MARATHON HOURS: Since you basically can't get to us while the marathon is happening, we're going to open a little late. 11-5 tomorrow, 4/29. GOOD LUCK, RUNNERS!!
Blog / News
We had a chilly ride Saturday morning. It was one of those days where the temperature wasn'ttoo bad, but the wind chill was-it was in the mid-20's. As I was getting dressed, I was thankful that we haven't had too many cold weather riding days this winter-it's either been a pocket of unseasonably warm temperatures or too cold and wet to ride(or too cold and wet for me to ride. Other people are tougher).
As usual on days that are on the colder side of what I'm willing to ride in, I thought about which "tricks" I've picked up over the years that I wanted to use. Saturday was a medium trick day; I used some but not all. If the weather is going to be in the 20's or below for the whole ride, I pull out all the stops and use every trick I know. I thought I'd share a few of them, so that maybe some folks out there can avoid some of the more awful experiences that I've had.
But let's start at the beginning. Generally speaking, riding in the cold is about protection from the wind and creating a small environment that you can warm up with body heat as you ride. You want to protect your core and your extremities(hands/feet/head). The biggest mistake that people make, in my opinion, is looking for one jacket, thermal jersey, glove, or shoe cover that is their 'cold weather riding garment'. The problem is that those garments may work for 30 degree days, but they'll be no fun at all for 45 degree days(or days that start at 30 and end 45 degrees). I think it makes much more sense to start with a wind protecting garment, and then vary what you put underneath it according to the day. If the garment can be adjusted mid-ride( e.g. a wind vest that can be unzipped from the bottom), all the better. For instance, on a really cold day, I very rarely wear one pair of gloves. I have a nice pair of gloves that have a Gore-tex shell that keeps the wind out. I bought them big, so that if it's really cold I can wear a thin pair of gloves underneath-or two pairs(my hands get really cold). The same goes for keeping the core warm: I'd much rather have the aforementioned wind vest with three different base layers than one massive thermal jacket.
On to the tricks. I'll start at the head and work down.
-HAT: You don't need some massive hat under your helmet-as we all know, your head generates a lot of heat. Something that's thick enough for insulation is fine. The most important thing is that it covers as much of your ears as possible. If your ear lobes are exposed, put a bit of vaseline on them.
-FACE: You need to protect that beautiful moneymaker of yours. Apply some lotion beforehand. It will provide a thin layer on your skin to keep warmth in, and you won't get quite as windburned. And invest in a gaitor-it will keep your neck warm, and you can pull it up over your nose when the wind gets really bad. When you do that, you get the added benefit of directing warm air down to your core. Also-if you use a little scented lip balm before you head out, it smells great when you cover your face(don't worry, tough guy-nobody will know but you).
-CORE: I already mentioned the vest. It matters. Also, when it's very cold and going to stay that way for the whole ride, my absolute best friend is my windshirt(a baselayer with a windblock layer on the front). It's a life saver. I've had it for ten years. I love that thing so much I buy it Christmas presents.
-HANDS: See above for gloves/layering, but also on the really cold days, you can get a couple of the little chemical hand warmers and put them under your jersey at your wrist. It warms up the blood as it flows you your hand and it's glorious. I've always been suspicious of those little things-how are they so warm? They're like little nuclear reactors. But I happily trust my hands to those little Chernobyls if it means they'll stay warm.
-UMMMM...NOT SURE WHAT TO CALL THIS AREA...PRIVATES? JUNK?: Let's just call it "Area that we least want to have frostbite on". I'm not a big believer in thermal tights, but we'll get to that later. Regardless, if it's really cold, few garments have enough wind protection for the babymaking parts. So...I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but a piece of plastic will do the trick. I use a plastic grocery bag. BONUS: If you don't believe me, start the ride without it, and then realize that you should have believed me, you can almost always find a similar piece of plastic(think newspaper wrapping). NOTE: I think this should be obvious, but I have no way of knowing if this is gender-specificadvice; I've only ever had the parts that I have. So for all the ladies out there...your results may vary?
LEGS: Like I said, I don't like thermal tights. If I'm riding a bike, my legs are in motion and keeping themselves warm. I usually go with leg warmers or even knee warmers with some embrocation(warming lotion) on the exposed part of the leg, and generally I'm fine. But I think this is a matter of preference.
FEET: Again, the idea is wind protection. But what we really need to protect are our toes-they're pointed right into the wind. On super super cold days, I take a big thick plastic sandwich bag and put my shoe in the corner. Then I cut off the excess bag around it, leaving only the part of the bag that covers the toe and forefoot. I put a toe cover on top of it to keep it in place, and it makes a very effective wind barrier. Also, I've recently started using the foot warmers that attach to the sock and go inside the shoe. So far, so warm.
GENERAL: After getting dressed on a super cold day, it's a great idea to get your core temperature up before you go outside. Some folks will get fully wrapped up and put the bike on the trainer/rollers and ride for a few minutes. That definitely works-you'll be begging to get outside in the cold after an indoor mile or two. If you don't have time for that, a few pushups does the trick almost as well. Does it feel ridiculous? Of course it does. But then again, if you're dressed to go riding a bike in the middle of winter, you already look ridiculous-so don't worry about it.
Hope some of these help. Good luck out there. See you out on the road.
A few winters ago, I took a trip down to Miami. My parents were living down there for a project my Dad was working on, and I figured it would be a great way to get away from Nashville during the cold gray season and see my folks. I wanted to get some exercise while I was there, so I packed my running shoes. I didn't know any good spots to run, though, so I did some Google searching and came across a group run called the Raven Run. In my experience, group runs-particularly those that make themselves known to the general public- are extremely welcoming and outgoing, so I made a plan to join them at least once. It wasn't hard, since they meet at the same time and place(a lifeguard station on South Beach) every day.
The second or third day I was there I needed to sweat out out all the mojitos, so I went over to join. After getting to the meet-up spot, I figured out that 'Raven' wasn't the name of the run-the Raven was a person. He was the guy that...well, ran the run. And he was late. There were seven or eight other people there, and while we waited, I talked to a few of them, and they told me the story.
The Raven's real name is Robert Kraft, and he's run eight miles every day for 40-some years. All but a handful of his runs have been on Miami Beach(the ones that haven't been on the beach have been when he was in the hospital or when there was a hurricane). When I heard that, it took a moment to soak in. Every day. For 40 years. The same time and place. I couldn't imagine just being at the same place every day for that long, let alone running every day for all those years.
After a few minutes, Raven showed up. He didn't look like your average endurance athlete. He wore all black-when he walked up, he was wearing a black leather jacket-and he had long, slick hair. He looked like someone had taken a guy from a motorcycle gang in the 50's and turned him into a runner. But he definitely looked like a runner; he's the kind of guy that looks 50 but might be 70.
Despite looking a bit intimidating, Raven was an outgoing, friendly host. He seemed to know most of the people on the run, and greeted them by nickname(I figured out that everybody that joins the run gets a nickname). There was a father and daughter there that had only run with the group a couple of times, several years prior, and he remembered them and their nicknames. We all chatted for a bit, then set off at a relaxed pace.
After ten minutes or so, Raven worked his way over to me and introduced himself. We talked for a while, and he asked me where I was from, what kind of runner I was, why I was in Miami; etc. I figured out after a few questions that he was looking for something about me that would stick in his mind so that he could give me a nickname. Finally he asked me what I did for a living. At the time I was working for an investment bank trading stocks. He heard that, paused, stuck a finger in the air, and said, "EQUITY!" I guessed that that was how it worked. I wasn't crazy about the nickname(everybody else had much cooler ones), but I figured there wasn't much I could do about it.
After a while the group started to split up and everyone found their pace with one or two others. I drifted around from one group to another, talking to the other runners and hearing their stories. I finished the run with a father and son from Minneapolis. The son was a cross country runner who was trying to stay in shape while they traveled(he was pretty quickly bored with our pace). Everybody was friendly and unguarded with their stories in the way that so many runners in their element are. It was one of the better runs I've ever been on: beautiful place, easy miles, and a friendly group.
After we finished, we stood around in the late afternoon sun, stretched, and talked some more. I needed to go but didn't want to. It was such a pleasant experience that I'd have gladly stayed for hours, but pretty soon people started to wander off, back to their cars and the rest of their day. I chatted to Raven for a few minutes more and then did the same, reluctantly.
When I got back to my parents' place, I was still thinking about Raven, so I did some research. I found out that he hasn't had an easy life-he's a songwriter and, like so many others, had a bad experience with the Nashville music making machine. He's had some health problems, and no one seemed to know how he made a living. A doctor told him once that he should never run again, ever. That was some time in the 90's.
