Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Collegiate Season Recap and Nationals lowdown

So, since its been a while since my last update, I’ll give the condensed version of what has been going on up until Collegiate Nationals this past weekend.

After pretty much following in step with the ABRA and WVMBA calendars for the entire season, I took a turn and, rather than racing some super fun cross races within an hour of home, decided to spend my weekends high on coffee and nutella driving up and down the east coast to participate in the collegiate racing series. As a student at WVU, I have the awesome opportunity to continue to race mountain bikes until the end of October therefore extending my already long mountain season by about a month.

I posted some serious results during the collegiate season taking multiple wins and never anything less than a 3rd place finish. The season rounded out with the WVU home race at Wisp Resort on October 15-16 serving as the conference championship. Taking an early lead on lap one of the three lap 26 mile XC race, I took the win by around 10 minutes. The course was great and suited me well being fairly climbing with a 2.5 mile long climb leading to the finish. Later that afternoon, I also competed in the short track race on top of the mountain where I tore apart the race by lapping the entire field. The course was, again, great. It was definitely a power course providing huge opportunities to lay down some serious wattage and make some big moves. It also had a nice big rock garden tossed in to keep thing interesting for both racers and spectators alike.

So, after all of the conundrums that come with traveling 4-6 hours every weekend and hosting a race it was time to get focused for the National Championship. Seeing as we would be heading to nearly 9000 feet at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico, I knew I was going to need to take some serious fitness with me in order to try and negate the effects of the altitude as much as possible. Competing against guys from Colorado means that, all else constant, they have a 10% advantage on me just from living and training at elevation consistently. However, Coach Rob knew this all too well and set me up with a serious workout plan for the two weeks to get me in shape for a National level race. With a painful bliss, I hammered out interval after interval until it was time to hop on the plane to Albuquerque.
After too many hours of plane, airport, and car we arrived at the resort. Upon arrival I received a visual reminder of the elevation. Snow not only dusted but coated the top of the mountain about 1500 vertical feet above the base of the resort. I saw this as no big deal until I came to realize that the XC race snaked its way up through the woods all the way to the peak. That left some decisions to be made on clothing. Too little and I would be a popsicle at the top but too much and I may end up a cold, sweaty gym sock.

I headed out for my initial preride of the course on Wednesday afternoon which my youtube video does a good job of describing and showing. At that point, the course was awesome. Not too muddy and pretty tacky. However, when we woke up Thursday morning it was a different a story. Old man winter paid Angel Fire an early visit and left the town covered in 6ish inches of snow. I headed down to the bike shop to see what was going on in terms of course conditions and was told that they were cleaning the course with shovels and snow blowers. So after waiting a few hours for things to get cleaned up and taking time to throw on a tackier rear tire I headed out for preride number two. This time things proved entirely different. The course was not only covered in snow but also beginning to turn into a quagmire. The climb up wasn’t too bad but the descent was absolutely terrible and left me covered in a sticky, constantly hardening clay. At that point I realized that not only would the race be a physical test of ability but also a mental test of sheer desire.

Our condo was nicely placed two hops and a jump away from the start so there was no rush in the morning to get ready for the race. After getting up around 7 AM to eat, I milled around the place, watched some TV, and slowly got my cloths ready. Around 10:45 I headed down to get warmed up and check out the course and it’s a good thing too! On the ride over I noticed some shifting problems, which ended up being caused by a tweaked hanger. Thanks to the handy guys from Shimano though I had a new hanger slapped on and was warming up by 11:15.

The start went off with a bang at 12:05 and it wasn’t even 30 seconds before I was off the bike. Starting 3 rows deep and in the middle of the pack, I couldn’t get a line to the outside around the madness of lost traction and was forced to dismount with many others on the first climb. I hustled up, went cross eyed, and ran my butt off to get around and in front of most of the madness. Maybe 3 minutes later I was off the bike again, running with everyone else through ankle deep muck. The course had already had 2 races and nearly 100 riders over it 5 times before we hit it so things were just an absolute crap shoot. I ran hard, rode harder, and crashed even harder until I found myself finishing the first lap of three in 12th place. Riding solid behind two University of Colorado guys for most of lap two, I was able to keep a good pace with them and pass one at the top of the climb. I chased the other one, going back and forth with him, for the last lap until he got a lead on me in the final descent and then sealed the deal when I overshot the last muddy turn and hit the deck. Being my first National level event and first event at altitude, I can’t complain about my 11th place finish although I do wish I could have reeled in that UC rider.

