Compassion Shines After Frightening Crash

In the evening hours this week, with the promise of spring in the air, it was set to be a beautiful end to the day as Local Bike Racing hosted a weekly criterium here in Houston. However, we were all devastated to learn about a tragic accident involving Chuck, a good friend of the cycling community. Erin Urban, a local competitive cyclist with Haute Wheels Racing and a great blogger, published a post about the incident saying, “last night a friend, staunch supporter, avid race volunteer, and all-around good guy was severely injured during a local race. This news hits hard with deep sadness because we all know and appreciate our cycling buddy, Chuck”.

Indeed, Chuck is genuinely a great guy who does not deserve the pain he is experiencing right now, but it has been truly inspirational to see the community come together in support of a fallen friend.

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Chuck on the front. Photo credit: Corvin Alstot.

Chuck is a successful entrepreneur; he is a selfless and hard-working individual, someone who never complains when the going gets tough. I recall riding next to Chuck on many occasions, often struggling to breathe at blistering speeds, my legs agonizingly painful as I’m telling them to ‘shut up’ in my best Jens Voigt expression, yet Chuck would always greet you with a warm smile. His diligent and altruistic character is visible not only in his career, but also with his involvement in the cycling community—all of whom have a great deal of respect for him. In her blog post, Erin Urban adds, “Chuck has volunteered quite a bit of his time and energy to the advancement of the cycling community and competitive cycling events. . . . Chuck has been there when he didn’t have to… and today, our cycling community is there for him”.

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Photo credit: Creative Cycling

While those of us who race are aware of the risks, a fact that we have to be comfortable with to some degree, it is never easy to completely push the fear of injury to the back of our mind. As it has been brought to the forefront this week, I would like to reach out to my friends and followers from all walks of life. Please, if you are able to, consider making a donation on his Go Fund Me page—no matter how small—to help our friend recover. This accident will impact his life beyond the time we all share with him on the bike as he faces the road to recovery ahead.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of experiencing the open road on two wheels; that intimate connection between man and machine as one foot turns over the next. It’s almost a meditative experience at times. As cyclists, we share a unique bond in this sport. One of trust, respect, and compassion. There are those who stand out among a group of good people—those who are genuinely great. Chuck is one of those great people. Let’s help him get back on the road, and most importantly, back to his life.

Thank you for taking a moment to read his story. I hope you will consider making a small donation.

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Be sure to check out Erin Urban’s blog and read more about her here. Special thanks goes out to Corvin Alstot and Creative Cycling (Ray ‘Trey’ Currid) for granting permission to publish their photos on this blog.

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Houston Grand Criterium

After racing at Coldspring the day before, my legs felt better than expected for another race the following day. Once again I did the straight cat 4 race and fully expected it to be fast and furious—and it was, with a 25.1 mph average speed.

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This year I focused on riding smarter to ensure a better position each time through the hairpin turn. While I didn’t manage to get near the front through that turn on every lap, I did so the majority of the time. It made a difference in the end as I didn’t have to sprint as much to catch back on to the peleton.2014HGC-002

On the first lap I did a little work with Scott Cryan on the front, but for the most part I just tried to stay hidden from the wind. On the first prime lap I thought I’d gauge the sprinting strength of the field. I was near the front through the final turn as we accelerated for the prime sprint. A moment later I found myself on the very front. This was bad. I felt that I could have sprinted hard for the line and possibly taken the prime, but I knew that would require digging deep into my reserves which I was not prepared to do. I wisely saved that for the end of race.

On one of the following primes a small group of riders got a decent gap which I decided to chase down, pictured below. They ended up going no where of course. My thinking at the time was that someone had to chase them before it developed into a race winning break. In hindsight, that was a waste of energy because the nature of this course does not favor a break, particularly in the lower categories.

Chasing a small breakaway.
Chasing a gap.

Just over half-way though the race, I was approaching the hairpin again on the front. So far there were no crashes in the race that I’m aware of. However, that thought happened too soon when I suddenly heard carbon hitting the ground behind me. Thankfully no one was hurt when one rider slid out in the turn.

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Smile for the camera!

There were some close calls during the race, but nothing that stands out which I remember. The usual jockeying for position in a cat 4 race. It was on the final lap when I knew I was standing good. I felt better at that point in the race than I did last year. As we approached the last two corners in downtown, I hear someone to my right scream FLAT! I relay the message and move ahead to avoid any problems there.

Going through the final corner I’m about 10 wheels off the front and I feel like I’m positioned pretty well. As the sprinters began hammering for the line, I made it a point to stay in the saddle and pedal as hard as I could trying to stay on their wheels. The fastest of them slipped away, but I did very well keeping pace with most of the pack. I managed to finish 14th, which is my best result at this race.

