Sunday, December 19, 2010

college semester, getting back in the swing of things

Whew it's been a little while since I last posted! Over the past few months I made the surprising discovery that college can actually be a lot of work, and I had to quickly learn some lessons in college work efficiency. I also had a 40+ minute commute each way to school every day since I lived at home in order to avoid housing costs at UVM (if anybody has any pull with the high-ups there who set the cost of living in a space about the size of a large kitchen table, please use it!). I remedied this problem by bringing a sleeping bag and sleeping in the back of the car from time to time. Generally, I'm not real proud of the status symbol of driving my mom's minivan, but it turns out to be a great vehicle for sleeping in when the back seets are out. After the cold weather hit and vagrancy ordinances posed problems to my parking-lot abode, I was graciously put up by various members of UVM cycling and other friends at school or in the Burlington area.

Obviously I was very excited for the opportunity to go to school for the semester, and enjoyed all of my classes. However, I have to say that the relief I felt on finishing my last exam tuesday evening and walking away knowing that I had no more assignments due was something amazing, to say the least. Besides courseload, the other difficulty was the snow that made my training roads its home over the past few weeks. After having returned from rides completely covered with snow and both brakes and gears frozen in ice, I realized that a change in the climate was definitely necessary. I am quite happy now to be taking the spring semester off from school to focus undistractedly on my upcoming race season with the Garmin u23 program. I am now down in Connecticut training with my friend Paul Lynch for a week, and after Christmas I'm planning on going to Arizona for some training before kicking off the race season.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Post-Worlds, end of the season

As I am sitting here writing this, I am no longer a bike racer, at least for the moment. For now, I am officially a college student, focusing on building up some neurons in the coming semester at UVM. That's probably a good thing, considering all the brain cells that have undoubtedly died during extended periods of anaerobic distress while suffering away all summer in the European peleton. Yes, the offseason is definitely a time for resting the legs and working the mind, though I have to admit that deciphering early American literature is every bit as difficult as holding the wheel on an Alpine climb. But before I get into the joys of learning (as people who no longer have homework like to call it), I enjoyed a pretty exciting finale to the season that I want to talk a bit about.

At the end of my last blog, I mentioned that we were about to start our final European junior race, the UCI 2.1 Regio Tour in Germany, and that you should all expect a big showing from the stars and stripes crew. It turns out I was a whole lot righter (new word) than I thought, since we flew around the 8.5 km team time trial course at about 50km/h (sans aero equipment) and finished with the best time. Standing at the finish line, waiting for the last team (the homeland favorite German National Team) to finish were some of the most nervous moments that I've had since my driver's test. When the clock ticked past our time and they announced USA to be the winner by 6 seconds, we all let out a huge victory whoop. Then we got our podium presentation and Ryan Eastman was awarded the yellow jersey for first finisher of the first team.

After all the excitement, we knew we had our work cut out for us to try and defend the jerseys (Paul Lynch had the Best Young Rider Jersey). Stage 2 had some early time bonus sprints, so team director Barney King decided to have me or Nate Geoffrion go on the attack early on to put the pressure on the Germans. I got in an early move and snagged two seconds in a time sprint, getting us a little more time on the Germans. Then a big move got away with none of us in it, and we had a good 20-30 kilometers of panic as we chased all out to bring it back. In the end, everything came together and finished in a group sprint. My two second time bonus had also moved me into the yellow jersey, so I got to go up on the podium for a second day. There I was presented with my yellow jersey, followed by a HUGE beer glass, which I was supposed to drink for the photos. I guess my lack of German birth showed, as I was barely able to make a visible dent in the beer level. I have only had a yellow jersey once before in my life, and that was for a day at a small stage race in Kentucky when I wasn't even 16 yet. Getting a yellow jersey in a UCI race in Germany felt pretty cool.

That said, a yellow jersey doesn't mean a whole lot if you can't hold on to it, and the next day I got a bit more than I bargained for. Paul Lynch and I got into a large early move with most of the contenders. I had terrible legs and was trying to sit in and conserve as much energy as possible, but as the yellow jersey I was often forced to close the constant attacks and splits. As the race progressed, I felt worse and worse, and told Paul he needed to start saving energy for himself and not work for me. Soon enough, the group split, with all the contenders in the front and myself and Paul in the second half, and shortly we were back in the main pack. With twenty kilometers to go, I was in such bad shape that I couldn't even imagine myself finishing, but along with my teammates, I dragged my sorry carcass back to the front to try and control the damage. We ended up finishing about 30 seconds down on the remainder of the breakaway, losing our jerseys after a miserably long day in the heat. I was completely shattered, and amazed at how quickly I had gone from the high of being part of winning the team time trial and having the yellow jersey, to feeling like I had completely let the team down.

Things didn't improve much on the fourth and final day, which featured non-stop steep climbs and twisty descents. I was attempting to lead Lawson out for the KOMs (which he won) when I crashed about halfway through the race. I had a front flat (whether a result or a cause of the crash, I still don't know)and the pack was so decimated by the climbs that it quickly became obvious that returning to the front group would be impossible. I rode another lap or two basically by myself before pulling out. Then I went to some drunk race medics who taped up my wounds in a spectacular fashion. The race didn't go much better for the rest of the team, though Lawson did save the day by winning the KOM competition and Ryan came in near the front.

It was a disappointing ending for sure, but we had walked away from our final race with some serious hardware, and could leave with our heads held high. This was also the first year that the USA had won the Nations Cup rankings, which felt pretty special. Then it was the long drive back to Belgium, and an early morning the next day as we flew back to our respective homes. When I finally landed in Burlington, exhausted and stiff as I was, it was quite an amazing feeling to know that I was finally home for a large chunk of time. I realized that I had been home less than a total of five weeks since February, and it felt good to see familiar faces and sights again. I was sick, scraped up, and in need of some rest and home made apple pie, both of which I got in abundance.

Of course, the racing season wasn't quite over yet. After a couple weeks, I was able to (with a ton of help from teammates Lawson and Robin)win my home Green Mountain Stage race. It was a great ending to a great time as a Junior these past five years. I still remember tenting out with my Dad and brother before races, though I'm sure I will have more adventures to come! I'm super excited for next year with the Garmin folks, and making the jump to U23 racing. I know it will feel strange seeing former teammates in rival's colors. For now though, I'm not thinking about bike racing for awhile. I have a ton of classwork to catch up on, and more importantly, am planning some fishing/hiking adventures. Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a great fall!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Life in Italy and Exciting News

First off with the Very Exciting News:
I just signed with Garmin's Felt-Hollowesko Partners U23 team for 2011 and 2012. Making it onto a quality U23 development team was a big goal of mine going into this season, so I'm very happy to have ended up with the folks at Garmin and their program. I know that making the jump to U23 racing will be difficult, but I've never been particularly good at (or interested in) things that are easy. Needless to say, I super psyched for the years to come.

Next year aside, this year hasn't been too dull either. After we finished the worlds road race, we had just enough time to take a quick shower and load our stuff in the van before we started the trip to Lucca, Italy. After taking several ill-advised turns from the GPS and less than direct routes, we finally arrived at around 2am. I made it from the back seat of the van to the foot of my bed and fell in without remembering much else.

