Sunday, December 11, 2011

Time flies when you're not in school

This was my first off-season that didn't involve catching up with school.  It was weird.

To pass the time, I've been involving myself with other things:

I posted a while back about our garden.  We had a pretty good harvest this year, and went out to pull everything in that we could before the first frost hit us.  I realize that not all of these pictures are necessary, I'm just trying to make Stephanie jealous because she has yet to mail me any of the sweets she bakes, or even blog about that time I met her and Devin in Longmont for an afternoon of entertainment.

our mountain of swiss chard
eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli
potatoes, jalapenos, anaheim chiles
zucchini log, normal zucchini, etc.
more punkins.  Did you know they're green before they're orange?  I learned that this year...
I'd include a pic of our fantastic corn, but we never got any because of the blasted squirrels.  Don't get me started on squirrels.  Gizmo hates 'em, too. Speaking of, today Gizmo got one treed up a telephone pole.  He kept the squirrel up there while I heaved snowballs at it for 15 minutes.  Despite hitting it twice, the furry monster wouldn't come down!

We didn't carve the pumpkins up, so now we've just got a ton of pumpkin puree to cook with.  Pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin pancakes, and I made pumpkin scones.

Nevermind that they look like globs of orangish mud, they taste great.  I gave up on trying to make them pretty when I realized that the dough is clingier than Flick's tongue to a frozen flagpole (uh-oh, A Christmas Story analogy).

Ian made some pot-pie filling out of thanksgiving turkey leftovers, and this was my creation.
1.7 lbs of homemade bliss.  Suck it, Swanson.
To finish off what will be the last season of the Rio Grande Elite team, we got everyone together a week before Halloween for 9 holes at the local golf course.  Knowing that we'd be terrible, we all wanted to at least look the part.  So we all grew mustaches and hit the thrift stores.  When all you have is free time, it's easy to get carried away....  I even went to buy some used clubs, and where better to put them than a $5 genuine replica snakeskin golf bag with a pocketful of empties?

It's a good thing I can ride a bike fast, because I have no future in golf.  My score for 9 holes would have been decent for 18.  But I did look schnazzy in my used clothing and artificially-enhanced mustache.

Our mini-group of poseurs included Scott and Chris.  Isn't that a sweet golf bag?

Team Rio Grande 2011, in public, before Halloween.
I was able to go home for Thanksgiving, thanks to Ian and Gizmo.  All I had to do was keep Gizmo for the week with me at my parents' place.  As a bonus, the weather was supposed to be awesome--mid 60's and sunny.  Good thing, too, my legs are starting to look pretty pasty.

I was going to include a pic of my tanlines here, but then you'd see my legs and get jealous, and I don't want to seem like I'm bragging..

But wouldn't you know it, the weather psyched us out--Fort Collins suddenly became 60's and sunny for the length of our trip.  My first ride in McKinney was 47 degrees for 3.5 hours in fog with 200m visibility.  I got gypped. The remaining rides were also overcast and much for my tan-line tune-up.

I did, however, get to see my family.  My, what a difference a year makes.  A year ago, my dad was losing weight very quickly because the radiation to shrink his lung tumor had affected his ability to eat.  He had to take a pill 45 minutes before eating, to give him 30 minutes of slightly less painful time to eat.  This year he had no trouble stuffing his face like the rest of us.  Then we all sat around to watch the heartbraking loss of the Aggies to that team in Austin.

The day after that fateful game, Shane came back to McKinney and we got to work building up my new old mountain bike.  Anyone that knows Lee will recognize the frame....  Since my fancy schmancy Epic Marathon is busted, we transferred all the components over (but not without a healthy dose of Aggie engineering to make some stuff work right...).

To top it off, the only thing wrong with my position on the bike is that the reach is an inch or so too short--but that I can live with.

A while back, the mailman delivered this bike to me so that I can train on it through the winter and work towards my goal of being a time trial monster next season:

Between the TT, cross, and mtn bike additions to the stable, I've got bikes coming out the wazoo.  I'll be selling a couple this winter, because Shane certainly doesn't need a backup backup road bike or a ghetto backup TT bike....

Speaking of additions to stables, I got to name a horse.  It's not my horse, though.

Perhaps I should back up a bit.

Way back in 5th grade-ish, my family went to Disney World and on a Disney cruise.  There were moments where we had a lot of fun, but on the whole Shane and I were not overwhelmed by the magical place.  If you really want to get a rise from your parents, look up at them in the shadow of the Epcot Center and say two simple words: "I'm bored."

So then where could we possibly go for vacation? On the recommendation of our pastor at the time, we went to Wind River Ranch.  It's a Christian Family Ranch nestled at 9000 feet between Long's Peak and the Twin Sisters near Estes Park.  Every family gets their own cabin.  There's no internet, and no cell service. The only certain activities that are on the schedule are mealtimes and a nightly "fireside" sermon, as well as other events like the Hootenanny, square dancing, or grill-outs. Aside from that, every day was yours to do as you wish--whether that be trail riding on horses, rock climbing, hiking, etc.

The summer of the visors; my favorite shirt ever (which I'd still be wearing if my mom hadn't  retired it); our view from our cabin
Unlike the Disney kids club or whatever they called it, which sucked royally, the teen/pre-teen groups at WRR were fun, with fun people.  This was around the same time that Shane and I fought a lot at home, but at WRR we were first discovering just how awesome we were as a pair.  Over the multiple years that we went, I think Shane and I must have played 120--no, 173 rounds of disc golf (Shane, please tell me you got that reference).

Aside from all the fun we had, WRR is a truly amazing place.  It's hard not to be overwhelmed having Bible study around a campfire on a clear night looking across at Long's Peak.  If, for some reason, my cycling career is abruptly ended for whatever reason, I'm moving there and becoming a counselor/wrangler/cook/whatever.  Seriously.  I stopped by a couple of times on rides this summer, and both times was flooded with memories.

Well, WRR needed some new horses recently, and as much as WRR has given to our family, my parents wanted to help make that happen.  As a thank-you, we were given the naming rights of the horses.  One was named Haga, in honor of my dad's faithful battle against cancer.  My mom named one Angel in memory of our sweet dog.  Shane chose Honey[duke], and I named the last Tonto.  I got a pic of Tonto in an email last week, and my first thought (at 8am, still laying in bed) was, "Tonto is so cool!"

If I had my way, next August will play out like this:  My team rightfully gets into the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (let's be real, it's the Tour of Colorado), and I'm selected to race it.  I crush the final stage time trial in Denver on my birthday.  My parents and Shane are there to witness it.  During the recovery week that follows, they all stay in town and we go ride the horses at WRR.  Deal?  I thought so.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I tried 'cross. I wasn't very good.

After wrapping up the season in style at the Univest Grand Prix way back in mid-september, I flew back to Fort Collins and kicked off my first off-season as a non-student.  I went eleven days without touching a bike.  While most of my time was spent sleeping or eating, I did at least attempt to keep from getting fat.