Pack finish in 14th.
Pack finish in 14th.

The Houston Grand is a sprinters delight, which I don’t consider myself, but I can definitely feel and see improvement in that area so far this year. I need to continue working on my accelerations while staying in the saddle as it seems standing up only hurts me more.

I’ve now made it 3 straight years to this race, with 2012 being my first ever bike race. Kristine had a great time as this is really a great race for spectators too. Of course a special thanks to her for capturing all of these pictures!

Medical Colleagues of Texas Road Race

Men’s 4/5 Race Report

The Coldspring road race is my favorite one close to home. It’s about an hour drive outside of Houston, so it’s not too far for a day trip. The course has some pretty good climbs which make it a nice challenge. Last year I had a slight gear mishap on the finishing climb and didn’t finish as well as I hoped, so this year I wanted to redeem myself.

Unfortunately, I was not able to ride much in the weeks leading up to this race. I was in Boston with Kristine for her marathon one week, although I did take my bike and at least got a couple of rides in there. As soon as I returned, I came down sick with a late season cold. After that I worked in the yard and managed to get covered in poison ivy rashes from head to toe. Clearly this was not my week! Regardless, there was no way I wanted to miss our local favorite races. IMG_1473b

Kristine and I drove out in the morning, but since my race wasn’t scheduled to start until 12:25, we didn’t have to leave at a crazy early hour in the morning. She didn’t make it to this race with me last year, so it would be the first time she has ever been to the town Coldspring. We got my number pinned on and I met up with David where we went for a nice warm-up ride together. This would be his first race of the season and I think the only race he’s ever done besides the Bear Creek crits.

At 12:25, we were staged at the high school and ready to race! It starts out neutralized until we reach the start of the race loop on the south end of the course.

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Once the ref cleared us, we were off. Nothing crazy happened in the first 10 minutes. After things started out slowly, Bayou City Racing got on the front and put down a quick acceleration. Next thing I know we’re hammering 45 mph downhill. At times it was getting tight in the peleton. I was on the right side going down a hill, and due to some unnecessary braking in the peleton, I found myself forced along side another rider on the very edge of the road. There happened to be a crack there which my wheels naturally found, but thankfully I was able to keep it under control. At another point I moved to the left side and found a sketchy rider over there, nearly getting into guys on both sides of him, so I backed off and found a different spot to sit in.

I wasn’t really sure what I could expect from my legs given that I wasn’t able to train as much as I normally would leading up to this race. We were only doing 2 laps, so I used the finishing climb at the end of the first lap to gauge my legs and climbing pace for the last lap effort. Surprisingly my legs felt good and I found myself just off the front at the top of the climb where I heard Kristine yelling, “GO BLAKE”!

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Pushing myself over the finishing climb on that first lap was a mistake that nearly got me dropped though. The pace picked up over the next few climbs, which are actually steeper than the finishing climb. The hard efforts began taking a toll on the peleton as things spread out with a group of riders dangling just off the back. I was one of those riders and eventually it was down to myself and one other rider just barely in touch with the lead group. The remainder of the riders dropped were grouping together behind us and far down the road now.

I got lucky shortly after that when the pace lifted enough that I could recover. I started looking around taking note of who was left when I noticed David wasn’t with the lead group anymore. As we made it over the last climb before the right turn which leads onto the back side of the loop, I knew that I would be there at the end. The back side is relatively flat compared to the east side, and today it was with a tailwind.

The next right turn we made leads onto a hill straight away as we head south. It’s always hammer time up that hill which strings the peleton out through the turn. I just stayed in the peleton the entire time and had no plans to attack early. If I had been training more, perhaps I would have tried an early attack before the finish, but the key today was to suck wheels as long as possible and hope I got a good wheel to lead me out. With the finishing hill just up the road now, and the lead peleton all together still, I began to feel good about my chances. My heart rate was good and my legs felt ready for a hard effort.

As expected, the accelerations began at the bottom of the hill. It’s a long climb to the top, so some of the guys who accelerated early would pay for it later before reaching the top. Some of them however were strong enough to hold the pace all the way up. I moved to the right side of the road which appeared to be moving better than the left and at a pace that was good for me. I followed wheels halfway up the climb until they started slowing. That’s when I stood up and put everything I had left in my legs through the pedals, powering my way to the top. I managed to pass quite a few riders along the way which motivated me to push even harder. I could see the finishing line ahead with one more rider that I was determined to pass. I just barely made it passed that rider and crossed the line in 11th place out of 71 starters.

