Charlotte Recap

The Novant Health Criterium was this past weekend (or as everyone still calls it: Presby). This was second race on the NCC calendar after Sunny King the weekend prior. Sunny King was an all out battlefield between Hincapie and UHC, with UHC on the defensive the entire time, eventually losing out.

This year they changed the crit course from previous years. In previous years the course was in a large dumbell shape, with huge straights and tight corners. This lead to field chopping mania, since the long straightaways had a hill that peaked halfway through the straight, which meant a few downhill wide open blocks until you went into the 1-block turn around.

The change resulted in the dumbell’s being smashed together. Instead of something like 6 blocks per straight away, it was compressed down to 4 and 2. This meant same number of corners, nearly half the course length. Courses that have been around for years typically play out in a predictable fashion, it’ll generally end in a field sprint, breakaway, whatever. With a new course it’s a bit more unpredictable, the race could stick together like glue because guys are afraid of any group getting away they couldn’t handle, or a breakaway will get away REALLY easily by virtue of everyone underestimating the difficulty of the course.

The later happened on Saturday. Nearly the very first breakaway, through some dropping of riders, and bridging up of other riders, morphed into the winning move. I started near the back of the small-ish field and had a hard time moving up since the course was so technical. When the break was forming it so happened that the group really fanned across the road and all the “Sit-in-and-sprint” guys essentially blocked for UHC (who had 3 out of 5 up the road).

By the time I was able to get around they still only had 8 seconds and were attacking themselves. I put in a few digs and brought it back a little (I think) and got away either solo or with a small group but got dragged back every time. What was weird was that it wasn’t UHC who was dragging things back, but another small elite crit team. They had obviously missed the break and chase move but were feeling just good enough to tow everyone around and let the break get a half lap advantage.

Thankfully Frank was able to counter a short while after I was totally gassed and got into a solid chase group. The original breakaway ended up lapping the field with 20 miles to go and UHC went to the front to protect their lap up riders. That’s when all the “Sit-in-and-sprint” guys really started fighting for position, I got bumped around more in lap 20-15 than in laps 5-0 (when all the sprinters were dropped or getting dropped). Not sure what they think is going to happen but shouldering people for 20th wheel when you have 20 miles to go isn’t really going to save you energy.

Anyway I sat in the rest of the race, missed a prime by a few inches, and ended up sprinting to a blistering 20th place. Frank stayed away in his chase group for 6th place.

A little downtime this weekend as I get to do a 1-2 race here in Greenville.

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Belgium Part 1

We’ve now been in Belgium over 2 weeks and have done 4 races.  We flew in a day before our first Pro Kermesse, got promptly lost on our first day riding around Aarchot. We lined up in downtown Buggenhout (don’t worry none of the town names make any sense) still very much jet lagged not knowing what to expect. Giddy with excitement and nerves my heart rate was pegged at 160 just sitting on the start line from adrenaline. I’m not sure if it was the jet lag, the different riding style, course itself or combination of everything, but I only made it 60 of the 100 miles.

It was a little disheartening to only make it halfway through the first race here in Belgium but I reserved judgement knowing that a continental flight the day before at least had SOME factor to do with it. The next race on the docket was the UCI 1.2 Havenpijl Antwerpen race. But that was nearly a week after our first race, so we had some time to overcome the Jet Lag and get acclimated to the country.

Matt Green took us on our first legitimate ride around the Belgian countryside without getting lost. My first reaction was how crazy the riding is here. There’s no Froome-ing it riding around here in Belgium, if you put your head down for a second you’ll catch a gutter, hit a car, slide out on cow turds, you name it. There’s almost no steady riding, you’re continuously turning and hopping curbs (just on a ride!); a ride around here is more like an alley cat race.

