Tag Archives: Racing

Racing on Zwift is the real deal

Each week there are a couple of training races that take place on Watopia. The Tuesday Night Worlds and the Friday Training Race are the two I will typically attempt. It is somewhat of a challenge because the TNW takes place during the time of the “real life” ride with the same name here in Greenville. The Friday race takes place at 1:30 PM — when I am typically at work. Yesterday I was taking a long weekend, so I was able to join in the fun.

Special thanks to Chris Wiedmann who organizes the events. It is an interesting exercise to organize a “virtual race” and then to report on it afterwards. Chris does a good job, and I wanted to share his report from Friday so you can see what it is like. I’ll have some comments from my perspective at the end of his report.

FTR Race Report 2014-05-01

Fifteen riders took the start for what we’ll call “Rund um Watopia” in tribute to the pro race that was cancelled today. A strong international field with representation from South America, North America and Europe rolled out promptly at 17:30 UTC for the neutral promenade to the bicycle statues. As usual the first half lap at race pace was relatively quiet with only a brief testing of legs on the back climb.

The first climb was the first real test of strength. Matt Wardle (UK) initiated the acceleration with H-G Becker (GER) following suit to push the pace. The field showed considerable depth with 9 riders cresting the climb in the lead pack. A little later in the lap, Becker and Francois Coppex (CH) again tested the field with an acceleration on the back field that opened a small gap. The gap was only a few seconds but took ominously long to close, with the group only coming back together past the start/finish line.

The second main climb followed a script similar to the back climb with Becker initiating a move and Coppex following. The pair then started rolling away from the chasers. Jonathan Pait (US) tried a bridging move after the hairpin, but was unable to make the junction. Just after the KOM line he came back to the chase group consisting of Wardle, Casey Schumm (US), Robson Figueiredo Rodrigues (BR) and Christian Wiedmann (US). Unfortunately the bridging effort had taken a toll and he lost contact on the rollers before the bicycle statue.

Becker and Coppex worked together well, slowly opening up the gap. Wardle was clearly strongest of the chasers and after pulling the group for a lap decided to go on his own up climb 3. He got to within 30 seconds of the two leaders, but then got stuck in no-man’s-land 30 seconds in front of the chasers.

This situation held to the finish. Coppex and Becker sprinted for the win with Coppex leading out and barely holding off Becker for the win. Wardle finished solo in third. Schumm won the sprint for fourth over Rodrigues.

Results:
1. Francois Coppex 1:00:16 (41.6 km/h)
2. H-G Becker s.t.
3. Matt Wardle 0:00:37
4. Casey Schumm 0:01:37
5. Nelson Figueiredo Rodrigues s.t.
6. Christian Wiedmann 0:01:55
7. Jonathan Pait 0:04:43
8. Frank Garcia 0:05:42 (completed three more iterations of the full ride distance afterward – 20 laps total)
9. Mark Howard 0:05:45
10. Jonathan Lemon 0:07:01
11. John Greig 0:08:17
12. George Thomaidis 0:12:04
13. Johnny Bevan -1L 0:05:24
DNF M. Trudell
DNS J. Purtell (gender disfunction)

Note: Time gaps for entertainment purposes only. Corrections to placings and race narrative are welcome.

Not placed because  I couldn’t locate the Strava activity
G. Christopher

I think it is easy for people to discount Zwift racing because you are not actually on the road. You definitely have a point in that the dangers or racing are not present. Road hazards, equipment failures, and close proximity with other riders are not an issue. However, when it comes to effort and strategy, this IS racing.

Consider the course. “Oh, you’re just spinning along on your trainer.” Nope. Here is the topographical map of the island. See that climbing? It is real. The data used to create this virtual course is sent to my Wahoo Kickr and the resistance on my drive train increases to match the incline.
watopiatopo

So, all the tactics of when and where to attack are there. This climbing is real! Actually, I think the one place where the island really steps out of reality is on the downhill. I found that the group seemed to pull away from me on the downhills and at times I was putting out 400+ watts just to get back to the group. Then I would go shooting through them and then when I tried to find the sweet spot that would keep me in the group, I would immediately start fading back to repeat the process. Frankly, that worked to wear me out early.

