Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting Bank Into the Spin of Things

After a good road season, a great mountain bike season, and a decent rookie cyclocross season racing for Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team in 2011, I ended that year with a lot of enthusiasm and high expectations for the upcoming 2012 race season.  However, I hadn't planned for taking 4-5 months off after the 'cross season to finish getting my house move-in ready, as well as general commitments associated with such a life change that take priority over cycling (surely I didn't admit to cycling not being a top-priority...oh well).

Now into my second season with the Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team powered by Pathfinder, I am anxious to return to the level that I was riding when 'cross season ended.   So, here is a recap of racing in April.

Morgantown Road Race

I didn't have high expectations for myself in the first race of the ABRA road series.  But, I was pretty excited to be a domestique for a stacked team of Cat 4/5 cyclists that includes Jeff, Jerry, Jonathan, James (alot of 'J' names), Mike and Shawn.   So, with our race strategy set, we began a roll-out start that left me wondering where the fire was.

Caught up in the middle of the field for the first 20 miles or so, I tried moving toward the front.  However, the speed at which we were rolling  and the width of the peleton (4-riders wide) made things a little too sketchy.   Not a problem, I have alway felt that I was better at climbing.  And, with 4 steep climbs ahead, I was looking forward to making a contribution to the team effort.

Was I ever wrong in my abilities for the hills.  Once we got to the first hill, I was big-ringing the false flat and feeling good.  But, when the grade began to go vertical I found myself watching riders zip past like I was sitting still.   I had no excuses....except for the 5 months off, being old, no leg strength, no lung efficiency, a 3 hour group mountain bike ride with Cannondale rider Jeremiah Bishop at Big Bear Lake the day before, and the 2 hour mountain bike ride at Coopers Rock State Park the day before that---like I said, no excuses.  Ok, I've been in this situation before...I'll recover and catch the group.  

I'll take a moment to thank Fred Jordan for capturing my worst moment on a bike, next to the mountain bike crash that dislocated my shoulder 6 years ago and the mountain bike crash that put me in an ER with a doctor holding my ear in his hand.   He apparently has a knack for capturing the 'agony of defeat'.  
Zoom in because this is what giving up looks like.

I never caught any group and rode the next 25 miles by myself using my average speed as my motivation to avoid slipping below 20mph average.  I didn't ride my best that day, but I got in a good training ride.  

Challenge at Mountwood

After a solid season of mountain bike racing in 2011, I was determined to have a better weekend of racing.  Knowing that my training, or lack thereof, had in no way prepared me to move from a sport distance to the expert distance, I upgraded anyway to avoid any 'sandbagger' accusations.   I'll admit that I like the sport distances.  Mid-distance mountain bike races allow me to ride faster, finish sooner, hit the post-race food table sooner, and still have legs to go home and mow the lawn if I wish.  But, I made the upgrade.  Besides, how hard could it be?

My goal at the start was to hit the singletrack near the front of the expert field to avoid the bottle-neck that always happens.  A little advice from a friend to avoid the post in the center of the gravel double-track should help.  But, apparently the guy next to me didn't get that memo as he swerved to avoid the post and locked handlebars taking me off of my pedals.  'A minor setback, I'm not out of this' I thought.    So onward I cranked on the big ring of my Cannondale Caffeine 29er.  I love the 29er setups.  You can grind a few hard pedal strokes over a roller then enjoy the momentum on the other side.  My big ring strategy became a necessity as I realized my chain wouldn't drop to the small ring when the trails got steeper.

If you've never ridden at Mountwood, you should.  The trails that day were fantastic.  Tight and twisty, dry, and steep.   I would imagine whoever built those trails tied a sparkler to a goat's tail and lit it.  I had no clue of my location and orientation to the park after the first 3 miles.

Expert-class distances were longer than I thought.  I was doing fairly well when until we past the sport-expert split in the trail and the course marshall informed me of the 7 more miles to go.  The air left the balloon at that moment and riding any further would feel like survival.  But, with 4 miles to go I past my brother and nephew who live near by and came up to give me just enough motivating cheers to finish a well-deserved 11 place of the Expert Vet class.   Not too bad for a first ever expert mountain bike race.  

Post-race with Kyle

Now, I looked forward to hanging out with Steve and Kyle after the race.  The imaginations and stories that my nephew can create would surely let me forget the pain of 23 miles of mountain biking.

Greene County Road Race

Race #2 of the ABRA series would be a little shorter in distance than the first.  Thus, I was hopeful to have a better performance.   I'm always the kind of cyclist that finds a product and becomes unwilling to try something new, whether it is a set of tires, degreaser, etc.  Maybe I'm not a risk taker, or maybe it's the fact that I'm driven by frugalness with my purchases.  Either way, I didn't have the time earlier in the week and I needed to get the bike cleaned up after some Preston County pothole, road riding.  I decided to finally use the Prolink Carbon Bike Wash that was included in our team kits at our initial team meeting a month ago.   This stuff is great!  Dirt on the down tube, grease on the chainstays, and sport-drink spillage near the water bottle cages wiped off effortlessly after a few sprays on a towel.   I may never have to get the garden hose out again to wash a bike.   Just when I thought it couldn't get better, I found the Prolink Luber Pen in team kit bag....sweet.  Christmas on a rainy day in April.

Oh, back to the race.   So, the conditions were not the best for a road race on an unfamiliar-to-me course.   Steady rain and steady 50 degree temperatures were forecasted.  And, this time the meteorologists were correct.  None of the 20% stuff either.  It was full-on, 100% rain 10 minutes before the start and throughout the ride.  

However, the Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team powered by Pathfinder Cat 4/5 team had a plan again this race.  With one member, Mike V, upgrading to Cat 3/4, it was decided that Jeff and Jerry would provide a few attacks to break the field down and get someone onto the podium this week. 

After miles of riding through a valley and a couple of pre-planned attacks, Jeff burst away from the group for a 45 minute or so solo effort.   Out of sight from the main field of riders, I thought he would secure a spot at the top of the podium.  But the second and third climbs had allowed the group to close in on him...or so I was told.   Once again my lungs failed me on a steep climb, just to leave me with a solo time trial-like finish.

The season is looking up, as Jeff and Shawn both stepped onto the podium with 3rd and 5th place finishes.  As a clinician at Dynamic Physical Therapy, it is good to stand back, listen, and watch the teamwork that our team's Cat 4/5 cyclists have portrayed so far this season.  It makes me look forward to next month's schedule of racing.

Next up...the 9 Hours of Cranky Monkey mountain bike race, and the Tour of Tucker County road race.