After waking up bright and early (aka 11:00) the next morning, I got to take a look around our new home. The Lucca house was made up of about 6 attached mini apartments with their own kitchens and bathrooms. After some of the places I've stayed in the past, it was pure heaven. That and the fact that we were in the middle of Italy, with great weather, towns, rivers, and riding routes, meant that we were in for a great 10 days. The owner of the complex, who lived in the house next door, also happens to be the inventor/owner of SRM. His family and a ton of their friends were also on vacation there (from Germany), and we instantly made friends with the Germans who were always willing to go down to the river to hang out with us.

After taking some days to recover and lower our huge inventory of dirty laundry, we started to get out and explore some of the roads in the area. Every where we went, there were always more single-lane switchbacked roads that dissapeared high into the mountains. One day we rode up the famous Monte Serrat into a cloud, which was pretty cool; and then on into Piza, where I saw a tower leaning so far over that it looked like it was about to fall down (Italian builders must not be able to see straight). In Italy, just about everybody rides bikes, and most do it with great attention to speed and Euro-pro style. On one of our first rides, I was caught and swiftly dropped by at least 30 masters who looked like they could be my grandpa. I didn't even have time to explain to them that the only reason they were dropping me was because I was still tired from Worlds, before they left me in the dust of their tight paceline. In addition to the Euro-pro masters club, there happen to be more than enough real pros riding around in Italy. I spotted two Saxo Bank riders and Alessandro Petachi on one ride, and Mario Cippolini lived less than a kilometer from our house.

As well as being shown up by the local senior citizens racing team, another constant danger of the roads were the drivers- just about all of them. As if the narrow twisty roads weren't enough, just about everybody behind a wheel seems to think he's trying out for Formula One, flying around some one lane road at 130kmh, hands gesticulating wildly at anyone as unfortunate as to be in the way. Intersections are also conspicuously without and comprehendable right of way system or even stop signs. Another huge danger happened to be the population of killer mosquitos that seemed to be attracted to our high hematocrit cyclist blood. I'm not sure exactly what frightful calamity of nature happened to create such a blood thirsty race of mosquitos, but my nights were spent hiding under the covers and scratching monstrous lumps that made me look like a measles victim.

Aggressive wildlife aside, our time in Italy was pretty much awesome. We got up late, cooked our own meals, went for great rides in the mountains, and did a lot of relaxing. The city of Lucca also happened to be pretty amazing, surrounded by a huge wall and full of huge old buildings covered in artwork that would probably be famous back home. We had a great time hanging out with our German friends and I think we single-handedly boosted the gelatto (Italian ice cream) economy of the region. I would probably rank Italy right up there with Switzerland on my list of places to live when I get filthy rich.

I was definitely sad to leave Italy behind, but after all of our time relaxing and having fun, it was time to get back to work. We're now in Germany for the four-day UCI 2.1 Regio Tour, which will be my last European race as a junior. I have come a long way since I left my first European trip with my tail between my legs. I've gone to incredible places, experienced great adventures (okay, some maybe not so great), and basically had an awesome time. I'm also going to miss the group of guys that I've spent pretty much the past two years living and traveling with. Fortunately, I plan on putting the hammer down with them again next year. Before I get all emotional though, I need to start getting ready for the first stage in a couple of hours. It's a team time trial a la Eddy Merckx (no aero bikes), so how cool is that! I know that we all want to go out with a bang so expect a big performance from the boys in the stars and stripes.

We all head home on Monday. I haven't thought of it a bunch, but I really haven't been home for more than a few weeks since February, and I'm ready to see the fam again. And my dog Molly, I really miss her! Then it will be what should be my last race of the year; the Green Mountain Stage Race in front of the home crowds. Then back to hitting the books for a semester at UVM. I'm excited for it, but I still intend to find plenty of time for more important activities, such as hiking, fishing, canoing, skiing and such. Just don't tell my professors!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

World Championships

After all the excitement, it was time for racing. First was the time trial, which only Lawson and Eamon were doing. Lawson placed second last year at worlds so he was a big contender for the win. We watched them both start and then waited and listened to the time checks while eating gelatto. Lawson repeated his worlds podium with a bronze medal and Eamon gave a solid performance with 17th.

Two days later and it was the big day. The road race started at 2 pm, and temperatures were in the 90's. With 128 mountainous kilometers ahead of us, we did everything we could to stay cool with cold drinks and ice socks. On the start line the tv helicopter came over and I tried my best to spot myself in the big TV screen across the parking lot. They counted us down and we were off. Down the descent, I came around a corner to see just about all of Holland pulling their bikes out of the ditch. After that everyone was full of nervous energy and bouncing off each other and falling down. Finally after a few laps, all the excited bozos realized just how long and hard this race was going to be and stopped trying to kill each other for position. We all did everything we could to conserve energy early on, sag climbing, drinking lots, even trying to stay in the shade in the climb.

Halfway through I saw that the pack was already shrinking. I was feeling pretty good, but knew I had to keep from losing to the heat. After 6 of 8 laps, the group was down to less than 40 and we were pretty much all in a world of hurt from the distance and heat. Ryan, who was suffering from a doozy of a cold, made it back up to the lead group to take one last big pull at the front to chase in a break and then swung off, leaving just Lawson and me. On the final long climb of lap 7, the big guns started attacking. I dug as deep as I could to stay in contact over the top and made it. We had a group of probably two dozen with a break of 5 nearly 50 seconds up the road going into the last lap. After the descent I knew it was time to do my job and I hit the front. I just went about as hard as I could from there to the base of the final climb, bringing the gap down to about 20 seconds. I hit the climb, swung off, shifted into my easiest gear and wished Lawson well as the remainder of the field rushed by me.

I slowly weaved my way up the climb asking willing spectators to please splash me with their water bottles as racers labored past me. I kept an eye on the helicopter hovering a couple minutes up the road and wondered what was going on with the leaders. I finally rolled across the line to hear that Lawson had finished 14th. It was dissapointing but we had all done the best we could and the winner was extremely deserving, having attacked out of the break just before it was caught on the final climb.

I was utterly shattered from the 3.5+ hours of racing in the heat, but things were not as dismal as they at first seemed. Lawson's 14th secured the points needed for the USA to win the Nations Cup rankings for the first time in history, just ahead of Russia and Australia. As it turned out, I could claim a small amount of credit for that, since a Russian was in the five man breakaway. Had I not been able to reduce the lead in the last lap, Russia might have taken the lead in the final Nations Cup race.

In addition, I managed to get a second or two on RAI (the Italian version of ESPN). See if you can spot me at 2:10 and 2:38 :-)

We had very little time to reflect after the race before we had to pack up our stuff, take a quick shower and get in the van for a 6 hour drive to Lucca, Italy. Lucca is where the women's national team house is located, which we are currently staying at. This seems like an awesome place, and we've been spending most of our time down by the river cooling off in the current. After a week here, we'll be off to Germany, where we will compete in what will be my final European race as a junior, the Regio Tour.

Oregon to Italy

When traveling around to various bike racing adventures, I generally don't get much say regarding the locations or weather conditions at the different parts of the world we happen to be in. However, I have to say that these past few weeks I seem to have hit the jackpot. After returning from what was a 90% rainy trip in Ireland, I returned to my home away from home in Bend, Oregon to do some training and the Cascade Classic stage race. Also, to this point, my perception of Europe has been that of cold, wet, deisel covered roads and races, without a whole lot of sun to brighten the mood. All that has changed since coming to Italy, where we are enjoying day after day of beautiful sunshine, great riding roads, and food. It more than makes up for the fact that I haven't been home for the two weeks of Vermont heat in the last three years!

