One Lap To Go

Excerpts from the thoughts and experiences of a Michigan road bike racer, with the mission of providing entertainment to the masses during their downtime at work.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Laying Low


Yeah, yeah, I missed the last big grand finale of them all. The state champs race at Waterford. That was actually a course I was looking forward to since I managed some decent placings at the double header there last year. Unfortunately I had a lingering sinus infection that made my head feel like a pressure cooker ready to explode. So, I apologize to all my fans who spent hours waiting in line to get through the gate at Waterford Raceway, in the frigid cold, just to witness old 'one lap to go' in the last race of 06. I didn't mean to leave ya'll hanging. Congrats to all of the winners. In my mind there was no more deserving winner of the overall B's than Andy Brown. Awesome job!

I also have to extend a very heartfelt congratulations to my young teammates, Tony Wieczorek and Taylor Birman. These kids have had one hell of a season. Tony, for his first year of 'cross rode like a seasoned veteran. It seems like he was on the podium for every race. This was a great year for Tony, but I'm even more excited to see how he progresses next year and the years to follow. Taylor is another strong talent on Sunrise that has made leaps and bounds in his progress from year to year. It's guys like Tony and Taylor that will be the successors to some of the other prominent talent riders in Michigan. These guys have the youth and talent to develop into elite level athletes, and it will be exciting to see if they continue on this path to see where it takes them.

I'm off to spend some quality time with the wife and son over the holidays. I've got Aidan on the keys now and we're working on a couple of Christmas compositions that we hope to play for Mom soon. Aidan and I also put up the tree last night, much to Mom's suprise when she came home from work. I think it's going to be a challenge keeping Aidan from knocking the thing down. I can say to him 'no touch the lights, only looking!' until the I'm blue in the face, yet it seems everytime I take my eyes off him he's over there shaking the thing and the bulbs are bobbing all over the place. Ahhh...the joys of raising a 3 year old.

Merry Christmas to all of you and may peace be with you always.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bloomer's In The Bag


As much as I'm looking forward to some downtime from the bike after a looooong season of racing, I am still a little saddened that we're coming up on the last race of the year at Waterford next Sunday. I have really enjoyed this year's 'cross season. The racing has been a blast and I am going to miss it during the long winter months. But I guess some rest and recovery will do the mind and body good. Not to mention I can now focus my energy on working out some new songs in the band my son and I put together (that's him on the skins).

The Bloomer race was awesome. The weather was better than one could have asked for at the end of November. When I pulled up in the parking lot I noticed right away that the course was much different than previous years. After taking a few practice laps in between races, I knew this would be a good course that would allow for some fast speeds over long straight aways. Hills didn't seem to be a major factor, but there were some nasty tree roots and some challenging off camber turns that I was glad I had the chance to go over a few times before the race.

So with just two races to go, and I'm still hanging on to 2nd for the overall B series, my objective was to simply ride a strong race and not finish too far down from the top. I grabbed the holeshot and immediately started setting a fast pace. The adrenalin got the best of me, once again, and I took it just a little too beyond what I think I should have. It was fun, no doubt; getting off the front and hearing the cheers from the crowd was enough to keep me stomping hard on the pedals to keep the pace high. But I knew it was just a matter of time. Before I knew it I was over my limit and the guys started coming around me like I was some homely old cyclotourist out for a Sunday ride.

The big dogs came by first...the Brown's, Budacki's, Klumb's, etc. Ok, I knew they were going to catch me. But the train didn't stop there. There were more guys coming around me in one's and two's and I'm thinking, 'hey, who invited these guys up here?' I about had enough at that point, and told myself I had to settle in and start working out a plan to salvage a decent placing.
Hats off to those guys. I saw some of the faces that came by me and I could see they were hungry. They had a fire brewing in them and it showed. Believe me, I had a fire going, but I exhausted most of my fuel during the first lap and was left with but a few heaps of kindling by that time.

For the remaining laps of the race, I enjoyed a little scrum with Dean Rawson of the Tri City Cyclists. We had no one in front of us and no one behind us. Together we knew it would just be he and I for the line. I attacked him a couple of times but he managed to get back on. On the last lap I passed him at the last set of barriers and just stood up and gunned it for everything I had left in me. It took everything to keep him at a scant 4 seconds in arrears so that I could cross the line and snag the first double digit placing.

Cheers to Mr. Brown for the awesome sprint finish win. That is one of the best ways to take one.

Next up, the goodnight race, the end of the road for 06 race, the one to see us off into the holidays race....State Champs at Waterford. See you there!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Munson CX Report

The job has had me on the road this week more than usual, and I've had little opportunity to catch up with the blog.

The Monroe race was a blast. It was one of those days where everything went as smooth as could be expected; the bike gave me no trouble, I took all the right lines with no mishaps, and the body responded better than I would have expected.

