Tag Archives: 2010 Greenville Spring Training Series

2010 Greenville Spring Series overview

They call it the Greenville Spring “Training” Series — six races starting in the coolness of February that run into the growing warmth of March. I think they call it a “training” series so people can find it easier to make excuses. However, it is definitely a race! This year was my best one ever.

As my coach, Jim Cunningham, and I discussed the series we set some goals.  We set some goals for all six races. Actually, I wasn’t sure I would be able to compete in two of them. So, our goals were to with four races from the series:

  1. Stay safe
  2. Podium at River Falls
  3. Finish top 5 in the omnium

A congratulations from one of my mentors, Steve Sperry

Race One: This one was at Donaldson Center. I remember distinctly wondering what the day would hold. Jim had me prepared to try an early break on the final lap. Unfortunately, I didn’t execute it well. Rather than going extra hard to build a gap, I simply tried to ride the field off my wheel.

The result was that by the time I was swallowed up and the field sprint began, I was too tired.  Though I hung with the field until about 500 meters to go, I blew up and went out the back like an anchor off a boat. I started the series with a 36th place finish.

Mentally, it was tough because it seemed to be a repeat of every other race I’ve done at Donaldson Center. I wondered if the training was going to payoff. To make matters worse, the following race was to be a Criterium style race and I typically stink at those.

Race Two: BMW Performance Center Test Track. Jim brushed off the Donaldson Center finish. “So, that didn’t work. I know you have the fitness. Just stay near the front and watch for breaks.” Frankly, I didn’t go into the race with much confidence or expectations.

However, the key turn around for my entire series happened in that race. First, I found that I was holding my own with the field. Second, I recognized a winning break. Third, held my own in a sprint – even though it was with very bad form!

I was ecstatic with a fifth place finish! I knew the next weekend would be more my style of race with the road course at Fork Shoals and a chance to try a different approach at the second Donaldson Center race. Besides, I had my first points toward the omnium goal and I was currently in 12th.

Race Three: Redemption at Fork Shoals. I was most nervous at the beginning of this race. It was on this course back in September that my cycling world was turned upside down with a hard crash. To this day, I am still living with hip pain from that wreck.

This race was about more than just a good finish. It was about exorcising the demons of the past. I felt that if I could make it through this one in one piece, I would be ready for the season. In my mind, the 2010 season started right here.

I used experience gleaned from past races on this course to know exactly what to do. It worked exactly as I thought it would and with 10 meters to go, I would have thought I had my first win of the year. Unfortunately, the 2009 Cat. 4 Road Race Champion beat me in the sprint for the line by half a wheel.

However, the demon was gone. I had a solid 2nd place finish – the best ever for me on the course and I was moving up in the omnium! Best of all, my confidence was beginning to grow.

Race Four: Back to Donaldson Center. Okay, this was the race where I figured I would learn whether I had learned anything from the last attempt. No late race heroics! It was time to sit in for the race and see if I really do have sprinting legs.

Everything seemed to be working perfectly until we got neutralized on the final lap with a lone rider off the front. It ended up that the field was racing for second. Turns out, I think that helped me. With no need to over think things attempting a win, I just threw caution to the wind and went with all I had for the line. I won the field spring handily.

Hmmmm, who is this guy riding my bike? Things began to change in my mind. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I’m so used to writing about my struggles and wondering if I would ever be competitive. After that finish I was in 1st for the omnium (by 1 point), and I knew that I was going to be in contention for any remaining races.

Race Five: My favorite — River Falls. Jim and I had set a goal to podium at this race. I never said this to anyone, but I fully expected to win after experiencing my Fork Shoals finish. There was only one thing that was playing with my mind.

I had the omnium lead going into the race. People kept telling me to protect the lead. I realized that it was important for the team… and me. As I finished each climb of Gap Creek Road I was thinking of protecting that lead. It wasn’t until the final 200 meters of that final lap that it registered that I was going to leave with the series points and it was time to go for the win.

Once again, a tactical error really messed me up. A wrong gear got me out of rhythm and a racer not in contention for the overall beat me to the line. It was the most disappointing finish of the series. Of course, that disappointment was tempered by the realization that I had not only protected the points lead, I had secured the omnium victory.

Race Six: The victory lap at Donaldson Center. Here we were again and I felt as though I was finally figuring this place out! It was time to see if I could turn that second place into a win.

It was during this race that I truly felt the advantage of the Taper. Midway through the race I felt as though I could go anywhere and do anything on my bike. In my mind, there was nothing that could keep me from winning — other than another tactical error.

