Category Archives: race report

Las Campanas NM State Championship: I am a Practicing Bicyclist

“We are all learners.  One can improve their bicycling skills.”  –a Transportation Professional

top of crest 2015.6.13

The Las Campanas Classic is coming up this Sunday.  It is being held in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Check it out, register yourself, your sons and daughters, or just come out to be a part of the community and absorb healthy bicycling fun.  I raced this last year and the setting and course are spectacular.  Las Campanas Classic

Also the Race Across American (RAAM) is happening now.  The record for bicycling across America is about 8 days.  That includes sleeping.  The bicycle is indeed a powerful vehicle for moving and connecting people together across this great county.  RAAM

Some day I’d like to ride across America, but I might take my sweet time.  In the meantime I will keep riding locally everyday and learning as I go.  I always discover something new.  Be cautious, prepared, and careful, and remember every time we set out on a journey to open our imaginations to experience the adventure.  Here are resources to empower people cycling.  Enjoy the ride.  Thank you bicyclists, teachers and transportation professionals.

“Ride Big.  Riding big makes you visible and encourages motorists to give generous passing clearance.”
http://cyclingsavvy.org/ten-tips-for-successful-cycling/

“Yield before moving laterally or turning.”
http://www.bikewalknc.org/2014/05/basics-of-bicycle-driving/

When riding in groups, “ride further from the right edge (18 to 24 inches) than when solo.”
http://www.cascade.org/ride-smart-paceline-tips

Crest Road Race Report

“If you haven’t ventured over to NM for one of their road races, I highly recommend it.”
Joey Iuliano, an Urban Planning student, on Facebook.  Joey came from Tucson for this race–the only road race in the Southwest with a summit finish–and brought three friends.  Joey was in the breakaway all day.  Way to represent UofA Cycling!  Please come back again Joey.
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This was my third Sandia Crest Road Race.  We had great conditions this year.  The forest is moist from all the Spring rain and snow so we didn’t have to worry about forest closures or severe fire danger.  We just had to worry about the winds pushing against us and our bicycles.

Crest Road sinuos

I got up early at 5am and had four eggs and red quinoa.  The race course is about 57 miles and takes about three hours so you need a good base of fuel stashed away for endurance.  I had four hours to digest breakfast before the race start at 9am.  Maybe I ate a little too much because I was feeling lethargic all the way up to the point where the race went fast.

long and winding road

I didn’t have any teammates in the race so it wasn’t going to be easy executing strategy.  The race ends on the 12 mile climb up the Sandia Crest so you know you absolutely must conserve energy for that.  After the race start near Central and Tramway in ABQ the first series of attacks went about three miles into Tijeras Canyon.  A couple riders chased and then everyone started to follow.  When the regrouping occurred a few riders put in a new series of accelerations and I decided to carry my momentum forward and link up to them.  As we crested the rolling hill just before the I-40 underpass at mile 4 we had a gap and decided to work with it.  There were four of us in the break.  It is a risk going in a small group like this because you are going to have to do more work comparatively to the larger peloton where the draft is greater and there are more riders to share the load pulling at the front.  The advantages of the break include a steadier pace and a more cooperative spirit, plus the feeling of freedom you get being off the front in a small unit.  It was an interesting dynamic because all the breakaway riders except me had teammates back in the peloton, so their personal chances for success were hedged by the reserves behind them.   So maybe they were a little less motivated to work than me.   But I’ve got to say everyone did their fair share of pulling and did a professional job of balancing the shared work with their roles on their respective teams.  This made the break quite cordial, with no wasted energy.

Crest flowers two

We had about a minute or two gap at the most and carried that over Heartbreak Hill.  But on the way through Cedar Grove the gap started to come quickly down and I realized we would be caught.  Well, I thought, this is probably what everyone had planned, to get me out there working and tire me out some.  I was OK with my choice because metering the throttle out front is a much more active way of racing than minding myself in a large peloton that is not motivated to chase down a breakaway (if I wasn’t in the breakaway there is no guarantee that anyone in the peloton would be motivated to chase it, lest they basically assist me by bringing the whole group me included back up to the race front).  Still, getting caught is a tough mental struggle.  The legs felt tired and I was reminded how psychological racing can be.  The opposite was true earlier, when I was excited to be off the front and the legs felt stronger than they actually were.  Our breakaway was caught somewhere on Frost Road.  Thankfully the main pack had splintered in the chase so not everyone was there.  But those that were threw down some mean accelerations.  I had to react to each one relying on instinct to time it.  You want to close the gaps in a quick fashion so you’re not sitting in the wind too long, but the snappiness of the moves strained my already tired leg muscles.  I’ve got to hand it to the New Mexico peloton.  They made this race very interesting and super challenging.  I was just hanging on by the time we reached the base of the Sandia Crest climb.

