Last I posted back in June I had initiated a project to get myself back into racing fitness. I was being thrashed, dropped and humiliated in crits and road races and being beaten at time trials by poseurs and wobbledonks. Is was time to either regain the ability to be competitive once again at this bike racing thing fall back to RAGBRAI and Strava Racing.
RETURNING TO MY ROOTS
In the past I never really done well at road races or crits until I’d gotten a few time trials under my belt. Realizing the only TT’s I’d done were aborted by flat tires and tractor parades or raced up and down 20% grades, I decided to put my new Opus One rig to some true tests. TT’s are my comfort zone and if I’m ever going to return to good form, whatever that is, some all-out half hour to 55 minute efforts would be a key part of getting me there.
Our team Scarlet Fire Racing hosted a time trial on June 14 in Garden Prairie, IL. This is normally a venue for a 40k course but since the Government stimulus plans include rebuilding roads and replacing dilapidated bridges, a 40k wasn’t possible since the route was interrupted by missing bridges over I-90. We re mapped in an effort to get to 30k but 27k was as close as we could come.
I’d been getting some good training in up at Wisconsin and actually doing a good work load here at home so while I wasn’t expecting anything great I was at least hoping to not embarrass myself.
Well, not only did I not embarrass myself, I actually put out a respectable effort. I completed the 16.8 mile course in 36:35 and had a 372 watt average. My teamie Ottomobile had the fastest time of the day 2 minutes to the better. I was second best and the Scarlet Fire crew posted the 5 best times of the day. Now, given the pretty decent power numbers and the relatively modest average speed of 27.5 I realized I need some tweaking of the position on the bike to increase aero efficiency.
The following weekend was the Paw Paw ABR State time trial championship. I love the Paw Paw course. It has rolling terrain and perfect pavement. In my opinion is the best 40k course in the Midwest.
The Thursday before the TT, TLK and I went up to our dump on the frozen lake and tore out more moldy and mildewed insulation, car siding and ceiling tile, drank heavily and smoked cigars lakeside by the campfire light. Not ideal preparation for a hard 40k effort. None the less, I woke up on Sunday morning the 22nd after 4 solid hours of sleep and drove 3 hours from our dump – which by the way, we’ve named #morningwood – No really. #morningwood. We even had a sign made so our future guests will be able to find it.
I digress. Made the 3 hour drive from #morningwood to Paw Paw through heavy June fog and proceeded of course to lay an egg. My performance was so mediocre that one of my Strava followers actually sent me a message asking if my back injury had flared up. Under perfect conditions I posted a 55:12 with an average of 337 watts and 26.5 mph. Not only did I fail to win my age group, I wasn’t even amongst the top 5 times of the day. But – I showed up and I rode hard after abysmally draining reconstruction work and sleep deprivation and heavy drinking. It was sort of like a day of RAGBRAI. Riding hard with a serious hangover after no sleep. I remember thinking as I drove home. “This can only help”.
After three time trials I was ready to get back to some real racing. June is Tour of America’s Dairyland month and I didn’t feel ready to throw myself into the deep end just yet so I traveled down to Morton to do some low key IL Cup crit racing with masters my own age. I registered for the 45+ and 35+ races, which were scheduled back to back.
Morton is a bedroom community for Peoria with a Caterpillar plant and streets called Liberty, Independence and after various Founding Fathers. There are also ample empty county roads and a long bike trail of which I took full advantage before the races. Since the masters races weren’t until later in the day, I rode 22 miles of warmup. I was ready to go when the Chief Referee blew her whistle and dropped an 1100 watt attack off the start line and never looked back. I had Hollywood Sills, Stone Pony and Big Z in the field. I figured the group would eventually pull me back and that would give those guys the opportunity to counter and Scarlet Fever would rain down on Morton. After 3 laps, I was joined by FlickensMACK, and no one else. We’ve been in countless breaks together over the years and he’s a good one to have because he’ll do his share of work. The two of us eventually put nearly a full lap on the group with our teams doing great work. FlickensMACK of course beat me in the sprint but Z had broken away with McGSMACK late in the race and finished 3rd. Scarlet Fire took two steps on the podium but not the top step so we weren’t satisfied.