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Overall I’m quite pleased with my result in one of the largest fields I’ve raced in, and especially considering my lack of training leading up to the race. Tomorrow is the Houston Grand Criterium!

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Dallas Racing Spring Omnium

Saturday Crit (Cat 4/5)

IMG_0980My legs were a bit stiff from sitting in the car all morning after making the long drive up from Houston. Fortunately we arrived with ample time to loosen up, get my race number, and prepare everything so that I could get a nice warm-up in before the start.

My race was the last one scheduled for the day at 3:30 pm. The weather was beautiful with clear skies, temps in the low 70’s, and light winds around 10 mph. It was out of the North, which meant we’d have a tailwind on the finishing straight and a headwind on the back side of the course.

The course itself is just over half a mile in length and consists of four left turns. With the exception of one turn, they’re all wide and easy to take at high speed. In fact, you can pedal through all of them. The most technical is turn 2 which comes from a very wide section on the north side to a narrow section down the back straight. There’s also a man hole cover in the middle of the apex, but it’s not an issue when the road is dry. The front straight is a bit higher in elevation than the back, so there’s a slight incline between turn 3 and the finish line. It’s barely noticeable on the elevation graph, but it still makes it the tougher section of the course.

It was good to see John Jordan, racing with McKinney Velo Club, before the race started. We raced together last year at this event, so we had a quick chat as we did our recon lap.

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John Jordan far right side of the group on the front. Blake in the middle on the front.

I lined up on the front with about 25 other people. I made it a point to look around at all of the different riders, teams, and kits. Park Place was well represented with several riders in the field. I made a note of it, but I didn’t expect much team tactics being a 4/5 race.

Having done a handful of crits, I expected this one would start off like all of them—fast. Initially the pace wasn’t too bad. There was of course some accelerations, so efforts had to be made to chase down early attacks. I was mainly focusing on staying near the front during the first half of the race. I hoped to stay about 5-10 wheels off the front, but that proved hard to sustain with the surges and the resulting movement of riders in the peleton. I didn’t really have any worries about most of the early attacks because they just weren’t going anywhere. Roberto Rodriguez, with Park Place, was constantly attacking early on, but he’d never stay away for an entire lap before we caught him again.

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About halfway through the race on the front straight, Joseph DeCosta attacked looking really strong! He put down a huge acceleration which resulted in a big gap. The attack was timed perfectly when the peleton was slowing after some hard efforts chasing down earlier attacks. I told the guys in front of me, “we’re gonna have to chase him down”. Tyler Yamamoto, with OU Cycling, picked up the pace and I was second wheel just behind him through turn 1 and 2. It was now my turn on the front as I worked to bring DeCosta back. I caught him just after the next turn when I realized the peleton was not with me. He asked if I wanted to work and I said it seemed a bit early, but lets see what happens.

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Blake and Joseph DeCosta working to break away.

On the next lap, we looked back after turn 2 and saw we had a slightly larger gap on the peleton with about four riders trying to bridge the gap (pictured above). We slowed a bit hoping to pick up the riders bridging, but once they caught us there was just no organization. Rodriguez accelerated on the break up the left side, then things just fell apart.

At this point I kept going hoping the break might come back together if I could get on the front and ride a steady pace. I looked back through turn 1 to see everyone in the break was back in the peleton, but the gap was large enough that I had to give it a try on my own. The gap continued to grow over the next lap, and before long I was out of sight of the peleton! Kristine was standing just past turn 1 taking pictures and encouraging me to push. It was great to have her support and encouragement during this time. The pictures below show me in my solo break, but they do not show how deep in the pain cave I was.

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Unfortunately the pace was not sustainable after several laps off the front alone. The decision to give up on my solo attempt was when I realized the peleton had started a chase effort and was closing down the gap.

I got back in the peleton with little effort and focused on recovering for the finish. Approaching 2 laps to go, John Jordan attacked on the back straight, so I went with him to see what might happen. In retrospect, I should have stayed in the peleton considering the mid-race effort I had already invested so much energy into. Nevertheless, we tried to get away, but it didn’t pan out.

Working so hard I can't even keep spit off my face!
Blake and John Jordan working on a late race break.

As the last lap came around, I stayed near the front so I could cover any attacks to the finish. I had already decided that I would attack just after turn 3 if no one else had gone by then. As we came around turn 2, I was second wheel. I took the turn faster than the leader and ended up slightly rubbing my front wheel into his rear wheel. A close call, but I stayed calm and kept the bike up right. Shortly after that, Robert Plaskota, with Velo Gold Racing, attacked fast and hard along my right side.

