Ah! Real Monsters or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Oklahoma

Starter music (this is going to take a while):

Tulsa Tough Weekend

Today is the Monday after Tulsa Tough, which means I’m going to take the day off. If you don’t know about Tulsa Tough, it’s one of the biggest weekends of racing in America. People travel from all over and the top categories always sell out their maximum entries. Today, my legs feel like utter shit. After 2 weekends of 3 days of racing in Oklahoma, I am really glad to have this next weekend off to go off on a nice, 5 hour ride.

Friday night is the Blue Dome district at Tulsa Tough, kicking off one of the biggest bike parties/weekends of criterium racing in the United States. My friend Jake accurately described it as “A party that just happened to have a bike race also.” The atmosphere on all of the courses have their own flavors, but all equally great. ANYWAY

Friday night is also notoriously fast. There’s not a lot of climbing and the corners are super wide–so it’s easy to go full throttle the whole time. My start wasn’t so great, so I began at the back and knew I needed to work my way up to the front by the end of the race to be in contention for some money.

*SIDE NOTE* Before this race started, the infamously famous Manual for Speed threw down a competition for select criterium races in the United States, calling it the Knife Fight. Basically, it’s a most aggressive rider for the whole weekend and the prize is a silly cool kit with wild animal patterns. Knife Fighters needed to wear these cool socks in order to know who they were throwing down against.
Perfect.
Right up my alley.
Sweet socks and vicious attacks.

So, slowly but surely I worked my way into tight spots on corners, sprinted down straightaways, held tight on people’s wheels and moved from the back of the 93 person field to the top 15 with 5 laps to go. I was feeling really confident! The start finish arch was pretty narrow and going into 4 laps to go, the pack squeezed to the right and I lost about 15 spots. Maybe 10 seconds after that was a corner that people decided to get real tight on and I went up on the sidewalk and lost another 15 spots. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty dejected. Because we were so close to the end, I knew everyone would be fighting for every position they could get, so I knew my race was pretty well over. I knew it would be better to rest up and try again on Saturday and Sunday, so I came in 50th ish on Friday. After crashing all three days last year, I was honestly just stoked to survive one. I felt confident in the corners and comfortable in the big pack. I didn’t show up in the results, which was weird, but whatever, right?

That morning I had a great breakfast at Antionette’s Bakery with a family that I had hosted at my Airbnb in Bentonville. Literally the sweetest family I’ve ever met. The 4 kids are all ultra polite, intelligent and funny. The parents are honest, authentic, wonderful people. I really couldn’t ask for better new friends. They were all really interested in race dynamics and watched a bit of the Master’s racers that morning. Later, they texted and changed around plans to come watch my race. Literally, the best.

My teammate Joel and I decided that morning to spend as much time in the shade rather than staging in the gates for 45 minutes before the race starts. Rather be hydrated than have good position at the start. We tailgunned from the very back to mid pack and then the first 1/3rd of the race. He gave me a wheel to sit on and then towed me along for a lot of first half of the race. By the time that they put 10 laps to go on the board, Joel had floated back and I knew it was going to be important to get my butt up into the top 10 and then the top 5. A couple of laps later and I found myself off the front with four other riders. They all looked to be in good shape and I resolved that even if I got 5th, I would feel pretty stoked about that result. We had one good rotation and it fell right apart. We floated back to the group with 5 to go, I sat in for a lap and rested. I was sitting second wheel and the guy on the front was a talented time trialist out of St Louis. I let him float off the front with a gap of a few seconds and everyone in the pack was comfortable 1) letting Leo go and 2) having me on the front burning energy.

When we got to the bottom of Soundpony Hill, I sprinted to catch up with Leo and as soon I caught him, I yelled some expletives for him to catch my wheel and we would do this thing together. He looked up and just shook his head no. I had zero choice but to put my head down and bury it, hope to hell that nobody wanted to do the work to chase me down. By the time that I came around with 2 laps to go, they said that I had a 9 second gap. When I came around for the bell lap, my legs were screaming. Everything hurt so bad. I could hear my name being shouted by my friends at different points down the straight away. The crowd was a deafening roar. I took the three turns leading into Soundpony Hill as safe & fast as I could and then charged up through another roaring crowd. I knew the pack was coming closer because I could hear the timing between yelling. Took two turns and then headed down the downhill into the headwind. I cursed it while racing, but it might have been the thing that saved my ass. The headwind probably made people shy about getting on the front to work hard and chase me down. I got down into the last corner, going faster than I had taken it the whole race. I was mentally and physically shocked. Mentally, I couldn’t believe they didn’t catch me before the last corner. I stood up and tried to give it everything I got, quickly realizing that my legs were not going to function that way. I sat down, put my head down and buried it popping up to give a victory right hook. Literally as soon as I passed the finish line I got passed by 2nd place. A bit of panic went through my head–I had a flashback to my move at the FullGas Omnium where I got passed at the last second.

