Avoiding Bitterness in Defeat

Last weekend was a target race of mine. No two-ways about it, I can shamelessly say that I wanted to win. I was feeling fit, punchy, and mentally on-point.

It was the Sunshine Grand Prix, two weekends of racing in the Tampa area set up as an omnium event. This means that you receive points for every race based on your finishing position. At the conclusion of the last race, all points are added up, and the one with the most points wins the “overall.”

First up was a criterium in downtown Tampa. Category 3/4. I had a free place to stay, and I was feeling super positive. Then, rain. It started raining pretty much as the whistle blew for our race. Half of the course was on bricks, which are very slick when wet, so I knew it was going to get dicey. I slunk to the back so that I could take my own lines without doing work at the front. This can be a precarious position, especially in a mixed category race, because you must constantly pass riders who are dropping off the back. Without further ado, please watch my on-board race video to see exactly how that all played out for me.

 

 

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I received six stitches in my elbow. I broke a shifter and a rear derailleur. I spent all of my excess money on my race and travel expenses, so I was unable to get my bike going in time for the next race. Additionally, I shuddered at the idea of crashing on stitches.

This race left me thinking, “Why am I doing this to myself? Why can’t I save my money and just ride for fun on the weekends?” I was unable to answer this all week, and felt absolutely grim about my future on the bike.

Now that I’m all healed and have gotten over my cold, I can’t wait to get back at it. It’s a deathless mental drive, passion, sickness, or whatever, for self-improvement. My confidence and ideas of self-worth doesn’t hinge on the ridiculous sport of bike racing, but it is definitely a source of well-being.

Bike racing gives me something to work towards. It gives me a reason to go out after work at night in the cold and beat the ever-living hell out of myself in darkness. If I weren’t racing, I could just say, “eh, I’ll ride tomorrow. Maybe.”

But riding sometimes isn’t good enough for me. “Hanging on” to a group ride isn’t good enough. Being “sort of fast” isn’t good enough, even if I’ll always be. I’ve got to try to improve. It’s part of a bigger desire to be the best human I can be. I can feel honest in being kind and respectful to my fellow human only after I have been kind and respectful to myself.

So I find myself in a familiar scenario. Sunday afternoon, haven’t been on the bike in a week, still battered and bruised from the last time I was on the road. Looking forward to the week ahead.

Relentlessly hobbling back to the grindstone.

 

 

 

Swamp Classic Recap

 

 

I had so much fun racing this weekend! I made a video for the crit since it’s more exciting than the road race. I finished about the same in both… mid-pack. I have a lot of work to do, but it was super refreshing to get out there. I had forgotten how much I love bike racing. Enjoy!

 

Ride Across Florida

 

I still can’t believe we did this. We picked what is likely to have been the worst weather of the season to ride our bikes from Tallahassee to Daytona Beach in one go. I feel like there is too much to say to fully encapsulate the experience. We ate pizza, drank box wine, napped illegally, and rode in the dark, wind, and cold.

 

More to come.

We May Have Arrived Late but We Partied Hard

This past weekend, Team Pleasant was in full force at Swamp Cross. This is an annual cyclocross race that takes place just about 30 minutes north of us in bee-eautiful Alachua (Uh-lah-choo-aye), Florida. It also happened to be the Florida state cyclocross championships, which means every race winner gets a cool jersey and some bragging rights. It’s one of the last cx races of the year, and the first race we attended as a team. We’re totally going to get it together next year.

The course was tough. Like, you are either climbing, cornering, whoop-dee-doing, u-turning, sand slogging, running, jumping, or descending for the entire race. There is not much in the way of respite from the suffering. Some people liked the course more (or less) than others. Regardless of how I feel about the nuances of the course, I think it was a fitting place to hold the state championships. It takes a good deal of fitness and confidence to make your way through even one lap with wind left in your lungs.

Saturday was the age bracket day, and Sunday was category based. This means that I didn’t have the benefit of racing exclusively with fellow beginners on day 1.

I decided I would do both days. This was my first cx race of the year, so I treated Saturday as a primer for my freshly built bike and for my own capabilities. My field was very small, maybe 12 or 15, probably due to the fact that everyone knew which certain Ocala bicycle shop owner was going to win. I cruised the first half of the race just making sure the brain, bike, and legs were all going to cooperate. I pushed my pace a bit toward the end, taking a few more risks and depriving my brain of oxygen. The course tape started to blend together and I started sliding around in corners, and I knew I was ready to rock the next day. I finished about 8th out of 12.

