Crazy fast - Crazy hard - Crazy Fun

Friday, January 8, 2010

Truly Amazing Trip

The end to a truly amazing trip. On Monday I spent all day packing up two bike boxes and my one travel bag for my trip back home. With only my computer and charger out for a quick email check in the morning. A quick skype to the family and I was off to bed around 10 all packed and ready to go. I received a 5 am wake up skype from the family to start my day and wish me safe travels. I planned for a 6:30 departure only to have Josef arrive at 530 ready to head to Brussels. We loaded the two bike boxes into the Saab and off we went. It took a little over an hour to get to the airport and it was a pretty relaxing ride.

When I got to the airport I had about two hours before my flight and headed to the American Airlines counter. I stood there for 30 minutes before I realized that my connection from Heathrow was on American and my departure from Brussels was on British Airways. I swiftly adjusted and made it through the British Airways line. After placing my bags on the scale, the agent pointed out that the Wheel Box was 1 kilo heavy and it had to be adjusted. After opening up both the bike and wheel boxes and getting the weights squared away I had to re-tape the Wheel box. I had plenty strapping tape to do the job……what I lacked was some sharp implement to cut the tape…..airports frown on knives and scissors. Having selected the strapping tape because it was so durable and strong, I soon found myself gnawing on the tape as the only sharp implement that I had. You have to love sharp teeth - Sorry Dr. Domingo. After a few minutes of gnawing the woman started to feel bad for me and offered some packing labels to “finish the job”. It was pretty ghetto - but it worked. With only about 45 minutes till my flight left, I rush over to immigration which took about 20 minutes to get through. The HUGH disappointment of the day, I neglected to pack the 4 new/vacuum packed speculoos containers into the required ziplock bags and security insisted that I could not travel home with my new found favorite food. The speculoos hating lady put the 2 kilos of gold right next to the trash - implying its ending location. So SAD. I sprinted to the gate, hopped on the plane with moments to spare and we blasted off. I was on my way home.

During my flight I enjoyed cup of English tea that looked like a cup coffee and had the power of a gallon redbull. I needed that kick. Still jazzed when we landed in Heathrow, I got off the plain and boarded the shuttle bus to get to the American Airline terminal via an underground maze. With an hour and a half to make my way to gate 34 I grab a quick snack and stood in the huge line for security. Because of the problems over the holidays, everyone was going to be search very thoroughly. After a very non-thorough search, I headed to my window seat for the journey across the pond. We left on schedule and I was enjoying a quick cat nap when the pilot announced over the intercom that we were making a emergency landing in Canada. The problem causing the need for the emergency landing???? The bathrooms were broken. We landed in Canada so they could fix the bathroom? We were on the tarmac for about ten minutes and then back in the air. I guess that happens when important people cannot hold it.

We landed around 4:30, I was off the plane around 5 and I headed straight to oversize baggage. I was waiting there for a few minutes when I looked over at the regular baggage belt and saw my bike/wheel boxes jamming up the entire belt and banging into people. It would have been pretty funny if I could have grabbed them without anyone seeing that they were mine. After discretely acquiring my bags I moseyed over to customs. The US Customs guys were gigantic, big huge muscle guys - Like a fridge with a head. The biggest dude saw me, my boxes and just pointed and grunted to the side. Not wanting to get on his bad side I quickly shuffled all of my belongings to the side and waited. When Hercules decided I was just an innocent kid, he pointed and sent me on my way.

Dad was waiting for me at the exit of the Customs & Border Crossing and we headed to the house. On the way home we stop at a chinese restaurant for a little dinner and discussion. It was really nice to have dinner with him and get caught up on all the adventures of my trip. Finally at the house after being up for 25 hours. I visited with the family and then headed to bed for some much needed rest in my bed. It was nice to sleep in my bed, with my dog at the foot of the bed and my family around. I slept like a baby.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How Time Flies

It is hard to believe that 17 days have passed since I arrived in Belgium; the time has flown by so fast. I have learned so much more than I anticipated and covered more subjects than I thought we would. The experience has definitely exceeded my expectations. With all of that, what can I take away from Belgium?

