Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baby Haga

If Merco Classic could wait a month to be typed up, Uruguay can wait a few more days.  After all, today is Shane's 21st birthday!

Who is Shane? Well, he's my twin, born two and a half years later, and my best friend of 21 years.

According to our mother, we were best friends from day one.  I suppose there is some evidence of that....

Growing up in an older neighborhood in Sherman, TX, there weren't many kids around to play with. We made do just fine.  The two of us were always paired up, ready for any adventure.  On any given day, we could be Power Rangers, Cowboys, Indians, pro baseball players, Batman and Robin, ninjas, name it, we rocked it, and our mom has pictures of it.

Not everything was peachy, though.  After all, I was the big brother and I had to make sure he knew his place.  I only told Shane this story and the next one a year ago.  I think I was 6 or 7 at at the time.  Shane and I were getting along just fine, but I could tell I needed to assert myself again.  So I opened up the calendar on my dresser, picked out week a couple weeks away, and decided that would be a good time to give Shane the cold shoulder.  I drew a line through that week, and atop it I wrote, "No talking to Shane." You'll be relieved to know that I failed to carry through on my plan.

Around that same time, our mother was beginning her instructional lessons on how to clean the bathrooms.  She put us to work early! She showed me how to clean the toilet with a paper towel and the cleaning solution, then told me not to flush the paper towel down the toilet.  My young mind interpreted this to mean that it was the cleaning solution, not the paper towel, that should not be in the plumbing. Obviously because of some chemical reaction, right? Hey, I was smart, I knew about that sort of stuff.

As Shane and I cleaned the bathroom the next week, he took care of the toilet, then flushed the paper towel before I could stop him.

"Shane, you're not supposed to flush that!"
"Why not?!" he replied, with alarm in his voice.
"Mommy says not to flush it! Now the house could blow up!"
"But I don't want the house to blow up!" he fearfully choked out.

Thankfully, the house didn't blow up.

After we moved to McKinney and I started getting into the teenage years, I started to dislike Shane because it wasn't cool to be friends with your little brother.

That didn't keep us from wrestling though.  Just good-natured fun, right?  Well, it always started that way. We'd be romping around upstairs, and our mom would hear us.  "I hope you're not wrestling!" That was always about the time that one of us got too physical and it turned into a real fight.  Rule #1: keep quiet, and calmly reply that "everything's fine, we're just running around" despite the hands around your neck.

At one point, the fad was airsoft guns.  These are little mini-bb guns that shoot plastic pellets at a couple hundred feet per second.  Somehow we persuaded our mother to let us get a couple. "Okay, but as long as you promise not to shoot each other with them." I don't know if she was really that naive, or if we were that convincing.  But you know as soon as we got home we were shooting each other the second she left the room.

One summer afternoon, with the parents gone, we decided to have a mano-a-mano war upstairs.  We were smart about it and wore our swimming goggles for protection.  I decided to hide in Shane's closet, and when he opened the door I would attack him in a terrific ambush worthy of cinematic commemoration. I didn't completely think it through, though, as we had purchased different guns.  My gun, while more powerful, could only shoot one pellet before I had to cock it again.  Shane had opted for the less powerful pistol--but it was semi-automatic.

I think you can see where this is going.

He opened the closet door and I got one good shot off.  Then while I was trying to re-cock my gun, Shane stood there pumping round after round into my body, laughing all the while. It was a very short battle.

Ping-pong served as a competitive outlet for us.  We loved to play it, but Shane hated losing, so we would usually only get to play a few games before he stormed away.  To incentivize him a bit more, we started playing Sting Pong, a game we discovered on TV.  Instead of getting a normal point, you instead earned the opportunity to hit the ball at your defenseless--and shirtless--brother, who just stood there and took it as the little ball left pink circles all over his stomach.  Shane seemed to like this game a little more.

