Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Belgium, round two

Ahh, Belgium, I didn't realize how much I missed you.

Actually... that isn't completely true, but it was nice to come over move prepared this time. On the other hand, that did not keep me (and everyone else on the team) from getting food poisoning the night before our first race here. I can tell you, it is really difficult to finish a 150 kilometer stage after not being able to keep down your food for the past 24 hours. So, I did not finish the first day of a 5 day stage race, along with 3 of my team mates.

I am disappointed now with how this played out, because I am here for a month, and I was only slated to do two stage races, so after this happened, I only got to do one real race here. This is frustrating, because I feel like I have been here for a month just to do one 5 day race, which just seems silly, but I feel good for the one that is starting tomorrow, called the tour of namur. If you are interested, the webpage is here

There are a few upsides to not racing as much. First, I have been able to see Belgium a bit more. We got out and saw both Ghent and Brugge, which were both cool experiences. Also, I have been able to start finding the good rides here. I have been riding a few of the cobbled climbs that they do in the tour of Flanders, which is a huge one day race here, such as the Koppenburg and the Pattenburg, which are all super hard, even though they are so short. And lastly, I have started to get better at kermesses, as they are the only races I have been doing. I got 13th at one and made 15 euro, and made another 10 euro at another, so I am just flying high now!

Anyhow, good times in ye olde Belgium.

U23 Nationals

A week after I got back from Europe round one, I went to Augusta, Georgia, for U23 nationals. After being in rainy, cold Europe, the temperature was stifling. I had really hard time adjusting to the hundred degree days that we were racing in. But, I raced hard, and on the first day, ended up 4th in the criterium. Here are a few choice photos:

This is me almost crashing in a corner. 
Late race break with my teamate Jeff Perrin

The finish, you can see me on the right side, pretty far back. 
The next day was the U23 road race, which was pretty uneventful for me. After missing the break, I rode in the group that I was in for the rest of the race to finish around 20th or so. I had the legs to do a much better race, but often it is the tactics that decide who ends up on the podium.

The last day was the Elite road race, which is just for category one riders. I dat in the field all day to finish 12th in the sprint, but it was awesome, because my teammate who had been in the breakaway all day actually won in the sprint! That was cool to be a part of.

After Augusta, it was nice to get home after being on the road for so long. A few days after I got home, though, I heard that I got invited to go back to Belgium for another month! I was excited for round two, and got ready for another go at it, this time knowing what to expect.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thuringen Rundfahrt

The last race that I did in Europe was the Thuringen Rundfahrt, a 7 day stage race in Germany that was one of the biggest races I have ever done, in terms of prestige. It went from June 9th through the 15th, and was a really fun race. The place we were staying was really cool, also. It was on the top of a mountain in Oberhof, Germany, which is known for its winter sports, such as ski jumping and luge. The mountains surrounding us looked like they came straight from the chronicles of narnia, so it was a really nice area:

Day 1: 7 km Team Time Trial in Sangerhausen, Germany

That is me on the far right
The first day was an 7 km team time trial. A team time trial is like an individual time trial, where you race by yourself and whoever has the fastest time wins, except with a team. In this race, it was a team of 6 guys, and the 4th guy across the line stops the timer. This allows two guys to not finish with the team, in case they have a mechanical or are just not strong enough to stay with the team. Going into the day, I was pretty nervous, since we had done a few practice runs that had gone really bad. But once we started warming up, I started getting excited. As we got to the start, we tried to calm down a bit, but once we started the race, it was game on.  Since the course was so short, so we knew we needed to not hold anything back, so we just went for it.

Right before the start, I'm 4 or 5 guys in, so you cant really see me

I am the 4th guy

In the end, we were pretty pleased with our performance. We finished 11th out of 21 teams, which was about the best that we thought we could do, and we beat some pretty solid teams. On top of that, we all finished together, so no one lost time, and everyone seemed like they were riding well, so that was good. There were still a lot of days to race, though.