The 35+ race took off slower but eventually gained steam. Z got up the road with McGSMACK and Chad Briggs from the Hammer Down team. We liked that match up so Stone Pony and I worked the front as Z and the break rode away. After 4 laps of that we were coming into turn 3 and the corner marshal was waving her flags and gesturing as a crewman on an aircraft carrier. As we rounded the corner Briggs and Z were on the deck and McGSMACK was riding away. Not a good situation. I saw Z chuck one of his Zipp wheels into a Morton resident’s front yard and his bike was broken. He was effectively out of the race. Briggs got back in with McSMACK up the road after a free lap.
Turns out that on a gusty day, it’s a good idea to not line the course with plastic yellow warning tape or at least post a marshal to keep that tape from flowing out onto the course in the wind where it can catch a riders (in this case Big Z) handlebars and yank them out of his hands.
So, that left our squad with no one in the break that was 30 seconds up the road. Peoria Bicycle also had no one up the road and they put their guys to the front. I was frankly still feeling the 40 minute break from the prior race but knew the Peoria guys were never going to catch the break at the pace they were going. I put in what I figured was going to be an effort to speed up the chase, but instead became an attack that no one chased. Realizing I was on my own I buried it at 29 per into the 15 mph head wind on the back stretch and by the time I’d finished half a lap, I’d bridged up to the winning move. Stone Pony came across shortly after and the good guys had 2 of 4 in the break. This was good.
The end worked out well as McGSMACK was fatiguing, I attacked with 4 to go, dropped McG, Briggs pulled Stony back up to me, Stony countered, Briggs went with and I dropped back and waited for McG who was chasing. Stone Pony won and I outkicked a tired McG for third.
Two races, two podiums and I felt like old Druber again.
I didn’t race for the next two weekends because of this:
Let me explain: We spent the week of the Fourth of July at #morningwood tearing down ceilings and walls, enjoying stunning sunsets on the frozen lake, while my office at home flooded from a monsoon in Chicago the night after we left. When we got home at 10:30 pm on a Sunday night after a full week at the dump, I found that all the carpet in my office was in full mold bloom.
I spent the next week removing furniture, doing heavy lifting, on my hands and knees tearing out carpet and doing unexpected flooring work, drywall repair, repainting. By the end of the week my quads were so sore I felt as if I’d gone to the gym and done squats to muscle failure then got on my bike and did uphill sprint repeats. But my back didn’t hurt. So, when I did finally race again on the 12th after a week of doing all that, it was pretty mediocre.
The Winfield Criterium is a fun little local event in a suburb west of Chicago that races on a hilly circuit through residential neighborhoods that border a park. I took the pace up on lap one of the 50+race. The prieme bell rung on lap 2 and I stayed on the front and amped the pace. I figured my teamie Down Lowe would be a good horse for the sprint. As the lap neared completion I jumped to sprint into the final downhill turn and saw clear space on my back wheel and kept the sprint on. Turns out I won the $20 bill and split the field. Climbing back up to the top of the course I took a spot at the back of the line to rest up a bit just as an attack went off the front and the field split again. I was at the back behind two guys who just sat up. Damn the luck, I’d made a mistake and I couldn’t close the gap to the front group. I spent the bulk of the race chasing solo which, made my back hurt. So, I just soft pedaled the last 5 laps and got pipped at the line for nothing place by a Chucklehead in full gas sprint wearing an aero helmet. I’d previously lapped lapped him and the officials scored him ahead of me in the results. I also flipped him the bird because he almost clipped my bars. Ahh, yes. Didjaseemee?!
