Friday, August 1, 2014

2014 Racecation Recap

Photo credit: Mark Avery
For the last 3 years, my family has been doing what we call "racecations," where we spend several weeks of our summer traveling from place to place doing races. It started out just as a road trip vacation that included my first MTB Nationals in Sun Valley, ID, but over the past 2 years has expanded to include Road Nationals and other races along the way.

Week 1: USA Cycling Road Nationals

Mom and I left home on June 30th and headed for Madison, Wisconsin so that I could compete in USA Cycling Road Nationals. Dad flew out later in the week. For a long road trip, it was pretty fun. We stopped at Cracker Barrel for dinner one night, (where I successfully beat that insulting peg game), we played our music loud and sang badly to it, and basically just had a smooth 2-day trip.

I was really looking forward to Road Nats because I was feeling strong, had been riding well, and even though I didn't do a lot of road racing this year, the results I'd had in the races I did do were pretty good.

Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
The first event was the Time Trial. I thought I had a really strong chance of winning this one, because it is an individual event and no real positioning or team tactics come into play. I'm not sure what happened during the TT, but as soon as I turned the first corner onto the main part of the course, I started having trouble breathing. My heart rate spiked and I couldn't seem to recover. I ended up with a time that was about a minute and a half off of what I knew I was capable of doing. For the second year in a row, I had blown the TT and I felt awful.

Warming up
The next day was the Road Race. The course was short (and they actually reversed it the day of the race) and we were doing several laps. I got a good starting position on the line and waited for the whistle. Once it blew, I took off, taking the hole shot in a mountain bike start. With so many kids in the race, I just wanted to get away from the mess and get out in front. By the time we reached the corner, I had settled into 2nd wheel and was feeling pretty comfortable for the downhill.

The pace for this race was higher than any road race I'd done this year, and I took turns riding near the front and drifting toward the back of the lead group to recover. Unfortunately, my timing was a bit off and as we came around the final corner for the sprint finish, I was sitting back in about 20 or 25th wheel. I put in a hard sprint effort for the finish, but only made it up to 11th. Out of 60 riders, I guess that wasn't too bad, but it still wasn't where I wanted to be. A similar thing would happen to me at the Crit.

Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
The criterium race was on Sunday morning. It was my last chance effort to turn around my Road Nationals and I was nervous and excited about the race. With no call-up, I had to do my best to get a good starting position on the line, and luckily, I was able to do just that.

When the whistle blew, I took off like a shot, again taking the hole shot in mountain bike style. Apparently the announcers made a big deal out of it (according to my parents--I couldn't hear it). After about a 1/2 lap, I settled back down and let the peloton catch me. I knew I couldn't hold that pace the whole race. I just wanted to get out of traffic again on the start.

Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
With about 5 laps to go, two riders went off the front and got a good sized gap on the group. When it looked like they might get away altogether, I made an attack and reeled them in. Of course, I ended up pulling a bunch of guys with me, as well. Afterwards, I rested near the back of the lead pack and gradually tried to work my way back to the front. As the laps wound down, I got kind of boxed in, and when it came time for the final turn & sprint, I was not in the position I needed to be in to sprint with the leaders. Again, it was a disappointing finish.

Even though my results were less than stellar, I really did learn a lot from racing Road Nats the past 2 years. From last year's races I learned how to ride in the pack and be aggressive. This year's lessons were more about positioning and timing. I also learned that my passion really is mountain biking and that is what I will focus on (although I will still do local road racing for fun).

Week 2: Subaru Cup ProXCT

Post-ride selfie
Once the stress of Road Nationals was over, I couldn't wait to get back on my mountain bike. A friend had recommended some trails to us, and after considering my training needs (and my mom's dislike of climbing), my mom and I chose to ride the John Muir trails. We both really loved them. If they ever do a WORS race there, I would love to come out and race there.

After having flown home on Monday, my dad and brother flew back out on Thursday. That weekend we would be racing at the Subaru Cup ProXCT at Cascade Mountain. I was excited to be reunited with my Whole Athlete teammates and to be tearing it up on the dirt before MTB Nationals the following week.
The first event that I did was the Short Track XC. For this race, I would be lining up in a Cat 2/3 open group. The course was a fun little loop with a good bit of climbing to it.