I did my first big solo ride a few days later and decided to get really lost and figure my way back home eventually. To my suprise it’s really easy to get around here. The trick is this: If you have particular roads or a route you want to ride, you WILL get lost, but if you just head in a general direction you’ll be fine. There are no dead ends in the Belgian road system, ever road leads to Rome, or um Aarschot. Also there are literally bike routes every where you go. This not only includes paths along canals and rail-trails, but touring routes. All you have to do it pick up a numbered sign that are usually zip tied to traffic signs and follow a given route.Pave IMG_3233

Back to Havenpijl Antwerpen, our second race. By that point we had started to get the hang of cleaning our bikes and washing our shoes every day (it rains a lot). The 170km race did two large 50km circuits then a bunch of small 17km circuits. There was also a large storm that was the remnant of a hurricane that almost hit America, decided to head East instead, and rain on our race. This meant 20mph wind and torrential rain. Also this was the first race with cobbles! I know I was nervous at the start, I had pictures of Roubaix and Flanders in my head, with pave splitting the field. We rolled out got to the first cobbled section and things, um, slowed down. I thought, whatever, it’s early in the race, not a decisive moment. The decisive moment, it turned out, was to happen 20 km later because of….corners. Running into the last 2km there were 6 corners on some very tame brick roads, however it had started raining. I was probably in the top 50 guys (not bad in a field of 200), and when we hit the corners, guys were dropping wheels in the corner like it was their job, the Belgians were bad at cornering.

I’m not sure where the difference came from, maybe it’s that in America every dude is willing to crash in every freaking corner not to drop a wheel, or the fact that they’re all running at least 120psi in their tires at all times (long story), but the Belgians were taking the wet corners very gingerly. So the field split, and the winning move of 25 got away because a guy dropped a wheel in the corners. The thing the Belgians are VERY good at is positioning, there is NO space to move around in the field, you’re always bumping guys in the field but not in a dangerous way. Because of this they don’t do the whole leaving space in front of you before a corner thing, or take a good line through a corner, they just do this:

Marching Band Turn

Since this sort of field split thing has happened to us several times, I’ll address it, we are flying totally blind in these races. I mean we know generally what teams are good and where the decisive sections SHOULD be, but it’s easy to underestimate how big a factor knowing the course and riders around you have. I mean in the US we race every weekend with the same guys, but here it’s 90 race days out of the year, and they’ve all been racing since before they could walk and know the courses inside and out. To us, ever attack is just another bunch of huge Belgian dudes going up the road.IMG_3329

The rain really started coming down after that point, we attacked and chased to try to get the break back, the field split a bunch of times, but in the end it stayed away.

Just two days later we raced a Kermesse that was formerly the world Kermesse championship (totally unofficial, I think). By this point we were actually starting to get the hang of Belgian style racing, plus the short 7km circuit was the closest thing to a crit we were probably ever going to get.

We stayed super active in the first part of the race. I eventually made it into a move of 14 some guys and we rotated through, and it was hard. We got a minute fairly quickly, then we all got Ice Bucket challenged by a 5 minute torrential freezing cold rain storm, but our gap just stayed up there at one minute. Here’s another difference: there’s apparently no sitting on in the breakaway here, you ride until you’re cross eyed and then just get dropped from the break (it’s a noble death). I was rolling through pretty good for most of the race but most the guys had a foot and 20 kilos on me and I was really starting to hurt, so I started skipping pulls. This prompted all sorts of, what I assume were Flemish curse words, hip slings, and even a poke in the butt (not on the side by the way although he may have also just thought I was cute).

Breakaway

We eventually got caught, and I noticed ANOTHER particularity of Belgian racing. In America, when you get dropped almost EVERYONE applaudes you: “Good job”, “You gave it your best”, etc. Maybe this is because cycling isn’t an American pastime, or it’s just a cultural thing. However in Belgium, when you drop out, all the old people just stair at you like this:

I couldn’t help it, I really felt embarrassed rolling around the course after getting dropped. Although it could have also been caused by the fact that at one point I had 20/6 odds on me to win at the bookies and they just lost their money…

We had a few days off before our next race so we took a couple rest days and train-ed it up to Amsterdam for a night so see the sighs, have a few beers, etc.