I thought about that and about him for a long time. I thought about how, in a tempestuous life, running must seem like a sanctuary-the one calm place, the one thing that can be relied upon when everything else offers only disappointment or grief. I've certainly had those moments in my life with the bike-when every other part of life seemed uncertain or just bad, I knew that at a minimum I had a way of clearing my head and drawing comfort from fatigue. I imagine that's what running on the beach has done for Raven over all those years. No matter what's going on in his life, no matter how good or bad things are, he always has that run-whether it's for celebration or solace. And now, through his dedication, he's built something. People come from all over to run with him. They're inspired by him-to clean up their lives, to run a marathon, or just to run.
When I think about Raven and that run, I'm glad for the reminder that I'm lucky. I'm lucky to have that way to clear my head, to feel better when life sucks, to spend time with friends, to just get a good night's sleep. I'm aware that not everybody has something like that in their lives. I'm glad that I do. Remembering that helps me get out the door and on the bike on the days when I feel like staying on the couch.
If you're ever in Miami, I'd encourage you to head down to the lifeguard station and run with Raven. Tell him Equity says hello.
Yesterday I was listening to a bike racing podcast that discussed, among other things, what they called "breakaway politics" (which, thankfully, has nothing to do with real politics). The discussion was about how riders make deals in breaks to decide the finishing order of the race.
It can be a touchy subject, because to an outside observer, it can look like cheating or race-fixing. And in some instances it is-there are some famous examples of obvious cheating, like Alexander Vinokourov paying Alexandre Kolobnev $100,000 Euros not to contest the sprint at the one-day classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Or Lance Armstrong paying other riders, notably Roberto Gaggioli, to let him win the third leg of the Thrift Drug Triple Crown(there was a million dollar prize for winning all three races, and Armstrong had won the first two). Any time money changes hands, sports fans get edgy, and for good reason. It seems shady-those two examples are definitely shady. But there are instances where the line is blurred, even in a case of professionals paying other professionals to do something in a race. For instance, there are situations in stage races where one team has a rider in contention for the overall, but the team is too tired to ride the front and control the race. Another team might have no contender for the overall win. It's not unheard of for the team with the contender to offer the latter team money to ride the front for them. That way the team without a contender gets some TV time for their sponsor, and the riders get some extra income. If you're ever watching a stage race and you can't figure out why a particular team is chasing a break, odds are that a deal has been made.
Deals happen all the time in amateur races as well, but usually the motivation is completely different. In most cases, a deal is struck so that all riders involved assure themselves of the best result possible. For example, this year at one of the Music City Crits I made a massive error in judgment and got myself into a two man break with Brendan Housler. Brendan is incredibly strong; it was all I could do at the beginning to pull through and get back on his wheel after my turn in the wind. After our break was established, Brendan was pulling for two and three laps at a time. I'd come through when I could, but I was at my limit and wasn't helping much.
After a while, I could tell that Brendan had figured out that I was of no use and had started to think about getting rid of me. He'd come through just a bit harder and jump out of the corners much faster than before. If he kept it up, I'd be dropped. So I made a deal. I told him that he didn't need to drop me-that I wouldn't contest the sprint at the end of the race. It was the best outcome for both of us: Brendan was going to win either way, and I got to hang around for second. This is the most common type of agreement that's made-the rider that can't pull through or do his or her fair share agrees not to contest the finish. There are many variations on the theme but the basics are the same.
Deals come in all shapes and sizes, and they depend on the circumstances of the race, the composition of the break, and the relative strength of the riders in it. In 2005 or 2006I got up the road in a crit in Brentwood with two other guys-Steve from Chattanooga and my teammate Jason Tatum. Initially, Steve was willing to help out because he wanted the break to succeed. After it was established, though, he didn't like his chances against two teammates(which is pretty common-he figured that we'd take turns attacking him at the end and he'd finish third). He offered to keep working in the break, but only if we agreed to let him finish second. I would have been fine with that, but Tatum didn't like it-he went to the front and pulled so hard that Steve was just hanging on and realized he didn't have a lot of leverage. Finally, we came to an agreement: Tatum would ease up a bit and Steve would finish third but would get to win all the primes.
Deals don't have to be for the win. In 2008 or 2009 I was in McMinnville, Tn racing the old Highland Rim road race course. It was a hard 110 mile race, and after about 85 miles the break had long since gone and everybody was tired. We were just cruising along until someone pointed out that there were two money spots left: the money was fifteen deep and there were 13 in the break. As you might expect, suddenly everybody wasn't so tired. The attacks started and went on for another few miles. I got lucky and followed Jon Hart on the last one, and we got clear. I was tired and Jon and I are friends, so a few miles from the finish, I asked him if he was in contention for the omnium(the overall weekend competition). He said yes, so I suggested that we just ride steady all the way in and he could finish before me. That way we didn't have to risk getting caught from behind by slowing down and playing cat and mouse at the end, he'd get the extra few omnium points, and I didn't have to sprint. The difference in prize money was maybe five bucks between 14th and 15th place, anyway.
Some guys are more creative than others when it some to making deals. I lived in Austin for a while and had a teammate, Cord Offerman, who was exceptional. One weekend there was a stage race in New Braunfels-two road races and an afternoon time trial. We won the first stage, which was great, but our teammate that won wasn't a great time triallist. We were concerned that we wouldn't be able to defend his lead if he lost time in the second stage tt. He did, but Cord was great against the watch and he won the tt. We had won two stages, but with two different guys, so going unto the second road race there were several racers and teams that were in contention for the overall win.
Cord figured it out before we even left the parking lot. He found a guy that he knew-Wally Groda-who was super strong but who wasn't in contention for the overall win. He talked to Wally before the race, and then told the rest of the guys on our team to just keep things together for the first half of the race.
It wasn't easy; most of the other teams knew that if they got up the road early they could pick up enough time to win the weekend, so there were plenty of determined attacks by strong guys. We managed to keep things under wraps for a while, but after an hour or so of chasing or pulling back attacks, I was done. I was drifting back towards the back on the side of the bunch, totally spent, when Wally came flying by. Cord was on his wheel, screaming at him to go. They'd been sitting at the back, conserving energy, while everyone else was wearing themselves(and me) out. Once they got a gap, they worked together better than they would have otherwise. They didn't need to save any energy for the end; they just needed to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. They stayed away and picked up a couple of minutes. Wally won the stage and Cord won the stage race. Perfect deal.
It probably seems odd looking in from the outside, but the intra-race mental maneuvering is one of the things that I love about the sport. I like that you don't just have to be fast-or even just fast and smart. You need to be able to think and make good decisions when you're absolutely redlined. It's one of the things that make our sport unique.
SNOW DAY HOURS: 10-2!!
NEW YEAR'S HOLIDAY HOURS:
-We'll be open 10-2 on NYE(stop by for an early beverage if you're so inclined!)
-Closed New Year's Day(1/1/17)
-Open regular hours(10-6) Tuesday(1/3/17)
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
It took a long while to arrive, but it looks like winter is finally here.
It arrived in a hurry; we didn't have the progression of lower temperatures that we typically get throughout the fall. We went from 70 degree rides to 30 degree rides. It was certainly a bit of a shock to the system for me. Somehow, every winter I have to re-remember my clothing choices for certain temperatures(I usually have it perfectly dialed by mid-March, just in time for nice weather).
Anyway, we went out for our first legitimate 30 degree ride last week. I was reminded of two things. The first is that it's easy for me to see how people just never get in the habit of riding in the winter. It's very easy to just put off that first cold weather ride and ride the trainer. Or...have another cup of coffee and pick up a book and a second helping of breakfast. Soon enough, it's been a couple of weeks or a month, the holidays have come and gone, and riding becomes a new year's resolution instead of something that you've been doing every day. After you get out that first day, though, you remember that it's really not that bad. Clothing is really good these days. You can stay warm at lower temps and for a lot longer than used to be possible. And...there's definitely something to riding in winter. Being out on the quiet cold roads feels a bit more like an adventure. You feel like you've really done something when you're finished. But you have to get out that first time.
The second thing I remembered...well, this is going to sound weird, I know. But it has to do with a line from a Tom Cruise movie(it feels weird just typing that).
Stay with me. The movie is Vanilla Sky, and the line was a bit of a throwaway. At one point early in the movie, Jason Lee's character is trying to make the point to Tom Cruise's character that Tom Cruise can't appreciate how good his life is because his life is all so good. He says, "The sweet's not as sweet without the bitter". I have no idea why anything from that movie stuck with me(although, in my defense, I have to say that that is one of the better Tom Cruise movies), but it did and I like it.