With the fantastic weather, I took Gizmo hiking a couple of times.  By the end of the 3-hour hikes (which actually included a fair bit of trail running) I wanted to collapse and just lay there in the dirt contemplating my decision to be a pro in a low-impact sport.  My hips, knees, and ankles hated me and would hurt for days. I hurt as much from a hike as I did the day after US Pro Crit.... Gizmo seemed unaware of the agony I was in, as he ran even faster downhill.

I've also been running a bit.  Yeah, I'm even less excited about that than it seems.  Although, it turns out running is much more enjoyable less miserable when you have a running companion that is well heeled and running shoes that fit properly.  Who knew?  I can now run 3 miles without my joints complaining, so I guess that's good.

When it came time to start riding bikes again--just so I wouldn't forget how--I was in a pickle.  I certainly didn't want to ride on the road, because I'd just burn out.  My mountain-bike was broken and in Texas. The Colorado cyclocross season was in full swing, and here it's even bigger than road racing.  Only, I didn't have a bike for it.  Ah, sponsors.... Orbea and KBS-OH hooked me up with a bike that's better than I am.

For the uninformed, cyclocross is a special sport.  Basically, it's a road bike that's been modified for tire clearance and has a pair of knobby tires.  Then you race around in a field with various obstacles that force you to get off and run or to have some good bike skillz.  And as a bonus, half of the races are muddy slop-fests.

At least I'd be easing into this new sport, though, right?  Well, not really.  My first race would be the US Gran Prix in Fort Collins, an event that brings the top 'cross racers from the around the country and some international racers as well.  And because my road license says 'PRO', I get to race with the big boys.  So I needed some practice.  I built a set of barriers to work on my dismount and remount skills and it didn't go so hot.  Here are my tips if you ever find yourself in such a position (learned by yours truly in 15 minutes):

1)  Drive to the park where you will be practicing.  Although your homemade barriers may not seem that heavy now, they will be a mile down the road.
2) Don't rush the dismount when you are trying to pick up the pace through the barriers, or you might drive the pedal into the back of your right calf while running, giving you a nice bruise and launching the bike into the air out of your control.  Which brings me to 3).
3) Don't practice anywhere near the sidewalk, because when 2) happens, it might land on the sidewalk and bend your 5 minute old derailleur hanger.  Luckily it was minor and easily bent back later.
4) Finish the tubeless conversion on BOTH wheels first, because regardless how soft and fluffy the grass looks, there are evil thorns and you will flat the one without sealant.  Which brings me to 5).
5)  If you insist on practicing without sealant and did not do 1), make sure to have your cell with you to call your roommate so you don't have to walk a bike and 2 barriers all the way home in your cycling shoes when 4) happens.

Consider yourself learned.

Disclaimer:  To the photographers whose photos I've stolen, I apologize.  I don't have money to buy photos, so please accept my advertising on your behalf.  If this is not satisfactory, let me know and I'll remove them.

The races went about as expected.... I completed half the race before getting pulled in the nearly-freezing drizzly mud pit with the wrong tires.  I had fun, though, and even made a dollar!  And I only crashed twice!  The second one was an awesome crash, I hooked a fencepost and slid sideways for 30 feet down the hill in the mud.

Pausing to stuff my hard-earned dollar down my jersey
The aftermath

My skills slowly got better as I remembered my BMX and MTB heritage, but my legs had left me long ago for the season and I was intent on not training.  The good news is that Ian was in the same boat and we started every race together at the back, so every race became a battle between the two of us.  I ended up winning the series 3-2, so I'll proudly hang my hat on that one.

To sharpen my skills, I did a practice race here in Fort Collins.  The gracious host thought we could make use of his land, so a short series was held in his big back yard.  Shane, we're doing this someday when we have enough land between our neighboring houses to do it.  But ours will also include dirt jumps and such.

And here's video of us racing on it (I'm wearing Ian's helmet cam):

And here's a 20 minute video from another race. Again, I'm wearing the helmet cam, and Ian crashed in front of me twice.  Lotta fun!

And here's more random pics of me being a mediocre P/1/2 'cross racer:

incognito at an ACA race...muahahaha

those stairs sucked something aweful!

Who knows, maybe next year I'll actually have some fitness left over when 'cross season rolls around?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This one's about a piano and a song

I gave a brief history of me and the piano way back when, but I figure now's a good time to give the full version.

Music runs in my mom's family.  My Granddad was one of only 2 trumpeters (out of many many many that auditioned) to make the Army band and travel the world playing music instead of fighting.  He could play the trumpet like nobody I'd ever heard, and played big band jazz in the Sounds of Music Orchestra well into his 60's. My Grandma majored in music education in school with the piano as her instrument of choice. Her music repertoire could eat mine for dinner and still have room for dessert.  They had 3 kids that grew up with music.  My Uncle Brett was an accomplished trumpeter in high school; my mom plays the piano, flute, and handbells (although not at the same time...that's an act I'd like to see); my Uncle Barrick is skilled on many instruments and has made a successful career out of music--he has arranged music for Barry Manilow, Whitney Houston, Garth Brooks, and others that have seen their share of hit music charts (sorry Uncle Bear, but I had to name drop at least a little).

So there's a bit of a pedigree in regards to music.  When my mom encouraged me to take piano lessons, I did as any kid would do.  I resisted.  I felt like playing piano was girly, so if she could find a male teacher I'd start.  Finally, I caved in when she found a teacher I liked.  Ben directed the flute choir my mom played in at church, and I thought he'd be okay.

Naturally, we got started with the color-sequenced music books.  I guess music is like karate--you can't have numbered books or belts,'s gotta be by color.  Although there is slightly less kicking, punching, and screaming in piano lessons.  In fact, the book/belt similarity is where the analogy ends.

Back to music.

I was trudging through the first book just a couple of weeks into lessons. I was learning to read music and had just started playing with two hands at once.  Then my mom decided to play a prank on Ben at the next lesson--now there's an extracurricular activity I can support.  She had the sheet music to the Pink Panther theme song.  It looks more intimidating than it really is, if you can handle the jazzy rhythm of the right hand.  She set to work teaching me the song without reading the music.  I knew how it was supposed to sound, so I picked it up quickly.

I think you know where this is going.

At the next lesson, I sat down, plopped the Pink Panther music on the stand, and started playing.  If Ben's jaw hadn't been on the floor, he may have noticed that my occasional glances towards the music were only for show.

I was 11 when I started lessons with Ben
As it turns out, if you pull something like that off--regardless of whether you can really read the music--you get to skip ahead in the color progression.  It wasn't long before I was into real music. After a year or so of lessons, Ben left for Spain for missions work.  I started taking lessons from Vicki soon thereafter.

Vicki was just an interim teacher until either Ben came back or I found another teacher I liked more. The lessons stopped for a couple weeks for Christmas break; we'd resume after Christmas.  It was during this time that I was playing "Bumble Boogie" after church on the grand piano.  The music director asked if I had any Christmas music I could play in the Keyboard Christmas concert a week later.  As it turns out, I did not. At home, my mom went hunting through music and found a jazzy rendition of Deck the Halls.  In six days, I learned it, memorized it, auditioned it, and played it with only a single wrong note in front of 1200 people.