Day Two: 170 km road race around Erfurt, Germany

The first road race was really cool. It started out really aggressive, as was to be expected, but the team that had the lead, a team called the Rabbobank continental team, controlled it really well. This meant that the middle of the stage was pretty mellow. There was one big climb that was about 1000 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles, but the race didn't get hard until the finishing circuits. The circuits were crazy. We had three laps of a 7 km circuit, with a steep 1 km climb every lap, and a fast, technical descent with cobbled switchbacks. I was actually riding pretty well in the end, and managed to stay with the lead group every lap, if just barely. I also managed to avoid all of the crashes and mechanicals that occurred on the cobbled corners, which was really lucky, so somehow, I was there for the finish, and although I only got 24th, I was pleased with the result, since the finish was pretty hard. In the video of the race, if you are really bored, you can see me and my teammate around 2:01 to 2:03. 

Day Three: 140 km road race finishing in Langerbach, Germany

Day three was a big climbing day. In the second half, there was a 7 mile climb, a 5 mile climb, and a 3 mile climb that the race finished on. I knew that I was not going to win the stage or have any good chances at a general classification, so I threw in the towel pretty early, and just finished in the groupetto this day. I knew that the next day was another good opportunity for me, and I wanted to go in as rested as possible.

Day Four: 147 km road race in Bad Blankenburg, Germany

This day race was really hard. Rabbobank did not let a break go the whole day, so we just went really hard the whole time. There was one big climb in the middle that was not too fast, but then on the two finishing circuits, there was a 2 mile climb that got pretty hard at the top. I did fine the first time, but the second time, I started too far back, and by the top, I had to close too many gaps to make the front group, so I finished in a group that was a minute back. 

Day Five: 183 km road race in Treffurt, Germany

Day five was one of the least lucky days I have had in a while. About an hour in, I flatted right before a really hard section, and spent 10 kilometers chasing as hard as I could to get back on. Then, later in the race, I was stuck behind a crash, was off the back again, with only one other guy. I later found out that he is the national champion of sweden, and that he said that this was his hardest day on a bike, ever. We spent 60 kilometers chasing before we barely made it back on. I then got immediately dropped up the final climb, and just rode the finish really easy with a group of 12 guys. I was actually happy with that though, because 17 guys didn't finish the stage (including 4 USA national team kids, which was a bad day for the team in general). Also, two of my teammates ended up in the hospital after the race, so I was happy to not have been involved in the crash. One guy just had a dislocated shoulder, but the other one broke his collarbone and needed surgery. I felt really bad for this kid, because not only was he in pain, he was stuck in a german hospital (where no one spoke english) for four days while he recovered from the surgery without anyone that he knew. On top of that, he then had to stay in Belgium for an additional week, with only the guy in charge of the house, and nothing to do. It sounded terrible, and I feel really bad for him. 

Day Six: 9 km uphill time trial in Oberhof, Germany

So, let me preface this by saying that time trials are not my specialty. I am pretty bad at them, actually. This time trial was essentially 3 km of false flat uphill, followed by 6 km of outright climbing. At this point there were only two of us left in the race, so our mechanic, soigner, and director had time to blow by taking pictures of us as we got ready.

Me warming up
Me getting ebrocation, a warming cream, put on my legs by the soigner Anthony.
Me right before the start

But, this was a bad day on the bike for me, I just had nothing.

Day 7: 143 km road race in Triebes, Germany

The last day was interesting, because there were only two of us left in the race. It was a pretty hard day, and I fell off the pace the last time up the final finishing circuit climb, and finished in the second group. 

This was the two of us before the start, getting ready to wreak havoc. Actually, Matty, the guy on the right, had a good ride the last day, finishing 8th, which was impressive. 

