Saturday, February 26, 2011

Collegiate racing: A Love/Hate Relationship

I still need to write up Walburg and Pace Bend, but seeing as the South Central Collegiate Cycling Conference (SCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC for short) racing season kicked off today I'd rather write about that.

My freshman year, I raced in the B's and finished 2nd overall for the season.  The next year, I had received my cat 3 upgrade and would be racing in the A's.  I ended up winning the Men's A overall title that year almost by accident by simply finishing well in every event.  It's safe to say I was on MSU's radar after that.

Before I go on, I should say that MSU, not University of Texas, is A&M's rival when it comes to cycling, and this is because many of their riders get scholarships to race.  In the A's for the last few years, MSU was regularly 2/3 of the field or better, with 9 riders against A&M's handful plus a few from other schools.

As I got stronger, I became the thorn in MSU's side.  I greatly enjoyed being the underdog and sometimes succeeding, but was also incredibly frustrated because many times it became 1-on-7 and those odds are tough to beat.  To ensure an MSU victory, their team director created a special task for a few riders each race.  Their job was to--literally--be my shadow for the entirety of the race until I had burned myself up and then outsprint me at the finish.

They called it "Haga duty," and it looked a bit like this:

Or this:

You get the point.

Their riders would attack one at a time, and while I was pulling them back the others readied their attacks. One after another this went on until I finally could chase no more, then the rest would attack to leave me behind.

And then the Aggies got stronger.  Shane, Cody, Herc, and more.  That's right, double Haga duty.  I was still the most feared rider and would never be allowed to get away, but I was also continuously improving.  Still, though, MSU had the numbers advantage with at least 5 cat 1's compared to the Aggies' one cat 1 and few cat 2's.

Finally I had enough of MSU dictating the races and us playing defense.  If I was going to lose, I was going to do it spectacularly.

The Aggies new-strategy pre-race meeting:
"What are we going to do today?"
"Attack.  Then attack again, then attack some more. So long as there is an MSU rider in the lead group, you will attack."

Shane won that race, and I was able to garner a few more wins over time with this new strategy.  It seems that by racing offensively and just going nuts, we ruined their careful planning.  With Shane the sprinter, my and Cody's incessant attacking, and Herc's motor, we had finally found how to level the playing field a bit more.  There was one race in which I attacked all-out 15 times in 30 minutes.  The next day, Shane and I traded attacks to whittle the field down to just the two of us and one MSU rider--my favorite collegiate race ever, and a story which I won't type up because we tell the story best as a duo.

So yes, I'm definitely going to miss collegiate racing but I'm quite excited to be racing on a bigger stage this year.  At least I know Shane is still causing trouble for MSU!  And while he may not be getting great results in those tiny little races, I know he's getting the best workout of anybody there and Nationals is just a few months away....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to write a race report that people will read

I started writing race reports when I first started at Texas A&M years ago so that I could let my parents know how my races went.  Eventually, I began sending them to the team listserve for everybody to read.  Race reports are a great way to share your racing experience with others...when done properly.

The first thing to realize is that most people who will read your report do so as a means of procrastination--either from work, school, or what have you, and they want to be entertained.  When's the last time you read an entertaining report?  "Race report" is a bit of a misnomer, really, as what you should be doing is telling a story.

Telling an attention-grabbing story is not too complicated.  If you've ever written a lab report for school, just do the opposite: use 10 words when 5 will do; write in first person; complex sentence structures are okay; literary devices are fun!  And please, for heaven's sake, use at least passable grammar and spelling!

Without further ado, I shall give a quick--and hopefully entertaining--synopsis of my race season thus far.

Copperas Cove

My first race of the new year is always a nervous affair.  Have I done enough in the off season?  Too much?  How will I handle the intensity?  It's been a long time since I rode in a pack, will I be the guy that sketches everyone out?

The answers came quickly: Yes; No; Well; No.

Most of the course was inconsequential, save for Harmon road.  This potholed, narrow, ragged road was fully exposed to the stiff crosswinds from the south, and I knew it would become the decisive point in the race.  On the first of two laps through, the field chaotically fought through the winds with the group breaking up at points, but quickly regrouped after the turn into the headwind.  From then onward, nothing much happened.  Everyone was biding time for the next time through.  That's when the pain would really come.

Just as expected, Elbowz Racing (the largest team in the field) organized at the front when we hit the crosswinds and put the field into the gutter.  It wasn't long before the field started splintering, as riders exposed to the wind could find no shelter.  I had worked hard for my position, but still found myself a few riders back from where I should have been.  My heart thundered in my chest, screaming from the first maximum intensity effort in months and my legs became heavier with the leaden, burning, sensation I hadn't felt for some time.  I was blown.