I believe I was a little too smug about how good I felt. I was so confident about how I was feeling that I tried to be smart and time things rather than just put my head down and give 110%. This is to take nothing away from the guys who out sprinted me to the line, but I left that race knowing that I beat myself.

Wade Greene in the green on left. Jon Leifer first to the right.

Final Tally: 36th, 5th, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd. I realize that I finished 1st in the omnium and that is an accomplishment. However, part of me comes out of the series feeling like the perpetual 1st loser. You know, that might just be what I need for the remainder of the year. That will be my motivation to pour it all out on the line and not settle for anything less.

I’m tired of having the front row seat to other racers’ victories. Thankfully, I have a full season ahead of me. Hey, this was just a “training” series anyway, right?

Photos by Eddie Helton. http://picasaweb.google.com/Eddie.Helton

Not quite Champs-Élysées

Sunday’s final race of the 2010 Greenville Spring Training Series was for me a tiny bit like the final stage of the Tour de France ending on the Avenue de Champs-Élysées. The omnium was in my pocket and all I had to do was finish out the race without any scrapes and bruises and this would be my best month ever on a bike! My only goal was to stay up right and have a respectable finish.

When I woke up that morning, I began to wonder if I could accomplish those goals. Something had started settling in my chest the day before after the River Falls race. I was coughing a bit and feeling my sinuses grow tight.

I headed off to teach Sunday School and then sat in the morning service starting to feel more and more tired. Actually, it felt as though I was very, very relaxed. It was that way you feel when you lay in bed after a hard day of manual labor and feel like you are a stone.

However, by the time I got in my car following the service, I was no longer coughing. I rolled the windows down on the car and got some cool air going and that seemed to revive me. The adrenaline was starting to flow as well and that helped.

Quickly I changed, loaded up the car, and ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich as I drove toward the course. I arrived with about 20 minutes to warm up. As I headed out onto the course, I saw Eric heading the other way in route to a third place finish in the 35+ Masters. Soon behind him I saw Hank on his way to a second place finish in the 45+ Masters race. POA Cycling was already getting off to a great start!

As I lined up with Louis, Matt, and Billy, I felt no pressure. I was just taking it all in. I appreciated the people who congratulated me for winning the omnium. It was fun to chat with some of the other riders. However, as the start approached, I really just wanted to be a spectator and take in the sights and sounds.

Then we rolled away. What a relief! The field started out at a nice clip. It is so much easier to ride in a fast group than a slow one. For almost two laps we enjoyed the speed.

Then things began to slow a bit. There would be someone who would go off the front and the field would act to bring them back and then we would start doing our yo-yo moves. By the fifth lap it was as though the word had gone out and no break was going to be allowed — and no meaningful one was attempted. This was going to come down to a field sprint once again.

I had a chance to communicate some with Jon Leifer and the two of us talked of connecting for the final sprint. His main concern was finishing in front of Wade Greene and I really don’t think he would have minded too much had I ridden his wheel for the finish… if he could out sprint me then he would win… if I could come around him, then I would. Either way he would get his second place in the omnium.

Mid-way through the race I was starting to feel great! I was breathing clearly and my legs felt great. My fears started to fade and I started to think that perhaps I could finally get a win.

My focus was on staying out of the wind and avoiding riders that might cause me problems. It was all very clear to me. As we moved around the course, I followed the advice that Mike Askew had given me about the wind. Sure enough, I could see the flags pointing the directions he mentioned. With each turn I would set myself up to allow riders to block the wind for me.

As we moved into the final lap, I was setting up for a strong finish. I thought it was interesting that what wind there was came from our left and that was where the lines were forming. By riding to the right, I was feeling no wind at all. Riding in the draft of the rider in front of me, I wasn’t putting out much effort.

As we entered “the dip” things started up in earnest. I noticed Leifer went left and I stayed to the right. I’ve learned that while the field tends to start to the right, it then shifts to the left along the yellow line as we make a left turn just before the fire station. If you are patient, the road will open before you.

I was coming along the white line with two riders on the same team right in front of me. One came around the other and the one being passed said, “Go!” The first riders took off and the second one went over to the white line and slowed. Unfortunately, that was right in front of me with the field streaming to my left!

For a moment I hesitated and finally to avoid losing any more positions, I went around him in the grass. Once I did get around him the road was open. His teammate was heading up the road, but I knew he went too early. He was going to be swallowed up before the line.

