Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Great weekend (s)!

This is a two part blog because I have been too busy to finish a blog lately. :) I don't see it letting up any time soon, so be patient and I will try to post updates when I can.

First up is the post that I started last week and never got to finish:

Allison and I opted not to race this weekend so that she could put in some solid training. Of course solid training for her means beating the hell out of me... :)

Saturday while many of the people we know were tackling Vision Quest or Counting Coup, we headed over to Aliso Woods for some time on the dirt. I had veto'd Allison's initial plan to train in the Santa Ana's and cheer on the VQ competitors because I felt our time was better spent on more specific training. (very few races on our calendar include a 1+ hour climb, the only one that comes to mind is Downieville and I am not sure if that is even on our calendar this year!).

Once we finally got rolling (late start after stopping at Rock N' Road) we got in a solid day of very race specific training, talked to some cool people, rode with a relative newbie, and generally had a bitchin' day!

Sunday we did a long road ride from Dana Point to Panikins (Leucadia). It was my first ride on my new bike! New bikes are awesome, new Sworks bikes are the shit!!! We had a stellar day riding the coast and even got to hang out with Steph and Dan and drink a cup of coffee mid ride!

Overall it was a super tough (but fun) weekend and we are doing what we can to set ourselves up for good race fitness in the coming months.

On the way back up the coast I was feeling poetic:

Best Things

The hum of the tarmac
The whirring of the drivetrain
The whistle of the spokes in the wind.

The sound of the knobs on the tires scratching for traction on the trail tread
The clatter of the chain on a fast descent
The moment of silence and stillness as bike and rider take flight.

The wind rushing past my face
My beautiful wife smiling at me,
astride her bike in the sunshine.

Now on to this past weekend at Fontana:

You have probably already seen the news, and/or read Allison's blog so you know that the weekend was really good for both of us. I will limit my comments on Allison's racing to just saying that I am so proud, and so happy for her, that all the work she puts in is paying off. She has put herself on the podium at a National. That is huge! I am happy that I get to contribute in whatever small ways to her success.

My race:

My warm-up was good. I rode the entire course, most of it was with my buddy from the Cougar Class Christina Turner. I gave her some pointers on a couple spots where line selection is critical for a good race and we chatted some. I got back to the venue and they were already lining us up. I rolled to the feed zone and couldn't find stuff (needed my race bottle). I started to panic some and got flustered. Finally after rushing around some I found Allison and frantically removed my warm-up stuff and got my race bottle. DEEP BREATH...

I lined up on the front of the group. This may not be very popular to show up at the last second and line up in the front, but I figured after 5th at Sagebrush and 3rd at Bonelli I earned a spot on the front row. The race started and Gary took the lead with a Celo Pacific guy. I wound up second wheel and happy with my position after the 180. Gary made a mistake and started up the Pro course (we rode that way last year) and that left me in the lead. I felt like a fish out of water! I didn't want to push too hard, but also didn't want to lose spots so I tried hard to moderate my effort. I also didn't want to attack knowing Gary was trying to work back through the group. No reason to kick the dude for a minor mistake. I was still on the front so led up the Elevator. Once again, moderating my effort and making sure that I wasn't going to blow up. I cleaned past the turn and then dismounted, when I did that Gary pushed past me. In a way I was glad to not be on the front any more, also glad I was in position to chase Gary!

Gary had a 10 second gap on me for most of that lap. We were working through traffic already from the 30-34 group that started in front of us. I kept on the gas and didn't panic. I wasn't feeling particularly strong, but I was recovering well and I kept reminding myself to stay sharp, stay focused, no mistakes.

On the flats at the end of the first lap I was sitting on Gary's wheel. I said out loud, "I can't fucking believe it, I am sitting on Gary's wheel in a race!" Gary responded with, "Yeah Justin!" Gary may not be in great shape right now, and he probably rode a couple century rides the day before, but I was actually racing with a dude that used to beat me by 10 minutes!

One notable thing that happened... At the end of lap 1 I wanted to switch to water. My HEED was giving me cotton mouth. As I approached the feed zone I yelled water and held up my bottle. Allison was completely unprepared. I was really disappointed as I really couldn't drink the HEED and wanted to hydrate. In the heat of the moment I yelled, "Fuck you" as I rode by. Dumb Justin over-reacting. I wasn't really mad, just wanted her to feel bad for not being prepared. Needless to say I didn't drink much the first two laps...