Consider the data from my participation in the race which lasted 1:15 hours and covered 29 miles…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.26.22 AM

Now, compare that to the most recent road race in which I participated that lasted for two hours and covered 43 miles…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.29.13 AM

What about the work I put out? Here is the power breakdown from the above road race…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.31.38 AM

Compare that with the breakdown from yesterday’s Zwift race…

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.36.27 AM

Keep in mind that the Zwift race data includes a cool down lap that lasted for about 20 minutes. So, the percentages above Active Recovery will be higher than what you see here. Even with that lap, the effort put out in the Zwift race exceeds that of the road race. Yes, the road race was longer, but I did not work as hard.

Now, you could say that I am comparing apples to oranges… maybe it is more like oranges to tangerines. The two activities are definitely NOT the same. Zwift racing puts the emphasis on effort and secondly on tactics. The software has some work to be done before you will see riders taking advantage of a pace line in a chase group.

However, it is cool to see the race develop. It is like having a TV monitor of your race as you are able to instantly see time gaps. You have the visual stimulus of seeing the riders ahead of you forming that gap or drawing closer as you chase them down. It isn’t like racing in a group, but it has its own camaraderie.

Zwift will never replace racing on the road. It will never match the thrill of racing on the road. However, as a means of competition in and of itself, it is a blast… and is the closest you are going to get to racing on the road while in your basement!

The main point I’m trying to make is don’t downplay the competitive nature and sheer workload of competing on Zwift… especially if you are using an intelligent trainer. It may not be the same as racing on the road, but I give testimony that it is RACING!

 

Things are not always what they seem

One of my most embarrassing moments on a bicycle was at the conclusion of a race where I made a jerk of myself. This was compounded because I thought I knew something had happened and I responded to it. Turns out what I thought happened didn’t.

Life lesson learned. Don’t react to what you think happened. Act when you know the truth.

I was finishing the final lap of a race on the BMW test track course. Being a relatively new racer and trying to pick up as many points as I could, I sprinted for the line hoping to get inside the top twenty. In doing so, I zipped around a couple of riders who (older and wiser) were winding it down as they approached the line.

One of them was a teammate of mine. I know I frustrated him because I was a noob. I tended to do stupid things — not dangerous, but tactically infantile.

As I went past, I heard something a long the lines of “What the —- are you doing? You’re going to ——- hurt somebody!” Now, first of all. This was a true statement. I shouldn’t have altered my line to weave through the slower riders. Basically, the race was over. However, nobody likes to be cursed at.

Well, I got angry and assumed it was my teammate who had had words with me in the past — though not cursing. I went off on him and said some things in anger. I even posted a tweet expressing my anger.

Guess what? It wasn’t my teammate. It was the other guy. Actually, the more I’ve taken the time to understand my ex-teammate, I realize that isn’t anything he would do. Now, he might silently rip your legs off in the next race, but he wouldn’t act out like that.

I had to publicly apologize for my stupidity. I’ve grown to respect his racing knowledge and abilities even more as I’ve grown to understand the “rules of the peloton.” Now I’m glad I had the opportunity to race with him and am enjoying his son seeming to follow in his footsteps.

Now, that brings us to this weekend. Yesterday, I posted the race video on YouTube. Before I watched the video, I crafted my race report. I ended up having to change my post after I watched the video because something I thought happened, didn’t.

Toward the end of the last lap, Darrin Marhanka came around me. Almost immediately, Rodney Dender also came sailing past on his way to bridging over to the break. From my vantage point on the front, it appeared that Darrin had pulled Rodney up to the front to launch him and then move over to control the pace.

On the video, I realized that wasn’t the case. Darrin came up through the field alone until he got to his teammate, Chris Knetsche. You can see Darrin say something to Chris and then move up to come around me. You then watch Rodney attack from further back in the field.

Even seeing the video, I thought Darrin was coming to Chris to let him know Rodney was going to attack and they should settle in to hold back the pace. What I saw happen seemed to be consistent with that. However, even your eyes can lie.

