Monday, April 21, 2014

Amstel Not so Gold

Well guys, let's just be honest about it and say that yesterday's Amstel Gold race didn't go so great for us. We had several goals going into the race and despite what was a pretty good team effort, we came up short. First of all, we wanted to get someone in the break if it was bigger. I actually hoped it might be me, but I never even had the opportunity. I lined up in the front on the line, but there was a major influx of riders from a side road as we rolled out, which forced me way back. I was unable to get to the front before the end of the neutral, and then the narrow roads made it impossible to get through the crowd before the break was established.

Our second major goal of the day came 210 kilometers into the race, a pivotal lefthand turn before the Kruisberg. It's a key moment in the race because it really starts to heat up there and with the increase in speed combined with the narrow roads, being in the front in crucial. If you're not in the front, the effort required to stay in the front pack is immensely greater. The team made a good effort to execute this part of the plan, but we got stuck on the left side of the peloton and had no chance to change plans. We went into the corner mid-peloton and some of us (myself in particular) paid for those efforts by wasting energy to make up ground as the field exploded under the increase in pace.

The third/primary goal of the race is pretty obvious, and that was to get a result. Our primary weapon was Frank. Unfortunately we weren't able to help Frank conserve enough energy or place him well heading into the final climb up Cauberg, so he was unable to match the pace of the front guys. He was still our best finisher, but we came away with nothing really.

As for my race, I realize now that I made a big mistake! By my own fault, I didn't eat nearly enough to fuel me for 251km. If I'm remembering correctly, I ate two "cakes"(small pastries), one large bar, and one small bar. I also had a few gels, a coke, and one sleeve of Clif shot bloks, but I needed a lot more. A seemingly inconsequential but large problem for me was that the speed on my computer stopped working, so I lost track of how far into the race we were, which meant I wasn't really able to meter how often/much I was eating. Then I missed my first mussette bag, which resulted in running out of both food and water! I eventually got bottles, but it was too late. All in all this was a learning lesson I think.

Despite what seems like all the horror written above, I feel personally pretty positive about the race. I think that I fought well for position in the field, which is not very easy in this race because of the narrow roads. The second positive is that I felt strong, notwithstanding the ending explosion. I think that means I will be ready for the next two races, which will suit our team a little better. Wish us luck!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What are Your Easter Plans?

I don't know what everyone else is planning on doing to celebrate Easter, but I'll be racing my bike 251km through the Limburg region of Holland. Tomorrow is the Amstel Gold Race, the first of the three Ardennes one-day classics. It's a dandy of a race with lots of short and steep climbs, loads of turns, and small roads. It is a very special race for sure. Try and tune in before/during your Easter breakfast/brunch for the end of the race!

Friday, April 11, 2014

This Race...

Ok guys, this is my two stage catch up... honestly there isn't much to be said. This race is stinking hard and it can be mentally and physically traumatizing! I think the saying "if it doesn't kill you it'll make you stronger" is probably applicable here. Every stage is hard and sometimes makes you wonder if you're a little crazy to suffer so much! It has become progressively harder to wake up each morning, so I know my body is asking for mercy. The final stage is an individual tt tomorrow. I'm going to give it all I've got, but then I'm looking forward to a few days of recovery. I can be honest and say that I've had some good moments and some disappointing moments in this race, but I know that if I recover properly, I will have good gains in fitness for the Ardennes and ultimately California. Thanks for checking in again. Goodnight. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Halfway Through Basque

Stage three of Basque Country today marked the midway point of our week of racing. It came with a little irony. It was the longest but probably easiest stage of the race; however, it was the hardest start of the race... on paper... and I think it's safe to say that it was in real life! There are still two stages (and a tt) to go, so maybe one of those two will be harder, but for now I'll simply say that starting a race from KM zero on a 6.5km climb averaging 6.5% is not nice. That pretty well sums it up actually. We raced uphill immediately sending a good amount of pain and suffering through our bodies for the first 20 minutes. Then it was a fast descent with a few other attacks and after everyone regrouped a little, one poor guy attacked and ended up being solo out front. It made for an easier day in the peloton, but I still felt a bit bad for him because he was out there dying a slow painful death.

