Tag Archives: POA Cycling Team

Change is good

Recently a reader commented on a story where I indicated that I was leaving the POA Cycling Team. He asked me to share a bit of my thought process in making that decision. I didn’t want to elaborate until I had notified all of my team members. It is officially done and I’m unattached for 2012.

Racing on a team – and a team at the level of POA – is a great experience. When I first started racing my bike, the thought of racing on a team with regional and national championship caliber riders seemed a pipe dream. However, the door opened and though my skill level was well below that of my mates, I was wearing the red and white kit.

As a category 4 racer, I earned my keep. I remember the early part of the 2010 season with great fondness! Every race I entered I knew I had a chance to make the podium and about 75 percent of the time, I did.

The success brought a change. I was bumped up to the category 3 level. Had you asked me a year before if I would move up to that category, I would have laughed. But I found myself suiting up for my first category 3 race in May of 2010. On that day, everything changed.

I don’t dwell on it anymore, but the fact is I wrecked and broke my neck that day. Laying highly medicated in the ER, I thought I had just strained my neck and jammed some fingers. I would shake this off just like other accidents and be on my bike in no time. It wasn’t until they began to move me to a gurney to take me to get an MRI that I had a pang of pain — and of fear — strike me.

However, by September I was out of the neck brace and my broken fingers had healed as well. It was time for the 2010 Ride for Mike. I was covering 700 miles in 7 days. Though it was tough, I did it. It left me thinking that I definitely had the accident beat. Looking back, I realize I was deceived.

I came into the 2011 season ready to race in the Masters category with my team. My fitness was not at the level of 2010, but I felt that I would get back to form soon. I tried to approach the races with the same confidence as a year ago.

I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see it then, but looking back I realize that while my neck had healed, I had lost some of the fire. Gone was the abandon to squeeze through a hole and the feeling of invincibility. I had always had a view of myself that I could bounce back from about anything. Knock me down and I would get back up. I still felt that way, but now I had a different view of the process of getting knocked down!

My neck would still grow stiff in a road race. I was living with constant pain in my hip. I was training hard and the numbers showed I was nearing 2010 form, but I was getting dropped in races. I could go with the best for a short period, but I just could not sustain it. The more I got dropped the more frustrated I became. I was a mental basket case.

I’m ashamed to say there were times that I took that frustration out on some of my teammates. I was slipping into a pool of negative feelings. By the end of the season racing — and even riding my bike — wasn’t so much fun anymore.

It was at that time I began to contemplate leaving POA. At the same time I argued with myself that I would probably regret it in 2012 when I would perhaps be out of my slump. It is true that I was beginning to find myself near the end and in my final race, I rode better than I had in a while.

In the midst of this arguing, I received an email from our manager laying out for us the expectations for the team in the next year. There was a call for commitment that I realized I could not meet. To do so would take me away from things that should be much more important in my life than racing a bike.

At the same time, I was gearing up for the 2011 Ride for Mike. In training for it, I began to discover again the joy of just riding my bike. The old challenge that used to drive me to conquer a mountain or distance reawakened.

Also, while I was training, it gave me time to turn my mind from racing back to some dreams I had put on hold while trying to move up in the racing ranks. It was somewhere out there on a bike in northern Greenville County that my commitment to my family and my dream over-weighed my desire to race. At that point, I knew it would be wrong to race with POA because I would not be able to bring to the team the commitment it deserved.

So, I let Blair and the rest of the team know that I will race unattached in 2012. I have never intended not to race. I enjoy racing, but it is going to have to fit into my life and not me fit my life around racing. Ultimately, I think it will make me a better racer.

I love the POA Team. I’m sure I could find a team out there that would take me. At this point, if I’m not racing with POA, then I’d rather race unattached.

I’m looking forward to 2012 and all the change it will bring. Who knows, things may change again in 2013. One thing I’m pretty sure of — the future will include a bicycle.

2011 Ride for Mike update: We are now at $2,240 toward our $4,500 goal! Please consider giving today at RideForMike.com/pledge.

Show up, do my job, keep my mouth shut, and ride

I’ve been experiencing a lot of flashbacks with May approaching. That was the month my world turned upside down. Last night was a very good gauge of where I am today compared to this time last year. I’ve got a lot to be happy about and yet I’m pretty down.