After two and a half marathon days of travel from Ireland to Oregon (which followed ten straight days of racing); I was ready for some serious recovery time. Unlucky for me, the Boswells and Ben King had nothing of the sort in mind and I found myself heading out on long rides at altitude. I was able to recover afterwords by icing my legs in the freezing cold sections of the Des Chutes river as Austin and I hit the evening hatch with our fly rods. Once the pro Cascade Classic started, we could spend portions of the day cheering Ben and Ian on as well. Robin flew in for the category two race which started a few days laterand the three of us headed off to race.

Since I have been racing basically all year in Europe, it came as a bit of a surprise how different American racing was. Stage 1 was fairly long and ended on a big climb, so the pack contented itself on riding around at what seemed a rediculously slow pace. After taking a pee brake and catching up with no difficulty, it seemed that an attack was in order. Robin and I made our way to the front and launched at max speed. We looked back to see the pack in an all out sprint to catch us. After a while we sat up and the single-file pack caught us. Immediately I was ready for the counter-attack, which would be a given in any European race. It never happened; and the pack was content to just sit on our wheels. We finally hit the climb and I ended up second, but it was quite funny to hear the riders complain about what an aggressive and difficult race it was.

During Cascade I was selected to represent the US in the Junior World Championships, which meant I would be leaving for Italy the day after the race. I was very excited, as making the world's team had been a goal of mine for quite a while, but I also knew that I had no intention of going to worlds just to say that I went to worlds, but that I was going to have an impact on the race. I packed up my bag, said goodbye again to my hosts, the Boswells, and headed off to Europe. There I met up with the rest of the worlds team, Lawson Craddock, Ryan Eastman, Nate Geoffrion, Paul Lynch, and Eamon Lucas. After a few days in the Izegem house (during which time some of the teams lost luggage finally arrived)the team was off to our last pre-worlds test, the UCI 2.1 Liege la Gleize race.

Liege was a less than awesome race for me and the team. The first day I was in the early breakaway but flatted out. The second day was a team time trial that I got dropped in half way through. The evening stage saw both me and Lawson crack and lose serious time in. In addition, I was suffering from some distress of the stomach/bowel system that made racing even more uncomfortable. The final day was slightly better for the team as Lawson finished in the first group and the most the rest of us came in the second group for top 40 finishes.

We were all eager to put that race behind us as we travelled to Italy to take on the world's best in Offida Italy. We arrived a few days early so we had time to enjoy the scenery and the weather while doing easy rides and resting our legs. Eamon and I headed into town to get a haircut, where the barber didn't speak english. But as soon as he figured out we were there for the race and from America; he gave us both free haircuts, including stenciling in a USA in the back of Eamon's head. I have no idea what he was saying the whole time, but he seemed very excited.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nationals, survival camp, Fitchburg, and Ireland

When asked what the hardest part about being an elite cyclist is, many would probably respond by mentioning the long climbs, brutal crosswinds, and dangers of racing. While I would definitely agree that all of these things present their difficulties; its the sight of another security line at the airport that makes me cringe more than the Koppenberg. For every exciting moment of adrenaline I experience in a race, there's another much less thrilling moment of arguing with a gate agent about rediculous bike fees. This year it seems I have spent even more time navigating the airport maze. Especially in the last three weeks, I have learned that being able to adapt to the hassles of travel with racing is vital to performing at my best.

From all of this you can probably gather that I have been on the move quite a bit recently. It started off with the National Championships in Bend, Oregon several weeks ago. Bend is the home of the Boswells, who the team stayed with again this year. Ian Boswell was on Hot Tubes last year, and his brother Austin is on the team this year. Bend also happens to be one of my favorite cities in the country, and I was really happy to get out there about a week early to spend time eating frozen yogurt, floating the river, and fly fishing with Austin. The races didn't go super well for me, as I only managed a dissapointing sixth place in the time trial and a pack finish in the road race. Lawson made up for that and more by winning all three events in dominating fashion.

Determined not to let poor performance get in the way of having fun, Austin and I rolled back up to the house after the road race and packed up a tent and a couple potatoes in a back pack and drove out to a remote canyon in the Lower Deschutes. After hitching a ride from a passing boater to cross the river we hiked eight miles up the canyon and set up camp on a hill above the rail road. Then we snuck down to the river bank to catch some fish, because those two potatoes were not enough for my empty belly. The next day we used a boat to cross the river and started hiking out after some more fishing. We got to a remote country road and were becoming really tired of walking; so we were quite happy when a van trundled up and the couple driving it out let us hitch a ride. After getting out, I was quite tired surviving on charcoaled potatoes and fish and made up for it with a diet of ice cream and candy bars. I decided I would put off being Bear Grilles for awhile and return to racing my bike.

Thus it was that after stumbling out of the wilderness, I packed my bikes and got on the plane to Boston for the Fitchburg stage race. Hot Tubes hadn't lost Fitchburg since basically before I could walk, so we really didn't want this to be the first time. Unfortunately, we were facing a stacked Garmin junior team with Aussi Lachland Morton, so we knew our work would be cut out for us. In stage two's road race I got up the road with a breakaway and won the stage, putting me in second overall, about 20 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. After the next days time trial, where I finished third, I found myself in a three way tie for first with teammate Lawson and Lachland Morton. With only hundreths of a second separating us, I knew that the final stage's criterium would be all out. I spent basically the entire crit launching attacks, but was unable to stay away in the short race. Lawson got second in the field sprint and won the overall by a time bonus. I got third by fractions of a second to Morton.

After the race finished, we packed our bikes and headed to the airport where we began the overnight flight to Ireland for the Junior Tour of Ireland. We had to change planes in London's Heathrow airport, where for some reason they had us go through customs and security several times. After arriving in Ireland that morning, we were picked up by some of the race organizers and began the three hour car ride to the race hotel. They supposedly speak English in Ireland, but you sure could have fooled me. I had to learn to listen intently, and then just guess as to what was being said.

After arriving at our hotel, we put our bikes together and got ready for the Stage 1 time trial in a few hours. Looking outside, we saw gusting winds and torrential rain. After getting kitted up we got on our bikes and began riding to the start. We got to the end of the driveway, turned right, and were immediately greeted by a semi bearing down on us in our lane, horn blaring. After several more of these confusing and frightening incidents, we began to get the hang of staying on the left side of the road.

We did the point to point time trial, and then were instructed as to which way to go to return to our lodging. Unfortunately, that turned into an hour and a half ride into a howling headwind in the driving rain with dark coming on. After finally making it back, I went to bed and got some much needed sleep. After waking up and seeing the results sheet, I could only scratch my head. I knew that I wasn't exactly killing it in the time trial after all that travel, but losing a minute fifteen in four kilometers for 70th out of 75 didn't really make sense. I could only wonder if somehow they had mistaken me for another racer at the mist covered summit finish and made a timing error.