Anyhow, it was a fun race, and I was actually looking forward to doing more. Here are a few random pictures that I thought were cool from the race:

I think this was taken the second day, before the start. It gives you an idea of our support; We drive there, get out, sit down and try to stay as relaxed as possible. The mechanic sets up our bikes, and the soigner gets us any food that we need, before and during the race. After the race, when we get home, the soigner starts massages as soon as possible.
This is the view from the our team car most days. It is something that doesn't get a ton of attention, but there are a ton of cars following us. It provides a safety net for you; If you flat or get dropped, you can generally draft the cars to get back on. On the 5th and 7th stages, I saw this view a lot. Also, funny thing about this picture, you can see the guy in the blue car smoking out the window. Everyone seems like they smoke here, but not around the riders, which is why I assume that the mechanic has to do this, since later their riders will have to drive home in that car.
 Another view of the caravan, with one of the guys on the team, he must have had a mechanical. 
 This was what a lot of the country side looked like, it was a nice area.
One more picture that the soigner took. He fills each musette bag with bottles and food and passes them out in the feed zone. I just thought this was an interesting picture. 

Here are some links to videos of each day:

And here are the results:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Catch Up

So it has been a while since I have posted, again. This is because when we are at races, the race itself provides housing (and food) for the teams. This means that often times, we are staying in low budget hotels that do not have internet. So, for the past 2 weeks or so, my internet has been hard to come by.
Anyhow, I am now back in the US. I am in Augusta, Georgia, for U23 (under 23 year old) national championships, and feel pretty good; I think that I have a chance to have a few good rides. Since I last updated though, I have had some interesting experiences, so here is wheat I have been up to:

After I got back from France, I did a race called a kermesse. It was a pretty interesting experience. To start, you show up in some town and go to the race bar. It generally looks something like this:
The bar is packed with people (mostly old, fat men), and is really, really smoky. But you go in, present them your license, and pay 5 euros, 3 of which you get back after you return your re-usable numbers after the race. Then, you go pin numbers and try to ride a lap of the course, if you can find your way around. The start, before anyone gets there, will look something like this:
By the time the race starts though, the barriers are fairly packed with locals who come out to watch the race, eat the food, and most importantly, get fairly drunk. The most unique part is actually the food; Vendors will set up booths that sell grilled sausages, frites (french fries), and dried fish, which looks and smells pretty bad. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to try any, although I am not sure if I could have gotten any down if opportunity had presented itself.

But back to the actual race, the course was a 3 km loop that we did 35 times, for a total of 105 km, or around 65 miles. This is a pretty common distance for the total length of the race, but usually, the laps are longer than that. The field size was around 120 guys, and once we started racing, we were just flying. Our race time was 2 hours and 20 minutes, meaning that we averaged over 28 miles per hour. It was a flat course, and these guys just went so hard. There was a break of 10 guys up the road most of the race, but they never got more than 20 to 30 seconds, so we could see them on  the straightaways. This meant guys were just attacking constantly. I tried to mix it up in the front, following attacks when I could, but it was really hard. My best moment came when, on the last lap, the break got caught. I though that the best course of action would be to try to counter this move, and that maybe that would be the winning break. But, with less than 2 km to go, a solo attack wasn't going to make it, so in the final 500 meters when I got caught, I was just going backwards, and ended up pretty far back. Anyhow, it was a fun day, and some good training, which was good to get heading into my next race, a 7 day under 23 race in Germany (more to come on that in my next post). 


This is Ronny. Ronny is the Izegem Police man. He also, in his free time, gives massages to cycling teams. A few times a week, he will show up in the afternoon, and give all the guys a massage. This guy is hilarious. He really lightens up the mood in the house, which is really good. When you have 10 guys in a house with the only goal of doing well in bike racing, it can get a bit rough, but he is a good way to ease the tension. 

