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.