Saturday brought the short track and another chance for me to try myself in a huge field. With 71 starters on the line I was more than nervous given the speed of a short track. When the gun went off I punched the gas and immediately began elbowing my way to the outside. We started into a climb again and there was no way I was getting stuck behind a bunch of guys slower than me again! I found a Fort Lewis wheel and let me lead me towards the front. Whoever the kid was, he was riding super well and I was hoping to hold his wheel for most of the race however he gave it a little more gas than I had at one point and I lost him. Midrace or so I made a move for the top five. I was feeling good so I launched an attack, which was unfortunately thwarted by fatigue and the altitude. I ended up dropping back to 12th where I remained for the rest of the race. Again, I am super happy with this result given the many firsts but was a little disappointed that my A game didn’t show up for the short track.

Overall, the mountain bike season was pretty good to me. Being my first “serious” year on the bike and training I have to say I am stoked to look back and see what I accomplished. I don’t think it is quite time to hang up the race shoes for the year yet though…..I mean, there is still cross! Well, back to the airport and homework!

(Todd Latocha)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thanks to ASCI and WISP!

A big thanks to the Adventure Sports Center International and Wisp Resort in McHenry Maryland for making a huge effort to host the ACCC Championships on September 15th and 16th. This is a huge deal for WISP and ASCI as it is the same weekend as Autumn Fest, their busiest weekend of the year.

Saturday will kick off with a Cross Country race out in ACSI territory on the backside of the mountain. After XC concludes Short Track and Super D will take place on the front side of the mountain utilizing 1/3 of the downhill trails on the mountain. Sunday morning will start off with Dual Slalom and end with a gnarly DH race down High Roller and Resurrection.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Campbell Recap

We managed to pull out of Morgantown 45 minutes later than expected with a trailer-full of bicycles and three passenger cars, but spirits were still high as we rolled out. Then came the “slam on your breaks in the middle of the interstate” traffic on Interstate 79 due to a little Mazda truck sitting on the roof of its cab in the slow lane. After clearing that traffic, we made it onto 19 smoothly and everything was going well. Interstate 77 was also going smoothly; we stopped at Subway in Bland, VA (very fitting name for the place) and discussed how we all believed that “Speed enforced by aircraft” meant that an Apache helicopter would descend from the sky and blow your car up with a grenade launcher if you drove over the speed limit. Somehow, all three passenger cars came to this conclusion. After passing the Jeep and trailer on 79, we never saw them on the drive again so I’m not sure if they had the same ideas on this.

After satisfactorily filling our bellies, we continued our journey on 77 until we hit the exit where 77 splits from 81 and we came to another abrupt halt. Unlike the traffic on 79, however, this time it continued for about 10 miles. Daniele told me that it was only a few miles of traffic until we reached a bridge where whatever was holding us up occurred. Daniele was wrong. We sat in bumper to bumper traffic, slowly lurching along, cresting one hill just to see the red tail-lights slowly climbing the next hill. This happened for about 3 hills or ~10 miles when we finally hit the bridge where traffic had been diverted to the 12-foot-wide shoulder around the area of sanded liquid. We later found out that a FedEx truck had jackknifed and its fuel tank had spilled all over the bridge (I feel sorry for whoever is waiting for those packages).

