In the (Feed)Zone - Almost (New) Normal

By: Mark Swartzendruber
Posted: May 22, 2013

In the Feed(Zone)

Next Saturday I will celebrate the 1 year anniversary of the life altering event known as The Herniated Disc.  3 months away from racing, tentative steps back into the same, on going rehab and therapy, body awareness, accepting limitations, realizing I probably won’t ever step on a National podium again and continued determination to get back to “normal” whatever that is.  Or is there simply a New Normal?

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve returned to racing is my attitude.  I’ve mellowed.  Maybe because of the new limitations I am experiencing, I have more empathy with the Lickspittles and Feckless Weenies.  I understand “I would if I could” and “I’m at the Redline” just a little bit better.  This is a terrible place to exist and I hope someday to return to that place where I can’t for the life of me figure out why a guy won’t take a pull and berate and belittle that guy until he quits bike racing and instead sends some dope cheating Twerp $150 for permission to ride in a Fondo out in Santa Rosa.

I want to be Normal again.  I want to be Agro Druber.  This past weekend it almost happened.

Before I tell that story I shall back pedal a few weeks to tell some other bike racing stories.

Fox River Grove Podium.  B. Hass 1st, P. Swinand 2nd.
Photo by Sue Wellinghoff


For one gloriously sunny and warm Saturday, the Eternal Winter lost it’s grip on the Midwest.  I and my truly talented team mate Andrew Bates (Android) drove up to Hales Corner, WI and contested the Whitnall Park Criterium.  I was relieved when American Cycling Legend Brent Emery rolled to the staging area of the Cat 1,2 race  because it meant that I was no longer the oldest guy in the race.

Whitnall Park is a great race venue.  Back when I was good I had one of my best ever race performances, initiating and driving a field lapping Superweek break that contained the likes of Ivan Dominguez, Tim Larkin, Harm Jansen, Pele Kil, Dale Sedgewick and some others I can’t recall.  We lapped the field in just over 30 minutes.  That was fun.  Thus, I hold fond memories of racing here as the rolling terrain suits a guy like me – or the former me, not the new normal me.

My duty in this race was to look after the interests of The Android.  Dude is super strong, tough and an able sprinter.  The race was fast.  My Garmin unit told me after the race that Normalized Power was 372 watts, avg speed was 25.0 and we did over 2000 ft of climbing over the course of the 65 minute race.  Toward the end of the race there was a good break of 2 guys off the  front who were progressively putting space between themselves and the field and the Android was not one of those two guys.  So – I jumped out of the pack and tried to bridge, which I failed to do, but I did spend a couple 3 laps in between the field and the break and with 7  to go, the field decided to get after me.  Since I’d managed to get myself within about 5 seconds of the two off the front, the field chase and catch of me effectively also shut the break down as the ensuing counter attacks welded the gap shut.

I can’t retell with any accuracy the finale of the race as after the effort expended during the bridge effort; I was subsequently dropped with 4 laps to go.  The Android hung in and took 5th, which was a good result for him and I felt good about being able to actually participate in the race rather than simply sitting in.


Eternal Winter returned the next day and in a park adjacent to the Kankakee River the new normal Druber also returned.  I felt fine early in the race and was aggressive, doing some stints off the front.  Then, with no other way to explain it, I experienced neural block.  Legs stopped working.  New Normal Druber is getting used to this concept.  Without warning, no pain signal, no sensation of tightness I will find under the stress of race effort my I can’t turn my legs over.  It’s not fatigue related.  HR remains the same, subjective sensations remain the same, I simply find myself drifting backward through the pack and riding along with the lickspittles at the back who are struggling to stay in the draft and eventually, I’m off the back.  This happened.  I climbed off my bike and watched our IL Cup Leading Master racer Mongo take a stellar 2nd place in the bunch sprint to J. Schroetlin.  Later that afternoon The Android won the Cat 1,2 race outsprinting Sammy’s finisher New York Metz Jr.

Driving home and on the phone with TLK talking about the race, I actually started crying.  I can wrap my head around the New Normal meaning I may never step onto a National podium again but if it is to mean I can’t even match pedal strokes with the Lickspittles in a small local crit, well that is another matter entirely.

Tour de C-U

Eternal Winter held on for one more bitter weekend and rained on the Tour de Champaign, and misted on the Urbana Grand Prix for half a day but that didn’t deter the truly amazing athletes who turned out in record numbers from Cat 5 all the way to Pro 1,2 to race in the rain and cold.

If you’ve not been to the Tour de C-U, you’re missing out on the premier event of the early season.  Of course, I’m biased since it is our club that puts the race on along with great help from Wild Card Cycling so don’t take my word for it – ask around.  We do it right with quality fields, great courses, organization, ambiance and nice prize lists.  Even the Cat 5 winners get champagne and kisses from the podium girls.