I was discussing that slow painful death with Frank at a couple different points in the race and actually came up with a new rule I'd like to propose to the UCI. Here it is: in the case that there is one rider suffering a slow, certain death in a solo breakaway, his team has the option to substitute one rider of their choosing from the field. What do you think of that?! Seriously consider it! What if a team like Omega or us had a lone rider suffering out front and then we substituted Tony Martin or Fabian?! The race would take on a whole new dynamic and get super exciting! I mean that's what the UCI wants, isn't it? Ok enough of that.

On other notes, I think almost everyone in the peloton got some form of a sunburn today. I think we're just not expecting that we need to wear sunscreen yet! Let's hope this incredible weather continues and we all can keep enjoying this place. It really is super nice when it's sunny, but it becomes pretty miserable when it rains. For tomorrow I think we'll stay lucky. The stage is what I think is typically their queen stage with the finish to Eibar/Arrate. It is a nice climb and there are always incredible fans up there. I suspect that tomorrow will be no different and there will be deafening cheering on the top of the climb. Hopefully Robert can move up on gc and maybe Frank can score a stage win?! Or maybe one of us can get in the break and surprise them all!! We'll have to see. Come back and find out what happened.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tumbling in Basque Country

I'd love to speak about the way the stage finished today, but I can't because I wasn't there. Everything started fine today, albeit quite hard, and we ended up with Bob in a very strong breakaway. Knowing the danger of the men in the break SaxoBank never let the gap grow too big. It wasn't easy for them though because it wasn't easy for anyone sitting in the peloton behind. All was going ok for me until the descent from the last KOM of the day. I was riding with Robert and the next thing I knew I was flipping into the ditch. It was a pretty quick end to my day as the race was on full gas now and it took a long time to get my spare bike from the car in all the chaos of the splitting peloton. I was disappointed about that, but I was/am much happier that I came away from the crash mostly unscathed. It's just a reminder of how dangerous this sport is and the respect it commands. Nonetheless I'm counting my blessings and going to try and move on from it.

As for the other guys, Robert is now our lone gc guy but pretty far back. Frank had a horribly timed puncture in the last 4-5km and lost all his chances. And for Bob's efforts today he deserves a round of applause. He wasn't able to match the incredible Tony Martin in the end, but the effort required to be in the break today was solid. Tomorrow is the longest stage of the race with the usual (and likely sprint) finish in Vittoria. The start takes us up two climbs in quick succession, so it's likely to be ugly. Hoping I won't be too sore and can muster the effort! Wish I could report more exciting/better news, but for the moment this is all I've got. Thanks for reading. 

That Was a Basque Special

Well I hoped to post this last night, but due to the lack of technological advances in the 21st century such as functioning internet, I couldn't. 

The first stage of Basque Country was not a let down for the style of racing we expect here. There was no shortage of climbing; and steep ones at that! We repeated different parts of stages from years past and I relived some memories from those races. In general the stage was fairly controlled, but that didn't mean it was easy. I believe there were 8 "classified" KOMs, but there were easily 4-5 other climbs that could've been rated. I'd like to try and explain the direction the course took, but we turned left/right, lapped this/that, climbed, and descended so much that I'm not sure where we rode! I do know that we did the finishing climb twice and it was hard. If a climb is short here, it has to be steep, so this one being only about 2km meant it had to go straight up a hill... no, mountainside. It supposedly averaged 13%, but I will wager that the real average was closer to 18%. We had 34x28 gearing and that didn't even seem like enough. Some of the suffering was buffered by the incredible Basque fans that were out in force already. There were even some yelling my name! At the end of the day we had lower results than hoped for, but our gc guys, Frank and Robert, held their own decently. There's lots of racing to be had yet, so hopefully we can find some success in the coming stages. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Criterium International Review, Basque Country Preview

It's been a few days since Criterium International finished up, but the memories of solid teamwork on Sunday are still looming fresh in my mind. We really gave it a good effort in a bid to take the overall or at least a stage win, but unfortunately were not rewarded with either. We went into the stage with a plan: make the race hard. The first step in that was making the race for the breakaway last for a good bit. Laurent, Eugenio, and Fabio were in charge of covering and making some moves at the beginning. They did a good job of creating some chaos and covering moves. When everything was said and done there was a small break up the road and it was time to settle in for a bit.