What happened was Rodney had told Darrin that the break looked dangerous and that the team should work to bring them back. Marhanka had come forward to tell Chris that they needed to move to the front and help pull (which would have made me happy).

Darrin had no idea that Rodney was going to attack at that point. He was not coming around me to hold the pace for Rodney’s attack. He was coming around to start working. Of course, when he saw Rodney take the flyer, he eased off to allow his teammate to get the gap.

This is what makes racing a bike so interesting. It is so much more than pedaling as hard as you can. There are strategies and politics going on constantly. It is kind of like life!

However, just like in life, your assumptions can get you in trouble. Don’t act just on what you THINK happened. It is always good to OBSERVE what happened. Even better, it is a good idea to talk to people and find out what ACTUALLY happened.

It will help you understand tactics better. More importantly, it will help you avoid messing up relationships.

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.

Utah yin-yang

I really enjoyed the Tour of Utah. It was anything but formulaic. The Hincapie Devo team attack on the final stage was indicative of the willingness to challenge convention. It lead to a great event for a cycling fan to follow.

That move took Michael Matthews up to the break and into the sprinter’s jersey. It is exciting to see a cyclist measure his risk reward and then lay it all out on the table to make it happen. A move like that deserves respect (though it often earns derision when it fails).

On the penultimate stage we had the soap opera of Tom Danielson and Chris Horner. My personal guess is that Horner knew as he climbed Snowbird that he would lose the tour on Empire Pass. I’m thinking Danielson knew the same — and made it happen on the final climb.

Feel free to disagree. That is one of the things that make it fun. But it also got me thinking about something else from the Tour of Utah.

When you are following professional cycling, it is harder to stay attuned with the continental field. It is the European teams that receive the focus. We are trained to catch the names of certain professional cyclists and we grow comfortable following them as they compete.

So, there was an element of comfort when the showdown began between Chris Horner and Tom Danielson. Yes, these are American sons, but they are also recognized names in the larger international peloton. That fact brought a level of continuity to the race.

These guys have been around. We have a history of competition to draw from. While the young guns and lesser known riders who lit up the roads of Utah brought excitement, they are still finding a place in our narrative. Their stories are being told.

YinYangThis was the Utah yin-yang. With Danielson and Horner there was the comfort of seeing a familiar form at the front of the general classification. Former teammates and riders that commentators can share interesting stories. However, in the midst of this was the contrary force of another history.

I felt pangs of guilt enjoying the last two days of the the Danielson vs. Horner battle. The problem is that those two riders also represented another history of duplicity and tarnished glory. Giving them the benefit of the doubt that they currently race clean does not remove that history.

On the other hand, there were a good number of younger and lesser known riders showing their form in the race. Their exploits were none the less impressive as the final top two finishers. The racing was great. The contrary force in this case is the lack of a story.

Because of the suffering and the intimate exposure of the riders as they make themselves vulnerable, we want to have more than a tactical relationship with our racing. We want to not only know the technical details of the athlete — wattage, style and palmarès — we want to know how they interact with their fellow racers and their reputations in the peloton. It adds a more personal level to the experience.

We fans are in an interesting time. Over everything hangs the dark cloud of suspicion. We want desperately to see the sun shine.

Many of the riders we have followed have doped or been associated with those who have. These are the guys whose stories we know. When we see them battling it out on the final climb, we feel the pull of that old comfortable relationship against the pull of the bitterness of betrayal.

We see the young riders attack with an enthusiasm, but we don’t know their stories. We want to see them succeed and bring in a new guard with new stories. We don’t know if we want to trust again.

I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what the future holds. Will we find five years from now a new set of names battling it out on the Empire Pass? Will we get to enjoy the comfort of the back story of these athletes without feeling the bitterness of the past?

I do hope the day will come when these riders will close the book on their careers and step away from the peloton. Whether they are clean now or no, the stories have too many footnotes. I also hope that the new group of riders won’t merely rewrite the stories with more enhanced ways to dupe us. Here’s hoping for true, clean blank pages.