Last night was the first race of the Summer Series put on by my team, Palmetto Orthopedic Associates Cycling Team. I knew it was going to be an interesting night as my coach instructed me to “double-up” — meaning I was supposed to race the Masters 35+ race followed immediately by the Pro 1/2/3 race.

This race in 2010 I was instructed to double-up then as well. Only I was to race the Cat. 4/5 race followed by the Masters 35+ race. Funny how my experience back then is so close to my experience last night.

The Masters race went pretty much as I expected it to go. There was a bit of cat and mouse in the beginning, but a break stuck and three of my teammates ended up in it. At that point my job simply became controlling the front.

I went to the front and watched for attacks. Much like the Cat. 3 race in Charleston I became an anchor. As an attack would start off, I would latch onto a wheel and just sit there. As we headed into the backstretch invariably the headwind would start wearing down the rider I was shadowing. Another attack would come by and I would jump on that wheel.

Other than a few times when I slipped back to recover or those times I found myself setting a tempo on the front of the field, that is how my race went. I can recall two different reactions: 1) I remember thinking how easy it was to race on a team like POA. Here I was rarely having to stick my nose in the wind and I had guys pulling me around the course. 2) I actually felt sorry for them. How disheartening to be working so hard to try to bridge up to the break just to look back and see a red and white POA jersey on your wheel.

There were really only two times with a little excitement. Once I was shadowing two other riders. This was getting towards the end and you could tell people were starting to get a little tired. We were going through a sweeping turn wheel-to-wheel with a slight gap to the field behind us. The second rider started to go around the guy on front.

I moved up to the wheel of the guy being passed. Suddenly they bumped. I didn’t think anything of it because it wasn’t that hard of a hit. However, I believe because of fatigue the rider directly in front of me started wobbling and slowed dramatically. Because he was wavering, I didn’t know which direction he was going. I tapped my brakes and went around him to find the wheel of the passer. Whew!

The second bit of excitement was more fun than exciting. A prime was announced and the field picked up a bit of speed to see who would get it. As we went into the wind on the backstretch, my teammate, Randy McCreight, attacked on the left side. Then I saw my teammate, John James, counter to my right.

We were near the third turn and I knew if we could get there first, we would have a good chance for the prime. The impish part of me decided to ride John’s wheel and see if I could nip him at the line. Three POA riders came out of turn four pretty much alone. I saw John make his move around Randy and I followed.

We went to Randy’s right and left. We were looking at the other racer’s wheel as we crossed the line. It was really close! However, John won the Hincapie Sportswear merchandise prime. I hope he enjoys his socks or whatever it was!

I finished the Masters race pretty much coasting across the line. At this point, my position didn’t matter. I was just pleased with the way I felt I had contributed to the team. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the win, but had a good showing.

Moving from the Masters race to the Pro 1/2/3 I was feeling pretty good. I had told Blair before the race that I didn’t plan to go hard in the second race. My goal was to get in there and learn to ride at the pace of a Pro 1/2/3 field and stay out of trouble.

Right out of the gate I knew things would be different. I started about mid-pack and before we even made it to turn one, a streak of green went by on my right. It was Thad Dulin. He was starting things early! As we continued into turn two I could see Thad up ahead stretching out his lead, but with the field starting to ramp things up. We weren’t going to let him get away so soon.

At that point I started focusing on merging in with the riders around me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I get worn down by higher speeds? My only thought was to conserve here in the field in hopes that I would make it to the finish.

I looked down at my computer. We were now 15 minutes in. As we moved down the backstretch I could see the break of three riders between turns three and four. There was our POA representative. I started counting heads. It was Jae. Good.

The thought of just finishing started to fade. I now knew I was going to finish the race. I began to move my way up in the field. It was a pleasure sweeping through the corners — especially turns one and two which are really one continuous, slightly banked section. We were flying through there as though on the straights.

Then, with five laps to go, I got caught flat footed. The field suddenly surged and I was left reacting a bit slowly. At that point it was a time for catch up. My earlier confidence took a bit of a hit and I became aware of my lack of experience. Rather than holding my position I slipped back a bit.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel pleased as I heard the call for the final lap. I can race with these guys! I’m not saying I can beat them. I’m not saying I don’t have more to learn, but I can race at that level. To successfully double-up was a huge confidence booster.

(The following is edited from an earlier edition to make a correction where because of an incorrect assumption I charged someone with doing something they did not do. I have apologized to that person and am changing this record to reflect what actually took place.)

