Monday, April 18, 2011

goodbye Petaluma, racing Redlands, and curing mental funks

After a month spent in my adopted home with the Eastmans in Petaluma, California, it was finally time to hit the road again. That portion of the country has become one of my favorite places, and I hope to spend time there again in the near future. Petaluma's frozen yogurt shop will undoubtedly miss their steady source of revenue; but time had come to bid my gracious host's and the town's deserteries farewell as I headed to my first big US professional event.

The Redlands Classic is one of America's most prestigious stage racing events; taking place over four days in southern California. After getting to finally experience the luxury that is a direct flight, I landed in the Ontario, CA (California, not Canada, as I originally feared) to heat, humidity, and a mysterious brownish haze that hovered over the city.

Atmospheric changes aside; I was taken to our host housing (thanks much Higginsons!) where I got to meet many of our staff members for the first time. It was good to finally meet the faces behind the e-mails; people who are constantly directing hundreds of logistical operations to keep everything running smoothly. I feel overwhelmed if I'm cooking eggs at the same time as trying to pour my orange juice, so I have an incredible amount of respect for our staff and their 24/7 occupations.

I also got to meet some new teammates, most of whom were fresh off of a very successful and long South American racing campaign. I hadn't raced in over a month, so I was eager to pin on a number. Training is all well and good; but it can't compare with the intensity of racing. And racing is a lot more fun!

Any way, the race started out with a 5 or 6 kilometer uphill prologue. I seemed to be going okay until the really steep part. Then I came to a crawling pace, and experienced a very strong suffocating sensation quite similiar to how I imagine racing in a black garbage bag would feel. I managed to fight through it to the finish, where I found that my 77th place had lost me a minute to the day's winner, Francisco Mancebo. In 5 k. Wow.

Things didn't improve a whole lot for me from there. In the next day's 120 mile road race, I got tangled up in a crash that left me nearly skinless with still 100 miles to ride. I hung in the pack until the final climb of the day and came in a few minutes down. Each day I got progressively less impressive until on the final day's challenging circuit race I was dropped early on and dnf'd. The rest of the team did significantly better with several top ten's and Lachlan Morton's 2nd place on the long road stage. But I have to say that personally I left the race in a less than glorious state of mind.

Taking a three connection flight home for the first time since Christmas, and the large amount of road rash assuring that I would be awake for every second of it; I had a lot of time to reflect on the weekend's race. Most of my initial reflections were pretty bleak. My first thought was that I needed to register for college again and maybe start looking for a job. Having bad races is a given in the sport, but being so bad, especially in my first big(ger) race as a pro didn't do a whole lot for my morale. I had also really wanted to show my new team that I could be a valuable asset, and that surely didn't happen. Having had nearly a month to train for this event, I didn't have any real excuse for such a dissapointing showing on my part. If I really wasn't capable of racing with the domestic pros, I thought, then I had no hope of making it to the Protour, in which case I should be honest with myself stop wasting my time now.

I was getting myself into all sorts of a negative mental funk until I managed to put some perspective on it. For one thing, I'd been in this position before, when I came limping home from Belgium for the first time, after a miserable showing in the races and multiple crashes. I had followed that up with a silver medal at nationals and 3rd place overall at a UCI stage race. I'm hoping a similiar turn-around could be in the works soon here as well. Regardless, I came to realize that one or two bad races is way too short an amount of time to make a decison about my long-term abilities anyway. I have a two year contract with my team, so I think I should give myself at least a couple years of racing as hard as I can before I make that sort of decision.

With my personal pity party over, I was able to enjoy a well-needed week of rest at home before doing one of my favorite races, the Tour of the Battenkill. I felt strong on all of the climbs before a flat tire on the top of the final climb ended my race. I still had a great time bouncing around on the gravel and catching up with my New England racing friends.

With the Tour of the Gila coming up at the end of the month, I was able to get out to Boulder, Colorado to try to acclimate to the high altitude climbs. It's definitely a good thing that I did, as I have been gasping for breath like a beached cod since I've been here.

I've also had to learn the hard way that no matter how warm it is down here in town; it's still snowing in gale force winds up on top of the mountains. I'm staying at the house of the Eckmann's (Robin and Yannick were my teammates on Hot Tubes last year) until I make the long drive to Gila with my team next week. I'm hoping to be back to my usual self and be a strong rider for the team; but even if that doesn't happen I'm going to try to keep some more perspective on it this time. Besides, bike racing is fun; and calculus is really hard!

Thanks for reading