Tag Archives: Greenville Spring Training Series

Race Day – Part 2

It is done. I have returned to the peloton. Today I completed my first official cycling race in several years. I came to the line with trepidation and left with confidence that the field hasn’t passed me by. There is a little left in the old man after all.

I’ll just break this down lap-by-lap as best I can. If anyone reading this watched the race or was in it with me, I’m very interested to hear if your experience matched mine. I’m often amazed at how people can be in the same race and their accounts can vary.

Pre-race

My family was spread out all over the place. My wife and daughter were heading up to Charlotte for a wedding shower. My oldest son was already in Charlotte for a conference. I was left with my youngest son who I ended up taking to his cousins house before packing up the bike for the race.

Getting signed in and warmed up was uneventful. I was able to get in a full lap, some stretching, and a potty break before coming to the line. I’m thinking about 40 guys (and two gals). We all gathered by the start for about five minutes hearing announcements and waiting to get the command to go.

Lap 1

There really isn’t a lot to say here. The group started out at an okay pace. I settled in about mid-field and tried to stay out of the wind. It seemed everyone was pretty content to just get warmed up. Thankfully the pace was constant and there was no need to alter my line or brake.

Perimeter road was awesome! The majority of it is newly paved. It was a joy to ride. The temperature was also great. Starting off it was a little cool, but it was absolutely perfect racing temps by the end. The only environmental challenge was the wind which was a crosswind and headwind for most of the event.

As usual, the field started to spread out once we got over the railroad tracks. Then is was a high speed dip before the climb up the the start finish. The field was starting to string out and by the time we got through the start finish, a break had started to form.

Lap 2

I started the second lap on Rodney Dender’s wheel. The Trappe Door guys were out in force and later that would have a big effect on the race. As a matter for fact, it started to make a difference during this second lap.

Once Trappe Door established a mate in the break, they began controlling the field.  The primary break ultimately was Shane Martin, from Harrisburg, NC, Patrick Waddell, of West Jefferson, NC, Erik Peterson, of Greenville, SC, and Todd Mion, of Greenville, SC.

Seeing the gap growing and realizing there was no organization to chase, I decided to move to the front and actually began to make some headway in bringing them back. Most of this was in a crosswind the entire length of the railroad track stretch of the course.

Having done my work, I wanted to let someone else move in to help nail back the break. I flicked my elbow for the rider behind me to pull through. He didn’t come. So, I looked back to find Chris Knetsche of Trappe Door.

So much for that idea. He had no obligation to move to the front. That being the case, I continued to pull down into the dip and then back up the climb toward the finish. It was at this point, I saw a flash of black, red, yellow coming by me on the left. It was Darrin Marhanka who was setting up Rodney to launch and bridge over to the break. Darrin, seeing Rodney successfully get away, settled back in the field to get ready for later damage.

Pulling the field across the start line to begin the third lap.

Pulling the field across the start line to begin the third lap.

Lap 3

I continued to pull in hopes of motivating some response, but no one came. I knew if I kept this up I would not make it to the end. If this was the way the field would race, then I would race in kind. It was on the climb up by the golf course that I faded back into the field to live to fight another day.

The point is, I knew I was not in shape to bridge over to the break. If I managed it, I would be slobber knocked and they would spit me out. That wasn’t my objective. Getting racy is fun, but not at the expense of cracking and ending up finishing a tough windy course alone!

So, I settled into the top 10 to 15 of the field and tried to recover for a final effort near the end of the race. The field slowed which was frustrating, but it also worked to help me recover. It also put us in a position where we were neutralized as another classification group (a two-man break) caught and passed us.

Lap 4

This lap was pretty much a repeat of the third one. The break was still up there though by the end of this lap Rodney Dender replaced Todd Mion for Trappe Door. Marhanka and Knetsche continued to cover most everything else that moved.

I made no big efforts and settled in just trying to stay near the middle of the field — which by this time was beginning to shrink. There were a few times where I watched an acceleration in front of me and had to put out an effort to catch the wheel in front of me.

I got a shock when I glanced back once to find I was on the tail of the field! Out of the 41 starters there were now only about 25 of us in the break and “chasing” field. However, I was hanging on and actually starting to feel stronger.

