Mike's Blog

Turning over the pedals

It has been a long cold winter but it seems like we are finally emerging from it.  Lots of changes for my cycling endeavors in 2011: new team, new goals, new training focus, and more volume.

For 2011 my teammate Mike Birner from my 2009/2010 team, Ben's Performance Bicycles, took over the primary sponsorship of the team with his company Sportif Coaching Group and the new team is now known as Sportif Coaching Group supplied by Ben's Performance Bicycles (SCG s/b BPB).  All of our great associate sponsors from last year have returned: Daisy Import Auto Care, OptimizeYourGame.com (Blue Mountain Apothecary), and Air Flow Services, Inc.  In addition, JetBlue has also jumped on board to support us for 2011.  The team has also grown for 2011 with around 20 members this year, up from six in 2010.  I'm pretty excited about this new venture.  There are a lot of great people on the new team and that provides a great source of support and motivation.  We plan on promoting a cyclocross race this year as well; more on that as it develops.

On the training front, I've really ramped up my efforts this year in comparison to years past in which I mostly just rode more so than actually trained with a purpose.  With the help of Mike Birner from Sportif Coaching Group, I've been working on efforts to help me build a solid base from which to work from in the coming months.  Since my focus will again be on cyclocross this year I have plenty of time to get into what I hope will be the best shape I've been in since I started cycling again.  To that end I will do some road races and criteriums this spring and summer, but only as training tools.  The first of these will be the Black Hills Criterium on March 19th.  A few teammates and I went out to recon the course last weekend and after riding several easy laps and one lap at the level of effort I expect will be needed to stay in the pack, I fully expect to get dropped after I explode around lap 4/8 or 5/8.  My goals going into cyclocross season are to finish in the top half of all my races; I'm not sure how attainable that actually is, but I'm going to try my best.

As for volume, I'm off to a good start, although I have not been able to reach my original goal of eight hours per week.  Hopefully that will be more attainable when the days get longer and the weather better so I can do more outdoor riding, which is much more bearable than the trainer for rides over an hour.  For January and February of this year I put in 46 hours on the bike for 733 miles.  Compared with my statistics from all of 2010 (133 hours for 2016 miles) I am not disappointed with my effort.  Moreover I feel stronger than I ever have on the bike, despite my ongoing back issue which I am currently trying to remedy with the help of a chiropractor.

I guess that is a pretty good summary of my cycling endeavors thus far in 2011.  As usual, my wonderful wife has been an awesome supporter and enabler of this new found addiction of mine.  Thanks Karrie; I love you.

Sadly, the MABRAcross Championships in Taneytown, MD on November 28th was my final stop for cross racing in 2010, making my total races attempted equal to nine, the same at 2009.  I had registered for two additional races during the season but missed both for some reason or another.  This day brought the coldest weather we've had this season.  When I got to the venue at 8am and did my pre-ride most of the ground was frozen still; as it thawed throughout the morning some places became a tad muddy and slippery.  The event organizers made some changes from the course from last year mainly adding some more length via additional turns, something which was done at most races this year to ease the problems of scoring lapped riders.  I should mention that I did not do this race last year, having wussed out after one pre-race lap and not wanting to deal with the cold and mud any further.

The course flowed very well I thought, with several technical sections and a couple of longer uphill slogs, the latter being my mortal enemy.  Staging for the race was crazy and as a result I elected to start at the rear rather than in the fourth row, deciding to give those in contention for points a better opportunity to stay at the front.  This was the first race I ever found myself analyzing my performance during the race itself; I usually reserve that for after the race.  However, on this day I found myself discovering a couple of my racing flaws and then internally yelling at myself about them.