Ieper (or Ypres) 
On the last day we were in Belgium, Ronny took us to a town called Ieper. Apparently, he has been offering to take the national team there for a few years, but luckily he never came through until this. The interesting thing about Ieper is that every day since 1928, other than during the occupation, they have held a WWI memorial ceremony. We started by going driving by a WW1 cemetery. 

Me, taking a picture 
It struck us then how many people WW1 and WWII actually impacted. Most of us had not seen any kind of memorial for WW1 before, and the fact that this was just one of thousands of cemeteries spread out around Belgium and France for both wars just struck us as incredible. 
After this, we headed to Ieper. Now I have to warn you, the next picture is the only really touristy picture that I took the whole trip, so you have been warned:
This was the main square in Ieper, and the building behind me is actually a museum now. It was interesting to find out that this, along with almost everything else in Ieper, had to be rebuilt after WWI, since the city was decimated after the war. From here we walked a few blocks to the memorial, which is built into the defensive wall surrounding the city. It also seems to serve as the main entrance into the city, as if to remind people of what happened every time they come or go.  
The actual ceremony was impressively well attended, and though it was simple, it drove home the point of how much WWI impacted this community. This is a picture from the ceremony:
Like I said, there were a lot of people who showed up, and they have this memorial service every day. It was impressive, and was a good way to spend our last day in Belgium. 

The next day we were off to Germany for my last race for the trip, but I will save that for my next post. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tour de Gironde

So it has been a few days since the last race ended, but it has been really hit or miss with the internet where I have been (mostly miss). The race was called the Tour of Gironde, and it was mostly around Bordeaux, France. Like you would expect from the location, we pretty much ended up riding around many of the surrounding wineries, and the occasional castle. But it was actually a cool race (even though the place where we stayed was terrible), and I liked it a lot more then the previous weeks race. 

We started out with a 170 km road race on saturday, with a lot of wind, and some pretty hard, but short, climbs. I felt really good at the beginning, so I was being really aggressive. I ended up in a break that looked awesome: 9 guys, with most of the bigger teams represented, and I really thought that it would be the break of the day.  Since the team also thought that this move would be the break of the day, everyone else on our team had assumed positions towards the back of the 120 person field. Unfortunately, about 10 km later, we got caught, and, as luck would have it, the next break was the break of the day. Since I needed a second to recover after just being off the front, and everyone else was at the back, we missed the move, which was a big mistake. It turns out that there were 17 guys in the move, which is a lot, especially if you want to bring it back. And since pretty much every other team in the race was in this break, the responsibility fell on us to do just that. So, for the next 70 km, 3 of us from the US rode the front trying to bring it back. However, when it you have 3 guys versus 17 guys, it is pretty clear what the outcome will be, and we just watched while the time gap slowly increased. So while we got some great exercise (and pictures) while we were on the front, it ultimately did nothing for us in the end. Seven guys finished a minute ahead of the main group, which essentially ended all chances that we had for any of us to have a good ride in the general classification. I ended up finishing 97th, after blowing up on the last finishing circuit. 

The next day, though, turned out to be a lot easier. It was a 180 km road race, and, although in the first 60 km of the race it was really hard while a break tried to get away, the team with the leaders jersey, called the Rabbobank continental team, controlled it very well, never letting the gap get over one minute, and almost guaranteeing a sprint finish. I though that it would be a good chance to go for my best result yet, seeing as we didn't have anyone to work for in the overall. So when we hit the three finishing circuits, I worked on positioning myself for the sprint. I actually was doing a pretty good job, and going into the final corner, I was maybe 10th or 15th wheel, which was pretty ideal, given that the final straight away was maybe 700 or 800 meters. However, everybody in the race was just so strong, that everyone could contest the sprint. There were so many guys that were sprinting for the line, that I couldn't even full out sprint! I ended up crossing the line in 21st place, my best finish yet in Europe, but I realized that I just needed to be more aggressive, and I decided that if I were in the same position the next day, I would not make that mistake again. 