I stopped worrying about that and put myself to the much more pressing situation of eating as much breakfast as possible. Breakfast consisted of the normal eggs, sausage and toast. Less normal however, were the tomatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, and cured ham, which they called a "rasher". After that, we began to get into the rythm of the six day race, where steep hills, killer crosswinds, and battered roads split the pelaton time after time. Hot Tubes was firing on all cylanders, and Stuart took the yellow jersey and the stage win on day two, which he defended all the way to the end. When all was said and done, we had won four of the six stages, finished second and third on the other two, gotten first and second on GC, and nearly won the points and kom as well. It's hard to imagine a race going better than that. I was happy with my performances after the tt, as I got second on one stage, won another stage, spent a couple days in the climbers jersey, and finished seventh overall.

During the racing, we all took some time to admire the steep cliffs to the ocean, rolling green hills, and picturesque villages. Of course, we always had to have a close eye on the road ahead of us, where we were often confronted by herds of sheep roaming about the fields and roads. Crashing off of a picturesque cliff into the picturesque ocean while looking at picturesque fields because of hitting an angry ram was something none of us wanted to do and we all successfully avoided after several close calls.

After all the post race pictures and awards, we again packed up our bikes and prepared for another marathon travel day(s). After leaving at 5:30 am, and barely making a connection in London, we arrived in Boston late that night. Austin and I got a few hours of sleep before leaving at 4am to fly out to Oregon again.

After surviving 10 straight days of racing intersperced with overnight flights, I'm enjoying some much needed rest at the Boswell's house again, and eating lots of frozen yogurt. Next week I'll get back to racing with the Cascade Cycling Classic. All this traveling takes its toll, but I'm learning to roll with it and enjoy the destinations as well as the racing. I am excited for the rest of the season, as long as it doesn't require surviving on burned potatoes and fish!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hard Work and Big Results at Tropheo Karlsberg!

While our Pays de Vaude experience in Switzerland was exciting and fairly successful, we felt we had to make amends for losing the yellow jersey on the final stage. Our next race, the Nations Cup (the highest level of international racing)Tropheo Karlsberg stage race in Germany gave us just such an opportunity. We spent several days at the UCI world cycling center in Aigle, Switzerland between races. Predictably, everything at the UCI center was about rules. Our rooms were checked several times a day by a non-english speaking enforcer who made sure our beds were made and our clothes folded. At lunch we were warned that we were only allowed to eat three things, and that they had to be of regulation portion size. It became my mission to always pirate out an illegal sized bowl of salad at dinner. Between short recovery rides, we spent time enjoying the view of towering snow-covered mountains and lake Geneva, as well as enjoying the cafes downtown and using my prize money to obtain a much needed haircut.

Switzerland is definitely my favorite country now, and I knew I was going to miss it as we loaded into the van to make the five hour drive to Germany. After leaving the mountains behind, we arrived to the sight of green pastures, short but steep climbs, narrow roads, and medieval villages. We were informed that while the Karlsberg race did not feature the 10+ kilometer climbs of Pays de Vaude, it was no less difficult thanks to the circuits up the steep narrow climbs and the high level of competition.

We moved into our new lodging, which was a condo rented out by the hotel. The general atmosphere was definitely more welcoming than that of the UCI center, and portion sizes at meals were also more than we could have hoped for. I looked like a five year old kid on Christmas morning when I realized that breakfast was a feast featuring different kinds of cereals, yogurt, breads and so forth. I had almost grown accustomed to the usual cornflakes with a roll that is so common for European breakfast. Sharing the hotel with us were kids from countries all around the world. In addition to the usual European powerhouse cycling nations, teams representing places like Russia, Japan, Latvia, and South Africa were present. The general feeling in the town was one of great anticipation, celebration, and excitement, as the race organizer had done an excellent job of promoting the race to the general public. The fact that this also happened to be a holiday weekend added to the all around celebratory attitude that permeated the crowds surrounding the course.

While enjoying the spectacle of it and taking it all in was definitely something I was going to do (I knew just how many kids wish they were right where I was), I also knew that I had a job to do to make sure that USA got its first junior Nations Cup win of the year. The week of Karlsberg was also unseasonably hot under a baking sun, which meant that although I would get to work on my non-existent Vermonter tan, I would have to be very careful not to overheat in the races. Traditionally, heat has been my big weakness in racing, but fortunately most of the Europeans hate it even more than me, and our director Ben Sharp made sure that we were prepared for the weather.

Before starting the first stage, Ben revealed his secret weapon. When he pulled out a bag of socks, I was a bit skeptical. He then filled them with ice and tied off the ends, instructing us to put them down the back of our jerseys in the race. With these strange looking lumps in our backs dripping ice water down to our behinds, we lined up for the start. At the start line, the race organizer decided to play some song called "West Virginia" at maximum volume and speed. He seemed very excited and kept pointing at us Americans as if we were supposed to know all of the words to this great American song we had never heard before.

Stage 1 began with a 4km neutral (aka, all out mayhem) start followed by 1 kilometer of flat, immediately followed by a sharp couple of corners and an extremely steep and narrow 1.5km climb. While no climbs took more than a couple minutes to crest, the constant sprinting out of a dead stop from a corner on the bottom took its toll. Enthusiastic supporters lined the roads using whatever they could to make noise, from their own voiced to deafening airhorns. A little after half-way through the race, a group of about twenty riders split off the front with Lawson in it. Eventually, I bridged up with three other riders. Another large group came up with Nate Geoffrion a little while later. Ryan was having a terrible day and was dropped early, so we knew that we were without one of our strongest riders. We started riding tempo on the front to try and keep anyone dangerous from getting away. As we neared the final climb of the stage, I knew I was not having a good day. Rather than trying to hang on to the back of the group for dear life, I decided to take one pull as hard as I could a the bottom to help Lawson and then peel off. Nate and I cruised in a couple of minutes down while Lawson finished safely towards the front of the group.

The hardest part of stage 2 was the neutral start, where the entire team was nearly dropped. Apparently whoever was driving the car thought that neutral meant driving uphill at 40 kilometers an hour. After surviving that, the race calmed down a bit and we were able to move to the front of the group. The course for that day looped into France and then back into Germany, so we got the unusual experience of being cheered for in two languages in one race. Ben had said for me to be aggressive near the end of the race, so I bridged up to two other riders off the front. I thought we were on the last lap coming into the finish, and couldn't understand why the pack had let us go so easily. After the disappointing realization that we still had another 30km to go, I also noticed that the riders I was with were dangers to the Lawson in the overall classification. I immediately stopped helping with the pace and we slowed down and waited for a group of 15 to catch us. With no sign of Lawson or any other USA riders, I was getting pretty worried. Ryan bridged up with another large group, and still no Lawson. We were sitting on the back of the group wondering what to do, when finally Lawson made an appearance. As soon as we saw Lawson was in the group, Ryan and I immediately went to the front and started bringing back all the attacks. Coming into the final climb, Ryan and I pulled back a dangerous attack by a pair of Italians and then peeled off on the climb. Lawson accelerated and took a big stage win, giving him the yellow jersey. We were all very excited and the race had pretty much gone perfectly, with the team pulling back dangerous moves and Lawson finishing it off with a killer kick to the line.

