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Thursday, August 28, 2014

ACES HIGH!

Well that was interesting to say the least as only a fool would attempt 5 races in 3 weekends on TURTLE sticks and a little engine that certainly tries to push big gears.  It was all about my legs trying to cash checks that my mouth wont stop writing . . .

The journey began 450 km north in the city of Bochum for my 8th race in the 13 race Germany Cycling Cup series.  All winter long I dreamed of this one race. I did SweetSpot training intervals in my PAIN CAVE watching the race on YouTube as I visualized every meter of the circuit.  This was the one race I wanted to do my best in above all others.  It was also the one race that I felt match my riding style the best.  It was going to be because I wanted it so . . . ‘nuff said!!!

Well, sometimes life happens and along the road to greatness I got a flat.  I actually got multiple flats.  I lost motivation to train, my diet became sporadic, and I failed to motivate myself.  One of my office mates mentioned that we all have a “finite” amount of discipline and self-motivation.  Well, I had used all mine up too fast, too soon.  I was tired, grumpy, and back to drinking a lot more then I knew I should.  What was once considered the “A” race of my season was now one of survival and a fight to earn points to stay in the game.  I needed just enough points to stay in the top 100 of my age group (was sitting at 68th going into the race).  In the darkness of low motivation I had lost the “eye of the tiger” somewhere under the TURTLE Shell.  I was even too lazy to look for it.  I made excuse after excuse.  I just wanted to get it started and over . . .

Despite the lack of mental attentiveness and motivation, I was at least surrounded by an awesome crew.  Evolution Cycling Club p/b Long & Foster European Division had 5 riders set to hit the line at Bochum that included our top girls Jenn and guest ridder Yosh, Danny Havard, and the HAMMER (Jeff Pannaman).  The consistency from these cats and their presence with me on the start line pulled me out of my slump and corrected my vector forward.  I found a little more discipline and motivation left and put it to work . . .

HAMMER, Danny, and me rolled around the course to get a preview of the circuit.  With just 20 minutes to go before the start I realized I had left my transponder in my hotel.  UGH!!!  I started to panic.  What little motivation I had was being threatened by my own forgetfulness. SILLY TURTLE!!!

Fortunate, VERY FORTUNATE, I had my phone and called Claudia.  She had noticed the transponder and had not only tried to get another team to bring it to me (they refused), she then called all the wives trying to get a hold of me through their husbands (my phone was on silent), as she knew I would be even grumpier if this days was all for not if my time did not count . . .

I sprinted back to the hotel and met Claudia half way . . . it was awesome and I was saved.  I thanked her for being at the right place, at the right time, and shot back to the start line to meet up with HAMMER and Danny.  I was back in the game.

HAMMER making sure
the pace stayed high!
At the start familiar faces were acknowledged and race faces turned on.  As we started, the first lap of the 6 was always the fastest.  We were cruising up the slight incline well above my threshold.  Warning lights were starting to come up and I was almost in trouble.  At the top was a 180 turn and a rocket back to the start.  The top came just in time to keep the overheat signal at bay.  However, at this point HAMMER was already pushing up the road and I knew I had to make that group.  I dug deep and closed the gap over some rough pavement that sent a full water bottle flying…UGH AGAIN!!!  It was seriously hot and I was down to one bottle that I had sipped on as we warmed up.  NOT GOOD!!!  But close the gap I did and I told myself I would not leave this group at all.  I was in to the end and would ride through the pain . . . period!

On the second lap I noticed Jenn off her bike and walking.  The New Jersey pavement took a toll on her rear wheel.  The broom wagon took her right to her hotel, she slapped on a second wheel and rejoined the race two lap down.  She put in a serious effort to not only finish but not finish last.  Simply OUTSTANDING!!!

Getting back to our group, HAMMER and a few others were making it happen on the front.  At one point he drifted all the way to the back and then came up alongside me to brief me on the status of our chase group.  HAMMER informed me of the “Who’s who” and what wheels to follow.  He then went to the front and picked up the pace.  The leaders (Group A) were given a 1+30 advantage at the start.  HAMMER was making sure they did not lap us and trying to organize the front of the chase.  It was not happening.  Guys would shoot off and get caught before completing a lap.  This went on and on the entire effort . . .

On the final lap and with 1K to go I stuck my nose in the wind for the first time.  I decided it was too early and sat back in as HAMMER moved up.  I shouted to Peter, a solo rider I had met before to follow and off we went.  We hit the final turn and drove to the line for a finish 15 min better than last year and only 15min off the winners.  Despite my lack of motivation at the start, this was one of my best efforts in the series.  The TURTLE was back and it felt great!