I then moved up like I did in the last Donaldson Center race and sat on the hip of the fourth placed rider. I wanted to wait until after the 200 meter line before I attacked. Again, like Saturday, I was wondering where Leifer was. In my mind I was thinking he would come around and I would ride his wheel.

Moving now to the front, I kept waiting for someone else to make the move and I planned to counter. However, that was a mistake. The reason why is that by the time you move to counter it is normally too late. The people coming around you already have the acceleration. From that point you are playing catchup — which if you have enough road might not be a bad thing as you can catch his wheel and pay him back.

Knowing I made a mistake and trying to fix it - Photo by Jimmy Helms

However, that wasn’t the case. I didn’t have enough road. Two Greenville Spinners split me on either side. I dug after them, but bottom line is they got to the line faster than I did. Clark and Robert both beat me and I finished third.

Lesson learned? When sprinting, don’t think — DO! When you go — GO! Hey, I finished third. Had I not tried to analyze the sprint in progress and just turned myself inside out after 200 meters I might have still gotten third. However, I wouldn’t be sitting here saying, “I shouldn’t have waited to counter.” Who knows I might have gotten my first win of the year.

A glass half full

Ahhh, River Falls. It is one of my favorite places to race. I’ve only had the opportunity to contest the course three times. Once, as a category 5 racer I got third. My first race of 2009 as a category 4 racer I got fourth. This year I was back — better trained, better motivated, and confident. I was wanting to better any previous finish.

The one thing that was different this year was the fact that I was going into the race as the series points leader. Lining up right behind me was Jon Leifer. He was only two points behind me. There were also three other riders who had a mathematical chance to tie me or take the lead. As I looked around, the only other one of the challengers was Wade Greene. Looked like it was going to be a three-way battle.

Waiting to begin (Click image to enlarge)

Billy and Matt were there to help me out. The plan was for them to manage any breaks and to keep the field moving. My job was to take care of the challengers for the points lead. So, we rolled off with a job to do.

The first lap was typical. It was a chance for us to all get warmed up. A lone rider did go off the front, but everyone knew he wouldn’t survive. Everyone was riding for the first climb.

That first one was no fun at all! I heard chains dropping right and left as riders searched to find their climbing gears. Riders were coming back and some were moving back and forth as they tried to find a line. It was impossible to find a rhythm!

Determined to avoid that if possible, I moved to the front on the third climb up. This time I was able to get in a rhythm and my legs were sending me good signals! As long as I didn’t wear myself down, I would be okay.

Controlling the front (Click to enlarge)

Something that made me smile was overhearing some of the conversations around me before the race started. Leifer was behind me and I heard him comment to some of his friends that “417” was the rider to mark. The result was that it gave me confidence.

Here on the front after that third climb, Brian (a Greenville Spinner’s rider) came up beside me. He kept looking over at me as though he was trying to see if I was tired or something. I made a point to breathe through my nose so he would think I wasn’t working and finally I looked over at him and grinned.

The only problem now was that I was on the front. There was a break up the road with a minute lead. I was torn between the primary objective – protect the points lead – and the secondary objective – win the race. I knew the guys up ahead were pretty strong. What if they were able to hold it?

Matt was calling to me from behind me. “Get off the front, Jonathan!” I started to slow, but no one came around. Finally, a rider moved pass me on the left with Matt in tow. I decided to slip back into the clutches of the group. The vision of Leifer coming around me at the end because I was too tired to counter reined me in.

Speaking of Leifer – where was he? Wade was in front of me for most of the race, but my closest challenger was not coming near me. I chalked it up to him patiently waiting back at the rear of the field with some friends waiting for a final lap attack.

Back in the field (Click to enlarge)

From that point on I attempted to stay in the first 20 or so riders, but away from the front. As we neared the fourth and fifth climbs, I would work my way toward the front so I could avoid the circus of the climb. After we crested the top, I would ease back into the field.

Finally, the last lap arrived. Still no Leifer and I could tell that Wade was going to give it a go. My focus was simply on trying to stay near him and conserve as much as I could for the inevitable push from the Charleston racer. I was in between the two.

The pace picked up as we made the right hand turn onto the final climb. I quickly increased my cadence to match the acceleration. It was at that point I made a fatal error.

I was moving easily within the first 15 or so riders. The riders who had tried to create a gap up the initial part of the climb were starting to get caught. Wade was up there driving it! Still, no Leifer.

Just past the 1K to go line I was well within the top 10. Suddenly, I started to think less about Jon Leifer and Wade Greene. “Hey, you just might be able to win this thing!” It was about that point where the road kicked up. My legs were not responding the way they had earlier on the climb. I looked down. I was in my big ring.