Winning Break in the Urbana Grand Prix Pro 1,2, young Nicolai riding 2nd wheel.
Photo by Liz Brunson Photography

Announcing the Urbana Grand Prix, I saw one of the most incredible displays of talent I’ve seen since I witnessed a young Jason McCartney lap the field twice solo at the Iowa City Old Capital Criterium in 1999.  Winning break was up the road with JJ and K. Depasse of the Bissell Nuvo team, RJ Stuart of Roadhouse and J. Schroetlin of the Qdoba Grill team 30 seconds off the front with less than 10 laps to go.  They’re knocking off laps on the 1k course at about 1:15 – 1:20 per.  All of a sudden young Dane by the name of Nicolai Brochner jumps clean out of the field that was under the firm control of the TX Roadhouse gang and I kid you not – closes that 30 second gap down in 3 laps!  He went on to win the sprint by a couple of bike lengths.  Interviewing him on the podium after the race, we all learned he’s just 19 years old.  Look for him to post some results at the TOAD Series and other big venues this summer.  Dude’s a budding Superstar.

Much thanks to Stone Pony, Hollywood Sills and the rest of the Scarlet Fire Racing team who band together to help make this race weekend the highlight of the early campaign.  We’ll be doing it again the first weekend of May 2014 on a newly paved down town Urbana course that will test you and a new venue yet to be determined.  Look for it next year and show up!


Meh.  I really appreciate the U of Chicago club hosting this long standing race on the U of C campus.  Pretty cool, but the huge course (1.5 mile pan flat rectangle) just lends itself to uninteresting racing.  Mongo got second in the masters race.  I was off the front with P. Swinand and R. Warren with 2 to go – a break with an opportunity to work but the sprinters were too hungry.

In the Procrit, Old Man Heagney schooled the kids to take the win.  The Android knocked out 5th place in the bunch gallop with New York Metz Jr exacting some revenge with a 2nd place finish.  The Cat 1,2 IL Cup battle between ‘Droid and NYJr is tight.

The Return of Agro Druber?

After the Monsters Crit I really look forward to this weekend of racing on legitimately challenging courses.  Given that the Elgin Cycling Classic has some elevation change and requires a rider to be able to corner the bike one is not as apt to find himself competing for spaces in the pack with men shaped as bowling balls such as he is at the Monster race. Make no mistake, a few bowling balls do show at the line and clog the uphill chicane on the first lap but they’re generally dispatched and out of the race by lap 3.

Warming up for the race on my trainer I felt like I haven’t felt since the summer prior to the back blow out.  Ahhh, yes, the summer of 2011.  I was riding dudes off my wheel at will and breaking my own time trial course records.  Magical days those and they seem like another life time, or at least another man which is probably close to the truth.

Warm up was effortless and I was ready for the race.  Now – I understand why we promoters do it but I still don’t like it.  Combined Masters fields suck.  But, if Master racers don’t show up in numbers enough to at least make the appearance of a respectable race field in two separate age groups, then we will continue to have our age groups combined and race tactics fucked up by being forced to figure out races within races of two fields racing together for separate placements and prize lists.

I settled in at the front of the race after sitting back for a couple of laps talking with P. Swinand who literally never stops talking during a race and S. Pearson, who is generally always at the back of the race until he’s off the front – much like my style.  I was able to get into almost every move that went off the front for the first half of the race and each time, it seemed like the Enzo boys I was with were not willing to be in a move with me.  My perception was, they were soft pedaling, though after the race they all maintained they were working their best.  Anyway – all together until late in the race, Enzo 35+ rider, the betatted E. Tomlinson is off the front solo with 5 to go.  He has what I counted to be a 15 second gap.  I wanted to be where he was so on the back straight I attacked over the crest of a rise in the road and closed the gap in a half lap.  Damn, I was right.  My legs were good. 

Problem:  I had one rider in tow - A. Lesniaweaselski, notorious Black Hole of Chicago area Master racing.  The guy has never seen an opportunity to take a pull that he hasn’t turned down.  He is pretty much despised, disrespected and mistrusted by everyone who’s ever shared the misfortune of having him leech onto the back of a break and those who’ve witnessed it.  And just like a leech, he’s damn near impossible to get rid of without killing, and in bike racing I’m afraid that killing a fellow competitor, no matter how dishonest and shameless that competitor is would result in a fine and possible suspension.