The following weekend entailed another long drive to the historic city of Dresden (530 km one way).  Having not finished this race last year, it WAS on this time around.  We had a strong contingent of riders and that just added to the excitement.  Motivation levels were rising!!!

HAMMER, in his true planning form, had done a route study and confirmed my words on the hazards of railway crossing and a few sections of cobbles.  The circuit was flat and fast and I was looking forward to a Bochum repeat.  I was back and ready to race the wheels off the bus . . .

Dresden would also let me once again run into Team STEILE WAND.  The Brothers were in mass and starting one block behind HAMMER, DUMPER and I.  My goal focused on keeping them at bay for the entire circuit.  Given their depth in the chase, it was going to be ├╝ber hard to do.  My smiling friend Heiko yelled, “Bis bald!” or “See You Soon” as he went to his start block.  While I knew he was most likely right.  I did want them to work for it . . . I’m not that easy (most days).  With motivation levels rising, desire was also on the rise in my chest.  That desire formed a quest, and a quest stimulated a drive, and my legs were there to answer the call to battle.  The TURTLE Chase was on!
Evolution Europe with Team Steile Wand
(These Brothers and Sister know how to bring the heat!)
We all knew the first lap out the gate was going to be the craziest.  We talked about surviving the onslaught and then moving up.  At least that is what was said . . .

At the gun, we starting moving through the madness of the mass start.  As I led the way HAMMER came up and mentioned the group to get is just up the road.  I acknowledged and began following him.  Got a bit separated in the furry but kept him in sight as I moved passed slower riders . . .

On one such move through a gap I was pushed to the inside during a turn the cut across railway tracks.  I thought I could shoot the gap and misjudged it all.  Within 5K of the start (of a 100 K race) my tire (I think it was the front one) slammed into a railway track groove and I was launched from the bike.  Airborne I went with a TURTLE twist in the air.  I hit the ground on my hip and bounced to the other side in an action that looked like a weeble wobble toy of my childhood (REMEMBER: “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down!”).  I fell, I wobbled and it hurt not so good . . .

My bike flipped up over me and there I sat in a bit of anger at myself (the line was a bad one and I knew it was bad.  I took on unnecessary risk.  A moto police officer stopped and asked if I was OK.  I told him, “I don’t know.”  A moto paramedic then came and asked the same question.  I still did not know and repeated my ramble . . .

I inventoried my body and did not see any ripped kits or major blood.  My full finger gloves had done their job and were torn to pieces over one hand.  Yet my hand had one small cut.  It was all good.  As the moto helped me up my hip started screaming!  It was hot to the touch and not in a sexy way . . .

DUMPER dragging me back into the race after my fall
What an awesome teammate!!!
As I stood DUMPER came to a stop and helped me get my bike back in order.  He told me he would get me through the lap and I was grateful.   We started to chase back on to the groups up the road.  At this point I decided I did not want to leave Dresden like this and grabbed a few gears.  I asked DUMPER to help chase a bit more and off we went.  I organized a small group and starting taking turns pulling.  That lasted for about 2 laps . . .

My hip was throbbing and my wrists were sore.  The railway crossings and the few sections of pavers sent a tremble of pain pulses through my arms to my core.  I got detached from my group and started drifting further and further back.  At this point I gave up the idea of a good finish and focused on finishing to collect my 15 participation points.  Anything higher would just be gravy . . .

Up the road, HAMMER, Jenn, Yosh, and Danny were crushing it.  The HAMMER group was closing in on the lead group and working great together.  I should have been there . . . UGH!!!  Danny was having the best ride of his season.  With four riders up the road I again focused on finishing . . .

With two laps to go Claudia was on the course and handed up a banana as I slide a water bottle her way.  It was hot and out of water I was.  She got the message and had water waiting for me as I came around on the last lap.  She and everyone else knew something was wrong as I was way off the main group and pace . . .

But I was the lucky one.  With 5 K from the finish a crash happened in front of HAMMER in the main chase group.  As he avoided it, the guy behind him slammed into him throwing him from the bike.  The collision took him to the ground winded and gasping for air . . .

But a Ranger is a Ranger, is a RANGER!  He collected his wits, gear, and got back on the bike to finish off the main chase group but still far enough ahead to finish 69th in our age group and move into the top 40 in the Masters 2 category.  It was awesome!!!

The accomplishment was only overshadowed by his immediate bee-line to the medical tent, some serious drugs, and a trip to the emergency room.  The results indicated nothing was broken but bruised and road rashed he was.  HAMMER is also out for the rest of the season . . . THAT SUCKS!!!

I walked the pain in my hip out, covered it with topical anti-inflammatory cream, took drugs, and focused on the three races ahead.  I could rest later.  Right now I had no time . . .