The feeling became fools gold when I got in a pace line that formed about halfway through the lap. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “now we can get somewhere.” It was probably too late, but if people were willing to work, I would do my part. The line fell apart on 3M hill and I was feeling a little worse for wear. So, back into the field to recover.

Lap 5

By this lap, I had definitely burned at least two matches. Once again I was starting to dangle toward the back. Then before I knew it, I was back at the front heading into the golf course climb. I decided to soft pedal and fade toward the back to conserve some energy. I knew I would  get back closer to the front as we descended off the hill.

Unfortunately, it was right then that I lost the battery in my rear GoPro. The front GoPro would soon follow suit. I hate it that they did not last through the entire race.

The pace was still good during this lap. The biggest challenge was making sure you got in the right position for avoiding the wind which had begun to pick up as the day warmed. I think I did a decent job of it and once again started to feel good as we began the sixth and final lap.

Bell Lap

I felt I had been smart on the fifth lap. I didn’t do any pulling and for the most part had not needed to close any gaps that had formed. As I came into the final lap I was starting to feel racy again.

I had set three objectives for the race: 1) start, 2) race near the front, and 3) finish with the field. The first two were pretty much already accomplished. Barring an accident, I didn’t see me missing the third one either. My mind began to think that I might even get a better finished than I had imagined.

I settled down to conserve as much energy as possible. As I did I began to feel better and better about the finish. Sure, I wouldn’t take someone like Marhanka or Knetsche, but if I played my cards right I might land a top 10 out of the field sprint.

As we came off of golf course hill, one of the riders (who had been in the pace line and had attempted at least one flyer) started to taunt us for not coming to the front. I shared in his frustration that there hadn’t been a lot of racing, but I was not going to be his sacrificial lamb. In my mind I thought, “Where were you when I was trying close down the break?”

As we came over the railroad tracks, I settled in behind Knetsche. I figured he would be a good wheel to hold in the finish. I stayed there until we started down into the dip. Then I found myself coming up along the left side of the front of the field. A crazy thought came to my head.

What if I attacked early?  I knew at least four riders were in the break — maybe five. I didn’t think there were any chasers between them and us. If I could push the speed up enough to compensate for the bigger wattage guys, maybe I could hold on for a few places and land a top ten.

I was confident I could do it. I knew I was good for 600+ watts for 800 meters. The field sprint would begin in earnest about 400 meters out at the fire station. I would need to get a jump, a surprise, and then make people work to come around me.

I set my sights on a large tree on the right of the road. I knew this was within the 1K to go. I stayed in about 10th position until that point. I launched. I went up to 800 watts and was feeling pretty good! I was excited!

Then it happened. It was a dull ache at first. My left calf muscle was starting to cramp. Looking back, I can see my wattage dropping to around 600 watts. Then, right as we were starting to reach level ground with the finish right around a slight right turn my muscle seized. This was not one I was going to be able to spin through. It was like rolling along and then sticking a post down a hole. I was stopped cold. I could not turn my leg.

I yelled, “I’m out!”, raised my hand and moved as quickly as I could out of the way. I watched the field come around me. I was coasting. Finally, I took my left foot out of the pedal and used my right leg to propel me across the line.

Just like that I dropped from around fifth place to twenty-fourth.

Final Thoughts

10978549_10155190167705650_1129288318169213538_nI’m happy. I met my objectives — even with the problem at the finish I came across the line just off the wheel of the last rider in the field. Then when I went and looked at the rear facing video of my big pull on lap two I had to chuckle to myself. I really put a hurt on the field with that. Riders were strung out in a long line and I could see multiple gaps form. That was fun.

Yes, I finished twenty-fourth. Yes, the overall pace of the race worked in my favor. Yes, I’m sure I wasn’t as tactically astute as I could have been.

But you know what? I had fun. I can also bet you that people knew I was there. I was a participant and not merely field fodder.

It was a good day.

Race Day – Part 1

Sitting here this morning sipping a cup of coffee just before grabbing some breakfast and then loading up the car to head out to the Spring Training Series race. It will be my first race in several years. I have no idea what is going to happen… actually, I do, but I don’t want to think that way.

