fifteen seconds, until she popped up just downstream of the raft. No sooner did she surface than the raft slammed into her and pinned her to a boulder. By the time we fished her out she was waterlogged and scared.

The remainder of the rafting trip went without incident or emergency and we once again rapped up our Georgia team camp. From there I drove back to Massachusetts with Toby and left for Europe on the following Tuesday. Now I've had a couple of rides to get the jet lag out of me and am psyched for my first Euro race of the year today in Hoboken, Belgium.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dirt and chaos at the Tour of the Battenkill

Tour of the Battenkill is a unique race in that the racers ride bikes that were specifically not designed for the conditions at hand. In this case, that included twisting descents and crazy steep climbs of dirt and sand. This year I met up with two of my teammates, Stuart Wight and Gavin Mannion, at the race before heading south with the team to a training camp in Georgia.

The race started off easy enough, as the first dirt section had to be removed because it was unridable. However, the fireworks started soon enough with the climb over Juniper Swamp road. My teammates and I led into the climb and all emerged at the top in the first five riders. Just getting up it was a tough enterprise, so climbing it in the middle of the pack was pretty much impossible. Surprisingly, the pace was pretty easy between dirt sections, and the pack was pretty much all together at mile 60. My teammates and I tried to lead into all the dirt sections to stay out of trouble. One descent was so fast and the corners so sharp that the first ten riders went right off the road. I grabbed some brakes and realized that my rear wheel was about a foot to the right. Somehow I made it out and exited the dirt with another grin on my mud-covered face.

Finally the hammer got dropped a little after mile 60. Gavin and I made the split into a group of about 15, and Stuart flatted just as the move went, ending his chances for the day. I attacked the group, got caught, then Gavin attacked, but a group of 3 caught him before the finish. I came in with the next group for 8th, and Gavin took second because he ran out of gears in the downhill sprint. In the interest of team bonding, I helped Gavin down his prize, a half gallon of fresh made chocolate milk.

Immediately after, Stuart, Gavin and I left with Toby and Gabriella for the long drive to team camp in Georgia. I was interested to see how my new invention of "Ultra-Lite Travel Bags" would hold up, since I used plastic garbage bags. The invention needs some fine tuning for sure. After a week of training in the north Georgia mountains, my teammates and I will be departing for our European adventures.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

First Post!

So I've finally started a blog, whether or not I'll keep it updated remains to be seen; but I'll give it my best shot! Right now the biggest thing going on is the start of the racing season, and after an extremely difficult winter spent healing from a triple open fractured femur; I'm more than ready to get down to racing! I've done four races so far, and am happy to see that my leg is still attatched and functioning. Right now I am using a small crash pad under my shorts to protect the metal in my leg and hip. Besides looking like I have a very unusual lump on my leg; I enjoy some peace of mind about the possibility of future crashes.

Right now, I am "enjoying" the Vermont spring time, or more accurately, wishing it would stop snowing long enough to get some good training in. My next big race is The Tour of the Battenkill on April 18th, and I am hoping to return to Europe to race again as well. Now I can congratulate myself for just finishing my first blog!
thanks for reading.