Coming out of turn four I slowed. Then I saw a sizable gap between some riders and the finish line. “Shoot, why not pick up a spot or two.” So, I accelerated past three or four riders to the line.

I guess I wasn’t supposed to do that. Behind me I heard, “What?! Sprinting for *expletive* 20th place?!” Another rider passed me as we cooled down on the back stretch. “That was a dangerous move, Jonathan.” He said.

It would appear that I went diagonally across the sprint lines and though I thought I was clear, it must not have been clear enough. While I certainly wasn’t sprinting all out, I was going faster than the riders around me.

That is why I feel a bit down. While physically and tactically I felt I had a pretty good pair of races, there was some interaction during the race that really has me wondering why I’m out there.  When you are trying to learn and you ask questions just have them thrown back in your face, it doesn’t make for a very enjoyable evening.

I’m not sure what it is about me that sets some people off. I try to be respectful of the riders around me. I don’t think it is too much to expect that in return. My wife tells me I’m a pretty nice guy. I’m a little shy and don’t talk a lot. Maybe some people take that as arrogance or something.

Bottom line is that I can’t control other people. I’ve got to act and respond correctly myself. That is the thing that bother’s me the most. I didn’t. I reacted in an inappropriate manner. In the future I guess I’ll just show up, do my job, keep my mouth shut, and ride.

At least I didn’t hit a tree

After messing up on Saturday, the pressure was off for Sunday afternoon’s race. I wasn’t given any special instructions — only to be there and cover any attacks. The goal was to protect Jae Bowen and try to work for him to take the top spot of the podium in the Category 3 race.

Jae had already put in a good amount of work in the Masters 35+ race. He took 3rd place in the state where the POA Cycling Team took the top 4 spots! That means that the team has had the South Carolina Criterium Champion for the last three years.

POA Cycling Team Sweep

John James (4th) Rodney Dender (2nd) Thomas Smith (1st) Jae Bowen (3rd)

I started about mid-pack in a field of over 60 racers. I spent the first lap just getting used to the turns and the racers around me. As we came on the finish straight for the first time, I started moving up closer to the front.

I’m not sure how many laps it took for me to get to the front. It was two or three laps.  My teammates Mark Caskey and Phil Ball were near the front. As we started up my favorite straight, I attacked from about ten riders back. By the time I reached the first turn, I had a 10 second gap or so.

It was early, so I had no expectation of staying out there for long. I just wanted to take some pressure off my teammates and allow them to sit in. The one thing going for me was that I could take the turns much faster. The course was pretty smooth with only one 90 degree turn.

In our race there was a lot of braking. In some turns where you would not expect it riders were checking up before diving in. It made for a lot of slowing and accelerating. Being off the front I didn’t have to worry about any of that. It allowed me to gain some time in the corners.

Getting caught after solo break (Photo CarolinaCyclingNews.com)

Getting caught after a solo break (Photo CarolinaCyclingNews.com)

It didn’t last. I managed to stay off for just a little over one lap before the field pulled me in. As Jae came around me I heard him say, “Jonathan! Get back in and recover!” “Gladly,” I thought to myself. At that point I have to admit I wondered if I would be spit out the back!

I hung in there and after a number of laps I found that not only was I hanging in there, I was starting to easily make my way back up to the front. About 10 riders back I came upon my teammate, Phil Ball. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “Do you have anything left.” “Yes,” I replied. “I’m feeling pretty good.” I actually was. “Then stay right up here,” he instructed. “Cover any moves that go off the front.”

After that, the race gets confusing. I’m certain I covered at least four breaks after that point. My race was made up of seeing an attack, going after it, getting caught by the field, going back to rest for the next attack, and then covering another one.

I do remember one. Eric Cash, who has had some good placings in the Cat. 3 field took off going into the third turn. There were about 8 laps to go. I really didn’t think he could stay out there that long, but at the same time going after him would allow my guys to sit in. He and I worked together when I connected with him. I was pulling him as we crossed the start/finish line. As we went through I heard the announcer say, “Rider 305 wins the prime!” Prime? I didn’t even know there was one! Turns out, neither did Eric.

I was wearing down by this time. This was my fifth time off the front during the race. “Where are you field?” I thought to myself as I was dragging around behind Eric. He dropped me just as riders started coming around me. I looked and waited. Where were the POA kits? Finally, I found several of our guys near the back. I settled in to watch would happen.