I felt great during the race. You know how sometimes during a race you suffer so bad that you almost feel sick, and on the verge of throwing up. Sure you do. Especially during an intense race like a cross race. We've all been there. But during Sunday's race, I was feeling great, and even better as the race went on. I don't know that it was becuase I was better hydrated (I made a point to keep drinking throughout the day on Saturday), or because I was just more rested up than usual.

The B race was fast from the gun. I didn't get the best hole shot this time as I've been lucky to do in all the previous races. My cleats were packed with mud at the start line, which I only realized after the race had already begun. I must have been at best 8th or 9th wheel back. I didn't get too excited, as I knew there was plenty of time to make it up. During the first lap I did well to pass some riders at some key points on the course, such as at a 180 degree turn, or at the barriers. By the end of the first lap I was already hanging with the big boys...Joel Budacki, Kevin McGrew, Andy Brown, and my up and coming prodigy teammate, young gun Taylor Birman. The kid is only 14 and he's ripping the legs off of guys twice his age.

As I said, the race went very smooth for me. I had no trouble in the sand whatsoever. The only trouble I would have is if someone ahead of me went slower causing me to slow up and lose momentum. For the longest time during the race I was riding with Kevin McGrew, and ahead of us was Eric Muehl, Andy Klumb, and Taylor. I was soooo happy to be riding with Kevin. At one point I even gapped him. I very much respect Kevin's riding ability. The guy is a monster on a cross bike. Riding with him and not losing his wheel did a lot for my confidence, which I think contributed to my feeling better as the race went on.

There were some great supporters out there watching and shouting encouragement. Most notably I saw Jay Moncel a number of times at different locations on the course extending some very useful words of advice. I specifically remember him shouting at me on the finish line straight and saying something to the effect of, "rest here", or "recover here". It made perfect sense. So that's where I grabbed a wheel and just focused on bringing the heart rate down a few beats to prepare for the next lap of suffering. Dominick Wieczorek, Dave Massey, Rob Foshag...thanks for the cheers!

With the three ahead of us, Kevin and I were having a head-to-head of our own, which even for me was exciting. I was hoping I could simply last to the end with him. So when we passed under the banner with one lap to go, I knew I could hang long enough to challeng him for the 4th place podium spot. It was right after the last set of barriers, by the entrance to the park, where I decided to put it in overdrive and try to gap him. It worked for a bit, but when I took a look around he was right on my wheel. I'm for the most part spent at this point, so it was only a matter of Kevin launching an attack of his own, just as we turned to head down the finishing straightaway, that got the best of me and left me to savor the last remaining podium spot.



For me, that was one of the most exhilirating races this year. It was VERY competitive. I would wager that the B-race has to be an exciting race to watch as a spectator. This year, there are a lot of strong guys, and none are really dominating to the extent that the result of each race becomes predictable.

I've been traveling a lot this week; I'm typing this entry from the bed of a Microtel. I just had a bottle of a Bells 'Hell Hath No Fury' beer. Good stuff. Good night all, and see you next at Bloomer!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I'm Iced, Man!


I can think of two positives that came with making a last-minute change to my Iceman entry from riding in the Expert Men class to moving up to the Pro class. First, with the Pro race starting at 2:30pm, my wife and I were able to sleep in past 9am, and then lazily make our way over to the Cracker Barrel for a big country-style breakfast. With all that time on our hands, I had the chance to sit back and read the paper over a cup of coffee, some turkey sausage, and a big bowl of oatmeal topped with brown sugar. Second, the later start time coupled with the limited field size of the Pro race meant that I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of large crowds and the stress of getting to the start line on time with the right wave of riders. So by 1:30pm, I was already parked in the back of Kalkaska Middle School, comfortably nestled in the warmth of my car and taking my time getting dressed and enjoying the wafting aroma of hot embrocation cream that filled the air with a menthol-like pungency.

And that’s about where the positives end. We’ll, I can also say that it was also a nice photo op being lined up with the best of the best mountain bike racers in Michigan and the mid-west. Believe me, I knew that I was in way over my head, but what the hell, I thought I’d give it a go.

The 06 Iceman was officially my first mountain bike race. Heck, I’ve got an older 1999 Trek 830 with RST forks and some awfully shitty components. I spend the last couple of weeks up until Iceman upgrading some of the more critical items, especially tires, but I was in no way going to break the bank on a bike I ride maybe 4-5 times a year.

At 2:30pm, Dearborn Michigan bike shop owner Tom Demerly gave a 5-second countdown over the PA system to kick off the 2006 Iceman Pro event. It was an immediate out-of-the-saddle sprint to get up to speed to keep up with the pack. I was happy just to be in the group.