The chase was now on to the finish. Alex Joseph got passed me just before turn 3. I was right on his wheel through turn 3 as we worked to bridge the gap to Plaskota. I put everything I had in it, but after all of my efforts during the race, I just didn’t have enough matches left to bridge the gap. Patrick Moneymaker, with Park Place, and DeCosta easily left me in their wake before the last turn. I managed to find enough in my legs to put forth a pitiful sprint to the line holding onto 5th place. Patrick Moneymaker out sprinted everyone taking the win, with Joseph DeCosta in 2nd, Alex Joseph 3rd, and Robert Plaskota 4th—who was notably upset after the race by the fact that no one worked together in the mid-race break.

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While I still have much to learn about riding smart—mostly with being patient—I felt good about my result and had a great time racing again for the first time this season. I feel I’m stronger than ever, but more importantly, I’m getting more confidence with my abilities to read the race. I find this aspect harder than any other.

Enjoy the race video below:

Sunday Crit (Cat 4)

I was only planning to do one race this weekend on Saturday, but Kristine talked me into considering another race Sunday morning. The cat 4 race started at 8:10 am, so it was easy to ensure we could head back home at a decent hour that afternoon. The earlier race time meant chillier temps, but it wasn’t all that bad. Arm warmers, a vest, and a cap under my helmet was enough to stay warm. Clear skies and very little wind made for great racing.

I lined up after a nice warm-up with a couple of minutes to spare. Apparently today, not as many cat 4’s wanted to get out of bed. There was only 6 of us standing there waiting to race. I wasn’t planning to recon the course since I just raced it yesterday. It turned out however, the course layout had changed! Due to the sprinklers running that morning, there was quite a bit of water in a few of the corners as well. Some of them were still running, so it looked like a river of water in the corners! The officials called it “localized rain”, saying that “we race rain or shine”. The course change included more turns. Instead of four left turns, we now had two right turns as well. There was also a steeper hill on the back side just after the two right turns. The officials asked us to do a neutral lap on the first lap of the race for safety. IMG_1281

With that, the race was off. It must be the smallest field I’ve raced in. A few of the guys also raced the 4/5 with me yesterday. Roberto Rodriguez, with Park Place, must not have understood that we were supposed to do a neutral lap first. He didn’t really attack, but he just rode off at a faster than neutral pace. We yelled trying to get his attention, but he just kept going. After the first lap he had a small gap on the field, but we knew he wasn’t going anywhere. By the end of the next lap, we were all back together.

The race was uneventful for the first 20 minutes. It was on lap 8, just after turn 1 when I made my move from fourth wheel back. I saw Steve Chisholm, with Park Place, who had been on the front for most of the time casually grab his water bottle for a drink. Everyone looked too relaxed like a Sunday donut ride, so I grabbed a bigger gear and attacked hard up the right side. I wanted to get a gap and carry as much speed through the wet corners as I could figuring some of the others wouldn’t be able to do the same. The tactic worked and ended up dropping two riders. They were off the back for the rest of the race. It took 3 turns for anyone to even catch me. Initially it was only Hugo Scala Jr, with Matrix Cycling Club, and Geremy Hamlett, with Mad Duck Racing. Roberto Rodriguez was not far behind trying to bridge the gap still.

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Making them work for those donuts!

As I approached the first of the two consecutive right turns, Hugo passed me, then I passed him again after the next right turn which leads onto the small hill. I attacked again on that hill and drilled it all the way around to the front straight leaving them to bridge the gap (pictured above).

As I crossed the line, the bell was rung for the first prime lap. I looked back through turn 1 and saw I had a bit of a gap, but they were closing it down. I decided to slow a bit to recover before the end of the prime lap. With the three riders remaining behind me, I attacked on the same hill and made it stick to the line taking the first prime.

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On the next lap I lifted for a much needed recovery. That was when Hugo put down an excellent counter attack which forced me to dig deep to keep from getting dropped. He had Geremy on his wheel with Roberto just behind. It was a great attempt by him to get rid of me, but I wasn’t going away that easily.

No one wanted to work over the next few laps. On lap 11, the last prime bell was rung. I was third wheel just behind Roberto and Geremy up the hill which proved to be a good place to attack. Geremy jumped at the top of the hill and bombed down it. Roberto had a gear slip and wasn’t able to counter. I hopped on Geremy’s wheel and stayed there through the last turn. I took a bad line through the turn, which opened up a small gap. I was still able to out sprint him right at the line taking another prime lap.

