Tag Archives: Jae Bowen

Drawing with Crayons: My first UWBL of the winter

It wasn’t until this Saturday that I was able to make it to the Upstate Winter Bicycle League. It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to earlier, but it seemed that something kept coming up that kept me away. The first one was canceled due to weather and then I was either out of town, sick, or had another obligation. So, it was with a little bit of caution I approached my first one.

Why the caution? One reason is the fact that I hadn’t ridden over 60 miles since October. This one was slated to go 84 miles with three sprints and attack zones thrown into the mix. I was seriously wondering if I might just come dragging in behind the SAG after the four hours on the bike.

My second reason for caution is the fact that I had not ridden in a competitive group since the POA Cycling Team Fall Extravaganza. Let me tell you… UWBL A group is a competitive ride! It is a training ride not just for getting in your base miles. It is a training ride of practicing race tactics and sprint technique. It takes a little bit to get back in the swing of things going nearly 40 miles an hour down the road only a foot away from people on either side of you!

At least the weather started out nice. It was in the mid-40s, but after the days in the 20s and 30s we’ve had recently it seemed like a heat wave! By the time we finished we were in the 50s, but the rain set in and we were all wet.

I figured there were at least 80 riders out. There were a good number of POA Cycling Team members representing. It had been awhile since we had that many at the event. Jae Bowen was our man for the ride seeing how he had points towards the Pink Jersey.

It was fun to get back out there. However, it wasn’t supposed to be all fun for me. I had training to do. My instructions from coach were to 1) stay near the front and be efficient, 2) amass 350 TSS points, and 3) play around in the final sprint if my legs felt up to it.

With the final sprint in mind, I tried to tuck in and hide for a good portion of the ride. I still had memories of last year in my head.  It seemed that anytime I attempted to participate in a sprint, I would come dragging home. I didn’t want that to happen on this day.

I was helped out a bit in the first sprint. Just as we neared the attack zone, we approached an intersection. There were cars coming on our right. Some of the cyclists went on through, but as I got closer to the road so did the traffic coming toward us. Perhaps I did the wrong thing, but 1) I don’t want to get hit by a car, and 2) I don’t want motorists to hate us for being on the road. So, I disengaged my left foot and called, “Car right!” as I slowed to come to a stop.

Suddenly, I felt the force of someone running into my rear. I knew something bad had happened to my bike. However, I checked things out and it appeared that I was good to go. I got across the intersection and started going through my gears figuring the rear derailleur was going to be the issue. Sure enough, I found when I tried to go into the big ring I got a grinding sound and the chain was not moving smoothly.

I caught the rear of the group and then other guys arrived. We had a continuing “conversation” about the incident. Finally, I knew it was best to just shut my mouth and ride. However, there was a bit of pent up energy I was hoping to release on this first sprint.

It didn’t matter. First, I was at the rear of the pack when the attack started, and second, I was having to participate in my small ring. I was spinning like a mad man just to stay with the main group! The positive thing was that I moved up into the group and ended the sprint to Ware Shoals in sight of the winners.

Once we stopped after the sprint, I had time to take a look at my bike. The rear wheel was true and it didn’t seem that my hanger arm was bent. Still, I had that grinding sound. It appeared to be a front derailleur problem. As I was looking at it, Boyd Johnson came over to help me out. He just reached over and twisted the front derailleur just a fraction. The sound went away. Turns out my right foot must have jammed against the arm and bent it. Now, with Boyd’s help, I was back ready to go.

The mist started to feel a little more like rain as we neared the Dunklin Bridge attack zone. I figured we were heading for some rain ahead. I didn’t want to mix it up in a rainy sprint. I figured if I was going to “play around in a sprint” it was going to have to be this one. The Highway 20 finish would probably be soaked.

I started out near the front as one guy attacked forming a gap. I stayed with the guys at around me which included Thad Dulin and Steve Sperry. In my mind, it made sense to stay near them and see what would transpire. Then the jostling began as there were attacks and counter attacks.

“Watch and learn,” I said to myself and stayed close on Thad’s wheel. Patiently I waited staying close to him. Then he moved over to a group that was counter attacking. I hesitated because it was a little early in the attack for what I thought I could handle (it is a five mile attack zone). Looking back, I realize I should have just laid in on the line and chased after him.

The result of my hesitation was that I was now toward the front of a larger chase group. This meant more traffic. Ahead I could see the main competition flying along in a single file. Here I was with riders all around. My thought was, “Well, no way are you going to get anything out of this… just hold your position.” Some of the other riders started falling away as they must have come to a similar decision. I ended up passing a few riders ahead and finished in the first 20. I wonder what might have happened had I stayed with Thad.

Very soon after the rain started soaking the road and rooster tails were coming up from the bikes in front of me. The ride leader, Steve Sperry, stopped us to explain that the final sprint would be shorter in order to allow us to avoid some slippery train tracks that crossed the attack zone. That was fine with me, I was planning on just keeping the carbon side up!