The leech had sucked onto my draft as I bridged across to E.T and when I took a pull after catching on, he’d weaseled his way onto E.T.’s wheel instead of keeping his place in the rotation.  E.T. took a pull and the weasel cheated his way onto my wheel.  Well, remember me talking about race dynamics being fucked up by combined Masters fields?  E.T. and The Weasel were both in the 35+ race within the race and I was the only 45+ guy up the road.  So, E.T. isn’t going to take pulls and tow The Weasel to the line and The Weasel isn’t going to take any pulls because it’s not in his DNA to do anything other than exist as a parasite so it leaves me as the only guy with incentive to ride at the front, which I did for another lap but with some very strong 45+  guys back in the field such as P. Swinand, S. Pearson, R. Kelley (not THAT R. Kelley) and so forth, not to mention the remaining strong 35+ guys chasing two guys up the road in their race, I was no match and we were caught just before 2 laps to go.

Then, something magical happened.  I vented my spleen on The Weasel.  I let him know that I consider him to be a dishonest con, a shameless bike racer and I believe the word “Putz” got tossed in for good measure.  Now, the reader must understand, I’ve kept myself in a fairly Zenlike state during bike races for the better part of 2 years counting it simply not worth the effort to waste annoyance on fellows who simply can’t help that they cannot get out of their own way – but this was different.  This was a vent of wrath at a well deserved target. It was a vent at a bike racer who considers himself a cunning tactician, when in fact he’s a break killing wheel leech who is a con artist.  Damn – and it felt good too.  The race ended in a bunch sprint which R. Kelley won.  As for the disposition of The Weasel – he finished 6th, out of the money.  He traded a guaranteed 2nd in the break and gambled by not taking a pull that he’d be able to come through in the sprint and he’d bet wrong.  Failed.  Good for him.  Take up bowling Weasel; you have no friends at the bike races.

In the afternoon Cat 1,2 race, The Android took another win with some stellar riding and great team help from JBo and Easy E.


Kudos to PSIMET Wheels proprietor Rob Curtis for rounding out the Fox River Omnium with a race on a tough, tough course.  It looks like this on Strava.

First lap, the race took off up the hill and bam, L’il Wayne took off like a bat out of hell, W. Pankonin of xXx racing who climbs like nobody from Illinois flew up the 15% slope and E.T. was right on their tails.  I was only about 2/3 of the way up the climb gasping and wheezing and not enjoying the magic legs I’d had the previous day in Elgin when I heard bikes falling down up the hill.

When I finally struggled my way to the crest of the hill I saw L’il Wayne laying on his back in some one’s front yard.  Charging down the sweeping descent I settled into the pack as the amazing W. Pankonin rode away and was never seen again.  Lap two, I rode at the pace of the pack up the hill and saw P. Swinand and B. Hass going off the front just after the crest of the hill.

Off to the side L’il Wayne was upright and pulling his tire off the rim. Seems he rolled a tubie – but wait, the story gets better.  Earlier this week he’d posted a tweet thanking his sponsor for some sweet new pedals.  Sweet new pedals that apparently have just a bit less cornering clearance than the old ones and he’d clipped a pedal.  Thankfully he’s okay and will miss no time training and familiarizing himself with the limits of those sweet new pedals.

On a course like this, my strategy is to make up time on the descent where keeping power on after the climb rather than coasting will gain time.  I took off after Swinand and Haas and experienced the same blocked sensations that I’d felt at Kankakee three weeks ago.  No power.  I coasted down the hill and drifted to the back of the pack.  Lap 3 I lost contact up the hill and touched the back of the field at the end of the lap and then lost contact.  I was debating whether or not to DNF at this point.  I was frustrated and confused.  My body was clearly not functioning.

I saw LI’l Wayne walking down the hill with his bike shaking his head and watching me struggle up the hill, dispatched from the back of the pack.  “Not a good day” I said.  “Here either” he said.  Fuggit.  I decided to flail on, just get some hill repeats in.  L’il Wayne’s daughter, the lovely and charming Rachel was very kindly encouraging me as I climbed the hill alone, humiliated at the fact that even some heavyweight lickspittles were still in the pack that had gone completely out of my sight by this time.

Then, just as mysteriously as the block had onset, it disappeared. I was applying real pressure to the pedals.  When I looked down at the computer it told me I was doing close to 400 watts on the down hill. I was catching dropped riders one by one and then I saw the pack ahead of me.  I was back on the pack a couple laps later and when I caught them on the downhill, I realized they were going about 5 mph slower than I was so I surged past them.  Burner jumped on my wheel and asked if I was a lap up on them.  “No Burner” I said “I’m on the same lap.  I’ve been off the back with neural block”.  He looked at me quizzically “You went past us so fast I thought you were lapping us”.  We rode up the hill together until I dropped him and continued on.  When the race ended, I was in the start finish stretch with the leaders.

So, I don’t know from day to day how this thing is going to act but I will continue to race until I can’t and if I flail at a race, I’ve got a build in, ready made excuse for the flail.

Next time – I return to the scene of the injury – Fort Wayne, IN.  I will let you know how it goes.