For instance, if you've never been really really hungry, food can only ever taste so good. You can't appreciate it as much as a person who has starved. That's, of course, an extreme example, but there are smaller ones as well. I was recently talking to an old friend who went on a vacation to Boston, and he mentioned that the best part of the trip was just sitting on a friend's porch, reading and enjoying a quiet morning. Now...if his whole life was reading on a porch, he'd probably go insane. But against the relief of his crazy, busy, loud life, those moments of quiet and calm were wonderful. They were, well, sweet.
Another great example of sweet/bitter is riding in the cold. You want your couch to feel like absolute heaven? Go ride in the cold for five hours. You will come home and THANK HEAVEN for the warm room where your couch lives. You will appreciate that couch and the pillow that's going under your feet like no one has ever appreciated furniture before. Normal things that you have in your house every day suddenly seem amazing because you did something kinda hard. You added some bitter to your life, so now the sweet is much sweeter.
I used to go to an open water swimming club in northern California. I would say that I belonged or that I was a member, but the truth is that I was a total tourist-I could barely make myself get in the (very cold)water at all, much less do any real swimming. Every day was a battle-I'd sit on a bench in the locker room for an embarrassingly long time, trying to come up with excuses not to go in. More often than not, what got me in the water was the thought of the shower afterwards. They had this amazing shower room-the water was scalding hot and the water pressure was unbelievable. It made suffering in the super cold water worthwhile.
One day I was talking to one of the actual members and I mentioned how much I loved the showers. He chuckled and said, "Those are just normal showers, man. They just seem great because anything would seem great after being in that cold-ass water".
It's a pretty neat trick, if you think about it. Making the simple things in life seem extraordinary.
Have a great winter. Add some bitter to your life-you won't regret it.
Friday: Closed(We'll be storming the gates at Best Buy. See you there)
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
It's fun to work at a bike shop while the Tour is happening. We watch the end of the stage live, then re-run it for the rest of the day. People stop by to watch(or try not to, so they can catch it on their DVR at home in the evening). It gives us something to talk about other than the heat. It's always fun to be around cyclists during the race, but it seems like this year's edition has been something special-there have been so many stages with unexpected results that no one seems to know what's going to happen next.
Even in that context, The stage to Ventoux stands out. I've been watching the Tour for a long time, and I've never seen anything on the scale of what happened there-any rider, let alone the race leader, pitching his bike and running up a mountain, is something none of us will soon forget.
Oddly, I have seen something similar. It was in a race in Louisville in 2007 or 2008(slightly smaller than the Tour; you probably didn't watch it on TV). For a few years, Louisville was putting on a great little downtown crit. The course was technical and fun, the fields were good, and there were solid payouts, even in the lower categories. Our team always seemed to do well there, so we usually made the trip.
I was a Cat 3 that year, and I went to the race with my two teammates, Nathan and Ben. The race started out fast with plenty of attacking, but eventually Nathan got up the road with four or five other guys. There was some chasing for five or six laps afterward, but once the break got established the race calmed down considerably. As we started to get towards the end of the race, the break has enough of a gap that Ben and I started thinking about a result in the field sprint. It would be tricky; there were two corners in the last 150 meters, so, barring anything extraordinary, the one who put his wheel into the first of those two corners in first position would likely win.
Barring anything extraordinary.
The last three laps were extremely aggressive-especially since the break was gone. I remember wondering if all of these guys knew that we were racing for sixth. Regardless, it was fast, until, inexplicably, with a half lap to go, there was a lull. I have no idea why-maybe everyone was just tired, or maybe just worried about how to play those last two turns. But, as the group sat up, Ben just kept pedaling. It was a perfect move at the perfect time. He looked back, saw that he had a gap, and drilled it. I moved to the back, thinking we had the field sprint sewn up and not wanting to potentially screw anything up for Ben.
As I got close to the finish, I heard the unfortunately familiar sound of a crash-like a shopping cart being dragged across the pavement on its side. There had been a stack-up in the last corner. I was far enough back that I was able to ease up and roll through slowly and take a peek at the aftermath. Several guys on the floor, most already getting up and checking out their bikes and their skin. I was glad that no one seemed to be seriously hurt.
And then I saw Ben's bike. But no Ben. And as I made the turn towards the finish, I saw Paramedics rushing to what looked like another crash at the finish line.
I heard the story later from Nathan, who had been able to finish and loop back to the line to see the field sprint. He told me that Ben had come to the last couple of corners with about a three second gap. Plenty of time, especially since the last turn was inside 100 meters from the line. But Ben had taken that last one too hot and had washed out. Nathan said that Ben stood up, looked at his bike, and then left it in the middle ofthe road and started running towards the line.
Ben grew up playing soccer; even with bike shoes on, he's pretty fast. He made it to within about 20 meters from the line. Behind him, everybody in the field was probably a bit surprised to find a bike-shaped land mine in the middle of the last corner. Some guys crashed into it, but some made it through. One of them was Chris Stoll, another Nashville guy who is a good sprinter. Chris, having made it through the mess, opened his sprint.
Chris sprints with his head down. If he had looked up, he would probably have been surprised to see Ben in front of him, running towards the line without his bike. But he didn't. He plowed into Ben at full speed. Neither of them saw it coming. I talked to three different people who happened to see it, and all three used the same word: sickening.
The impact was enough to crack Chris' skull. He was off the bike for a long time. He started showing up for races again only a few years ago. Ben got off relatively easy with a bunch of broken ribs and a broken shoulder. Nathan said that when he saw the crash, he was sure that one of them was dead. He said he'd never seen anything like it and hoped he never see anything like it again. I talked to Jeff Hopkins, an Australian pro who had shown up to register and just happened to be standing at the finish line. Jeff's been racing bikes since he was nine or ten and has seen pretty much every kind of crash that can happen on a bicycle. He said that was the all-time worst.
I don't know if the two of them have ever had the chance to connect and talk about that race. But I know that I think about it all the time, and I know that the people who saw it will always remember it.
So, of course, last week when I saw the Tour stage to Ventoux last week, that's what I was thinking of.
There are lots of rules in bike racing. For my money, two of the most important are keep your head up and don't set off running without your bike.
Even if your name is Chris Froome.
Saturday was the Harpeth Bike Club's Harpeth River Ride. As you probably know, it's a massive local event. Usually, at least a thousand people show up to ride. For a while, the Bike Club was getting celebrity guest riders to show up and ride, and during those years-the ride was HUGE. Thousands and thousands of riders showed up in the hopes of riding next to Lance or Chris Horner or Levi Leipheimer.
The first time I did the HRR was in 2003(or maybe it was 2004. Either way, it was a long time ago). I had never ridden 100 miles on a bike, and I was pretty sure I didn't want to try-especially in June when it was a billion degrees. But I had a buddy that was kind of a mentor on the bike at the time, and he encouraged me to go out and try. He was persistent enough that I relented and signed up. After all of his cajoling, I expectedhim to give me enough advice/coaching to get me through. Here's what I got:
"The Gran Fondo race team will be there, and they'll be at the front going fast. Hang with that group as long as you can, and then settle in."
Settle in. I remember thinking, 'What the hell does settle in mean? You don't settle in on a bike-you settle in on a couch. Or nice cool movie theater. Or a nice warm cabin in the middle of winter.'
But I had committed, so I went. As it turns out, I had a long time to figure out the settling in. The Gran Fondo team was definitely there, and definitely fast. I think I may have lasted ten miles in that front group. After that, there was an, ahem, gravity event, and I was on my own. The front group crested the hill and cruised out of sight. I was on my own with 90 miles to ride. If I had had the slightest idea where I was, I'd have just gone directly home. Or to my car. Or to a friend's house. Or friend's car. Anything. But I didn't, so I just kept going, fueled by the idea of seeing my buddy who had gotten me into this and punching him in the mouth.
Five or six miles later, groups started to pass me(If I had been a bit more experienced, I'd have sat up to wait for them as soon as I got dropped from the front). The first few were still too quick, but after a while I caught on to a group of five guys that were moving well, but at a pace that was sustainable for me. I stuck with them and pulled through and did my share. After a while I started to enjoy myself. And I realized a few things about long rides. One-that the group is important. When we'd hit a hill, we'd slow down to wait for the guy that had been a freight train in the flat sections. The guys that led us up the hills took shorter turns on the flats. We'd wait for each other at the aid stations, because we knew that we were not only faster together, but that the group was our best chance of covering the distance at all. Two-if you're in a bad spot, just wait a bit. Over 100 miles, there are sections like chapters in a book. That day, we started cool, had several sections of baking hot, and got rained on. We rode up short steep hills, over long flat sections and slow rollers. It took a while for this to sink in, but once it did I started to try to savor the pleasant sections and just get through the tougher ones in the hopes that the next would be better.