Now, I realize that most cat 3’s and up will respond, “So? That hill is a big ring hill.” Sure it is, for you guys. However, that wasn’t what I was expecting. I had determined a sweet spot for putting out a steady tempo that I knew would run most of these guys in the ground. The big ring realization threw me for a loop.

I shifted to the small ring and searched around for the right gear on my rear cassette. Thankfully, I hadn’t lost any positions and there was only a small gap. I reeled them in and nearing the 200 meter notice I was moving into the lead. “Come on!” I thought to myself, “You might get both objectives today!”

A rider was now coming up to my right. It was going to be a sprint once we got over the rise. However, now my gearing was working against me. I shifted back to my big ring, but that moment of hesitation gave the rider an advantage. I was then searching for a smaller rear ring and attempting to shift into a sprinter stance. Again, more hesitation and I was starting to spin out!

By the time I got into a decent gear, I was nearly a bike length behind and had another rider coming up fast on the left side of me. It was going to be close even for second! The lead rider threw his arms in the air at the line and I crossed with mixed emotions as the third place rider threw his bike forward for a photo finish.

Another second place finish (Click to enlarge)

Oddly enough, a rider not in our race and without a teammate anywhere near me in the finish, protested my second place finish. I’ll grant it was close, but the camera showed that I beat Johnny to the line. In case you’re wondering, normally the people to protest are riders involved or a team manager.

As I was standing talking to my wife, someone walked up to me. It was Jon Leifer in his street clothes! I’m sure I looked confused. He congratulated me on wrapping up the omnium and then explained that he had dropped his chain on the first climb and after trying to catch back on decided to call it a day.

On my way home, I went over things in my mind. What would I have done differently had I know Leifer was out of the race? I do know I would have attacked sooner on the climb. Would that have gotten me a win? I don’t know. As John James told me afterward, “Stop second guessing. Be happy with your place!”

I am happy — very. I can race at Donaldson tomorrow without pressure of defending the points lead. Leifer wants to make it a sprint fest. I’ll give it a shot. As you know, I’ve never considered myself a sprinter… but now I’m starting to believe.

Race Logic

Objective number one for today:

Protect the omnium position.

Objective number two for today:

Win the race.

Complete objective number two and objective number one is assured. However, objective number one can be accomplished without completing objective number two. Trying too hard for objective number two could jeopardize both objectives.

Today’s approach? Assure number one and be in a position to accomplish number two. Let the race come to me and adjust as needed on the road. I must trust in my training when the time to move comes.

I can

Protect the omnium position.

I can

Win the race.

River Falls

The fifth race of the Greenville Spring Training Series is the one farthest from the city of Greenville. It is located in a beautiful area near scenic highway 11. Though I’m sure that by the end of each race the riders won’t be paying much attention to the scenery! They’ll have their heads down as they attempt to be the first to climb Gap Creek Road to the finish.

The course almost forms a rectangle. You start at the top of the hill on Gap Creek Road. Right out of the gate you are descending with a near right angle turn onto Devils Fork Road. The section doesn’t have much climbing. After some initial rollers, things level out a bit as the road follows a creek that connects two lakes near the course. There is a sharp turn again at the end of this section as the riders turn onto River Falls Road. This road also follows a creek and there isn’t much elevation to contend with.

View map of course.

However, soon after turning back onto Gap Creek Road, that begins to change. Things start out seeming about the same until you turn a corner and cross a small bridge. At that point, you will see the climb begin. It starts off pretty shallow with some false flats and even some straightaways. You’re climbing though and about halfway to the top you’re going to be feeling it!

Then you will enter a winding section and the pitch kicks up a bit at that point. Suddenly you come around a right hand curve and “crest” the hill. In front of you is a straight shot of 100 meters or so to the finish line. The unfortunate thing for you is that you have to do multiple laps of this 5 mile course.

That climb is the deal maker — or breaker. The rest of the course is pretty manageable. The field is able to stay pretty much intact through the majority of the route. If you are going to make separation, it almost has to be on the climb. It is there the race is decided — both by attrition during the race as riders must climb it multiple times and then by selection as the strongest remaining riders race to the top for the final time.

I have seen pros and masters racers use this climb to build a gap early and then increase it as the race goes on. For the most part the categories 3, 4, and 5 do more of a group race. Racers from those categories attempting to build that kind of break might blow themselves up on the multiple climbs.

