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!