As the miles went on, we lost a couple of guys and added one. A very long time later, we finished as a group of five. I was overjoyed and in need of a nap and a pizza. I shook hands with the guys I had ridden with and thanked them. Looking back, it's a bit embarrassing-it was definitely a bigger deal for me than it was for them. To me, it felt like some sort of small graduation ceremony-we had been through this difficult thing together, and then it was time to go and get on with our lives. To them, it was the thing they did that one Saturday before they went home and mowed the yard.
I still see guys from that group around on the bike from time to time. One of them became a friend and teammate a few years later.
I still have no idea what 'settling in' means. Maybe I'll do the Harpeth next year and try to figure it out.
sic City Crits #2
Today 1:31 PMYou
A couple of weeks ago we lined up for the second round of the Wednesday Night Crits. We weren't sure we were going to get to race, as there had been thunder and lightning in the area all afternoon. But the skies cleared a few minutes before our race was supposed to start. The course was wet, but I didn't anticipate that being an issue-we've been rotating different iterations of the course at the fairgrounds, and we'd be racing on the "kidney bean", which used mostly the outer oval with two benign turns into and out of the infield.
Every once in a while, it's possible to get a small advantage in a race before it even starts. If you can figure out what everyone is assuming is going to happen, sometimes you can use it to your advantage. I started thinking about it a while back at the old Highland Rim road race. The race as a 55 mile loop with a long climb 12 miles in. After the climb, there were 40 flat miles on the top of the plateau, then a descent to the finish. In the lower categories, there was usually a split on the climb, but on the plateau a motivated chase group would bring back the climbers. So everyone just started to assume that that's how the race would play out...until one year, when several strong guys in the chase group, assuming that the race would come back together, sat in, saving their energy for the inevitable catch and the racing afterwards.
Except the inevitable catch didn't happen. Without the missing horsepower, the chase group never got back and the win came from the smaller front group. After I saw that, I tried to look for similar situations in races: where everyone just assumes that the race will play out a certain way, there's usually opportunity.
The second Wednesday Nighter seemed like such a situation. The IAM racing team, to that point in the season, had been absolutely dominant. This year they've built a team that not only has most of the strongest guys but that also races well together. In the first Wednesday night race, they had taken all three spots on the podium. I heard somebody say that it would be a victory for the rest of us to prevent a podium sweep for the rest of the season; they're that good.
So...it certainly made sense that everyone would be watching the guys on that team, particularly Patrick Walle, who is super strong and having a great year. I got to the race late, but as we were warming up I told my teammate Jason Tatum that, especially early in the race, with everyone watching Walle and IAM, we might get a bit of a long leash. When everybody's watching one guy, sometimes there is opportunity for someone else.
We rolled out and on the first lap it looked like there wouldn't be a chance to test my theory-Patrick Walle attacked as soon as we got out of the infield. Everyone was watching him, though, so there was a quick scramble to get to his wheel. He looked back, saw the field lined out behind him and kept the throttle twisted. That first lap was blazing fast. As we came through the start/finish, I was certain that when he swung off one of his teammates would attack.
Luckily for me, I was correct and in the right spot to go with it when it happened. Walle's teammate accelerated at the start of lap two and John Carr and Tim Henry jumped on. I tagged on the back and hung on. When I looked back a few seconds later, we had a big gap.
Good news/bad news. The good news was that this little move looked like it could stick-it was the right combination of jerseys and we got organized quickly. The bad news was that I was in trouble. I had loaned my bike to a customer earlier that day and hadn't had time to measure my saddle height after I got it back; it was way too high. Secondly, even in the benign corners of the course, I was losing my back wheel(and sometimes my front). It was incredibly slick. Carr, who was in front of me in the rotation, wasn't having any troubles, so I just assumed I was doing something wrong(I later found out he was running 75 psi in his tires, which made me feel better). I was wasting energy out of both corners getting back to Carr's wheel; at the speed we were going that was going to add up quickly and get me dropped.
Luckily, after three laps up the road, we came through the start/finish and were told to stop. The course was so slick that there were crashes all over the place. The officials decided to change the course to the oval. And, in order to have the officials on the side of the course where they could see our race numbers, they needed to change the direction of the race as well.
That was weird. I've never seen a situation where the race was stopped and the course and direction were changed before resuming. While the changes were being made we all laughed about how crazy it was-and I let some air out of my tires, found a multitool, and lowered my saddle about an inch. Whatever happened after that, at least I'd be comfortable and safer.
We lined up again, and the officials let the guys that had been in the break start first. It was an odd situation, taking that head start, knowing that the group was just sitting back, ready to start chasing. I figured that on the faster course we wouldn't stand a chance. But we found our rhythm quickly, and after a few laps it was clear that we'd stay away.
Again, good news/bad news. It was great to be in the break, but Jason Chatham and Tim Henry, aside from both being excellent sprinters, are both experienced and smart. My only real chance would be a situation where they both hesitated. I knew Carr would attack early(I've been racing against John for ten years), so I hoped that if John's move didn't work, maybe my counter would. If we were just the right distance from the finish, neither Henry nor Chatham would want to close the gap, knowing it would rob them of energy for the sprint.
No such luck. Carr attacked right as we got the bell for the last lap and didn't quite get the gap he needed(it's hard to accelerate with 75 psi in your tires), and by the time his effort was over, we were setting up for the sprint. Chatham won handily, Henry was second, and I was third.
As we rolled around, cooling down, we all laughed and talked about how weird the night had been. Tim Henry commented that, while Chatham had won, at least his teammates hadn't taken the other spots on the box. It was definitely one to remember.
I'm guessing next week will be a little less crazy, but you never know.
Last week the Wednesday night race at the fairgrounds was cancelled due to rain. Since Shannon and I work on Saturdays, Wednesdays are one of the few opportunities we have to race, so we were extra disappointed. But it got me thinking about the evolution of midweek rides and races in Nashville.
Back in the early 2000's, the hard weekday ride was the Tuesday Night Night Sprint Loop. That was before my time here, so I never got to do it. But my understanding of it was that it was basically lead-out practice; there was a set loop with set sprint lines and (I think) designated sprinters. Everyone else would wind up the pace leading up to the sprint lines, and the sprinters would punch it out. My assumption has been that the ride was set up as a team training ride for the Backyard Burgers team, led by Todd Nordmeyer. Aside from being probably the most dominant bike racer ever to pin on a number in Tennessee, Todd was great at setting up hard, training-targeted rides.
The problem with that ride, as I understand it, was that it got popular. More folks started showing up, it got a bit less disciplined and a lot bigger. Thirty people trying to be involved in a lead out is difficult, full stop. But if that leadout is taking place on an open road with cars, dogs; etc, it can be a recipe for disaster. And there were a few disasters. After some bad crashes, It was decided that The Sprint Loop needed to end.
So somebody(again, probably Todd) came up with the idea of the Hammer Ride. The Hammer Ride was on Wednesday Nights, starting in May. It started at Percy Warner Park and went on a forty mile loop out to the Trace, with five or six stretches of race simulation zones. Everybody knew where they were, and in those parts of the ride the effort was full gas-even faster than race pace, in some instances, since they were so short and everybody knew that there would be a short regroup at the end.
I first heard about the Hammer Ride in 2004. Tim Hall started a website called NashvilleCyclist.com that had information on races, rides and everything else that had to do with bikes in Nashville. The description of the ride said "Cat 3 and above", so I steered way clear. But in 2005 I had been riding a bit more and was feeling brave, so I went out for the Hammer Ride even though I was only a Cat 4. It was great training: I could just barely hang in the group sometimes if I rode intelligently, but if I stuck my nose in the wind, even for a few moments, I was done. I was hooked; I started looking forward to Wednesday nights, measuring any small improvements by how far into the ride I could last. I figured out who the stronger riders were and which wheels were the right ones to follow. I felt like I was racing even though I wasn't.
Later that summer, Tim announced on the website that he was going to put on an actual race series on a few Wednesday nights. He'd secured a criterium course at the Titans' stadium, and there would be prizes for every race, plus an overall competition for the series. I hadn't done much crit racing at that point, but I was psyched to try it.