The hunter becomes the hunted

River Falls is two days away. Maybe someday this will change, but each event so far this year has led me to think back to earlier adventures racing these roads. Saturday there will be one element I have never experienced – I will be the hunted rather than the hunter.

With two second place finishes in the third and fourth races of the Greenville Spring Training Series to go along with a fifth place finish in the second race, I now have 24 points toward the omnium. Jonathan Leifer, whom I knocked off that top spot, is only two points back in second place overall. Fellow Upstate racer, Wade Greene, is in third with eighteen points.

Two more races remain. I certainly don’t have this wrapped up, by any means. However, I have already pretty much assured that I’ll have reached my goals (or at least a variation of them) for this race series.

Goal number one is to finish top 5 in the omnium. By the way, in case you are one of my non-cycling relatives reading this blog, the omnium is basically standings based on points earned for finishes in all races of a series. Since I am currently first in those standings, I think I am well on my way to meeting this goal.

Goal number two is to podium at River Falls. However, even if I don’t manage this specific goal, I am pleased because I have already “stood on the podium” (we don’t actually have one) twice in the series. Frankly, I have already exceeded what I thought I could do. Everything from here on out is icing on one delicious cake!

Now I have the new experience of being the marked man. Last Sunday I knew Leifer was the only rider between me and the top spot. Knowing that had a huge bearing on how I approached the race. Without doing anything, he already dictated my actions.

What do I do? Will we end up like Sunday when we rode around slow as molasses in January because Leifer was sitting in patiently waiting for the field sprint? Will I be the one slowing us down? Are there other more team-oriented, tactical things that could happen in the race to make it more interesting?

If past experience is the guide, this race could end up simply being about who can climb the last kilometer fastest. I’m prepared for that, but hope it will be something better. Seems I know better how to hunt, than to be the hunted.

It pays to stay up front – maybe

Crashing is not fun. I’ve been there and done that. Once you’ve experienced it, you never look at a crash the same way again. It is impossible not to empathize with those involved.

As I was leaving the race Sunday afternoon, I talked with a fellow racer. He was limping up to his vehicle pushing his bike. I had heard that there was a crash, but didn’t know all the details because I was having to leave immediately following the race. So, as I was changing my shoes he explained that he had run into the fallen riders and went over the handlebars.

I asked him if he was okay and the condition of the other riders. He said he was okay and that he thought the others were as well except someones bike got really messed up and the first rider who went down got run over. However, I didn’t realize just how the crash went down until I saw the following photo sent to me by Jake Strasser of Team Metro.

Category 4 finish Donaldson Center - February 28, 2010

A wide view of the final sprint - and crash (click to enlarge)

As I began to piece the story together this is what I discovered. Soon after Wade Greene and I launched the sprint a rider went down. “For no apparent reason,” I was told by one racer. That caused a chain reaction as riders scattered across the width of the road to avoid getting caught up in the mess.

Closer view of the lead and the crash

Closer view of the lead and the crash

Unfortunately, not everyone was able to avoid it. Ryan Newman, of Velosports Racing out of Hendersonville, got the worse of it. He hit the riders at speed and flipped over coming down to separate his shoulder and break two fingers. The rider who initially went down broke the frame of his bike.

Ryan Newman goes for a ride

Ryan Newman flips after running into fallen riders

In the photo above, you can see Ryan still attached to his pedals getting ready to basically body slam into the ground. His rear wheel is up higher than the riders’ heads around him. Others narrowly escaped sharing his fate. Michael Trivette, from Concord, commented, “The guy flipping hit my back while he was in the air. I was so close to hitting the deck!”

Of course, the best place to be in all of this was up front. Though I do believe it is misleading to say that it is always safer up front. Crashes happen there as well.

Field sprint 02-28-2010

Photo by Eddie Helton - http://picasaweb.google.com/Eddie.Helton

How do you avoid crashes? Well, I can hear some of my friends snickering as they think of me trying to answer that question. However, I think these suggestions are reasonable.