I had a good start and took the early lead. Then another rider decided to try to pass me, so I let him and sat his wheel. We had opened up a good sized gap on the rest of the field before I put in a quick attack and dropped him with just a few laps to go. From that point on, I just focused on maintaining my lead to the finish. It was a great feeling to cross the finish line with a win!

Photo credit: Pat Batten
In fact, the short track was a great event for all of my teammates who participated. Haley and Kelsey went 1 & 2 in the Women's Cat 1, and Zach and Silas went 1 & 2 in the Men's Cat 1 race.

Hole shot
On Sunday, I lined up for the Cat 2 Juniors race. WORS does a crazy mass start, so even though we started a minute or 2 behind the men's classes in front of us, we caught lap traffic almost right away. For the whole first lap, this would make it difficult to get away from a strong rider just behind me. On the second lap, traffic spread out somewhat and I managed to create about a 20-second gap on him, but on the third lap, he closed it significantly without me realizing it, and I had to turn on the gas at the very end to ensure the win.

Week 3: USA Cycling MTB Nationals

This was it, Mountain Bike Nationals.... After my disappointment last year with nearly having 3 National Champion titles, I was determined to come back with a vengeance and crush the field.

 Upon arriving at the resort, my legs felt great. And once I rode 2 laps of my XC course I knew I had it dialed in and was ready to race. My schedule was the Short Track race on Thursday, Cross Country on Friday, and Super-D on Sunday.

Preparing for the Short Track was probably the most painful wait I have ever had to endure. The start time was at 2:00 pm and I had to stay in the team house instead of screaming my head off cheering on my friends in the races prior.

After doing a nice warm-up riding from the team house to the venue, I went to staging. Knowing that I had the very first call up, I wasn't too worried seeing over 20 kids in front of me. I just grabbed my bike and lifted it up over my head and made my way to the front of the staged kids, letting them know I had the call up and it would be easier to just let me through. Once I got called up, I found what seemed like the best spot to start from and got in a good starting gear. Off the line I got the hole shot and got a pretty good gap on the other kids. About a half lap went by when two kids closed in the gap and got on my wheel. After attacking multiple times, I lost one of the kids but the other was still on my wheel. The two of us battled it out throughout the rest of the race, where it came down to a sprint finish with me coming in from behind and just missing first by a few inches. 

The next day was just as exciting with me racing cross country. Once again I got the first call up and quickly grabbed my spot from the previous day. Once again, I was first off the line and got the hole-shot into the woods.

The start climb--lap 1
From there, I battled it out with four other guys until I slipped on a wet root on a short climb section and all four guys passed me and got a good 10 second gap on me. Angry with myself, I ran up the rest of the the climb and gave everything I had to catch them before the start of the descent. Once I caught up to them, I noticed that the guy I battled with the day before in the short-track had a 5 second gap on the rest. After seeing this, I made an attack on the last climb passing the three and threw my bike down the descent to catch back up to first.

By the time I reached the feed zone at the end of the first lap, I was on his wheel and sat there until I reached the last climb and attacked again. After the feed zone on lap 2, I was told that I had a 15 second gap on him. Knowing this, I did everything I could to keep that gap on him. By the time I reached the descent for the last time, I figured that I should have it won, so I took as few risks as possible as to not flat or crash. Once I saw the finish line I was stoked, because after barely missing that stars and stripes jersey 4 times in a row, I was finally going to get to feel what it's like to be a National Champion.
Relieved that I finally did it!!

 After the success from Friday I was pretty optimistic for the Super-D. My pre-rides of the course went okay and nothing really caught me as super difficult. Because of once again having the best USA Cycling points, I started first and had a four minute break from the last rider in front of me to go down. Knowing that I had nobody to worry about to pass was a boost, and by the time I took my first couple of pedal strokes, I was flying down the mountain. On my run I had just about no mistakes and when I came across the finish line I was positive I had a winning run. Once all the guys in my class finished, I still had the fastest time by 24 seconds with a time of 6 minutes and 4 seconds. It felt amazing knowing that I had just earned 2 National titles.

