Sunday, February 28, 2010

Meeting goals - Day 4 of the Greenville Spring Training Series - Donaldson

I'm finding the learning curve I'm on in this bicycling racing is quite steep. Each race I learn something else. Today's lesson stemmed from advice I received from my Cat 4 team-mate Brian yesterday - "Patience" he said was the key to winning races.

Before I get into that, I have to give a huge shout out to Rich Hincapie, Papa, Joey and everyone else that puts forth so much effort to make this spring series happen. It has been an incredible experience and for the most part things have gone very well. I haven't been aware of any real hitches in the program.

More shouts out to my Greenville Spinners Team-mates. Great results from Robert in the morning's first race - the Cat 5, 34-. He rode a really smart race that he capped off with a win! Great result for him today. Allen finished in ninth position and Bo Z rode in his first race wheels up with a handful of experience to carry into the next race.

In the ominum for the Cat 5, 34-, Robert is sitting 2nd, 18 points down from the current leader. Allen sits in 8th with 9 points. Great showing to have 2 Spinners sitting in the top 10.

I have to give a shout out to my lady friends. In her very first race, my friend Courtney pulled a 2nd place! Congrats to her on a great ride. Bo's wife Nikki came in 6th and Jenn pulled 8th place and Jeni pulled a 9th. Excellent results for all of them this weekend!

In the Cat 4 race, four Spinners lined up for the battle. Kadien was well placed in the ominum (overall series results) and he was racing with Robert, Chris and Bo. The cat 4 race got a little confusing as the Pro, 1, 2 race actually caught the Cat 4 riders. When this happens, the officials 'neutralize' the cat 4 riders. What this really means is the officials make the Cat 4 guys sit up and pedal easy as the faster Pro 1, 2 riders overtake them. Unfortunately this occurred on the last lap of the Cat 4 race with less than 2 miles to go to the finish. Out on the course, the official told the group they were done, but when the group approached the start / finish line Papa sent them off for one more lap. In a sense this was a good thing as it allowed them to race for the finish, but in another sense, it was a little frustrating for them to have that mis-communication between the officials.

When it came to the finish, Spinner Brian Kadien pulled an 11th place for the day. This gives him an overall (ominum) placing of 7th with 12 points. This is 12 points behind the ominum leader Jonathan Pait with 24 points. In the cat 4 ominum, the Spinner's have a second rider in the top 10 - Clark Galivan sits in 10th overall with two top 10 finishes.

So, what's this about meeting goals? A few weeks ago, the Spinners Co-captains asked each of us to post up a bio on the site to let our teammates know who we are and what our goals are for this year. Among my goals was to learn something about racing strategy in this incredible sport of bicycle racing. While there is plenty more for me to learn, I have learned a few things over the course of the last couple of weeks (4 races now). Another of my goals was to participate in enough races to gain some real experience. As noted above, the learning curve is steep - it's a good thing I like climbing!!

The third goal I stated for this racing season was to stand on the podium at least once this season. There is still a long way to go in the season, but let me tell you about today's race.

The race was out at Donaldson today. After yesterday's race, I wasn't sure what to expect. Mostly because I worked a lot harder than I should have yesterday. I burned a lot of matches in lighting my candle for the sprint to the finish. I had a great finish yesterday (9th), but it cost me a lot.

After yesterday's race Kadien gave me the advice 'Patience'. It proved to be my mantra for today.

Like yesterday, the Spirited Cyclist Team started sending peeps off the front from the outset. There was four of them today. I was expecting them to really push the pace and they didn't disappoint - at least for the early part of the first lap.

Their first attack produced nothing for them except one burnt match. Nobody from the peloton fell for it. The guy got a pretty good lead, but he never got out of our sight and we caught him on or at the top of the Golf course hill. There were a few minor attacks today, most of them led by the same team. Several other guys put forth some good effort to push the pace, but honestly, I thought we weren't really racing, just out for a spirited group ride.

Since my mantra was 'Patience' for the day, I hung back in the pack. Several times on the opening lap I found myself in the very back of the pack. This was quite difficult for me - watching those guys launch off the front had me jonesing for the chase. Each time I saw the attack, I heard Kadien say 'Patience'. I restrained myself and just sat back and watched.

Riding in the back of the pack allowed me to watch Abhay as he worked the pack near the front. He did well - reacting when necessary, sitting in when called for. Overall, with only 2 of us out there, the race was controlled by these Spirited Cyclist guys. No problem, they wanted it, the rest of us just paced them.

In the position I had taken near the back of the pack, I found my outlook on the race completely different. Instead of thinking constantly about responding to the attacks, I found myself thinking about where I would be able to move easily towards the front when it became necessary.