  • Realize that the field is like an organism. Everyone is interconnected and the slightest move you make can be magnified several riders away from you. Racing while aware of the people around you for the purpose of keeping them out of a crash is one of the best ways to avoid one yourself.
  • Learn who you are riding with! As soon as the race starts, begin cataloging the behaviors of the riders around you. Some you won’t even notice because they will be smooth as silk. Others will stick out like a sore thumb because of their brake checks, switching lines without clearing, and crossing wheels. STAY AWAY – WAY AWAY!
  • Practice your skills. One of the things that has helped me has been learning how to take contact in a race. You cannot be afraid of being touched. Invariably someone is going to bump into you. Do not over react. “Receive” the contact – don’t react away from it.
    Also, don’t get verbal. I know it is hard to keep our mouths shut, but when someone makes a mistake, it does not help at all to berate them verbally. All you do is raise the intensity and level of frustration — ultimately raising the probability of an accident!
  • Know the terrain and conditions. Donaldson Center is a great example of this danger. First, there are several potholes and the famous train tracks. Second, there is the wind that is always a crosswind – then a headwind – then a tailwind. Third, there are the hills.Immediately after gathering speed down a hill, it is time to start climbing the next one. That guy that just went flying past you suddenly begins to fade on the climb. Another rider tries to go around him on the edge of the road and ends up riding in the grass just as a crosswind pushes him back toward the field. You get the idea!

If everyone rode with these ideas in mind, that would take care of many of the crashes that happen in amateur racing. Of course, even professionals crash and 60+ people on bicycles riding inches away from each other at 25 – 40 mph are bound to have some problems.

I’m empathizing with Ryan and the other guys that went down. Hopefully, they will all be back on the bike soon. Me? I’m staying close to the front!

Second place feels like a win

It is late Sunday as I write this. I’m sitting here after the Things Three have gone to bed. It is time to reflect a bit on the day and give a report of the race. My legs feel happy… and so does my mind. It was a good day.

Field sprint 02-28-2010

Photo by Eddie Helton - http://picasaweb.google.com/Eddie.Helton

The day started kind of harried. I had to get up and get everything ready to go so that I could make it to Sunday School on time. I’m teaching a series and the class started at 9:30 AM. The morning service started at 10:30 AM and I figured I would be starting for home shortly before noon. That gave me just a small window to get home, get ready, and then make it to the start at 1:05 PM.

Pastor preached a little shorter so I was actually on the road home before 11:40 AM. Because I had everything ready, I was able to make it to the race with time for a 15 minute warm-up. The fact that things worked out better than I thought they would had me more relaxed on the start line. I was ready to roll.

I’ve mentioned before that I simply do not race well at Donaldson Center. The simple reason is the fact that I have always worked way too hard out there. I determined that today I would not show my nose on the front until the very end. Sure, that meant I was risking a breakaway, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

Well, I did it. Of course, it made the first three laps very boring. It was so tempting to want to stretch the legs a bit or to go up front just to get us moving a bit! Instead I played games… How little can I actually pedal? How long can I go in my small ring? (Two laps) It also gave some time to chat. Other than that, those first laps gave me nothing to report.

During the third lap, we were warned that the Pro-1-2 field was gaining on us and that there was a potential we would be neutralized to let them around us. At that time there was a rider off the front within our sight. For a while it appeared that we were going to avoid being overtaken. However, we didn’t escape.

My teammate Billy moved to the front and we did pick up speed for a bit, but no one seemed to want to help him. Again, it was tempting, but I was keeping my eye on Jonathan Leifer. He was the one ahead of me in the omnium and he also had beat me at the line Saturday. I wasn’t working if he wasn’t!

However, when the official’s vehicle came around us, I realized that we might be about to be neutralized. I wanted to make sure that I was in a good position for any restart because we wouldn’t have much time to get organized afterward. Turns out I was pretty happy because they did slow us and at that point, Billy, Matt, and myself were right there at the front.

The only bad thing is that when we were neutralized, the one guy who was off the front was not. Basically at that moment we were all racing for second. Again, it was the risk I was willing to take, so I couldn’t complain. I would do my best for second.

I won’t go into all the politics of it, but before we ever reached the finish line the decision on what to do was changed a couple of times. We had already been told that the race was called. At that point, I was in seventh place. I was actually pretty satisfied with that. 1) I was ahead of Leifer, so I knew he didn’t gain any points on me, and 2) seventh place would be my best ever official finish at Donaldson Center.

Then we were told we would race one more lap to decide 2nd. Then we were told we would not. Finally, as we crossed the start-finish line we were informed that indeed we would have one more lap to decide the remaining finishing order.

At first I was excited to see the field pick up speed and it looked like everyone was going to let out their frustrations with a fast final lap. Then I was scared as I considered the adrenalin and frustrations of the riders. It was time to keep my eyes and ears open to avoid problems.

It didn’t last long and we were back to our nice Sunday evening group ride (we averaged 22 mph for the race – on a typical A group Tuesday Night World Championships ride we average 25 – 26 mph). I continued to teach myself patience and kept trying to stay out of the wind and trouble. This was going to be a field sprint, boys.