Crestalicious

When we hit the slopes of the mountain I felt steadily better with the rhythm of the tempo and the cramps that I had started feeling settled down.  As we climbed higher I felt better.  On the climb riders and teams impressed.  The Zia and Nero teams won over our admiration for their depth, sacrifice and shear strength.  Cooper Shanks from Alamosa, Colorado put in some nice pulls.  Chris Brennan, an old school racer from Telluride, Colorado put in quality work.  And most notably young Greg Albright from Carlsbad, New Mexico performed courageously on the entire climb.  Greg is at the USA Cycling talent ID camp in Flagstaff the next few weeks so let’s wish him luck!  I would vote for him as the most exciting young rider I’ve been privileged to ride with since Ryan Geiger, who is one of the best mountain bikers in the Southwest and based in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I’m reminded of what an honor it is to simply participate.  The whole race was one continual stream of a beautiful and very challenging bicycle ride.  The determination it requires to stay focused in race mode for three hours rewards you with a satisfying feeling of accomplishment.  It is this process of pursuing excellence in the sport–the great balancing act of cooperation and competition played out in the landscape of mountains, long roads, and fatiguing winds–that brings out the best in us.  What we learn from it and how we apply it is the key moving forward.  I simply want to keep being a part and share the joy of cycling.  Thank you everyone for giving me the chance to race and focusing on safe and honorable riding.  Racing is part of the good life.

A big thanks to my partners at Caruso Cycle Works for keeping me rolling with precision, confidence and simplicity, and to the family at High Desert Yoga for the last minute boost.  Thank you to Earl and Robin for the peaches.  Thank you James and colleagues at the Trek Superstore for all your help since I’ve moved to Albuquerque last October.  And a deep bow of respect and silent thank you for the race promoter who works consistently hard year after year and to the welcoming and dedicated bicycling community that imbues New Mexico Cycling with the spirit of family.  Let’s keep encouraging more cycling, New Mexico.  Thank You!  –Mark

Crest and a Coke

Sandia Crest Road Race: Southern Rockies Racing at its Finest

“Albuquerque’s got a lot of history…a lot of great races.  Road and Mountain Bike.”
–Ned Overend, 1st mountain biking world champion in 1990, and still racing (and winning!)

One of the best races in the West is this Sunday, the Sandia Crest Road Race.  It’s starts in Albuquerque and finishes at over 10,000 feet in elevation at the crest of the Sandia Mountains.  Beginning racing licenses are available, so anyone can do it providing you have the fitness and preparation.  This course is one of the best in America, and on par with excellent venues such as the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic from Durango to Silverton, Colorado.

Register for the Sandia Crest event here

The Sandia Crest road is a National Scenic Biway

The Sandia Crest road is a National Scenic Byway.  There is an Aerial Tram to the top for an easier ride

This is a difficult ride.  So why would people do it?  I think road racing and especially events with big hill climbs are a metaphor for life.  Nothing worth doing is easy.  The rewards match the challenge.  You’ll get to a point on the Crest climb where you are not sure that you are up to the task.  Seeing that through is a test of faith and self reliance.  It’s amazing what resources you can find to overcome, or how much one little thing like a sip of water, a break in the gradient, a deep breath or someone calling your name can do to restore your rhythm.  The sense of accomplishment at the finish can be a big release.  I get a heightened sense of appreciating simple things like water, food, and rest.  The intensity that a race brings to the Crest climb can make a relatively short moment–about an hour of climbing for the quickest–expand into a longer journey, one that can help bring life into focus.  Sharing the challenge with a supportive community is extraordinary, and the energy from so many valiant people spreads inspiration.
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Highlights of the 2013 Sandia Crest Road Race courtesy of Chad Patterson, Proview Networks:
Heartbreak Hill  Good footage here of the riders struggling up one of N. Mexico’s steepest hills
Kip Taylor, winner, being interviewed post race.  “You start getting those doubts in your head…you can’t push that away…work with it…Just believe in yourself”.
Ned Overend, cycling great, interviewed post race.  “It feels good to finish third out here.”
“I was in trouble when there were still five guys in the group.  Fortunately for me there were some other guys that were in worse trouble than me.”  –Ned Overend
The whole race.   There’s some footage of me on the Crest climb around the 2:05-2:15  mark.  The race, like life, is very humbling.

Adoption Exchange: Day Two at the Races

Three races in two days.  That’ll make your legs tired.  These images and more are available at Sansai Studio.  Mai from Sansai has road race and time trial photos available now and says the criterium photos are forthcoming, pending on getting her regular job and the taxes done.

The Men's Cat 1, 2, 3 criterium winner unleashed a wickedly fast sprint

The Men’s Cat 1, 2, 3 criterium winner unleashed a wickedly fast sprint

 

The criterium venue at Balloon Fiesta Park provided close up views for spectators

The criterium venue at Balloon Fiesta Park provided close up views for spectators

We are athletes.  Being active helps us learn.  I viewed this weekend’s event as a training race to get into the swing of things again.  It built up my motivation and gave me a sense of how strong the racing is in the Southwest US.  The event showcased fit and healthy athletes and brings bicycling to the broader public.  People race to reach for pinnacle experiences, to execute teamwork (road cycling is a team based sport), to build community, and to have fun enjoying the bounty of all the hard work that goes into practicing bicycling.

2015.4.13 Adoption Exchange Crit 2

Since we live in Albuquerque it was a special treat to race from home.  There was a little driving involved to each venue, and I got a little bummed out spending Sunday morning on the freeway heading over to the West Side, and Sunday afternoon on the freeway again heading over to the north side.  When you’re driving on the freeway major landmarks like the Rio Grande are a quick blip on a high speed journey, or you may not even notice the river at all.  But when I climbed out of the car and onto my bicycle I felt grounded again knowing exactly where I was.  The driving was not too bad considering races such as Valley of the Sun in Phoenix, which requires 50 or 60 miles of serpentine freeways between stages.  I’m spoiled because in my regular life I don’t have to drive a car.  I can use my bicycle and transit for everything, as Albuquerque is a city especially scalable by bicycle, and my favorite place to drive my bike in.

