Tag Archives: SC State Criterium Championships

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!

Hope springs eternal

Jim Cunningham is a great coach and he has helped me out a lot. However, he doesn’t know me nearly as well as my “bicycle psychiatrist” John James. I know I’m going to get some good post-race advice from the guy I’ve chased around northern Greenville County for years. So, I head over to Sunshine Cycle Shop to hear that famous post-race question, “Well, do you know what you did wrong?”

It is funny how your brain takes snapshots and sometimes those images don’t match up with reality. This was the case when I came upon the following photo from fellow racer Edward Couvillion’s Facebook profile. I could have sworn I was closer to Clark as we neared the line. Perhaps it is that Clark slowed going across and I closed quickly to his wheel just after this photo was snapped.

SC State Criterium Championship Category 4 finish

Photo thanks to Edward Couvillion

This time John didn’t get a chance to ask the question when I walked into the shop. I popped out with the answer before he could ask. “I went too soon,” I said as I saw him begin to form his first word. “Who told you that?” he asked. “No one,” I replied. “Well, that is what you did wrong,” he continued. “When you came up out of the saddle the other guys were just sitting there and you gave them a free pull closer to the line.”

Then John pointed out something I didn’t realize I did. He told me that as Clark and Benjamin came into my vision I hesitated just slightly. Bottom line is that I never truly committed to the sprint.

This was borne out as I talked with Jim about my power file from the race. In the final sprint, my max power was only 840 watts. That is nearly 300 to 400 watts what I typically hit in a final attack to the line. I may have felt that I was giving all I had, but the bottom line is I never fully committed 110% — and you basically have to commit 120% to win!

Talking through it with Jim and John I came to this conclusion as to what happened. 1) It was the first time I had a lead out. I was hesitant not knowing how to play off my lead out man. When Matt slowed, I attacked, and then he came up to sprint with me; I questioned whether I was going at the right time (Hesitation No. 1). 2) When the other sprinters came off my wheel and entered my vision, I further questioned my decision and let up on the sprint ever so slightly (Hesitation No. 2). That led me to start playing catch up and I was unable to put out the “pop” with which I typically start my attack.

So, does this discourage me? Nope! It gives me renewed hope that I can do this. It isn’t physiological. It is tactical and mental. I CAN beat guys like Clark and Benjamin. The tools are there, I just need to learn better how to use them.

Last race I lost in a field sprint, I determined that I would not quit and lose a spot at the line. I feel that I carried that through in the State Championships. Now, I’ve just got to START correctly.

It is a learning process. Sometimes I think I learn a lot slower than some other people. However, I am learning and even though I may not get an A+ on every exam, I’m always close. Maybe next time… hope springs eternal.

It was as it should have been

It was a great weekend! The POA Cycling Team had an okay Saturday, but an incredible Sunday. We got podium finishes in each category race we entered. I’m thankful to say that I was one of them winning the bronze in the South Carolina State Criterium Championships at Hampton Park in Charleston.

Now a word from my primary sponsor.

Waiting through the afternoon for my race to start at 3:30 PM, I knew that this race would be different from Saturday’s. The feeling of confidence was there and as I warmed up on the trainer before going out, I was getting in the zone. This would not be a 20th place finish.

On the line I felt very calm and was able to joke around with some of the guys I’ve come to get used to having around me in the field. Tebbetts was right there on the front with me and I knew he was ready to turn himself inside out to get me to the front. Billy was also starting a bit behind us, but it was a big help knowing that his experience would be out there to help keep me from doing something too stupid.

We rolled off. Tebbetts and I were on the front and kept an easy pace waiting for someone to come around and take over. They did and it was time to get down to work. As it turned out, there were several attempts at breaks and some actually got out there for a couple of laps. It was hard to hold one though because the course was flat and there were long stretches where you could see the person trying to escape. Each one was brought back.

Early on I went up and picked up the pace just to test the legs and also to take some of the turns at a higher speed. I knew I would need to be comfortable with that at the end of the race. However, after expending a little energy, I went back in the field to recover and wait.