Adaptability is a crucial aspect of racing. Having flights that were delayed, baggage/bikes that didn't arrive with me, wheels that traveled to India and missing the first two races all have the ability to be frustrating. Making the best use of my time, focusing on my goals and enjoying what I could helped pass the time, making the best out of a compromised situation. Even though I did not have my bikes, I found a few solutions by riding the cruiser bikes at the Team house, jogging on the roads and did plenty of stretching. This allowed me to keep my fitness for the upcoming races. I understand the value of adaptability in a race, but this trip has made it perfectly clear how I need to adapt to everything else to improve my racing.

To know the purpose for the day is essential. If the day was meant for rest, then rest it is. If the day was meant for racing, then racing it is. To be focused and single minded is always difficult with so many distractions, especially when the distractions are fun. Geoff said in one of the team meetings, “You are doing a great job of being untied, but you [the group] should make sure that you do what is best for yourself. Even if that means riding inside rather than ride outside. Just make sure that you are doing what is best for you.” It is imperative to focus on the goals in order to achieve them.

How to find success in a less than stellar performance is invaluable. A couple of the races did not go according to the plan, either I had trouble warming up, had no legs or had mechanical issues. While they were not ideal, each one had a lesson to take away to improve the next race. Whether learning how to play full contact cross (politely) or figuring out how to get the best results without the normal power in the engine. There was definitely a lesson in each race.

Enjoying the experience is a tremendous reward. I am not sure which I enjoyed more, being able to chat with Jamie Driscoll and Jeremy Powers or racing at a World Cup in the Team USA skinsuit. Being able to just shoot the breeze with the Cannondale/ boys was pretty cool. Then again, toeing the line in the USA skinsuit was AWESOME. I am almost certain that the skinsuit added at least 50 watts to my start.

The whole experience will not soon be forgotten and I think it is very important that everyone know how well the Team USA Crew takes care of the riders. Everyone did a superb job - Geoff for offering needed advice, Fox for always encouraging us, Els for the delicious food (especially my birthday cake), Brecht for the constantly squaring away my bikes and the other Mechanics and Soigneurs for putting our experience at the top of their TO DO list. I offer a sincere thank you to all of the people, in Belgium and the States, who have made this Camp possible and a tremendous success.

As I leave Belgium, I am more motivated than ever to train smarter, race harder and enjoy the experience as it comes.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A World Cup & A Birthday

It has been a busy week, with Christmas and racing 3 of the last four days. We have been up and out of the team house early each race day to get to the courses which have been 1-1/2 to 2 hrs away. On Saturday we traveled to the Zolder World Cup, Sunday we raced in Diegem, Monday was a rest day and today (Tuesday) we raced in Middelkerke.

Zolder World Cup was an entirely different type of race than I am accustomed to. First of all, I raced in the Team USA Skin suit (a World Cup requirement) which was TOTALLY AWESOME. The race was very aggressive (more than the others) with many riders using it as a full contact sport. The course was pretty rough with several very crazy descents. The course was rough enough that Matt ended up breaking his fork on the course. My warm-up was a bit off, I am not sure if it was the early morning departure of something else, I had a hard time getting warmed up and trouble eating what I needed to. I did my best to put it out of my head and focused on getting a good start. With that, I had an excellent start - good acceleration and pack position.

I didn't run into any problems until around 750 meters into the race and at that point there were several crashes , one in front of me that slowed things up and one beside me that I was tangled up in. Then I started to pay the price for not being able to eat and for my difficulty warming up. I was able to hold my own on the crazy descents, then would lose ground on the flats and power section. I finished the race 46th and while I would have preferred a better position it was a good finished and I fought through the challenges as well as possible. There is a good article of the Zolder World Cup on the Cyclocross Magazine Website with several sweet pictures of the US riders.

Diegem Super Prestige was on Sunday along with my 17th birthday and the race preparation went much better. The course preview went well along with the warm-up and pre-race eating. I felt like everything was spot on, with one exception…….I did not feel like I had any legs. The power was a bit off. So be it. Again I focused on the start and moving up from the back of the starting grid. I just kept pushing on and finished as well as I could. I did manage to break my MAVIC Shoe, which is a bummer - I like those shoes. I am glad I brought my old Adidas shoes. With all of that, I finished about 30 seconds behind Matt Spinks and a minute behind Jeff Bahnson for 45th place.