I’ve set three goals for myself. I’m posting it here before the race and then I’ll come back later and let you know how well I did in accomplishing the objectives. Getting the first one accomplished is looking pretty good.

1. Make it to the start line

I set that objective a couple of weeks ago. See, I said I would race the first race of the year the last two years as well and never made it to either of them. This year I determined I would follow through. I talked with friends, mentioned it on this blog, and pre-registered all in an attempt to hold my feet to the fire.

2. Stay in the top 20 as long as possible

I’m thinking this might not be too hard. There are only 22 people pre-registered in the Masters 40+ field. I’m thinking there won’t be more than 30 that come to the line. So, if I can stay in the top 20 I’ll be able to accomplish my last goal.

3. Finish with the field

Somebody is going to break away. I have no illusions that I will be with the top finishers for the race. My hope is that I will not get dropped and will finish with the field.

The last two times I have raced I have ended up getting dropped. I’ve gotten it into my head. You don’t need that mindset when you start feeling the pain of an effort caused by a more fit rider(s) putting the hurt on. It can lead you to a “I just can’t do it” attitude.

I guess I could add a fourth — FINISH. Even if I can’t finish with the field, I need to finish the race. I may never race again. So, I need to at least finish the one I attempt.

Oh, can I add a sixth? HAVE FUN! I think this is where I’m coming up short. I have a tendency to take things too seriously. It grates on me when I am not up there with the fast guys. I have a very hard time enjoying the activity of racing because I am too focused on the finishing results of racing. It is possible to enjoy the process. SOMEBODY has to be the field fodder.

By the way, I’ll be rolling with GoPro cameras on the front and back of the Felt. I’m hoping I can get some footage of the race and combine it with my power/speed data. It will give you a chance to come inside the race with me.

The siren song of cycling

I pre-registered to race this Saturday. I know that isn’t the “thing to do.” Most people wait until the day of the race to fork out the cash. There is only so much of that green stuff to go around and if the day turns out to be awful… well, is it really worth it? I have my reasons for going in early.

My first objective of this race is just to show up. That is actually a concern. I’ve been out of racing for so long, I’m kind of hesitant to return. I know what it feels like to be out of shape and struggling just to hang on. Is that for what I’m paying $30? So, pre-registering was my way to say to myself, “Yes, you are going to get out of that warm bed on Saturday morning and drag your out-of-shape carcass out to race in the cold.” If I don’t, I’ll definitely be out of my cash!

Still, not all of my memories are ones of suffering. I was reminded of this as I looked back to one of the last times I raced. It was a post entitled, “A Racer At Heart.” I’m republishing it here.

I remember years ago heading out on the first Upstate Winter Bicycle League of the season. Steve Sperry came up beside me as we headed out of town. As time has passed, I can’t remember all that he said to me, but one thing I do remember. It was something like, “Great job with your win. Enjoy it. There aren’t many of these guys out here who can say they’ve crossed the finish line first.”

Jonathan Pait and Billy White

It was the end of my second year racing as a category 5 rider. Actually, I believe it was around my fourth official race ever. It was a criterium in downtown Greenville. I had crashed out and dislocated my finger in that very race the year before. This time I pulled away from the field and even lapped a rider. Coming out of the corner, I was all alone and I coasted over the finish.

I tell that story now because of yesterday’s blog post. In it I asked myself why I do this. What makes me get out there and race? Well, a big part of it is I remember that feeling… not the feeling of suffering in the back. I remember the feeling of that win.

Yes, I never won again. It was my first and only time to cross the stripe first. However, with that win, I moved up into the category 4 field. I figured I would be there for the rest of my racing “career.”

That changed in the second year of my category 4 experience. Though I never won that season, I was “the man.” In nearly every category 4 race I entered I got a podium finish.

Of those races, there are two that stick out in my mind. The first was the SC 2009 Criterium Championships. It was probably one of the smarter races I’ve ever raced… until the finial kilometer. I went too early and got run down on a sprint. However, there is a jersey hanging on the wall in my home office. It has a medal hanging with it showing I stood on the podium with a bronze.

The second that comes to mind was probably my most dominating race. However, it wasn’t one I won. It was the Spartanburg Classic — another criterium — and I was racing in the field with my friend and teammate, Matt Tebbetts.