Finally, we make it onto 421 and find the exit for the park we are staying in. We drive through the sketchy little town that is apparently part and/or all of North Wilksboro and turn onto Reservoir Road. Drive to the end of that and find a gate and no sign of any teams set up for camping. Great… now what do we do? Thanks to the power of 3G, I have access to the race flier that gives perfect directions to the camp location. We crest the hill that leads to the dam we are supposed to drive across and what do you know, another gate! Ok, really? Now what? That’s when we notice the 2 VT guys crawling out of the back of their van in the little parking area by the gate. They inform us that half their team hiked across the dam and are sleeping over there, but they are just staying in the van. The park rangers and the sheriff have been called but there is pretty much nothing to be done. Well, we can adapt, we’ll just throw our tents up on this mostly flat grassy knoll beside the gate. No big deal. Well, apparently it is a big deal. The park rangers drive up and tell us we aren’t allowed to camp there and we’ll just need to sleep in our cars for the night. Yes, all 14 of us will sleep well crammed in our 3 sedans and a Jeep! The sheriff also decides to come back after the park rangers leave and informs the VT guys that he “will not deal with this all night.” Sorry sir, it is our goal to stay awake because we have no place to sleep and wreak havoc on your park. We finally get to the parking lot, waking up the vicious dogs in the Xterra parked there already and the GW guy sleeping in it, set up camp, and finally get to sleep. At some point the Jeep furiously rolls in, unhitches the trailer, and pulls back out to sleep in a hotel because they got lost and couldn’t find the park. Sorry guys, you had the flier too.

The next day begins at 7am for me and apparently 6:30am for others. We’re all looking a little tired, but our spirits are still pretty high considering. We tear down our hard-won camping area, the jeep shows back up to pull the trailer across the dam, and we head over to registration. It’s at this point that we realize that we had been surrounded on three sides by water that night and the hill we had tried to set up camp on was directly adjacent to a cemetery. Everyone does there pre-race thing. Several of us head out to pre-ride the short track course which features a couple of not fun, steep little climbs at the beginning before looping back around to a flowy smooth downhill section and back to the hills. They sent the Men’s C category off a few minutes late and they do their 20 minutes of short track. The rest of us stood around and cheered on our fellows, especially the 2 freshman who were putting out an astounding effort (big kudos to you guys!) and watching the VT guy who was leading get legitimately clotheslined by a vine. Next came the Men’s B race which went smoothly and without an exciting wreck to report. Mikaela and I then had our chance to pedal for 20 minutes against each other in the Women’s A/B race of which we were the only two Bs. Obviously, we exhausted ourselves in a heroic effort to be the dominant team (sarcasm). After that, our entire team walked our bikes up the hill to the start of the downhill to get in a couple of practice runs before the race. We practiced a couple of times, trying to find the best line through the gnarly rock garden, then had a nice sit-and-wait at the top of the hill for the start of the event. Everyone else eventually showed up and we all sat for a while longer until the event started; then we rode our bikes down the mountain.

After we were all done, we made our way back to the cars to get some foodstuffs in our bellies before the Super D. We ate and some decided to practice the Super D course which really wasn’t too much different from the downhill with the exception of a few extra twists and turns. We all took our time getting back up to the top but we still happened to be the first team there. We found what we assumed was the start area and people practiced running to their bikes for the Le Mans start. We concluded that Jake needed a new pair of shoes after doing a burn out and falling down while taking off, at which we laughed hysterically. Others had some amusing practice running-starts as well. Everyone eventually showed up again and we all hung out for a while, still hoping we were in the right spot for the start. We were. Then after some Le Mans starts and splits between categories, we all eventually pedaled down the hill in the Super D. Sadly, DeCann took a spill on his way down which messed up his shoulder and caused him to have to sit out the cross-country the next day. We have since banned him from participating in any more gravity events.

After many hours in the heat, dust, sweat, and chamois, we were finally done with racing. Though it wasn’t the toughest day, I am confident in saying that we were all done. However, the best part of the day was still to come. We had witnessed some of the VT riders coming back from a dip in the reservoir between the downhill and Super D and so decided that we should have a bathe in said reservoir. That was the most amazing feeling ever and possibly one of the best experiences of my cycling career. The cooling effects of the water must have released a huge amount of endorphins in all of us because we were simply giddy. Laughing, frolicking, and having an all-around joyous time. Judging by the amount of dirt I scrubbed off of myself Sunday night in the shower, I don’t think it really did anything for getting us clean, but it sure lifted the spirits.

After drying off and putting on some dry, non-lycra clothes, we headed out to find some grub. We had been arguing about where to go for at least 3 hours and finally decided we would deal with the gastro-intestinal effects and partake of the Mexican restaurant where the road team always eats. After getting lost once again, we finally find the place and sit down to a yummy meal. We laughed, discussed the races, ate about 12 baskets of tortilla chips, and had enough plates to feed most of an army. Afterwards, Mikaela and I sat complaining about our food-babies, Oprah and Shania respectively and our food induced comas. We were tired. We then made a quick Wal-Mart stop for DeCann to get a heating pad and for some team road sodas.