PRAIRIE STATE CYCLING SERIES
June has ToAD and July has PSCS. Ya’ll should come out and give it a whirl. 8 days of racing at great venues without all the testosterone in the Masters fields. The Intellegencia Coffee Company backs the series and the team they sponsor featuring a hoard of strong sprinters dominated the masters races winning all but one of the races.
I only did two races at Waukegan where I missed the podium because I waited too long to try and bridge to the two rider winning break. I got as close as 7 seconds but then despite both the break mates Rizzo and Karlow telling me they wished I’d been up there and would have welcomed my help, they rode away when they saw me coming.
I also did Willow Springs - a road race that is fun but generally ends up in an uphill pack sprint. We went fast and no one crashed into the oncoming traffic – Have I mentioned that I hate road races with yellow line rules? Rolling enclosures aren’t that difficult. Just my thoughts.
So, more riding at #morningwood and preparing for the final objective in the abbreviated season of the “project to return to race fitness or quit racing.” The pendulum was gradually swinging from “Quit Racing” to “Race Fitness” but I still hadn’t r put in any performances – aside from maybe at Morton with smaller low key fields – that told me I was back at a level anywhere near where my very high bar was set. I was once a national contender and that’s where I want to return.
BRINGING IT TO A CLOSE
The USAC IL State Time Trial is on a course that I selected, trained on for years, own the course record of 51:36 and my team is host club. I HAD to win it. Now – I won it last year also, but with a very mediocre time over 55 minutes that is nowhere near national caliber. Granted, I did it last year with a withered leg. This year is different. With my leg at full strength and my back right again it’s time to either lay down a legit time and speed or start looking up which Fondo’s I want to schedule. To be honest, I was actually nervous about whether or not I could even win my age category. The guy who beat me at Paw Paw has been having a very good season and had also posted better times that me at a couple of other TT’s. Well, he didn’t have a tractor delay but still. So, after a good couple of weeks, really getting my bike position on the Opus One dialed in I went to Harvard Saturday the 2nd for a short 19k to test the position at full gas and use it for what people with coaches call “openers”.
Good decision. I killed it. 28.9 avg speed and 380 watt average for a time of 24:36. Second best time of the day to my teamie Ottomobile but only by 29 seconds. Ottomobile placed in the top 25 at Elite Natz so he’s legit.
Did I do too much? I was now worried that I’d left it all on the road of the test run and wouldn’t have anything left for the main event the next day.
Aug 3 was a perfect day. Low 80’s and just a zephyr of breeze. The Tolono TT course is a true hard man’s TT course. It’s flat and has long, long straights that go on for miles. It’s easy to lose concentration and let your thoughts wander as you ride the never ending series of 1% false flats. My start time was 2 minutes after Reed Oliff, the guy who’d been better than me at all the ABR TTs I’d done except the Garden Prairie event.
I got into rhythm after the inevitable shock to the system which takes about a mile or 2 minutes give or take. I didn’t feel like I was going at the effort needed to turn a good result but every time I looked at the computer I was going fast and my power numbers and heart rate were right where they should be. It’s a great feeling being tucked into the aero position and going 29 per and not feeling like you’re pedaling hard. I hit the turnaround at a shade over 26 minutes and came in at 53:30 on a course measured out at 40.5 k. Right at 28 mph average speed at 360 watts. It was my 20th state title and 16th TT title. But this one will be remembered because it’s the first truly legit time I’ve done since 2011. I won my age category in 2012 one legged. I won my age category last year with a slow time and less than full strength and not against the best riders in the state. This year I posted the 2nd fastest time of the day behind Bryce Meade who finished 17th at Elite Natz this year and rode with Jelly Belly for years based largely on his ability to time trial. Bryce posted in at 52:13.
Done for the season unless I can find some time in September but I doubt it as we need to have #morningwood stripped down to nothing but walls and rafters by October 1 so the contractors can reconstruct that which we have deconstructed.
Thanks for putting up with my existential crisis and all the whining for the past 2 years.
Next report will likely be the Return of the Druber Awards in December.