After racing we returned to the house and continued the normal race routine of getting cleaned up, laundry and eating. After dinner, we celebrated my Birthday with a milk free cake that Els made for me. Actually, it was an apple crisp, it was very thoughtful and well appreciated.

Loenhout GVA Trophee was today and everything was lining up well. My legs felt good, the course preview was time well spent and the warm-up was excellent. The starting position today was better than it has been at the other races to date. Although there was a Belgian rider that tried to line up between me and the fence, I warned him that there was not room, tried to get him to move…..but he insisted on staying. Sure enough on the start, I nailed it with a great acceleration (he did not) only to hear the crunch of metal after about five pedal strokes. He crashed right into the fence and spent precious time untangling his bars.

I managed to pick off a few people as the race went on and was racing well, sitting around 50th just behind Matt. I attacked right after the pit with about a 1/2 of a lap to go and tagged a rock with the front wheel. The rock flatted the tire and it was time to chase. However, after a few hundred yards of running I thought it was best to save the effort for another day. A good race baring one minor mechanical. Then we picked up while the U23 race was underway and scooted back to the Team House after that with another racing day in the books.

Each day I head to bed satisfied that I have squeezed as much as I can. I am having an absolute blast and learning so much along the way. My next race is not until the 1st and that should give me a few days to rest up and get the equipment back up and running.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Holidays in Belgium

Christmas Eve was a pretty low key day with many of the us getting out for a recovery ride. I headed out with Steve, Dave and Jerome for an hour or so on the icy Belgian roads. The off camber roads did a pretty good job of helping us crash along the way as we stopped at intersections. The photo above is of me as the group waited for me to get back up - pretty soft/slow landing. After cleaning up from the riding we grabbed a late lunch and headed into town to tour about and do a little shopping. Plenty of cool shops to check out and enjoy. Then it was back to the house for a team meeting with Fox - aka: Chris De Vos - Head Soigneur. As I understand, De Vos means "The Fox" - so Fox it is.

Jeremy Power and Jamie Driscol with (Elite/Pro Cyclocross Team) both stopped by to talk to us about racing & training. They discussed the value of motor pacing, the upcoming races and answered a bunch of questions. It was VERY cool to be able to chat with both of them. I have watched them race in New England the last few years at the VERGE cross series. The VERGE Elite race is usually one race after mine, so I am able to cool down, get cleaned up and watch them race. It was nice to have them stop by.

Then it was time for a little Christmas Eve dinner. It was a good celebration with appetizers and dinner including turkey, candied pears, peas, rice, cranberry sauce and a Yule Log (lots of milk in that thing - LOG-O-DEATH). Els (House Directress and Head Chef) was kind enough to make me my own chicken (because as anyone knows a turkey is roasted with butter). Actually she said "No TURKEY for you - Butter, You have CHICKEN". Everyone was in good spirits - it was pretty funny. After dinner, I enjoyed a game of scrabble with Danny, Joe and David. Joe had a 52 point word…Wow. Then it was off to The Wall for a late evening snack before calling it a day.

Christmas Day was also pretty relaxing for most of us. I headed out and did an open up ride to get ready for the Zolder World Cup Race on Saturday. I felt good with several solid accelerations. The day was mostly spent relaxing and staying off my feet. I did however spend some time getting the bikes setup for the Saturday. Then off to bed, Saturday was going to be an early day because of the 2 hr drive to get to the race.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

First Race Done

My first European race is in the books. With a 12:30 start time we were able to get a good night's sleep and leave the team house at a reasonable time. At 9:30 this morning, 6 Juniors, 5 Mechanics, 2 Soigneurs and 1 Director headed out in team vehicles. Geoff (Director) educated us regarding the process of registering for a Belgium cross race. A fair amount of pushing to get things done…..similar to say a roller derby match.