After we crossed the railroad tracks, things started to accelerate a bit. I tried to ease into my power so as not to shock the legs too much. I stayed close to Leifer and then as we moved into “the dip” I started to look for ways to advance my position.

I was nervous because I was a little farther back than I wanted to me as we began the final climb toward the finish line. About two kilometers out, I got in behind Billy and Louis. The field was starting to stretch out and the line was starting to form along the yellow line. Right ahead of me on the white line was the big dude that had bumped me out of position yesterday. He was coming back fast, but in front of him was open road.

“Louis, once we get around him,” I called to my teammate, Louis Sanchez, “Go!” We made the move and Louis pulled us closer in to the group. However, it gave me a clear view of the front. I could see the Globalbike boys lining up a lead out for Wade Greene. At this point, we were about 1K out and I was in 20th.

I wanted to be up in fifth or so before we reached the 200 meter line. So, for the first time in the entire race, I put my pedal down hard. “Coming on the right!” I heard people call as I spurted up toward the front of the field. However, instead of going to the front, I settled in to side draft off of the rider right behind Wade.

For a moment, I was able to recover a bit. Then at the 200 meter mark Wade made his move. I went with him and then around him. This time (unlike Saturday) I made sure I was in a gear that felt just a tad too big.  I set my eye on the line and went all out.

I heard a commotion behind me and people talking about the riding habits of a particular rider. Then I heard nothing except the swoosh, swoosh of my own tires as the finish line grew closer and closer. This time, no one was inching up beside me. I was putting out over 1000 watts and nearing 40 mph.

Once again, I was the first loser, but it really felt like a win. As a matter of fact, I’m glad I didn’t throw my hands up in the air in celebration! The winner in the break just wasn’t on my mind at that point.

Still, this second place really did feel like a win because of the odd circumstances. It could have played out very similarly only after we brought the breakaway rider back into the fold. However, that is not what happened and that’s racin’.

Second place, in a way, was winning. It moved me into 1st place in the overall scoring for the series with only two races to go. I believe those races set up well for me and I’m looking forward to defending that lead with my mates.

Now, THAT was a sprint!

When I woke up Saturday morning, I didn’t really have any feelings about the race. The morning blog post pointed out that I was feeling confident – quietly confident. That all changed when I pulled up at Fork Shoals.

Suddenly I started feeling nervous. I won’t belabor it, but the last time I was on this course I was wrecked with 500 meters to go. It wasn’t that I was scared that I might get wrecked again. What I was nervous about was that because of my issues last year, I realized that I really, really wanted to do well.

As you are prone to do, I looked around at all the guys surrounding me. Some had an amount of bravado and other quietly waited for our time to pull up to the line. Everyone looks fast. It is easy to start thinking… “Wow, these guys look like they are ready to go! Wonder if I’ll be able to handle them?”

That is where experience gives confidence. No matter how fast these guys looked, I know that past finishes prove that the majority of them would finish behind me.

We rolled off for three laps. My teammate, Billy, and I started out near the rear. This would be a 40+ mile race and it wouldn’t be won from the start line.

Photo by Jimmy Helms

The course is rolling with a few pretty tough climbs. Each time I might find myself too far back, I would move my way toward the front. I also practiced making my way up through the center of the pack. I was having some success with my attempts, I might add.

At one point a couple of riders got off the front. The field began to stretch out to bring them back and a large pace line started up. I reached the front and backed up. Then I found myself up there again. I could see that the break wouldn’t last. They were riding with no organization.

I stayed on the front for a bit as we were going downhill. However, when we started to climb again, I slowed. I was not going to pull the whole field up to those guys! I just eased up and rode at a reasonable wattage. Still, no one came around. I glanced back and there was no movement. Finally, I slowed to the point where some guys had to come around.

That was right as we were starting our second lap. However, what happened was that one of the Charleston riders had bridged up to the break. His buddies were sitting on the front for a Sunday evening stroll. This could be bad.

In the past, I would have taken matters into my own hands and started moving around them. This time I looked over at the rider beside me. Obviously, he knew I had been on the front for sometime. It was time for someone else to do the work. I said to him, “These two guys have a rider up in the break.” He shifted and went around after them. The field started moving again and I blended in.

We caught them on the back side of the course. When we did, David Curran counterattacked and I went with him. We got a few seconds gap, but it was obvious we would fail. So, we allowed the field to bring us back. That was the last time I was on the front.