The first one I noticed came about half-way through the third lap.  I had been with a group of three others for most of the race to this point when one of them, a rider from the Winchester Wheelmen, started to come unhinged.  When this happened I had already managed to be 20-30 seconds in arrears to his group of three.  I caught them just as the Wheelmen rider was dropped by the other two riders but instead of passing him and continuing my effort to catch the others, I sat on his wheel for more than half a lap, riding at his pace and losing ground to them.  When I discovered what was happening I scolded myself, made the pass and started to reel in the two that got away.  It took me until the last quarter of the last lap to catch the two riders it seemed like I had been chasing all day and I was right on their wheels as we made the final turn onto the finishing stretch.  I attempted to shift to my big ring in preparation for a sprint but the shift failed to happen.  I tried again as the other two riders began their final sprint; again, failure.  I frantically shifted the rear down to my 12 and began sprinting, and although I nearly caught them, I failed to advance the two positions I feel I surely would have taken had I not had shifting issues.  I wound up finishing 51st of 67 starters.

The second flaw was brought to my attention in a discussion after my race with teammate Mike Birner in which he said that he noticed I would back off in a crowd, especially at the start, rather than go shoulder-to-shoulder and fight for position.  Looking back on the videos I have from this year he is absolutely correct, and in cyclocross, this is huge.

The third flaw came a couple of days after the race while looking over my race data.  It was then that I noticed something I had suspected all year; I wasn't going as hard as I could all the time.  This is a weird phenomenon because when you are on the bike racing, you definitely feel like you can't possibly go any harder, but after the race you convince yourself that you could have.  For that reason, I had just been telling myself that I was lying to myself after the races about how hard I was going or could be going.  The data from this race showed me the truth: on the last lap, when I was trying to make contact with the two riders in front of me, and eventually did, I averaged a full half-mile per hour faster than on the previous laps.

So, while I didn't have the season I wanted I did learn some important things to work on fixing for next year.  After last season my goal this year for cyclocross was to finish in the top half of my races but after struggling to get time in the saddle all year I knew my fitness was not going to allow me to accomplish that.  I scaled back my ambitions to match my 2009 goals: race as often as possible, finish every race, not last.  To that end, I did better in 2009 than 2010 having DNF'd one race this year.  My finishing positions were on par with last year once I had moved to the Masters races so I was not disappointed, especially considering I only had about 1700 miles and 120 hours in the saddle as cross season began, about one-third of what I probably needed to meet my original goals.

So I know what I need to do for next year.  I'm trying to work out a schedule with Karrie which will allow me to train eight hours a week while not upsetting the family/work/fun balance and allowing her to do things for herself as well.  It will be a struggle and I certainly will have to learn to manage my time better, but right now I'm really motivated to get in much better shape for 2011.  Since I bought my Quarq Cinqo and recording power data from my training rides I've begin to pick out my weaknesses and strengths and plan to work to improve the former this year.  I've talked with my teammate and cycling coach, Mike Birner, about how to do that specifically and he has agreed to work with me to that end.  I'm still on track to get to my 2010 goal weight of 185 pounds; this morning I was at 188.2.  My goal for July 2011 is 170 pounds with the additional hope of increasing power across all levels to bring my power-to-weight ratio up significantly.

I'm sad that cross season is over but at the same time I'm somewhat happy because, and I feel funny saying this, I need the break.  I haven't ridden at all this week but plan on getting back into it this coming Monday, starting with some rides on the trainer using The Sufferfest videos.  Additionally, a couple of local fast guys are having weekly trainer sessions in one of their basements and I plan to go to those for some motivation as well.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year.  Race video follows:

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-t7oWaPPB0

 

I'm a bit late in writing this having had to make up some time at work for time missed for sick family the week before.  Knowing that I had no races weekend after this race I figured I would get it done then, but that didn't happen either, so here I am at 8:45pm on a Monday night blogging for all of my fan.