Race time came quick on Sunday. I was hopped up on rice and green tea and excited to finally get to race on my tubular tires. I glued them Friday night and decided to let them cure all day Saturday.

We had a strong team presence of supporters and racers. Ana was set to race in the women’s cat 4, Minh was racing the single speed category on a fixed gear, and Kenyon and I were doing the men’s 4/5. Ryan, Jamie, Baby Danny, Ashley, Tori, Meric, Katy, and Shane all came to hang out and cheer us on.

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Team Pleasant Spectators’ Lounge

I was very excited to see a number of familiar faces in our group. There were somewhere around 25 of us in total. Garrett Reel from Florida Velo was in our group, who I have enjoyed racing road with all season. Amy Horstmeyer was ready to shred. Terry Phillips, Jason Augsburg, and Todd Stephens were representing 352. Ryan Dyke made the trek from Ocala. We chatted and joked casually, making light of the impending vomit-inducing half hour ahead of us.

The race started, and I started hammering. Especially coming from road racing, I have a tendency to hold back for the majority of the race and try to make a move later on. I have learned from my limited experiences that this is not an option in cyclocross, especially in a race that’s only 30 minutes long. I immediately clawed and fought my way to the top 1/4 of the field, then tried to rest just enough to make another big push.

About halfway through the race, I started pushing myself to my limit. I rode by a few small groups of riders, and quickly found myself riding past first place. I tried to take advantage of as many course features as I could — taking risks on the downhills, focusing on my lines in the corners, and smashing my weight down on my back wheel through the sandpit — whatever I could do to gain an advantage.

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I cruised in first place with a decent gap for over a lap. The end of the race was in sight, but by this point I had totally cooked myself. I was keeping a third eye behind me on 2nd place who was keeping me in check. He stuck with me and was slowly — painfully — closing in on me. He had closed the gap to just a few seconds by the final lap, and I was starting to crack. I pushed myself harder than I thought I could, continuing my regime of risk-taking until — disaster. I slid out in a corner. I was back up on the bike in a matter of seconds, but I had taken a deep psychological wallop. He was now right on my wheel, I was totally fried, and I knew he wanted the win badly. I then botched the small barrier hop, and he was in front of me. I stuck on his wheel until the very end, when he picked a better line than me through the last corner. It was pretty embarrassing how cooked I was, without much of anything to respond with, but it’s rare to have a cyclocross race so close at the very end and I’m proud to have given the spectators something fun to watch (me falling off my bike, namely).

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Did I mention my seat post was slipping? For those who noticed that my bike fit was terrible, my shoddy mechanic (me) didn’t torque the binder bolt sufficiently, which led to me ending the race nearly sitting on my top tube.

The winner, who’s name I learned was Omar, and I shared many words and laughs as we cooled down around the course. We chose to not take the stairs this time.

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#slamthatseatpost

All of the Pleasant folks spent the next hour eating fresh-grilled cheeseburgers, cracking race-brain jokes that probably didn’t make sense, cheering for Minh and heckling everyone else in the single speed race. I’m not sure how he placed, but Minh has an extremely impressive fixed gear dismount… probably the best I’ve seen. Probably.

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Ana ended up fourth in the women’s category! Not bad for not having practiced all year. It’s the Team Pleasant way, apparently. Regardless of prior practice, she crushed it and looked good doing it.

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Kenyon suffered the joy of his first ever cyclocross race. The real race winners are the ones who end up with the best pictures, and I think he nailed it. We should think about putting out a calendar.

I’m proud of my efforts and I’m thankful for my team. Thanks especially to Meric and Ashley who rode all the way out there just to cheer us on! Thank you Pleasant Cyclery, Freewheel Project, and our awesome sponsors for making the dream come alive. Thank you Shane and Cathy Bester for the pictures. Thanks to everyone else who came out to support, heckle, race, or whatever it was you were doing in a public park in spandex on a Sunday.

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Suffer Cat Recap

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Team Pleasant comrades Sam and myself (Joe), along with Gainesville hotboi TA, journeyed to Jacksonville on Saturday to race an alleycat.

The race was called the Suffercat, presented by Heavy Pedal. It was sure to be appropriately named, as the claimed distance was 50 miles. Oh, and only fixed gear bikes were allowed.

I have been riding fixed gears for years — in fact, riding fixed with a mob of friends on the Hawthorne rail-trail is what got me into riding more than just my commute. However, this was my first ever race on a fixie.

