Mid America TT Series

In the (Feed)Zone - The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

By: Mark Swartzendruber
Posted: Jun 12, 2014


Off the back.
photo @ Marek Jasinski

I knew once I got my back healthy and my leg strength back to equal that the return to racing was going to be a long and embarrassing process.  The extent of the humiliation I was in for was underestimated.

After bowing out – or rather cramping out of the masters 50+ race that was so slow it was passed by the Cat 4’s who began some 15 minutes after we started at Hillsboro, life got busy with us putting on the Urbana Grand Prix and purchasing a dump of a cottage on a frozen lake in Wisconsin.  This left little time for riding a bike.  And though the back and leg are once again healthy, after nearly two years of not being physically able to push myself to race like efforts, the aerobic system is far less than in optimal condition.

So, what’s a man to do?  Wait and train until ready or just deal with the fact that I’m basically a Cat 4 masquerading as a Cat 1 fatty master?  Being a stubborn and ignorant glutton for punishment, I opted for the latter.  I chose the hardest weekend of criterium racing in the early season – the PSIMET Fox River Omnium.  Day 1 is on a technical course in Elgin that requires bike handling skills and the ability to accelerate.  Despite my absence from racing, I still possess the former, but the latter is deeply lacking.  Not that I was a proficient sprinter before my back troubles began but at least I was able to keep pace.

Riding solo…OTB.
photo @ Marek Jasinski

The race started and I drifted to the back on the first lap said hello to fellow tail gunner Rizzo.  At the end of the first lap noted my heart rate was 177.  Seriously – I normally time trial at 164.  The race hadn’t even hotted up.  I was redlined.  7 laps of that was all I could stand and I was popped off the back in 15 minutes.  I continued and thankfully the head official didn’t black flag me.  My HR stayed above 170 and my hip and lower back muscles were locked up tight enough to turn coal into diamonds and my chest was aching.  Eventually I was lapped by the field.  It was seriously humiliating but, unlike Hillsboro, I finished.

An aside:  Something is seriously wrong when we’re racing in May wearing long sleeves, finger gloves and tights.

I may be slow but at least I can go around corners.
photo @ Marek Jasinski

The next day was the Fox River Grove Criterium which features a 15% 400 meter long climb. Yeah, that’s just a great idea for a guy with a back injury. Well, if you never test your limits, you don’t know where they are. So, I hung with the pack until the first KOM sprint and then rode the rest of the race alone again, naturally. Stone Pony continued his strong spring campaign and won the race.

After that weekend of utter humiliation, I weighed the prospect of becoming a Fondo rider against being a racer. I won’t be a racer if simply not being dropped was my sole objective. I’ve can’t be one of the lickspittles.

I set forth to regain race fitness. I cleared my work schedule enough to be able to ride at least 3 hours a day and lucky for me, the weather cooperated. The following weekend was Memorial Day weekend and rather than racing I took one of my bikes up to live permanently at our Dump on the Frozen Lake. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday I did long rides, uninterrupted by traffic on the pristine roads of Central Wisconsin while Moso-Man and the crew were cleaning up at the ABD Masters Races.

Not a car for as eye can see.

It was great therapy and training.  I haven’t been able to ride this way in a long time.  Chicago just doesn’t lend itself to quality training unless maybe you’re a track sprinter and 15 second races are your thing.  Sprinting in between stop lights can be a good work out I guess.

The Memorial Day weekend and return to race fitness project behind, I looked forward to doing a time trial at the end of the week at Harvard.  I own the course record there, being the only rider to break 42 minutes on the 33.3k course. 

I took off on the TT into a steady 15mph headwind on my new Opus One TT rig.  I was feeling really strong and sensing muscles in my glutes and quads that had been dormant for two years actually functioning.  My back wasn’t locked up, my HR was normal…I could really feel the return to full physical strength happening.

I pushed through the headwind and was just getting within a half mile of being able to ride the tasty tailwind back to the finish when I rounded a corner that had a smattering of gravel on it and had a back tire puncture.  Bad luck.  Fortunately the broom wagon was making the rounds and I was picked up within 5 minutes and was granted a re start.  Reviewing my power data I had averaged 24.8 directly into that headwind, wattage was 362 and my HR was 163.  I was right on with “normal”.