Another game we played--once--was Around the World. In this game, the players are running laps around the ping pong table while trying to keep the ball in play.  Fun game, but it wasn't great for our close-quarters upstairs.  The game ended when Shane put his hip through the entertainment center's glass door.  I think our mom took the stairs three at a time to come upstairs when that happened.

Want to know how I made Shane get fast on a mountain bike? I stopped waiting for him to catch up. True story.

The worst part about college was leaving my broski behind.

And then he graduated from high school.

The kid already had a nickname on the cycling team--he'd been an adopted member of the team for a year beforehand as they'd watched him dominate the high school races.  I was Hagasaki, Shane was Hagasita.

The quickest way to ruin friendships can be to move in together.  Well when Shane started school at A&M, we were sharing a room.  If we had similar mannerisms before that, we were certainly becoming more and more alike by living together.  It's like we were connected at the head:

You know all those games we played as kids?  Well, it turns out that the key element is that we have to be on the same side.  Shane, Lee, and I, with our synergistic procrastination, spent an entire evening creating Bike Capture the Flag.  It really is an amazing game.  To make the teams a bit more even, Shane and I would be on opposing teams.

Not a great idea, as it turns out.  We're normally competitive under any circumstances, but there were a couple times that one of us was chasing the other through campus to reclaim the flag.  We'd be in an all-out sprint, jumping curbs, small shrubberies, bounding down stairs.

There were two crashes that night.  They were Shane and I, while chasing one another, each managing to crash into the only two ladies on the team brave enough to come out and try our new game.  Future games had Shane and me on the same team for everyone's well-being.

I could go on forever with more stories, but I'm exhausted from my 127 mile bike ride yesterday, so I'll wrap it up with the best one of all:

To use up the some of our eggs before they went bad, Shane and I hard-boiled several one evening.

The next day, while Shane was in class, Lee decided that he wanted to prank Shane, and get him to crack a raw egg.

"Come on, Lee.... You've got to do better than that! I can get him to crack a raw egg on his face." You see, Shane and I enjoyed cracking hard-boiled eggs on our heads just to be goofy.  I had a plan.

We pounced on Shane as soon as he got back from class.
"Shane, will you crack an egg on your face?  Lee says it would hurt too much to do it and won't believe me that we do it all the time.  I'd do it, but I just ate one and don't want another."

Always jumping at the chance to prove Lee's a wuss, Shane didn't even bother taking off his riding jacket first.

Lee and I had swapped all the hard-boiled eggs for raw eggs. This would be good....

The first warning sign should have been that we wanted to record it on camera.  I don't remember how we explained that one.... Shane should have also caught on to the fact that Lee was barely holding it together.  Our plan was going to work.

As the video starts, we are joking that we should have swapped the hard-boiled eggs for raw ones.

"That would've been a good one! You shoulda done it." Shane jokes.

But seriously, my best friend is now 21 and I would give so much to be there to celebrate with him. To the guy that pushes me to be a better brother, son, Christian, friend, racer, movie quoter, and cook: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Now hurry up and graduate so we can be reunited!




After a nice 10-day break to rest up after the Merco/TOC Recon trip, I was headed back to California for the third time this year to race the Redlands Classic. We were taking a great squad to win the race, with both strength and experience.  This would be my first time doing the race, but I had a couple of teammates that have done this race more times than they can count on their fingers.

The prologue time-trial was only a few miles long, and predominately uphill.  The suffering would only last 9-ish minutes, and I during my preride the day before I had decided on how I wanted to pace the effort.  I had forgotten my ipod at the house, and spent most of my warmup mourning its absence:

The prologue was a mixed-bag for me: I successfully paced the course exactly as I wanted to, and timed my final push for the line perfectly.  The downside was that my legs didn't deliver me as quickly as I'd wished, and I rode to a 15th place finish.  On the upside, I'd taken another 'win' in the season-long duel between me and Zirbel.... Jesse was our best-placed rider in 8th, and most of the team was in the top-30, so at least we had plenty of cards to play in the upcoming stages.

