Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Year in the Books

Most people do a yearly recap at the end of the year, but since November is the end of my year, I’m writing this now. Last season was somewhat disappointing for me- 4th place really sucks if you didn’t already know- and there were a lot of outside stresses to be dealt with, but it is what it is. I had to get over that. While being 4th is an awful feeling, it’s a great motivator. It was the fire I needed to get rolling stronger than ever into the 2009 season.

After a much needed mental break, the year started in earnest in January in the lab with Craig and Randy Wilbur. The focus of this season was to be the 3k on the track, so 3 minute power intervals would become my friend- or nemesis- over the coming weeks and months. After plateauing on the track in 2008 I was dedicated 100% to the endeavor; the gap between Sarah and I would start closing. Everything was going according to plan- numbers were where they were supposed to be, and I was clearly becoming a track specialist. Then we got the terrific news that Worlds would be split, meaning two separate qualification processes. (Previously, you could use either a road or track qualification to get you on both road and track teams. Not any more.) It was April at this point, which meant shifting from 5th to reverse to get back into some sort of road shape for trials.

The plan? Superweek. Matt Bigos and I loaded up the car and drove to Chicago to race our legs off. Our schedule consisted of 11 races in 14 days, and ended up requiring 140 some hours in the car and over 8000 miles of driving. This might sound like misery to some of you, but it made for the best summer I’ve ever had. Shockingly Matt and I didn’t try to kill each other, and we even picked up my sister in Chicago to help with some of the driving. After the block of racing, I was able to “cat up” or move up to the next level of racing.

From there we drove back across the country for road nationals/trials. Time trialing doesn’t necessarily come easily to me, but I’ve been able to get some decent results in the event. This year though, I was a little nervous going into trials, not sure if I’d be able to qualify. The course was in the middle of nowhere USA- Bend, OR. It was one of the simplest courses you could design- an out and back, uphill then downhill course. Climbing hasn’t ever been a strength of mine, which only made my nerves worse. I convinced myself that the crit racing I’d just done at Superweek would help me get up the hill faster, and it ended up being a pretty solid ride. It was a little off standard but much better than my track performance. Go figure. My silver streak continued.

By now it’s August, and road worlds is fast approaching. Italy in September? Not a bad deal if you ask me. My track bike was sitting quietly in the cage at the track, not being used at all. From here out it would be time trial and road bikes. Having the team here to train with was really great. This year it seemed like the team was especially cohesive- as a training group and a group of friends. The week in Italy was awesome. I’d been there once before, but not for racing. Traveling for racing is much different than traveling for pleasure. These are all business trips; no sight seeing, or souvenir shops, we don’t leave the hotel except for rides and racing. I’m a terrible card player (Clark and Ali can attest to that) but we played almost every night. Clark and I had an epic game of War where I won on a triple war victory. That is the highlight of my card-playing career. The highlight of the racing came in the time trial. I don’t know what it is about Americans and time trialing, but it seems that across the board, we do pretty well. Everyone finished top 10, we picked up a few jerseys, and a bunch of medals. Again, the silver streak continued, and I finished second to Sarah. I was absolutely stoked with my ride. Sarah was one minute behind me in the start order; my goal was to hold her off as long as possible. If I could hold her off till the second lap, it would be a good ride for me. Coming through for the second lap, I half expected to hear her and her follow car behind me. Nothing. I made it all the way to the 1k banner when she caught me. I absolutely imploded on the last climb, and she was able to put a ton of time into me there. The last 1000 meters we were as together as you can ride in a TT, and crossed the finish 1 second apart. Despite being caught, it was the fastest I’d ever gone in a TT. The road race played out just as expected, only sooner.

The saying “No rest for the weary” comes to mind in regards to prep for track worlds. We had a few days to recover from the racing and travel, then jumped head first into track training. A good portion of the team was here in Colorado Springs to train on the track which was different than flying solo in training. Ali and I can only do so much on the track by ourselves. It was fun! Having a group of teammates here totally changed how I train… for the better. Having a cohesive group really benefits everyone involved, and it showed. We had three track camps to get ready for worlds ad in each one we had good, hard sessions. Craig warned us that we’d want to quit, and give up, and wonder why we even ride bikes. He was right. The first LA camp was deathly, but I (and everyone else for that matter) came out stronger and more focused than ever. Compared to the camps, racing was the easy part.