Matt from Caruso Cycle Works is training for the Masters National Championships Time Trial

Matt from Caruso Cycle Works is training for the Masters National Championships Time Trial

Thanks to Sports Systems Mountain Top Cycling on Montgomery and Louisiana for a wonderful weekend of racing.  Please remember to support the beneficiary of this race, the Adoption Exchange, by helping them find waiting children safe, loving, and permanent homes.  I’ll see you next time at the races, or perhaps we’ll meet before then somewhere out on the road or trails.

Adoption Exchange: A Day at the Races

Today I raced the Adoption Exchange.  It was my first bicycle race since finishing the Everest Challenge last September.  The Adoption Exchange consists of three events over the weekend, a road race, time trial and a criterium.  The road race was Saturday over a 75 miles course including the Turquoise Trail, Heartbreak Hill, Frost Road, and Gutierrez Canyon on the other side of the Sandia mountains from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Sunday we have a 20 kilometer time trial in the morning, and a one hour criterium at Balloon Fiesta Park in the afternoon.  The race information is here.  This weekend’s events help raise support for the Adoption Exchange, an organization “dedicated to helping waiting children in New Mexico find safe, loving, and permanent homes.”

2015.4.11 Adoption 1

My heart beat harder than it has all year as we cruised challenging terrain including two trips up the ridiculously steep Heartbreak Hill.  The course wound through a sinewy gem called Gutierrez Canyon.  We passed touring cyclists on the highway 14 heading towards Santa Fe.  Even after you crested a hill the Spring winds made it hard pretty much all the time.  In spite of their efforts some people managed to pedal smoothly and keep looking cool.

2015.4.11 adoption 2

I love a challenge and enjoy competing.  Being with the racers brings out something new every time.  I am alive and present.  It is inspiring to see what people can do when they push themselves on their bicycles.  Bicycling expands the human spirit.

2015.4.11 adoption 3

2015.4.11 adoption 4

There are racers from Nevada, Colorado, Mexico, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico.  There are women racers, men racers, masters, elites, up and coming stars, semi-pros, juniors, collegians.  Everyone is working to fulfill their potential.  It is amazing to witness the passion and commitment people express for their health and wellness through bicycling while also being champions at home, in their communities, and at their professions and studies.  Bicycling functions as an amplifying factor giving you more positive energy for everything else in your life.  I love racing for the camaraderie, the energy, and the commitment and dedication that people exhibit.  We need more bicycling here, everywhere, all around the globe.

2015.4.11 adoption 5

2015.4.11 adoption 7

Thanks to Sansai Studios for sharing these copyrighted photos.  A gallery of race photos will be available for purchase through Sansai Studio’s website sansaistudio.com . These pictures give a great view into the diverse audience this event attracts set in the stunning landscape of the Turquoise Trail in the scintillating high desert light.  If you are in Albuquerque Sunday April 12 and want to see good racing, the time trial goes off between 7:30-11 tomorrow on the I-40 frontage road heading west from Atrisco Vista Blvd.  The time trial discipline is called the “race of truth” because each rider goes alone and the rider with the quickest time wins.  It is just you, your bike, and the power you produce pushing against aerodynamic limits.  Then in the afternoon at Balloon Fiesta Park the criteriums will be in full swing until 4:30pm.  The “crit” is a short loop course, usually in urban terrain, that provides intense action as riders zoom around the course going after lap prizes and playing tactics trying to win the crit.  But another layer of complexity is added by the quest to earn points to place well in the overall scoring for the full weekend.  Races within races.  Hope to see you at the time trial and criterium tomorrow.  Thank you Sports Systems Mountain Top Cycling for putting on this exceptional event for a most important cause.

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References/Links:
Adoption Exchange, New Mexico website
http://www.adoptex.org/site/PageServer?pagename=locations_nm_news

Adoption Exchange race information:
http://www.newmexicosportsonline.com/Cycling/The-Adoption-Exchange-Classic-2015/10415

Sansai Studios Photography
http://sansai.photoshelter.com/

New Mexico bicycling event calendar:
http://www.nmbra.org/event_calendar

The Racing Dimension of a Bike Life

Racing exercises our discipline and challenges us to get the most from our bicycling potential.  I bicycled for years as part of my everyday lifestyle before I even considered racing.  But once I raced I was hooked on the intensity, camaraderie, and pinpoint concentration.  What can you do if you channel your drive?  Diving in for that challenge makes every other part of bicycling sweeter.  Goodnatured competition can send positive ripples through one’s life.  Here are a few racing experiences that stand out in my memory and keep me coming back and learning more.

bike empowered

Las Campanas Classic, New Mexico State Road Race Championships, 2015  This race took place on the outskirts of Santa Fe on a fun circuit course.  I didn’t have any expectations.  I didn’t have teammates to help me, I felt tired, was racing on my mechanic’s spare wheel (tight budget), and got a flat during the race.  However I just hung in there.  You can’t win if you quit.  I did the race the previous year and learned a little about the course.  In 2015 I was still hanging around near the finish and I timed the effort to make it work.  Sweet surprise.  Full report here.