The next three laps were all similar. Lots of traffic. The gap would go up or down a bit but no big changes. I had lots of other racers recognize me and cheer me on. I appreciate that! I didn't do much cheering myself, I was in the zone and honestly didn't recognize anyone till after I heard their voices for the most part. I passed a few friends and cheered them on as I passed if I could.

I had a minor crash (very embarrassing) right after the Start/Finish on the flat left hander. I slid out where I had been comfortably drifting before. The crash cost me a few seconds, maybe 5 or 10. I was back up and rolling fast and was only in minor pain (left calf cramped for a short period before the big climb, guessing the trauma messed with the muscle some).

On the last lap I came up on a guy from another AG on the flats. We exchanged positions a couple times for the last 1K or so which was cool. I threw down in the big ring for a long time on the final stretch and he didn't out sprint me. YEAH BOY.

This was definitely my best race to date. My 2nd place in Windham felt pretty empty (the guy that I was racing with for 2nd mechanical'd out) and the guy in first was some ex-pro dude that was gone from the gun. I didn't feel like I had solid competition. This race was different! There are a ton of super fast guys! Super fast guys in all the categories really. I was even more surprised to realize that I was the fifth fastest amateur! CRAZY.

Honestly the course favored me, I got lucky, and I had a good day. One race does not a star make, I will just keep chasing my fast wife and hoping to do well and make her as proud of me as I am of her!

See you at the next race!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bonelli Triple Crown

This past weekend was the Bonelli Triple Crown race. Sagebrush kicked off the season a couple weeks ago but Bonelli was the first of the bigger races to come this year.

Last week was really tough. Lots of work stress, trying to fit in training, and everything else, has made race preparation even tougher. The crap weather means the bikes are trashed after every ride too! So much to do and so little time!

Friday night I was finishing up the prep work on the bikes and it was very stressful and didn't quite go as planned. I will leave out most of the details, but when I torqued Allison's crank bolt with my torque wrench I felt a small pop. At first I thought it was my wrench, then I realized that the wrench wasn't engaging the bolt anymore. I shined a light inside the crank and could see that the bolt head had broken. Not good. It appeared to be holding together though and I figured I would worry about extracting it after the races. Interesting to note that I have spent a full year riding and wrenching on Sworks bikes with Sworks cranks. This is my first problem with them (new cranks, new bolt). I still love them and stand by my word that nothing beats Specialized. Shit happens, I know Specialized will stand behind the product and Rock N' Road supports us well!

On Saturday morning we got all packed up and headed north. We stopped in at Rock N' Road Cyclery to pick up a couple banners and grab last minute items (key tire purchase, read on!)

When we arrived at the venue I did the setup stuff and Allison ran over to go check in. Setup takes a little while but it is really nice having a professional looking pit area. :)

Allison wanted to get out on course before the start of the Junior race so we suited up to head out. Allison jumped on her bike and started to ride off when what was left of the crank bolt gave way and her left crank arm free rotated. No bueno.

I quickly developed a plan and sprung into action.

1st plan: Pull cranks from my bike, switch the spider to Allison's gearing, install the cranks from my 2009 Sworks HT in the 2010 Epic and get Allison rolling, worry about my bike some other time.

1st plan failed 20 minutes or so later, after a bunch of wrench turning (much thanks to the Bear Valley Bikes dudes for all their assistance), when I discovered that 2009 Sworks cranks are not compatible with 2010 frames. SHIT! I had a great deal of comfort last year knowing that my bike could donate parts to Allison's in a pinch. That isn't the case anymore and it worries me for when we travel farther and spend more money to get to races.

At this point I was flustered and was starting to panic.

2nd plan: The second plan was really my last ditch effort to salvage the weekend. I put my cranks with Allison's gearing onto my Sworks HT and adjusted the saddle position to meet approximately Allison's dimensions. Allison was much less than pleased, but took off onto the course to try to figure out how to ride MY bike in her first BIG Pro race of the year. She loves her Sworks Epic and has no desire to ride a 26" HT let alone race one. Things were pretty dire at this point. I was starting to think that I wasn't going to be able to race on Sunday.

Scott Tedro happened to be walking by and I mentioned to him the problem. He pointed me to his rig and said to get some help there. Turns out that they couldn't help me so despite having a Specialized backed team on the premises I was still up a creek.

So I am standing by the pile of tools and parts in our pit area when Juan (Specilized Rep and Demo Truck Dude) rolls up on his 2010 Sworks 29er and says, "Hey man, what do you need?"

I looked at him, chuckled a little thinking that it would be a ridiculous request that is denied and said, "A drive side Sworks crank arm with 26-39 XX rings." He points down and goes, "Take this one." I almost fell over! We were back on track thanks to Juan!!!!!!!!!

