"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Tour of Elk Grove, Part I: Focus Pokus

(Photos by Luke Seemann)

It was almost over before it began and I was still completely gassed at the end.

Today was the 1st edition of two days of racing in Elk Grove Village. It's almost 12 straight hour of bike racing on Saturday and Sunday, with every category represented from Big Wheels to the Pros. There was a parking lot full of venders with everthing from local bike shops to one of xXx's bigger sponsors, Goose Island Brewery. I would just like to throw a big shout out to GIB for their free water for xXx-ers today. And the complimentary glass of Orange Creme Soda (real sugar, baby) they gave me with my 2 chicken andouille sausages.

Rick picked me up at noon after I spent the morning waiting in vain for the Comcast Cable guy to come and fix my internet. At least I was able to get a good sweaty hour on the trainer. (Of course, when I returned home it was fixed on it's own - hence this blog entry. Comcast does it's best work when they don't do anything.) We arrived less than an hour later in the growing heat, and I got in a decent warm up with Jon Dugas on the suburban streets before the first heat of the Category 5s went off, about 20 minutes late. Jon and I stood in the staging area just behind the finishing line in the middle of the boulevard and watched the four laps.

The course was a big L shape, with only 1 right turn. At each end were two 180 degree u-turns. The first Cat 5 race eventually broke apart into about 4 or 5 groups, but xXx had 2 riders in the top ten - Newt Cole grabbed fourth and just missed the podium, and Erik Dridriksen got ninth.

Jon and I were the only xXx-ers in the seconds heat. The race started out at a fairly decent paces, yet I felt much stronger than I did in my last race, the debacle at Evanston. I recall coming around the home stretch for the first time, sitting 10th wheel or so, riding around 27 - 28mph. For much of the first 2 laps I went from the very back of the main group to pulling on the front. But not for very long.

I felt I had a lot more focus in this race, which was a victory in itself. I'm a very ADD person, and much of first 10 races I've spent undergeared, overgeared, getting gapped at turns, simply too overstimulated just protecting my wheel and riding an entire race at 85% and above.

Coming past the line on the 3rd lap, 2 to go, I grabbed a great position on the left front side of the pack and sucked on a strong wheel, about 3 or 4 wheels back. Jon Dugas was either pulling or sitting second wheel for the whole first half of the lap. At this point I was just sitting in, waiting to see what would happen. For the first time in a criterium I felt strong and comfortable at the front, and I was able to focus on more than just protecting my wheel. I even had to fight for my position a few times, once returning a couple of elbows to a guy who directly tried to force me off. The race was going to be over too quickly for anything to really develop, and nothing had gone off up to that point.

And then of course, just as I was thinking this, there went the first attack, by a Vision Quest rider sitting 2nd wheel to the left in the echelon formation. Jon immediately gave chase. Since I was boxed in on all sides, the decision was made for me that I would stay and block. I sat of 2nd or third wheel, and pulled the main pack a bit around the right turn and subsequent 180, and then pulled off to immediately grab 2nd wheel again.

Jon's break:

Not really sure what happened after this point except that it got pretty fast. I not only lost my focus, I lost my position coming into the last lap and was running at red line from there after. I was in the pack but unable to hold onto any one wheel for very long. Jon was caught with less than half a lap to go, and I found myself in a familiar position at the last 180 turn: being out of position as the rest of the pack accelerated for the home stretch.

I ended up with a 23rd placing out of a pack of 50 that started. A good race for me, with not a great finish. I say good because I still accomplished a lot. I stayed mentally in the game for most it, which is much better than I have done in previous fast criteriums like this. Plus, my goal at this level is not win, but to learn as much as I can so I can start winning when it counts: in the 4s. I still could've and should have finished better.

I think I was a bit undergeared at the end. I felt like I was spinning pretty fast and still not able to make up ground. Those anaerobic moments are my weakest, and my muscle memory and form really fall off at those points. The pain in my legs is almost numbing, I pound away at ground, neglecting the other 270 degrees of my spin. I probably wasn't in the drops either, until the 200 meter mark, and by then the pack as speeding away. I did get one minor victory: a rider in front had just fallen off the finish and was sitting up. I got out of the saddle and sprinted past him to the line.

It looks hot, don't it?!

It definitely wasn't one of my finer ends to race this year, but I definitely learned a lot, and found a lot more focus than in previous races. I am not going to get frustrated by not finishing well. I race because I love to go fast and to ride with other great cyclists. I will do what comes naturally to me in the pack, not make the same mistake twice (or try to - it seems to be a hobby of mine), and ride as hard and as smart I can. As long as I keep learning and trying new things, I will become a better racer.

I also saw the definite pay off of intensity in my training, and realize I need a lot more. The key will be to find a good balance to take me to the end of the season without overdoing it. I don't have much of a foundation, as I've said before, and building on a weak foundation can bring the whole house down.

It was damn hot day as well. I felt I had drank enough water today, guzzling water constantly all day yesterday and today, up to the start of the race. But coming through the back stretch of the first lap I was already feeling the dry mouth, and I wasn't sweating as much as I should have.

Tomorrow should be a better race. It will be faster, as the payouts, with primes, are $5,000. $600 goes to the winner, so that is one sprint I do not want to miss.

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