After the start we made a left turn heading west, and before I knew it we were launched into the forest. I managed to keep pedaling with the group for another, oh, half a mile or so. From there I was dropped from the lead group, after which I was passed, one by one, by every other rider in the field. I found myself completely alone not more than eight minutes into the race.

At the time I didn’t realized that I was the last of the Pro men’s field. There was a point when all of a sudden I heard a group of rider’s coming past, but then turned and realized it was the Women’s field. There were a few of them that passed me like I was standing still. A couple more went by and I found the strength to grab a wheel. These chicks were flying, and I knew it would only be a matter of minutes before I was shelled again. I found that I could keep up with them on the flats, but when we started a climb they would seemingly float away from me. After bombing the descents I could catch them again, but once the road turned up again, as it seemed to often do, I could only watch as they disappeared in the distance.

At one point I crashed on a downhill, right into the sand. I hit pretty hard and it took me a few to get up. But other than that I rode a very, shall I say, conservative race. I ended up with a 2:14, which was way past my goal of breaking the two hour mark. Physically I felt decent. I rode 90% of the race completely alone and I wonder if I could have improved this time if I had a group to ride with or a carrot to chase. No worries, I’ll be back next year to once again take part in what was one of the most enjoyable and memorable weekends I’ve had in bike racing. Next year you can bet I’ll forego the sleeping in part and get my ass up to race with a more appropriate category.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vet's Park - A Lesson In Barrier Ballet


Golly…I need to be more careful of what I write here. It’s sort of eerie that
what I wrote in my last post almost came to full fruition during Sunday’s Vet’s Park race. Of course, the very unwise decision to try and bunny hop the barriers mid-race was all mine to make, and no doubt that was the idiot move of the year.

As I sit here with a bruised and swollen lower lip, a sore neck, and a new dimple in my top tube, I cannot stop wondering what the hell came over me to convince me to remain clipped in and try to hop over the set of 16” high barriers. I know for sure I wasn’t contemplating the move anytime before or during the race. I recall making the decision right after the left turn on the approach to the barriers. All I can remember was that I was totally on the rivet and pumped with adrenalin. So much so that I have to believe that it clouded my ability to think rationally about the shit I was about to get myself into.

The front tire cleared with no problem, but the back tire caught the top of the first barrier, and the result was that the momentum began to carry me over into an endo. From there, everything was slow motion, like I had all the time in the world to see the next frames of my life unfold before me. The endo by that time was at the point of no return. Feet still clipped in, all I saw next was the second barrier coming right at me. My face was heading straight for the top edge. I had just enough time to put my hands in front of my face to protect my teeth. And then….SMACK! The first thing I saw was blackness, which then gave way to light, and then I had my full vision but was seeing stars bigtime. Ugh, that hurt. I remember sitting in between the barriers and seeing other riders galloping past and shouting words of concern. “J, you alright?”.

After recovering for a couple of minutes from my dazed and confused state, I found the strength to remount and continue the race. I took the next lap very easy, just taking stock of my injuries and confirming that all was still intact. I upped the pace for the last couple of laps to try and secure at least a couple of points. In the end, my attempt at being a hero for a day resulted in a pathetic but rightly deserved 22nd place. Surprisingly that yielded a meager 1 point, but after doing a little math I see that I have forfeited my crown as the B Series overall leader to Mr. Andy Brown. Andy rode an awesome race on Sunday. The kid is looking stronger as the series continues.

Next up is Munson Park in Monroe. I like this course and I plan to do well. If you’re coming out in hopes of witnessing my redemption attempt at clearing the barriers, stay home. It ain’t happening. Lesson learned…the hard way.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lower Huron

It was SOOOO nice to get back to racing. I was so pumped up that I had trouble sleeping the night before, just running through all sorts of scenarios in my head. “Should I attack from the gun?” Sure, if you’ve got a good enough warm up in beforehand. “Or maybe I should just sit in and suck the leaders' wheels until you can make a move.” Well I did that last time at Stony Creek, and it worked ok, but I still think I should have been more aggressive in the beginning.

I also had one of those wishful thinking type of daydreams. “Should I go all out and try to bunny hop the barriers, and win the admiration of even the elite guys warming up in the parking lot” I snap out of the fuzzy daydream after thinking what that might look like. There I am, coming up on the first barrier with controlled speed and my hands secure on the top of the bar. In the 3rd person, I see an image of myself lifting the front tire off the ground prematurely and setting it down right in front of the first barrier. I come to a dead stop, but the accidental endo quickly catapults me into a painful faceplant right smack on the top of the 2 ¼” wide wooden barrier. I bet that would get some good views on YouTube.