But I had won out of 70 racers. Somehow. Didn’t have my Garmin recording, so I don’t have any power numbers, but it would be really interesting data.

(You’ll see me at the very end of this video, they almost had me.)

My dancing music:

There was a huge mess with getting my race winnings and not having me on some sort of registry. It took an hour to sort out and all I could think about was a cold beer and the fountain a half a block away. Those kind of things happen when you’re managing such a huge event, though. It also explained why I wasn’t in the results the day before.

Last year and this year I had so many people tell me “Crybaby Hill is your race to win. Perfect for you.” People assume because I like climbing that I like climbing punchy, 45 second hills. Nope. No way. Hate it. I need more time to make people suffer. Again, I figured, “Hey, if I get out of this race with no missing skin or fucked up bike, I’m gonna be really happy.” I knew the key to Crybaby would be to vibe off of the gigantic party that happens at the top and just have fun. Be goofy, give high fives, do anything but think about how hard that race is going to hurt until the very end. Trickiest part of Crybaby isn’t even the hill, it’s the right-hand off camber corner that people end up sliding out on.

Couple of Crybaby pointers:

  1. Part 1 of the hill going into turn 2 ALWAYS gets clogged. Back off a bit leading into it and then hit the gas hard for 3 seconds and use that momentum to make up some spots and get into good position for the turn. Sometimes the outside is a faster line if it’s super crowded.
  2. Smile and enjoy the vibe. This doesn’t happen everywhere and we are lucky to riding in one of the nation’s biggest criteriums. It’s a legendary party, so just have fun.
  3. The downhill into the shitty right hand corner sucks. Scrub speed early, let off the brakes, stay on the inside line, follow the wheel in front of you and coast it until it’s time to go. People will hammer coming out of that corner, right up to the finish line. So, pay attention because that’s when you should start pedaling, too.
  4. You can move up on the finishing straight, but there’s a good chance the pack will just shuffle again on Crybaby Hill, be patient.

Once again, I started off from the back and worked my way up, bit by bit. Out of 73 riders, only 36 guys ended up finishing with 37 guys getting pulled or dropping out. The first half was definitely super hard and competitive. I was hanging around the top twenty after the first half and looked up and was surprised that much time had already passed. I stayed zen until the posted the 10 to go and knew I needed to start formulating a plan. I’m not a sprinter. I won’t out sprint someone. But, maybe I could make the sprinters work really hard for 6 minutes and not have anything left for the long straightaway. With 4 to go I had really good momentum going up Crybaby and found myself shooting to the front. I wasn’t going to waste energy leading them around the course, so I decided to just put in a dig and go for it.


Image credit: Justin Davis of Team Tom’s

My legs were weak. My arms were heavy. I wish I had just a big bowl of spaghetti and wasn’t racing in the humidity. I expected them to close it down any second. The crowd was just as rowdy as the day before, if not more. They love drama in a bike race. A lot of them may not entirely understand what they are screaming for (or even where in the Universe they are located), but it’s amazing to go through a tunnel of screaming fans while you’re putting out your hardest efforts. I crested Crybaby and my legs were completely gone. I turned the second to last corner and really thought that I might be able to pull off a repeat. As I headed down the downhill I looked back and two racers were right on my wheel. I let them pass into the corner, figured I could at least follow their wheel and then get on the podium. Everything about that plan went to shit because I had zero energy left. Soon I was passed by 5 more and then an extra 2 right at the line. It’s emotional laying it all out there and risking it just to get passed at the end, but that’s just bike racing. There are so many other factors that are out of your control. I ended up getting 9th and still had my bike and skin still intact. I managed to record my ride that day, but nothing really stuck out as particularly enlightening.

Tulsa Tough? Best weekend I’ve had in a while.

Oklahoma City Pro Am Classic

I know. If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably like “Oh no way. Another 3 day weekend and he’s going to write a huge diatribe about every race. HOW EXCELLENT.” Or, something to that effect.