With six laps to go there was a guy out alone with a sizable gap. The pace picked up to catch him I knew that it was time to start planning for the finish. At this point I was riding between 15 to 20 riders from the front. It was time to move up.

A couple of things made me more confident as the race wound down. One was that I was getting the hang of the turns. Rather that braking into the corner and then sprinting out. I looked for a line that would allow me to roll into the corner and in some cases keep my pedals moving so that I was easing out of the turn on the wheel in front of me without having to sprint each time. This saved a lot of energy.

The other was that I was learning to control my space. I concentrated on finding a line through each corner and then holding it so that the riders around me could trust me. However, a moment that sticks out in my mind was a time when I was between two riders and the rider to my right began to squeeze in on me. In the past, that might have made me nervous, but not this time.

Our bars bumped, but neither of us reacted. We simply rode along beside each other leaning on the other. However, I was not going to give up my spot. The reason why that moment stuck out to me was because it felt completely right. I was calm when at points in the past I might have overreacted. My thought was, this is my spot and you are not going to have it. It was fun!

Matt had been on the front for a couple of laps as we neared two to go. He was amazing! We were going at a pretty good clip and he just kept hammering. I moved to the front at that point because I did not want to get caught near the back when things started getting wild at the finish. It was a chance I was willing to take to avoid a crash.

Billy saw me up there and moved around me to get me out of the wind on the front. He laid it out to take the pressure off of me and then moved over once we started into the final lap. At that point, Matt moved up to continue his incredible work on the front.

Matt and I went through turns one and two with the front of the field right with us. However, as we came out of turn three, Matt lit the fuse and the rocket went off. He stretched the field and he and I entered the last turn as the point of the spear. Tebbetts was on the point and I was sitting right on his wheel enjoying to pull.

My emotions at that point were sky high! It wasn’t just that I was starting to believe I could win it, it was also because the way the team had worked together during the race was just awesome. To be here with Matt this was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. My only regret is that I could not have better rewarded him for his effort.

As we came out of the turn it crossed my mind just to stay on Matt’s wheel and we could just finish 1-2 for the race. However, I knew that the idea was for Matt to lead me out. I knew at some point he would expect me to come around him. It seemed to me that he was slowing just a bit and that perhaps it was time for me to go. So, I started to come around.

When I did, Matt also picked up the pace and it we were actually sprinting each other. However, at about this time, Benjamin Branton and Clark Gallivan (both of whom have beat me earlier in the season) started to move up. It was a drag race for the line between the four of us. I can say that this time I gave everything I had.

The result ended up the same: 3rd place. Branton finished first with Gallivan right there along with myself. Matt finished as he rode all race — strong — and came in fourth. Really, I honestly feel that it came out about how things really are — Benjamin is clearly the best sprinter among the Category 4 racers and Clark has come on really strong with some wins. Then there is me — “always a podium, but never a win.”

The SC State Criterium Championships podium

Now, I’m no Mark Cavendish, but I have an inkling of how he must have felt when he expressed his frustrations those times when he didn’t win a sprint after the Columbia-HTC train brought him up to the finish. They did their jobs perfectly, but he didn’t close the deal. My emotions where so mixed.

It was incredible to make the podium — my first literal podium, but it was eating me up inside that I had let the guys down. Over and over in my head I thought about what I could have done differently that would have given me the 5 feet I needed to close the deal — not for me, but for US. Thankfully, I have awesome teammates not just on the bike, but off the bike as well.

Thanks, guys!

You race and you learn: 1st Cat 4 criterium

Sunday afternoon I participated in the South Carolina Criterium Championship with my POA Cycling teammates. My category 4 race was the last one of the day at the Hampton Park in Charleston, SC – right next to The Citadel. It was a beautiful day – just a little windy when Billy White, Matt Tebbetts, Blair LaMarche, and I took the course.

My first category 4 criterium race

My first category 4 criterium race

First the bad news. I got 14th place. I did two stupid things that put me in that position.

One – a few laps into the race (19 laps total) I was near the front. I noticed a rider kept stretching his lead. There was some movement up front to bring him back. My turn came and, like an idiot, I pulled for about half a lap.