I was so geeked about my result from Stony Creek that I decided to come out fighting. At the gun I got a nice position, must have been 3rd or 4th wheel back. The guys ahead of me took a very early spill on the first lap after a very tight and slippery turn around a tree. It was as if they all just fell down and opened the road up to say “She’s all yours, Jason. Have at it”. I gunned it. I wanted a gap I could relish for at least a couple of laps. Looking behind, it looked good and felt good. I think I kept it for about a lap, until my homey Mr. Scott came up to see what all the ruckus was about. I welcomed his offer to ‘let him pull for a while’.

Yes, the early effort left me spent, but it had been too long without a race that I just had to fight with everything. ‘Cross just hurts so bad, yet there are points in the race where it feels so good. Like when you’re settled in on a section where you’ve shifted into a slightly larger gear and you’re just mashing out a rhythm.

Matt eventually pulled away, and I bid a quiet farewell to the tire in front of me that I’d been desperately trying to keep within a couple of feet for as long as I could. Some strong dude on a mountain bike flew by me and from what I understand
he and Matt fought it out for first and second. I was fighting to hang on to 3rd, and I was doing well to keep the gap on the guys behind.

Just over halfway into the race, I bit it hard on that wooden bridge. Right at the end of the bridge my front tire slid out and I was right on my side. I got up as quickly as I went down, but not before the guys behind me were right on my wheel. In my frazzled state of trying to settle back in, I was overtaken by I think three guys.

I eventually regained my momentum and fought to reclaim a few positions. At the end I was lined up on the wheel of 3rd and 4th, but they pounced first and I wasn’t able to close the gap. As a sprinter, it doesn’t feel good to lose when it comes down to a battle for the line.

Next up is Veteran’s Park in Ann Arbor. I do not generally do well on that course given the hilly terrain, but you can bet I’ll be coming out to throw down. Bring on the pain, baby.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stony Creek Podium Placing - It's been a while!


What a difference a year makes. I was warming up on the course at Stony Creek on Sunday just before the start of the B race,when Ken O’Day rode up along side and remarked at how it was nice to see the grass again.

Ain’t that the truth. In the not too distant past, at this same venue, if the sign didn’t tell you it was Stony Creek Metropark you would have thought that Tailwind Enterprises had set up a ‘cross race in the Siberian hinterland. Ice cold temps that dipped way below freezing and plenty of snow pack. I just remember the challenge in trying to keep the toes warm. It was also the first time I wore a full on, heavy duty, Michellin-man phat, down feather jacket during my warm up on the trainer.

Fast forward to Stony Creek 2006. I don’t think you could have asked for better riding weather. Sunshine, mid-70’s. Certainly not the weather you’d think of as the backdrop for a ‘cross race. But here in Michigan, we’ll take a nice day when we can get it.

I was hopeful I’d manage a better finish this time around because A) I put in a decent ride last year at Stony Creek (6th, B’s), and B) I got some new sweet ass Crank Brother’s Candy Ti pedals.

My decision to take one extra warm up lap resulted in my having to line up at the back of the pack at the start. At the gun, I stood up out of the saddle and sprinted around the pack and comfortably made my way up to about 3rd wheel. Nice. I was where I wanted to be, but I knew the challenge would be to stay there. The course was fast, and suited my riding style well. No real climbs of any significance, which was a plus. Climbing is where I get shelled at these races. This was more of a power course, and I liked it.

After either the first or second lap, I saw that I was in a break with 3 other guys. We had a nice gap, and that motivated me to hang on, hopeful that I could finish strong today and snag one of those hand-carved, walnut base podium plaques to add to my collection of two back home. All kidding aside, it was a suffer-fest from that point. Jay Moncel was driving a crazy pace, at least one fast enough to keep me at my limits. And fast enough to shell out the two passengers on our mini pain train.

For the last few laps, it was an all out battle royal between Jay and myself; Jay would hand out the beating, and I duly received each blow. Jay took every advantage to hammer on the inclines knowing the extra 20lbs I had on him would eventually
wear me down. It was a constant cycle of Jay gaps Jason, Jason catches back on. Finally, on the last lap, Jay shifted into the all-or-nothing gear and drove home the victory. Dropped yes, but I hammered it home with everything I had left in the tank.

Oh yeah, those new sweet ass pedals proved more of a headache than an advantage. I couldn’t clip in for the life of me. Granted I haven’t been riding them for more than a week, and shame on me for racing them when I’m not fully used to them. I think it had more to do with cleat interference. I tried shaving down some of the cleat, which I know helped initially, but maybe I need to take of more material.
If anyone has any suggestions please drop me a line (brakechan@yahoo.com).

2nd place. My personal best finish in a cross race. It only makes me hungry for more. It’s too bad I won’t be able to appease that hunger as we now enter a 2 week recess from the Tailwind races. No, I can’t make it out for the Kisscross stuff. The wife’s got me lined up to clean gutters, the basement, garage, and a whole bunch of other crap I have yet to hear about but can assure you will be handily delegated to me to complete before I can have fun again.

Take care out there!

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