Monday, June 24, 2013

Worn out.

Today marks the 8th day that I have not gone for a bike ride. Why, you might wonder? Well, since base training commenced last Thanksgiving, these ol' legs have accumulated 10,000 miles. So, yeah, I needed some time off. Truly, I needed it after Tour of California, but I just had to push through the best I could and help the team.

After returning from Portugal, I had a bit of time to adjust to the altitude and sharpen up for Redlands. It went pretty well, I must admit. I got my first win of the year in the opening time trial, and held on to yellow until the last 15 minutes of the Sunset Loop Road race. Mancebo just proved to be too much to handle that day.

As disappointed as I was to lose the race, we did pretty well to snag 2nd and 3rd overall (Zirbel) without even fielding a full squad at the race. We would be prepared for the next race.

That race was the Joe Martin Stage Race. Going into it, we knew that we could win the whole thing. And I intended to do just that--my parents would be there to watch me race on the road for the first time in years. My legs were great, but I still made a couple of tactical mistakes--including one whopper in the second road race--and had to be bailed out by my team. They delivered, so I had to, too. Once again I went into the final stage with a mere 5 second lead on Mancebo, but this time we had him under wraps. The guys buried themselves to keep the pace high the whole day and mow down every attack except for Mancebo; he was my sole focus the whole day. In the end, I won my first NRC stage race (crossing off one of my 3 season goals) in front of my parents. For the full significance of this win, you've got to read my Dad's blog about the race:

Eric and Meatball enduring another Kenda team attack after riding on the front on gross day

Hiding in my team bubble in the crit

Mancebo had a very short leash indeed
That afternoon we began the first leg of our trip over to Silver City for the Tour of the Gila. With the form I had, I had thoughts about winning. As it turned out, the environment had other plans. On the first stage, I was across the mesa on the Mogollon climb without ever really suffering. Two seconds later I was completely blown without warning. I couldn't breathe at all. Stage 2 was never terribly difficult, but in the time trial I was great for first 15 minutes and then completely fell apart again. My nose was running constantly, and other racers were having similar problems. In the crit, the most I helped the team all day was moving over to let Eric take Cando's wheel for the sprint. I started the Gila Monster but was immediately in the hurt box, unable to breathe again. For the second year in a row, I DNF'ed, pulling out in the first feed zone. I knew I had stellar form, that I wasn't overcooked from the race season. I had to keep reminding myself that something external to me was the cause, and to brush it off--next on the calendar was the Tour of California.

Across the mesa on Mogollon at the front, completely comfortable. Surprise collapse imminent.

Even with a bad second half, I managed 11th in the TT on my sweet new bike
Half an hour before the Tour of California started, we were still debating whether I should go for the KOM jersey or GC. That decision wasn't made until I missed the break just a few miles in. Welp, that's settled, then! As it turned out, I surpassed even our optimistic expectations and finished the race in 10th overall. A learning experience, for sure. Even with an okay time trial, I could have finished in 5th or 6th if I hadn't made some mistakes on the wind-blown stage 5 in which the race exploded. We also missed an opportunity for a stage win due to miscommunication between me and Cando on stage 1. Such an amazing race, though, and I think I'll be hearing about my finish on stage 2 for quite a while. Also, climbing with the lead group through the thousands of spectators on Mount Diablo was one of the coolest experiences ever.

Finishing 6th in the sweltering 112 degrees of Palm Springs on stage 2
I even got a bit crazy in the TT and changed to my road bike for the finish climb
Next after TOC was USPRO Nationals. My legs felt good going into the time trial (another of my season goals) and I had a really good ride but ended up just 5 seconds from the podium. Big Z crushed it to avenge his suffering in California's heat. I can't wait to see him in his stars-and-bars skinsuit on his custom painted bike! In the road race, I saw just how overcooked I was from such an exciting spring so far. I had to shift focus mid-race and work for Cando, as it was obvious I would not make the front group the final time up the climb. In the end, our chase group was unable to rejoin the leaders and we just rode it in to the finish.

Somehow the photogs always catch me when I lift my head to take a peek up the road
From Tallahassee, we moved on to Baltimore for a week of rest (for me) before undertaking the iconic Philly Cycling Classic. I was disappointed to need rest so badly, as the riding in the Northeast is phenomenal.