IMG_1341This whole time, Hugo was riding smart, saving his sprint for the end. Hind sight is always 20/20. What if I had done the same? For the rest of the race, it was like a track stand off. No one wanted to do any work and we were barely moving. It was comical to see the change in pace. On the last lap, I was on the very front. Not ideal, but the pace was so slow it didn’t require much effort. I was carefully listening for anyone to attack. I decided the hill was the best place to go if no one went before that. IMG_1347

I jumped hard again just before the right turn leading onto the hill. I drilled it up and down the hill taking the next turn at 31 mph. I pedaled for everything I was worth through the last turn and sprinted for the line. That’s where Hugo’s smart riding and patience paid off. He was able to sprint past me before the line. The race wasn’t over though! I had Roberto and Geremy right behind me itching to take 2nd place. It was extremely close on the line as I threw my bike across it! I held out though and got my best result to date.

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At the end of the day, I feel like I probably could have beaten Hugo if I hadn’t gone for the primes. It took a lot out of me going for those, and in fact my sprints for the prime laps were faster than my finish sprint. I’m still happy with my result—plus I got lots of cash and prizes for those primes! So, this weekend was not to be my first race win, but I know my day will come. Honestly, I’d like my win to come with more competitors. Patience and tactics are the things I strive to improve. My sprints are definitely better, so I will also continue to improve there as it’s never been my strength.

Thank you especially to my wonderful fiancée for supporting my racing. She was there to cheer me on all weekend and took all of these great pictures I’ve shared on the blog. Thanks also to all of my family and friends for your support and for following my progress.

Sunday race video:

 

Coldspring Road Race / Houston Crit Race Report

This past weekend was Houston’s biggest race weekend for a lot of people, which includes our only local road race. Saturday was the Coldspring Road Race and Sunday the Houston Grand Criterium.

Coldspring was my first race as a category 4. I was especially looking forward to it as I enjoy the hills. I didn’t get a chance to pre-ride the course, so my first time to experience the roads was on race day. I was a little anxious about my first cat 4 race. I wasn’t sure how the pace would be compared to the 5’s. There was decent wind on the course by our starting time at 11:15 am. It was blowing 15-25 mph out of the West-South West.

Coldspring Course Profile

The race starts neutralized from Coldspring High School for almost a mile, then once we make the left turn onto Hwy 156 it’s go time. The first half of the lap on Hwy 156 is mostly downhill with a few small rollers in the mix. Once you make the right turn onto FM 224 it’s about 4 miles to the finish line which is at the top of a pretty long hill. While the finishing hill is tough, it’s all of the hills after it that make this a tough course because they’re all back to back. So you have all the hills on basically one side of the course, then the rest of the course is much easier. The roads are some of the best in Texas though, so it’s a really great location for a race and I would easily recommend it to anyone. The hills are also significant enough to attract riders from the hill country to make the trip down here for race day.

Thankfully we had no crashes in our race, but there were a couple of close calls. I was squeezed against a guardrail on the right side and had to hit the brakes pretty hard which caused my rear wheel to break loose in some gravel. I kept a cool head about it and maintained control. A little later I was near the back and in the middle when I saw riders ahead of me swerve for both sides of the road. I thought any second there was a crash coming, but everyone kept the rubber side down.

Overall the race went fairly smooth. There were attacks at various stages in the race, mostly on the hilly section. A couple of times a rider or two got off the front, but they were all reeled back in. I tried to ride smarter in this race and minimized my time on the front driving the pace. Everyone I talked to mentioned a lot of people going too early on the finishing hill, so I kept that in mind for the final lap.

On our 3rd and final lap with about 3 miles to the finish, I moved up close to the front and in perfect position. A rider to my left jumped on the small hill before the finishing climb. It was beautiful and turned out to be the winning move. We all thought he would pop, so no one chased him initially. That hesitation allowed his move to stick all the way to the finish. Regardless, it was a solid effort to attack so far out. At the bottom of the finishing climb is a small bridge which is a good reference point. After crossing it, the pace really starts to pick up. I stayed behind wheels and shortly after I saw Scott with Bike Barn on the front standing up. As the speed increased I tried to grab another gear and fumbled around when it hesitate to engage. That slight hesitation caused me to lose enough momentum that I now found myself surrounded by riders. By now we’re all standing up and starting a sprint uphill. I barely held on for 15th place, but it was enough to bring home some points for the team. I may have been able to pull out a top 10 from it otherwise, but my legs were giving out before the top of the hill, so I couldn’t say for sure. My teammate Ben finished on the podium in 3rd place though, adding to his impressive podium finishes this year!