Thankfully, I felt pretty strong even toward the end of the effort. There was something left in the tank even after the earlier efforts and several pulls on the front of the group. The day showed me that my fitness is coming. If I can just work on my sprint knowledge and confidence, I bet I could land a top ten on one of these rides. I’m really starting to believe that it isn’t so much a matter of my legs as it is my head.

As Sperry said to a guy riding near me, “Sprinting is an art.” Then he added, “Right, Jonathan?” Yes, it is an art, but I’m still drawing with Crayons!

Do style points count?

Last night was the final POA Cycling Team Summer Series criterium.  It is a good thing too.  By 8:30 the darkness was settling in making it hard to see.  Thankfully all the racers were off the course by then.  However, it wasn’t the darkness that caused the wreck… it was the rain.

Perhaps it was because I knew the SC Championship Road Race is Saturday, but I had a hard time getting up for this crit.  The facts that it was a race sponsored by my team and that my in-laws decided to come see me race had me cinching up shoes and climbing on the bike.  My plan was to just stay with the pack and keep my effort to a minimum.  The result was an almost best finish for the series.

Photo by David Hicks

Photo by David Hicks

Of course, taking it easy in a crit is a relative thing!  By the halfway point I felt like pulling off.  I was slipping off the back in the turns with a small gap forming and then working my way back onto the wheels in front.  It was taking a bit of work to do that.  Just a little after that, the rains came.

I did not want to be back there on a slick course, so I moved to the front.  During the brief shower I stayed on the front or in the top five or so.  This allowed me chose a better line going into turn four.  The first time I went through my wheels hit a pavement patch that was pretty slick.  It broke my rear end loose and I had to chase the bike out to the edge of the road.  I avoided that spot for the rest of the night!

The rain eased and so did I.  Suddenly, I was sitting in and feeling really good.  “Don’t do anything stupid,” I told myself.  “Saturday is more important than tonight.”  I started to think about how I was positioning myself in the pack.  This race could be a good learning experience.

I remembered something Jim Cunningham said at his criterium seminar.  Stay on the wheel.  If you ease off the wheel in front of you going into the turn, you are going to have to exert energy to catch back on once you are out of the turn.  I started to concentrate on staying right there on the wheel in front through the corners.

Just that little adjustment made a huge difference!  Rather than coming out of the turns dreading the work of trying to cover the 5 foot gap in front of me, I found myself being sucked through the corners.  The only downside is that it takes an element of trust to do that.  You are counting on the rider in front of you to hold his line and not go down.

The rains had moved through and the course was drying in spots, but turn four was still a little wet.  At three laps to go, I started to move my way up toward the top five riders in the field.  David Bright from Anderson and Peter Mathern had broke away and we weren’t going to catch them at this point.

Photo by David Hicks

Photo by David Hicks

Things were looking very good for me to have a top 10 finish.  I was marking Jae Bowen – the winner of the omnium – as we moved around the final lap.  As we neared turn four Jae and I lined up to come around the outside.  My idea was to keep as much momentum through the turn as possible.  That would give me a jump for the sprint to the finish.

Some riders came flying up to our inside.  I eased just a bit to adjust my line and a gap formed between Jae and myself.  Then I leaned into the turn.  The riders to my left moved slightly in front of me.  Then just as they were reaching the first part of the apex of the turn and I was still somewhat upright, one of the riders went down.  He split between Jae and me.

Immediately the rider beside him went down as well.  They were skidding across the wet pavement toward the outside of the turn.  Jae barely escaped while I adjusted my line slightly and eased my brakes hoping to squeeze through the shrinking gap before they closed it off.  However, the combination of changing my line and braking caused my rear wheel to break loose once again.

It was like slow motion.  I wasn’t fearful – until it was over – and I was seeing everything that was happening in a matter of seconds, but my brain was analyzing it in detail.  I knew if I kept trying to shoot the gap I was either 1) going to get taken out by the sliding rider, or 2) slide out myself.

Instead I gathered the bike and straightened up.  This put me headed for the curb and the water retention area where a rider a couple of weeks ago went down and got messed up pretty badly.  Thankfully, I had slowed enough so that after bunny hopping the curb, I was able to grab my brakes and keep from sliding down the embankment – or hit the stump I realized for the first time was there.

As I was hopping the curb, I could hear the sound of entangling bikes behind me.  I’m still not sure how many racers were involved.  I was just trying to get my bike stopped, back onto the course, and under power again.  As I moved back on I got my feet on the pedals and started to go.  Ugggghhhh.  I had too much gear.  However, I just pushed it up until I crossed the line.

Jae finished seventh.  Based on where he was in relation to me as we entered the turn I am pretty sure I was on my way to a top ten – my best finish of the series.  Still, as I crossed the line I was elated with whatever place I got.  For once I was right there in an obvious crashing situation and I avoided it.  What made me happy was that it wasn’t just luck.  Each move I made had an intention and I was able to react to avoid the crash.

I imagine it looked pretty cool when I came out of the field and hopped that curb.  Sure, I didn’t win – or even place that well, but I figured I get a few points for style.  Even better than that, I didn’t break a shifter!