Race number six for me this year was the Tacchino Ciclocross put on by the awesome Jim McNeely (his blog is a *great* read) and the Squadra Coppi gang.  I did this race last year and the atmosphere was awesome.  This year Jim and Squadra Coppi outdid themselves.  Back this year were the live blues band, food vendor serving all kinds of sausages and frites, real bathrooms and one hell of an awesome course.  The course retained all of the features from last year, but was lengthened with more turns in the open areas to help alleviate some of the scoring issues and pulling of riders that occurred last year.  One new feature this year was a double log jump which I elected to run after watching several of the guys from the first race do endos as they tried to ride them.

This year our team got some team parking and an area to set up our camp and canopy.  Since my race is the earliest (i.e. I am the slowest person on my team) I brought the tent and got the area set up.  This created a bit of a problem for me in that it took me out of my routine.  I didn't get on the bike to pre-ride the course until 20 minutes after 8am; usually I am on the course by 8am.  After a couple of laps, I registered and got my numbers pinned on then watched some of the 9am race.  I got in a decent warmup and got to the starting area in plenty of time to ensure I wasn't relegated to the rear again.  What I didn't do was pop my 9:30am gel and this proved to be bad news about three laps into the race.

When the whistle sounded I got a decent start but then was almost wrecked as the rider on my inside didn't see the first turn and went straight as I started to turn.  After a short stint through the woods we exited into a fast off-camber downhill which got more and more slippery as the day went on.  This was followed by a slightly slick and steep uphill which killed the legs.  Once you got to the top you continued on a mostly upward ride before descending down towards the beer pavilion, main viewing area, an barriers.  After the barriers there was a tight technical section which led into more woods and exited into some more turns before the log jump, pavilion and finally back to the start.  The continuous uphill section after the leg killer hill was really tough for me.  In the one area here where you might recover, you were met with a rather stiff headwind which required more effort than I wanted to expend to try to hold wheels.  By the third lap my energy started to crash as a result of not having eaten anything since 7am and I slowly began to drop back.  I ended up 76 out of 88 starters but feel like I might have held onto a few more spots had I eaten that gel.  Next time I won't be so careless.

After the race I went back to the team camp and socialized with team mates and friends.  Jen and Steve Riskus brought some awesome eats and beer which basically saved my life.  Seriously.  Even though Steve wasn't racing because of a wrist injury, I picked the spot I thought he might be in the B race and cheered for him anyway.  The Elite Masters race had two of my team mates, Blair Saunders and Mike Birner, in it and it was an awesome race.  From the onset Blair opened up a gap to Mike and ABRT rider Chris Harshman.  The race was neutralized after a couple of laps due to a horse racing on the course after having thrown its rider.  It was interesting to say the least.  Once restarted Blair increased his gap and took the win with Mike taking second.  A great day of racing for the Ben's Performance Bicycles team and a great day overall.

I left after the Elite Masters race, but the Elite Men's race was something to behold with Joe Dombrowski starting a full two minutes in arrears because of a slow warmup lap and fighting his way to the front for the win.  Amazing to say the least.

Looking forward to Schooley Mill and Rockburn this coming weekend.  Only three races left this year, then I really need to get back on the Time Crunched Cyclist Training Program.  Tailgunner helmet cam below.  Enjoy.

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What a weekend of racing!  The Howard County Double 'Cross (HoCo2xCx) are two of my favorite venues for many reasons, not the least of which is their proximity to my home.  Schooley Mill Park is a 25 minute drive and Rockburn Park is 30 minutes, far shorter than any race I've done this year.  Because of how close they are Karrie and boys made it to both races to cheer me on, which is totally awesome.  Have I mentioned that Karrie is the best cheerleader and supporter ever?  She is always the loudest person at my races and I love it!  My very good friend Danny Kao, whom I haven't seen in many months since I had to abandon autocross, also came out on Sunday with his wife Jodi to cheer me on and take pictures and it was fantastic to see him again.