That night, I and the 3 others staying at our host house each spent some quality time with the toilet.  The next morning, we decided that our ailment must have been the work of some bad chicken we'd had at dinner; it was the only food that all of us had eaten.

The first stage was a 120-mile road race, with a tough climb towards the end of each lap.  With the size of the field, we held our cards close until many of the amateurs tired in the first 80 miles, then we lit the fuse on the climb to see if the field would split.  Each lap, there were breaks in the field over the top of the climb, but everything kept coming back together.  The lead group continued to dwindle in size, but all of the key players were still present.

As I would learn after the race, I was not the only one fighting cramps and feeling a bit sub-par late in the race; my housemates were also suffering, presumably from dehydration as a result of our bad chicken.

By the end of the race, our and others' attacks had shrunk the field to about 60 riders, and we still had everyone there. Zirbel was taken out in a stupid crash just a couple of kilometers from the finish--thankfully, he would get the same time as our group.  We failed to organize our leadout, and Bissell's Bevin took the stage win, but our team had continued its march up the GC ladder.

Post-race cleanup and discussion
The crit was a technical 9-corner, 1 mile loop that usually did a good job of wearing racers out.  With 150 racers, it was key for us to start in the front and stay there the whole race.  This would help us avoid the accordion in every corner, and keep us away from crashes.  We were biding our time for the 30-minutes-to-go mark, when we would take control of the front and begin our leadout.  It was a long way out, but was the only sure-fire way to keep us safe.

The finishing straight was the only place on the course for 8 guys to swarm the front together, and it was a bit chaotic but we succeeded in taking the front just before the first turn.  I was again in the front rotation, just keeping the pace high until the real leadout would start later.
We continued averaging 30 mph lap after lap, but made a mistake with 6 laps to go.... We didn't realize that the Bissell team had managed to organize behind us, and we failed to shut down the outside lane early enough on the finishing straight.  They pulled off a perfectly-executed blow-by and brought with them the swarm that disorganized our train.  They certainly weren't going to let us do to them as they'd done to us, and our train could never re-establish control.  It would once again be up to the sprint squad to deliver a result.  I managed to dodge a couple of crashes in the finishing laps and rode it in for a pack finish as Cando snagged the first podium of the race with 2nd.

Like Joe Martin and Nature Valley Grand Prix, the GC is far from set in stone at the beginning of the last stage.  In fact, the Sunset Loop at Redlands is the most significant factor when it comes to final GC placing.  To make what is already the most difficult stage of the race even more interesting, the race was forecast to have high winds and torrential rain--something that apparently has never happened before at this race.

The race is a lollipop course, where we race out of town and then do 12 laps of a circuit through a neighborhood on a hillside before racing back into town to finish on the crit course.  The loop was uphill on one side and a technical and fast descent on the other.

The first few times up the climb, everyone was fresh so the gaps that formed at the bottom weren't too critical, as the climb flattened after the KOM halfway up and we could chase back on.  We stayed aggressive early until Creed made the break and rode up there for a few laps.

When descending by myself or leading a group, I'm what others call a risk-taker.  I don't see it that way, though, when I have a clear line-of-sight and can take my own lines.  Descending in a group, though, can freak me out sometimes.  Especially on a sketchy descent like this one.  I was finally getting comfortable on the descent a few laps in when I felt it.  Just a couple of drops at first, but then a couple of turns later it started dumping.

The next time down, I was even more freaked out, letting gaps open and then having to chase them back over and over again. You may remember that the last time I raced in the wet, it didn't go so well. I love descending in the dry, but wet pavement puts a real damper on things....

The next lap, at the top of the climb, it was time to put our team's plan into action.  Nerves must be placed aside--I had a job to do.  We were going to take control across the top of the climb as a team and blitz the descent to see if we could disorganize Kenda's team and split the field.  I ended up second wheel, behind Friedman the Cannonball, as he blasted down the hill.  This was the first time we were truly testing our Challenge tires and HED wheels in the wet, and we were going all out.

