Monday, April 25, 2011

Where's The Podium? #4: ECCC Championships RR - 3rd

If you have't read the back-story to this Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference Championship weekend, please feel free to. This post will certainly make more sense. At any rate, David and I, feeling strong and confident from Tuesday night's "black-flagged" criterium race at the Bud Harris Cycling Oval in Pittsburgh, headed to Penn State for the Easterns and the Nittany Cycling Classic races.  (This year, as in 2009, ECCC Championships, "Easterns," and the Nittany Cycling Classic all refer to the same thing.) I forgot my camera for the trip, so the few post-race bike shots will have to suffice.

I will say that my weekend in general did not go as planned, for better or worse. For reasons I will just say are beyond my control Friday night before the Saturday team time trial (TTT) and Black Moshannon road race, I was only able to grab about 2.5 hours of sleep. I was already anxious about how I might do in this race. Knowing how I faired in 2009 had me wondering if I would be able to finish the race, let alone try and place well. I will note that David and I aptly decided against participating in the TTT. There was only two of us, and I will just say it would have been a stretch for us to get there in time and ready to suffer before the road race beginning at 10:10. Thus, we planed for that 10:10 start time for my category C race and David's category D one. Again, the C racers were to do 2 laps of the 21.8mile (?) course while the Ds were to punch out one lap.

The course has a 6 mile climb that separates the favorites from the rest and the descents were similarly decisive for the strongmen, at least the final descent would be. Although I competed one lap of this road race in 2009, the heavy fog that settled on us this time was incredible. I could not tell where I was, but at the end of the day, We all  On top of climbs and into  the descents we could not see more than 20 yards ahead. It made for a memorable and extremely fun/tense workload. Again, my race had two laps up and down and each one had their own flavor.
This bike deserves a wash.
Start Line. No warm-up before hand, but I had a feeling I would be alright. A breakfast of two and  Two gels were consumed leading up to the race and I had two more tucked on the quads. I am not one to rely on gels too often, but having 2.5 hours of sleep the night before rendered me ready to try anything for energy and lessen the pain coming. I got a few twinges of nervousness, but I was eager to just get it all started. In regular "Belgian" form, I didn't hesitate to line up with warmers and I was the only one. You have to know the climbing will make you warm up. Today's climbing would have me screaming to rip off my gloves, cap and arm warmers while the descents would keep me in check.

Lap One. The pace wasn't too high as Penn State took to the front pace making. Their efforts on the front would be the constant for the day. I sat mid-pack of the race until the climbing hit. I was eager to slide up near the front knowing there would probably not be any major moves off the front, but just in case. Before hitting the major climb, someone did try to move off the front, but the PSU boys and others weren't about to panic. That climb the first time through had me getting a little nervous about my form. I had a feeling I could do well to keep with the pace this time through, but I also had in mind the second time I would have to ascend with this leading/chase group. Once we were over the major section of the climb, I took the opportunity to suck down my first gel, strip off my first glove layer, and unzip the jersey to reveal a little of that base layer and release some of that heat. I did this trailing off the group a bit, but I knew I would swing back on through the rolling terrain we were racing through. Our race motorcycle was following us as we crested the big climb and rolled through the top terrain and as I got everything situated to my liking I gave his a thumbs up ad a "thank you" and as one of those things I do to keep myself laughing. The fog was incredible though. I liked that our leading/chase group of 8 or so had the moto sweing forward - leading us down for a visual que as to where the road lead (he was really just sitting next to the breakaway rider not 5 sec up the road). Turning the acute angle left-hand corner down the final descent right onto the finishing stretch, the pace was quickened at least for a show of hustle for the cheering spectators and to size up how this second go-through might shake out.