The next morning was an 11km time trial, which for all of team USA besides Lawson meant an 11 kilometer joy ride, basically. Because we now had the yellow jersey, and Lawson was the favorite to take even more time in the time trial, it was important that the team have as much energy saved up as possible. The key was to ride it slow enough not to get tired, but not so slow that we missed the time cut and would not be allowed to start the next stage. It was kind of nice getting to enjoy the countryside, even while technically "racing". I'm sure the spectators were all very disappointed by my lack of a sprint finish, as I just shifted into my big ring across the line and rode back to the car. Lawson, meanwhile, was doing nothing of the sort, as he won his 6th international time trial of the year and padded his lead in the yellow jersey.

That afternoon's stage was 98km, and I was plenty glad that I had been able to save energy in the time trial by the end of it. Now with the yellow jersey, it was our team's responsibility to chase down all dangerous attacks. About halfway through the race, a breakaway had 2:30 on the pack; it was time to go to work. The team hit the front and we started pulling back time. By the time we reached the fast finishing circuits we had it down to 1:30. Those circuits were probably the fastest I've ever sustained in a race, as we were basically spinning out our biggest gears the entire time. Finally, Italy came to the front to help set up their big sprinter, Moser. Russia followed suit and the break was caught. Ryan and I got out of the way and tried to avoid the mayhem of the final lap. Curses flew in a plethora of languages and more than a few times hands came off the bars for swings at other riders as racers all fought for position in the sprint. Thankfully, there was no giant pile-up in the finishing sprint and we all came in safely with the pack.

Starting the 5th and final stage, we knew that we were only 122 kilometers away from getting a huge victory. The race started early, so fortunately we wouldn't have to worry about the heat for an hour at least. Standing at the start line, the song "West Virginia" was starting to grow on me, and now I could sing about half of the words, to the delight of the race organizer, who was wildly dancing along. Then, they fired a huge cannon, we caused me to nearly jump out of my shorts in fright, and we were off.

It was a long race, and Ben told us to save our energy for the first hour. The remaining two hours were some of the hardest I've done in any race. When we hit the front, there was yet another break up the road, but we only had to ride a tempo to keep the gap in check. The race was getting hotter, and the hard days of racing were beginning to take their toll on everyone. The pack continued to diminish in size from our pace on the front. I went back to the car to pick of bottles for the team over and over again, and stuffed ice filled socks down my jersey. I would ride on the front on the flats, trying to set a fast tempo, then suffer to stay in contact as they accelerated up the climbs, and then go back to the front again. As each kilometer passed by that Lawson's rivals couldn't attack, I knew we were closer to getting the win. Finally we caught the breakaway that had contained a dangerous British rider as we went into the last lap. It was just Ryan and me with Lawson now, and we knew our job was almost finished. I rode basically as hard as I could to the base of the final climb about 5 km from the finish and pulled off with Ryan. Lawson was on his own now, but I knew he could handle the last bit by himself. Ryan and I soft-pedaled in and as Ben passed us in the car he gave us a big thumbs up. At the finish we found Lawson already surrounded by a crowd of photographers and fans, and we knew that all our hard work had paid off.

Lawson is definitely one of the most dominant riders in the world this year, and I'm really glad I was able to be a part of this win. We had riders, coaches and spectators tell us how they have never seen a team ride that strong before, which made it all worth it for me. Then came all the celebration that comes with winning a major stage race in Europe.

Even better, retired cycling superstar Eric Zabel, whose son was competing against us for the German National team, gave us a all a thumbs up. I'm also impressed with his nutrition program, which I am determined to adopt as well.

After all the excitement, I had to drive 5 hours back to Belgium, pack my bikes and bags, sleep for a few hours before beginning the long travel day home. I'm now at home getting some rest and recuperation, while preparing for my next goal, Nationals, which will be held in Bend, Oregon again this year.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Life in Switzerland

After my first European adventure of 2010 was interupted by illness and a broken bike, I again touched down at the Brussells airport looking forward to some more euro-style racing. I was more excited than usual, because for this trip we were going to be racing in Switzerland, a country I had never been to before. As a warm-up, I raced in the Vlaamse Ardennen Belgian stage race first. After an overall mediocre result there, I was happy to be off to the land of yodling, hole-filled cheese, big mountains, and good chocolate.

The team for this trip consists of myself, Ryan Eastman, Lawson Craddock, Ben Sweedberg, Nate Geoffrion, Kristo Jorganson, and team director Ben Sharp. We loaded ourselves, 18 bikes, and a lot of other stuff into the van and began the drive through France to Switzerland. The drive was rather mundane until suddenly we were going through really big mountains, small roads, and sweet castles. We dropped down from one mountain into a small town and we were at the border. Then we turned a corner and saw huge mountains covered in snow surrounding Lake Geneva, where we would be staying for the next week.

Accomidations were slightly less spectacular, as the race decided that the swiss army barracks were a good place to house two hundred racers and staff. The first night we stayed in an underground bunker with several feet of concrete above us and a formidable looking blast door at the entrance. The next night we were able to move above ground, but still were sleeping on army cots/bunks that meant all our small little beds were actually connected into one big bed. Meanwhile the swiss army was running around playing what appeared to be capture the flag. One day we went out for a ride and heard gunfire very close. Then our little country road emerged into the middle of a field, targets on our left and soldiers with guns on our right. After sprinting across the field, we were able to dodge all the bullets and make it safely back to the barracks.

In another run-in with the swiss army, I was walking between buildings at night to go get my massage when I noticed a green light in the shadows. I walked over to investigate and realized it was a soldier with his night-vision scope on. Barracks food was also somewhat meager, as even the menu candidly declared that dinner was "a small amount of pasta with a tiny sliver of beef", and a placard on the coffee machine proudly stated that it was "Celebrating coffee-making competence".

Between all of the excitement of this military lifestyle, we actually had some bike racing to do. The first day was a downtown 2km prologue along the lake. 2km city prologues definately aren't my favorite thing ever, but after crossing the line with a mid-pack time I continued rolling down the lake until I stopped for some ice cream while sitting on the lake shore. Switzerland has got to be the coolest country I've ever been to. Heck, any country where the primary means of transportation are those little push scooters that I had when I was a kid is a pretty cool country. While I was admiring the scenery and culture, Lawson won the prologue by more than two seconds.

We started stage 1 the next day with the yellow jersey, which meant a lot of time on the front. We started with Benny on the front, followed by Kristo and Nate. When a break started getting two minutes, Ryan and I joined in the rotation. Riding on the front for kilometers on end is hard, especially when we hit the long climbs and the attacks started, but its also kind of fun seeing USA stringing out the pelaton. Our work paid off and we brought back all the breaks for the finish and kept the jersey.

Stage 2 started early in the morning with a crazy little circuit through town. The team tail-gunned it through the city and then went to the front again. Almost immediately we hit the first long climb that hurt way more than anyone expected. After the pack regrouped on the descent, the team got reorganized and repeated the rotation on the front to keep the breakaway within reach. When we hit the final climb of the day we had it down to a minute gap, and Lawson took off with the leaders. I rode in with a second group about 45 seconds later and Lawson got third on the stage and kept the jersey.