We don't need no stinkin' mountains! Florida Super-D Champions
Getting "Whippy!" with Trent Donovan    Photo Credit: Laura Donovan
This year's Nationals was an amazing experience! I hope to continue racing and improving my fitness so I can continue to get more National Champion titles and one day go to World Cup races and the Olympics riding for my country. I couldn't have done any of this without my coach Dario Fredrick, who with his coaching allowed me to achieve this goal of being a National Champion. I want to also thank Josh Snead for all the work he does on my bike and for the team. I want to thank my sponsors Specialized Bikes, Sram, Osmo Nutrition, ProGold Lubricants, DNA Cycling, Pro Bar, Oakley, Kewl Fit, and ESI Grips for everything you do for me, my team, and the sport of cycling. And last of all, I want to thank my parents for the support and allowing me to pursue my dreams.

Photo credit: Mark Avery

 Week 4: Catamount Classic ProXCT

For my last big race of the season I competed in the Catamount Classic ProXCT in Vermont. I was especially excited because it was my first chance to wear my National Champion's jersey and I wanted to show that I deserved to wear it by doing really well. The course was really fun with 3 A-lines for the cat 1's and pros and some other technical features.  

The night before my race it rained hard, so I expected it to be a little wet. However, by the time we arrived at the venue it was pouring again, making the course horribly muddy and slippery. Due to the conditions, I decided to wear my regular race jersey as to not ruin my National Champion jersey.

At this race my category started with the cat 1 15-16s, so I was excited to see where I compared with the older juniors to help me for next year when I race in that group. On the starting line, I got a front row spot right next to my teammate Cole Avery where we exchanged a few words involving us working together.

Photo Credit: Pat Batten

I was first off the start but held back to do just enough work to stay in the lead. Right before entering the single track I took a quick look back to see where Cole was and saw that he was on my wheel and almost instantly picked up the pace hoping the two of us could drop the other juniors. Once I came back out onto the double track I took one last look back to see if I made any impact and saw that two other kids had passed Cole and were starting to gain on me. Making a quick decision I decided to attack and see if I could drop the kids and ride solo. I noticed that I was making progress seeing them further and further back on some of the switchbacks so I kept pushing it through the mud. All was going good until I reached the second A-line where I followed my bike and accidentally went down the B-line. I lost about 20 seconds on the other racers and the two I was trying to drop passed me after taking the A-line. This infuriated me and I made a huge attack to quickly pass second and got on the wheel of first. The two of us battled it out for the rest of the race until we got to the last 100 yards when I sprinted past him and took not only my age category win but the overall win of the Cat 1 Under 17.

Team field trip   Photo Credit: Cathy Batten

Overall, it was a racecation I'm not going to forget for a long time. And while I am ready to take it easy and stay closer to home for a while, I can't help looking forward to next year.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bear Creek Challenge--Macungie, PA (5/31-6/1/14)

Short Track  (Photo credit: Bear Creek Mountain Resort)
I had a great time last weekend. Not only did I get to preview the course that Mountain Bike Nationals will be at, but I also had some really good results. And to add to that, I also finished my first pro race, and gained some valuable information about myself as a racer and as a rider.

I was as excited as ever to get to Bear Creek, because I had some unfinished business with the course. I arrived at the resort Thursday night, and was relieved to have finally gotten there after the 15 hour drive. I couldn't wait until the next day to finally get out on the course. After riding a loop of the course on Friday, I felt sure of myself and couldn't wait to get out there and race.