The next part of the plan was to ride as a team and protect Frank and Bob until the feedzone. After catching our mussettes and refilling our pockets/cages with food/bottles, it was time for us to move to the front. The climb after the feedzone wasn't a critical point really, but the narrow, twisty, rough downhill that followed was, so we needed to be prepared for that. After cresting the climb we took the descent at a reasonable pace to stay comfortable and out of danger. We managed that step of the plan just fine. It was the next step where things fell apart a bit.

After the descent our plan was really supposed to heat up. It was the last efforts for Laurent, Eugenio, and Fabio and they were supposed to essentially launch Calvin and either Andy or me into a counter attack. The idea was that after the descent everything would be strung out, then before anyone could react or realize what was going on, we could have two guys a couple hundred meters up the road forcing the teams behind to react/chase, thereby making the race hard, which would be good for Frank. I decided that I would go with Calvin. For some reason I just really wanted to! It sounded kind of fun. Realistically we wanted to get two guys away and bridge up to the first break of the day, but the field reacted quickly and it really just started the racing. Calvin and I did get a gap for a little bit but were joined by a few others relatively soon. Eventually the field chased us back, but it couldn't have been without some effort. Knowing that our goal was to make the race hard, I decided to just keep pulling a good tempo once the field caught us. After a bit Frank called me off the front and some others did some work. The pace remained high, which was good for us. We crested the top and began the descent down to the next big climb.

A revamping of the plan on the road led us to tell Calvin to pull a good tempo from the bottom of the next climb. He certainly did that because I know I was feeling it! After a few km Andy took over and upped the pace a little more. I'm not sure how the others behind were feeling, but my legs were saying it was hard! After a couple km Andy swung off and I took over. I continued the pace to the summit and led into the downhill. I was really hoping that these pulls were making some guys behind suffer. A little ways into the downhill Bob had a mechanical and Frank called me off the front. At that same moment a couple guys attacked. They disappeared quickly on the descent and some other teams took up the chase. The gap grew to around a minute as we raced toward the final climb of the day. I ate a few bites of a bar and swallowed some gels knowing that I was going to need those last calories to help Frank and Bob as best I could on the final climb.

We hit the base of the final climb (14km @ 6.1%) and I tried to settle into a rhythm following the wheels in front of me. A few guys took some short pulls to up the tempo and shed some riders. After a couple km a guy from Bretagne Schuller took the front. He set a solid tempo and eventually swung off, at which point his teammate Brice Felliu attacked. That left me at the front behind his other teammate, so I decided it was my time to start working again. I pedaled into a rhythm and began chipping away at Felliu's lead. He came back a short while later and I continued to ride my pace, hoping that Frank and Bob were feeling "good" while others were hurting a bit and/or falling off. At one point there was a small flurry of attacks, so I thought my job was done, but I maintained contact with the group and was able to come back to the front. I pulled for awhile longer until the real attacks began again. As I fell off the pace I was happy to see that only 20 guys remained and the yellow jersey had lost contact. I hoped that my work had tired some guys legs out enough to allow Frank and Bob the opportunity for the win (stage and/or overall). When I arrived at the finish I was greeted by a disappointed Frank. He gave it a go, but it wasn't to be for us. Nonetheless it was a great team effort and it points in a good direction for our upcoming races.

So what's next? I will begin racing Basque Country on Monday. It is always super hard and it is one of my favorite races. The parcours is unique, the food/hotels are good, the fans are incredible, and the weather always unpredictable. I raced two years in unbelievably warm weather and two years in some very ugly, wet, cold weather. Who knows what this year has in store for us. Whatever it is, our team is strong and ready to fight. I pasted some links below to follow the race. Thanks!