We quickly made our way back to the camp, which we had luckily set up earlier in the day so we could just enjoy the evening. The sodas were broken into and the stand was set up to work on bikes. I noticed the fire VT had going so I decided to join them for some mountain biking spirit. If the laughter was any indication, the sodas had their intended effect on the team and the WVUers were having a good time as well. Eventually a park ranger pulled in and told us to put the fire out and I suppose turn the music off considering it ended at the same time. The two teams socialized for a while until the clock struck at 11 and everyone quickly disappeared into tents. With some rustling and snoring, we all fell into exhausted sleep.

The next day dawned much the same as the one before. Everyone rolled out of sleeping bags looking a little more tired and I think just ready to get the day over with. We ate, did a bit of last minute bike maintenance, changed, and mentally prepared ourselves for the last race of the weekend. The Men’s C/ Women’s B categories started somewhere close to 9am and did a 6.4 mile lap which included more climbing than I had mentally prepared for but was easily ride-able. I sat behind Marco for a good part of the ride and every now and then heard Mikaela’s breaks speaking behind me (she wasn’t feeling great that morning). I warned her about the switch backs that were coming up and hoped I hadn’t distracted her into wrecking. I had warning to slow down after the first sharp turn and hearing brakes squealing and tires skidding on rocks. That turned out to be Cameron having a minor crash that skinned up his palm. Marco and I caught up to Cameron and Daniele, at which point Marco found a place to pass and disappeared into the twists and turns. I decided the guys were setting a good enough pace for me and just sat in behind them, enjoying the fact that I wasn’t alone for the first time in a race. When the XC trail met up with the Super D course they dropped me and I finished the last little bit alone.

They started the Men’s A race, which we didn’t have anybody racing in, then the Men’s B/ Women’s A. Kyle was our only B rider for that race so while he did his 2 laps, the rest of us packed up the tents and started loading the trailer. After playing an hour long game of bike Tetris, we fit all but 2 of the bikes in the trailer without their wheels and found space for all the wheels as well. It was a tight fit, but we finally managed. After Kyle came in from his laps looking hot and tired, we let him cool down for a bit before throwing his bike on a rack, loading up and heading out. We left the parking lot by 1 which I am pretty sure is some kind of WVU Cycling record.

The drive back was uneventful and we never hit any accidents. Around Summersville or so we started hitting rain and as we got off the interstate at Star City, we heard the obnoxious blasts of the Weather Center issuing a severe thunderstorm warning. Daniele and I pulled into the Bike House a bit before the rest and began to dread having to unpack in the delude issuing from the sky. Little did we know, that was going to be the Morgantown weather for the entire week. Everyone else came in a little behind us and after waiting for the trailer, which did not stop for a game of mini golf, we got the trailer unloaded and everyone headed to their houses to shower and recoup. It was a great weekend of riding and I can’t wait for this weekend.

---Post by Sequoya

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring Spectacular Pt. 2

This morning was the "actual" ride for the Spring Spectacular, which is an annual fun ride sponsored by country road cyclists. I met up with Darren around 8:30am and we headed to the Wharf for some pre-ride go fast doughnuts. About ten minutes before the ride was to start Marco shows up, showing no sign of pain from the previous days ride. My plan was to do the full 60 mile ride, while Darren and Marco planned to go for the 25 mile option.

In total, about 30-40 or so cyclists started the trek over the Westover bridge and towards 100. The initial route followed the Hammer route up big shannon, and it felt quite odd not riding at hammer pace. At the intersection, we turned right onto Schriver Hill road. Following a break to fix a flat, I was rejoined by both Darren and Marco, both of whom missed the turn-round back in Mt. Morris. Shortly after turning onto Kirby road, we neared the 45 mile / 60 mile route turns, where I took the 60 and waved Darren off as he took the 45. To quote the previous post, I had thought Marco also turned off for 45 miles.