Crest race 2015

Sandia Crest Road Race 2015  I’ve been coming to New Mexico for years to participate in the Sandia Crest road race.  Never won it but got to see some great bicyclists, Drew Miller, Geoff Kabush, Ned Overend, Kip Taylor, Fortunato Ferrara, Damian Calvert.  This year I pedaled from home that morning and just thought about relaxing and waiting for the final climb to see how it would sort out.  But instead I found myself in a four man breakaway from nearly the start and I ended up winning the King of the Mountain over Heartbreak Hill and then hanging on to grind it out to come in first across the line at the top of the Crest.  I think this is one of the most beautiful races around and I never expected to be in a position to go for it.  I’m grateful.

2014-State-Road-Race-Connected-Team

Arizona State Road Race Championships 2014 This was my first race of the 2014 season and I’m so glad I made it!  Sometimes the highlight of a race is having a first row seat looking at an exceptional performance.  It is gratifying when the exceptional performer is on the same team as you.  Paul Thomas had an amazing day and took the whole thing while trying to set up his teammates for the win.  That’s Paul second from left in the photo above.  I’ll never forget the effort I saw that day, and the gratitude I felt for being part of the teamwork.  Go Landis, go Paul!

Mt. Graham 2013

Mt. Graham 2013 This was a pretty sweet win.  It is my favorite kind of race and the Landis-Trek team gave a blistering leadout at the base of the climb.  They overpowered the field.  Great teamwork makes a win a community outcome.  This was shared with so many special people.  Mai and I also made it a relaxing trip and took time for the hot springs and went to the fair in the nearby town of Safford the afternoon before the race to take in the local vibes.

AZ State TT 2013

AZ State Time Trial 2013 Mai took this great picture.  I don’t know how she got it because it was on the closing part of the course and I was going all out.  The time trial is one of the hardest disciplines because you have to push yourself relentlessly for about 50-60 minutes without letting up.  It is pure suffering.  But the release you feel afterwards is worth it.  I had to try a long time for this.  I’d been beaten at this race many times.  Persistent hard work pays off.   I’m grateful to Mr. Sam Landis at Landis Cyclery on Warner Rd. in Tempe, AZ for fitting me on this Trek time trial bike.  Sam’s time investment with me early in the season helped me train comfortably on this bike.  I’m grateful for my teammate who lent me his rear disc wheel.  Most of all I’m thankful for the Flagstaff Saturday morning community group ride for making me faster over all those years spent having good, healthy, clean fun out to Mormon Lake and back.

AZ State TTT 2013

AZ State TTT 2013 The Team Time Trial requires discipline.  Four people work together to go as fast as possible over 40 kilometers.  You are going almost all out and you have to coordinate with finesse & precision.  The attenuation and synchronization this takes is supreme bicycling practice.  This year I met Lewis Elliot who guest rode with us.  He’s an amazing athlete and a testament to what cycling for joy and health can do for you over the long haul of life.  We all finished together and went fast and kept safe on a rainy day and brought one home for the entire Landis Team and White Mountain Road Club community (the WMRC sponsors the Landis-Trek domestic elite team).  Once again I had a front row seat to watch these amazing athletes perform.  I’ll always remember Lewis pulling for a long time letting us sit in his draft.  I thought how could he possibly stay on the front so long.  Superhuman but he made it look so easy.  The mark of gifted athleticism, a dedicated team player, and a strong, selfless person.

Snowbowl Hillclimb 2012

Snowbowl Hillclimb 2012 There is nothing like racing from home on a Friday morning.  I took the morning off from my job, rode out to Snowbowl, and raced.  This year I was racing for my local club Flagstaff Cycling.  I had a rough start to the season but finally had some success at the Tour of Gila finishing 8th in the time trial on this road bike with those less than aero Kysrium wheels and I raced smart to win the Tour de Los Alamos in June.  Even though this bike was an entry level offering equipped with Shimano’s third tier 105 group (with Ultegra cranks thanks to Joe Shannon and Single Track Bikes) it went pretty fast up Snowbowl Road that day.  It was satisfying to ride well in the morning and return to my job by lunchtime and serve.  I think one reason is that climb is so special in Flagstaff lore.  For 2016 it’s back on the calendar Sept. 18.

AZ State TTT 2012

Arizona Team Time Trial 2012 This was such a joy to race with this group of good neighbors from Flagstaff.  We ended up second on the day but the team that won had Eric Marcotte, Travis McCabe, and George Cyrus on it.  If you don’t know that is the current national champion, current national racing calendar leader, and 2012 AZ individual time trial champion.  We put together a grass roots team and had so much fun training on waning summer evenings bicycling deep into the pine woods and past the jeweled lakes on Lake Mary Road.  We did a really good job working together.  Ryan was still using junior gearing.  Robert is as solid and humble a rider as I’ve met.  His effort is so quietly fierce, I kinda know how good of an engineer (his profession) he is just by riding with him.  David is so full of enthusiasm it is easy to see why he has been a key member in the NAU cycling team and fabric of the racing community in Arizona.  David kept calling out our progress on the course, so cerebral with the wherewithal to blend mental discipline with physical effort.  It was so fun suffering with these guys that day.  Pure seamless team energy streaming down the road.  I’m humbled to race with these guys not just because the depths of their cycling talents are yet charted, but also because of who they are as people in their families and in their professions and in their communities.  Thanks for a special ride.