Matt went in a break early and I played the dutiful teammate by covering nearly every attempt to bridge up to him. When a chase tried to organize, I would get in it and disrupt the pace.  Matt just did what Matt does and kept stretching the distance. He crossed the line alone.

As I entered the final lap, I decided it was time to ride for myself. I accelerated on the back straight away, completed the two final turns and when I looked back as I neared the finish, I could see the field just coming through the final turn. It was definitely a 1-2 punch from the category 4 crew of the POA Cycling Team. The feeling of that day was very close to that of my only win.

My category 4 days ended with that race. Back as a category 5 racer, I looked at the cat 3 riders as being in a position I would never obtain. Yet, here I was waiting for the start of my first category 3 race in June of 2010. No matter what happened, I would always be able to say I made it to this level. I had graduated from the “Category 4-ever.”

That race ended with me in the hospital with a broken neck — among other things. Half of the victory for me now is lining up to race at all. One thing is for sure, I’ve never come back to race with the same form. However, I do know what it feels like.

Maybe that is what drives me to keep at it. Those words Sperry said to me those years ago mean even more to me now. I realize that that win will most likely be my only win. Yet, that is more wins than a lot of other racers have had. I was given a gift to experience it. I was given a gift to know what it is like to be the rider everyone is gunning for. I know what it is like to ride at the front.

I guess I just don’t want to let that go. It isn’t the win I want so much as it is the knowledge that though once broken, I have come back to strength. I want to be a part again of “the field.”

Maybe, someday, I will ride myself out of it. The time may come when I will say goodbye to competition. It is not this day.

Maybe that is what I am looking for. I’m waiting for the race to tell me it is done with me. I don’t want to tell the race that I am done with it.

I’m a racer at heart.

Greenville Spring Training Series

Whoa, it is that time already?

Okay, I admit it. This one caught me by surprise. It isn’t that I didn’t know it was coming. It just seemed to pop up on me a couple weeks early. It is kind of like jumping into an ice-cold pool first thing in the morning.

Greenville Spring Training SeriesI’ve known that the Hincapie Sportswear Spring Training Series was coming. I’ve seen the online ads on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve heard people talking about it. I even knew that it was going to be four weeks this year and that it would be starting earlier. I just never took the time to look at the dates.

I assumed it would be mid-February. I operated on that assumption. So, this is no lie, when I showed up last night at the sponsor appreciation event for the Trappe Door Cycling Team, I was surprised when I heard people asking, “Are you racing this weekend?”

Yes folks, the Spring Training Series is tomorrow. It is hard to believe. It seems like I just dusted off my bicycle from my long winter’s nap.

I guess I’ll load up the bicycle and head out for my exercise in futility at 11 AM tomorrow. The course will be Donaldson Center — of the SCTAC as people are trying to call it now days. I like the route, but the road surface seems to degrade more and more every year. Guess I should get ready for a bone-rattling ride.

Sure, it is called a Spring “Training” Series. However, it is one of the larger multi-day series in the area. While it may happen early in the season, it doesn’t mean people aren’t planning for it and training for it. Seems the “Training” portion is just an excuse to use afterward when you don’t do as well as you would have liked.

Yeah, it’s a training series for sure!

It is going to be a good year!

While my Category 3 race didn’t go so well, it turned out to be a great weekend — and series, for that matter. Thomas Smith and Phil Ball continued their podium dominance in the River Falls race. The POA Cycling Masters Team swept the podium for the series omnium.

River Falls Finish

Jacob McGahey takes the win

When I walked up to the tent where my teammates typically hang out, I found Blair Lemarche working on someone’s leg. As I got closer I found it was Darin Marhanka. That didn’t bode well. I was hoping there wasn’t a pile up that had taken out more of our guys.

Darin explained that it was just a matter of a single rider in front of him standing to accelerate and having his front wheel wash out from under him. His wipe out took Darin with him causing Darin to pick up a some road rash. What a hard day for Darin to ride in this mess just to get taken out.

We still had Thomas Smith, Phil Ball, Phil Humbert, Jae Bowen, and Mark Caskey. As I sat there talking with Blair and Darin, the announcer alerted us that the leaders were approaching the start/finish. I turned to see who it would be.