My first lesson back, Vicki asked how I enjoyed the Christmas break.  That was a fun game of catch-up.

After about a year with Vicki, we found Jim Harmon through a friend of a friend. He'd played piano as an opening act for both Liberace and the Johnny Carson show.  So I guess he'd be alright.

One of the first songs I learned with Mr. Harmon was the Hungarian Rhapsody #2 by Franz Liszt.  Many people recognize it as the concert piece played by Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry on their respective shows. It was a fun song to play, especially when imagining the cartoon playing along.  When I perfected the piece, Mr. Harmon made an off-hand comment that if he showed me the real Hungarian Rhapsody #2, I'd die.  When asked what he meant, he said, "what you learned is the simplified version" and left it at that.

Over the next several years, Mr. Harmon continued to challenge me with tougher and tougher pieces.  After establishing myself in church, I began playing more and more preludes and offertories there.  To date, I'd guess that I've played a few dozen times in church (keep in mind we're talking about a Baptist church in Texas--it's not a little church).  To mix it up, I started playing duets with my mom.  Piano-flute duets.  2-piano duets.  1-piano-4-hands duets.  Yeah, we were pretty much awesome.

I think this was the last duet we learned....
I tried a couple of times to get into a young pianist competition but wasn't quite good enough to make the cut from auditions.  I just never had the discipline to practice as much as was necessary to perfect my pieces.

At one of Mr. Harmon's recitals during my sophomore or junior year of high school, one of his younger students played the Hungarian Rhapsody #2 that I had learned years earlier.  I had forgotten all about it by that point.  But now it was on the forefront of my mind, and I wanted to play it.  How hard could it be?

Mr. Harmon still thought it would be too difficult for me.  He even had doubts about his ability to teach it.  But I persisted; in the 6 years I'd been taking lessons, I'd only ever picked out one other song on my own.  All others had been suggested by others.  Some I didn't want to learn at first, but now I love to play them years later.  The only song I had ever put on the radio and said "I want to learn this" was Mozart's Turkish March years earlier with Vicki.  I was determined to learn Hungarian Rhapsody; put the dadgum music in front of me!

Finally, Mr. Harmon gave me the music as a present.  He handed me the music book.  As I was forming the question of which page it started on, I had the sickening realization that the piece was the whole book.  Ya'll, that music was as much a gift as is a pipe-bomb filled with money.  You'll get your money, but first it's gonna make a mess of your face.  The Hungarian Rhapsody #2 is 24 pages of finger-mangling arm-burning music.  It may have saved ink to print the music in inverse color; cover the page in black except for where the notes go.

In summary, I was having second thoughts.

Nevertheless, we got to work with Mr. Harmon's special technique of learning music in reverse.  No, not playing it backwards.  Learning from back to front!  Most music starts with some melody and then adds to it as the piece goes on; the end of the song is just a harder version of the beginning.  So by learning the end first (although it is a bit more difficult this way, to be honest), you're learning the beginning as well and your performances will get stronger as they near the end. Ta da!

To say I had underestimated this piece would be an serious understatement; I nearly quit the piano altogether because of it.  It took 2 full years to learn this song and get it in a condition worthy of performance.  There were periods of multiple months that I would get so discouraged trying to play it that I would go weeks at a time practicing 30 minutes or less in a day.  Sometimes I would forego practicing altogether. My mom threatened to stop paying for lessons.

Once I finally got it "learned", Mr. Harmon and I went in for a lesson with his teacher--oh, snap!--to see what insight he could offer for tackling this musical beast.

For your enjoyment (although I must say (for my own pride) that the cartoon is a simplified and shortened version of the full version):

When I started college, I stopped lessons.  For the past 5 years, I've taken pretty much every opportunity to play a piano so that I could brush up and keep my repertoire somewhat fresh.  Thankfully I can remember all of my songs well so the cobwebs don't take too long to clear.  But I definitely got tired of "re-learning" my favorite songs every few months.

Fast forward to this year, when Ian offered to buy me a piano in exchange for maintaining the lawn and garden while he was out of the country.  Well, let's see...I accept.

Fast forward to last week, when I delivered a tv from a craigslist sale to a sweet old woman.  She had a baby grand in her living room that we got to talking about, and when I said I was in the market for a piano, she showed me an upright grand in the other room.  I played it, and liked it.  How much, though...?  $100.

Well, let's see...sold.

Now, then, moving it. In this corner, weighing in at an estimated 700 pounds, standing a whopping 54" high, the 101-year-old (not kidding) Cable-Nelson upright grand! In the opposing corner, Chad and his roadie friends whose combined weight is barely half that of the piano!

Turn's out it's not that difficult with the right tools, which can be rented for a scant $60.  We had it moved in an hour.

But seriously, I'm so happy to have a piano.  Not that my life is all that stressful, but bruising your fingers on real ivory (sorry elephants, but you make some pretty keys) is a lot of fun.

Here she is:

Oh, and it has a feature that I very much enjoy:

That's right, it's a lid-propper-thingamajig to MAKE IT LOUDER! My piano goes up to 11, fer realz.

And now I can resume work on my latest endeavor.  I currently can play from the 2:30 mark on, although admittedly not as well as Rubinstein....

Thursday, October 27, 2011

For the aspiring bike racers out there....

While I'm working on a new post about everything I've been doing in the last 2 months, this is what I'm thinking about right now: money.

Since the start of the year, I've been 100% committed to racing bikes.  I waffled a bit on whether I should get a job--and even tried a bit--but in the end I know that not having a job outside of racing helped my racing immensely.  Recovery is every bit as important as the training, so being able to just sleep for 3 days after a stage-race trip, and getting 9 hours of sleep nightly, has made a huge impact on my racing.  In school, I was ecstatic to get 6-7 hours of sleep after a weekend of racing, and my "off" days usually included 2 hurried trips to and from campus on my fixie.  So yeah, proper rest has made a huge difference in my ability to stay on form.

But rest ain't cheap.

Since I moved to Colorado, I've been logging all of my expenses, whether cash or otherwise, so that I can track expenditures on various items.  Now is a great time to do this breakdown, as today marks 8 months that I've been living here.  35 weeks.

So here it is, in descending order:

Rent.  I moved into a great location for a great price. $3200

Food.  Gotta eat! My diet has been 80-85% good for you food, 15-20% good for my wallet food. $2800.  That's about $350/mo, or about $80 per week.  This would be a bit lower, but you've gotta eat out a lot on race trips.  It's also consistent with food costs at school, which were about $75/week.

Gas. $1150.  2/3 of that is from my 2 trips home for races and to see friends and family.  The rest is driving to/from local races.  Aside from going home or to races, I've driven maybe 400 miles in the last 8 months.  My truck spends a lot of time not moving, and it's great.