Ironhorse 2012

Ironhorse results 2012

Ironhorse Bicycle Road Race 2012 There is nothing like cresting two San Juan Mountain passes at over 10,000 feet elevation and soaring down into Silverton for the race finish at the Ironhorse.  This was a special day because I got in an early breakaway and was leading the race solo near the top of Coal Bank pass.  The race director’s car pulled up next to me and from the window came a voice, someone’s coming.  I looked and a rider was approaching.  I took deep breathes and tried to relax and get ready to latch onto the wheel.  That rider was Lachlan Morton, a professional who has won a climbing stage in the Tour of Utah and is one of the best pure climbers on earth.  I spent a few seconds pedaling with him then watched him go.  He was about two gears faster than me.  I’ve never seen someone sail up a climb like him that day.  Sometimes in racing you get to see the mark of where the top level is at.  Even if it seems unattainable, the incremental steps are more focused with that picture in mind.  This race is so special for the way the community gets behind it.  The way the Animas river rushes down the valley gorge during Spring runoff emanating from those high sculpted peaks with deep white snow patches.  I am looking forward to going back there.  It is an out of this world experience, but totally cool at the end to hang out with everybody else not the least the citizen riders who just accomplished an amazing feat riding their bicycles up and over two mountains.

Bisbee 2006 Team Win

La Vuelta de Bisbee 2006 We won the Master’s Race as the Grand Canyon Racing team my first year road racing in Arizona.  I was a Category 4 (pretty entry level) racer and no one knew who I was.  This was a super race because it had four stages and we had to plan and strategize together how we would approach every situation.  Stage races have complexity and they also bring into play the elements of recovery, nutrition, and overall well being a little more than one day races.  I learned road racing as a team sport in Reno and this race with our capitan Doug Loveday was the best exercise of teamwork I’ve ever experienced.  It was like living the dream and waking up to a happy conclusion.  What a surprise.  I could not have won the whole thing if it wasn’t for the confidence Doug and Rick bestowed and all the effort and sacrifice from everyone of those guys.  Road racing is a team sport and these fellows did the most to teach me that.  I’m still trying to work it off for them and do my part to pedal the good energy forward.  I returned to work on Monday and felt things would never be the same, in a good way.

Everest Challenge, brief race report

The Everest Challenge is a beautiful ride and makes you feel a little bit closer to the essence of life.   I finished for the second year in a row.  Since we met I hope I can do the Everest Challenge every year.  The promoter has some preliminary results and other fun stuff on his facebook page here:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/AntiGravity-Cycling/337992672950024

There are so many good reasons to do this event.  The primary one for me is the setting in the Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierra Nevada in Inyo County California.  It is one of the best places on earth for bicyclists that like to ride up mountain roads.  This year it was snowing in the mountains and sporadically raining in the valley.  The entire valley smelled like wet sagebrush, artemisia tridentata.  A 10,000′ elevation difference sets off the valley from the mountain tops.  The prominent wall of mountains one sees when approaching the Sierra from the eastern side appears to rise straight up.  The sheer rock walls and icy crags folded beneath the jagged peak lines signal to travelers like a hand beckoning up from the earth.  The valley is enormous and graced with sparse vegetation so the form of every mountainside fold leaps out in light and shadow.  One wonders what this different kind of landscape might be good for, so unlike anything else we’ve ever seen.  It is certainly good for bicycling.  It takes a while to adjust to this environment but it grows on you.

Those mountains are so unimaginably high and habitat so different the bike racers standing in the valley really couldn’t know what the weather was like looking up to the top of the climbs.  When we rode up there we found out it was bitterly cold, and sometimes raining and snowing.  I ended up riding solo from the start and got caught on the final climb to the finish about ten miles out.  My leg muscles were battered from the cold descents.  I finished but had failed to send a bag to the top with warm clothing in the race director’s van, so suffered worse than I had all day on the descent back down to the camp at Millpond.  With the storm blowing through the valley all day and all night long it was cold camping the whole night.  I must admit I liked it.

On day two clouds were enveloping the highest peaks still but it was dry enough on the valley floor to start the riding.  Race is on.  Kudos to the director and officials for letting the riders go at it unencumbered by thoughts of cancellations or lowered summit finishes.  I was more patient this day but felt enthusiastic on the second climb of the day on Death Valley Road and jumped away from the group.  I was caught on the descent though and probably squandered any chances of winning a stage by using that magical leg feeling too early in the race.  PT called me and clearly let me know this, that riders in a group have an energy savings advantage, especially on the flats between climbs and on the descents.  I love having knowledgeable genuine friends that will let you know exactly what you need to understand.  Even though I may have went hard too early, on the finish of day two I still had legs left for the final thrashing of 12% above 10,000′ near the groves of ancient bristlecones and put some time into the rider sitting in second place on general classification, but not enough to advance any placing.  But I was pleased to have some legs left on the grades that I had to walk on at times last year, literally limping to the finish.  This year I was riding so hard at the end my glasses fogged up from heat convection and sweating.  Racing in fall storms is strange.  I had to stop and put my wool gloves on but kept my jersey and vest unzipped and I was steaming profusely.  This time I was racing to the end.  That was fun.  Next year I may have to be brighter tactically if I want to succeed.

A big thanks to volunteers, staff and public agencies.  The aid stations and support are miles above the standard I’ve witnessed at any other event.  I got bottles every time I needed them, and always was handed what I wanted, water, or heed (an electrolyte endurance drink made by Hammer Nutrition, good stuff).  When I asked for two gels they handed me three and I always needed them!  During the Everest Challenge you have to eat and drink a lot.  Being fed builds strong admiration, and the EC volunteers I hold in the highest regard, along with the coordination it takes to get them in the right places exactly where the riders needed them at exactly the right time.  Thank you!  And to the promoter, you are the man with the divine races at hand.  Keep up the good work!  To the locals, thanks for sharing your beautiful town and roads.  We spent lots of money eating at your local establishments, filled up our gas and propane tanks, bought supplies, and we tell our friends about the lovely country you call home.  We really appreciate the stewardship you show caring for the mountains and valley for all to enjoy.  We tread as lightly as possible and sing songs of joy at experiencing the lovely mountain roads.  Arigato.