Stage 3 was a 12km tt that afternoon. They way the race had been scheduling the stages, this was basically our third stage in 24 hours, with very limited sleeping time in between; so everyone was tired going into the TT. I started off at a good pace, but just fell apart half way through, finishing mid 40's. Lawson, on the other hand, crushed the tt and beat second place (bronze medalist at worlds last year) by 16 seconds to further pad his lead in the yellow jersey. We came into the final stage knowing we had our work cut out for us to try to keep yellow.

I awoke early on the morning of the final stage to dismal rain, fog, wind, and cold. The look on the faces of all the riders as they slowly moped their way through the breakfast line looked much pitiful. For some strange reason, I was actually pretty excited for the 125km race in rain. The race was epic from the beginning. Crashes started before the neutral was over, and the macho euro's who had lined up in just jersey and shorts were already blue with cold. I happily zipped up my super warm rain jacket as we headed into the cloud on the first KOM. At the base of the second climb, a break had about 50 seconds. The climb once again turned out to be much harder than anyone had anticipated, and for the first 3k of it my legs felt terrible. Lawson and another rider took off and bridged to the break. I reached the top with the second group maybe 40 seconds down (you couldn't really tell because of the fog). Climbing through the cloud, you could here cowbells all around, and every once in a while you would spot a couple cows; it was super cool despite the pain and cold.

The descent was long on slippery,and in the fog corners emerged into sight at the last second. We finally reached the bottom and our group started to come together. Ryan caught up and we tried to figure out what the heck was going on. Our team strategy had just been totally destroyed. Instead of riding on the front to protect Lawson, now we had Lawson up the road in the break. Normally that would be good, but in this case it meant that Lawson was isolated surrounded by his closest rivals. Ben had driven the car up to the break so we had no one to consult for tactical advice. Meanwhile, the weather was taking its toll on the race as more and more racers dropped out. Ryan and I finally came to the conclusion that we should try to bring the break back, so I dropped off my rain jacket in the commissaire's car and we hit the front. Not only did we start bringing down the gap, but we split away a group of maybe 8 riders from the rest of the group.

We rode hard and were about to catch the break. As we passed Ben in the car he yelled for us to stop chasing. We immediately sat up and the gap went up again. He said for Ryan and me to try to bridge without bringing anyone else with us. So we attacked again and this time got away just the two of us. We were flying with the tail wind and caught the break. Unfortunately the break split just before we got there, with Lawson in the front group. At that point, we had to just sit on our group, and the gap to Lawson's group went way up. It was frustrating to have tried that hard and still not be able to get up to help Lawson. In the final kilometers our worst fears were realized as the riders with Lawson attacked him again and again and finally dropped him. Lawson finished in 7th, and fell to 3rd overall. Ryan and I sprinted each other to go one-two in our group, giving us three riders in the top 10 for the stage.

After the finish, riders collapsed or were pushed up the hill by helpful spectators while trying to drink the scalding hot tea as fast as possible. The elements had done their work, as the attrition rate reflected. I felt like I had had good legs, especially in the second half of the stage, and was very dissapointed that the team had gotten separated from one another over the climb, crippling our ability to protect Lawson from the attacks. It was a dissapointing ending to a great race, but the team had done its absolute best and we had to be content with two stage wins, 3rd overall and all that time in yellow. As a bonus, I ended up with a decent GC of 12; which of course doesn't mean anything in the light of us losing the jersey.

After recouperating from that epic stage we moved out of our lovely barracks to the UCI center a few kilometers away where we are currently staying. Yesterday we "recovered" by playing some intense Capture the Flag on the side of one of these Swiss mountains. Tomorrow we drive to Germany where we will compete in the Tropheo Karlsberg race; which is categorized as a Nation's Cup, the highest caliber racing in the world. I am excited for another long hard stage race hopeful that this time we will finish with the yellow jersey. I know I am going to miss Switzerland, where I feel like I fell into a scene from The Sound of Music. After Germany, I will be headed home for a week or two, where the hills may not be alive with the sound of music, but I will get to say hi to my family and Molly, our springer spaniel.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Long Overdue Post Regarding First Europe Trip of 2010

Warning: I have not posted in a while, so this post is really long

As a bike racer, I have learned to deal with many discomforts, whether it be the pain associated with a long time trial or having to adjust to life on the road. The trip home from training camp, however, was another level altogether. The 18 hour drive itself was managable, but what made the ordeal truly excrutiating was being forced to listen to Toby's never ending country music radio, the notes and lyrics pounding their way into my brain. After surviving this painful experience, I returned home for a few days to get in some training hours with national team rider Paul Lynch.

Unfortunately this was also where I picked up a nasty cold just in time for my departure for Europe. After undergoing the garlic/echinacea/vitamin C treatment, I arrived in Brussels airport with the team determined to have a good trip. Cori Page picked us up at the baggage claim and drove us to where we would be staying, the Bloso Sports center in Waregem, Belgium. We stayed there for a few days while we got the jet lag out of our legs before heading off to Holland for our first race. With us was our mechanic Palmer, who had recently retired from the Katusha team. As is usual with most Belgian mechanics, we couldn't understand a word he said, but we got along great and he kept our bikes in tip-top condition.

We arrived in Holland for the two day, three stage event and moved into our new rooms. Our lodging was on a man made lake that was hosting a large rowing competition, and even our tallest rider, Austin, was dwarfed my the huge rowers walking around. The bike race, which we referred to simply as "Some Race in Holland" due to its long and confusing real name, appeared to have the usual mix of northern European six man teams. We were a man down with only five since our powerhouse Robin Eckmann had been threatened with bodily injury by his girlfriend should he even consider missing prom.

Holland is a very beautiful country if you can get used to the fact that it is entirely flat and you sort of feel like a fly on a windshield as you walk around, and that the GPS never measured our altitude at over 50 feet above sea level. The food was also good, except for the fact that breakfast consists entirely of rolls and sliced cheese and ham. Breakfast happens to be my favorite meal, and I generally look forward to cereal, eggs, toast, pancakes, fruit, orange juice and so forth. Anyways, I survived those trials and got down to racing. In the opening time trial, three of our riders placed well and Lawson won by a single second. I seemed to be riding fast until I was blown into a water-filled ditch by a gust of wind and suddenly and unintentionally became a multi-sport athlete as I was forced to do a Michael Phelps impression to exit the ditch. With that embarrassing incident behind me, we moved on to stage 2, an evening criterium.

I'm not a big fan of criterium's in general, as repeatedly sprinting and then jamming on the brakes seems a little ridiculous. The European criterium, however, doubles the accelerating quotient. The team did a good job of staying near the front with Lawson in yellow. Near the end a small group finished a few seconds off the front to take the yellow jersey by 2 seconds. After the stage finished, we realized that that day happened to be a national holiday for something or other, so there was no places open to get food. Our dinner consisted of apples and cliff shot bloks.

We started the third and final stage in what seemed to be a good position. Lawson was only two seconds from yellow and Stuey and yannick were riding top ten as well, giving us the lead in the team GC. We quickly got a lesson in how fast things can go from good to bad to terrible when Lawson crashed just 5km into the race. The team stopped to help him back in, but he had bike issues and couldn't continue. By that time we were a ways off the back. We did a 95km team time trial to the finish where we all came in behind the pack. With that less than glorious final result, we drove back to Belgium. The next day we did the Vinkt Kermesse, which I had won the year before. About 4 seconds into the race, it started down-pouring. The pig manure on the road turned the course into a skating rink, which was actually kind of fun. Four of us got into the early break of 8, and Lawson soloed off the front for the last 50km to get the win. I had been experiencing a mysterious cramping in my leg, and it struck again near the end of the race. We finished 1st, 5th, and I came in at 11th.