Then again, the only way not to be duped is not to trust. That is where doping has most damaged the sport. You want to trust. You want to be a fan. You don’t want to do so at the price of dignity.

Commitment: Love the Work

A race report by Team Low Cadence member, Matt Jaeggli.

As the rain pours down and all but the most devoted stay indoors, we pull on extra clothing and submit into the deluge.” – Frank from Velominati

I’ve regained enough feeling in my fingers to type out the race report Jonathan asked of me. Here is a recap of Saturday’s Hincapie “Spring” Series Category 5 road race – the second race of my “career”.

La Bastide Finish Line

On Friday evening the forecast for Saturday morning’s 9am Cat 5 start time was looking to be cold and rainy. The conditions upon arrival at George Hincapie’s newly purchased La Bastide hotel fully lived up to the forecast. Rain was coming down steadily, making the 38 degree temp feel much colder. “This is Greenville, SC, not Ghent, Belgium”, I thought.

As I was sitting in my car steeling myself to “warm up”, the chief judge announced that the Cat 5 34- and 35+ fields would be combined and one lap would be taken off the women’s race. “Misery loves company,” as my friend Neil Browne likes to say when he shows up for our winter, Wednesday lunch rides over Paris Mountain. The Cat 5’s were slated to do 3 laps of an 8 miles course.

I Do It For Todd LurteyFor those of you who don’t know me, I’ve suffered from Crohn’s disease since middle school. Lately, my legs have been feeling like jello and my heart rate has been elevated. The fatigue was severe enough that I had my blood tested this week to check for low iron. Anyway, given my recent decline in fitness the plan for the day was to stay upright and not finish last.

Just before the start whistle blew, we were instructed to ride neutral for about 1.5 miles until we reached the turn onto Highway 11. As we descended Chinquapin Rd headed toward Highway 11, swearing could be heard above the rain. By the time we got onto Highway 11 I couldn’t feel my shift levers.

Our group was staying together pretty well considering the conditions. I tried to stay just off of center from the guy in front of me as that kept the road spray from his tires out of my mouth. Halfway through the first lap, after some rolling hills, we reached River Rd, which is a flat road (for Greenville) that runs alongside a golf course. Immediately after that turn folks on the front launched an attack. People everywhere, including myself, were shooting off the back.

The race became very strung out with several small groups of riders. Two guys broke away from the field on the 1.1 mile climb back up to La Bastide. They would stay away the rest of the race, culminating in a two man sprint and wheel-width victory by Chris Mathis. Chris has won a couple other of the Hincapie Spring Series races this season and is a very strong rider. Congratulations, Chris!

Back to my race. Someone pulled himself from the race on the first lap followed by similar complete disrespect of The Rules by a few more guys on the second lap. My goal for the next two laps was to try to beat at least one of the remaining riders to the line. The second lap was basically an individual time trial. At the beginning of the last lap I caught up with someone on the Greenville Spinners Race Team and we took turns sharing the work of bridging up to 3 others ahead. When we reached the final climb, we had closed the distance considerably, but not enough to pass them before the finish. About half-way up the hill I could hear his breathing get labored and I knew I would beat him to the line. Rounding the turn 200 meters from the uphill finish, I looked back to see I had put a lot of distance between him and me and was close to catching one of the guys we were chasing.

All-in-all, it was a good race. I kept the rubber side down and didn’t finish last. Never has a post-ride shower felt so good! And for all the talk of how bad the weather was, cyclists are masochists; deep down when you are suffering in inclement weather, you smile from ear to ear. Bring it, weather. Cycling in the worst weather is better than most everything else in the best conditions.

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!

A racer at heart

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

Racing with teammate 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.

First race of the year

“We’ll race tonight.” “No, we won’t race tonight.” “Well, maybe we will race tonight.” “I’m on my way. We had better race tonight!”

That is how the weather went yesterday. I woke up to a beautiful morning, but before lunch the skies darkened and by 2 PM there were some heavy storms in our area. A friend of mine even had his windshield cracked by hail that he said were the size of tennis balls!

