After a couple months of travel, school related annoyance and National Racing Calendar induced fatigue I think I am finally ready to start writing cycling again. Usually I lean away from personal update/race report type articles but I think this is the time to make an exception. I have had some really satisfying moments in my last two weeks of racing and the narcissist in me wants to tell you all about them.
A Hectic Life on the Road
I am currently sitting on the coach/bed/closet at my host house here in Fayetteville, Arkansas awaiting my tornado delayed ride to the Tour of Gila in New Mexico. That drive will be around 15 hours and the race starts in about 44 hours, so that is a little anxiety invoking. I am also staring across the living room at the carcass of my Specialized Tarmac, which has a nice quarter sized crack down the seat stay. I am frantically trying to find a replacement option for that little UCI race in 44 hours and hoping that Sram neutral support will be nice to me and lend me a bike on race day. And just to ice that particular cortisol layer cake is the fact that SouthWest is trying to avoid all liability, leaving me holding the bag.
This is all feeling a tad overwhelming but I constantly remind myself that overcoming this type of…ummm…bullshit is part of success in the nomadic adventure of bike racing. And so I will trudge onwards towards another long night on the road and more logistical scrambling while repeatedly reminding myself that it is bike racing I am worrying about, not real life.
Pressure, Success and Stupidity
I have had to repeat that reminder to myself a lot in the last few days as I have enjoyed and sometimes endured a whirlwind ride at the Joe Martin Stage Race here in Arkansas. More on that in just a minute.
The Tour of Walla Walla
Even before I arrived in Fayetteville I felt the pressure creeping up on me as I enjoyed a strong weekend of racing in Walla Walla Washington. I entered the race knowing that I had great form coming off my first NRC race/beat down in Redlands Caifornia at the beginning of April. To begin the 3-stage race I completed my first TT of the year on my brand new Specialized Shiv TT. Despite the novelty of the situation, I managed to settle in to the effort and surprised myself with 2nd place at only 11 seconds to Jamis-Hagens Berman professional Ian Crane. After a frustrating and crash-marred criterium I was bumped to third overall by my former teammate and crit-specialist Kris Dahl.
The next day, the team brought an aggressive attitude and strong legs to the 100-mile road race and continually attacked to try to move back up in the standings. Thankfully, the good form I knew I had shone through because it took a full day of attacking and a huge team effort on the last lap to force an elite selection of 12 riders and take back 2nd overall from Kris. Ian Crane would prove to be immovable in the leader’s jersey, which would become a bit of a theme. Overall, Walla Walla was a very satisfying result in my first real race with the team this year and confirmed that I had the form I wanted for my next foray into the big leagues.
Joe Martin Stage Race Part One: The Ecstasy
Thursday’s 4km 5% uphill time trial in Devil’s Den State Park was an event that I have been thinking about for months if not years. While an 8 minute, 30 km/h climb isn’t ideally suited to my strengths as a pure climber, my careful analysis of past year’s Strava data told me I had a good shot. Still, I entered Thursday with carefully managed expectations. I had also fixated on the San Dimas uphill TT in March but proceeded to produce a choke of Bill Buckner proportions on race day and finish a distant 17th. I made a huge effort to stay calm and act as if the race was just another training ride and I think it actually worked.
I relaxed my body as I rolled off the start ramp and I rode strong and steady for the first 6 minutes of the hill and then suffered furiously as I started to fade towards the top. I didn’t quite have the power I was expecting based on my training but I still ringed everything out of my body on the day.
It wasn’t until 3 hours later that I finally got the results back at our homestay’s palatial ranch house in the woods. It took me several endless moments to finally scan far enough up in the results to see my name in second place-only 5 seconds behind a certain Mr. Ian Crane. I was shirtless, balancing my computer on a towel on the way to the shower-and that was how I got the biggest result of my young career.
At first I tried to convince myself that it was really nothing special. Maybe it was a slow year? Maybe this wasn’t actually an important race? Looking at past results allowed the skeptic in me to accept it: I had just achieved a breakthrough result. My time on the course was on par with past rides from NRC champions Rory Sutherland and Francisco Mancebo. I am also the first amateur to podium in the Joe Martin TT since Andrew Talansky won in 2010. This isn’t bragging here, this is just the validation process I went through in my own mind. My conclusion? Yes I can do this and yes I will keep going.
And the Agony:
The next 3 days of racing consisted of roughly 11 hours of good, focused bike racing and about 3 minutes of horrible execution that cost me a podium spot on General Classification. On stage 2 I fought tooth and nail not to loose time on the super technical and ferociously fast final 1500m of racing and I pulled it off while two thirds of the field got time gapped. On day 2 I felt strong as the race roared through the windy and hilly terrain outside Pine Grove, AR. And then on the final lap of the race those 4 terrible minutes happened. A 50m gap opened up in front of me as the field exploded on the day’s final substantial climb. I panicked and made a series of explosive efforts to try to bridge to the leaders ahead. In what seemed like an instant, I had blown myself up completely and could only watch, bathed in lactic acid, as the race rode away. Stupid move, very stupid. I lost 9 minutes riding in with the grupetto and slipped to 51st overall. Lesson learned.
After a rough night of chastising myself and with just the right amount of support and encouragement from my peers and loved ones I decided to ride out the next days hellish criterium to prove that I could. I finished in the front group of 25 amid mass carnage on the wet, hilly and technical circuit. Perplexingly, it was perhaps my proudest moment of the weekend because I overcame such doubt from the day before.
Yes I can do this and yes I will keep going.