The 60 mile group then picked up the pace a little bit, but was forced to stop for a flat after about another 5 miles. As the group was getting ready to go again, to my surprise Marco pulls up next to me claiming Rule #5 and going for the full 60 miles. Impressed with his willingness to go for it, I wished him luck, while not guaranteeing he would get the same support received the day before should he crack.

Once we started going again a good paceline formed for most of the trek up 19 to Waynesburg. It was about here that the rain really started coming down, making the next set of miles miserably wet. At about the 40th mile, we stopped at a food point for some much needed nourishment, which consisted mostly of cookies and cream pies. However, during this whole period - Marco was nowhere to be found. With nobody knowing where he was, and knowing that some people were picked up by the sag wagon, we continued onward. Eager to get out of the rain, the group worked at a good tempo pace, with JR occasionally throwing down some attacks, none of which my legs wanted to cover but occasionally responded to.

Pulled back into Morgantown just over three and a half hours, finishing with 65 miles on the day. Good long ride with a good group.

Extra Big A.S.S. Ride

Today Kyle, Marco, Dave and I joined in on the bonus Annual Spring Spectacular Ride. The day started out cold with Gunnar complaining about waking up early and having to wear earmuffs. He decided to take it out on the world by going hard for the first 15 miles, despite having not been “emotionally prepared to crush it” that early Kyle, Dave and I held his wheel and turned in some great pulls. The ride then paused for ~20 minutes for warm clothing removal and tan line perfection while we waited on the rest of the group. After everyone got back together we rode at a much more reasonable pace for through several roads I have never ridden before. We took two stops so people doing the shorter rides could split off to take a shorter route home…we thought Marco turned with the first of these groups.
The ride proceeded to a 7-eleven for water and food. We were about to start riding again when Marco rolled by, apparently he had missed the turn off. Marco was in it for the long haul and did well until we approached the 45 mile mark when he got dropped. The next 15 miles consisted of Gunnar, Kyle, Dave and myself taking turns pushing Marco up hills and back into the peloton until we could get to a spot with cell service so we could call for a pick up…Marco wasn’t the last to need a pick up.
The rest of the ride consisted of steady climbing and hard intervals on the flat. Most notably was the section from Big Shannon to Masontown where for some reason several of us decided to line up and crush it. The effort ended with Gunnar, Kyle and myself rolling into town alone. All in all, it was a great 103 mile ride on a great day. Good job to everyone, especially that 16 year old kid known as “the kid” (I know, we’re soooo creative.) The best part is, tomorrow’s A.S.S. ride should ‘be even more better’ with doughnuts and a pizza buffet afterwards.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Teamwork Pays Off

Saturday morning at first looked to be similar to many of our previous race days, as the rain started coming down just as I started loading up the SuperSix for the Greene County Road Race. For the WVU Cycling team, rainy race days have become the rule, not the exception, as many of our previous race weekends have had miserable weather at best. However, after crossing the state line into Pennsylvania, rainy skies turned into clouds, which turned into sun. It might be a good day after all.

While the stormy forecast might have scared off a few people, over 40 starters were present for the combined mens 4/5, 5 field. Racing for WVU was Kyle Kukieza and myself. Other familiar faces included the Dynamic guys, including president Todd Latocha. Once the race started, I found myself getting pushed to the back of the field from some eager Cat 5's. Although at this point all I wanted to do was sit in, I did not want to have to navigate through a field once the climb came up. With Kyle behind my wheel, I made a move to move back up to the top third or so and jumped back inside and stayed put until the climb. Once we started going up, I shortly found myself up at front with Todd by my side. Although him and I are relatively strong climbers, we didn't really push the tempo up enough to truly break away.

Cresting the peak, our tempo pace had split the leaders to about a group of eight, with one a bit off the front. Not being too overly concerned, our group worked well to slowly bring back the leader. The middle section of the course was mostly flat and rolling, and the group maintained a strong paceline throughout. Soon after passing the 27th mile, I took a GU to prepare for the hill climb carnage that would soon be upon us. The "tentative" plan of attack for the hill was to ramp up the tempo hard with Todd and try and stay away. In addition, Kyle would be blocking any attempt at a chase to bring us back in the end. Kyle graciously accepted the sacrificial role in exchange for a lead-out if the either the break didn't stick or happen.