From the back, you can see these opportunities. As we came around to finish the first lap, I had spotted a number of spots where I would be able to advance should it become necessary later in the race. Another important lesson learned from that first lap was about the wind. Although the wind was not strong for our early races, it was there. My objective for that first lap was to understand where it was coming from on the different parts of the course so I could make sure and position myself for maximum protection.

For fun, as I crossed the start / finish line at the end of the first lap, I played to the crowd a little. I was in the very back of the pack, so I came across the line completely sitting up on my seat with my best parade wave going. I also had a huge smile on my face. I was having fun, partly because I wasn't really working hard at that point.

Although I wasn't working hard, I was feeling the effects of yesterday's race. Each time the road turned up, my legs let me know how hard I worked at fork shoals. I did have some internal battles on that first lap - my mind trying to convince my legs that they weren't really tired at all.

The second lap was similar to the first, except I worked on implementing the 'move up' strategies I tried to envision during the first lap. This lap I took a more active role in the race. While I still did my best to pay attention to my positioning and stay out of the wind, I did work the peloton more aggressively.

Surprisingly, the attacks by the Spirited Cyclist team didn't continue at the same intensity as they started with. Nobody was falling for it, so it ended up that their guys spent a lot of time out in the wind. Even when they were caught by the peloton, the peloton simply pulled in behind them and let them do the work. This resulted in a pace that didn't really seem that fast - especially for me as I was sitting in the back and avoiding any work. We actually averaged over 21mph for the race, but it really didn't feel that fast to me.

Sometime during the 2nd lap, Abhay and I found ourselves riding side by side. We didn't talk much, but Abhay must have been reading my mind. He said to me 'Patience'. I commented something about how difficult that concept was.

As we came through the country route turn off on the second lap, I was really surprised how slow the pace seemed. We were heading into the wind so that slowed us down further. I worked the peloton for protection while I watched Abhay working it from closer to the front.

As we approached the last of the hangers before the end of runway dip, Abhay had had enough of the slow pace. He pushed ahead with a strong effort. He pulled 10 bike lengths before peeps started reacting. The peloton caught him as we began the climb up the opposite side of that end of runway dip. As with previous attacks, the peloton simply pulled in behind Abhay and let him set the pace until another guy decided to get out front.

At the end of the 2nd lap, I was still riding near the back of the pack, but I had ideas about how I would be able to implement my move up strategy and had practiced it a little. Despite the fact my legs were feeling the effects of the previous day, I felt pretty confident I would be able to implement my strategy.

Although Abhay and I didn't really talk strategy today, I think he did a great job up front covering what needed to be covered. He gave a strong effort when necessary to keep a break from running away from us (more than once). When he rode up next to me and said 'Patience', I felt he understood where I was coming from. He knew I was sitting in for the bulk of the race. I think he knew what I was working towards. I felt a lot more confident knowing he was up there working the front.

At the end of the 2nd lap, I had worked my way up into the top 10 and was back in serious race mode (contrary to my 'parade' mode at the end of the 1st lap). Through the rollers on the north end of the course I maintained close to the top 10. A few guys may have sneaked past me, but I felt ok with that.

As we started up the golf course hill for the final time, I was watching closely to see if we would have anything happening. As I expected, one of the Spirited cyclist guys attacked on the hill. I found myself in that purgatory between a breakaway pack and the peloton. I had the power to reel in the break, but I argued with myself for too long.

You might imagine what was going through my head - think of the scene in Animal House - the guy has his devil and angel consciences on his shoulders and they are arguing about what he should do. It was a little like that, but without the language.

On one hand, my natural tendency is to reel in the breakaway. On the other hand, I kept hearing Kadien and Abhay saying 'Patience'. The result was I ended up sitting in this purgatory a lot longer than I should have. What I should have done was to simply pull up and let the peloton absorb me. That way, I could have continued to conserve. I don't think it hurt me too much, but lesson learned I think.

The peloton did indeed re-absorb this small break as we crested the hill and began into the rollers. however, the pace had picked up again. There was some jockeying through those rollers, but as we approached 3M hill, the pace slowed once more.

I was working towards moving up to the front, and the pack was a little strung out. The lead riders - who were tired of doing all the work, were actually swerving back and forth across the road. I thought this was pretty stupid and quite dangerous. I was far enough back to not let it worry me, but any crash in front of you has potential to end your race.

Coming through the country loop intersection for the final time, I was only in the top 20. We turned into a head wind and some guys went to the front. These guys pushed the pace a little, which strung out the pack. I latched on to a guy here and there to move myself up on the left side of the pack.

As we passed the hangers on the right, before the end of runway dip, I found myself right about where I wanted to be. On the left side, with a relatively clear path in front of me and in the top 15.