Bike stuff. I'm so glad I've reached the point in racing where I don't have to buy everything myself.  Excluding the $1500 for my time trial bike that carried me to 2 top-10's in NRC TT's and a top-10 at nationals, and several other smaller wins, I've only spent $200 on bike stuff, and that's mostly chamois cream. Also, I've spent $400 on entry fees to races that aren't official "team" races.

Entertainment. I don't go out a lot, because I can't afford to.  Over 8 months, I've spent $211 on movies/music/bowling/golf/etc.  And half of that was birthday money from my parents.  Books are much cheaper than movies, by the way.

Now, then, how about income?

I've been selling a lot of my stuff on ebay--predominantly sunglasses and helmets that I don't use any more.  I've also been selling a lot of stuff for friends on ebay for commission.  Also, I continue to make money off of the job I once had over 2 years ago, thanks to income tax returns, profit-sharing, and vacation time cash-outs....

All those combined account for about 40% of my income this year.  The rest is race winnings.  All said and done, this year I made about $4000.  And I didn't start the year with a ton of money in the bank.

It doesn't take much math to figure out that I couldn't have survived this year--or at least been nearly as successful at it--without the support of my parents.  And thanks to them, next year I'll be paid to race my bike; next year's financial wrap-up will be much more cheerful!

So, to all the aspiring bike racers out there, be prepared to live frugally and still run out of money.  But as I've told everyone this year, there's no more enjoyable way to slowly run out of money than to do it racing your bike around the country and [next year] the world.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Me and my faint heart

I moved to Colorado several months ago, long story short, for the simple purpose of going pro.  Now that I've made it, in an ironic twist that only life can deliver, I can't race in Colorado (generally speaking).  How does that work?  Well, the cycling association of Colorado is called ACA.  The national governing body of cycling is USACycling (USAC for short).

Many years ago, ACA separated from USAC, choosing to be independent and run their own show.  Now, in an effort to pull ACA back under their umbrella, USAC has begun enforcing a rule that says professionals cannot race in unsanctioned races.  Since ACA is not a Local Association under USAC, their races are technically unsanctioned, meaning that pros can't do them.  Promoters can permit a race under USAC if they choose (and therefore bring pros to the race), but everyone here has an ACA license.

There are a few races left on the calendar that I need to stay fit for.  As much as I enjoy my regular 140 mile epic rides, I was looking for any races I could do to keep my top-end fitness up (it's the point in the season where I really struggle to push myself on training rides as hard as a race can).  There was an awesome stage race just a couple hours away that I couldn't do.  I had to widen the search area.

I chose the Tour of Austin last weekend--good money, tough racing, a well-run event, and my family and friends are there.  It was 3 crits over Labor Day weekend, and if I got there on Thursday I could race the Driveway weekly series as well.

Fort Collins to Austin is a 16.5 hour drive with my marathon driving methodology: only stop when the truck needs gas.  Because I had stuff going on here Wednesday, but wanted to be in Austin by early evening, I devised a plan.  I would pack up Wednesday night, sleep for a few hours, then hit the road at midnight.

The best laid plans....  I had been running around for hours getting everything ready for the trip and was so excited about going home that I got into bed an hour later than planned.  And I couldn't fall asleep.

Okay, if you fall asleep now you can get 2 hours of sleep before you have to get up.

Okay, if you fall asleep now, you can still get one and a half hours of sleep.

Seriously, go to sleep.  Just an hour and fifteen left.

Dude. Seriously. 45 minutes.

20 minutes?! Well that didn't go as planned.

So I got out of bed, put my clothes back on, and hit the road at 11:38 pm (this is important because I nerdily calculate my average trip speed every 30 minutes).

The first few hours weren't bad.  Around 4 am I cracked open the Monster.

I made it through all of college without relying on coffee, energy drinks, or even sodas.  I hardly ever take in caffeine, so when I do I get really, really, hopped up.  So all I had to do was sip on the Monster regularly and I was wired.

As I rolled into Amarillo at 8am, I was finally starting to feel the fatigue of the previous day's yard work and the lack of sleep.  I pulled into the back of a gas station and napped for 15 minutes.  And I bought another, bigger, Monster.

Back on the road, re-energized, I had talk radio to keep me company and knocked out the rest of the drive without problems.  Strangely, I didn't feel tired anymore.

I finally made it through Austin's rush hour, met up with broski, and we headed to the evening's race.  I had not had more than 15 minutes sleep in the last 32 hours, had 24oz of Monster coursing through my veins, it was nearly 100 degrees, and I had just finished a 17 hour drive.  Boogity boogity boogity, let's go racing?

It was so bizarre.  My legs were sluggish, but strong.  My heart was in a serious tizzy, going through the roof at the slightest effort.  At the same time, I was down from altitude and could recover in half a second.  So the whole race consisted of a hard effort, a fantastic explosion, and half a lap later was ready to go again.

I left my truck in Austin and Shane drove me back to Aggieland, where I said hello to Mr. Lee (and Elizabeth) and proceeded to sleep for 14 hours.  After a fun day of hanging with broseph and co. (and a bonus nap), Shane and I were headed back to Austin.

A decent field turned out for the first race of the weekend.  I and Dahlheim from Bissell were the only pros in the race--the main opponent would be the dozen blue and white riders from Elbowz, comprising 20% of the field.  On the first lap, I let the initial break go thinking that it couldn't possibly stay away the whole race.  Dahlheim and I attacked many times, but the course wasn't hard enough to really break it up and we had underestimated the sheer number of Elbowz riders.  Every move we made was shut down immediately, and there were still a handful of blue guys in reserve to counter our moves.

So that race didn't go well.  At the end of the race I didn't care anymore, so I led Shane out the last half-lap.  He got 2nd in the field sprint, finishing 10th.

Sunday would be a much better day.  A cold front was blowing in on a tougher course.  The temps were down a little (only low 90's!), and the very strong winds would certainly blow the race up--this swings the odds much more in my favor. I was still refining my heat-management strategy.  I was wearing a mesh skinsuit that breathed like you couldn't believe.  I had 2 polar bottles crammed with ice water.  I had a 2lb ice sock on my back, and poured a half gallon of water on myself before the start.

The racing started in earnest.  Everyone knew that the winds would destroy the field.  Elbowz assembled at the front to echelon. Carlos Vargas, me, and Ian Dille attacked to put pressure on them and stayed away for a bit over a lap.  The field was already splitting up just minutes in.  We were caught the next go around, and I fought for position by riding on the upwind side of the echelon.

Not in any difficulty when the first attack was brought back
I was pretty much smiling, knowing that this was my race.  I felt fantastic and the conditions were right.

The next lap around, Elbowz crushed the pace in the gutter on the penultimate straight on the course.  We were getting slammed by a brutal crosswind and they were doing nearly 30mph.  I dove into the last corner of the lap, which was a tiny bit off-camber.  I was going a little bit faster than the leaders, as I had just sprinted to close a gap.  I tucked low and railed the corner, and then the gust of wind hit me hard from the side.  The wind got underneath me and just blew my front wheel away.