Doing well at Philly is entirely about being in position for the climb up Manayunk Wall each lap. The first few laps I was about 40 riders back every time, but made the front group each time up to make sure we had representation there. Zirbel, Zwiz, Marsh, and Friedman were on full attack mode, riding in every break of the day up the road. Ken was helping me, Cando, and Jesse with positioning in the runup to the wall. Being unfamiliar with the course, though, it took me a few laps to get a handle on how the fight for position goes, and I kept getting pinched off the train and pushed back before the bottleneck at the bottom. The penultimate time up, I was already pretty smoked and knew I was not the guy for the final sprint up. So I jumped into leadout mode for Jesse and Cando, taking the front with about 3-4km to go. Jesse had a great sprint up, managing second on the day and Big Z was rewarded with his efforts off the front all day with the sprint jersey. With my leadout completed, I rode wheelies up the wall to the finish. Let me tell you, drunken fans love wheelies!
At the base of the wall, the field's been whittled down quite a bit in the 120 mile race
Come on ride that train!
 After Philly, I immediately went into recover mode again, as I still had one more race between me and summer break--arguably the most important race on our calendar because it's in our sponsors' hometown, the Nature Valley Grand Prix. We took a hit squad to the race with the sole purpose of winning the GC. Even despite my fading legs, I managed 7th in the TT and we stacked the GC with the whole team in the top 12. I had fun in the St. Paul crit because I actually raced it! I've always loved crits, but fighting for position all the time without ever racing is miserable. In Canon Falls, we unleashed the fury on Jelly Belly and Friedman took yellow with Zwiz and Jesse right up there in mix as well. The crit in uptown the next night was awesome because we just rode the front the whole time. We were going hard the whole night, but I could manage it because it was at or below threshold, and I never had to make any hard accelerations. In the Menomonie road race, I got to ride the front all day along with Zirbel and Creed. I had to sag all of the climbs, but then immediately went back up to the front for some more tempo work to keep the field together for Friedman. On the final stage in Stillwater, I managed to ride the front for about half of the race before my legs finally gave out and I got to watch Friedman win from the sidelines. Of course, I had to ride a few wheelies up the wall before pulling out. I made it to summer break!
Eddy Merckx TT in the pouring rain
Crits are so much easier when you control the front

A long day of tempo
So like I said, it's been 8 days since I last rode a bike, and I'm gonna take at least one more day off. Do I really need that much rest? Well, let me tell ya...

I had the opportunity, between Philly and Nature Valley, to do some physiological testing at UC Denver with the esteemed Dr. Inigo San Millan, and we got some really interesting data. At lower and middle intensities, we learned that I do a very good job of burning fat for fuel. Once the power was cranked up, though, I fell apart pretty quickly. The most telling bit was that when I finally cracked (much earlier than I should have, mind you), the concentration of lactic acid in my muscles was actually very low. That means that my muscles literally had a lower threshold for pain before shutting down. All this data was confirmed with my power data in races--I was completely fine at lower and middle intensities, but (no joke) I was missing 10% of my usual power on the climbs. Yeah, I needed rest.

Oh, and for the record, I do not like the breathing apparatus on the testing machine. It was my first time testing with one, and I was not prepared. There's no resistance on the intake side of the mask, but there is a bit of backpressure when you exhale. That bit of pressure made my mind think that there was a hand on my face and I wouldn't be able to inhale again. So for the first ten minutes, my mind was doing this:

<Inhale> This mask isn't too bad, but it's not very comfortable.
<Exhale> There's something covering my mouth, I'm gonna die!
<Inhale> Phew, I can breathe, I guess I'll be okay.
<Exhale> There's something covering my mouth, I'm gonna die!

In my time off, I've enjoyed doing anything and everything that doesn't involve bikes. I've also had time to digest all the excitement that this spring has brought with it--multiple cyclingnews and velonews articles, and most recently I was featured in ROAD magazine (buy a copy!).  The attention did not stop there, and big news is in the works in the near future, I'm pleased to say.

With that, you can consider yourself up to date on my activities! Now then, time to tune up my mountain bike so it will be ready when I am...there is plenty of racing still to come, and it's about time to get back to work.