I shut my mind off, and just focused on staying with Friedman.  If his tires could hold through the turns, and if his brakes could slow him down, so could mine, right?  When we finally reached the bottom, we were 15 seconds ahead of the field.  I was high on adrenaline.

Friedman and me pulling away on the descent
While the cold rain continued to pour, the race was hotting up. Friedman and I were caught behind a split in the field the next time up, and as the descent started we were 20 seconds behind the lead group of 15. Our task was now to blast the descent so fast that we could regain contact with the leaders.  With my newfound confidence, I was going wildly fast through the twisting neighborhood; Mike was going even faster.  He was slowly getting away from me, but he couldn't spare the time to wait for me.  He joined up with the leaders just before the climb started again.  When the road pitched up once more, I was just a few seconds off the back of the group, but I couldn't finish it off.

As I climbed at my own pace, I realized that I had just determined my race strategy for the final few laps: I would get my jollies and my adrenaline rush blasting downhill in the pelting rain at 50mph, buying myself some time over my group and getting to sag the first part of the climb at a more comfortable pace.

I pushed the pace extra hard the final time down the descent, as the GC time for our group would be taken at the edge of the crit course (the lead group would be the only one allowed to do the finishing crit laps). I had gained a 15-second advantage as we began to re-enter town, and was pulling away from the group with the help of Christian Helmig from Elbowz Racing.  Then everything fell apart.

I'm still not sure what happened--I think the course marshalls at the final turn to get back to the crit course had packed it up for the day.  The lead group had already made it to the crit and everyone behind us had been pulled and given a pro-rated time, so we were the last ones out there.  Either way, we missed our turn.  We knew something was wrong when there was cross-traffic at intersections.  We were now racing in traffic.

I didn't know where to go, so I was forced to nullify my attack and fall back to the group.  As luck would have it, a commissaire car was behind us, and they told us how to get back to the crit.  The message was sometimes slow to get around the group, and at one point there were guys going the wrong way on a divided road--in traffic.  It was a total mess, but we finally made it to the crit course (at the wrong place) and the comm got our numbers and would later give us a finishing time.

All that mess aside, Cando and Friedman had awesome days.  Cando rode into 3rd on GC to finish the race off well for us.  With that done, we wrung our soggy, cold clothes out and thoroughly enjoyed our hot showers.

As everyone else flew home, Zirbel, Amanda, Bob, and I stayed behind and began preparing for our next adventure: the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Merco Classic

I suppose I've put it off for long enough; I have a post coming up with an actual deadline, so I need to get these done!

My first race of the year with the team was the Merco Classic, in Merced, CA.  It was also one of my first races of the year outright--very bizarre for me to not already have a dozen races under my belt by the start of March, but such is my new life as a Coloradoan, I guess.

Merced isn't a very large town, and there weren't a lot of options as far as hotels go.  We bunked up at the--not kidding here--Vagabond Inn.

I was well-rested coming into the race because we had some big plans afterward, which meant that stage 1 was also serving the purpose of my openers for the weekend.  I felt fine at the moderate intensities, but as soon as we would go hard, my heartrate shot through the roof.  The legs were good, though, and ready for some racing.

Stage 1 was only 80 miles or so--6 laps of the course that was flat to rolling, with one tough 5-minute climb early on.  With a field of 150 racers and only a few dozen pro's, the first few laps were aggressive but mostly just served to weed out the amateurs that couldn't hang.  For the final few laps, the Bissell and Optum teams lit it up on the climb to see if a break could get established over the top.  We came close a few times but everything eventually came back.

On the last lap after the climb, it became obvious that we would be executing our leadout plan; Bissell was thinking along the same lines.  With 5k to go, our train was fully organized and we took over from the Bissell train.  I was in the lead 3 riders, rotating at a hard pace but not burning out yet. With 4k to go, Bissell sent up a couple of riders to help keep the pace high.