By now there were about four laps left. Mentally I was starting to fight with myself. Had I ruined myself to have a chance to help the team when it really mattered? Had it been worth it to work like that just to find myself outside the mix at the end?

As I was fading back to recover, John James was moving to the front. “Come on, get back in!” He said as we rode briefly beside each other. “I feel like I’m about to puke,” I replied. “Then puke that way,” he said pointing away from himself with a tone of voice that said, “Okay, puke, get it over with and get back in.”

Then with two laps to go I started feeling recovered. Maybe I did have one more match to burn! I started to work my way toward the front. As we started around turn one on the bell lap headed quickly to the second turn, I could see Jae to my right. He was caught in a slow moving line. To my left I could see a string of riders starting toward the front. I jumped in the line and quickly found myself in the top 20 or so.

Down the back stretch I tried to find the fastest line. Then right behind me I heard a crash. Even though I didn’t see it, I knew exactly what happened. First I heard the sound of rider bumping rider. Then I heard the sound of a bicycle getting loose. That was followed by a yelp and then the unmistakable sound of palmetto leaves rustling. Mixed in with that was the sound of a bicycle going down. I heard several riders behind me go “Ooooooooo!”

The racers instinct at that moment is to nail it. We went into turn three and I was riding in the middle. I heard Jae behind me, “Go, Jonathan, pull me through!” Hey! Maybe there was a chance I could help after all.

I knew it would be tough. Basically, if you weren’t in the top five when you came out of turn four, you had only an outside chance of making it. But if I turned myself inside out, Jae was someone who could do it. Sadly, just as I was getting ready to enter the turn I got boxed in. I had to slow to avoid riding up the rear of the rider in front of me.

Accelerating out of the final corner, I put the pedals down. Some of the riders who had gotten around me because they had a better line in the corner started to drop back. I was actually making some headway! Then I reached a static point. I wasn’t advancing.

Where was Jae? Now would be when he would need to come around. We were about 300 meters out. Then I realized he wasn’t there. Could I salvage anything? I went to stand and my legs collapsed back down on the pedals. I just “sprinted” in a seated position. Even so I passed one rider who was burned out and then took another with a bike throw at the line.

Turns out each of my teammates got caught in bad lines in that final corner. Jae, because of his earlier efforts, was cramping. I ended up being the highest placed POA rider with 14th place overall and 10th in the state. Hey, at least I didn’t hit a tree!

Another great POA weekend!

I wasn’t able to attend the weekend races in Blythewood, SC. Thankfully, Neil Browne with Carolina Cycling News gives a great write up on the site. Jennifer Bennett also provided some good photographs from the event. You can find the article here.

Jae Bowen

Jae Bowen works for the team (Jennifer Bennett)

It was a great weekend with the following top 10 finishes in the Masters 35+ category…

Prologue

5th – Jae Bowen
6th – Rodney Dender
7th – Thomas Smith
9th – Cleve Blackwell

Criterium

2nd – Thomas Smith
4th – Rodney Dender

Circuit

1st – Cleve Blackwell
5th – Rodney Dender
6th – Jae Bowen
8th – Thomas Smith

Omnium

1st – Rodney Dender
2nd – Thomas Smith
4th – Cleve Blackwell
6th – Jae Bowen

Let’s not forget the Masters 45+ guys! Darin Marhanka finished 3rd, 4th, and 5th to place 3rd in the Omnium. Steve Sperry placed 8th, 5th, and 6th to follow up Darin with a top 5 finish in the Omnium. The POA train just keeps rolling!

Thanks to Carolina Cycling News for keeping us up-to-date with what’s happening in the southeast. Also nice to see some Masters racing coverage this time around. Be sure to visit the article and check out the photos by Jennifer so you can see Cleve cross the finish line.

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!

One man’s hell is another man’s heaven

On a beautiful Sunday morning the Masters 35+ field lined up for the start of another day of racing during the Greenville Spring Training Series. One of my teammates, John James, was waiting for the pre-race officiating announcements to end when he overheard a comment that set the stage for the day. “Welcome to POA Hell,” quipped a rider near by.