I saw Thomas leading another rider (who turned out to be veteran racer, Jacob McGahey) to the line with Phil Ball several meters behind them. There was some confusion because Thomas thought that it was the finish. Unfortunately, he now had to turn in another lap!

This happened because the Masters racers were out on the course at the same time as the Women. The women had their final lap called around the time that the Masters were coming through for their penultimate lap. I’m sure they hated to know they were going to have to do another lap in the nasty weather we were experiencing!

Next came Phil Humbert leading the pack to the line. Jae was there and then Mark came across later. It was pretty obvious that unless Thomas and Phil had mechanical issues we were going to have a chance at a 1-2 finish. However, Blair commented that McGahey would be a hard nut to crack.

I didn’t get to see the finish. Well, I did, but I couldn’t tell what happened. I was trying to take a finish line photo with my iPhone. As you can tell from the photo above, the iPhone isn’t the best platform for taking action photos!

Jacob McGahey crossed the line first with a comfortable lead. I couldn’t tell who was second because the next person I saw after looking up from the iPhone was Phil Ball. I was afraid that perhaps Thomas had wrecked.

I went over to Hank McCullough, who was waiting to take the course for the Masters 45+ race, and asked him if Thomas was in the finish. “Yes,” he let me know, “Thomas came across in second.” That means that once again Thomas and Phil got in a break together and finished on the podium.

It was exciting to gather with the team after the race. Even though Thomas and Phil were shivering from the cold and their effort, they had huge smiles on their faces. In between the back slaps and wringing of water out of clothing, each rider explained the events of the race. Everyone was sharing in the joy of success.

Phil Humbert summed it up well when he said, “It feels great to be part of such a strong team.  No matter who is in the break, I know the others are killing themselves to help the team succeed.  It’s gonna be a good year!”

At the end of the day the team took 2nd – Thomas, 3rd – Phil B., 5th – Phil H., and 6th – Jae. Mark finished outside the top 10 in 13th. The better news was that the team was now holding the top three positions in the omnium for the series with 1st – Thomas, 2nd – Jae, and 3rd – Rodney. With one day of racing to go, it was looking good.

On Sunday, it turns out that only 6 racers took the line in the Masters 35+ race. It was 45 degrees, rainy, and winds up to 15 mph. After Saturday, it is hard to blame them! The result was that there were no omnium challengers in the final race.

So ended the first series campaign for the POA Cycling Master Team. It is going to be an interesting year. If the spirit of the team remains as strong as it has started out, I feel for those coming up against them.

As good as they boys have been so far, there is still more to learn as we race together. The team dynamics are only going to get better. You could tell by the way the guys were debriefing after the race that it will come together.

Yeah, Phil, it is going to be a good year!

$7.50 a lap

Today I sucked it up and headed over to the River Falls course. It was rainy and cold. Actually, just standing around under covering, it didn’t seem so bad. It wasn’t until you became thoroughly soaked that you began to suffer. Suffer, I did.

I got there just in time to see the final laps of my teammates in the Masters 35+. It was a lot of fun seeing them work together and bringing home some great finishes. Standing around with them afterward, it was great to feel connected to it all — though it was a little disappointing to learn that I could have been an actual part of the success since some our guys weren’t able to make it. I could have raced Masters after all.

Instead, I was lining up alone for the Category 3 race. We would be the last field to roll off for the day. I had hoped that the temperature would increase — and perhaps it did, but I couldn’t tell. I was numb.

Several times during warming up I stopped to use the porta-johns. I guess it was a combination of the wet, cold weather and me drinking too much. Maybe it is also a part of being 43-years old! This would factor into my day later…

We lined up behind the Pro/1/2 field and waited for them to head off. Then we moved up to their place to get our instructions, etc. It was while we were waiting for our send off when I started to feel that urge again. If I had the day to do over again, I would have gotten out of line and hit the john again. It turns out I would have had time.

I didn’t and I regret it.

The first lap was okay. Only once did I have a scare. It wasn’t due to anyone else. I just let the road get to me.

Once you come off the start/finish line you take a reasonable turn to the right. Then there is a left turn that is deceptively tight and the asphalt there is smooth — with rain you think it looks slick. I had taken the first right turn rather gingerly and now was accelerating to close a gap. This sent me into that turn at a pretty high speed.