But I wasn't the only one. I quickly slipped back into a rapidly growing chase group, and we feverishly pursued the leaders just seconds ahead.  We finally made contact ten miles from the finish, right as the winning breakaway slipped off.  I continued the chase to no avail and finished 10th.

Tour of New Braunfels

Shane and I spent the weekend in San Marcos with an old school friend Danny and his wife Callie.  I arrived Friday afternoon, and Danny took me on a short ride to remind me just how desolate and flat College Station was.

The next morning, the circuiterium was barely long enough to get warmed up, much less wear people out. That meant my efforts to get away from the field were short lived, and it didn't help that nobody recognized me in my new kit and gear.  Unsurprisingly, it came down to a field sprint.  With everyone fresh, it proved to be sketchy as all get-out.  But no matter, I was in the wrong position to contend the sprint anyways.

The road race would be a different story.  Intense winds were buffeting us on the start line, and the fight for position commenced immediately.  Just a few miles into the race, I slipped off the front with 2 riders from 787 racing, aided by my newfound anonymity.  I had hoped to stay ahead of the splintering field and have the race-winning break come up to us later on. Several miles later, another group did make it up to us but the field was soon to catch. Recovering from my efforts, I slipped back in the pack thinking that a break would not get away for another lap or two.

I was wrong.

From my vantage point near the back of the field, I saw it get away.  Blackgrove, Wenger, Wheeler, Rothe, Dahlheim, Kremke, and more comprised the break.  That's the race, I thought.  I fought my way to the front, where many riders were looking at each other to see who would bring it back.  There are times in a race to be tactical, and times to go all in; this was the latter.  I wasted no time in launching off the front, and a minute and a half later was in a chase group pursuing the leaders.  Our chase was so intense that our group quickly fell to just 5 riders, and we clawed to within spitting distance of the others but could not close it down.

And just like that, my race ended only 30 miles in.  Unwilling to drop out, I pedaled the second half unhappily.  To make a bad day worse, the field's blatant disregard for the centerline earned us all a DQ anyways--a bad taste that would remain for a week until Walburg.

Those ended up longer than expected (should have seen it coming, really...), so I'll get Walburg and Pace Bend Reports  stories up later this week.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Longer than a facebook status update

Well, my long-promised blog has finally come to fruition.  Things are moving pretty quickly for me lately, so I know family and friends are curious to know all about it....

First things first, the blog title may change.  But for now, I think it's punny.  Suggestions are welcome.  Shane suggested "Lady Haga: Bike Romance" but I fear too many of you won't get it.

Topics will probably include race reports, new recipes I can't get enough of, old stories I like to tell again and again, and--given the adventure I'm about to embark upon--living frugally.

Now then, down to the goings on of late.

Most of you know that I joined a team called Firefighters Cycling Association late last fall.  The team is based in Walla Walla, Washington and has a lot of young talent looking to make the next step up in their racing careers.  I was really excited to be a part of a team associated with the heroes of 9/11 and all first responders who risk their lives saving ours.  If things had gone according to plan, I would be moving to Walla Walla in just a few short days.

Without going into too much detail, the team was cut down at the knees just a few weeks ago when a key sponsor decided not to write the check.  Allen, the team director, did not put down his phone for days on end to right the ship.  The cycling world is smaller than you'd think, and people stepped up to keep the team going.  In the mean time, I began working on a backup plan, just in case.  I called up a contact from months ago that runs a team in Colorado, and wouldn't you know it the team had one spot remaining.

Well, Allen was able to save the team, and I had a decision to make.  The new support would change the team's racing focus somewhat, whereas Team Rio Grande was more inline with the racing that suits me best.  After much stressing, many phone calls, and input from a handful of close friends and family, it became clear that the move to Rio Grande would provide me the best opportunity.  However, opportunity does not come without risk.  I'll be moving to Fort Collins, Colorado very soon, where I'll need to find part-time work to pay for housing and food....

And to be honest, I'm kind of excited about that.  In the last 4.5 years, I've never been more motivated to train and race than when school was trying to keep me off the bike.  A job should serve as perfect motivation to keep after the training and racing and fill the gaps in between.

It was very difficult, though, to leave teammates that I had yet to even meet and a team that I had looked forward to for months.  And I must sincerely thank Allen for keeping my best interests in mind and letting me go.

I'm not yet sure when I'll make the move to Fort Collins...need to find a place to stay, first! Stay tuned, this year's about to take off in a hurry.