Bisbee in 2006

Music: Michael Manring, The Enormous Room

Bring back La Vuelta de Bisbee!  It is one of the best stage races ever in the unique Southwest borderlands, La Frontera de Americana.  After doing the Flagstaff community group ride  Saturday with some of my old teammates that I raced with at Bisbee and seeing them working together as a team (now team GST), it reminded me of the wonderful gifts teammates can bestow to young riders.  Road bicycling is a team sport but with small fields and local races we don’t always get to practice the team dimension to its fullest potentials.  At Bisbee in 2006 my teammates on Grand Canyon Racing showed me the way to the top of the mountain, specifically Mule Pass in Bisbee where both the prologue and the last stage ended.  That was an incredible journey of discovering something new about racing and myself and my teammates all in a compact weekend sporting adventure.  Cycling is a great sport and it is here to stay.  Viva La Vuelta de Bisbee!  Here’s me in the middle celebrating the team win with my brothers in cycling.  This is a thank you that resonates forever and one I will be paying forward my whole life.  Thank you for showing me the way and investing your spirit.  You guys know how much I love you.

Teachers and Student

Teachers and Student

Las Campanas Circuit Race and Santa Fe Hill Climb

Soundtrack

Julie Elliott Santa Fe Hill Climb Flickr Album

My mom says when you choose right things will sometimes line up behind you and support you.  That’s what happened leading up to last weekend’s racing in Santa Fe.  I was in a slump but my teammate Drew from Flagstaff was up for rallying to go to the races.  My friend Andrew from Santa Fe put our names out to the Bike N Sport community in Santa Fe and they found host lodging for us.  My wife encouraged me to go.  Everyone said it would be fun.  Singletrack Bikes graciously prepped the Trek Madone team bicycle at the last minute.  Everything was working in favor of going to the races!

The first day of racing was the Las Camapanas circuit race about ten miles northwest of Santa Fe.   I got up early Saturday morning and walked from our rooms at the Adobe Star Inn near downtown to the Santa Fe Farmers Market at the Railyard.  The vendors were setting up.  The scene of people and food was a kaleidoscope of colors, a moving collage of edible landscapes and living cultures of New Mexico made fresh in the morning’s translucent mountain air.  The scent of roasting chili and all different kinds of food stuffs and people extending welcoming smiles with morning greetings made me think I wanted to come back again and spend more time here.   After huevos rancheros and an empanada I ambled back to the black mesa room at the Adobe Star and Drew and I rode out to the start together.

Las Campanas with Janvier Hadi of Team Rwanda

Las Campanas with Janvier Hadi of Team Rwanda

Registration was at the golf course maintenance yard.  The sun turned on the heat as it arched skyward.  Someone had a red Porsche 911 parked there.  What a great day for racing!  The course was a 9.25 mile circuit winding through a spacious residential setting in the high pinyon desert with broad views to mountain ranges ringing the area, the Sandias, Ortiz, Jemez, Sangre de Cristos.  The course was fun and smooth with constantly changing scenery.  It was a mostly local field with one visiting rider from Rwanda, Janvier Hadi.  We were doing 5.5 laps for about 50 miles.  It was a spirited race but many riders were probably conserving for the next day’s hill climb.  The terrain had a few biting hills but didn’t have extended grades or windy sections to make selections for the strongest riders.  So the race mostly stayed together and came down to a sprint at the end.  Janvier jumped free of the bunch and made an awesome break for the win!  It was exciting to see.  The day overall was a success for me as I got valuable race miles in and made some efforts that stimulated my system.  Training is good but there is nothing like racing!

After riding back to the Inn Drew decided he was going to preview the next day’s course.  He felt “like a kid in a candy store” with nice weather and new roads to ride and time and energy to enjoy.  The Santa Fe Hill Climb begins at Fort Marcy and winds for 16 miles up the western slope of the Sangre de Cristos changing elevation from 7,000 to 10,300′ ending at the Santa Fe Ski Resort.  Drew ended up with well over a 100 miles of riding Saturday and got to see a climb he had never ridden before even after 20 years in the Southwest.  It made a huge difference for us that the Las Campanas race was the day before so we could justify a trip over from our home in Flagstaff, Arizona for a compact block of racing.

I didn’t believe it when the locals hinted that the strongest New Mexican riders would attack from the start Sunday morning.  But that is exactly what they did and after the immediate whip of 8% grade over the first half mile or so the field was whittled down to a small pack of four hard breathing riders.  Fortunato, who won Mt. Evans this year in dominating style and is climbing at a very high level, set the tempo unrelentingly and with strong confidence in his abilities.  This was definitely the best workout I’ve had all year.  After 8 or 9 miles I eased up and watched Kip and Fortunato ride away.  Kip is also one of the top climbers in the country.  He won Iron Horse last year in Durango against the likes of the best climbers in Colorado and many of the best from across the nation.  New Mexico can be proud to have racers achieving at a very high level at epic races.  Kip and Fortunato would go on to ride across the line together, and Zia Velo rider David V. also put in a great ride.  Every year I go race in New Mexico David gets better and better.  Keep up the good work!