Lots more wrenching later, all was back to normal. I had to put my fit back on my bike, steal Juan's cranks, install them on Allison's bike, and take a really deep breath, then an even bigger sigh of relief! Allison took a little spin with me on my course so she could start her warmup and I could preview what was to come in my race on Sunday. I quickly discovered that Allison's gearing wasn't going to work for me and while she finished her warmup I set forth tearing my bike apart and re-installing my XX spider and rings on my crank then reassembling my bike.

Too much stress and wrenching!!!!!

Allison finished her warmup and then her race was off! I think being the racer is easier than being in my shoes. As Allison's support/coach/husband/etc. I was so twisted up inside! I wasn't eating or hydrating properly for sure. She was out there doing what she does, giving it her all and for the first time ever she was right there with the big girls! Allison was hanging on in 4th by herself chasing a pack of three (1-3 were Lene, Emily, Pua, and 5th was Heather Irmiger a little ways back). The race was very exciting and I loved being able to see more of the course from the feed zone! On the last lap I rode over to cheer her on and she powered through to take 4th! So amazing!

After the race I went for a ride on my course with Nick. I quickly determined that I needed to swap to a faster rear tire (remember key tire purchase from Rock N' Road?). Nick is a great guy and we had a good lap of our course.

To celebrate the day we went out to dinner at BJ's with Steph and Dan (Allison had quite the fan base at the race!) and Nick.

We went back to our hotel, checked in and I set about switching my rear tire to a Specialized Renegade Control (Sworks casing is too thin for me, I need the extra durability!). Only with Specialized tires would I have been able to put a brand new tire on and get it to seal up in the parking lot of a hotel with a foot pump. There really isn't another tire manufacturer that you can do this with. (I have used Kenda, Maxxis, Continental, Bontrager, etc) I love Specialized stuff!!!

Our hotel (Extended Stay) was the worst experience I have ever had at a hotel. A couple of girls checked in around 11pm and were making all kinds of noise, yelling and screaming and carrying on. All I wanted to do was sleep. The hotel staff did nothing to enforce any sort of civil behavior. I was very disappointed. Then our AC in our room didn't work and our room got really hot! Then the AC came back on and it got really cold. Needless to say I didn't sleep much.

Sunday my race started really early (with a time change, REALLY early). We got to the venue an hour or so before my race and I rolled out to go warm up. Rode with some of the fast ladies of the Cougar Class as they checked out the new course. I was really glad that I got out on course as I discovered that the bridges were wet and VERY slippery. I showed how not to stay rubber side down and managed to bash my left knee on the 2nd bridge in the process. Come to think of it I should have informed Scott that they need to install chicken wire on the bridges for traction when they are wet! Before I knew it I had to go line up and then we were off.

The lead pack had a solid bunch of riders in it and a few went off the front. Knowing the length of the race I wanted to try and play it safe and conserve. One interesting note from the first lap of the race was some lady walking two dogs on course at the bottom of a super fast descent. Scared the hell out of me. I was shouting at her in this photo...

During the course of the race I was making passes but didn't know how many were from my class. It is very hard to determine position. I had guessed I was in fourth or so, would be super cool to have the announcer give position or something. When I was by myself I was trying to push hard to catch the next rider but I was also using other riders for draft where it made sense. On lap three I tried to turn up the pace. Every time I felt like letting up I thought of Allison's performance the day before and kept on the gas.

Something on my bike started rattling (later found out that my rear brake caliper was loose, must have forgotten to tighten it in all the confusion/wrenching) and I just kept asking my body and bike to hold it together and finish strong. On the last lap it happened. My legs started pinging on the steady climb near the end of the lap. The guy behind me saw me letting up and said, "Five more minutes!"

I bombed the descent and got as aero as I could on the flats while still breathing. I must have let off a bit too much though and on the short steep climb into the trees Alexis passed me. I was pissed that I knew for the first time during the race that I had definitely lost a spot, yet at the same time I knew that if Alexis was with me we were up towards the front of the group. I rallied and tried to give him a run for his money but my legs were cramping.

Right at the line someone yelled like a sprint was going down and I tried to sprint... NOTHING. I put all I had into the pedals and watched two guys go by right at the line. I was sure I had blown it. Allison said I came in 4th and congratulated me. I was pleased and didn't find out I had scored a 3rd till I was on the massage table! So cool to score a top 3 spot!!!!