Here’s a video I edited highlighting the Coldspring Road Race:

Houston Grand Criterium was actually the very first bike race I ever competed in last year as a cat 5. Of course I wanted to go back this year and race it again. It’s not really technical at all with just two 90 degree turns and one hairpin. The hairpin is the the only technical part as we go from 3 lanes on Allen Parkway down to a single and narrow turn lane. From there we turn around and head back toward downtown. The only difference this year from last was the start/finish line had to be moved due to construction in Sam Houston Park.

Lining up for the cat 4 start.

The race started out fast! Of course I was told this is a fast course and it was very true. The wind was blowing 15-25 mph from the N-NW. This meant we had quite a bit of crosswind on the course. With 3 lanes to use on Allen Parkway, we barely used one! Everyone was forced to ride in the gutter desperately looking for a break from the wind. There were some early attacks, but the field was not letting anything go.

Feeling the pain.

Last year I learned that you want to be near the front for the hairpin. It seemed like every time the hairpin came up I had trouble staying there. Only for a couple of laps was I perfectly placed for that turn. Every other lap was a repeat from last year where I had to sprint after the hairpin to attach onto the back of the peleton. There were 2 prime laps and the first one was the lap I took the hairpin near the front. As we approached the finish line for the first prime lap, I had to sprint with the peleton to ensure I stayed with them as I had no intention of going for any primes. I wanted to save as much as I could for the end.

Blake on the front.

On one lap I found myself on the front, but I didn’t stay there long and moved over looking for a hole. Thankfully Ben was a few wheels back and let me in front of him. There were a couple of times in this race when I felt like I was about to be dropped, but I dug deep and told myself you’re not getting dropped!! Several people I know and have raced with before ended up dropping off the back, so clearly I wasn’t the only one feeling the pain in this one.

When the final lap came around I found myself off the back after the hairpin. I knew this wasn’t looking good. I got lucky though and the peleton actually slowed down a bit after the initial acceleration from the hairpin. That allowed me to move up, and when a hole opened in the middle, I cut over from the right side to the left and moved right up to the front. It went from not looking good to being in nearly perfect position as I was now second wheel off the front. I saw Ben over on the right side and I hoped he could get over on my wheel so I could give him a lead out before going for the best result possible myself.

I came through the last two corners third wheel back as the two riders in front of me picked up the pace immediately. It was into a headwind and I knew if I went too early I would pop before the finish. I probably should have went anyway and stayed on their wheel. Shortly after the last corner I was passed by several riders and had no choice but to start an early sprint. (I’ve got a lot of work to do on my lead out pace as I have to sprint to keep up with these guys just leading it out.) By now it was all about minimizing my losses as I got swarmed by the entire field. In the end it was a pack finish in 26th place out of ~60 people.

Ben taking the win!

At the end of a tough race weekend I’m glad to see everyone kept the rubber side down in my races and a good time was had by all. I enjoyed both races and plan to do them again next year.

2013 Dallas Racing Spring Crit

I have to admit I’m not as excited about crits as road races, but they’re very popular in the states and require important skills every racer should have. I prefer crits that use roads instead of parking lots, but we can’t be picky when promoters are kind enough to organize races for us to participate in. If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t enjoy making the long drive from Houston to Dallas to race around a parking lot, but I already had other plans up in Dallas on the same weekend. Plus, I only needed two more races to move up to cat 4, so I decided to register for this race. I did the cat 5 race first thing in the morning at 8 am and the cat 4/5 race a little later.

Course map.

A heavy thunderstorm came through early in the morning before I had to wake up, so I was concerned about the pavement still being wet by the time we raced. The parking lot around Tom Kimbrough Stadium is very smooth and most of it is pretty wide with four 90 degree corners. The pavement was still wet though and there was standing water in some of the corners by the time the cat 5 race started. The most technical turn on the course was turn 2 which goes from a wide drive to a narrow section down the back stretch. There’s a man hole cover on the inside of the apex that looked very slick while wet. I nearly ran wide into the outside curb on the first lap trying to avoid that man hole cover, but thankfully I was able to bring my speed under control in time. I never made that mistake again for the rest of my races.

Wet pavement for cat 5 race.

There was only 13 starters for the cat 5 race, which is the smallest field I’ve raced in to date. I tried to ride smart, but with a small field I worked on the front at times. I did go for the first prime lap and won it in a sprint with a few others. I decided to conserve energy for the rest of the race and let others battle out the two remaining primes. The race was pretty smooth for the most part and everyone was very cautious around the corners with water. It didn’t take long for the small field to thin to around 6-8 of us.

Winning the prime lap sprint.