Amsterdam

Once back we did a little bit more training and a day trip to Brussels before our next race the UCI 1.1 Zottegem (could you imagine a UCI 1.1 race just being on a Tuesday in America??).

Zottegem was a 190km race in the Flanders region. We even did a climb from the actual Ronde. I wasn’t feeling super this race, we missed the break, chased, didn’t catch it, the usual. There were cross winds and actual climbs this time. I flatted and had the pleasure of going through the caravan…which is WAY more enjoyable than doing it in the US (more experienced caravan drives I think here).

Anyway we walked away with no results there as well, but had a good race as a team (we tried hard).

Today we’re racing the Dutch Food Valley Classic complete with not just one World Tour team but 3: Belkin, Cannondale, and Movistar, NBD.

I THINK there’s also a live stream to watch the race (although you might have to be in Belgium…no idea):

http://www.arnhemveenendaalclassic.nl/profkoers/live-stream/

Race starts at 9am EST and should finish around 2pm EST

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First Belgian Race Today

So we’ve gotten into our Belgian house here in Aarshot Friday morning. It’s a super nice house, and looks like it’s right out of an IKEA show room. We had our first legitimate ride that afternoon and promptly got VERY lost, stopping at least 10 times to check our saved maps on our phones. Belgium has the 3rd highest road density in the world. This isn’t even counting the endless network of bike paths and random goat paths. So basically there’s roads everywhere you go in every direction you could want…but none of the roads are longer than a km (only slight exaggeration). It generally makes for very confusing and and heads up riding with all the pedestrian and car traffic: think of doing an Alley Cat race on every single ride, forget the idea of zoning out in a ride.

Toe-ing up for a Pro Kermesse race today. It’s going to be 20 laps of an 8 km course.

I’ll be sure to have a good write up on the race come Monday or whatever, so in the meantime enjoy this video I finally put together from the GoPro I had at Athens Twilight, complete with sweet music track and more importantly: Audio from our self neutralization:

 

 

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Quebec Update

It’s been a few important races since I’ve updated: US Pro, Philly, and the first stage of GP Saguenay.

Pro Nationals wen’t a little worse than expected. Going into it I felt like I was just getting over some allergies or a cold or something, but felt alright at the race start. However as the race wore on and the strange tactics of the day played out I felt progressively worse. A large group got away in literally the first 2 km of the race and got a 6 minute lead in about 6 minutes. The group rode fairly easy, except for the climb, when Garmin blew all their riders setting pace for no one up the climb, then sitting up on the flats again (no idea what this tactic accomplished except disrupting any chase). I made it 3 big laps of the race, which is about the same as last year, however since I felt great last year I’ll call it progress.

Philly was an awesome race, and has the biggest spectator fanfare of nearly any race out there. I was tasked with following early stuff in hopes of a breakaway, but was a little too active and missed the actualbreak some 3 laps in. Fortunately Clay jumped across to it. I was feeling ok but a little blown on the last lap when Brecht got a flat on the final downhill of the race and I had to give him my wheel. There was no hope of chasing back on so I pedaled in pretty easy, having at least 3 beers between Lemon Hill and the Manayunk Wall.LemonHillPhilly

After that it was a flight up to Quebec City and then transfer to Saguenay for the GP Saguenay a UCI 2.2 race. We spent a few days in Quebec City….which is friggin awesome btw.

GP Saggy is a bunch of circuit road races with one crit thrown in. Yesterday was the first RR 11 laps around the town of La Baie. The race started right up the climb, which peaked out at 20%. The first time over I got into a group of 38 riders with Stephen and Matt. It was a little too big of a group and a few too many people just sitting on, and we were brought back by lap 3.

The counter attack over the climb stayed away for a few more laps, but got back with 3 laps to go. Nothing serious got away after that. The 3 of us that were left got it lined up pretty good with 3km to go but we got pinched and separated.photo 1 photo 5

Today’s more  of the same, 21 km laps, about 177km total on tap for today.