On Saturday I had two races, the Short Track, in which I raced Cat 2, and the Super-D, in which I raced Junior Open. The short track was 20 minutes plus 3 laps, which in the end came out at just under 30 minutes. Knowing this, I knew it was going to be the longest short track racing I've ever done, but I was determined to finish strong. Off the start, someone clipped my handlebars and I stumbled a little and didn't get clipped into my pedals right away. Even with this setback though, I kept pushing until I was in second place and sitting on the leader's wheel going up the starting climb.  The person I was following was an 18 year old road racer who was incredibly strong. Throughout the race he made monstrous attacks on me on the climb and on the flats. And after 4 laps of pushing myself the hardest I think I've ever pushed, I finally tired out a little and he got a gap on me. For the rest of the race, I turned myself inside out trying to catch back up to him, but he was slowly increasing the gap. Finally, after the 29 minutes of excruciating pain, I finished 2nd.

Short Track podium (Yes, I know I'm standing on the wrong side.)

After the short track race I was determined to keep doing well and have a great result in the Super-D. I had an awesome start on the Super-D and flowed through the hardest section. I had an almost flawless run apart from one section where my foot managed to unclip and I was pedaling with one foot over the second hardest rock section. Once I finished, I had a time of 4 minutes and 57 seconds, which put me in first place in my category (and the Cat 2 category), and would've put me in 13th in the pro category. Not too bad for a junior on a hardtail.

Super-D podium

Pro/Open staging
Now on to Sunday. Oh boy. This was probably the most amount of fun and pain I have ever had in one 3-hour time period. I lined up on the front of the starting line and prepared myself for the pain I was about to endure. Originally, we were just going to do a 90 minute race on a course similar to the course I'll be racing at Nationals. I knew that the lap times were between 20 and 25 minutes. So I figured about 4 laps at the most. While I was lined up, I asked the race promoter how many laps we were going to do just to be safe, and he told me that we were going to do 6 laps. Now I won't call myself a genius, but I'm pretty sure that even at the fastest, about 20 minutes a lap, 6 × 20min = 120min. That's at least 2 hours, not to mention that most of the racers would probably do more like 23-25 minute lap times. So we were going to be out there for well over 2 hours for an advertised 90 minute race. Apparently, the race promoter didn't realize that the extra sections he added increased the lap times by 5 minutes from last year's course. Sorry for the rant.

Back to the race. Off the line, I managed to have yet another bad start and I had to put my foot down and push off before I could go anywhere. Going up the starting climb I was sitting in 6th and managed to maintained it for about 10 minutes. From there, I battled it out with the other racers until the third lap, where I was getting passed on the flats and passing back on the grass climbs and technical descents. By the time the third lap came around, my legs were shot. I had to stop in the feed zone for a couple of minutes to get some fuel in me and recover a little. After that I went back out and suffered up the climbs thanks to having too big of a front chain ring. 

Photo credit: Bear Creek Mountain Resort
On the fourth lap, the leader passed me, so I knew I only had to do 5 laps instead of the dreaded 6. So I kept pedaling through the pain. By the time I had crossed the finish line, my total ride time, including my warm-up, was well over 3 hours. Even with that, I still managed to not come in last, getting 16th place, and even got prize money for coming in the top 20. This race, went from being an easy excuse to race the pro category, because it was a similar course to mine at Nationals and a shorter race than what I would've done in the cat 2 juniors, to being the longest and most painful ride I have ever done on the bike.  

In the money, with teammate Veda, who got 3rd in the Pro/Open Women

But other than that, I had a lot of fun hanging out with current friends and making new ones. I also had a great time being at Bear Creek for Veda's birthday and seeing her do so well in the Pro/Open Women's class. Also, a super giant thanks goes out to Matt Donovan for making this trip possible.

Next weekend, I go back to road racing practically in my backyard at the Ocala (Almost) Stage Race. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

2014 Florida State Criterium Championships (5/24-25/14)

Warming up on my new rollers--Thanks, Roger!
Last weekend was a very special weekend for me. Not only was it my 14th birthday, but it was the last of the 5 State Championship Titles that I was competing for.

Saturday morning, I woke up ready to get on the bike and try to kick some butt in the Cat 4 Men's race. After doing my warm-up, I lined up in staging and waited to be called up to the line. Once the whistle was blown, I almost instantly went into the pain cave. I spent most of my time attacking in the front and recovering in the back.

Once I saw 2 laps to go, I knew I needed to start to move up. Going into corner one, my back tire slid out and went skidding on the pavement for several yards. Almost as soon as I was thrown down, I was getting back up and checking myself for any serious injuries. My bibs and socks were ruined, and I ended up with a nasty road rash that covered most of my right leg, but otherwise, I was ok. With encouragement from my dad, I got back on the bike and finished the race.

Look closely and you can see me skidding out
Dad's helmet cam footage
After I crossed the finish line, I got some medical help (and moral support) from my friends on the Wizard Racing and RedEye Velo teams. Some of the parents took me to the Wizard pit for treatment, since it was right near the finish line. They cleaned out my wounds, patched me up, and gave me ice to help with the swelling, and I really appreciate it. Without them, I don't know if I would have been able to race on Sunday.

That night, my family went out to eat with the RedEye Velo team at this cool little pizza place. We had a great time hanging out, and the team even gave me some presents that made me feel like an honorary member of the team. Thanks, guys!!

Staging for the Juniors race
Sunday morning I was a little bit stiff and in pain, but I knew I just had a short 25 minutes to push through if I wanted to compete for my final state championship. Off the line I made an attempt to drop everyone early, and hammered for the first 3 laps. However, because of my injuries, it soon became obvious that I wasn't going to be able to ride away from the group, so I settled in.

The finish
With 3 laps to go, a friend (Jackson) attacked and got a good gap, which stood strong until the very last turn of the race, when I closed the gap after spending 3 laps chasing him down. Once I came around the last corner, I attacked hard starting the sprint to the finish. In the end, I found myself winning my 5th State Championship Title of the year by a very slim margin. Kudos to Hunter, Nico, Jackson and the others for making the finish so exciting! It was a great race, and it was great seeing all of my road friends.

**Thanks to RedEye Velo and Wizard Racing Team for some of the pictures.**

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

St. Augustine VeloFest (5/10-11/14)

Goofing around with my brother, Ryan
This weekend the whole family traveled to St. Augustine, Florida for VeloFest. Even my brother, Ryan, came along. My dad and I were both racing the Cat 3/4 crit and the Cat 4/5 road race, and we made a little side bet about which of us would win. Regardless of where we finished in the overall results, we were racing for family bragging rights and I wanted to beat him.

I got a great start off the line for the Old City Criterium on Saturday, and was running in the top 3 early in the race. Nearly from the start, some of the Cat 3's were putting in a bunch of little attacks, which I tried to counter to stay up front. Ultimately, though, that was my downfall. It wasn't until I cramped up badly from head to toe that I realized my mistake and had to pull out of the race. That round went to my dad, who finished 4th in the Cat 4 field and 18th overall.

Neutral start of the road race
On Sunday, we lined up again to compete in the Syco Farms Road Race. I was determined to redeem myself for the mistakes I made the day before. The course was 36 miles, full of long, flat roads with strong winds. After doing a good warm-up, I went over to staging to wait for my start. Once it was 5 minutes until start, the officials called us up to the line, where I was able to get a front row spot. The first 3 miles of the course were really narrow, so it was a neutral start. Throughout the race, I was finding it hard to make moves and get myself in the front of the group, so I was forced to ride near mid-pack, where everyone was riding like they had never ridden a bike before. Once I saw that we had ridden 30 miles, I knew I needed to move up in the pack for the sprint finish. However, because the group was so closely compacted with over 70 cat 4 and 5 riders, I was only able to move up a few positions. 

Finish first, celebrate later
Once we came around the last corner, it was a 400 meter sprint to the finish line. I went really wide going around the turn, and I found myself with almost nobody in front of me. I hammered up the road, and when I caught up to the top 3, I saw that the guy in the lead was already celebrating 20 meters from the finish line.
Eeking out the win
So I got up out of the saddle and made one final attempt to overtake him. In the end, I finished in 1st place, beating the guy by a millisecond for my first category win. It was a great race and I feel like I'm gaining a lot of experience for when I compete in road nationals again this year. Plus, I also beat my dad, which left us tied in the battle for bragging rights. 

Coming up in a couple of weeks is the Florida State Criterium Championships, so stay tuned!