I had some time to relax and eat and then it was time for Allison to race Short Track. She once again impressed me with her desire and despite some horrible yo-yo-ing she finished with the lead pack. Doing that well is no joke against World Cup racers!

After short track I suited back up and pre-rode the SuperD with Allison. It was pretty cool because we wound up riding with Chloe, Pua, and Kelly. After riding I went and picked a spot to spectate from and watched all the racers suffering. Unfortunately my enthusiastic cheering for Allison may have distracted her. She started to make a wrong turn on course and had to change directions scrubbing speed. I was stoked on her finish though as she still got fourth with a mistake!

So it was a long and exhausting weekend for The Mann Show. We had some great racing and lots of fun! See you all at the next one.

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SRC and some snow.

This past Saturday we headed over to our local race venue, home of the Fontana City Nationals, for a bit of intensity. In the truck on the way there we were cranking the tunes and I was fired up to go racing!

Before the race Allison and I set out to warm up by riding a lap of the course. Donny had made a few changes and I am glad we rode them first. The first change would have surely caught me by surprise at race pace!

After the lap we milled about a bit and then lined up. There weren't many guys in my AG but Alexis was there and he has been beating me in every race so far this year. Donny pulled us up in the back of the younger guys which meant we were in traffic. Right off the start we go through a left hand 180 and I suddenly found myself track standing in the wrong gear, DOH! I had to unclip and tiptoe up the incline before restarting and was now dead last with a big gap.

I put my head down and started working it.

The laps sort of melt into one long suffer fest. I wound up catching the leader of my AG well before the flats to the start/finish on Lap 1. We were already working through lots of traffic. On Lap 2 we battled wheel to wheel for the entire lap. It is so awesome when you are closely matched with your competitors and the racing is really close. I was loving every minute of it!!

On Lap 3 I decided I wanted to put in an effort and see what this guy had for me so I went hard all the way up the pavement climb. Unfortunately when I turned off on the dirt he was right there. He did say something to the effect of, "Nice climbing." :) Unfortunately I was unable to drop him. Shortly after that I screwed up. I was pushing to keep the pace high and tried to late shift into a steeper climb. My chain dropped off the inside! NO! I wound up having to run up the rest of the way and remount onto the descent and lost a bunch of time. I tried not to be discouraged but was held up some by traffic and when we got to the flats he was out of sight.

Once again I put my head down and worked hard to try and reel him in. On the pavement climb I could see him passing other riders, and I caught a glimpse of him on the descent a few turns ahead. In the end I just couldn't close the gap and lost by 15 seconds. Awesome racing though and I really appreciated it!!!!!

Unfortunately I was the only one that stuck around for awards so it looks like I can't win my class even by myself! :)

Sunday we celebrated Steph getting a new Specialized Sworks Era (so cool!) by setting out to do a big ride in the Santa Anas. Turned out that with some mud, some snow, and a really cold blustery day, the ride got shortened... but we had a blast and that is what matters!

After the ride we met up with Jeffe for a feast at Taco Mesa. I had calamari tacos and lobster fajitas. SO GOOD! I guess that too much food wasn't quite enough so we then went and got frozen yogurt! Craziness! We will see what a couple extra pounds does to my race performance this weekend at Bonelli... :/

Today we hit the intervals hard on Rancho Cal. Been a long time since we did that and I don't think I missed it at all. So painful. So demoralizing. Such a good workout!

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sagebrush Safari

Wow it's been a while since I posted a blog huh? :)

Not much time for blogging between work, training, and support for the wife. In the interest of keeping this post of reasonable length, I am going to leave out lots of stuff. Suffice it to say that I have been super busy.

Some announcements.

1) I have a new team for the year. I am racing for Velosport now. This was my best option for the year to be affiliated with Allison's primary sponsor Rock N' Road Cyclery. Velosport is a great club team with a huge membership, and Rock N' Road is a killer shop with cool people and sweet merchandise.

2) I got to purchase new shoes for this season through the team. I bought Sworks MTB shoes. They are definitely a step up from the Specialized BG Pro shoes I had last year. I then gave these pimp new shoes to the podiatrist and they had custom inserts made to try and help me get through this race season. With a little luck, I won't have to have surgery on my foot till the fall!

I am anxiously awaiting some other stuff I ordered through the team deal like a new Sworks helmet! :)

3) Allison got her new bike. That may not sound like something that means a whole lot to me, but it does! It means I get sloppy seconds on her Sworks Epic from last year! This bike rocks in every way! (more on that later)

On to the race...

We were worried about the conditions and weather. Fortunately none of that was an issue at all! We drove down to Lake Morena in the AM and set up our pits.

