My 9 Days as a Domestique

The 2012 Tour of America’s Dairyland has finally come and gone.  I was fortunate enough to be able to race all but the last day of the series this year, 9 days in a row.  I am still a Cat 4 on the road, since most of my racing experience has been on dirt (where I am a Cat 2).  My road experience before ToAD was a grand total of 10 races over the past 3 years, and 3 of those were this year. 

Overall, ToAD was a success for me.  I am definitely a better rider now.

Here are a few things I’ve realized:

  • I can race for 9+ days in a row.  Not every day will be my best day though.  I started the series strong, faded a bit in the middle and came back even stronger at the end.  I found myself wishing that I could have raced a few more days to see my best efforts.  Prior to ToAD I had only raced 2 days in a row once.
  • Staying hydrated cannot be overstated.  I am very conscious of this, so in addition to the recommended daily allowance of beer I added Pedialyte.  Gatorade, and most cycling specific sports drinks are too sweet and/or “chemically” and tend to give me a stomach ache.  I used plain Pedialyte before and during the Bone Ride this year, and it really helped.  So I made sure to down a bottle every evening at home during ToAD.
  • Eating enough calories cannot be overstated.  Like most cyclists, my motor’s always running.  I tend to eat something about every 3 hours just about every day.  Also, like most cyclists, I try to eat pretty “clean” – good food, high in protein and complex carbs.  Halfway through the week I realized that I was eating like I normally do, not like I was racing every day.  That night I came home and ate a whole pizza, then went to Kopp’s and ate a chicken sandwich, onion rings and a chocolate shake.  The next day, I was twice as strong as the day before.  I did go back to eating clean that day too, but filling the void of negative calories the day before seemed to help tremendously.
  • Warming up on a trainer is awesome.  I have always warmed up on the road before races.  Such a simple thing, but I will always do it this way now.  It allowed for a structured warm-up, and it was cool to talk a little last-minute strategy with teammates before we launched.  Plus, I had access to anything I needed.

Leatherman making his daily move to the front…
Photo courtesy of Nick Schwietzer

  • Crit racing is a science and an art.  Like golf, a lot of guys buy expensive equipment thinking it will make them better.  It doesn’t.  The best crit racers are smart, patient, tactical and smooth riders.  They have the ability to ride unnoticed until the last lap or 2, then be in the perfect position to sprint to the line.  They could probably do it on a Schwinn Varsity and still kick most people’s ass.
  • Speaking of ass, there are a few guys in every category that believe we are out there to fight to the death and defend the honor of our dead grandfathers – at all costs.  I took a bad line early in one of the races.  It was partially due to excitement and partially my lack of experience.  For the next 2 laps, everyone within 50 yards of Speedy McJagoff had to hear him drop F bombs about my bad line, etc.,  etc. etc.  Really?  I hope his paycheck from Team Douchebag doesn’t bounce.  I’m still learning, and anyone around me would have realized that it was a mistake on my part, one that I did not repeat.  I even tried to ride up next to the guy and apologize, but he wouldn’t shut up, so I didn’t.
  • Speedy McJagoff was never on the podium.  Enough said.
  • I was not riding for myself, I was riding to put my teammate on the podium.  I have never played team sports in my life.  I have always gravitated toward things that were a test of myself against the clock, or someone else.  I have never had a “role” to play in sport.  WORS races are all about going as fast as you can, by yourself  (at my level anyway) until you cross the line.  Hopefully you win, or at least don’t cough up your spleen when you’re done.  I have a whole new level of respect for the no-name guys going off the front in the Tour, or the guys blowing themselves up with 5K to go to get the lead out man into position. 
  • Crashing and getting back into the race is instinctual.  I flipped into the barriers around a corner in the Waukesha race, and I was back on my bike and pedaling before I realized it.  Thankfully, it was a minor crash.  My shin caught the corner of a metal barrier and it took a nice bite out of it, the only bad thing was that there was not enough skin left to stitch up.  The allure of racing is the adrenaline rush, and I got a double dose that day.  I have crashed in mountain bike races, once bad enough to require a trip to the ER, but I never realized how fast my body automatically puts me back on the bike.  
  • The only thing cooler than going 40 miles per hour on a city street with hundreds of people watching using only your own body for power is going 41 miles per hour on a city street with hundreds of people watching using only your own body for power.