What I should have done was just trust my equipment, lean into the turn with my right leg extended, and my left arm pushing down on the bar. Every other lap I did and it was smooth sailing. Unfortunately, this time I caught some waves.

I panicked as I came into the turn. I had the feeling that the bike wasn’t going to make the turn and I would go off the road. I braked and found myself awkwardly balanced on the bike. The front wheel started wobbling. For a split second, I thought I was going to go down. However, I slowed enough to gather the bike and then set off again after the field pulling a number of riders behind me.

We settled down and for the rest of the lap until the bottom of the hill, we rode at a nice speed. I would glance at my computer on occasion to see wattage readings in the 100s. This was good for my plan.

My plan was to sit in as much as possible to conserve my energy. These gently rolling sections would be important as there would be a 2 mile climb to deal with. If I could hang in there until the final lap, perhaps I could get a top ten finish on the final climb.

The first climb was fine. I was near the front and the field was driving it pretty good. We crested and I was in good shape, though I noticed that the whole field was pretty much with us. It made me think that perhaps I could ease up a bit on the climb and conserve some more.

During the second lap, my bladder issues became more obvious. I wasn’t desperate, but I knew that things were only going to get worse. I started to consider my options — really, only one presented itself: relieve myself in my shorts. I decided I would if it came to that.

On the second climb I tried my theory. I eased up and let the field kind of string out a bit. As we crested, I found I was a little farther back, but I could tell that I had not put out as much effort.

Unfortunately, there was a trade-off. Coming off the hill the field began to accelerate. As I was going into the first right turn, the front of the field was starting to make its way into the “scary left turn.” Gaps were forming and I found myself having to work even harder to get back with the field. Thankfully, this time I took the turn correctly, but I was giving up the energy I had saved on the climb.

By the time we reached the climb, I was at that desperate stage. I really had to go. We started the climb again and I was about mid-pack. I determined that once I could breathe again, I would do what had to be done.

This time I was starting to lose it. I was drifting back. It wasn’t because I wanted to. I was starting to labor. I didn’t understand. My wattage was reading reasonable levels. It didn’t seem that I should be feeling this way.

Once again I was chasing to get back on. Twice I had sizable gaps form and I was working hard to attach to the wheel in front of me. Finally, I did and was able to settle into the pack to recover.

Now would be the time to relieve myself. By this time my bladder was cramping. I was miserable on the inside and the out! It just wouldn’t happen.

I don’t know why. Perhaps the chemicals make your body shut down for “fight or flight” had kicked in. Maybe my brain just couldn’t deal with something that I had never done before. All I know is the misery continued to be base of the fourth climb.

Now I was hurting. Frankly, I was losing the will to continue. Another rider near me dropped saying, “I’m out!” I almost followed suit. However, I told myself, “Don’t stop now. At least get over the hill and see what happens.” So, I gathered myself and crossed the line with a huge gap.

I did give it a try. Another rider who had suffered on the climb came around me and we tried for a bit to work together to catch back on. I even caught a glimpse of the field just a turn ahead of us.  My partner accelerated and I went to go with him. He rode away from me.

What on earth was going on? I was riding with guys that I have stayed with on many a ride. Yet, here I was toast.

I stopped there. I decided I needed to go pee. However, it was a bit before my body let me.

It was time to get in my car and leave out the back way. I didn’t want to go by the start/finish line. It was too embarrassing.

I finished only four laps. I paid thirty dollars for that. That’s $7.50 a lap.

My song for the day

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo…

I’m racing in the rain
Just racin’ in the rain
Must keep the rubber side down
Or I’ll feel some pain
I can’t see the clouds
So dark up above
Mud’s on my glasses
And I just got a shove
Let the slower guys chase
Don’t care where I might place
When comes to the rain
I’m just saving my face
I’ll cross the line
I’ll be doing quite fine
Just racin’,
Racin’ in the rain

Racin’ in the rain
Dee-ah dee-ah dee-ah
Dee-ah dee-ah dee-ah
I sprint down the lane!
I’m racin’ and prayin’ in the rain!

I’ll take that!