Julie Elliott Flickr 2014

Julie Elliott Flickr 2014

I rode through the Hyde Park “wall” alone at mile 9 behind the two leaders.  I  breathed in the camp fire scents of weekend sojourners to the mountain.  I climbed up higher and higher into the aspen and mixed fir forest.  I kept Fortunato and Kip in sight but after the wall the grades are more relaxed and I figured the race had already been sorted out.  The concentration it takes to keep the pressure on the pedals the whole time up a mountain engaged me completely, and I relished in this focal point of contact with the climb.  There is a super level of heightened awareness going up a mountain at full bore like this when your body is at its max and your animal self is in full flight and the mind is reduced to something primeval before civilized time began and before complex questions arose.  I simply wanted to get up that mountain as fast as I could.  There is something beautiful in the purity of that ride.  The hard truth of human suffering.  As hard as it was, you have to be grateful to get that little extra push and have a glimpse at the next level of riding.  I’m happy for the winners and all the people that put forward their best efforts to make it up the mountain.  To imbibe a hill climb on an August Sunday morning like we did is to find extra motivation and freshness and partake in the renewal of bicycle racing spirit.  Thank you Santa Fe community!

Epilogue: On the way home we say many bicycle riders out for a ride on the frontage road along I-25 north of Bernalillo.  This kind of community Sunday ride activity is heartening to see.  May we all have better and more opportunities to reduce our stress and enjoy good health and experience our landscapes in an intimate and direct way.  Great to be with people racing and enjoying all kinds of lifestyles on the bike in fabulous New Mexico.

Matching the Wind: AZ State Road Race report

Matching the Wind: A View from the Men’s Category 1-2 Arizona State Road Race 2014

That’s what happens when you work for each other.  –Eric Marcotte, after the 2013 AZ State Road Race

Part I: Race Preparation

September 2013 was the last time I felt the pulses of bike racing.   I had been concentrating on work and family but I was missing racing so much I awakened to the idea that the right balance of racing could boost and sharpen my life focus, rather than detract from it.  So I went to Show Low, Arizona for the Arizona State Championship Road Race on June 14, 2014 to race with the Landis-Trek team.

After committing to do the race a week and half before I didn’t have time to refine my fitness.  I took care of all the little things with renewed attention, such as resting properly, eating right, stretching, riding with purpose.  Bicycle racing is not an easy pleasure but adding intent to daily routines deepens enjoyment, and the little things add up to a difference in performance.  Michael, Chris, Paul, and me made up our team this day.  Our plan was to protect Michael and Paul since Michael had finished sixth at Tulsa Tough the week before in a classy professional field, and Paul’s abilities are legendary.

I had the usual bevy of prerace worries—all the driving this would entail, bike prep, time away from work—but I stuck to my plans.  I had a good feeling about the race, but I’ve learned to be wary of those sensations, as confidence is tricky business.  Humility seems to be the best mindset to work from so I deliberately tried not to get too excited.  When I rolled up to Chris’s place to pick him up for the drive to Show Low, he threw in his Natural Grocer’s reusable bag containing his dinner, breakfast, and all the nutrition he’d need for the race.  I brought my food in a Natural Grocer’s bag, too, and we saw we would mesh as travel companions.  Sharing the adventure made for a fun trip.

At packet pick up at Show Low Ford happy volunteers welcomed us.  Registration flowed easily.  The t-shirt given to each registrant is now my new favorite.  All the nice touches!  After registration Chris and I greeted our teammates at the Super 8 and discussed race plans, unanimously deciding the best preparation was to go to sleep.  One of the things I love about racing (and as I get older, feel guiltier about) is that it requires one to pamper oneself, making sure you’re properly fed, in bed at a decent hour, not wasting any energy on insignificant matters.  The concentration created in preparation for seizing the moment on race day is like generating a protective force field.  Every bike racer has the recollection that race day is going to hurt, though we forget just how much.  Check your race journals for details.  You must take good care of yourself.  It is your duty to focus, relax, rest.  And eat a big meal and drink.

Part II: The Race

On race day winds were steady around 30 miles per hour and gusts felt like a tall farmer with the open palms of his big hands was leaning with all his mass against our bikes and bodies.   Men’s Category 1-2 race would travel 81 miles with the last 16 mile stretch from Taylor to Show Low charging straight into the wind.  There were about 30 riders in the field. We rode through Show Low during a neutralized start.  The right turn onto highway 260 signaled the beginning of racing.  I went to the front.  The strong cross wind was coming off the peloton’s left shoulder.  Competitive sensations surged through my body.  It had been so long!  The adrenaline was lying to me telling me I could work harder, but I was on borrowed time quickly after the first couple of pulls.  Michael said Mark, save some for later, clearly seeing my over enthusiasm could lead to a too quick demise.  This suggestion was timed perfectly for me to get my wits about me and remember we had nearly 80 miles remaining, and everyone was saving.  A little later Michael instructed me to start missing every other pull so I would conserve more energy.  Michael passed the tips to check my efforts calmly and kindly even though I was racing like a rookie.