Thanks to Matt at Rock N' Road for the awesome tent and all of his support for Allison's racing, we are super stoked to have such a cool sponsor!

After getting set up we hung out and chatted with all the familiar race people that we haven't seen since last year for the most part.

Eventually it was time to suit up and go warm up.

I was a bit slow to warm up due to the previous day's efforts (we did a moderate 3.5 hrs on the road in the rain, wind, and cold on Saturday). I was also a bit nervous about the course. We didn't pre-ride and I was unsure as to how much of the course would come back to me from last year's race. I also figured that the severe weather might have had a negative impact on the course and was a bit concerned about hitting the descents at race pace without a pre-ride.

After a bit of warming up we lined up and were off. I think the majority of the group was really just interested in what Gary Douville was going to do. We were all bunched up and riding at what felt like a recreational pace. I was having fun chatting with the guys and cracking jokes. Funny how some people take racing so seriously... lighten up my brothers! :) As we approached the climb I started to sing to a familiar tune, "Here comes the climb, do do do do, Here comes the climb..." I was having a grand old time but I knew the pain was coming.

Gary took off just before the bottom of the climb. A chase group formed behind him and I was behind that group a bit. Hard to tell who I was passing as the climb went on, but I think some of the guys started popping. Griffith fell back through our group from the 30-34 guys as he had a leaking tire and I told him if he needed a tube that there was one in my bag at the top (apparently he got it fixed without my tube).

Hitting the single track the passing started right away. At first I was trying to be patient, but then someone passed me while I was waiting... I don't like losing spots on a descent to people who I would drop on an open trail so I started forcing the issue a bit. I recognized quite a few faces from the start line as I worked my way along and knew I was moving up through the field, but it honestly didn't matter. The times when I didn't have someone holding me up I was having a BLAST! The descents are so awesome. Big moto style features, awesome flow... I love this course!!!! I did get caught being lazy once and almost got bucked over the bars. Riding a full suspension XC bike is a bit different than the HT, on my old Sworks HT I would never get close to that complacent! :)

When we got to the bottom of the single track I could see Nick from Felt Bikes up ahead. It was cool seeing him on course, he even tried to help me out as I passed him by giving me a little shove up the hill! :) The HAB sucks. I don't like walking next to my bike, but something was missing?! Then it dawned on me, my foot wasn't killing me! The combination of a cortisone shot on Friday and my new shoes/inserts was working wonders and I was nearly pain free as I pushed my bike. I contemplated jogging, then shot that idea down with a quickness! :)

The next section was really fast and I continued to make passes. Unfortunately what goes down must go up. I started feeling the race effort and made the decision to go for a more conservative approach to the climbs (need to do them all again) so I watched a few riders that I had passed go by. I stayed within myself and kept as steady of a pace as possible.

On the second lap passing was less frequent. It wasn't any easier though as the people that I was passing all belonged out on the pointy end of the race. I did manage to pass a few and was swapping positions with several guys in my AG throughout the lap. Unfortunately my cramps kept me from feeling like I was racing. It was more like just a hard ride.

This time on the climb my saddle had dropped considerably (2" or so) which really put the hurt on me when combined with the cramps. I struggled to hold position but lost several a couple spots. One of the guys in my class asked if he could borrow my skills on the descent as he went by. I called out to him up ahead that it was fine with me if I could borrow his legs on the climb!

Knowing that the final descent was my last chance to battle for position I attacked it full on. Unfortunately for me this descent was littered with lower category riders. Many people off and walking in places where I was blasting through. I took some risks but could have been MUCH faster without the roadblocks.

My personal favorite exchange... I came up on a group of three riders. I started asking for passes and the guy didn't seem willing (I don't understand this concept, if someone is coming up on me on a climb I don't weave all over and block them). I finally forced the pass and the guy yelled, "Where do you think you are going to go?" I proceeded to quickly pass both the people in front of him and then blast down the hill. I am going to the finish line buddy!!!!!

Once onto the flats I could only muster a little bit of a TT effort before my legs started locking and I was forced to sit up. I did my best to finish strong. I am happy with a fifth place finish (21 started in my AG).

All in all I had a great race! I bonded with my new race bike (Allison insists it is still hers despite her new XX equipped Sworks Epic). I think I am learning more about pacing and efforts. I hope that maybe I will be able to step up my game a bit this year. Certainly my competition has not let up!

I can't wait to see what the new Bonelli course looks like. Hoping to get a preview on Saturday. Maybe I can break my streak of poor performances at that venue! :

Happy Monday!