Don’t think I was complaining in yesterday’s post. I’m willing and ready to learn. I’d much prefer to have someone teach me where I might be going wrong then to just let me go my way and make a fool of myself. I’m stoked to be in the great position of being a member of the POA Cycling Team. I can’t think of a better way to learn.

Rodney Dender waits for Fork Shoals race to start

Rodney Dender waits for Fork Shoals race to start

We lined up Saturday’s race with Thomas Smith leading the omnium points for the series. Joining him was Darin Marhanka, Rodney Dender, and Jae Bowen — any of which could win the race. Riding in support of these leaders was Phil Humbert, Mark Caskey, Phil Ball, and myself.

Jonathan Pait wonders if he'll finish the race

Jonathan Pait wonders if he'll finish the race

Before the first lap was over the race was pretty set for the remainder of the event. In the first group was Rodney, Darin, Thomas, and Phil H. Up there with them was Windsong Bicycle Shop rider Charlie Brown.

Thomas and Darin work in the winning break

Thomas and Darin work in the winning break

However, it should be pointed out that what helped set this up was a great early attack and breakaway by Mark Caskey. Not more than a couple miles into the first lap, Mark took off and built a break that lasted up near to the start/finish of the first lap. This made the other teams do the work while the POA team could counter and react.

Mark Caskey takes the pressure off with an early break

Mark Caskey takes the pressure off with an early break

Back in the peloton was Phil Ball, Jae Bowen, and myself. I felt bad that Jae was back here because it would mean that he would drop some in the omnium points standing. He didn’t seem to mind. He was busy working to make sure that Charlie Brown’s teammate Ryan Jenkins was kept out of the mix toward the front.

Phil Ball sits on Ryan Jenkins' wheel

Phil Ball sits on Ryan Jenkins' wheel with Jae and Jonathan following

Unfortunately, Thomas told me that he made a mistake that he thinks cost him the race. As you can see, it was close, but Brown took the win. But just as I am learning to race as an individual, the team is learning to work together as well.

Thomas Smith comes in second

Thomas Smith comes in second behind Charlie Brown

Well, the team must be learning. As I was typing this blog entry, I learned that in today’s Masters 35+ race the team finished 1, 2, 3, and 6. Thomas came home first to hold his position in the omnium. Phil Ball put yet another new name toward the top with a second place finish. I was unable to be there and even if I could have been at the event, I would not have been able to race it since we are allowed only 8 riders per team.

Can’t wait to hear that story!

You’ll notice @eddieheltonphotography.com on each of the photos. Thanks to Eddie Helton for taking pictures at our Greenville events. Check out his site here: eddieheltonphotography.com and see more photos from the races.

Racing can be humbling

I finished my first race of the season today. It was a 47 mile three lap loop of the Fork Shoals course. I participated with my teammates in the Masters 35+ field. It was a humbling experience.

I can’t say it was humbling physically. Due to the dynamics of the race, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Yes, there were some times when I was just hanging on, but I ended the race with something still in the tank.

I say it was humbling because I always seem to do stupid things tactically. I feel like I am out there spinning my legs with everything happening around me. Today was no exception.

We started off and right away there was an acceleration around the first turn. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I hope we don’t go at this pace the whole time!” However, as quickly as the acceleration started, it slowed.

I found myself toward the front. I sat on a wheel for a bit and then that rider rotated off which put me on the point. I settled in to a pace I felt comfortable with and waited for someone to come around.

That person was my teammate, Mark. He attacked around me with about three other riders. I let him go and started soft pedaling. I watched the gap begin to grow. “Hey, I’m helping!” I thought. “Mark is getting away.”

We made our first turn and my teammate Thomas got relegated to the back for crossing the yellow line. I slowed to see if he had any need for help. At that point, Rodney pulled up beside me, “Dude!” He exclaimed. “You can’t be pulling the whole field around like that!” Hmmmmm, I guess I wasn’t helping after all.

“We have the numbers,” he continued. “You, Mark, and Phil are supposed to attack, attack, attack.” They made sense to me. I said, “Okay.” “Also,” he explained, “we have a rider up the road. You should NEVER be on the front.” He pointed at the rider currently on the front, “He can’t cover any counter attacks from there.” That made sense to me. I said, “Okay.”

