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.