The last day was essentially identical to the second day. Rabbobank controlled it, leading to a sprint finish. However, this time, I was a lot better prepared, and although I was not in as good a position going into the final corner, I had a clear line up the left hand side of the road in the sprint, and I was able to pass probably 10 or so guys, which is a ton. I ended up finishing 13th, which was bittersweet; on one hand, I was happy to be up there and get my best finish yet, but I knew that I could have done better if I had not messed up the final corner. But it was good to get a boost of confidence going into my last race in Europe, which starts on the 9th of june. It is a 7 day race in Germany called Thurigen Rundfarth, and I am actually really excited about it.

Here are some pictures from the race this weekend:
This was where I stayed. Most of the teams stayed at this place as well.
 It was pretty dirty and fairly small, but we made do!

One of the pictures from the first day, when we were on the front. 

Another one of us riding the front

This is what 21st place looks like, from the second day. It is a bit hard to see me, but I am to the left of the guy in the green jersey, who is to the left of the guy who is winning. Just to give that a bit of perspective.

This is my favorite picture of the race. This was from the first day as well. On the second day, at the start of the race, they had three pictures up from the previous days race, and this was one of them. It was pretty sweet, but then on the last day, they actually presented me with a copy when our team signed in, which was pretty cool as well.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

France (2)

So, I didn't let people know how last weekends race ended. But ultimately, it did not end up that well. The last stage was 120 miles with over 40 kilometers of hard climbing, and it was snowing/raining the whole day. I ended up not finishing, but so did a majority of the other guys. From the 80 or 90 starters, only 28 finished. The good news was my teammates finished 6th and 8th on the stage, and were both in the top ten overall, so they both had really good races.
After the race, we went to Limoux, France, for a few days of training (and recovering). It is really awesome here. We are staying in the middle of old town, walking distance from the main square, and just about everything else you could need. The weather was not that nice for the first few days, but it cleared up, and now we have been having some really nice weather. Anyhow, we leave Limoux tomorrow for a 3 day race called the Tour of Gironde.

 Here are some pictures from around town:
The road to where we are staying

Walking to the Main Square

Another unique street near our house

This door on the right is where we were staying

An old church near town

A river near that goes through town

The church again, and more of the town.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Q: How long can these guys go this hard?

A: About 155 kilometers, or... 3 hours, 45 minutes. 

Today was my first race in Europe. I have been feeling a bit better, but my lungs felt pretty bad once we really got going (which, like I have already mentioned, was at approximately kilometer zero). Here is a quick run down of the race:

I am supposed to get in an early break, so I am going as hard as I can to try to make that happen. Despite a few decent looking moves that I was in, nothing is going, yet. This takes us to kilometer 50 or so, which took about an hour (thats about 31 miles per hour). 
Around this time, we hit the second rated climb. It got the lowest rating, a category 3, but we went soo hard. I was sitting last wheel over the entire thing, thinking "I cant get dropped, or I wont make time cut" 
Then, the hardest part of the race. We had these really strong cross winds, so the field was completely guttered. I don't have time to explain that tonight but here is a good picture example (different race, but you get the point):
This was essentially the view that I had for an hour plus during the race. 
Then, a big break got up the road, that got a minute and a half on the group really quick. So our director says: You all need to ride the front. So I ride the front for the next 30k with my teammates, decrease the  gap by 45 seconds, and then we hit that climb again. 
And I get dropped maybe 400 meters in. I ride the next 20 km with two other guys who were riding the front with me, and then get caught by 8 or so riders just holding onto a car. I draft the car, just so that I can make time cut, but we are going so fast, it was one of the hardest times in the race. 

All in all, I was the 3rd to last finisher in the race (but maybe 5 or 10 DNF'd, and a few got time cut), and I ended the stage almost 15 minutes down. 
BUT, our director was happy with my performance, and since I am still sick (I have a wicked cough), I think that this bodes well for what is to come. 

More Later.