POA Cycling Team prepares to race

POA Cycling Team prepares to race

Phil Ball starts the action with a break

Phil Ball starts the action with a break

It started right from the gun. POA rider, Phil Ball, made it up with another rider to start an early break. For a while, the field let them go. Then about half-way, the attacks started coming fast and furious. The end result was that by the end of the first lap the race was busted into about four groups.

Thomas and Phil form the winning break

Thomas and Phil form the winning break

Out of this emerged Phil and Thomas Smith in a two man break. The other POA riders – Rodney Dender, Jae Bowen, John James, Cleve Blackwell, Mark Caskey, and Gen Kogure – were spread out in the various groups. By the end of the second lap the race was pretty much decided.

Rodney and Jae at work

Rodney and Jae at work

I asked Thomas how things happened from his vantage point, “Phillip and I were away from about mile 5.  So I simply asked him to stay with me… no matter how much he was suffering and sure enough he did and we took the podium. He will say he didn’t do anything… but he did, he stayed with me.” That is saying something. That means those guys were out there – the two of them – for about five laps of the course.

Phil showed some true grit by staying in there after working to form the break. He then would come through to give Thomas a break from the front now and then. In the end, it worked out great for both of them.

Rodney and Jae were there following up any moves to reach their teammates in the break. That allowed Rodney to have the position he needed to bring home the podium sweep for the team. Jae was there to notch a seventh place finish as well.

Farther back, the rest of the team was dealing with a field that seems to have lost its will to race. The Masters 45+ field caught the Masters 35+ riders. The official neutralized the first group about two minutes before the second group caught them. Then all kinds of confusion ensued.

Cleve controlling what is left of the field

Cleve controlling what is left of the field

Once the 45+ riders passed, Cleve got a little tired of just soft pedaling around the course. He attacked the group with the intention of trying to catch the 45+ group, ride through it, and then exit the field. John James was there with him when Cleve attacked. John pinned the field in the gutter as they came into a crosswind. The remaining field began to shatter.

Before long Cleve caught the 45+ group and the rest of the 35+ riders caught the 45+ group trying to chase him down. However, rather than neutralize the 45+ field, the officials let them go and the two fields started getting mixed as the 45+ group started accelerating in the midst of the 35+ riders.

So, it would appear that even some of the POA riders got caught up in the results of “POA Hell.” However, for Thomas and Phil – and Rodney – it was a totally different story. I guess when it comes to days like that, one man’s hell is another man’s heaven.

Well done, Thomas and Phil!

Well done, Thomas and Phil!

Once again, Eddie Helton does an incredible job telling the story with his camera. Be sure to go by Eddie’s web site to see more photos from the weekend events. If you find yourself in a photo, Eddie’s prices are VERY reasonable for you to get your very own copy.

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.

43

I turn 43 today. It is one of those in-the-middle kind of birthdays. 40 is a milestone. 41 is kind of a birthday to look back on the 40th year. 42 is a nice even number. Then there is 43.

Maybe it is because it falls so close to 44 — which always brings to my mind a nasty tasting cold medicine. It just seems the next year of any note is 45. That is when I can move up to the Master 45+ field. Not that it would make that much of a difference because most of the heavy hitters right now will just move up with me.

The year really hasn’t gotten off to a great start. I had contemplated taking this day off of work to go out and start the tradition of riding my age — maybe even double it up this time. Unfortunately, this sickness that hit me last week made be take that day a little earlier — taking medicine that tasted as bad as the Vicks Formula 44 stuff. It also caused me to miss out on my first race of the season during my birthday weekend.

It was a good weekend to race if you had a birthday. Ask Trevor Bayne who won the Daytona 500 the day after his birthday. Of course, he wasn’t turning 43. He won the elite race the day after he turned 20.

Still, I have to be pretty psyched about where I am. At 43 I can mix it up with a lot of those young whippersnappers and I’m not using a 600+ horse power engine to do it. I have to use my legs. Even though I didn’t get to race this weekend, I did get to see the finishing list. I’ve beat most everyone in the top ten of the Cat. 3 finish.

Photo EddieHeltonPhotography.com

However, what I am most excited about being 43 and racing is the opportunity to race with one of the top Masters teams in the southeast. I would have gladly rolled across the line in the top 20 if I could have had the chance to do my part to get Jae, Thomas, and Rodney across the finish line. POA Cycling Team is stacked… and better yet, it is a team that really likes to race together. I haven’t felt this all-for-one-and-one-for-all spirit since I was a young one in high school.