“Manchester in November” is not nearly as appealing as “September in Italy” but it’s what we got. Cold, rainy, gloomy; it seemed as though the atmosphere itself sucked the tan off my skin. Ten days in Manchester undid ten months in the sun baking my skin to a fine, dark beige. I digress. The racing went as well as I’d hoped. The schedule was a bit different in that the pursuits were first rather than the sprint. It was phenomenal for me. I enjoy the pursuit- I feel like I need a mental health screening for just saying that- and having it first was a good mental boost for me. Again, it was Sarah and I racing against each other. I knew she’d catch me, it was just a matter of when, and trying to hold her off as long as possible. It started off well, had a good start, was ahead of schedule but felt really good, then I looked at the lap counter. Nine laps to go. Out of twelve. Are you kidding me? It felt like I’d been riding circles for eternity already and I wasn’t even 1/3 of the way through. I was able to pull it together mentally and refocus on the effort. I finished up just a touch off schedule, but not too bad, for a new personal best. And it meant that I’d get to ride again vs. Sarah in the final that afternoon. She caught me like five laps in after her blistering opening kilo- a 1:10. Really, I was OK with it because it meant less suffering for me. What? I’m a realist. Had a new personal best in the 500 too which was nice.

After the 500, we packed all our bikes in the romantic lighting of the Holiday Inn parking lot after dark. We ate our last meal at the hotel, then went out to enjoy at least a little bit of Manchester. It was Sunday so our options were somewhat limited, but we found a cool little club in the city. Sam, Clark and I danced for an hour and a half straight! Taj was floating in and out, but danced quite a bit too. Let me tell you, dancing is exhausting! Fun, but exhausting. Maybe when people that aren’t of the Caucasian persuasion, it’s easier. I suppose jerking around the dance floor so it resembles an epileptic’s seizure isn’t really dancing either. We made it back to the hotel to catch an hour nap before getting on the shuttle for the airport.

I experienced quite a bit of success this year, and for that I’m blessed. It would not have been possible without the generosity of everyone who’s supported me in my endeavors. Sponsors CAF for the race wheels, Greg Geisler for the amazing road bike- that thing’s like a Porsche! Anthony Zhan and Fuji Bikes for the best track bike I’ve ever ridden, Mert Lawwill and John Cain for the racing hands, and Powerbar for keeping me fueled along the way. Of course thanks to my friends, family, coaches and teammates for their unwavering support in my journey over the years. You guys are the best of the best and make it all possible. I owe any and all success I have to you guys.

Clif notes highlights, plus some bonus ones:

Halfway decent showing at Elite Nats

Staying in the sketchiest motel ever with Dave

First cross country, nighttime road trip- Chicago with Nadia

Nicest Christmas to date with the family in Chicago

Working with Craig and Randy Wilbur in the lab in the dead of winter

5 week training road trip- Tucson, Chula, SLO

xXx team camp- crashing on the first day

Finding out Worlds would be split, and the season would be extended 8 more weeks.

Shifting gears (no pun intended) back into road mode

Presenting to the IOC to get the Games in Chicago in 2016

Having a horrendous performance at track nationals

Gypsy trip with Matt- racing more than some people thought was a good idea

~140 hours and 8000 miles in 7 weeks in the car (Not counting the previous 5 week trip)

Getting the W at Superweek

Catting up

Only letting Sarah put a minute into me in the TT

Shifting back to track mode after road worlds

StoryCorps recording- forever preserved at the Library of Congress

Craig’s deathly LA track camps

Riding my fastest 3k and opening kilo ever.

Seeing teammates be successful

Dance marathon

Feeling more connected to my family

And coming up: Going home to Chicago for over a month… all three holidays.

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