As fate would have it second run was also interrupted.  About 6 miles into it, a parade of antique tractors was exiting a field just as I arrived and I had to stop for a full minute before I was able to squeeze through a gap and continue the journey.  I just had to laugh.  Before my back blew up I would have been in a rage.  Now, given the perspective I’ve gained, I’m just happy to be able to be riding and competing again.



If you’re a bike racer, or consider yourself a bike racer, you should clear the first weekend in June and make your way to Galena, IL.  Tucked into the far Northwest corner of Illinois, the terrain mimics the Ardennes region of Belgium.  You can gain an appreciation for what it’s like to race the spring classics Fleche Wallonne or Leige Bastogne Leige.  Except no one is asking you to go 140 miles in this terrain.

I’m not built for such endeavors.  When facing long climbs at 12-24% there is only so much a guy who is 6’1” and 180 can do to get himself over the top.  In other words, there is a reason Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen don’t race the Ardennes Classics.  Galena is terrain for the likes of Contador and Valverde and Hard Cory Hickman.

That said, I still will go there and race because you know what – I’m an idiot recovering from major spinal issues.

The prologue TT is a 10k rolling torture test with a - I’m not exaggerating – 50 mph descent and a 24% ascent in the middle.  The debate is always Aero bike vs. Road bike.  For me, the added weight of the TT rig negates any aero advantage because other than the first and last 1.5 miles of the course, the rider is up out of the saddle and unable to apply consistent power while using the entire range of the drive train.  I had an 11.28 cog set with my 53,39 chain rings and I used every last gear.  After the 50 mph descent you round a corner and face 300 meters of 20% plus climbing.  I looked at my Garmin going up the hill in the 39x28 and I was pushing over 500 watts and going 6.5 mph.  My time was good for 7th in the 50+ group.  I averaged 380 watts for 16:45.  It was all I could ask of myself.  I’m just not built for this kind of terrain but I had fun.

The road race is a 22 mile loop that features several double digit pitches, fast descents and a 3k climb that peaks out at over 20%.  Exactly what a 180 lb rider looks forward to.  I nearly got dropped on the neutral start feed zone climb heading out of town.  Seriously, I was wheezing and my legs were on fire.  Once the race got going I was able to hang on the early climbs.  The first time up the long climb by the winery, my misery began.  I was dropped by the main group and may have been the last guy up the climb.  Fortunately what goes up (mass) must come down and gravity is my friend on descents.  I was able to get myself back into the bunch before the next climb, got detached and chased on again.  This repeated itself 5 more times.  I’d get dropped go out the back of the moto official and wheel truck and chase back into the group.  I was happy to have the power to chase back on.  And contrary to my experience in Elgin, my body was adapting to the strains of racing.  No cramping, HR at normal levels, recovery was good and despite racing in heavy rain, I was comfortable and secure going 50 mph down the hills and pursing the front group.

That night our team had dinner together.  The 35+ guys were having a great time and had a stellar 6 rider team.  Hard Cory and Stone Pony finished 4 and 6 in the road race after being 6 and 4 in the time trial and were in the hunt for the podium.  JBo, Lt. Dan, E.T. and Prof. Whip were doing a bang up job of being in the action and controlling things.  I love hanging out with the dudes on our team.  Such a great bunch of guys and talented racers.  To me, this is what bike racing as a Master should be all about.  Hanging out with the gang and their spouses telling stories, laughing and enjoying some wine over dinner.  Let those douchebags sneaking in the Low-T therapy go fuck themselves.  They’re missing the point.  We’re adults in our middle years playing bikes.  We wear spandex in public. We shave our legs.  What part of this speaks to the need to have an ego large enough that you need to dope or otherwise cheat in order to “win”?

I bagged out of the criterium the next day.  Just didn’t feel like doing it.  I dressed and pinned on my number and went to the course and put my spare wheels into the pit and rode around and waited for the 2 ambulance crash in the women’s Cat 4 race to clear but then decided I just wasn’t into it any more.  I drove back to the hotel, checked out and drove home.  I’d had a great deal of fun in the TT and road race but the criterium was going to be shortened due to the crash that was being cleaned up and I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it so I left.  End of story.

In the 35+ crit, the boys put on a display of power.  The race finished altogether and Hard Cory and Stone Pony finished 1,2 and for the Omnuim finished 2,3.  I believe I’ll race down in age next year just to race with my mates.  I’ll be dropped on the hills again and I’ll be mid pack in the TT again but I’ll have a reason to race the crit other than because it’s there.

A reason to race.