However, the skies cleared and things began to dry. By the time I got off work and started to prep for the racing at the BMW Performance Test Track I could even see some blue sky. At the same time, the reports I was hearing threatened a huge storm for later in the evening. I decided to take my chances.

Here is my number for the POA Summer Series

The Masters race was slated to go off at 6:45 PM. I got there in time to get my bike set up and start spinning a bit. The Category 4/5 race started about the time I got on the bike. A few raindrops started to fall as well.

I held off registering because I didn’t want to pay the fee just to find out the race was called due to storm. Frankly, I also had no desire to race on a wet track. I decided to wait and register at the last moment.

The rain did stop and I got registered. By the time we lined up, the ground was nice and dry and the weather was holding. To our north we could see clearer skies. To the southwest, we could see an ominous wall of clouds. The wind was blowing in such a way that you couldn’t tell which one we would get.

I also had no idea how I would ride. It was just nice to be on the line again. My mind was made up to just have fun and finish.

It was going to be a points race. In this case, that meant that you there would be a sprint for the line every third lap. The top four riders to cross the line would get points. On the final lap all the points doubled. Simply enough, the guy who had the most points at the end would win.

Only 12 of us rolled off at the start. In a way, I was happy for that because it meant that things wouldn’t be crowded on my first race back. It gave me a chance to get comfortable riding the short track in a group at up to 28 mph.

I was also alone in this race. I had no teammates since I was riding “unattached.” That means that I am not riding for a team. I have no teammates to help or to help me.

Knowing that I normally take awhile to get my legs going, my thought was to stay in the group until I was able to warmup. Of course, that all went out the window as we went into turn 3 coming around for the end of the third lap. My momentum was carrying me around the outside of the field as we came into turn 4. Maybe I could grab some points early.

As we continued in turn 4 I kept my cadence high and as other riders were starting to accelerate I was already passing them. There was only one problem. I had started from too far back in the field. I was sprinting it out with about 50 meters to go with two riders ahead with a decent gap. I was wheel-to-wheel with a third rider and he was inching ahead of me.

That is where I had a mental lapse. My logic said, “Hey, it looks like you are not going to get third place and why put out all this energy for nothing. You need to shut down and save it.” There was only one problem with this. Fourth place got points! Just yards from the line I got swallowed. It wasn’t until later that I realized my mistake.

I don’t think it would have mattered much. From that point on, I was pretty much just hanging on. Sure, I was moving about in the field and even tested trying to get in a break here or there, but by 20 minutes in I was in no place to pressure anyone.

At 20 minutes, I was saying to myself, “I’m halfway through. I can do this.” I just wanted to finish. At no point did I lose touch with the field, but I was spending a good amount of time getting pulled along in the back. Attacks were coming and going up ahead of me, but I did only what it took to stay in touch.

Shortly after that at about the 25 mark, I thought, “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” As we passed the line that next time, Blair called out, “Two laps to go!” Hmmmm, that wouldn’t be 40 minutes. That would have us finishing at around 30 minutes.

As we crossed the line the break that had formed was going into turns 1 and 2. I knew we would have a tailwind until the turns and that they would have a headwind coming out of them. Why not give it one last effort to close the gap. So, I went to the front and started to pull.

I could tell from comments behind me that some of the riders thought I was stupid… especially riders in the teams that had guys in the break. However, at this point, I wasn’t riding for tactics. I was riding for fun. My objective was simply: Close down as much of the gap to the break as possible.

It did come down a little, but we never made the connection. I pulled into turns 3 and 4. It was all over at that point. I just got out of the way and soft pedaled into the finish a lap later.

Lessons learned? 1) I can handle the pace. It is more of a matter that I need to get acclimated to it. 2) I need to learn better how to get off the front. I spent a little too much time there early on. 3) I need to work on my sprint. I used to regularly turn 1200 – 1300 watts. Last night at my best I was at 1100 watts.

Oh, as soon as I got my bike in the car we got slammed with a huge lightening storm. I didn’t hang around to find out, but I’m betting that is why the race only went 30 minutes. All that being said, my objectives were accomplished: have fun and finish.