I’ll try to keep it tight.

Basically, Friday we rolled into OKC as a tropical depression was settling in. I wish someone had thought to give OKC it’s medication, because that would’ve made for a better weekend. Joel or I didn’t race Friday night because it looked like it was going to rain at any second and I didn’t want to be risky going into Tulsa Tough. Turns out, it didn’t rain at all and it was the hilliest race of the weekend, making it the one that I could’ve done the best on for the whole weekend. Luckily, Jared got to the last corner in the first position and sprinted for the win. Apparently, he was pretty close to being forced upgraded from category 3 to 2 and got a call in the morning that he was going to have to race category 2 that day. There wasn’t a whole lot of heads up, so Jared ended racing in the 3s.

Saturday was flat, wide, and fast. As soon as we got on the course it started raining, eventually making for some pretty sketchy corners. Joel had decided that it was going to rain and didn’t want to risk it. Correct choice. Jared and I got caught behind two crashes within a minute of each other and we got separated. Eventually, Jared pulled out and my dumbass, with worse positioning, kept going and eventually got pulled. It’s the first race I’ve ever been pulled from, but I wasn’t even mad–I was miserable. Joel ended up leaving to go back to Bentonville and Jared & Crew & I celebrated his mandatory force up.

Sunday was sunshiney and gorgeous (Sorry, Joel. Maybe you brought in the storm clouds). Perfect racing weather. I stayed patient and made my way near the front when they started the lap counter at 10. Held tight for 6 more laps and then launched with three to go after a break had just been brought back. I stayed away for 2.5 laps and they caught me on the slight uphill and I knew I had nothing left to give. Even if I could have gotten on a wheel and hung tight through the last corner, I wouldn’t have any power to do anything.

(I’m homeboy)
(Also, it is ideal to attack when it’s slow. Someone needs to talk to this kid’s coach)
(Same guy who videod the Tulsa race)

I’ve learned a ton about execution these last couple of weeks. Timing is everything, but it’s also nothing when you don’t have much control. The best part about my skillset is that all I can do is execute and hope like hell that it sticks. If it doesn’t I gave it my best and that’s all there is to it.

This morning I applied for my upgrade to category 2 and had it approved in an hour. Really excited to move up to the next stage and improve my skillset.

Hi

It’s been since Xanga since I’ve written a blog online. I got to see mine before it disappeared permanently and it was hilarious how dramatic everything was back then. I promise to be a bit more lighthearted this time around.

This blog is meant to serve as self reflection, feedback and a record of sorts. I’d like to think that I can keep up with it every day, but maybe I can build up to that. I would like to be able share where I’m at and where I’m going with my training and racing.

A little backstory is in order:
I grew up on a farm in Southeast Kansas. I usually ask people if they know where Pittsburg is.

Then, I ask them if they know where Girard is.

Then, I ask them if they know where Farlington is.

Then, I tell them that I lived outside of even that town with a population of 300 people. All around us stretched empty farmland and dirt roads for exploring. My parents never got me gaming console and I never had any interest of buying one on my own. It would have been disastrous because as soon as I could use a computer, I would waste hours and hours doing nothing. Actually, I still do. But, a lot of my childhood on the farm was spent outside. Sometimes, I would ride my Pacific full suspension bike to the top of the hill on our mile block of gravel and then ride down, going as fast as I could push it. Also, my parents were avid water skiers, so we would be at the lake on the weekends from the first time I can remember. I loved everything about the water (Except for one year, when I thought lakes had sharks. Took my parents forever to convince me this wasn’t true).

What I’m leading up to, is in elementary school, when I found out I was consistently at the top of my class for the mile. And then in middle school, I found out I was pretty good regionally. Before my freshman year of high school, I went on an Outward Bound trip. At the end of the 14 day hiking/camping/canoeing/porting the canoe/rock climbing excursion was a Personal Challenge Event that everyone who came back their own trips participated in this canoeing/porting canoe/run race. I don’t really know how many people were in it, but after some significant setbacks with the canoeing portion (We came in last), some decent results on the porting (We passed a few), on the run I hunted down one camper after another and came in 2nd. I knew I should go out for cross country instead of football in the fall.