So on the very next Friday I headed 3 hours East and another 295 km for a Time Trial and Criterium sponsored by the MWR crew at Hohenfels Army Garrison on Saturday.  I would then head 6 – 7 hours North (665 km) to Bremen for a 120K race on Sunday.

I awoke to a misting rain on Saturday and took a series of bad directions to get to the TT minutes before the start.  I paid my fee, pump’d my tires and made the first 3 rules of TTs…1) make your start time, 2) make your start time, and 3) make your start time.  There should be a fourth and fifth rule: 4) know where the start is and 5) follow the cones to stay on course . . . I over cooked the 1st turn!!!

Cold and in a rain I started up a climb that I had no idea where it would end.  Should have done a route recon--UGH!!!  Shifting out of the 53 front chain ring my legs were screaming and telling my cold wet dome that I should have grabbed my road rig off the truck.  The course was and out and back and I could see the 1 min man up the road.  Just when I thought I would catch him I would wimp out on a wet turn and grab some breaks.  I am a serious wimp on wet pavement.  Being on a TT rig just added to the fear factor.  I don’t think I could survive another fall right now.  My hips were still blue (under the permanent tan) and tender to the touch.  I was taking it real easy . . .

The TT ended and due to the small field (like less than 10 small) we were given an option to start the CRIT an hour early.  Worked for me as I had a long drive ahead.  So I was all in as far as my cold wet brain thought.  My legs were still screaming so part of me was not so joyful with the math reduction . . .

The CRIT was laps for time and at the start I was still shaking from the cold.  Even though I put on dry clothes, I was still clammy cold and not very TURTLE HAPPY.  I did not want to clamp my hands.  I just wanted to start, pass GO a few times and get warm . . .

The tight (0.4 mile) loop was wet and a bit technical in some parts.  I found myself grabbing lots of break all the time as the wimp factor started to increase exponentially.  Next year I will have to rethink carbon wheels when it is wet . . . or trust my bike more.  Right now I did not trust my wheel, my breaking ability, or even my own soul.

There were only 2 Masters in the group and the turnout was so small and that we all were on the podium.  Having won my age group in the TT and finishing with him in the CRIT, I was given the overall win.  It was my first win on the bike and as my Brothers later told me, you race against who shows up to race, so a win is a win.  I had kept my promised to show no matter what and won my first race.  I was on a rainy cloud 9!!!

Cloud 9 started to sprinkle a little bit more as I headed off base for a 6+ hour drive to Bremen and the next race in the German Cycling Cup.  My legs were on fire and I really should have made time to stretch a little.  Instead it was gas, a few Monsters to keep me awake, and the road.  As I started my GPS unit slung a message “save 40 min on alternate route” . . . I took it and did a slight TURTLE DANCE on the accelerator.  I would make it in time for dinner.  YES!!!

Rolled into Bremen, got checked in, unloaded a ton of crap and feed my face.  Jenn and Yosh were already out but we rallied over a glass of red for me to get my race packet.  Once again I was thankful to have teammates around . . . this part of my life is truly bikeROCKstar!!!

Our late start of noon was further delayed an hour.  But it did not slow the pace out the gate.  There were only 2 groups, A and B.  I was near the front of the B group and as we made the first turn/overpass I could see the tail end of the A group just up the road.  I yelled to the two cats around me to help chase and get in that move . . .

I failed to close the gap (they did though—READ: UNHAPPY TURTLE!).  In fact I fell about 200 m short and just ran out of gas during the chase.  The excitement was a bit too much and I had once again overcooked the TURTLE.  It took everything to catch a wave going by and sit in.

The Force was strong with these cats though.  We picked up riders right and left.  We even picked up Jenn and Yosh as they both had started in the As.  Having recovered 3 laps of the 9 we had to do, I went to the front of our chase group when the pace slowed.  While we missed the big move, the point here was to avoid being lapped by the power houses and I wanted to do my part.  I was doing my best to channel HAMMER . . .
Find the TURTLE!

On the front I could see a group just up the road.  I tried to do a bit more to close the gap.  It just did not happen.  It was not happening.  We kept the same distance from them each lap.  THAT SUCKED!!!  In the perfect clarity that hindsight brings, I could have perhaps made it across with the help of one other.  Yet I was unwilling to risk it on my current match sticks.  So I did my pulls and sat in to recover soon there after . . .

Crossing the line I was beyond done.  My legs were wobbling from the five efforts in three weekends, the long drives (over 3600 km driven), and simply because they are no bigger than matchsticks to begin with.  However, it was and remains a great feeling as I moved up to 40th place in my age group.  I’ll take that!!!

Just 3 events remain to close out my season.  With one of them being a 3-day stage race, I have 5 more chances to excel and ace my time on the bike.  Back to a few basics I go as the season comes to a close.  This journey is far from over . . .

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