After registration, we headed to our bikes and the Mechanics have squared them away and we are ready to roll. SWEET. I went out for 3 preview/recon laps and then headed over to the trainer to get the body tuned up.

The call-ups for staging are based on a bunch of factors, UCI points, national/regional/local standings, etc. - all of which I lacked, as I was the last one to line up. I was the 42nd guy to toe the line. My warm up was spot on as I ended up around 20th after the hole shot, that felt good. The first 4 laps on the snow cover course were solid and I was making forward progress until I had to pit for a mechanical with my bars. The bumpy course spun my bars a bit and there were a few downhill section that would have been a bit over the edge with tweaked bars. The pit bike was much slower (wrong tire choice) and I lost a bit of ground. Fortunately, the mechanics had me back on my primary bike right away and I held my ground for the rest of the race. I finished 29th for the day and will make a few tweaks for the World Cup on Saturday.

If you are interested, you can check the results for the majority of the races we will do using the instructions below.
Go to
- Left scroll down to Uitslagen (results), hold down and scroll right to Weg-Pist-Veld (Road, Track, Field).
- Click on the date bubble of the day you want to check.
- To advance to the next/previous week, click on the right or left little bubble.
- Click on the race name and category.
+ Category B is elite/u23;
+ Category C is junior 13-14 (aspiranten); junior 15, 16 (nieuwelingen); junior 17, 18.
+ Category D is Masters.

After the race we immediately returned to the house to get cleaned up and grab some food. Then I went out to deal with my bikes and didn't need to. The mechanics had them all cleaned up, lubed up and ready to race hanging in the barn. THEY ROCK.

Off to the team meeting, then dinner and a skype with the family.

- A good day.

CrossCamp Day 5 - My wheels are here!

Around noon today my remaining bike box arrived with everything intact. Including, wheels, muck boots, spare shoes, additional clothing and bike tools. Having finished the bike assembly, I now have two bikes and two sets of spare wheels in time for the race tomorrow. That was a welcome package. I was able to get out on the bike for an hour and a half as a race opener with several good jumps or accelerations. The bike felt great and everything was spot on. Not that I did not appreciate the leopard print cruiser….but it felt nice to be back on my bike.

My race on Wednesday will start at 12:30 and I am looking forward to the competition. Race information can be found at the NordzeeCross website. With the stress of no bicycles behind me, I am ready to roll and let the racing start.

Monday, December 21, 2009

CrossCamp Day 4 - Where ARE my wheels??

Having been in Belgium for 3 full days, I am truly having a blast. While I have not raced yet, I have settled in and am getting acquainted with the surroundings. We have made a few trips into town to the local chocolate shops, the bakeries and "The Wall". The Wall is an oversized vending machine that has almost anything that you could want. The items include: martini mix, 6 pack of beer, Coke (2L), milk, eggs, bread pizza, Red Bull, escargot, cards and plenty of other items. Very interesting to say the least.

I have been exploring around the town on a borrowed cruiser bike - I chose the one with no shifting but brakes……the other choice was shifting and no brakes. While I am enjoying the mobility, I would like to have my bikes to race on. I did miss the first race on my schedule (Kalmthout World Cup), however, it was nice to be able to watch the race on TV at the house.

My bikes and wheels have been enjoying the countryside as well. The frame box arrived today (Monday) after a 3 day liberty in London and I was able to put the bikes back together, minus cross wheels. There is an unconfirmed rumor that the wheels wanted to make a short trip to India. It would appear that the wheel box befriended several other boxes on the flight from Boston to London and chose to go on to India with many of the other bags. Although, the official response from the airline is "We have no idea where the luggage is". Seriously - who would not want to go to India?

To pass the time, several of us have been practicing skidding in the snow on the very snowy Belgium roads. Of course, there were several motorist that were stuck in the snow and we hopped off the bikes to help them get on their way. One guy that we helped just gassed it and waved out the window as he drove off. The cars were so small, it was like we just picked them up and sent them on their way.

My next scheduled race is on Wednesday and I should be ready to go - even if I have to borrow wheels. With any luck, the wheels will return before Saturday for the Zolder World Cup Race.