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Wilmington Grand Prix

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a post. Speedweek was a whirlwind of racing with our team coming into the second step on the podium (I also genuinely felt shitty most of speedweek due to allergies or a cold or something that did not allow be to breath without turning on a faucet of phlegm).

Astellas Cycling Speedweek

2nd Overall Team at Speedweek 2014

This past weekend was the NCC Teir 1 race: the Wilmington Grand Prix. I had never done the race and never been to Delaware. Katie and I hitched a ride up with Thomas up the Thursday before in hopes of doing the Monkey Hill Time Trial: an 8 minute TT that had a cobbled finishing climb. It sounded awesome, but heavy storms cancelled the race. It was just as well since our 5 our second part of the drive took 8 hours, barely giving us enough time to do our pre-race openers in Wilmington.

This was my first time at Wilmington and it definitely won’t be my last, this was my kind of course: 8 technical corners and two hills per lap really sifted the race out. We only had 4 guys there, Thomas, Brandon, Michael Pincus, and myself. Brandon just won the Collegiate Nationals D1 Crit and Thomas and I were both fresh off Speedweek so we felt pretty good about just being a reduced squad.

I got a call-up for being awesome, which helped out a lot due to the technical nature of the course. It wasn’t a long race so aggression started early. Pincus got into an early split that was brought back after a few laps. There was a counter with 2 riders that dangled for a few laps. I attacked across to the two along with another rider. Eventually our group swelled to 10+ riders including UHC and our meager gap suddenly exploded to 30 seconds. One of the UHC guys dropped back to I guess help chase our group of now 10 back, leaving Brad White to just sit on the back of the group.

Our group was working not great but well enough together that UHC was unable to chase us down. Their efforts were further hampered by their chase train crashing in corner 1 with 8 laps to go.

I was feeling pretty good and thought the group could split, I countered some of Bobby Lea’s attacks but things were brought back (Guys….LET THE UHC dude chase people back, CMON!!!!). Anyway we went into the last lap as a single group and were diddling around to the point where the field was bearing down on us.

On the back side of the course Champ Sys were the only team to lead out since they were the only team with 2 riders. The back side of the course was a gradual downhill leading into the second to last corner (which had a car sized pothole), then lots of traffic furniture, before a brick laden final corner to a long long uphill drag to the finish.

I did a decent job jockeying into the 2nd to last corner but got a little pinched by the Champ Sys lead-out guy swinging off. I got around him before the corner, but the gap had already opened. I dodged some traffic furniture and opened up my sprint. While I have a decent sprint that can bean non-sprinters, my sprint is not enough to beat many real sprinters. The order coming out of the last corner did not change. I kept the same 5 meter gap from Bobby Lea’s rear wheel all the way to the finish line for 4th, a decent result, but no podium.

My consolation prize was getting drug tested by USADA right after the finish. I’d never gotten tested before and it was a fairly interesting experience. I chugged about 8 bottles of water to the point of getting light headed in order to pea. In the end it took me an hour and a half to pee in front of USADA officials and finally head off (they were really super nice, if only those waters were beer!).

After Wilmington the girlfriend and I met up with my old Purdue roommate Dave and headed up to his place in Philly, which was at the top of the Manyunk Wall (Oh em Gee, Philly). Manyunk is a huge bar district so we had to um…scout things out that night:

The next day Dave and I rode parts of the Philly Classic course, I was pretty much just losing my shit the entire time (every time we’d get on Kelly Drive, I’d get on my super deep announcer voice: “Back on Kelly Drive”).

After that it was MegaBus up to NYC to visit my Bro and Parents, my

Best Race Flyer Ever

Best Race Flyer Ever

Bro’s graduating from Columbia’s Journalisim school with a Masters degree. We missed mos to the ceremony for work and what not but it was cool to hang around NYC and see the family.

Litterally the only existing picture of me in the race

My recovery day Monday consisted of renting CitiBikes and doing a lap around Central Park before the 30 minute time limit ran out (we failed miserably).meandtheGF

The Brains and The Brawn

The Brains and The Brawn

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