Compared to what it became and to what we have now, that first year was...well, small. There was an A(Cat 1/2/3) race andB(Cat 4/5 and Women) race, and I think the total number of racers combined was about twenty. I raced the B race and then stuck around for the A race. There were a handful of pros living in town at the time, and they all showed up. I was shocked at how fast they went around the course-they went around corners so fast that I closed my eyes the first few laps, certain they were going to crash.
By the end of the summer, more people were showing up to race. Someone scored a small PA system and there was music. A few folks even came out just to hang out and enjoy some free entertainment. The little series was a success, and Tim said that he'd try to do more next year. He did, and the series got bigger and bigger. By 2010, there were more categories and many more racers-every Wednesday there would be at least 100 people showing up to race. And the scene was fantastic-there was an announcer with a legit sound system and dozens of people came out to watch. It was a fun little party in the middle of a parking lot. Wednesday nights were something to look forward to; I tried to never miss one. The races got big and fast and the competition for the overall series was aggressive. Every year there would be a big season-end party after the last race. Regardless of when it happened, that party always felt like the end of summer.
In 2012 Tim moved to North Carolina for a job, but he had his summers free(he's a collegiate cycling coach) so he could still come back to Nashville to run the series. Unfortunately, after 2013 the parking lot of the stadium was no longer available-they needed the space for State employees. I just assumed that we'd go back to the Hammer Loop on Wednesday nights. It was funny; as much as I'd loved those Wednesday night loops starting in the park, the thought of not having the crits was depressing.
Luckily for me and everyone else, Michael Edens stepped in and found a solution. He talked to the people at the fairgrounds, and now we have our Wednesday night races there. The fairgrounds is a great venue for spectating and the less technical, more wide open course has invited more beginner racers. Michael started a new series there in 2014 and it's grown every year. This year Michael went to visit the Driveway Series in Austin(the biggest midweek series in the country, at least that I know of) and brought back some ideas to make Wednesday nights even bigger and better. He's done a tremendous job.
We're lucky to have had so much fun midweek riding and racing in Nashville for such a long time. If you've gotten to enjoy any of it, maybe say thanks to Todd or Tim or Michael if you see them around town.
We'll see you out there on Wednesday. Hope it doesn't rain.
The Athens Twilight criterium was weekend before last. If you have raced a bike in the southeast, you were probably aware of it.
Twilight looms large on the racing calendar-for good reason. It's arguably the fastest and most dangerous crit of the year-and it's definitely the race that draws the most spectators. It takes place right in the middle of downtown Athens, Georgia, and thousands of students from the University come out to watch(mostly because of the crashes). It's one of the few races of the year where most guys(non-pro's, at least) are just shooting to finish.
Athens is big. There are usually 150 starters in the pro race, and there just isn't room enough for all of them on the course. The course is only a kilometer long, and if the whole race is stretched out end to end(which it usually is), the front of the filed is not far behind the back of the field. That situation doesn't last long, as guys fall off the back or crash out. Usually less than half of the starters finish.
Athens is long-it's 80 laps of that kilometer course, so it's almost double the length of any normal local race.
Athens is FAST-the average speed is usually close to 30 mph. For 50 miles.
I went to Athens to race for the first time in 2005 or 2006. I crashed hard in one of the amateur races(not nearly as long or fast and on a different course) early in the day and decided it wasn't for me. Even aside from the crash-which I'll admit scared me-the racing, even in the amateur fields, seemed above my level; it was an eye-opener. So, for the next few years, I just went down to watch and drink beer. It was always a great weekend, but it was a bit odd being at a bike race weekend and not racing.
Early in 2009, my teammate Dave started trying to convince me to go and race Twilight-the night race, which was technically a pro/category 1 race, but Dave had heard that they were letting some category two racers in. I had just upgraded to two late the previous summer, and I knew I had no business lining up for Twilight, but finally I relented, because I wanted to get Dave off my back and because I often make poor decisions.
I had a coach at the time, and when I told him that I was planning to race, he said, "Oh. Yikes. Well, it will be a good test(code for "This is probably a bad idea for you"). The first 5-10 laps are tear-smearing fast. If you can get through those, you might have a chance. Just remember, if you aren't moving up in the field, or if you aren't in the first 50 spots, you probably won't make it. Don't assume that if a gap opens in front of you that someone else will close it-at that speed, even two bike lengths become near impossible to close". After I heard that, I thought about faking an illness and making Dave go by himself. But(and this a great example of bike racer insanity) then I would think, "How bad can it really be? I've done tons of fast crits. Surely I can just survive. Right?" So I went.
The race started at 9 PM, so we had all day to sit around, watch our friends race in the early races, and just be nervous. Luckily, Dave and I handle nerves in different ways. I don't say much and Dave talks a lot. That helped. But not much-I remember sitting in the hotel room pinning on my number and having a hard time because my hands were shaking. I still have that race number.
We got to the course early to try to get a decent start spot-as you might expect, starting position in a race like Athens is absolutely crucial-if you start at the back, your race is almost certainly over before it's even begun. As a result, the first race is to get to the start line-it's the only race I've ever been to where elbows are being used before the race starts.
I got lucky and got a spot in the third row(there were probably 10 rows). Once that was settled, there were probably ten minutes where we just sat there while the announcer did the pre-race announcements, call-ups; etc. I tried to look at something that would calm my nerves...I looked at the guys around me and that didn't help. I could see that everyone was nervous, even scared. Not good. So I looked to my left into the crowd. Drunken frat boys, screaming. Also not helping. So I just looked straight ahead, down the course to turn one. It sounds ridiculous, but I had a moment of feeling a tiny bit of what it must be like to be a professional athlete-literally thousands of spectators, immense noise, everyone looking at us. I decided that, if nothing else, for a moment I'd just take it in in the hopes that I'd remember it. I still can.
The race started, and the first thing I did was miss my pedal clipping in. 50 guys went by in a flash. So much for a good start spot. I sprinted up to speed, my heart rate skyrocketing and my mouth somehow instantly dry. I narrowly avoided the first crash of the night-in turn two of the first lap. I might as well have gone down, because I was going backwards, quickly. Every few seconds, three guys would go by me in a rush to get towards the front. I was braking too much in the poorly lit turns and having to accelerate too hard coming out of them. Three laps in, I was desperate. I remembered the sensation from high school sports-I was rattled-making poor decisions, panicked.
15 laps in, and I was sure that I wasn't going to make it to 20. Every time someone else came by, I was sure there was going to be no one behind me. I was just waiting to hear the sound of the sweep motorcycle, which would mean that my race was about to be over.
I came around turn one and saw a huge pile-up. Bodies and bikes everywhere. I had nowhere to go and barely came to a stop behind it. I put a foot down.
I had a choice. There was no way I was going to catch back on from a full stop. My race would be over. So I just reached down and let the air out of my front tire. I'm not proud of it, but all I was trying to do was finish, and that wasn't happening after coming to a full stop behind a crash. I found a spot on the course where the spectators were only two deep, jumped the barricades, and hustled to the start/finish to take a free lap.
They gave me a neutral front wheel and-this was a true gift-put me back in about 50 spots in front of where I had come out. Somehow, that little respite calmed me down. I felt better. The new wheel squealed when I touched the brakes, and I used it as an alarm-I decided that I wasn't going to hear that noise for the rest of the race. I set a goal of 40 laps. If I made it that far, I'd be happy.
Somehow I found my rhythm, stopped touching my brakes, finally got the corners dialed, and made it to 40. Then 50. Somewhere around 53 laps in, I remembered that I had a bottle of water on my bike. I swear I heard my knuckles crack as I released my death grip on the bars to get my hand on that bottle.
I started thinking about finishing. I tried to only look at the lap counter every five laps. I'd start to feel good, and then the pace would pick up and I'd realize that I had been at my absolute limit, teetering on the precipice of blowing up. I started to hear friends on different parts of the course yelling at me and that helped.
Ten laps to go, and I thought I could make it. It seemed like an eon, but I thought that surely the hardest part was over.
Wrong. Six laps to go, and the leadouts for the sprinters started. It was like someone put 20 fresh guys in at the front. The speed went up in a way that I would have been certain wasn't possible.
Four laps to go, and I was hanging on by my fingernails. Gaps were opening all over the place(mostly in front of me). Three to go, and guys just stopped even trying to close them-I realized that we were close enough to the finish that we'd all be scored, but far enough back that we'd never get back on. So I just did what I could, which wasn't much.