After spending several days trying to remove the various particles of mud and diesel fuel residue from our ears and bottom brackets, we began the drive down to the Trophee Centre Morbihan race in France. This race is considered the biggest junior stage race in France, and is the focus of the Hot Tubes European campaign. For this special occasion, we were allowed to borrow Jonathan Page's cyclo-cross rv for the trip. This made the 8 hour drive much more enjoyable, with beds and a bathroom available. For this trip we had another mechanic named Jimmy. Like Palmer, our communication was limited to "Good? Good?" as he pointed to a part on the bike, but he worked tirelessly and was quickly adopted into the team.

We arrived at Morbihan ready to do some serious damage in the Pelaton. One small problem was that my cold had never gone away, and my lungs were making mysterious sounds like a small animal was living in them. I had also passed my cold on to Stuart and Austin despite my best attempts to keep my germs to myself. After the very exciting team presentation where the announcer yells at us and the crowd in French at 125rpm, we got down to the business of racing. Unfortunately for me, the race quickly went through the tubes again in the first few kilometers.

Just after the end of the neutral start, while descending a small hill, a large pile-up began just a few riders up from me. I slammed on the brakes and managed to stop before hitting the crash. I was relieved and in the process of unattaching myself from the various wreckage and flesh lying on the ground, when I was drilled in the back by half a dozen very large riders who had not been so quick with their brakes. I was still relatively unconcerned and continued on my way, until I realized that my wheel was rubbing not because it was out of true, but because the seat stay was snapped. I tried to chase back on behind Toby's car for 15km, but the wheel was rubbing so bad that it rubbed another hole in the frame. While going as hard as I could behind the car, I looked over and saw six riders fly past me on their own power. Eventually Toby had to leave me and I found myself in front of the sag wagon. And with that, only 20km in to the race, my morbihan adventure came to an end.

Stuey, Yannick, and Lawson finished in good position, Austin got caught in a crash from which he never rejoined the group and was forced to abandon. That night I went to bed expecting to spend the next day doing feeds and watching the race. The first half of the night was spent listening to about a dozen Polish laborers drinking copious amounts of liquor, puking up their guts in the communal hotel bathroom, and then continuing to drink. The second half of the night was even worse. I woke up with very intense cramping pain in my entire left side, that got stronger and stronger until I couldn't even breathe and was shivering uncontrollably. Yannick got Toby, and eventually we decided to try to find a hospital. Strangely enough, two in the morning seemed to be the time to be out and about in France, and the streets were full of sketchy looking people. On one highway entrance ramp, we saw three guys sitting in a row on a guardrail in the pitch black. We arrived at a "hospital" which was made up of several large stone buildings. There was only one light on, with one person peering out. We looked for signs for a main entrance or emergency room, but only saw more signs for the morgue. At that point I was feeling better enough to breathe at a descent level, and I told Toby that I wasn't getting out of the car there.

We drove around looking for another hospital, but eventually gave up and headed back to the hotel. I woke up the next morning able to breathe, but with a fever, body aches, head aches, cough, and dead tired. After finally getting enough energy to Skype home, my parents decided that my planned post-morbihan national team trip was going to have to wait, and that I was coming home to see a doctor. I didn't feel like arguing, and they got me a ticket.

The team, meanwhile, did well and Lawson won the time trial and got second in the overall. We drove back to Belgium the next day, and flew home the following day. My parents got me in to see my doctor, and he said that my cold had just turned into bronchitis, which somehow caused that whole cramping/breathing issue as well as the fever. Breaking my bike may have been better luck than it seemed, since continuing to race may have made it worse. Stuart was not so lucky, as he came down with pneumonia shortly after in the Canadian National team house.

I'm feeling much better now and have a bike to ride again. I'm looking forward to returning to Europe next week to get back to the races with the national team. I'm just hoping for no more midnight hospital trips or mortuaries.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Training Camp

Though most of the team riders have already been racing for a month or more, Hot Tubes has its annual official season kick-off at our Georgia training camp. My third and last Hot Tubes training camp was probably the best one yet, but before I could enjoy training camp, I had to endure the famous Tour of the Battenkill with its 20+ miles of dirt roads and steep climbs. Joining me at the race was teammate Stuart Wight. We enjoyed good weather and clear skies throughout the race, though unfortunately our category 2 field seemed determined not to make a race of it. The race rolled around the first 60 miles so slow that I had little difficulty catching up from a flat tire and later from a pee brake. Two riders who had rode off the front in the opening miles built up a huge lead. By the time I attacked on the final hard climbs with twenty miles to go they had a lead of over five minutes. Stuart flatted for the third time so I was on my own. I dutifully pedaled along as fast as I could until I reached the finish line about a minute behind the two leaders. Then I had to pack my stuff into Toby’s van to prepare for the 18 hour drive to Georgia. Stuey finally finished on his third wheel change and I ran over to the podium to collect my winnings, Pepsi, and chocolate milk. Then we were in the van and “heading south like Sherman” as Toby put it.

Two days later the team was assembled at the Muirs house in Tiger, Georgia. Our 2010 team consists of three returning riders, Lawson Craddock (Houston), Stuart Wight (New Brunswick), myself, and three new riders: Robin and Yannick Eckmann (originally from Germany, currently living in Boulder), and Austin Boswell (Bend, Oregon). The Muirs have the perfect location for our team camp; their beautiful house is on top of a mountain overlooking a lake in the middle of the north Georgia mountains. We fine tuned our positions on the new bikes and broke in the new equipment as we rode 3-4 hours a day on perfect training roads. One day Austin and I made a wrong turn and were separated from the group. We had already ran out of food and water a while ago, and we ended up riding an extra 30 miles while trying to find our way back to the house. After we had both bonked and realized that we were in a less than ideal (i.e. desperate) spot, we tried our luck hitchhiking. Several hours earlier, people kept on stopping to see if we were okay every time we had just stopped to get some food out of the van. Now, no one seemed interested in giving us a lift or directions. Mrs. Muir finally found us walking up the steep climb to the house. 95 miles had never felt so long before in my life. Meanwhile the rest of the team was down at the lake playing on the boat.