I started to watch to see when we would bring Mark back into the fold. If I was supposed to attack, then I would do it as soon as we overtook him. I was starting to feel good about myself again because I figured a good attack would redeem me.

The chance never came. About halfway through the first lap everything just started going crazy! There were attacks and counter attacks. I didn’t know which ones to go with. I had teammates covering several moves at the same time and I was afraid I would do something stupid and mess things up.

Finally, I just had to put that out of my mind. With a couple of teammates forming gaps in groups ahead, I just waited for the next wheel to come by and jumped on it. I kept doing that trying to discourage anyone from bridging up to them.

Going into the second lap, things began to settle down. There were now three groups on the road. The first group contained three of our guys. The second group had two or three. Then there was our group with Phil Ball, Jae Bowen, and myself.

In that set, Jae was our lead man. Phil and I would work to help Jae. He was having to keep an eye on Ryan Jenkins who had missed the breaks and was now stuck in the field.

Everyone in the field was watching those two riders. They were playing a game of cat and mouse. For almost the entire second lap this continued.

Once we reached Dunklin Bridge, Ryan attacked and I covered his wheel. I looked down and saw 500 watts flashing across my Garmin. I knew I couldn’t keep this up for much longer. Just about the time I thought he was about to ride me off his wheel, he looked back at me and said, “You’ve got to ******* contribute!”

I was torn. The male in me wanted to pull through. However, the thought that I would be helping a threat get farther down the road didn’t seem like the right thing to do. “This is my job,” I said meekly. Exasperated, he let up and we were swallowed in the field.

Then I started to think about it. We were two minutes behind the second group. The front group was, in the words of the motorcycle official, “long gone.” What would hurt to catch the second group? Maybe I should have pulled through — with what little power I had left.

As we turned onto Cedar Falls road, I pulled up to Jae, “Hey, should we try to get up to the second group?” “No,” he replied emphatically. “We just watch Jenkins. If he goes, I go with him and you and Phil cover anybody trying to bridge up to us.” This made me feel a little better about my earlier decision. “So, we just ride in controlling the field?” I asked. Jae nodded.

Jenkins attacked once again as we neared the start/finish line for the third loop. I got caught behind a slowing rider and then had to work hard to catch the end of the group. In the process, I pretty much pulled the rest of the field to them.

Thankfully, things slowed just long enough for me to recover, but after the turn by the fire station Ryan Jenkins let it all hang out! He started pulling and the field stretched into a single file line. I was just trying to stay on the wheel in front of me.

On the back side of the course which is full of rolling hills, I looked down and saw that riding the wheel in front of me — in the draft — I was putting out 400 watts. I was about to get dropped from inside the field!

I recovered on a downhill and started up the final climb before we turned right again on Dunklin Bridge. “I’m going to make it!” I thought to myself. This would be the first race back since I broke my neck that I would finish. I started to think about the finish.

We went into the turn onto Dunklin Bridge in a wide arching line. As I entered the apex, it felt as though my rear tire was about to roll off the rim. I corrected and once we got straight I looked back. “No way!” I thought, “I’m going flat!” Knowing that we had some tricky descents ahead I didn’t think it wise to try to stay in the field.

I threw up my hand to indicate I had a problem and then moved left to the yellow line. As the field streamed past me and on ahead I took a closer look at my tire. It was not completely flat. It seemed to be a slow leak. I knew I had been having some trouble with the stem, so I figured that must be what was causing it.

Thankfully, there wasn’t much more distance to cover. As the tire got lower the effort it took to pedal increased. I was now alone with a slight wind and a flat tire. I was only hoping that the tire would stay up enough for me to ride to the finish.

Finally, I crossed the line with a sheepish look on my face. The desire was great to do something to let people know that I finished so far back because of the flat. I saw someone I knew over to the side of the road and pointed back at the wheel. I’m not even sure they saw me because everyone’s attention was turned to the Masters 45+ field that was coming up to their finish.

Being humbled isn’t always a bad thing. I learned a lot out there today. Being humbled and learning is wisdom. Being humbled and repeating your mistakes is stupid. I’m sure next race I’ll be humbled again… I just hope it won’t be because I’m stupid.