I crossed the finish line at the same time as the winner. Inside of four laps, he had lapped me and all the other hangers-on at the back. I was astonished.
But I had finished. It was over, thank heaven. I rode another lap around the course. I reached out my hand and got what must have been 100 high-fives in a row from spectators. I stopped on the backside and took a beer from someone I didn't know. I opened it and finished the lap while I drank it. I've never been that physically depleted and that happy at the same time. I know it's a silly thing; I didn't win or even come close. All I did was finish, and even that was with a bit of help. It's not something that would ever matter to anyone but me. But it's still by far the best moment I've had on a bike.
If you get the chance to head down to Twilight, go. Whether you race or just spectate, it's a one of a kind event.
I was talking with a few folks in the shop this week that had gone to New Orleans for the IM 70.3 on Sunday. The conditions, apparently, were super rough-lots of wind and choppy water. One of the two, Drake, was telling me about swimming in the washing-machine-like water, how we couldn't see over the swells, how he was constantly getting mouthfuls of water and his goggles kept falling off, and he said, "At least it makes a good story!".
That got me thinking about all the weird/funny/ridiculous things I've seen(or done) at races of various types over the years.
I lived in San Francisco for a while, and I did the Escape from Alcatraz a coupe of times back when it was just a big local event, not the craziness that it is now. One year, I was waiting in line to get on the ferry that takes all the competitors out to the island, and I was behind a group of big, young, loud guys. Like a lot of people, they dealt with their nervous energy through constant bad jokes at high volume. The line was long and I was pretty ready to get on the boat and away from them. As we got into the boat, they were doing last-minute body marking. The Bro in front of me hadn't had his done, so he tried to pull up his wetsuit to expose his calf for the marker. It wasn't easy, so the nice woman who was doing the marking said,"Why don't you pull the suit down instead of up? It'll be quicker."
He looked at her as if she had recently sustained a head injury and said, not kindly, "Because I'm not wearing anything underneath." He looked at his friends, as if to say, "Look at this idiot with the Sharpie".
The nice woman paused, smiled, and said, "Whatcha planning on doing in transition, Champ?"
The look on the Bro King's face as he realized he was going to have to get nude in front of 2,000 people in a field because he was too dim to think past the swim was memorable.
Another year at Alcatraz, I got out of the water and was changing out of my wetsuit(luckily with clothes underneath). I was next to a guy that was having trouble getting his right arm out of his long sleeve wetsuit. He'd gotten his left out and was gripping the end of the right sleeve with his left hand and pulling, but his shoulders were presumably tired from swimming, so it wasn't working. I watched for a beat, wondered if I could help, then figured he'd be ok, then started to lean down to get my shoes. Right then, the guy gave a big heave and his arm came out of the suit, elbow first, at approximately seventy thousand miles an hour. I took the elbow right in the nose. I remember thinking, "Oh-you really do see stars..."
The guy turned, looked at me and said, "Oh. God."
Amazingly, my face was so numb from the cold that it didn't even hurt(until the next day).
The good bike race stories, unfortunately, usually involve a crash. I was in a Masters crit in Northern California a few years ago-I don't even remember exactly where. I remember the course, though-it was the kind that didn't look technical on paper. The corners weren't sharp. But the road width-or lack thereof-made the race sketchy. It was a big group, and when the road narrowed there wouldn't be enough room. It was fine until the last few laps, when everyone started to fight for spots. We were just about to see the 'two to go' sign when we hit one of the narrow spots. One guy tried to stick his wheel in a hole that didn't exist and he ended up in the grass. He hit a divot and went pinwheeling by the group, somehow still at speed. As he came by us, the guy next to me said, loudly but as calmly as if he were ordering coffee, "You deserve that, Jim". At that moment, Jim's shoes were four feet above his helmet. That was the absolute best example of adding insult to injury that I've witnessed. I laughed so hard I almost crashed myself.
It's funny until it happens to you. Last years I was racing in another Masters race, this time in Louisville. The early part of the race was being dominated by the local heavy hitters on the Texas Roadhouse team. They had sent a guy up the road, and I wanted to get up to him before his gap got too big. I was on the left side of the road, and I swung out to jump in the left gutter. As I jumped, I saw a lip in the pavement that I hadn't known was there(in retrospect, it was a pretty dicey move). I figured I could get over it with a small bunny hop, but my front wheel caught and turned and I went down.
It's astonishing how quickly the mind works when you're crashing. Before I even hit the ground, I thought, "This is gonna hurt-I hope I don't take anyone down with me-I'm probably gonna get hit from behind". I didn't get hit from behind, but I did get some comments from the rest of the group as they went by.
One said, "Stay down".
A few seconds later, "Idiot."
I probably deserved it for laughing so hard at Jim.
Some racing stories, thankfully, don't involve crashing; one that I know I'll remember until I die is from the Gateway Cup in St. Louis in 2007. Gateway Cup is a four day series of big(100+ person fields) fast crits that happens every year on Labor Day weekend. The races draw talented fields from several states, and a result there is meaningful(at least to me). The first race is on Friday night and is usually the fastest one-and almost always a field sprint. I was racing in the category three races, and I thought I had a shot at a decent finish, but I'd have to play the last few laps well-I'm not a great sprinter, so I'd have to position myself perfectly.
Five laps to go, and I was on the top fifteen. Four to go, and I was surfing the top ten, managing my position without wasting too much energy. Three and two to go, and I was at the front but not on the front, which was perfect. My legs felt great; I couldn't believe how well this was going. As we started the last lap, I was in fourth wheel, then third. This was exactly what I wanted-it's a short distance from the last corner to the line, so I wanted to be no further back than fourth or fifth wheel.
I came around the last corner in third wheel(this was great!), and suddenly, inexplicably, there was a lull-everyone just seemed to pause. I thought about Magnus Backstedt, winner of Paris Roubaix, who said, "If you're looking around, wondering who is going to open the sprint, it should be you". So I did. 100 Meters from the line I was clear. 70, 50 meters...I didn't see a wheel next to mine. 30 meters, 20...the finish. I threw my right arm in the air; this was the only field sprint I had ever won. I was thrilled. I coasted past turn one, where my mother, father and sisters were sitting(they all live in St. Louis). I was in the process of shouting, "I won!" when I heard the group go by. They sure were going fast for a cool-down lap...
Oh...no. that wasn't the last lap. I had sprinted at one to go. I have never felt so dumb. Or, coincidentally, so dumb in front of so many people. I rolled around the course one more time, and up to my family(again).
Sometimes you can tell how poorly you've done by the way people look at you. When your seven year old niece can't look you in the eye, you know it's bad. Really, really bad.
My friends later told me they spent HOURS traveling to the far corners of the internet looking for photos or video of that 'finish'. At the time, I was immensely grateful that none was found. Now that I've gotten over it, though, I wish someone had captured that amazingly ridiculous moment. I'd give anything for that photo.
At least it makes a good story.
I used to think of Max Gander as "The Gran Fondo Kid".
I first saw him some time around 2006. Like a lot of amateur bike racers, I'd waste time on Mondays following race weekends scouring the internet for race photos. I came across one of Max, who was probably nine at the time. It was from a time trial, and it caught my attention because the kid looked so absolutely pro. He was wearing a Gran Fondo kit, and he had every detail dialed-aero helmet, glasses, shoe covers-everything about his tiny Louis Garneau kit was perfect. I remember thinking that he was some sort of team mascot, or that maybe his mom and dad were racers who were letting him play dress-up. I thought it was cool, but it didn't even occur to me that someone that young could be so into bike racing that he'd figure all of that stuff out by himself.
I was wrong. Over the next few years, I kept seeing Max(I'd learned his name by then) at races. He'd become friends with Nate and Jonny Brown, two brothers from Memphis who are now local legends(Nate races for Cannondale-Garmin now, and Jonny has won two Junior National Championships). They'd show up at all the local events and help each other win the Junior races. There was a big stage race in town one year-the Edgar Soto- and Jonny and Max took turns wearing the leaders jersey. Somehow, I still just thought of him as a kid playing around.
Somewhere along the way, though, I started seeing him not just around all the races, but at the front of them. He stopped racing with the Juniors all the time and started racing in the category races as well. He was still just a kid, but he was up there, half the size-and less than half the age-of everyone else, throwing punches, in the mix. He was fearless.