Paul’s legs were working well and he kept stretching out the front of the field.  His efforts and some counter attacks from anxious riders on the rolling terrain led to a gap with a lead group consisting of about twelve riders.  Three Landis-Trek riders were in it, Paul, Michael and me.  The group worked well together growing the gap before Paul and Nate broke away before the first feed zone.  After making the right turn towards Highway 277, the road from Overgaard to Taylor, we passed the feed zone but couldn’t hang onto bottles because winds were gusting at our backs and our speed was well over thirty miles per hour.  Michael and I focused on covering everything in the chase group and letting the other riders whose teams were not represented in the break work on pulling it back.

Paul and Nate stayed away much longer than anyone expected, especially considering the chase was furious.  I was starting to feel tired and thirsty.  I couldn’t imagine what working in the break must have been like for those two riders!  In the chase there were many more riders sharing the load.  Lewis, Kyle and his teammate, Robert, and Adam all were taking hard pulls.  Lewis in particular was racing inspired and his pulls were hard to follow.  I was exhausted from the surging efforts and at the mercy of the wind.  My legs felt bad.  There is no way to simulate race efforts in training and now I was feeling it.  All I could do was hang in.  It helped knowing I was only a role player.  Tapping into the mental connections of being part of a team effort helped me stay focused and endure the hard moments.  Plus Paul’s sacrifice out in front was giving Michael, Chris, and me a relatively free ride.

By the time Paul and Nate were caught just before Taylor the chase group had been obliterated and those remaining were somber.  Salt whitened the cheeks and streaked the race kits of this tattered band or riders.  All outward signs of bravado disappeared.  After we made the right turn onto the home stretch from Taylor we were in our little rings into the wind.  Are they going to call the race off on account of too strong a head wind?  Poor Paul had missed his feed too and needed some water, but I didn’t have any water.  The riders that did have fluids passed them around.  This shared suffering, the compassion that develops between racers, is a beautiful thing.  It is a strong and memorable bond.

For some reason Paul attacked again.  We all watched stunned and unbelieving.  Later he told me he had a nice iced coffee treat before the race that morning at the local McDonalds, and was just feeling it that day.  No one thought Paul was going to be a threat alone out there in the wind for the last 15 miles.  We just watched him ride away.  We had other small attacks in the group but you could tell everyone was flat out tired, and each attack was slowly reabsorbed.   Michael and I discussed how poorly our legs felt.

Then a strange thing happened after Paul had disappeared up the road.  We came upon a Landis-Trek rider on the shoulder nursing leg cramps, and thought naturally Paul was done.  So I figured no matter how badly I felt it was now my job to go and make the other riders chase into the wind, so Michael would be able to draft and attack with a final decisive blow closer to the finish.  Timing in bicycle racing is an interesting thing.  Attacking seems to work best not as a cerebral decision, but a sensual one, kind of tapping your foot to the rhythm of the group, waiting for a lull in the pace when riders are sitting on the back of the saddle. You can feel when it is a good time to go.  Reacting to that open moment, your mind kicks in, making you go even though your body is saying no.

I was listening for a good time and found it.  I was surprised to get a gap but then terrified I wouldn’t be able to make it to the finish 10 miles away.  I found my legs were working better at a steadier rhythm out on my own.  The sense of excitement of breaking free from the pack’s tenacity was accentuated by such a long wait. I’m finally doing something besides hanging on!  I was hurting but determined to carry on until I couldn’t anymore.

The motorcycle referee pulled up next to me and said I was one minute behind another rider.  That didn’t make sense, who could be ahead?  No matter because I was going as hard as I could, pedaling evenly in smooth circles to avoid inciting muscle cramps.  A little ways further and I could make out a Landis-Trek jersey in front of me.  Closer still and Paul turned his head around.  Then I knew the rider cramping on the side of the road earlier had to have been a Landis-Trek cyclist from another race category, because it couldn’t have been Paul.  Paul was right there in front of me.  When soloing off the front, Paul had been told by the motorcycle official that another rider was coming but the official didn’t tell him it was his teammate.  When we made sight of each other we were astonished, and relieved too because we were nearing the finish.  Just before the turn to the finish Paul relinquished his fervent pace and I rode up next to him.  I saw a face of absolution, all the fire expelled, a free spirit pure joy.  Paul insisted I go first but I only could demure.  It was obvious the wind was rewarding his effort today, maybe because he did not insist on his own priority.  Paul uttered heartfelt words that spoke for both of us and then he was riding alone again.  No one could have done anything to stop him on this day.  He waited for me past the finish line and we celebrated.  That was all worth it.

photo 1The Landis-Trek team rode as one and made each individual stronger.  On race day Paul didn’t rail against the ferocious winds but carried a respectful awe, fastening his effort and focusing his energy.  He set out with the goal that no matter what Landis-Trek was going to win that day.  He wouldn’t have known what he was capable of if he hadn’t the courage to charge out there again and again into the headwind, diving into the great unknown.  Paul made the entire organization winners, our manager Brian, the E-Board, sponsors, and the White Mountain Road Club members whose support and volunteerism makes the Landis-Trek domestic elite and regional racing team possible.  A special thanks to Eric P., whose Christmas parties and enthusiasm renew us each year, infusing the club with positive energy and rooting us firmly in the best of classic cycling road racing traditions in the United States and around the world.  Seeing Paul exuberant and sharing his story with the racers around him, we witnessed the energy for this collective victory channeling through him.  There is no way you can be that happy riding alone.  I learned something about the essence of road bike racing on this day. Great efforts everyone.

Race Website: http://www.bikethebluff.com/

Landis-Trek bicycling programs: http://www.wmrc.org/

The Tall Fiddler by Tommy Emmanuel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW9rmaGaaG4