My weekend started with me getting to sleep in until 6:15am on Saturday, about an hour later than most race days this year.  I got to Schooley Mill at around 8am and did my normal routine of taking some laps to scout out the course.  This year included several big changes over last year.  Gone were the stairs which created quite a bottle neck, the small horse jumps and the uphill barriers.  New this year were a short, steep climb followed by a 180 and dive back down the same hill into an off-camber turn and then some positive camber switchbacks, all of which put a hurting on your legs.  The barriers were moved near the pit and several sections that were straight power sections last year were broken up with turns this year to make the course longer.  At first glance I loved the changes except for the steep downhill into the off-camber turn, but even that found a place in my heart by the end of my race.  I had made a mental note before this race to put in a really good effort at the start; based on the video I failed miserably, but you can see my teammate in a blue jersey fly by me almost immediately after the whistle after starting two rows behind me.  This isn't the first time he's done that this year so I really need to get together with him and work on my start.  After the first lap I settled into a group of four racers, two of whom are on my nemesis list.  We raced together for a lap or two, trading positions occasionally.  About halfway through the second lap I developed a ghost shifting problem; about every two revolutions of the crank would result in a gear change.  I dealt with this for a lap or so, not wanting to stop to make an adjustment and lose contact with my little group; unfortunately on this day I decided to leave the pit bike at the truck.  About the third lap, climbing that short, steep hill became more challenging and required me to stand up, which was not pretty with my auto-shifting bike.  After the start, I chose a relatively flat section to stop and give a couple of turns to the barrel adjuster.  Unfortunately I guessed the wrong direction and the problem persisted resulting in an second stop and adjustment almost immediately.  the problem solved I did my best to reel in the 20 second gap the group had developed.  I caught and passed one rider who was dropped from the group, leaving my two nemeses in my sights.  An apparent attack by one dashed my hopes of catching them both, but I did manage to catch and pass the other (the one who nipped me at the line at All Hallows for some payback!) on the final stretch to the finish.  I finished 58th of 71 starters.

After the race, Karrie, Lucas and Tyson (first cross race for him) headed out to her parents' house and Brady and I stayed to watch some races and play on the playground.  This was the highlight of my weekend as we both had a really good time and he laughed so much, which totally pwn3d me.  Couple of race notes: my back did not bother me as much today as it had in the past but I did make more of an effort to stand up when putting down a lot of power.  Also, I'm not sure if its related or not, but when I got home and tried to put my bike in the stand to adjust the derailleur I noticed that the seat was a full 3cm lower than it should have been.  I raised it back up, but I'm left wondering if it had any part in the lessening of my back issues.

Sunday I got started 15 minutes earlier and had my regular routine at Rockburn Park.  The changes to this course from last year were almost all intended to ad length.  All the sections I struggled with last year, primarily the hills you had to slog up coming out of both sets of woods, were still there much to my dismay.  I had a third row start for this race, and again told myself I would give it a good effort at the start.  I think I did better this time, but you will still see my teammate, again in the blue jersey, zip by me on the right within 10 seconds of the whistle.  Watching he video for this race makes me realize that I am really tentative in crowds and for that reason (among others) I tend to lose a lot of places early on; this is something I have to work to overcome if I am to improve in cross or do any criterium racing next year.  My legs did not feel all that great for this race and they seemed to fatigue much earlier than normal.  Looking at my Garmin data after the fact seems to support this notion as I was unable to get my heart rate up where it normally is for my races; at Schooley Mill I averaged nearly 10 beats per minute more than at Rockburn.  At any rate, this race hurt.  I raced with a couple of guys for most of the race and then got the mercy lapping as I neared the finishing section of my fourth lap.  Finished 70th of 79 starters.