I remember standing at the start finish of the old Wednesday Night Crit course at Titan's stadium, watching the Cat 4 race. The bunch came by, and someone close to me, almost under his breath, said, "Damn. Look at Max". He was sitting third wheel, elbows out, protecting his spot on that technical course, looking like he'd been racing for ten years. No smile, mouth closed. We all just smiled and shook our heads. I remember wondering how long it would be before he would be kicking my ass. I think a lot of us were thinking that, and we all looked forward to it in a weird way. He was like a kid brother to the whole Nashville bike racing community. We'd watched him grow up; every summer he'd be a little taller and a lot stronger on the bike. He spent a lot of time around adults and was more mature than most kids-it was nothing for him to catch a ride to a race with a non-family member. I got the sense that his parents, Wolfgang and Evie-both cyclists themselves- trusted our little community to look after their boy when they weren't around.
Personally, I was a bit envious of Max. I truly found the bike later in life, and I had always wondered about what might have happened if I had come to it early, like Max did. I guess in that way, I lived vicariously through him. I assumed that, for him, riding and racing wasn't something that needed to be squeezed in when there was daylight, managed around vacation time, or apologized for to friends/family/coworkers that didn't get it. I assumed that at his age it was just something he ran to every chance he got; an unfettered source of joy. I loved the idea of that.
The last time I ever saw Max was in 2011. I had moved to Austin for a job, and I drove down to San Antonio one Saturday to race. I showed up a few hours early to watch some of the other races, and as I walked up, I saw a kid that looked like Jonny Brown off the front of the race. It didn't seem possible that it was him, but then I looked at the guy standing next to me and realized it was Jonny's dad, Dave. We said hello and he told me that he had flown the boys in for some riding and racing(Dave's a pilot).
The group came around for the next lap. Jonny had been brought back, but there was Max-off the front, countering his friend's move. He was in the drops, out of the saddle, and as he came by he looked under his arm to check his gap and maybe catch a glimpse of all the old guys he was hurting. It was flawless-he looked like a thirty year old Euro pro. Except he was smiling.
I moved back to Nashville a few years later, andI heard that Max wasn't riding anymore. I heard that he had, like a lot of kids do, gotten to the point where the riding started to seem like work. The fun was gone. I assumed that he had probably also found a girlfriend and gotten distracted by the usual things that happen to teenage boys. I was bummed for him but not totally surprised-I've see something similar happen to a lot of Junior racers. I took comfort in the idea that the bike would always be there, and that Max would probably find his way back to it later in life, maybe after college.
He never did. I found out later that after Max stopped riding and racing he found drugs and alcohol in a serious way. It doesn't seem possible for it to have escalated so quickly, but Max lost his life to an overdose in December of 2015. When I heard, I was desperately sad. I was terrified that a life could change course so violently and so quickly. And...I worried that our community had somehow failed him. He was one of our own. He is one our own.
So, to remember Max, we decided to name our little race after him. The Sevier Park Crit will now be called the Max Gander Memorial, presented by Sevier Park Fest. We know it's not much, but we thought that it would be an appropriate way to remember a kid that, at his core, was a true bike racer.
Our race is on May 7th this year. I know it will be a busy time; race days always are. But during the course of the chaotic day, I'll be thinking of that fearless kid attacking the old men in the Texas sun.
This weekend was the first big weekend of racing here in Tennessee. Saturday Was the Hell of the South road race in Lewisburg, and Sunday was the Cedar Hill crit up in Madison. These races are great races by themselves, but having them together and early in spring makes them even more of an event for everyone that has been training hard all winter and feeling the itch to race. All week people have been coming into the shop to talk about the course, who's racing, who's coming from out of town, and what the conditions might be like.
I had to be in the shop Saturday and so couldn't race. It's no fun knowing that all of your friends are out racing, and that you could maybe help out a bit if you were there, but I loved checking my phone all day and getting reports about what happened. Several guys on the 4/5 team were doing their first road race(they picked a hard one to start on), so hearing their stories was a blast and brought back a lot of memories. The masters racewas big(80 or so)and stacked-lots of fast guys showed up to race, including a big group from Texas Roadhouse, which has been a regional masters racing powerhouse for as long as I can remember. My teammate Jason Tatum did well, making the final selection and coming in 5th after locking up with cramps in the final sprint.
The crit on Sunday would be the same story-bigger and stronger fields than we typically see in our local racing scene. I was planning on doing the masters race and then lining up for the 1/2/3 race later in the day to get some extra race laps in(assuming I could hang on). I hoped that having legs that were a bit fresher would help out, since on paper we were outgunned. Roadhouse had six strong guys and always race well together. Our team had five, but two were coming back from injury and would likely be just trying to finish. That left Tatum, Alistair and me. Luckily, the three of us usually race well together.
I made a dumb mistake and got the start time wrong, so I rolled up to the park with almost no time to get numbers, get pinned and warm up before the masters race. I was pretty unhappy with myself-and with the conditions, which were pretty awful-48 degrees and rain, which makes for a miserable, dangerous day. Luckily, I saw Alistair talking to Tatum before the race. Usually, it's Alistair's job to hold Tatum back early in he race, saving a bit of energy for when it matters. I was glad, since I'd need the first few laps to get going after only having a five minute warm-up. I lined up at the back, at least happy that I'd be able to ride around in the bunch while my legs warmed up.
The whistle blew and we rolled out, and as we approached the first corner I was far enough back that I could see the front of the group as it exited the other side. What I saw was Alistair, in the drops, out of the saddle, attacking.
Oh. Maybe that pre-race chat hadn't been what I thought it was. There wasn't much I could do about it, so I rolled up to the front to be ready for whatever happened next. Alistair got reeled in pretty quickly, and Tatum immediately attacked. I hoped he'd at least draw out a few guys and stay away for a while, since it would be my turn to go next, and my legs were basically still in the car. Tatum stayed away for a lap or so, but he's on a pretty short leash these days after a great season last year. After he got pulled back I thought, "well, maybe I can just hang out here for a minute and act like I don't know what's going on. It's still early, after all...". But there was a brief lull-the perfect time to go-so I went.
I went a bit too hard. I've written before about closed energy equations, and attacking in a bike race is a great example of one. The more energy you expend getting away, the less energy you have at your disposal to use to stay away. So, after I got clear of the group, I was having some trouble. I remember thinking, "This is dumb. I could be at home on the couch right now". But I figured I'd stay out there a bit, hopefully make Roadhouse chase, get caught, and maybe do better next time around.
After about a minute, I looked back and saw that that wasn't happening. The group had sat up, and there was one rider trying to get across to me. I figured I'd at least make a go of it, so I put my head down and tried to find some rhythm. After about a lap, I saw that the other rider was getting closer, so I eased up a bit to let him get on. That situation is interesting-on one hand, it's a bit demoralizing; I always think, "I'm up here murdering myself, and this guy is gaining ground. What am I doing wrong? What did he eat for breakfast?". On the other hand, it's always nice to have help. In this case, I was very much focused on being glad for the help.
Once we got together, I started to feel much better and we rolled for a couple of laps. I looked back and saw two riders coming across-Neil Fronheiser from Treehouse and Curtis Tolson from Roadhouse. Good news-those two both had strong teammates in the bunch, and now none of them would be chasing. Once Neil and Curtis got up to use, we got organized pretty quickly and our gap grew. Eventually, I looked back and couldn't see the bunch. I was feeling good at this point, and I thought we might have a shot at making this move stick. I started to think about what I needed to do to beat Curtis and Neil, both of whom are much better sprinters than me.
The next lap, I was shocked to see Tatum come flying by with Brad Spears on his wheel. Brad had taken a monster turn, dragging the field up to us at what must have been close to 30 mph. The minute they made contact with our little group, Tatum attacked. It was almost the perfect move-Brad 's pull had worn everyone out-including Brad, so no one else was in a position to go with Tatum.
Almost, since we were in a spot in the race where we were close to the end, but not close enough where one guy was likely to be able to hold off the whole group. Tatum is our best(only) sprinter, and if he got caught close to the end, he'd be worn out and we'd be out of options. But his attack earned him a big gap-17 seconds almost immediately. We didn't have any choice but to try to shut down the group and hope for the best.
As we went through the start/finish a few laps later, I was shocked again-the officials were holding up the "two to go" sign. Two laps to go. I had assumed we had at least five to go; Tatum might have a shot.
Unfortunately, Roadhouse also saw that the race was going to be shorter than expected, and they got organized. They put five guys on the front, trying to pull it back for their sprinter, Richard Keller. Keller is super fast, especially on this course, so if it came back together, he'd be a lock for the win. Five chasing one. Not great odds.
They were taking time out of Tatum in chunks-the gap fell below ten seconds. I sat behind their train; there was nothing I could do but wait. They'd either bring him back or they wouldn't. If they did, we'd be screwed.