Just that quickly, I was on the ground.  Apparently I have crashed enough in my life doing bmx and mountain biking that I've trained myself well:  I don't like sliding.  As soon as I hit the ground, I pushed myself up so that I could tumble instead of slide, and did some crazy judo apparently to keep my head off the ground (my helmet hasn't a scratch on it).

Did not hit my head....
Popped up, looking for my bike
I was immediately up and back on the bike, but just as quickly decided I was not getting back in the race.  I had just reopened all of my wounds from US Pro Crit and added more, and frankly I was tired of falling off my bike, especially after having done nothing wrong.

I rolled to the pit, found the medics, and sat on the back of their cart as they tended my wounds.  Nothing bad.  I was missing a good chunk of skin from my knee, scraped off a bit of skin on my calf, and had a nice huge strawberry on my left hip where my old scabs used to be.  I had also ripped open the tip of my left middle finger and pulled my right thumbnail up a little.

The medics cleaned the big stuff first--my elbow, hip, and knee.  Then he non-chalantly asked if I wanted him to clip the flap of skin off my finger.

Hold that thought, we're going on a short detour.

I used to never have trouble with my own blood and gore.  I split my forehead wide open in a go-cart accident at my 9th birthday party.  I split my chin open twice, stitches both times.  Somewhere before the second time, though, an innocent flu vaccination in which the nurse apparently got points if the needle came out the other side of my thigh gave me a serious aversion to needles.  Enough so that I nearly passed out getting my chin stitched the second time.  Enough so that I did pass out my freshman year of college getting a flu shot.  Enough so that I nearly passed out getting a blood test earlier this year.

Also somewhere along the line, I developed a debilitating weakness towards finger injuries.  My shins and knees and elbows are covered in scars from my bmx exploits, and none of that ever bothered me.  But hands...I don't handle hands well.  Once when I was a kid, I cut my finger with a box-cutter.  I went to the bathroom and bandaged it up, and came to on the floor.  I once slipped with a small flat-head screwdriver and cut my finger pretty good, had to sit down and focus hard not to pass out.  A couple years ago in my shining moment of idiocy, I botched a shoe adjustment and got my hand stuck in my front wheel, darn near taking my pinky off.  After running to get help, I promptly passed out.

So back to Austin last weekend.  The medic innocently asked about the flap of skin on my finger.  Light switch.  I told them I was getting dizzy, and then I remember coming to and being walked to sit inside the medic's cart.  They told me I had passed out--twice--and I nearly started laughing.  I attempted to explain that I'm just a sissy, but they were convinced I was having a heat stroke.  They started packing ice packs under my arms and inside my thighs, and told me an ambulance was on the way.  Oh geez.

They were asking me state-of-mind questions.  I told them I hadn't hit my head (check the helmet), but answered the questions to humor them.  My name is Chad Haga.  I turned 23 last week. I'm in Austin.  Today is Sunday.  There are 10 dimes in a dollar.

I continued explaining to them how unnecessary this all was as they drove me out of the course--that I wasn't having a heat stroke, I simply pass out when I cut my fingers.  I then explained it to the EMTs.  It's not the heat, it's the boo-boo on my finger.

My name is Chad Eric Haga.  Maybe the inclusion of my middle name will convince them I'm fine?
Today's still Sunday, and I'm still in Austin.
I'm now 10 minutes older than the last time I was asked, but still 23.
Still 10 dimes in a dollar, although they're probably not worth as much as the last time as I was asked.

I defiantly walked into the ambulance under my own power.  I answer more questions.  They're concerned about my heart after passing out, so they're going to do an EKG.

"Okay, but you should know that you're going to find a right bundle branch block on there, so you don't get to make a big deal out of that--I know it's there."  Side note: my mom insisted on getting a physical before moving away to race bikes, and in my first physical ever that was found.  An echocardiogram proved that it's of no consequence, just something to be aware of.

Wouldn't you know it, they found a right bundle branch block and were unsettled by it.  Despite my arguing to the contrary , they wanted to take me to the hospital down the road and make sure everything was okay.  Matt Hattaway came along to keep me company.  As they shut the ambulance doors, all I could think was efffff  emmmmm elllll.  If there's a body-posture equivalent of rolling your eyes, I was doing it.

On the ride to the hospital, the EMTs remarked about my vitals.  "Wow, only 47bpm, you're really healthy."

Uh, dude, don't insist on taking me to the hospital to check on my well-being and then compliment how well I am.  I couldn't believe it was that close to resting, considering how worked up I was at the moment.

I was then wheeled in to the hospital on the gurney, where I proceeded to wait nearly an hour for "treatment". This wouldn't have been a problem normally, but remember, they thought I might have been having a heat stroke.  I was covered in ice packs.  I still had ice left in the sock on my neck from the start of the race.  I was still soaking wet with sweat and the water I poured on myself before the race.  They keep hospitals at -12 degrees.  My adrenaline had faded and I was getting pain shooting up my wounds.  Matt went and found some warm blankets to keep me from shivering too hard while we waited.

The hospital did another EKG and found nothing new.  After hearing me tell Hattaway about my history of finger injuries, the nurse said he was going to prick my finger for a blood-sugar test.  "Don't pass out on me," he said. Everyone's a comedian these days, I swear.

After hearing about my near-death experience (we would later "learn" I had hit my head and was carried away on a back board...), Shane found out the truth from friends ("Chad hurt his finger." "Oh.") and came to the hospital after the race ended.  They finally cleaned my wounds and sent me on my way.  Can't wait to see the bill for my finger boo-boo.

Shane had to get back to College Station for school on Monday--it seems most Aggies forget that we never got Labor Day off after we graduate--so I bid him farewell as I got myself cleaned up and headed to Wheeler's for some Aggie football viewing and feel-better ice cream.

The next day, I decided that, although this was a get-back-on-the-horse situation, I was tired of hitting the deck and was concerned about the course for the day.  There had been several crashes already that day on 2 particular corners, and in the P1/2 race there were more.  So I didn't regret the decision to skip the race too much.

Then I went home to see my parents for a couple days.  They immediately put me to work in the yard.  My mom fixed my favorite foods to make me good and fat--apple pizza, waffles, and my favorite strawberry belated birthday cake.

With that, I was on my way back to Colorado, but not without a stop in Amarillo for lunch with the largest Ian in my life.  Although the race portion of my trip was less-than-successful, it certainly felt good to see family and friends again.

Now if only my wounds would finish healing.  I'd really like to sleep on my left side again.

Also, I'd be remiss not to share this.  I'm not certain who's responsible for this, but it's pretty funny.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

US Pro Crit

The next post will be a self-deprecating tale of my visit to my home country--err, state.  But first, I'll catch you up on the last race that I did: U.S. Professional Criterium Championships.