Schlitz Park ToAD Criterium pre-ride report:

So today begins the Tour of America’s Dairyland with a Pros-only race in Shorewood.

Mere mortals like me will be working, picking up kids or mowing the lawn while some of the WORLD’S best and brightest professional cyclists scream around the streets of Milwaukee at warp speed.  I plan to do a few races (Masters 3/4), but I am way more comfortable on the WORS courses with fat tires and no derailleurs.

Having said that, should I get the chance to do Tuesday’s Schlitz Park Criterium I wanted to at least ride the course a few times to get a feel for it.

So, this morning I met some friends and did 17 relatively easy laps of the course.  It’s definitely a steep climb, I would imagine that if any breakaways go, they will happen halfway up 2nd street (at Vine).  The hill flattens as it crosses an intersection, then resumes at a much less steep pace for another block.  The 125-pounders will be able to accelerate like everyone else is going backwards at that point.  Probably a sweet spot to watch the action too.

Don’t get me wrong, going up that hill for 50 minutes will suck (in fact – going up once will suck), but now that I’ve ridden  the course I am more concerned about the left-hand turn coming down the other side.  It’s a pretty steep decline that cranks through an intersection with older pavement and 2 manhole covers that just happen to be in the middle of the perfect line.  I would anticipate riders over-cranking that turn or getting squeezed and ending up on the sidewalk – hopefully all in one piece.  I blasted down it a few times trying to find a smooth line and was surprised one time by a car that almost rolled the stop sign.  Thank God for Dura-Ace brakes and rims cleaned with Simple Green or I would have been a Toyota Camry hood ornament.

Either way – spectator or racer – I plan to at least make an appearance on Tuesday.  Good luck to all the racers, and to anyone else near Milwaukee on that day – come out and see some World Class action!

2011 ~ Race # 1 is in the books

My idea of racing the Barry Roubaix for the first time this year seemed to fizzle out when my potential racing partners ended up with alternate plans.  So, against my better judgement I made a last minute decision to drive down to Illinois for the Super Spring Criterium.

Weather was fantastic… for ice fishing.  24 degrees with occasional flurries and high winds.  Despite the winter freeze, the field for the Masters 4/5 was about 75 strong.  Since it’s actually a car racetrack, the course has about 3 inches of elevation change over a 2 mile loop, and the pavement is as smooth and crack-free as Whitney Houston in the 80’s.

Dennis, bc and I all lined up together and then we were off.  Took a nice easy pace as everyone scoped out each other’s winter fitness or lack thereof.  I’ve been riding outside with bc and the Spokesmen all winter, so the temps were no problem and I settled right in with the early pace.  I have always been a mountain biker, and last year was the first time I ever spent so much time on a road bike.  I’ve always been a cycling fan, and I understand the dynamics of road racing, but my actual racing experience is pretty much limited to drinking PBRs and cheering at the Great Downer race every year. (mmmmm… PBR…)

Everyone stayed fairly cordial until the bell lap, and then you could just sense the nervous energy ramp up to 11.  I stayed close enough to the front to monitor any breaks, but (stupidly) not really close enough to be in them if they did happen.  The pace ramped up throughout the lap but I could tell that no one was really going for it.  Now, hindsight being 20/20 and all, this is where I was supposed to jump, but I just sat there waiting for SOMEONE to go.

Rounding the last corner everyone got on the gas and I heard someone go down HARD right behind me  (medical had to pick him up).  As we headed up to the finish I found a nice open space on the left side of the course and started hammering.  I was making up spaces quicker than I thought I would, and then I heard someone else go down to my right.  That guy knocked someone into me, and I was forced to ride into the grass to stay upright.   By the time I got back onto the pavement, my sprint speed was more like dial-up.

So I rolled across the line in 13th, further testament to what could have been.  I’ve only done 4 road races, but each race I do I get a little more experience and each race I end up wishing I would have just aired it out.

One of these times I’ll just pretend it’s a WORS race and FINISH IT…