After rigorous calculations, I decided that the best gear ratio to use for the race was the one already installed on my bike. 44/14, which if I remember correctly, comes out to around 79 gear inches. This puts my comfortable cruising zone between 19 and 23mph, and still (barely) capable of spinning past 30 for a sprint.

Sam had high aspirations for dialing in his gearing just right, but some late night hay bailing and tricycle riding the night before got in the way. We started to attempt to break his chain with a multi-tool in the parking lot moments before the race, but being very well-versed in last-minute disasters before a race, I advised that he keep it the way it was. He was concerned that his gear was a bit too easy (can’t remember exactly what it was… 52/18??), but our decision ended up working out great for him.

Near the conclusion of our long drive to Jaxonville, we were nearly creamed by a Honda downtown. If it weren’t for Sam’s fantastic evasive maneuvering, we wouldn’t have raced at all. The incident set a tone of optimism that lasted the rest of the day.

One thing I know about alleycats, or any sort of racing for that matter, is that it rarely goes as planned. Regardless, we engineers of the void must formulate our idealist scenario to work from in order to begin the race with a false sense of confidence. Sam pointed out a few of the fast locals, and we decided to follow one in particular that he picked to win. I think his name is Cody. The plan was to stick with Cody, help out however we could, then try to make a move in the last 1/4 of the race if we had a good enough grasp of the area.

This plan was awesome. Perfect, even. It was totally destroyed in the first 50 feet of the race. After running to my bike and hopping on, I had lost sight of Cody. I stuck myself to a group of 6 other riders, and I didn’t see Sam anywhere. I thought that he had gone with Cody. I was bummed that Sam and I were separated, but there was one fast local and a few strong looking riders in my group, so I felt good.

My group fell into a fairly organized rotation cruising between 21 and 23mph through the streets. We were headed to our first checkpoint (we got to select the order), which was the furthest away from home base. The race was an out-and-back format, where you must return to home base after you hit each checkpoint.

I pulled through a couple of times, but mostly sat in to see if anyone would try any moves. We made it to the zoo, where I realized my first error. It took me forever to fumble my spoke card out of my Camelback to have the checkpoint person sign, which cost me precious seconds while my group pulled away. By the time I made it back on the bike, they had a gap of about 10 seconds. Not the end of the world, just have to ride hard for a few moments to catch back on.

As I began my chase, I heard someone calling my name from behind. I look back and see Sam! Apparently he saw me go with the group in the beginning and chased us all the way to the zoo. He was another 15 or so seconds behind me and I was gaining on my group, but I wanted to work together more than anything, so I sat up and slowed to 17 or 18mph to let him catch me. Once he was on my wheel, the chase was on.

The group had about a 30 second gap on us and I was very hopeful, excitedly exclaiming to Sam that we had a chance at winning if we could catch them. I was burning along at 25mph watching them slowly get closer and closer, but bad luck with red lights elongated the chase to uncomfortable levels. It started to rain hard, making the scenario all the more bleak. As we reached downtown with the gap to the group down to about 10 seconds, I was starting to crack and Sam took a stout pull. This gave me just enough rest to get back on the front and seal the deal. It was supremely difficult, but we made it back to our group.

We wound through residential roads on the way to the next checkpoint at a park, reminding us of the importance of being with people familiar to the area. Sam took a 2mph dive off of his bike at this checkpoint, with no harm to himself or his bike besides a slightly crooked stem. I also became hyper aware of the grating on the draw bridges, as I almost ate it when I moved slightly to one side and lost traction of both tires. We marched on with our group unscathed and still at a pretty brisk pace.

After hitting a few checkpoints together, we all eased into a more moderate pace and got to chatting. I forgot everyone’s names, but everyone was very nice and the sense of camaraderie was high. There was the local fast guy on a Bianchi, maybe named Andrew? He was a solid rider and called out good directions for us. There were a few guys from Miami, all pretty strong and nice to ride with. One had the same frameset as me (pink/grey Cinelli Vig).

We were headed back in from our second to last checkpoint when I decided to get a little frisky. The pace was lulling and there was a bit of sandbagging going on, which set off red flags in my head, indicating that someone was bound to try to make a move. To amend the situation, I pulled through on the front and yanked the pace up to 25 or 26mph and held it as long as I could without totally cooking myself. This served the dual purpose of burning any sense of freshness from everyone’s legs, and letting them know that Sam and I were ready to respond to any attacks. Sam was second wheel, and hopped on the front for a second soul-crushingly Pleasant pull after I was done. Then a series of extremely sketchy traffic maneuvers brought the pace down to “clear vision” levels.