Several laps after all the primes were won, we came around to begin another lap and the bell was rung. I looked at my Garmin and thought it seemed slightly early for the last lap, but the lap number remaining was blank and I assumed it must be the last lap bell. That was a huge tactical error on my part. I attacked expecting I could easily stay away for the last lap. I got a gap and only one guy was able to bridge up to me. When we hit the finish stretch I sprinted for the line and was first across. As I crossed the line I saw the lap counter was up showing 2 laps to go! I couldn’t believe it…I burned through my matches with that attempt and all for nothing. Apparently there was confusion between the officials I’m told because they rang the bell early for us on the front the lap before.

I had that win in the bag, so I was very frustrated by that error. At that point I sat up and quit working so I could recover as best as possible. Two more guys finally bridged up to us making it only 4 left leading the race. On the final lap, one of the guys put a strong attack in and I was left with no matches trying to bridge the gap. I couldn’t quite do it and ended up dropping back to 4th just before the last turn. At that point there was nothing to sprint for with no one else behind me, so I cruised across the line in 4th totally frustrated. In the end, I’m just happy there were no crashes in my first race with wet conditions, but I definitely learned a painful lesson.

The cat 4/5 race was nearly 2 hours later, so I had plenty of time to rest and recover. I was hungry for redemption after the first race, so I was determine to come out strong. Immediately I could see there were some strong and experienced riders in this race and it was not going to come easy. The pace felt pretty fast for most of the race, with about 25 starters. There was only one prime lap and I already decided I wasn’t even trying to go for it, so I just stayed on their wheels as they sprinted for it. The pace backed off a little, but there was more wind for this race with a cross wind after turn 3 and a headwind on the finishing stretch.

Thankfully the course was nearly dry with the exception of the last corner. Taking corners at ~30 mph is something I’m still getting comfortable with. I’m capable of doing it, but it still gets the heart rate going. I was able to corner better than some of the guys around me and worked to anticipate their moves ahead of time trying to conserve as much energy as possible and move up when needed. It paid off on the last lap as I was able to hop on the wheel of two riders who attacked leading into turn 2. I led it out strong through turn 3 then found myself on the front watching for the first person to jump. Someone started sprinting before the turn and several riders got passed me as we drilled it through the last corner. I kicked as hard as I could and managed to hold everyone else behind me finishing in 6th place.

6th place in cat 4/5.

With that I have finished the required 10 massed-start races in order to move up to cat 4. I’m excited about my progress and look forward to helping my teammates this season in the cat 4 races.

2013 Fayetteville Stage Race Report (Cat 4/5)

SWCC It’s 5:00 AM and the alarm is buzzing. Other than pinning race numbers on, the early weekend wake up call is my least favorite part of racing. It’s tough to get a good nights rest in a hotel the night before a big race. I guess I haven’t been racing long enough to shake some of the nerves. The brain processes strategy and all the various scenarios that could play out on race day. Combine that with the road trip and all the time spent preparing the night before and it makes for a long night.

This was my first stage race and I was really excited about it. I feel one of my strengths is longer events, as I tend to have better legs than some of my cycling friends on longer rides, and after multiple days of riding. How well I compared to racers across the state in such an event remained to be seen. Racing for me is a hobby which I enjoy in my free time, so I’m happy participating in the events with realistic expectations of my results. The fields are very competitive, even in the category 5 races. After coming off a high from Pace Bend scoring my first podium in 3rd place, I hoped I could get at least another top 10 in one of the stages here in Fayetteville. Of course I’m always going for the win though!

Stage 1 road race profile.

Stage 1 for the cat 4/5 field was a 46 mile road race and started at 7:40 am. We arrived with plenty of time to get warmed up since we got our race numbers the day before. The road races start out neutralized for no more than a mile, or until you pass through town and cross the rail road tracks. Some foggy patches were around early Saturday morning which really made for some majestic backdrops on the beautiful countryside, with the sun just peeking over the horizon.

The race started out pretty casual as I’m sure everyone realized how many miles ahead we faced over the course of the weekend. About 4 miles into the race I got tired of the subtle surges in the pack and carried my momentum all the way to the front. It just happened to be shortly before the time bonus hill, however that didn’t count until the next lap. Nonetheless, I got on the front and picked up the pace. Just stretching the legs I thought to myself. I hit the bottom of the biggest hill on the course and carried the entire field to the top before pulling off to the side.