Funny, how at 43, I’m suddenly feeling young again.

Better get ready

Tuesday evening most of the POA Cycling Team met for our preseason planning meeting. It was pretty cool to see the guys sitting around the table. There was a lot of power represented… and even more power didn’t show up due to other conflicts. It is going to be a good year!

The Masters 35+ crew is going to wreck havoc during the season. Thomas Smith, Rodney Dender, Darin Marhanka, Cleve Blackwell, and the rest of the crew are going to be tough to beat. I’m hoping I’ll have some opportunities during the season to help them out a bit.

However, for the first races of the season, I find myself with the Category 3 crew. Mark Caskey, Reece Jackson, Phil Humbert, Phil Ball, and I will be carrying the banner in those races. There will also be some guys representing the team in the Category 4 field. It would be pretty cool if we could place riders in the lead for each group.

This does change things for me a bit. I came into this season thinking that I would be riding in support of the Masters team. It is some tough racing, but the distances are a bit shorter than the Category 1/2 and the Category 3 races. Also, in the Masters field I am near the bottom of the totem pole and there wouldn’t be much expectations that I would play an integral role in the strategy — with eight or nine POA guys lining up for a race.

Now, I’m one of a fewer number of riders. The expectations rise a bit. Sounds like Phil Ball has been getting his legs with Mark and Reece always ready to be in the mix. Phil Humbert is the new man, but we all know his abilities and he adds to the Cat 3 threat from POA. So, to get one of those guys across the line, I have to consider myself an important part of the plan.

I had better get to work! The first race of the season is February 19th and the distance is 7 laps around the Donaldson Center course. That will be about 50 miles are race pace. Ay yi yi!

The second race is at the BMW Performance Center Test Track and is much more like a criterium race. We’ll be putting the rubber down for 50 minutes plus 2 laps. This could be the toughest of the two as it will mean more accelerations and I haven’t been doing a lot of those lately!

The good news is. 1) I have a great team and the regardless which category I race in, I’ll have to pleasure of racing with and supporting potential winners. 2) Starting out in the Category 3 field gives me something to aim for. It gives me more confidence that I can actually play a significant role.

So, it is back on the bike to do what I can to be ready to help my team. I’m certain that in the long run, it is going to help me most of all. I’m looking forward to 2011.

A foreigner in a strange land

I made it out to my first race since my accident. No, I didn’t ride a bike. Actually, I take that back, I did roll a little ways on Thing Three’s 24 inch mountain bike. Don’t tell my doctor! It was a different experience — kind of surreal.

It was obvious that things were going to be different. As we pulled up into the lot I saw all the cars and then I saw all the tan people putting their bikes together. I’m always kind of dark, but I knew right away that these guys had seen a lot more sun over the last couple of months.

Meeting some folks I haven’t seen in a while was the highlight of the night. It was a little awkward. It may seem strange because I put myself out in a public way with this blog, but really I’m a pretty shy person. It means a lot that people were concerned about me and how I am progressing, but I don’t really like talking about it.

The problem came with what to talk about after that. Time has passed me by. I was not up on all the action that has taken place in my absence. Relationships are built on shared experiences and I haven’t shared a lot with my cycling buddies in a while.

That was really evident when I approached my teammates. It was just before the Masters 35+ race. I was going to wish them well. As I got closer, I could feel it. It is that aura of testosterone. I never really noticed it before because up till now, I was part of the generator. Now it was obvious to me.

The strange thing was that it felt foreign. It was like I was looking at strangers. It was like I couldn’t relate with what they were thinking and experiencing at that moment.

It was fun to watch them roll off and the attraction to the strategic part of the process was reawakened. Watching the expressions on the faces as the field streamed by did cause me to pause… “Man, I don’t know if I could do that right now!” Fact is, I can’t! Once again that foreign feeling crept in.

It isn’t that I didn’t at one time know exactly how they felt. It isn’t that at one time I was not able to hang with them. It was just that at that moment, it seemed a different world. It brought back experiences of what seemed like far distant past. It aroused questions of what it will take to experience them again.

Thanks to everybody who welcomed me back. This post isn’t to give the impression folks didn’t welcome me back. It is just that something inside of me was disconnected. Maybe it boils down to the fact that part of your identity at a race is your bike. Last night, I didn’t have one.