Lap Two. The pace was much like the first lap. Penn State was on the front and we had finally swallowed up the lone breakaway. I believe he sat on for as long as he could until being popped off the back during that 6 mile climb. He told me later that our group had about a 5 minute lead on the second group on the road. In any case, the selection was made and I began to pay attention to every little detain I could.
Grimy bike - I was happy to clean.
The Details. Keep in mind I have not raced with any of these guys before. I could see that Penn State was still at the front with two teammates working hard. However heroic and honorable their efforts were to be leading out their home race, they were still in the wind 90% of the race. This, I knew, would play to my and everyone else's advantage come the final sprint. I also noticed the University of New Hampshire (UNH) had two boys in this group as well. They were masterful/fearless descenders and their wheel would be the ones I was looking to follow up and down the final climb and descent. I also paid attention to other racer's breathing, size, body language, and tactics. Everything was telling me who to follow, who to watch out for, and who to avoid. a UNH wheel would be the one for me and I think it paid off well. I didn't expect to even be close to the front group let alone having the ability to pick and choose victims.

The Finish. Atop the 6-mile climb, on the aforementioned rollers PSU's riders were still on the front with the UNH pair right behind. I and a Duke University rider were sitting third row and we began to chat up the finish and how we were excited to see things play out. He was a smart rider and I might have looked to follow his wheel. All of a sudden the race was really on when a Cornell rider swung out and cranked the pace up (#matchburning). My gloves were off. I knew I needed full feel of my handlebars and shifters for this finish. PSU was happy to follow this Cornell crank-up lead and we all knew the end was neigh. The descent began and attacks flew. Riders were trying to take the race into their own hands. With the heavy fog, I was quite uneasy to pick out an opportunity to attack and I let the others rip it up knowing I would still have a final say on the finishing stretch. A UNH and Duke rider attacked just before the descent began and their gap was growing. I thought to myself to not let this one slip away. This race was too important to me to let others drop me and give me no say for the win. I took up the chase and looked to have help from the others not wanting to give up before even a fight. We eventually got close to them when we hit the final sketchy, acute-angle, turn to the finish. I knew they did not mention that the yellow line was taken out for the final sprint and I actually swung wide and into the gravel off the pavement when I needed to open my sprint. I could feel the watt sapping pull of the gravel when I lunged out of my saddle and into full-sprint to recover lost positions. After 1.5 rotations of my pedals I snapped myself back onto the pavement and surveyed the rider ahead. Duke and one of the UNH riders were too far ahead for me to see at this point, but I quickly picked off two other riders before seeing the other UNH boy ahead. He saw me coming and knew I would be swinging past him to take the podium. I kept pushing through to the line wishing there were 100 meters more to go, but Duke took a decisive win with UNH holding for second. I was stoked!
A secure third.
I couldn't believe I just took third in the toughest race I had ever participated in. Everything about my racing career went through my mind from the first time I attempted it til the finish taking 3rd. This race meant a lot to me and to round off the podium was a shock and equally exciting moment. I high-fived and congratulated the other racers as they passed me before turning around and I had the biggest smile on my face. This, just like every other painful race is why I race, train, and suffer. I am a pansy when it comes to descending. I am still working on that and my tactics, but given the fact I didn't know any of these riders and who to really watch, I am not a "climber,"the little sleep I got, and that I was unable to shave my legs the night before... something was working in my favor. Had there been an attack on the climb, I doubt I would be able to follow. This limit pushing effort was just what I wanted and my result was everything I didn't expect.
Bronze Medal
David faired well to take 7th in the D race and we are both happy with our form and efforts. The PSU was not over with this road race, however. Easter Sunday would bring the infamous PSU Frat-Row criterium to our legs. Stay tuned for a post-race-post on that endeavor. More personal surprises in that one too. Thanks to everyone for the support and congrats on my podium spot! It helps to have people thinking of me and hoping I roll through on top. I'm still searching for that first win of this season, but I am confident it's not too far off.

By the Numbers. Still no sign of my bike computer. It would have been nice to spit everything I was feeling your way, but such is life.

I hope to find more relevant photos from the races. Anyone know where I might be able to find some? If I spot any good ones I'll add them here. Thanks for reading.


  1. That is fucking awesome Johnny!! I want to hear about more podium finishes!! Your going to turn into another Phillipe Gilbert.

  2. Thanks dpat! I always appreciate the support!