The reporting has been minimal since returning from Europe, but the activities certainly have NOT. Within two days of returning from Germany, I drove down to Hood River, OR for the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic Stage Race . It has been a normal stop on my calendar since 2008, and I've always been able to depend on it as a challenging, fitness-building 4 to 6 days of racing. In the end I may have taken away a bit of fitness, but I took away a bigger lesson on my psychological limits for racing and travel. Turns out I could have probably used a break from racing that weekend, since the brain wasn't transferring to the legs very well. I still toughed it out and got the job done, albeit quite a ways behind. The best part of the weekend was watching my little sister, Emily, finish her first stage race sporting the Team S&M colors proudly. She just started racing on the road this spring for the University of Vermont Cycling Team . She's learning fast and is gonna be a force to contend with!
Fast-forward through a short mid-season rest, some quality trail time at home in the Northwest, I'm out on the East Coast completing the big mid-season campaign. Five consecutive weeks of big races from Wisconsin to Quebec to New York to Idaho to Montana, with one already wrapped up - Pro XCT #4, Subaru Cup in Mt. Morris, Wisconsin. It wasn't my strongest showing of the year, with a 14th in both the XC and Short Track...but good enough for the start of a long race campaign in which I want to peak towards the end, not the beginning. I was also reunited with Kona teammates Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon, who put in impressive rides, finishing 7th and 11th in the XC, respectively. Thanks also to friends Ben and Giz for making the long drive up from Chicago to come cheer us on. All photo credits go to Ben.
The Wisconsin weekend helped to sharpen my mental game after a few weeks off the race course. I'm focusing on channeling a good dose of confidence going into these next two World Cups and National Championships. Positive thinking is key.
I know it's cliche to talk about the power of positive thinking in sport, but to put it in context, I would say this: as I'm sure is the case for most elite-level athletes (or ANYONE who does something they are passionate about), there's a constant dose of self-monitoring that weighs throughout the season. All synonyms for "monitoring" apply...analyze, compare, test, scrutinize...and through it all there is a constant need to balance between a positive and negative interpretation. With all the assessment that occurs through managing health, training schedule, travel schedule, race performances, job, family and social life, there is a lot of time to think about and question whether you are going about it all the right way. Best not to let the all questioning run out of control in a hundred different directions, otherwise, as I've noticed, it stifles ones ability to focus on the reinforcing self-affirmations that we all need once in awhile. Sharpening the mental game with a race is the equivalent of getting away from all the questions and focusing positively on the task at hand.
I've got lots of things to be positive about going into these next several weeks of racing. Feeling healthy and strong, hours of quality training under my belt, a fast bike to ride, my company supporting me through the race season, support from family and friends...
Looking forward to the Mount Saint-Anne World Cup this Saturday. I've got unfinished business on this course! (remember the flat tire at World's last year...) I'm going to reclaim a strong finish this time around.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
...but not as lame as this broken chain which put a halt to my race on the 1st lap...
So what's the deal, 118th place and 3 laps down in Offenburg??!! Well...I really think it could have been a better day. The preparation was perfect, the legs felt great, the sun was out...but much to my dismay, I was dealt a pretty crappy hand in the form of a split eyebrow from being punched by some jerk racer, a broken chain 12min into the race, capped off by a persistent dropped chain/faulty drivetrain.
After a furious start lap, I was focused on doing everything I could to move up through the crowd. In a cattle-herd section I got pushed into another rider, knocking him off balance. He singled me out as the malicious culprit and delivered a solid backhand punch right the to the left eye, smashing my glasses off. I kept the hockey-player reaction bottled up, and instead used the adrenaline to pass the guy on the next climb...only to see him running through the woods outside the tape (cutting course!!) on the next bottleneck. What a jerk! Still, I felt focused, and was ready to pounce on the first big open climb coming up after a short, steep, technical descent called Wolf's Drop.
A shot of Wolf's Drop, the big crowd cheering Gary Perkin
Through the roots, my chain dropped to the outside, and when I hit the steep-to-flat transition, my cranks moved just enough to severely twist the chain. Same heart sinking feeling as when I flatted at Worlds, except this time I hadn't even had a chance to show my stuff. I ran into the tech zone where the USAC mechanic was able to find a spare chain. I counted 37 people go by me as I stood there getting it changed, so by my rough math I think I had moved up to 93rd from 130th...I didn't get rolling again until the last racer was way past.
I jumped back in, sitting in last place, and fought as hard as I could to make up lost ground. It's tough to stay smooth and consistent when you're racing alone trying to catch up, going too hard in some places, not capping off climbs as smoothly. Overall it can result in slower lap times even though it "feels" like you're going as hard as you possibly can. Something must have happened to my derailleur in the process of the chain bending, because my new chain kept dropping, forcing me off the bike to fix it two or three times a lap. In the frustration I started flailing at the course. Absalon, meanwhile, was putting out average lap times of 14:50. From timing myself in practice, I knew I was capable of at least 15:50, and here I had an open course, but the dropping chain really slowed me up. After the first lap I saw on the clock that I was 6min down, at least 2 or 3 of that was due to the chain. With the bad drivetrain, it was hard to do much with my situation, but I never gave up. I caught the back of the field and passed 10 people, but by then I had fallen too far back and was pulled with 3 to go.
Kind of sad to think I could've really had a chance to prove myself. Aside from the punch in the face, that's just how it goes sometimes. I was bummed for sure, but my preparation and subsequent experience here has been too valuable to be undone by bad luck. Ironically, I further realized my commitment to pursuing these big races. The difference between this mid-season setback and my flat at Worlds was that here, I was in the process of pursuing a larger goal, whereas at Worlds I had already achieved it. Misfortune stings a little more when its effect may prevent success in the future. I was reminded that the risk of a broken bike or other mishap is very real in any race, no matter how good I feel or how important I think it is. Even after traveling all the way to Offenburg, Germany, I realized that it is still a risk I am willing to accept.
After Sunday's frustrating race, I decided I need to go on a spin to clear my mind. In the process I came across a castle tower called Moostruck on the top of a mountain in the Black Forest.
And no matter how bad a bike race goes, there are still great things like fresh strawberries. The Offenburg area is known for its delicious strawberry treats.
Every single intersection in the Black Forest region is marked with signs. This would be a bike touring paradise.
A big thank you to my sponsor Veolia Environnement for helping to make this trip happen.
Hotel Kalikutt near Oppenau, Germany Hotel Kalikutt
Euro-style helmet decal
Back home now and headed to the Mt. Hood Classic for a mid-season fitness plug, and looking forward to focusing my efforts to the second half of the season.