The race was in Grand Rapids, MI and was limited to professionals of American nationality, so the field wasn't huge by any standards.  With 58 racers toeing the line, 13 of them wearing the green and gold of Kelly Benefit Strategies, we were ready to go.  Aggressiveness was our tactic of the day; we had the numbers and we intended to use them.  The 80-kilometer race was fast the whole time, but the course was too easy to break the field up and too fast for anything to get away.

As the lap counter dropped below 30-to-go, the storm we'd been seeing on the horizon blew in with some serious rain.  This course had 16 manhole covers, 6 of them in the middle of turns--3 of them in a single turn.  The whole start-finish stretch (including the turns at both ends) was brick.  No, this wasn't a good course for rain.  Everyone had dry-weather tire pressure, so as soon as the ground got wet the crashes started.  I managed to keep my rear wheel beneath me through the turns but the guys ahead of me hit the deck.  I immediately locked up the rear wheel in an attempt to stop short. But me and my stinking balance kept it up as I began to rotate in the skid.  I'd managed to skid my way through 180-degrees of rotation, but still had can see my problem.  So my efforts to avoid crashing failed, and I simply went into the pile backwards.  Instinctively, I put my arm out.  Sprained wrist, sweet.

While I waited in the pits to get put back in on the next lap, I took the opportunity to let air out of the tires.  It helped...for a little while.  In the meantime, 15 laps had disappeared from the lap counter in an effort to finish before the worst of the storm.  Just a couple laps later, I took a bad line through the last corner (trying to avoid a manhole cover), got on the power a little too early and the back wheel was no longer beneath me.

On rain-slick bricks, you pretty much just slide forever.  That is, until something stops you. All, I could think at the time was curb, CURB, CUUUURRRR--and then I hit it.

I did my best to roll over it, but it still wasn't a pleasant experience.

2 crashes in a race...peace out, I'm done.  Free laps had ended and the storm was just getting worse.  Then a surprise for everyone--they stopped the race with 4 laps to go.  60mph wind gusts were blowing riders and course barriers over, so they sent us back to our cars for 30 minutes while they decided what to do.

In the end, they decided to put 30 laps back on the ticker (so the race would be long enough to actually race) and just restart the race completely.  I was suffering a serious case of nerves.  My wrist was swelling up a little and was only comfortable on the hoods.  So after the restart, it didn't take long to find myself tailgunning the race.  I was opening gaps through every corner, then sprinting all the way to the next corner as the field accordioned, single file the whole way.

I slowly regained confidence in my even lower tire pressures, and with 10 laps to go began to work my way to the front.  With about 7 to go, we finally got the green leadout train formed.  Then on the very next corner, a crash split us up and sent the field into a frenzy.  We never regained control after that, and Cando managed to freelance his sprint and finish 5th.  In the end, some people were more willing to risk collarbones and it paid off.  I finished without any more crashes.

After a delayed flight back to Colorado, I finally crawled into bed a 2am that night.  I needed to get up at 6 to re-assemble my bike to do the road race that starts--literally--in front of my house at 8am.  When the alarm went off, I found that I couldn't get out of bed.  I had bruises and scrapes on both sides of my body and was exhausted.  I went back to sleep.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

12 short months

Yesterday, I turned 23.  Meh.  I don't usually make a big deal out of birthdays, and yesterday was no exception.  I spent 3 hours bent over in the garden, satiating the congenital disorder my mother passed on many years ago:  the unending compulsion to pull every weed within reach.  Our crops in the garden are getting huge, and the jungle needed to be cleared for better access to the produce (and so they could get more water and sun).  When I laid down to sleep last night, I saw weeds on the inside of my eyelids.  Seriously, it's an illness.  I woke up today with very tight hamstrings and tender fingertips, but the 4 bucketloads of weeds I removed made it worth it.

Anyways, while I was out there, I thought about the various events that have transpired since last August.

At the beginning of the month, I was in Chicago for the Tour of Elk Grove, wrapping up my summer of bike-racing travels across the country, when I got a call from my dad saying that he had lung cancer.  For a guy with zero risk factors (non-smoker), Stage IV cancer was a shock, and an eye-opener.

I started my last semester of school at the end of the month, already looking for a way to become a bike racer after graduation.

I was chugging along through school, actually taking a class I was truly eager to learn about for once.  I was also traveling all over for racing every weekend.  Local stuff, Univest in Philly, Collegiate mountain bike nationals at Lake Tahoe.  I had a blast explaining to all of my senior design project group members that we could only meet during the week (if they wanted me there...).

My dad spent a lot of time in hospitals those months, as his pneumonia caused by the tumors would not go away, and they couldn't treat the tumors with the pneumonia there.  It was hard to watch him suffer, and indescribably painful to hear him hack and cough and wheeze all day, every day.

My dad turned 51 years old, and we had the momentous and emotional conversation where he encouraged me to chase my dreams.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M (WHOOP!) and got the heck out of there.  I had decided not to slide into the ready job for me at Texas Instruments, making much more money than I could spend in a year.  Nope, I decided I was gonna be a bike racer bum and live the life.  I had signed with an amateur team in Walla Walla, Washington and would be moving there in early 2011 sometime.

My dad started chemo, and just a few days after Christmas, his hair started falling out in clumps (aided, however, by his fingers--a move preceded by, "Hey, watch this!").  The Haga men shaved their heads that night.  I don't want to ever do that again.

I stayed at home with my parents while Shane moved back to school, and I began training for what would hopefully be a successful year of racing.

My intended team folded with sponsorship issues, and I scrambled for a plan B just a week before my planned move to Washington.  I re-found Team Rio Grande, and there was one spot left for me.  A week later, I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado without much money, no job, and rent and food to pay for.

I made my debut on the national racing scene, taking the best young riders jersey in the San Dimas Hill Climb Prologue.  Just a taste of successes to come....

My dad was accepted into a promising clinical trial.

I found myself on the final (extended) podium at the Joe Martin Stage Race as top amateur, just a week after a top-10 in my first NRC time trial.

My dad was declared officially free of disease.

Leader for 3 days of the Mount Hood Cycling Classic, with 2 dominant time trials.  Top Amateur at Nature Valley Grand Prix. Top-10 at the Elite National Time Trial Championships with a less than stellar ride.

Another top-10 NRC time trial, and the Colorado State Road Race Champion in my last race as an amateur.

I signed with Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth for the remainder of 2011 to see how I'd fare in the pro ranks.  My first race with them, I finished 3rd overall at the Tour of Elk Grove (the same race I was at when I learned of my dad's cancer a year ago).

Since I made the commitment to chase this dream, I've frequently prayed that if this is what I'm supposed to be doing, if this is what God wants me to do, then He'll need to open doors for me and make it work.  Well, in the last 12 months I've been on 4 teams (  I've raced in 13 states. I've made the climb from a local amateur team in Texas to an established and respected professional team, and all I've done is race my bike one day at a time.  I can't wait for the next 12 months!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My crazy roommate

Another semester of school is beginning (but not for me!), and it's caused me to look back on my time spent in College Station with my crazy roommate, RHLCV.

