Tuesday, September 25, 2012

USGP Plant Bike Cup - When it All Comes Together!

What an unbelievable and fun weekend! A few weeks ago, I was not sure I would have been able to say that. As the USGP of Cyclocross appeared to be in jeopardy, and was not going to happen. But in the last hour, Trek Bikes stepped in with sponsorship and helped save this incredible event. As a result the race lived on and I was able to pull of something I never thought I would ever be able to do at a USGP event. I scored a top 3 podium in the single speed race! What an incredible feeling! And this is how it went.

Jim Goerlich, Mark Caffyn and myself made the trek around the pond and over to Madison, WI for this year’s edition of the USGP Plant Bike Cup. We got there early Friday and pre-rode the course. It was a lot of fun, and it had much more flow over the course from last year. As always, Jim and I traveled light and planned to take on the single speed class both days. The course was very single speed friendly and I could not wait to line up the next day. Well, the next day came and I was feeling great. Before heading to Madison, I felt I would be able to grab a top 5 and even a top 3 in one of the days if I had the opportunity. So my goal was set, and my confidence was high. This was going to be a tough goal to achieve as there are always big name players, and others coming out of the wood work with the same goal. As we arrived to the park, it was cold! Temps in the mid 30’s, and it sure felt like cyclocross. It kept trying to rain, and was windy as hell. I just thought to myself – Perfect! Jim and I helped Mark get ready for the Cat 2/3 race and cheered him on for a few laps before getting ready ourselves. After a quick warm up, it was time.

I was the 3rd called to the line, and was sitting front and center on the start grid. Lots of the same faces I did battle with the year before including pro Raleigh/Clement rider Craig Etheridge. I was feeling calm and ready. My mind was clear, and the countdown began. The official gave the 15 sec. warning, and shortly after, the whistle blew. We were off! A sea of Lycra clad single speeders were fighting for the hole-shot. I settled in behind the leaders in about 5th. It was chaos as the attacks came early and often. I pegged my heart rate to stay near the front, but did not panic, as I knew several of them would pop. I kept everyone within sight, and just raced my race. Soon I found myself near 10th place in the 2nd lap. I knew I had to start attacking myself. I made a surge, and dropped the group I was with. I could see a few more single speeders strung out in a loose line ahead of me and began to pick them off one at a time. By the 3rd lap, I was sitting back in the top 5. I was with 3rd and 4th riders, and the 2nd place rider was about a ½ lap ahead. We tried to work together and bridge back to 2nd place, but it was obvious that no of us really wanted the other around and each took small digs throughout the lap. I finally made my move in the flat section of lap 4. Another one dropped off and now I was battling alone for the last step of the podium, and 2nd place was getting closer. As we round the course and into the finally lap, the guy in 2nd place was still a few hundred yards ahead but showing signs of fatigue. I told the guy I was riding with that we needed to go get him and get him now, but he did not react. So I took it into my own hands. I went around him and began my chase for 2nd. I went as hard as hell, and was feeling really good and in control. I quickly dropped the 4th place rider and was bearing down on 2nd. Every corner I was gaining an inch. He would look back and try to push harder. As we came near the pits and into the last half of the course, I was only about 15 feet away. I planned my strategy and waited for my opportunity to make one last move.

We both pushed as hard as we could and the crowd and announcers were all going crazy and cheering us on. This made the last few minutes exciting as hell! The only thing left was the hardest part of the course. The long hill climb, downhill switch back and then – the “hill side strangler” run up. I was hot on his heels and wheel to wheel going into the last climb. I pushed past the pain, and knew I had to be the first to the top of the hill to beat him. I began to pull past as we climbed, and as we crested the top, I pushed past him and continued to push as hard as I could through the flat section and into the run-up not looking back. Through the final turns and onto the pavement I did not know where he was, so I was still pouring it on. I crossed the line and saw I had a gap. I did it! I just finished in 2nd place at a USGP! I was so stoked, and couldn’t believe it actually happened!

Day 2 was another good day. I did not stand on the podium, but I did finish up 6th and missed the top 5 by only a few seconds. The course was wide open this day, and I was slightly under geared to hang with the leaders. But my effort was solid, and I was able to negative split my laps for the 2nd day in a row. Overall, what an incredible weekend, and one I will remember for a long time.

The MI scene was in full affect as several folks made the journey for some of the best CX racing in the country.