I had forgotten about Brad Spears. He attacked violently enough to get off the front and stay in the gap. I still didn't know if Tatum would have enough room so I just stayed tucked in. I was worried that the ramp-up for the sprint would be fast enough to bring Tatum and Brad back...but as we rounded the bend to enter the finishing straight, I could see that Tatum had done it-he'd held them off. It was a titanic effort, and it paid off in the best possible way-he won by himself, with no one else in the photo.
I absolutely botched the bunch sprint, but I absolutely didn't care. I couldn't wait to congratulate my friend.
Want to see a dicey last lap? Check this out from San Rafael Twilight 2013!
Spring is here.
It's obvious everywhere you turn in Nashville-there is much more green anywhere you look, the sun is shining, people are dressed differently and they're eager to get outside. If you walk down the street in our neighborhood, you'll see that people are just happy to get out.
Here in the shop, that means we're a bit busier, and we get to catch up with friends that we may have not seen since fall. The folks that come in usually fit into one of two categories. The first category is people that are looking to get outside more now that the weather is turning fantastic. Many of them have been looking forward to doing a triathlon this year, or riding a century, or just riding. They want to talk about getting started. It's fun to talk to those folks; their enthusiasm is contagious.
The second group is full of people that have been working their butts off all winter. They have goals in mind and they've been working towards them, in many instances since fall. They're a little more lean and muscular every time we see them. They've got an ironman coming up, or they're going to elite nationals in Kentucky in June, or maybe they just want to hit the spring races hard. We've seen a bit more of these folks over the winter. They come in because their bikes need maintenance after long trainer sessions, or because they want to talk bikes or training or because they just want to get out of the house and be around people. This group has a slightly different energy-they're getting excited because they've done a lot of work and the payoff is close. It's kind of like school, except in this case after all the hard work the exam is a bit more of a reward than anything else.
This weekend was the apex of the spring feel. Tons of new faces wandering in thinking about bikes for the first time. Racers coming in after having been down to Lewisburg to do a recon ride for the upcoming Hell of the South road race, or up to Madison to check out the Cedar Hill crit course. They want to talk about what might happen on race day-how they should prepare, what they should expect. Saturday morning we rode with a Canadian pro, fresh from two months in Tucson, here to race next weekend(that was painful). During the day, our friends Danielle, Jonathan and Rusty brought bikes in for a final check before their upcoming race in Texas-the first big race in a big year(Danielle is going to Kona this year).
Sunday I rode with some guys from the shop team, and afterwards I rolled around by myself for a while-it was one of those days where I just didn't feel like getting off the bike. So I just cruised around town for a bit, hoping my sunscreen was holding up.
I saw four or five big groups of runners out in the neighborhood. Our shop is on the Country Music Marathon route, and as the race approaches, we see more and more runners out running parts of the course. Yesterday was different, though. Eight weeks ago, when it was still cold and gray, I'd see those runners out clocking miles, bundled up, taking comfort and motivation from the group. They were out getting it done, but none of them would usually look particularly happy.
Sunday was a different story. Everybody had bare arms, legs and heads-and everybody was smiling. They were laughing and telling jokes-I could hear them a block away. They're close to the end of the journey; the end is in sight, and they're happy to be close.
Spring is here.
Regardless of where you are on your journey-nearing the end or just getting started-we're happy to see you and we're excited for you. To all of our friends racing over the next few weeks in Lewisburg, Madison, Murfreesboro and Galveston: good luck and good legs. We can't wait to hear how it goes.
WARNING: If you're not a pro bike racing fanatic/geek, you will most likely be bored by this post. You might be bored even if you are a fanatic, but at least you'll understand the subject matter.
Eleven years ago a chapter was closing in professional bike racing.
For the preceding twelve years, the one day classics-especially the cobbled classics in Belgium and northern France, had been dominated by two men-Johan Museew and Peter Van Petegem. Johan Museew was the more prolific winner of the two. A sprinter in his early years, he had come to understand, with the help of an adroit manager, that his talents would be best served in pursuit of glory on the hard roads of his native Belgium. He had at his service the riders of the legendary Mapei team, one of cycling's true dynasties. On his day he was close to unbeatable-he won Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders three times apiece.
His foil was Peter Van Petegem. Not as dominant physically as Museew, Van Petegem had the gift of focus in the extreme. He had the ability to be at his absolute best when it mattered most: the seven days in spring that Belgians call Holy Week-the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. Similarly, he had the ability to almost magically appear at the front of the bunch at the moments when it mattered most-he'd be seen at the back of the peleton, in the cars, 10 K's before a crucial moment in the race-a seemingly massive mistake. Then, as the bunch gathered speed for the bottom of a berg or a turn into the wind, Van Petegem would appear in third or fourth wheel, ready for the crux.
By the mid-2000's these two great riders were long in the tooth. Museew rode his final Roubaix in 2004 and retired that year. Van Petegem, five years younger, had more time left in his legs, but it was understood that he was in the winter of his career. Approaching the 2005 Tour of Flanders, it seemed like that year might represent the last chance for the man that understood the northern classics better than anyone to make one last mark.
No one knew who might possibly replace these two giants, but there were hints at the 2004 Tour. A 24 year old Swiss named Fabian Cancellara had run riot in the opening prologue and worn the yellow jersey for several days. Another 24 year old, a Belgian named Tom Boonen, had won two sprint stages, most notably on the Tour's final day in Paris. These two young men showed obvious promise, but the prevailing wisdom was that success in the cobbled classics wasn't for young men; the races over the cobbles were so long and physically and mentally challenging that a mature, experienced racer was at a distinct advantage.
The 2005 edition of Flanders played out, initially, according to plan. On the old course(it was changed in 2011), the real selection was typically made on the Muur of Geraardsbergen-the final climb of the race. 2005 was no exception-six men made it over in the front group: Van Petegem, Boonen, Erik Zabel, Andreas Klier, Roberto Petito, and Alessandro Ballan. Zabel, having won the Tour's green jersey six times, was a feared sprinter and an obvious threat to win on the long straight drag to the finish, especially since he had a teammate, Klier, in the group with him. Ballan, having been in an earlier breakaway, was a spent force. Petito seemed out of his depth.
So it seemed that the real race would come down to three men-Van Petegem, Zabel, and Boonen. It seemed like there could be a storybook last victory for Van Petegem. Watching the race, I assumed that Van Petegem's problem would be getting rid of Zabel before the finish. I was proved wrong nine kilometers from the finish, and that was the moment when one chapter closed and another began in earnest.
Boonen was on the front of the group, and Van Petegem attacked. That Van Petegem would choose to attack Boonen and not Zabel showed that Van Petegem understood the real threat, and possibly that Van Petegem had seen the future. He knew that Boonen, not Zabel, was the rider that was the most dangerous. In that moment, Van Petegem showed one last time that he understood these races as well as anyone.
Boonen's response to that attack showed why Van Petegem was right to worry. As Van Petegem flew by to Boonen's left, Boonen seemingly effortlessly grabbed the wheel...and then countered, dropping not only Van Petegem but also the other riders in the group. It was an astonishing effort coming after 240 kilometers of racing. Boonen-who, in retrospect, would have likely won the sprint from the small group, simply looked back once, put his head down, and powered to the finish, winning alone.
That was it. That was the moment. The torch had been passed. Van Petegem would never again contend for the podium at a one day classic-in fact, the next year he'd sign as a lieutenant for Boonen. He had seen the future and resigned himself to it.
The rest, is well, history. Boonen would go on to win not only Roubaix but the World Championships in 2005. It seemed that he would be every bit as dominant as Museew, if not more. It wasn't a stretch to imagine a record five wins in Roubaix and more green jerseys.
But the next year Fabian Cancellara would win in Roubaix. His talent, slower to emerge, shone bright as Boonen was having mid-career difficulties with drugs and injuries. Regardless, the two would dominate the classics for the next ten years in a way that has never been seen, not even by Museew and Van Petegem. Every year since 2005, the conversations surrounding the important one day races have involved the two of them-either their current fitness, or their absence. They have been called once in a generation talents that happened to some along in the same generation. Between them they've won 14 monuments and multiple World Championships. They have defined their era.
Now, going into the 2016 Tour of Flanders, Boonen and Cancellara are the ones that are long in the tooth-they're now both 35. Cancellara will retire at the end of this year; Boonen is undecided. As we approach the end of their time in the sun, it's hard to imagine that he next chapter will be as thrilling as the last.
Then again, I'd probably have said that eleven years ago.