A moderate pace continued until the last checkpoint. By this time we had shed a few riders and picked one up. The pace had slowed to about 18mph. I hopped on the front to up the pace to 21mph or so. I noticed a gap was forming between me and Sam with the rest of our small group, which had me worried. I slowed a bit, slowed a bit, but it seemed like they were slowing quicker than I was. I kept checking over my shoulder, then poof, they were gone. We raced back to the road they turned down, and no sign of them. Sam quickly pulled up Google, and shouted directions to me while I rode at 23mph to our checkpoint. Somehow we got there at the same time as the rest of the group did. When we were leaving, Sam immediately took a different direction than the rest of the group. I was confused, but after some convincing, I went with him. It turns out he had home base saved on his Gamin, which was navigating us to the finish. So again, I pulled at 23 or 24mph while Sam shouted directions from behind. It was just him and I, and without much of a hitch, we made it to the finish line. We pulled in 3rd and 4th, landing us two coveted spots — one on the podium, and first out of town. Without discussion, Sam insisted that I was third and he first out of town. I reckon he felt like I did more work, but I can honestly say that neither of us would have been likely to be top 5 had it not been for our collective efforts.

Sam and I were enjoying a beer at the bar recounting our urban adventures when TA rolls in, demanding three shots of tequila. We asked if he was finished, he said not yet, we asked how many checkpoints he had left, he said none. He was going for the lantern rouge, the coveted DFL position — the last one to roll through the finish within the time limit. He had the whole day planned down to the second to where he could enjoy some drinks at the bar along the way (He started a tab at home base mid-race.), and finish off with a few shots and lumber his bike across the finish line with not a moment to spare. We were proud of him.

Congrats to race winner Kyle Long and second place Gavin Triplett… two very fast locals who rode the whole race together (I think). Super nice guys, too!

Everyone rolled out with a box of goodies, all of our skin, and some weird stories to tell. Thanks to Heavy Pedal for presenting this event, and to all of the sponsors for administering the swag and supporting cycling culture.

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CX is… here.

I’m not fooling anybody. I’m dismally far behind on this blog. It’s a shame because Team Pleasant has made some outstanding accomplishments this year that deserve some recognition, so let’s just do a quick recap. I’ll probably come back and correct this and/or add to it later.. .there’s a lot!

  • 8 road podiums in 2015. Looking at you, Cody and JG.
  • Top 10 overall finish in the Georgia Grand Prix 5-day omnium (me!)
  • 2 alleycat victories (Cody both times, I think?)
  • 3 or 4 alleycat podiums (not including 1st place), including a podium sweep (Cody, Luke, JG)
  • 4 loaded tours. Meric did a western tour¬†solo, Travis and Claire did upstate Montana and parts of Canada, Ana and Kyle did a Southeast tour, Ashley and Shane did a tour to Auburn, Katy did a solo tour through the Pacific Northwest, and I think I’m missing one? Sorry!
  • Minh and Sam completed a multitude of brevets on their fixed gear bikes, including the mother of all brevets, the Paris-Brest-Paris. 1,230 hilly kilometers on fixies ain’t no joke, but they pulled it off. 80ish hours I believe.
  • A few members have been polo-izing and getting better and better.
  • Dave Kramer is giving his spirit animal a ride in his pedi-cab somewhere in Quebec. Now California… Arizona? Colorado? Now back to California? He’ll be back soon, and hopefully with some new zen understanding of bicycles and how we’re all doing it wrong.
  • Everyone else on the team is a daily commuter and a damn fine person.

I have personally met my goal of becoming a cat 3 road racer. I didn’t get a win that I wanted, but I got super close a few times, and I’ve finished the season with most of my skin, no broken bikes, and looking forward to next year.

The last things on our plate for this year are CX racing, alleycats, and planning for 2016. Look out for a Team Pleasant squad at the Jacksonville Suffercat (fixed gear only!), among others. We’re a little late to the CX party, as the season has already started, but we’ve got some ambitious goals! Look out for us in 2016. Something big might be on the horizon. Or it might not. Maybe that’s just a bug on my glasses.

Last but not least, the Freewheel Project is dangerously close to being fully operational. I can’t wait for Gainesville to finally have its long overdue community space for cyclists.¬†The Bicycle Film Festival is next weekend and the after party is at the Freewheel. Come hang out!

That’s all for now.

Joe

P.S. SURPRISE photo dump

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