Congrats to Jeff Weinert for take 2nd place on both days and is in the hunt for the Masters 45+ overall title.

Margaret Robinson – 2nd Cat 4 women Day 1

And congrats to Mike Wissink, Matt Baroli, Tom Burke, Ellie Burke, Sven Baumann, Adam York, Danny Gerrow, Mark Parmelee, Andy Weir, David Johnson, Mark Caffyn, Cruise, Greg Johnson and Jim Goerlich for showing the Wisco crew how the MI scene rolls!

Finally, thanks to the Wolverine/AFC guys for offering up there trailer, tent, and compound during the weekend. It makes it feel like being with family at these races!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Columbus Park CX!

The kick off to the newly revamped Tailwind USAC CX State Championship series got underway last Sunday, and it did so in un-charted territory. A new venue and in my backyard. Yep its almost the end of the earth. Right on the country's international border. Yep, racing in the UP probably would have been closer. Yep. Right here in St. Clair Co. Ironically, its only about 20 mins away from Stony Creek, but to some of the Suburban folks, they were in God's country. Well, Columbus Park proved to be a worthy venue for CX with 29% gradient run up, fast flowing bermed down hills, a 14% grade loose gravel climb, and balls out long power flat sections of 2 track, this was not only different than any other Tailwind race in the past, but one that offered something for everyone. This not only marked the first time the park has hosted a CX race, but also the first time a CX race has taken place in St. Clair Co. So to me, that is really cool!

Onto some racing. This was going to be a good test for everyone. New season, new venue, and a few new faces. That first race is always a acid test... Who's got it? Who's been working for it? How did you road or MTB season go? Who's lean? Who moved up? All the questions are asked. Then you line up, look around. Yep all present. Wait where is So and so? Who is that? Then the whistle blows, and your heart is stuck in your throat! This year it was not any different. Most of the usual suspects were present, so it began... David Johnson grab the hole shot and put down an incredible effort out the blocks. Rodger Bowser followed along with Andy Fedewa, Shawn Schaffert, Brian Wachlarz and then me. Roger and Brain soon covered this first attack and we followed. The Brian Decided to pull ahead of the group and laid it down on the first section of flats. He put some serious hurt on the group. We followed but slowly, the other guys started to fall away. By the time the 3rd lap rolled around, I made contact to Brain and Rodger, and the damage was done to the group behind. I was at my limit and was hoping Brain was done. And as soon as the 4th lap started, he sat up! He was done. Rodger and I went around and began to trade blows. We soon realized it was down to him and I and formed a truce. At this time we were picking up riders in the Elite class, and used them to our advantage for drafting and keeping a nice healthy gap to the rest of our group. We traded pulls until the last 2 laps. Rodger then began to turn the screws. I could feel the pain increase, but he could not completely shake me. He would pull away on the climb and the run up, but I would claw back on all the technical sections of downhills and the flats. By the time the last lap rolled around, he dangled just a few hundred feet ahead of me. Brad Lako was on the side lines yelling at me to chase him down! You can DO IT! DIG! DIG DIG! I stood up and lit a match! I instantly bridged the gap on the down hill. Then the run up. He pulled a few inches back. Then the next down hill. I was back, into the chicanes, and onto the flats. Rodger stood up and applied max power to the pedals. I tired to do the same but my heart rate was already maxed out. No more matches. I tired to stay with him, but could not close down the last couple hundred feet at the end - 2nd place.

I was very happy with the result especially finishing that close to Rodger who is a former Masters 35+ State Champ and overall series champ. So this should make for some exciting racing this year.

Another notable race was the B Men 39-U. My good friend Brad Lako showed that he is going to be a major player in the cross series this year by taking a commanding win! and putting up some of the best lap times of the day! This is Brad first official USAC win! And it is well deserved. Keep working hard, stay focused one race at a time, and take home the year end hardware as well!

Other notable results -

Adam York taking first in the Elite class against a very tough Sven Baumann!
Tom Barret and Scott Fabinjanski - 2nd and 3rd. These guys are ready to breakout. I can smell it.
Mike Seaman - Another great single speed performance with 3rd.
JB Hancock - Taking 1st in the single speed class and having fun. That is what CX is about right?
Ben Christian - 4th in B 39-U. First race and podium! Nice Keep'em coming. You worked hard for it.
Ryan Katulic - 3rd in B 39-U. What would happen if you actually rode your bike other than a few races?
Me - 4th in the single speed race. I felt like death, but pulled out a spint finish for 4th in the end!