I met Lee on my first race weekend at A&M.  I was driving a group of guys that would later become my closest friends during my time at school to a mountain-bike race way out in the middle of nowhere, TX.  Lee was sitting behind me, telling the other Chad on the team--in graphic detail--the procedure for artificial insemination of horses.

4 years of living with Lee later, that topic wouldn't even rate a 3-out-of-10 on my scale of I-can't-believe-we're-seriously-talking-about-this.

During the summer after my freshman year, a room at Lee's townhouse opened up and I wanted out of the dorms.  At that point, I had no idea what I was getting into.

It worked out, though.  I apparently have a high tolerance for odd personalities (don't worry, he knows he's an odd-ball).

Every day was an adventure with Lee, especially when we had free time (or desperately needed to be doing something productive).

There was the time we spent an afternoon fitting an office chair to our cruiser bike.

We killed tons of time drilling holes in the caps of 2-liter bottles, fitting them with valve stems from flat tubes, and pumping them to high pressure to create rockets....

Lee would occasionally remember that he, in fact, owned multiple bicycles and decide to ride them.  One time, it was just the two of us on an easy ride, and he challenged me to a two-up rolling start sprint.  We picked starting and finish points.  I would crush him, but he needed proof.  I chose a good gear that I could accelerate in.  Lee slammed it in the 53x11.

We started, I quickly pulled away, and as I approached the finish I heard a terrible grinding noise.  Keep in mind that only Lee could pull this off:  As he finally got up to speed, his right foot unclipped on the downstroke, and swung over the top of the rear wheel--jamming against the rear brake while the spinning tire burned through his sock and into his foot.  If such a thing as a third-degree tire burn exists, he had one.  The chaos with his right foot threw him off balance, and his left foot came unclipped too.  Speedplay cleats at speed are terrific tarmac skis, and he left a 50-foot drag mark to his final resting place in the dirt.  His chain had come off and was tangled in everything.  And finally, as we were inspecting the damage to his spokes, our heads down near the bike, the rear tire exploded in our ears.

Like I said, every day's an adventure.

There was the period of a few weeks in which we battled racoons taking over our attic, eventually giving birth in the wall next to our fireplace.  We screwed with the babies by blasting sounds of a momma raccoon through the stereo system.

Did you know that they make a rodent deterrent for such situations?  Its ingredients include such rarities as wolf urine and racoon blood.  It is rancid.  We filled a syringe with the stuff, punched a tiny hole in the wall next to the babies, and pumped it through.  They were gone the next day.  The downside is that we had filled the syringe while sitting on the couch, and learned a couple days later that we had spilled some.  Oops.

Lee only eats a few different meals.  Homemade pizza, homemade mac-n-cheese, mustard and cheese sandwiches, and tacos.  My junior year, he discovered (yes, I said discovered) yogurt.  We had tacos every week.  Lee has a very thorough procedure for readying his corn tortillas so that they won't break.  5 tortillas, each gets a small mound of taco meat, and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese.  He gets the chair, I get the couch, we eat in front of the tv because our dining room is filled with bikes.

Hold that thought.

In my family, we love to steal food from each other.  Walk-by swipings during the split-second that someone looks away.  Disappearing silverware and dishes.  You've got to be good to get away with it, because we're always on high alert.  Shane and I once each swiped a cookie dough ball from the sheet while our mom was making them.  Each walked by in opposite directions, timing our mom turning from cookie sheet to the dough and back again while working.  We're good.

Back to the tacos.  This particular day, Lee had left his glass of water in the kitchen.  He put down his taco plate and went to retrieve his glass.  By the time he returned seconds later, I had choked down one of his tacos and rearranged the others to appear as if he'd only made 4 this time.  He was on the second taco before he discovered the absence.

Productivity hit a new low when little Haga moved in.  2 bedrooms, 3 guys, 14 bikes.  Let the good times roll.

My final semester, Lee moved in well ahead of us because vet school starts earlier.  He told us that there was room, by his calculation, for 8 more bikes in the dining room.  He returned that afternoon to find we had brought 11.

When Shane and I would get restless on long study nights, we resorted to what would become a past-time in the RHLCV-Hagasaki-Hagasita household: scaring Lee.  Childish?  Absolutely.  But Lee screams loudly, and very much like a girl.  We couldn't help it.  Whether it was hiding in the dark at the bottom of the stairs or pretending we had gone to bed while he was in the shower (but actually hiding in his closet), we were creative about it.

Lee could hold his own, though.  He had tons of suture material from his labs and summer internship, and needed practice.  We returned from school one day to find our pillows sutured to the sheets.

There was the time Lee and I got Shane to break a raw egg on his face. We told Shane that Lee was too afraid to break a hard-boiled egg with his forehead, that he thought it would hurt.  I would do it, but I had just eaten an egg.  Always looking to prove that Lee's a sissy, Shane jumped on it.  It was awesome.

While I don't miss school in the least, I certainly miss the shenanigans.  It's okay, though, as my partner in crime carries on my legacy with the oddest Aggie in the land.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Baby steps are too slow

I've been called out by many people on my lack of posts recently.  For all my spare time, I manage to fill it with everything but updating my blog...

Since Mt. Hood so long ago, I've won the best amateur jersey at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, got a top-10 at the Elite Nationals Time Trial, a top-10 at the Cascade Cycling Classic prologue, won the Colorado State Road Race Championships, and was signed to a pro team for the rest of the year.  Just when I think the year can't get any better, I'm proven wrong time and again.

My first race with Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth would be the Tour of Elk Grove outside of Chicago--the richest 3-day race in the US with $155,000 up for grabs.  Thursday morning, I went out for a quick ride to shake the legs out and get in a few efforts, then a few hours later was in the air, Chicago-bound.

After meeting my new teammates and sorting out the time trial bikes the next morning, we went for a spin on the prologue course--a T-shaped course, run counter-clockwise, 4 miles and change in length.  I was supposed to be one of the first to go on the team, but the promoter somehow flipped the start-order of all the teams, and I became one of the last to go.  The winning time for the past few years was right around 8:30, so I predicted a time of 8:45 for me based on my other prologues this year.

All of the teams were set up along one road in the expo, so spectators could wander along and watch us all warm up and talk to us--a new, and cool, experience for me.  Even though it was only 80ish degrees, the humidity was such that I may as well have gone swimming before my start.

My family was back home watching the race on the interwebs, and my dad gets points for being able to pick me out in my new getup (I barely recognized myself).

So there I was, on the start ramp for the Tour of Elk Grove prologue, my first race as a pro bike racer.  What  was I thinking? Go fast, mane.

And shiny side up.

I've only come down from altitude a few times now after fully acclimating, and every time I've learned that my body can go harder than it seems I should be able to.  Especially in prologues, I have to remind myself that unless I keep pushing the pace higher, the pain won't increase like normal.  Basically, screw pacing, just go hard.