After success in high school running, I got a scholarship to go to Fort Hays State University. After a very crappy transition year, I took a job in the summer in Estes Park, Colorado, where I could train at altitude. At the end of the summer I ran my first half marathon, winning the Estes Park Half Marathon in 1:23. I wanted to stay out there and keep training and to my parent’s frustration, I dropped out of college and hoped to re-enroll in Colorado. I put in heavy mileage (110 mpw for four weeks in a row) and was feeling fitter than I ever had, but before I knew it I was overtrained and injured with a stress fracture on my outside metatarsal. After a few weeks of trying to rest and then get back at it, I gave up and resorted to drinking very heavily and smoking cigarettes. Really, up until a few years ago, that’s about all I did.

I used a bike for transportation and fun when I moved to downtown Kansas City, but it wasn’t until I got my 1988 Schwinn Circuit with Shimano Sante that I started training and getting serious. My first race was the Stateline Road Race in 2014, right at the end of the season. I was on the front a lot and then broke away for a lap, eventually chased down and spit out the back. I was totally hooked.

I built a bike scraped together from parts and a 2001 Pinarello Prince with Campagnolo Record. The frame snapped when I took out the wheel after two weeks of riding it. Luckily, my tax return was able to buy a used 2013 Specialized Allez Race with SRAM Force. Two weeks later, my friend Tyler and I were hit by a car on Indian Creek Parkway. They replaced my bike with a check and I bought a used 2013 Specialized Tarmac Pro. In a matter of 6 months I upgraded 3 times from an 88 Schwinn Circuit to a 2 year old Specialized Tarmac Pro with SRAM Red. You’ve never seen someone so giddy.

In 2014 I worked through my Category 4 upgrade (Racing & finishing 10 Category 5 criteriums or road races), with some podiums on the way. Mostly, I was learning nuances of bike racing the hard headed way of making the same mistakes over and over. I would sit on the front of the pack too much because I was too nervous to be 5th or 6th wheel. Without any shelter from the wind, my energy would be sapped up and I would have no plan of action of how to win. When I finally upgraded to Category 4, I also joined a team, GP Velotek. My first race as a Cat 4 racer and a member of GP Velotek was the Truman Cup Circuit, a race well known for it’s mile long climb at 4%. With two laps to go, a natural break occurred with another rider and we went for it. He had thought that the race was over that lap, so he ended up spent by the time we came around for our last lap. We stayed together so we wouldn’t get caught by the pack and he gave me the win at end. I had finally made it to the top step and started feeling my old self back.

Over the winter, I hit it hard. I knew that my body responded well to high volume at low intensities, so I did hours on the trainer, catching up on Netflix (Lost, Narcos, countless movies). I searched for a used powermeter and started testing for improvement, seeing steady gains throughout the whole Base (Long Slow Distance) period. My workouts became structured and I even started paying attention to my nutrition. Every spring, the team holds a training camp in Arkansas’s Boston Mountains, staying on top of Mt. Magazine. After a few days of climbing mountains, I knew that my fitness was on point and it was going to be a good season.

My first A race was the Joe Martin Stage Race, a two day amateur race, four day UCI pro race in late April. The first couple of months of the year there are a series of tune up criteriums in Lawrence and two road races. Even in competition, the signs were good. A couple of weeks before, my teammates and I went down to Fayetteville to pre-ride the course and scout out the time trial. I thought I would try and give the time trial course a go, because it was a pretty straightforward segment on Strava. I ended up averaging 403 watts of power over 10 minutes. I knew I had a chance to win the thing. After the time trial, I had 30 seconds on 2nd place. I lost a little bit on the criterium on the last day, but I had won my first stage race and my parents even got to see my success in my new found addiction. I felt like I didn’t care what else happened for the season. I ended up crashing 6 times this last season, putting a damper on a lot of races, including my 2nd A race, Tulsa Tough. I crashed all three days of the event.

I’ve tidied up my season and taken three weeks completely off the bike. I’m self conscious about my cornering abilities and general bike handling, so it’s something that I want to work heavily on this off-season. To mediate this, I’ve been using my boss’s 2000 Yeti AS-R mountain bike. Trails can be complicated and frustrating sometimes, but I’m really starting to enjoy the dirt. I can feel myself get a little bolder, a little more carefree when going towards a familiar downhill or loose trail. I’ve endo’d and fallen over sideways more times than I can count, but I know everyone must start somewhere. My structured training wont start for another three weeks, so I’m planning on working on my bike handling skills until then.

I think I’ve covered way too much and probably came off of way to egotistical. My point is, I am genetically gifted for aerobic endurance and even (Unknowingly) started to develop it at a young age. This is what I was made to do, suffer. I love it.