It is one of those things I have to learn. How do you get off the front gracefully? I don’t want to be in the way and cause an accident. Also there is that fear that I won’t have done enough of my part. Chalk that up as something to learn.

The worse thing about it is that the guy was going to get swallowed up anyway. As we got closer to him, I could see him glancing back and starting to soft pedal. That was a bunch of energy for nothing.

Two – just before the start of the five lap countdown there was a prime. At first I was thinking correctly to myself, “Don’t worry about the prime. What you want is the podium.” However, as we came out of the fourth turn I saw a gap that would take me past about 20 riders who had decided not to contest it. There wasn’t much of a gap to the sprinters.

I shot up the gap and actually gained on the two guys going for the prime. I ended up third. As soon as we crossed the line the announcer called, “Five laps to go. Five laps to go.” Oh, great. Now I just had five laps to recover and those would probably be the fastest five of the race.

Now the good news. I got 14th place. It could have been worse.

Thankfully, I was able to back up a bit after the prime attempt and recover. By the time we reached the final lap I was sitting in the top five riders. My teammate Billy was right there as well. My goal was to stay in contact with him. Hopefully, we would set things up for a good finish.

One of my fears of criterium racing is the turning. Thankfully this course had two very sweeping turns and only two corners that were close to ninety degrees. Corner number two was one of those sharper turns.

I started feeling comfortable about the turns and was finally feeling confident about holding my line. It helped that there were road markers and it gave me something to concentrate on as we went through the corners in a pack.

During our final time through corner two I was setting up to accelerate out of the turn and move into position to sweep through turn three. It would be very important to be near the front going into turn four. That would all start here in turn two.

Suddenly I heard some commotion behind me. Next thing I knew a rider – who I could not see – banged against my left hip. It was a hard enough of a jostle that it knocked me out of my lean. That caused me to straighten in the turn and the bike to wobble as I started to tip over my center of gravity.

I didn’t even think about what might happen. I just gathered my Giant after a bit of squirrelliness and then smashed the pedals to try to make up the ground I lost. I kept waiting to hear the dreaded sound of riders going down behind me.

Billy was still up there, but I was now stuck on the outside with riders streaming around me. I was now in the top 20 riders, but was not in a good position. After turn three I started to attempt to move closer to the front. After getting boxed in a bit I was forced into turn four on the outside.

Going into turn four I lost more positions as riders took the shorter inside turn. Now it was time to let it go. Thankfully, the outside was open because the field was stretching out for the sprint. I started moving past riders and moved into the top ten just as we were passing the restrooms on the right.

At that point I started seeing some riders coming up to my left. I tried to increase my cadence to stay up. It was then I noticed I was about three rings above my 11. I shifted a couple of times and things leveled out. However, the momentum couldn’t get me past them.

It was about 30 meters from the line when I felt the earlier efforts. I saw riders going past me on my left – one of those was Tebbetts. I gritted my teeth to try to beat him, but he and one other rider got past me to take 12th and 13th. I immediately rued the two earlier efforts. Not a doubt in my mind I could have had a top 10 – even with the near crash in turn two – had I not put out that needless energy.

Observations: It is great racing with a team. Granted, Tebbetts and I don’t know a thing about strategy. I’m sure we were frustrating to Billy. Still, it was great to know they were there. There is a comfort that comes going into a tight corner when you know the guy beside you.

Tebbetts is strong. Early in the race he was right on the front for multiple laps. Then on the final turn he was pushed off the course. He still recovered and came back to put pass me.

Billy is one competitive dude! This was his second race of the day, but when the line was in sight he wasn’t going to go down without a fight! It earned him an eighth place.

What can I say about Blair? He is the consummate promoter. It was obvious that the fast, flat Charleston course was right up his ally. The greatest thing about Blair was his excitement over the success of the team as a whole. I’m sure he’ll have a blog entry up at POACycling.com soon.

Final observation… I’m not a criterium racer. I don’t have the high end speed you need. The max the Quarq CinQo recorded was 1132 watts on a lap where we averaged 356 watts. I sure hope I get a chance at a couple of road races this year.

Excuse the long entry. It was really an exciting race for me. The whole weekend was a blast. Thanks POA Cycling Team!