Afterward Brady and I stayed and watched my Ben's Performance Bicycles teammate Mike Birner race in the Elite Masters.  This race was won by Dave Weaver of ALAN North American Cycling Team in impressive fashion.  Dave also won the Elite Masters race at Schooley Mill, by nearly 60 seconds!  This race was interesting because Mike had lost the points jersey the day before at Schooley Mill to Kris Auer of C3 after being worked over by Kris and some of his teammates; no harm no foul, this is racing and team tactics do come into play.  Unfortunately for Mike, he didn't have any teammates in the race with him.  Fortunately he did on Sunday at Rockburn in the form of Blair Saunders.  Dave jumped out to an early lead and a decent gap, while Blair, Mike and Kris were in the chasing group (not really chasing) by themselves.  Blair and Mike kept the pace high to keep the pressure on Kris and also isolate him from his teammates.  In the end it worked out as Blair finished in second with Mike in fourth and Kris fifth.  The one spot was enough to put Mike back in the points lead heading into the final race of the series.

So, just one more race in my schedule for 2010 and that is Taneytown for the MABRA Championships this coming Sunday.  I plan to do my race, drink some beer and pop some popcorn to watch the Elite Masters race in which I'll be pulling for Mike to win the series.

Tail Gunner videos follow:

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Schooley Mill Cross

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Rockburn Cross

 

After missing DCCX followed by a weekend with no races scheduled I was eager to get back on the 'cross bike and Halloween weekend provided my fix with two races on the schedule: All Hallows Cross on Saturday and Kinder Kross on Sunday.

All Hallows Cross was one of two races I finished in the top half of last year (the other being Hyattsville) so I was eager to go back to this race.  The course for 2010 did have some changes, primarily that racers now had to traverse both sandpits (horse rings) and deal with turns in the same.  Aside from that, the course stayed mostly the same as 2009, including the awesome single-track section through the woods.  I arrived at the race venue at 8am which gave me time to do a couple of laps to check out the changes to the course, register and then get myself ready for my 10am race.  After the 9am CAT4 race I took one more lap around the course.  Unfortunately this got me to the start area late and I missed my call up by registration number and had to start at the back of the field.  As the race started a rider went down in the very first turn and then the yo-yo effect forced me off my bike in the first sandpit, which I was able to ride in warm-ups.  Exiting the sandpit I had a very difficult time getting clipped in, presumably from my cleats being packed with sand, and this cost me some time on the long finish stretch.  Unclipping for the barriers also did not come easy, nor did getting back in after jumping them.  The rest of the race was pretty normal for me; I fell back to the last fourth of the field and battled with a couple of different people for the remainder of the laps.  I got a bit lax at the finish and was nipped at the line in a repeat of last years race, only then I was the beneficiary of someone sleeping.  Ended up 56 of 61.  See the video here.

Kinder Cross was a new event for this year and therefore was not a MABRAcross points race which was the likely reason that subscription was lower than normal.  The event was great and the course one of the better ones this year including some off camber turns, double-track and power sections.  Got to the race at 8am, did a couple of laps to check out the course and then got my number from registration.  Got to the start line in plenty of time for this race, but even though I thought I had registered early I was still five or six rows back.  The whistle blew and I did a fair job hanging onto my position until the slight uphill slog started about 200 meters and a couple of turns later.  By the time I arrived at the barriers the group was split wide open and I was pretty much in the general area of where I would finish.  About two laps in the back started hurting pretty good and there was really only one place I could stand to stretch it so I dealt with it the best I could.  I was going back and forth with one guy lap after lap: I'd pass him on the last little grassy hill before the start and he'd pass me on the grassy hill after the start.  Finally on the next to last lap he made a move in the double-track area and I never saw him again.  I have to say, the best part of this race was seeing my wife and kids every lap and hearing Karrie yell for me to move my ass every lap.  She is definitely the best cheerleader at any cross race I've been too; if she can see me, I can hear her.  Results for this race weren't available at the time of this writing but I think I was 28 of 30-something.  I'll try to update when the results are posted.  See the video here.

Next week is Tacchino Ciclocross, which was a great event last year except for the fact that I got pulled for being lapped.  It seems that this year pulling riders is even more common, especially at the races that have full fields.  I have not been pulled yet this year and hopefully that trend will continue.

Until next time, keep pedaling!