So that's what I did.  I killed it from the start, and half a mile later was at the first u-turn.  This was the tightest one, and I came in hot.  Half-way through I had to grab brakes, but popped out at the curb and was back on the gas.  The radar speed limit sign as I passed by the start/finish said 33.  I railed the right-hand turn and continued to push.  I was a bit gun-shy going into the next u-turn, even though it was much wider.  I stayed off the brakes, but got out of the aero bars.  Angry that I could have gone faster through the turn, I vowed to stay in the aero bars through the next one.

I finally got there, railed the turn in the aero bars, but got on the power too soon and kicked the back wheel in the air with a nice pedal-check at better than 30 mph. In the aero bars.  Fun stuff.

It hardly phased me, though, and I began the ratchet the pain up higher as I closed on the last turn.  I needed every inch of the road as I again stayed away from the brakes, and killed myself to get to the line.  At the end of the day, I ended up 17th with a time of 8:40.  Better than predicted!

The next two stages are usually field sprints, and after the tight prologue the race is usually decided by the time bonuses during the race.  Our plan was for me, our highest-placed rider after the prologue, to try to get up the road early and sweep some time bonuses before the inevitable catch, and hang on in the fast field sprint.

I was active from the gun, trying to get into breaks for the first few laps on the 10-mile course.  Every lap had 26 turns, and all the accelerating out of every turn was killing me.  I've been racing up mountains all year, and this was essentially a 100-mile crit.  I got away a few times, but never for long enough to sprint for time bonuses.  Finally a large group got away, but I was not in it.  I had teammates there, but I was definitely upset to have missed the break in my first race.

In the mix at the front of the field
As the break's lead grew over 2 minutes half-way through, United Healthcare set up their train on the front, and in 2 laps brought the break back.  The field was gassed from the brutal pace UHC had set, and Dan Holloway told me I needed to get to the front stat.

Stat means now.

I was dying from my efforts in the first half of the race, but I knew he was right and I busted it up one side of the field, he the other.  Dan followed the first move to attack the instant the break was caught, but the field wasn't ready to let another get away just yet.  Immediately, a group of 3 leapt away just before a corner and established a small, but tangible, gap.

2 more riders jumped away in pursuit and I continued my seated sprint to the front, skirting the edges of the pack and staying as low as I could.  I kept my momentum and shot off the front as soon as I got there, my sights focused on the the two riders just ahead.  I quickly made the junction, and the three of us closed the gap to the leaders.  We kept the pace high, and the twisty course gave a solid advantage to a small, cohesive group.

Our break included Dahlheim, fellow Texan, from Bissell
Just snag some time bonuses, because it's sure to be a field sprint, I thought.  UHC had missed the move, as well as some other teams, so certainly we'd be pulled back.  The group was working well together, and after a lap, I heard my director, Jonas, honking the car behind me.  I dropped back and grabbed a bottle while talking tactics with him.  I was the highest-placed rider in the break, the field had sat up--UHC had blown themselves in their efforts earlier--we had a 2-minute gap over a small chase group.  In short, this was a legitimate yellow-jersey opportunity.

At the conclusion of that lap, I sprinted for the time bonus, taking 2nd for a 2-second bonus.  Keep it rolling, Jonas said, this was big.

Half-way through the lap, an awkward rotation through a corner opened a gap, as had happened several times already. The split was 3-and-3, and I thought nothing of it, that we would simply rejoin and continue on.  By the time I realized we weren't getting back on, I was also discovering that my legs were done.

I was with Dahlheim and an Exergy rider, and the three of us were all cooked, slowly losing time on the others and falling back to the chase group just 1:45 in arrears.  The Exergy rider dropped off, and it was just me and Andrew in no-man's land, with a lap to go.

Both of us were completely cracked.  Then the moto ref told us two chasers were coming up fast, and indeed they were.  Fast Freddie Rodriguez and a GEOX rider had broken free of the chase group and were motoring by us.  We sprinted to get on the wheel, and sat on as they rotated.  I wanted to contribute, but simply couldn't.  Finally, with a few miles to go, my last goo kicked in and my legs were rested enough to resume working for GC time.

With just a kilometer to go, we caught the Fly-V rider that had been dropped from the leaders.  We now had a shot at the podium!  My sprint was one of the best I've had, considering how fatigued I was, and was edging out Dahlheim and the GEOX rider for 3rd until the final 25 meters, when I faded and was passed by both.  Nonetheless, 5th place!  The GC race had just become much more selective.

When the dust settled, I was in 3rd overall, 54 seconds from 2nd, and just 5 seconds ahead of Fast Freddie.

The final stage, a circuit race around the prologue course, would be hotly contested with 1st and 2nd, and 3rd and 4th in GC separated by only a few seconds each, and several time bonuses up for grabs.  And I had to defend against Fast Freddie.

Thankfully, a large group of non-threats got away early and swept most of the time bonuses. I had some very experienced teammates leading me through the field and making sure I was staying rested and out of trouble. The break came back, and it was certainly going to be a field sprint at the end. Dan pipped Freddie at the line for a sprint bonus to steal a second, but Freddie had still gotten 2.

Then, as the race was winding down, the field was hotting up, and everyone gets a little on edge, the storms rolled in.  Storms so heavy that the roads were nearly flash-flooding, the rain stung as it hit our faces, and we could barely see the rider 2 bike-lengths ahead at 40 mph.  Our brakes stopped working in the heavy rains, and the field became frantic as everyone began fighting for the front.  My teammates sold out for me, battling the rain alongside UHC's leadout train so that we would stay away from the certain crashes.

Downpour, much?

As we rolled through the start-finish for one lap to go, our train was sprinting up the right side to reclaim position when all bedlam rained down on us.  Someone far up had crossed wheels, and bodies and bikes were flying everywhere.

It was nice knowing you world, but there's no way I'm not going to flip over the 2 bodies and 3 bikes sprawled in front of me.  My brakes don't work and we're doing well over 30 mph, I'm gonna meet the pavement.

Then, somehow, the bodies tumbled out of my way.  My bike rammed the other bikes in front of it, and knocked them out of the way.  Just as quickly as it began, the road ahead of me was clear.  And the race leaders--most importantly Freddie--were getting away.  Time to sell out!  Cash in all the chips! Close that gap!

You can see me on the left, just getting through the mayhem
I was making ground on the leaders, but they weren't slowing down and I was all on my own.  Then a very welcome sight: Mike Creed coming back for me!  He sprinted up to speed as I neared, and brought me back to the leaders as we hit the first turn of the lap.  Only 20 or so riders remained in the field now.

All I had to do was finish with or ahead of Freddie, and the podium was mine!  Despite Emile Abraham needlessly pushing me into the curb with a grin on his face just because he could, I managed to defend my position in the sprint.  Debut race with my first pro team, and with the help of my teammates and a serious case of SIO (you either know it or you don't) in conditions that had me freaking out, and I was on the podium.

Baby steps? Pssh.  You just get there slower that way.

And I managed to fit the jumbo check in the bike case for the flight back.  Sweet.

I kinda like this bike racer thing.