3k to go marked the burnout phase of our 9-man train.  Bajadali, then Jesse, then I each ramped the pace up further until we could go no more, then swung off.  I finished shortly before the 2k mark, and left it up to the likes of Creed, Friedman, Zwizanski, Zirbel, and Candelario to deliver Hanson to the line.  The most difficult part was getting back into the field and hanging on after burning out, because we didn't want a disadvantage going into the time trial.

Even with the perfect execution, we simply didn't have the speed necessary at this early-season race to finish it off, and Hanson got swarmed just as he was opening his sprint.  Live to fight another day--the next day was the TT.

My age not-withstanding, I'm holding myself to a very high standard in time trials this year.  I'm racing to win and want to establish myself as a time trial specialist among the likes of Zirbel, Zwizanski, and Friedman.  I had one of the best 30-second men in the race in the form of Ben Jacques-Maynes.  I was chasing that carrot all day, but could only pull him to within 15 seconds.

I snagged 4th, 25 seconds from the win and a measly 0.2 seconds slower than Zirbel.  The whole team rode well, and going into the crit the next day, we had 6 riders in the top-11.

In the crit, we just wanted to stay safe until we initiated the leadout with 12 laps to go.  With the tight, turn-laden course covered in box-dots, it was not an especially fast race, but it was difficult to move around.  Taking control of the front first was key, because it would be difficult to get organized once it began. Unfortunately, Bissell had the same thought and pulled the trigger one lap before we were to amass at the front.  With control taken, our train could never get organized in the swarm. We decided to let the sprint squad fight it out as the rest of us focused on getting to the finish in the lead group.

Well wouldn't you know it, amateur hour claimed me with 3 laps to go in the final corner.  Guys resfusing to accept the fact that, 40-riders back, their race was over because they would never see the front again on that course with so few laps remaining kept fighting for position and banging around.  Their needless zeal for mediocrity caused a pileup that I almost got around, but was knocked into.  I went up and over the top, finally hitting pavement on the other side.  My left leg was tangled in my bike with guys laying on top of it, but my main concern was my GC time, and my left wrist which I had obviously just re-sprained. With no free laps remaining, my GC place would depend on what time the officials gave me.

I was in a mood to crack some skulls, I can tell you that much.  I'd lost 30-something seconds on GC time because of the crash, dropping from 4th to 9th in GC, and my wrist was going to make the final stage (120 miles) miserable.

The last stage was on a course that was dead flat with the exception of a couple small rollers a few miles from the end of the lap.  I had taped my wrist to give it a little extra support, but I quickly learned that the hoods were only comfortable when out of the saddle.  The rest of the time would be spent in the drops.  Unexpected bumps in the road sent shocks of pain up my arm.  If I could see them coming, I could at least grip extra tight and my wrist wouldn't be jarred.

The race was very fast and aggressive, as both Exergy and Optum wanted to unseat Bissell from the GC lead.  We finally got Zwiz and Friedman in the 4-man break, but they were doing most of the work.  The lead quickly ballooned to 5 minutes--putting them well into the virtual lead--as the Bissell team set up shop on the front.  For a couple of laps, the gap simply was not coming down to Bissell's frustration, but eventually the break tired too much.

Me trying to give my wrist a rest

With the impending capture of the break, our team started launching bombs with two laps to go.  The excitement of racing again helped me forget about the pain in my wrist on one particular road that was probably last paved around the time I was born.

The nature of the course and the size of the field meant that it was very difficult for anything to get away.  The 120 mile race was finished in 4:15, with Hanson second on the stage and Zirbel finishing 3rd in GC.

With the race completed, the squad relocated to San Jose for 3 days of Tour of California recon rides, making for a tough 7-day block of racing/training.  They were some pretty fantastic courses that I hope I get the opportunity to race next month....