Not quite halfway into the first lap and I see some of the Bike Barn guys on the front. Up the road I notice a couple more with a gap on the field. I don’t know if it was planned, but it was good tactics. I figured they were blocking for their guys up the road enabling them to get a breakaway going. The rider in front of me noticed the same thing and jumped, so I responded as well bridging up to the breakaway making it 4 riders strong. We immediately started working together, but shortly after a couple more riders joined us, followed by the rest of the field. I stayed near the front at that point and it wasn’t long until we heard some crashes in the back of the field. I’m sure glad I was up front when that happened!

I spent a lot of the race near or on the front and felt more in control of things similar to New Braunfels. It’s a lot of work up there, but I enjoy playing a part in controlling the pace and trying for breakaways. Near the end of the first lap, I was second wheel back through some of the turns and narrow roads when I attacked myself. I got a small gap and pushed to breakaway. I navigated the tight right hand turn leading onto to the road which the finish line is on, but having never ridden it before, I carried too much speed into it and compromised my momentum on the exit. I was caught shortly after that.

On the second and final lap, I hoped to be on the front again through that same section, but I didn’t have the energy to get up there in time and got stuck in the middle on the narrow roads. The last 2 km to the finish was fast and very tightly packed. I should have been on the yellow line because the center line rule is no longer in effect for the last 500 meters to the finish. In the middle I couldn’t respond as quickly as the guys on the front and simply failed to match their acceleration sprinting for the line. I ended up in 28th place for stage 1.

Stage 1. Blake working near the front.

Stage 2 was a time trial. My start wasn’t until 2:55 pm, so we had plenty of time to head back to the hotel, grab some lunch and just relax for a few hours. I’ve never done a TT and wasn’t sure I could expect much with the wind conditions and not having a time trial bike. The wind was blowing 20 mph out of the south that afternoon. This was a day that a TT bike with all the bling would really make a huge difference.

Seeing all the nice TT bikes around makes you feel under equipped.

The advice I was given for this particular TT was to avoid going too hard early on. With the south wind, it’s a tailwind for the first half and downhill to boot. It’s easy to go too hard early on with those conditions because you face a though battle for the second half with a headwind while going uphill. I showed up and just planned on giving it everything I had with those tactics in mind. In a time based stage race, you can win or lose it in the time trial alone. It hurts bad the entire time and it’s hard to even keep saliva in your mouth because every ounce of energy you have is utilized to keep the cranks turning.

I always wondered why the pros looked so nasty all over their face in time trials…now I know.

I was determined to not get passed by anyone on the course and I actually caught and passed the rider who started just ahead of me. This certainly motivated me to keep pushing. I some how managed to finish the 8.9 miles in 24th place with an average speed of 22.3 mph. I was happy with the result considering the conditions. That put me in 19th overall at the end of the first day, out of 63 riders.

Stage 3 road race profile.

Stage 3 wraps up the race for us on Sunday, with a 49 mile road race starting at 8:10 am. The course is slightly shorter than stage 1, so it was 3 laps instead of 2. Lots of people were complaining about tired legs and I was told last years race was super slow for the entire first lap. I figured we would see just how “tired” everyone was. I came in with the strategy of going hard right away, so I was on the very front for the neutral start. Apparently a few others had the same idea. As soon as the ref cleared us to race, we drilled it. I hoped we could drop some of those tired legs early on. After a while on the front, I looked back and saw most everyone was hanging on. The overall leader and 2nd place in my field had a nice time cushion, so their strategy was clear…sit on the front all day and work as little as possible.

The leaders were there to cover attacks and they also covered the time bonus hill. On the second lap when we reached the narrow roads with no center line, I noticed the overall leader was not on the front at that moment. I attacked and the guys on the front did not chase me. I managed to build a reasonable gap on the field and held them off for a few miles. Finally someone started a chase effort and brought the entire field with them. Once I realized I was caught, I sat up and quit working. Everyone else followed my lead at that point.

By now my legs were beginning to feel pretty spent from all the attacks, breakaway attempts and the time I spent pulling on the front. Toward the end of the last lap I was in damage control mode and just hanging on to the leaders. The cat 2/3 field passed us when we reached the feeding zone, however we caught up to them with 2 km to our finish. They allowed us by so we could finish our race. This really strung out the field and caught some people out. I ended up chasing wheels in front of me and closing gaps all the way to the finish line, but managed to finish close enough to the leaders in 19th place.

I improve my overall result to 16th at the end of the day. Not as well as I would have liked, but I’m still learning a lot and most importantly; I kept the rubber side down and had fun all weekend. My legs probably disagree with that last statement, but after lots of protein and a little rest, they’re ready to do it all over again!

“Shut up legs!” -Jens Voigt

Stage 1 Videos:

Stage 2 Video:

Stage 3 Videos: