Sunday, May 3, 2015

Blue Ridge Mountain Bike Festival (4/26/15)

Not long after getting home from Sea Otter, I was packing my bags once again to get ready for another trip away from home to race. After the "short" 9-hour drive to North Carolina (to be fair, we broke it up into 2 segments), I stepped out of the car to see the beautiful, green, mountain scenery of the southeast that I love.

On the pre-ride, I found myself faced with a 2.5 mile climb up the mountain that led to a fast flowing downhill single-track that was broken up from time to time with short climbs. The course also had some fun rocky sections that felt amazing on the Epic. Because of complications involving not having a junior cat 1 class, I was forced into racing in the Pro/Cat 1 Men 19-29, and doing 3 laps of the fun but challenging course.

By the time my 1:30 start time rolled around, I was ready to race! I was on the front line for the start, and when the whistle was blown, I managed to be the first one off the line. Luckily for me, I was quickly passed by several people and hopped on the wheel of the third person to pass me.

On the grass road that led to the long climb, I started getting passed by almost all of the riders that were behind me, unable to keep up at the pace the leaders were going. When I hit the climb, I was sitting about 9th or 10th and slowly began dropping back from the lead group.

Lousy pic, but that's me hanging on the back
After the first 5 minutes up the climb, I could see several stragglers up ahead and made it my goal to chase them down. This gave me a boost of energy and I started powering up the climb. After passing several people just before the descent, I was sitting in 6th place and could see two other riders not far in front of me, further down on the switchbacks. I did everything I could to catch them, and by the time I came across the start/finish line to start my second lap, I was only a couple seconds away from them. Once I got to the start of the climb again, I had made it back up to them and hopped onto their wheels. At the top of the climb, one of the guys attacked and got away, leaving 5th place and me riding together. Unfortunately for him, he flatted coming down the descent at the end of the second lap, allowing us to pass him and move into 4th and 5th positions.

I knew at this point that all I had to do to keep a top 5 was to make it up the top of the mountain with the 4th place rider and make it down the descent safely. So when I started feeling my legs fade towards the top of the climb, I gave it everything I had to stay with 4th. Once we hit the top, I let him go on ahead, knowing that if I continued to go his pace I would end up blowing up. After about 10 minutes of recovery, my legs started feeling surprisingly good, so I started hammering again, and soon saw 4th only a couple of switchbacks ahead of me. Seeing him so close gave me even more motivation to push myself, and by the time I reached the stretch that led to the finish, I was only a few seconds behind him. I pushed myself as hard as I could to catch him, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough, and I finished 14 seconds behind him for 5th place.

I'm really happy with how I did in this race and I hope to keep improving and doing my best in races to come.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Playing Catch-up Part 2: Sea Otter (4/19/15)

Coming to Sea Otter, I was stoked. I couldn't wait to get to the venue and check out all the booths to see what was new in the cycling world, as well as go out on the cross country course and see all the great views this place has to offer. After my pre-ride, I couldn't wait to race. The 24-mile course was full of fast roads and amazing single track sections that kept the course exciting and fun.

On race day morning I woke up with the goal to make sure that I stayed on the leader's wheel and be in contention for the sprint finish. After my performance last weekend, I felt that if I was able to be up with the top guys, I would have the ability to make my way to the podium again.

Once I completed my warm up, I headed over to staging and waited for the start of my race. By the time the tandem and single speed classes had gone off, I was ready to go. When the announcer said, "Go!" I was off. During the start, there were multiple attacks for the first 200 yards, but once we reached the first climb on the road, it seemed that everybody just sat up and waited until we got off the road and onto the gravel roads, where even more attacks took place. During these sections I made my goal to stay in the top five and try to do as little work as possible.

Leaving the gravel for the paved road again, someone attacked again, making it difficult to stay up front and I got shuffled to the back 10, where I stayed going into the single track. We soon came up on the tandems, and I found it very difficult to pass. The top 3 guys got around and then got a good gap on myself and the rest of the pack I was with. For the rest of that single track climb, I spent my time hammering to catch the leaders, who always seemed only a few yards up ahead. I was still chasing the leaders when the 17-18 juniors caught me. So, I hopped on their wheels, thinking that I'd have a chance to catch the leaders in my group. By making this move, I dropped all but one other guy in my class, and found that I was slowly catching the leaders. Unfortunately for me, this strategy also proved to be my downfall in this race. I spent so much energy chasing that my body ended up shutting down, losing power and gaining extreme lower back pain.

The other racer I was riding with soon passed and dropped me, moving into 3rd place. For the rest of the race I did everything I could to maintain my position. At the end of the race I ended up finishing a disappointing 14th place. I didn't finish nearly where I wanted to at this race, but I think it was another great learning experience. Additionally, I had a great time hanging out with my team and getting to meet or become reacquainted with our team sponsors.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Playing Catch-up: Bonelli Park #2 ProXCT (4/11/15)

This was a really exciting race for me. Not only did I get to spend some more time in California with my team, but I also got to race in my third big race of the season. Also, I had no idea what to expect out of myself going into this race, so instead of shooting for a top 5, 3, or whatever, I decided I was going to just race how I saw fit.

During my preride laps, I found that I felt very strong on the climbs and really comfortable in the saddle. This gave me a ton of confidence in myself and hope for a great race.

On race day morning, I woke up feeling incredibly excited for my race. So excited even, that when I went to move the sawhorse that was saving the team's parking spot at the venue, I picked it up so fast that it sliced my index finger through the nail about 2 millimeters deep. Having already sliced part of that same finger off  a couple of years ago in an accident involving a bike rotor and a bike stand, the injury really didn't bother me. So, after getting the cut cleaned and bandaged, I went off to do my warm-up.

After completing my warm-up, I headed over to staging and waited for my class to be ready to start. Because of my two top five finishes at Bonelli #1 and Fontana, I got a call-up to the front row for the start. Instead of doing my usual "all out" start for the first 10 seconds, I decided to change things up a bit and not even try to be the first person to the first climb.

Off the line I still ended up being first, but allowed myself to get passed and hopped on the wheel of the second rider who passed me. On the road, I fell back to 8th trying to conserve energy for the first climb of the race. By the time we reached that climb, I felt amazing and shot up to 4th with ease, and settled onto third's wheel. For the rest of the first lap, and a quarter of the way through the second, I hung on to the back of the lead guys and did as little work as I could. An unfortunate slide-out on an off-camber turn threw me way back to 6th, well behind 5th and the rest of my competitors. For the rest of the second lap I spent my time hammering all out, trying to catch back up to the lead group. An unintended side effect was that I also ended up pulling one of my competitors who got dropped.

Coming across the start/finish line going into my last lap I knew I had used too much energy on the chase and had to slow down the pace for the first quarter of the lap. Unfortunately for me, this meant that the guy I had pulled was able to get a couple of good attacks on me and rode away before I could get the energy to chase him down. For the remainder of the race, I just gave it everything I had to catch back up to the top guys. When I came across the line for my finish, I had placed third.

Check out that big smile. I was so excited!
I have learned a lot about racing in cat 1 from these past couple of races in California, and I hope to learn even more in the upcoming races. I am stoked with my performance in this race and hope to continue to improve as the season continues. I can't wait to see how I do this next weekend at the Sea Otter Classic!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fontana City National ProXCT (3/21/15)

Fontana was second on my list of races to do this year, and having it be the weekend after Bonelli made it even better. The course at Fontana is really fun and exciting with some rocky climbs and technical descents. And, after last week's race at Bonelli, I felt sure that I could have a great performance at Fontana with some extra race tactics and self control.

On the start line I felt great. I had no nerves, worries, or even the uncontrollable desire to pee right before the race. My bike was dialed and all I had to do was to do my best. I even managed to break out into song while waiting for my class to start.

I got on the front row once again, and when the whistle was blown, I got off the gravelly start without much trouble. Coming around the first corner after the feed zone, I realized that I was leading, and had no desire to pull everyone through the  long flat stretch that leads to the first climb. Knowing this, I slowed up and waited for the first attacks to take place so I could get on someone's wheel. Once the attack happened, I sped up and settled into third. When we reached the first hill, I made the mistake of taking the lead and used up unnecessary energy that I very much could have used on the long road climb. As soon as we reached it, the second attacks were made, and I quickly found myself struggling for breath and struggling to maintain my position. By the time we made it to the single track again my legs were burning, but I knew that I needed to keep up the pace in order not to get dropped.

Throughout my first lap, I spent my time falling back a little on long climbs, before catching back up and making passes on the downhills and open sections. About three-fourths of the way through my lap, I was battling it out with third and fourth, when my front tire slid out on a fast, smooth turn, slamming my chest against the ground and throwing my Garmin to who-knows-where. I quickly got up and got on my bike, but realized that two other racers had passed me and were speeding away. I made a monster attack and quickly closed the distance between us and got ready to make some passes on the open fire road ahead. From then until halfway through the second lap, I continued to battle it out with third and fourth, until they finally made their way around me and attacked away.The remainder of the race was spent chasing them down, but with no luck catching them. I was the 5th person in my class to finish the race.

I feel like I had much better fitness at Fontana than I did at Bonelli, and feel like I gave everything I had to get my result. I'm really happy with how I raced and I know that I've learned much in the past two weekends. I hope to use that knowledge to help improve myself at the next races I attend in the weeks to come.

Spending two weeks with my teammates was also a great experience. Everybody is super cool and we have a lot of fun together.

Our training grounds

Team Podium
Heading home
The team has had a lot of success so far, and I know we are all super stoked to see how the rest of the season turns out. I can't wait to see everyone again in a few weeks for Bonelli #2!

2015 Fontana Whole Athlete junior race highlights from MTBMike on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Bonelli Park Pro XCT (3/14/15)

This year I started my race season off at the Bonelli Park ProXCT race in southern California. This race was my first race in junior Cat 1 15-16, and I felt ready to race!

After my 3-day drive from Florida to California, my legs felt very fatigued, but after a good rest day and some stretching, I began to feel better.

On Friday, my team and I left for the race venue to get some practice laps in and to check the place out. The course was full of punchy climbs, with quick little descents, and very few places to recover. After doing 3 laps of the course, I felt that I had every line dialed in, and was ready to start my race.

Come race day, I was super eager to test out my fitness, especially after all the months of base training I've done. After completing a good 30 minute warm up and making sure my bike was dialed, I lined up on the front row ready to race.

Once the announcer said, "Go!" I was off. Unfortunately, after only about 8 pedal strokes, both my feet came unclipped from my pedals, throwing me onto the top tube of my bike. After a quick recovery though, I was soon back on my bike and leading again.  However, by the time I reached the first steep climb, I could feel something wasn't right with me. I quickly fell back to 8th position, from not being able to be aggressive enough on the climb. Then halfway through the first lap I began to have lower back pain, and it took everything I had to just stay on the bike. By the time I made it to the feed zone at the end of the first lap, the pain had finally subsided and I was able to push forward to chase the riders in front of me.

During the second lap, I caught up to 2 guys in my class and quickly passed them, making my way back up to 6th position. Not too long after that, one rider I was chasing crashed and I made a quick pass. After that, I did everything I could to catch up to anyone I saw in front of me. On the second lap my back started hurting again, forcing me to slow down for a few minutes until the pain finally passed for the last time.

My last lap felt like my most consistent and strongest lap. I didn't have any pains and my legs felt great. Unfortunately, my effort wasn't enough to move me up any more positions, so I ended up finishing 5th.

Overall though, the Bonelli Park race was a successful one for my team. In addition to my podium finish, Carson earned a second place finish against the current Junior World Champion, and Haley and Kelsey finished first and second in the Junior Women's class. 

In other news, Jerry Dufour, who traveled out to California with us from Alabama, also finished 4th in the Junior Men's 17-18 class, earning himself a spot on the podium as well.

Check out some of the highlights from the race below.

2015 Bonelli Whole Athlete junior race highlights from MTBMike on Vimeo.