As we hit the hit the noticeable part of the climb, it suddenly got real hot. Not knowing the climb length, I let Todd get a couple bike lengths on me in fear of blowing up. Unfortunately, the climb was much shorter than I anticipated and I hit the crest with a match or two that could have been used. Despite that, I was sitting 4th and riding solo and I knew I was likely the last person who got away. If I wanted to keep my place, I had to give it everything and hope Kyle was doing his job behind me. When I saw the 1 mile to go sign I found some extra energy and cruised to the finish.

As it turns out, Kyle was in a group of three behind me, doing his best to slow down the chasing pace. Once he knew I was clear, he was free to move and prepare for his sprint. Despite a mechanical not allowing him to sprint out of the saddle, he still won out and claimed 5th. In summary, it turned out to be a great day for racing and a perfect execution of team tactics (contrast to my last post!) allowed both of us to finish top 5.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Agony of the Teammate-less Racer

Let me preface this post by saying this is only my second season of racing, and the first season being fast-ish enough to really contend for a podium spot. Although that might just be the SuperSix.

This past Sunday was the road race leg of our home race weekend, following an awesome downtown crit in Clarksburg, WV. The road race course was about a 12.2 mile loop with some rollers and 2 climbs. The climbs themselves were respectable in terms of grade and length, certainly enough to break a C field. The morning of the race was certainly an adventure, as driving from Morgantown to Lost Creek in a thick fog got my attention up a lot faster than my coffee did. Fortunately, the race got delayed half an hour, which gave me some more time to digest my epic Black Bear dinner from the previous night. Very clutch. However unfortunately, our police lead cars did not show up in time and Todd had to drop out of the race to fill in.

Once the race started, Kyle and the NC State freshman set the pace up front at about 18 miles an hour for about the first 7 miles. Somehow they also managed to effectively block anyone else from attacking during this time. Once we got to the gravel hill I finally said enough is enough and launched an attack and drove up the pace. After hitting the descent, there was about 8-10 riders who could sustain my pace and I thought this would mean a break group would form.

Nope, huge wrong on that one.

I can't begin to explain how many people would not take a pull and just slowed the pace down. Not only did this let dropped racers back in, but relegated me to the back after a hard pull. Not much else happened the rest of the second lap, although the pace was at least above 22mph. Had a short conversation with Kyle just before the climbs, saying if we were going to make a gap, we had to do it this time. As we were getting ready to hit the gravel climb the second time I heard a scream from behind me. I didn't know what happened or how, but Kyle was down and out. Still, I attacked again on the climb trying to shed as much of the group as possible. Crested the peak with VT and App riders close by and this time I surely thought a gap could form.

Wrong again.

Once again, following the descent people would not pull. After some serious yelling and unkind words, people started doing work and an apparent break of 6-7 riders formed. This carried about until the first set of rollers came again and I found myself off the front after nobody followed my pull. I was not about to slow the pace down so I continued to attack. After maybe a minute a Navy rider pulls along side me and says "WVU, its just you and me." I was definitely ok with this and we started doing some serious work. This must have lit a spark up the chasing field as they caught back on after a couple miles and instantly shut the pace back down. Once again, the group increased to about 14 or so and I was getting pretty unhappy. I knew if I didn't get away for good on the climb this final time it would be a lot harder to post a podium finish. As with the previous laps, I put myself up front going into the gravel climb and gave it my all to get away. When cresting the top of the hill, I had maybe 10 seconds on 2nd, who undoubtedly had time on others behind him. Taking any and all chances to stay away, I hit the descent hard and fast giving my all to stay away.

Then it happens, caught by VT. But its the final stretch into the finish - He'll push on with me to the end right?

Again. No.

He sits up. App catches on. App sits up. Now the sprinters are all back in it. At this point I'm frustrated. The final mile is a mess of attacks and responses, and despite my efforts, the end of the race turns into a field sprint and I finish 8th.

In road racing, getting help from teammates is essential. Whither blocking, helping to launch an attack, or leading out, having help in the field is undoubtedly a difference maker. I learned this the hard way, watching other teams work together to take away my efforts. Some help blocking, and or sustaining and the race outcome is probably a different story. Hopefully next weekend with the C squad back in action, we can turn the tides and launch an attack that sticks.