Well I will be off to Madison this weekend to take on some of the best single speeders in the country at the USGP of Cyclocross! Shooting for a top 5 and stretch for a top 3 podium finish. It will be tough, but I am ready and excited for the challenge!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Let's Get Ready to......!

Like a kid waiting for Christmas to get here, I have been jonesing for some CX action. And you know what? CX-Mas has arrived! Yep, tis the season. The most wonderful time of the year. And what better way to open up the presents with the first gift of the season - the Ithaca Grand Prix of Cyclocross. JB took a year off from putting this race on to finish up his masters, but it was back this year and it was bigger and better than ever before. One of the best run races, best fun races, and best CX courses in the state! If you have not done this race yet, you should squarely kick yourself in the ass!

As the weeks and days led up to the race, it was one of the only things I could think about. I made the 2.5 hour ride over to Ithaca with my dad, and as soon as we arrived, the buzz was in the air. I chatted with all my CX friends and finally got ready to race. This year the masters races would be 50-60 mins long. So I knew this was going to be a good endurance test for me. Also, in the 5 laps we were going to do, there was a total of 1000 ft of climbing! Ouch. This was going to make for one of the hardest CX races I have ever done. We took to the line behind the elite, and after 30 seconds we were off! I had issues clipping in at the start and this cost me a shot at the Prime. But I was sitting in 5th place going into the course. Attacks came early from Andy Fedewa, Shawn Schaffert, Pete Thompson and Ray Auger. But I just settled into my groove and applied the pressure keeping everyone in sight. After a few laps, and a couple of hard surges up the sled hill, and gravel climb. I found myself at the front of the race all alone with Pete Thompson. I stuck to his wheel like glue, and we traded a few pulls through the race. We continued to grow the gap lap after lap to the other racers. Finally with 2 laps to go, Mark Wolowiec (masters 45+) caught and passed us. Pete made a dig to get onto his wheel right before the sled hill. I followed. I instantly went past the red zone but managed to hang on but just barely. We went through the fast flat section of the course and was able to recover a bit, but Pete was still trying to put the pressure on. Into the long sand pit, I was just off the back. Pete Surged through the sand by foot and past Mark. He remounted his bike and began to sprint up the small punchy hill. I could not respond to the attack and the gap grew. For the next lap and a half, I tried every possibility to reel Pete back in, but the gap was too large. He dangled right in front of me. I crossed the line for 2nd place, and was very happy with my race.

Shortly after, I lined up again for the single speed race. I had some reservations about doing this race as I was completely spent from turning myself inside out trying to catch Pete in the race before. But I got on the line anyway. As soon as the race started, I felt like mush. Legs were tired and heavy, But I know i had 3 more laps left in me. I was sitting in 3rd in the first lap right before the sled hill. I decided to run it rather than ride. Big mistake, as everyone that rode it passed me like I was standing still. Mike Seaman, Jim Gorlich, Ray Auger, and Andy Fedewa were all in front of me now. Mike and Andy took this as their opportunity to make their move stick. As I chased, I passed Jim and Ray in the beginning of the 2nd lap. And I made a big charge to catch Andy, Through the pine tree dirt path. I made contact with Andy right before the sled hill. But it was too much. As we climbed the hill together, my quads began to cramp from the effort of the masters race. I was left to try and hang on, but he slipped away. I was able to hold off everyone else for the last lap, but could not close down the remaining few yards to Andy so I had to settle for 4th. But not bad. 2 podiums on the same day! I will take that.

Congrats to the following folks on some great results!

Sven Bauman - 2nd to a UCI top domestic Road Racing Pro!
Brad Lako - 1st USAC CX podium with a 4th place!
Andy Fedewa  - Double podium and an outstanding 3rd in the single speed race!
Jeff Weinert - 5th in Elite. The pony is ageless!
Mike Seaman - 2nd in the Single Speed race. Racing experience paid off in an awesome early race move to secure a commanding 2nd!
Pete Thompson - 1st place. Way to bounce back from early season injury. Now time to go back and race elite where you belong! ;)
Jeff Haney - 1st place I think he is getting younger!
Tom Barrett - 3rd place, Tommy B looks to be back!
Scott Fabijanski - 3rd place. It appears to be that Scotty is back on a plan, and should be a force to recon with in masters 45+.