After recovering from this terrible experience, we were able to take part in Hot Tube’s various team building exercises, including an all day rafting trip on the Chattooga river, our annual bowling trip, sting pong (not for the faint of heart, see picture), a Dairy Queen run, and tubing on the lake behind a Toby trying to driving a very fast boat like Jeff Gordon. Between all of this we had time to climb some very big hills including the famous Brasstown Bald as well as celebrate Stuey’s birthday. On the weekend we were able to meet some of the team’s supporters at a cookout and go for a relaxed group ride. Then we dropped riders off at the Atlanta airport and Stuey and I began the equally long return journey (aka, we slept peacefully while Toby drove). I finally arrived home yesterday afternoon where I will be staying until Saturday when I will go back to Toby and Gabriella’s house after the Turtle Pond Circuit race. Assuming that pesky volcano minds its own business and cooperates, we’ll be flying out on Tuesday for Europe where I will be for the next six weeks. Then in short order after my return to the states will be Nationals, Fitchburg, Tour of Red River Gorge, and probably the Tour de l’Abitibi. I’m looking forward to it, as long as I don’t find myself hitchhiking up some desolate mountain road again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vermonter in California

After leaving the home of my gracious hosts, the Browns, in Covinton, Tennessee, I flew into Los Angeles for a national team track camp. My track experience up to that point consisted of watching Paris-Roubaix finish on TV, however I was quite confident that I would soon be setting world records (kidding!). Honestly though, my more realistic goal was to figure out the basic concept of riding a track bike, and get some tan lines from riding around outside afterwords. Other juniors at the camp, Nate Geoffrion and Paul Lynch, shared the same lack of track experience, while more experienced riders Ryan Eastman and Lawson Craddock got to train with the women's world's team. The focus of the camp was on team pursuit, which is basically a 4km team time trial on the track.

First I had to master the basic principles of the track, including the fact that riding at less than 12mph will result in sliding off the track in an embarassing fashion (I narrowly avoided this fate on one occasion). Other equally important lessons included always looking up track and of course, don't stop pedaling. I forgot that all important rule on one occasion to find my rear wheel hopping several inches into the air. Besides that, I avoided mishap and began trying to turn my winter vermonter legs into legs worthy of race speed.

That they were worthy of race speed came into serious question when we took part in the Tour de Murrieta stage race in San Diego, California. Ryan Eastman's team (Allsport/Team Swift) took us as guest riders to this 3 day hurt fest. The Pro/1/2 race consisted of United Healthcare riders, the Fly V Australia team, a bunch of other pros, and none other than Floyd Landis himself. Stage 1 consisted of a 20km scenic time trial, which was 3 dead flat laps around a land fill in the bay. As the only racer riding a straight up road set-up, I fully expected to be handed a crushing defeat. However, I was not quite expecting 44th out of 50. It served as a good reminder of the differences between new englander form in march and southern californian's form in march.

I fared little better in the next day's criterium, where I hung on for dear life in the 120 strong pack while United Healthcare punched it at the front. The small bright moment in the hour and a half of suffering was when Floyd Landis asked me how much further we had to go, which seemed pretty cool at the time. Stage 3 was a 65 mile circuit race, and I was determined to be more of a factor in the race than I had been. I successfully got my butt to the front of the pack and made several gallant (and utterly futile) attacks before going back to suffering mid pack. With that I ended my first stage race of the season. The other interesting thing that happened that weekend was my debit card's absolute refusal to operate correctly, turning me into an exemplar depression child for the next couple weeks.

After several more days of track riding, I was scheduled to go fly to north carolina for some training, however travel plans had to be changed, and in a five minute span I went from heading to a plane for Charlotte, to jumping in the Team Swift van heading north to Santa Rosa. Along the way, we stopped in San Dimas, for the San Dimas Stage Race, one of the biggest races in California all year. I was able to land a spot in the race when someone didn't show at registration, and so began my second stage race in the same week. This race had a separate category 2 race, which combined with a perceived improvement in my fitness meant that I hoped to have a better race than the previous weekend.

The first stage was a 3.5 mile uphill time trial. I finished 24th out of 115, which seemed a bit better than the last time trial I had done. That didn't stop me from being girled, as Mara Abbot destroyed the Pro Women's race and beat my time quite convincingly. The next day was a circuit race, which had some rolling hills and one pretty steep climb. As a guest member of Team Swift, I tried to help Ryan Eastman to get some bonus sprints. Unfortunately, my leadout skills were a bit rusty and I ended up not being any help whatsoever. I did however get to hit the front on the climb and get in some breakaways, which made me feel a heck of a lot better than hanging on in the pack.

The final stage was a downtown criterium. Criteriums are far from my favorite thing to do, but this one was actually pretty enjoyable. I felt decent, so half way through I attacked and built up a solid lead with the KOM leader. We stayed away until four and a half laps to go, and hung in the pack for the finish. My time off the front had earned me a small time bonus, moving me up to 14th in GC. It was a far cry from stage race domination, but it felt like a big improvement from when I first arrived in California. I had to remember that back home, the first training races were just starting up, whereas in California I was competing in what for many was a major season goal.

After the race and meeting with some of the sponsors, we loaded up in the Team Swift van and began the long drive to Santa Rosa. It is important to mention that the team and its director Laura Charameda were very gracious to take me on last minute for another weekend and drive me all that way. Upon our arrival, I went to Ryan Eastman's house in Petaluma, California, where I am currently staying. I am enjoying great weather, training, and milkshakes in this awesome town.

I've been away from Vermont for about a month and half by now, but I feel certain that it is the best way to get myself race fit again. I will be home for about a week and a half for Battenkill before heading to Georgia for Hot Tubes training camp and then heading off to Europe.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter Activities/ Start of the season

Being a cyclist in the Vermont winter has its advantages and disadvantages. The major disadvantage being the snow-covered roads and trainer time. Advantages, however, include skiing and sledding and other things that Vermonters use to pass the winter months. Add into that my New Year's Day Polar Plunge and winter can be downright breath taking in these parts. Skiing with my school team, I learned (sort of) how to classical ski in addition to my preferred discipline of skating. My excitement for speed was unfortunately not matched by any kind of skill on skis, and I generally spent a lot of time in snow banks and such. Never the less, I was able to ski most of the season with the team and have a great time.

After finishing up my senior year of school, I finally left the snow and frostbite of the Vermont winter behind and headed south for some beautiful spring weather to train in. Wait a minute, never mind. I arrived at the house of my 2009 teammate Nate Brown, in Covington Tennessee, amid the second snowstorm in as many weeks and freezing temperatures. I just can't win...

Despite the less than anticipated temperatures, I have been enjoying my time at the Brown's home, and been getting my riding legs back under me. Nate's younger brother, Jonny and I have been fighting out a desperate battle to win the sprints to the green mailbox at the end of each ride. We have also tried unsuccessfully to catch some fish in the pond. Amid all the excitement, I am being acclimatized to southern culture. I will be here until the 9th, when I leave for a track camp and a short stage race in LA.

My last season as a junior racer is getting rolling now, and I am excited to make it a memorable one!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year and "Wow That Was Cold!"

Many traditions abound with regard to the ending of one year and the beginning of the next. On New Year's Day, people bid farewell to the past and welcome the future, hoping for prosperity and happiness. I can't say that my New Year's day tradition has any great symbolic significance as to what I hope to get out of life in the coming 365 days (I hope). But it definitely gets the ol' heart pounding with excitement.
The 2nd Annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge was successful, and once again I got my family to participate (including my Mom). That was good, because of the 80+ other people that I invited, only Matt Mainer showed up. Using axes and mauls, we chopped a large circle out of the ice in Saint Albans Bay. I almost won the First Unintentional Plunger Award, as I was standing on the ice as it gave way, barely making my escape.
The water was refreshing and cool, as expected, and exits from the water were incredibly swift, also as expected. Also, no one has died, either last year or this year, which has me optimistic that we can keep the streak alive. After that experience, my body is ready for another punishing and grueling (and maybe cold?) year of racing and training. I hope to see all of you on the ice with me on 01/01/11

Happy New Year everybody!