From that point forward I tried to stay near the front and exert as little power as possible to maintain that position. I was encouraged looking around to see a lot of riders climbing the hills in bigger rings. Often they were standing pushing up the hill. I don’t think I stood once. I remained seated, got in a comfortable gearing that let me pedal at about 95 rpm, and eased up the hills. Even if I backed up a bit, that was okay. I knew I could make it up later.

Finally we were going into the last lap. I was starting to get excited. On the last climb up to the start finish line I felt really good! I could also tell some of the riders around me were starting to show signs of exertion. I continued to stay in the mid-to-front portion of the pack. Billy pulled up beside me. “All you have to do now,” he said, “is to match any moves.” That is how things unfolded until we reached Dunklin Bridge Road.

Here I got on Billy’s wheel. I knew he would turn himself inside out to get me in the best position. There were only two of us, but Billy is an experienced rider and I knew he could lead me to where I needed to be.

Then the Globalbike boys started organizing to our right. Billy and I were boxed in as they began to move. This was the beginning of the end. Curran was on the front starting to stretch things out and it was obvious he was setting up something for this Globalbike teammates.

The field began to stretch out and Billy made a move. Unfortunately, a big guy who had been crowding me for the last half mile bumped me and physically moved me off the line. I got moved into a box of slower riders and suddenly found myself about 20 riders back with the front of the field way up there!

I started to panic. At first I wanted to just put the pedal down and push my way into contention. Then I looked ahead and saw that the break had been reeled in and that really the entire field was together, we were just stretched out. Soon we would have to turn and – at least in this cat 4 race – the field would bunch up again.

I slowly began to work my way toward the front. Curran had tired and no one was really wanting to force the issue. By the time we reached the turn, I was in fifteenth. Better yet, I was feeling pretty fresh and there was no doubt in my mind that I could pass at least ten of these guys on the final climb.

Turns out, I didn’t need to. The rolling nature of that section started popping riders. By the time we turned onto the final stretch, I was in about eighth place. In the turn I passed another three and about 200 meters in, there were only three riders ahead of me.

The lead riders had a good sized gap since they had started a break away after we turned off of Dunklin. I knew immediately I would catch them. Without too much effort I was closing the gap and there were no riders immediately around me. I passed the one rider between us and now they were my final carrots.

At 300 meters to go, I knew it was time to move. I didn’t go into a full sprint, but I stood and started around them. It felt good to make the move and literally hear the air go out of them as I passed. They couldn’t counter.

However, I could sense there was traffic coming up behind. At 200 meters, I went into a full sprint and was actually starting to believe that I was going to get it! I knew I couldn’t let up. There was someone starting to inch up to the right of me.

Closer and closer we got to the line. I was digging out of the saddle with my hands in the drops. Still the rider kept inching up beside me. It was like we were in slow motion.

About five feet from the line I knew I was going to be second. Jonathan Leifer moved past me and I could not get more speed. We passed the line with the front of my tire right behind his front skewer. I was the first loser.

I didn’t even think about being disappointed. I had beat Fork Shoals! The last time I was there I limped around the line in 37th on a busted bike and bruised body. For me, the demon had been exorcised!

Icing on the cake? Afterward while I was talking to my teammates, Steve Sperry came over. He grabbed my hand with what appeared to be a bit of excitement and said, “Now, THAT was a sprint!”

I’ll go to bed happy!

Ready to race at Fork Shoals

It’s that time again. I’m getting ready to load up the car and head over to Fork Shoals. Looks like it is going to be a beautiful day for some racing!

First, I am going to be servicing the feed zone for my Master’s teammates. The USA Cycling rules allow for feed zones when a race is over a certain length. These guys will be passing that line and will probably need some fluids in the mid to later half of the race. Hope I make the hand off smooth!

The Category 4 race starts at 11:15. Looks like it will be just my teammate Billy White and me bringing our bikes to the line. It is going to make for some interesting racing. Billy and I are not really in a position to control anything. Like last week at Donaldson Center, we are going to have to play off the riders around us.

My strategy? I really don’t have one. The course itself might help to cut the field a bit. I’ve just go to stay out of trouble and look for opportunities. Hopefully, I’ll be smart enough to recognize when one of those comes my way. My guess is we’ll end up in another field sprint.

I feel much more confident this week. It isn’t a “I’m going to go out there and kill everyone” confidence. Instead it is a more quiet “I’ve been here before. Now, let’s get the job done” kind of confidence. We’ll see what that brings me.

I’ll be reporting my race report here tomorrow morning. Good luck to all the racers out there. Keep the rubber side down!