We came through the dip, and I allowed my momentum to carry me a little further up the hill on the other side. I was now in the top 10 riders, right where I wanted to be. The pace was not too hard up the hill, so I just stayed on the wheel in front of me.

Ironically, this wheel belonged to the les amis guy Bobby who spent a good part of the day near the front reacting to the attacks. A couple of times throughout the race I found myself riding beside him. Funny how racing friendships work - when I pulled next to him, I would say something along the lines of 'what up Bobby?'. He would reply in a similar fashion and we would continue racing.

He had put himself in a pretty good position on the final climb - he was on the left side, three abreast with two other guys. These three were leading the pack up the hill. I knew Bobby is a pretty strong rider, so I just attached myself to his wheel.

The hill climbs up through a right curve, uphill on a slightly less grade to a left curve. Just before this left curve is the '1000m to sprint' sign. I kept hearing Kadien say 'Patience'. I held Bobby's wheel through this left curve and along the now flattening straight before the final right hand curve. As we approached the 200m mark, things started to get interesting.

I was still behind Bobby, but it was obvious that pressure was building behind me. It was not something I saw, but rather something I felt. I moved to come around Bobby and started hammering. It wasn't a full blown hammer, but it was definitely an increase in intensity.

About this time, I saw and heard a guy go down on the far right of the road. He got forced off the road and hit a pretty major pothole. I saw him faceplant and lose his helmet. The last I saw, his bike was catapulting into the lane.

There was nothing I could do for him, so I kept hammering. One of the spirited Cyclist guys came across the course, drifting towards me, forcing me slightly further to the left. I reacted with a slight move to the left, but more importantly, I reacted with a harder effort and pulled passed him.

As we crossed the 200m mark, I was leading the pack and was still not in full sprint mode. I knew there would be guys coming. Once again, I felt the pressure of those behind me bearing down on me, so I kicked it up into full sprint mode. I could see my goal in front of me and kept my focus on reaching that goal.

It was a bit surreal for me. There was nobody in front of me and I was less than 100m from the finish. I felt certain that the crash had taken out a huge part of the pack. This is that little insecure kid that resides inside each of us. I didn't feel worthy to be in this position this close to the end. After all, I didn't really do any work today. I sat in the back, in parade mode for parts of the race.

That little nagging feeling wouldn't leave me though - there was that pressure from behind. So, I kept at it. If I learned anything from yesterday's race, it was to race to the finish. I had open road and I was in full sprint mode and there was pressure from behind. I wasn't going to give up without a fight.

As my goal got closer, the pressure from behind increased. Finally, in the closing meters of the race, a wheel appeared to my left. I pushed hard, and surged at the line. It was going to be a close call.

We crossed the line, too close for me to call. I thought I had it, but he came on me strong and it was really close. The camera would tell the tale. At worst I had pulled a 2nd place on the day.

You can imagine how stoked I was! I saw my friend April from The Living Pixel taking photos at the finish and hoped she got that one - it's one for the personal record books!

My Cat 5, 34- friends were at the start / finish line along with a number of other friends when I came back from a short cool down loop. They had had a great race and were just coming back to play spectator when I was launching my final sprint. We shared some great comradery before I went back to my car to change.

There was still the question whether I pulled the win or got 2nd, so I was excited to hear Bo scream 'YEAH JD!!!!' shortly after Papa announced the posting of the 35+ results. I DID IT! I pulled the win! Even better, the guy who I just beat was the guy who had won both of last weekend's races! That quieted that insecure kid - the competition was not eliminated when the crash occurred.

I was concerned though about Abhay. I asked if any of the Spinners had gotten wrapped up in the crash and how many went down. Apparently there was about 6 guys who went down. It was only after I had changed that I found Abhay and he told me that he went down on the fringes of the crash. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt.

So, with today's win, I am now ranked 5th in the ominum with 12 points. That is 17 points out of 1st overall. The only way I could pass the leader is for me to win both of the next two races and for him to do poorly or not show. I am planning on racing the River Falls race, but next Sunday is the Clemson off - road triathlon, so I wouldn't be racing in the spring series. Perhaps a 1st overall is not in the cards for this series, but at least I can check off my goal of standing on the podium. When I set that goal, I wasn't thinking I would be making that check from the top step of that podium!


  1. Great job John!
    After my first race at Donaldson I thought this racing stuff might be easy. But after getting blown up and spit out the back of the pack in the Fork Shoals race, I realized this is a tough sport with some real strong competition. So a first place finish in your 4th race is a great accomplishment. Good luck at River Falls next week.

  2. Awesome job yesterday John!! Wish I could have seen the finish!!

  3. wow...sounds like I missed a great race!! Congrats on your win!!


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