Monday, July 25, 2011

Falling apart to become whole.

This is a cycling blog. So I'll apologize in advance to you, the reader, for the emotional sap and lack of detailed race reports this season. I’ve been pretty good over the past 5 years or so of updating it, but this season has been a bit of a challenge for me. It’s not that there haven’t been significant happenings in my life to report but rather I just haven’t had the time to update.

The summer of Angela…that’s what I’ve always deemed this season. The focus was to take a laid back approach to my training and racing and put the wealth of my energy into the bigger more important priorities in my life. To my surprise, I’ve managed to put together a pretty solid season despite the lack of my previously taken “monkhood” approach in the years of past. Of the 33 races I’ve lined up for this year, I’ve won 10 of them, stood atop the podium 9 other times, and been in the top ten all but 4 races. I don’t have much to complain about.

Virtually all of the races I’ve lost in my life, I had already lost before I rolled up to the line…I had lost them in my mind. Yesterday was one of these occurrences. In fact, all of my races in the past 2 weeks have been the worst of my season thus far. I’ve been falling apart, I’ve been burning out. However, despite some short-lived frustration and disappointment I am pretty happy about everything that’s going on right now.

My 12-year-old nephew was telling me about cleaning his room the other day. He told me that he had to create one big mess before he could clean his room and get it in order. Lately, my mind has been elsewhere than the road beneath my tires. My recent lack of success has been determined mentally before I even rolled to the line. None of this is a bad thing, but rather how I presume things should probably be. Again, this season was all about focusing on my most important priorities. So perhaps my nephews comment applies to me now. Perhaps I need to fall apart a bit before I can become whole.

On Wednesday morning Angela and I will head up to Boyne Mountain to take the most important step we have ever taken in our lives. I’ve visualized the moment in my head for some time now. I have had several intense emotional “highs” and life defining moments atop my bike, but this one is going to trump them all. All of my experiences up until now are simply the compound of the whole person I am bringing to the alter on Saturday.

"I will bring you a whole person and you will bring me a whole person and we will have us twice as much of love and everything."
— Mari Evans

So while my racing and this cycling blog may be falling apart and going to the wayside as of lately, I’m OK with it. I’m becoming whole, and I couldn’t be happier.

We’ll see you in August. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bluer Skys

No matter how hard I try to resist it, time keeps getting faster. The races are following suit as well.

So many notable things have happened in the past few weeks, all of which are positively memorable.

Life can be a bit of a roller coaster. There are certain things that can simply make life better. I’m talking about those special times when the sky seems bluer, music sounds better, and even the taste of food is intensified. I’ve kind of been at the top of the roller coaster for the past three weeks.

Ironically, this peak all started by deciding to skip a bike race. While the Tour of Washtenaw was a very well suited race for my skill set, I opted to nominate this weekend to our wedding shower. Despite the preconceived ideas that this estrogen charged ritual is simply for women, I must admit I had a great time. My groomsmen were present to help carry gifts and to also knock back a few bowls of loud mouth soup with me. Afterward, we invited the entire wedding party and their families back to our house for a party. Much fun was had by all and I never once thought about the racing I had sacrificed for this moment. If this experience is a small glimpse into how fun July 30th will be at Boyne Mountain, we are all in for a real treat.

May 18th marked my brother Dons birthday. It was also the third time I’ve had to celebrate it without him. While he is no longer here, I spent the day thinking about him and was content that I could still feel his presence. Needless to say, I went to Waterford that night armed with some intrinsic motivation to honor my brother’s life through my racing. The evening’s conditions were miserable. It was cold and rainy at the start and the spray from the peloton’s wheels made it very challenging to see up the road or judge distance well. I told my fellow teammates that night that I really wanted to win the race. Don must have been with us as we claimed 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th place and managed to all finish a race that 1/3rd of the field threw the towel in on.

As I crossed the line in first place that day, I threw my hands up and pointed to the sky. It was a cathartic moment for me and albeit a midweek training race, it is a memorable finish that I’ll hold onto the rest of my life.

This past weekend I raced the Tour of Frankenmuth. Because of conflicting MTB events in the past I hadn’t raced this race since 2007 in which I had a very marginal finish and remember having had a very difficult time in the crosswind sections. However, 2011 marked a banner year for me in this little German town.

The race was an exciting one as it never really calmed down and there were always moves being made from the gun. Five minutes into the race I found myself in a 4 man breakaway for the entire first lap. I proceeded to pay for this effort the next two laps and did not feel very well at all. I went into the race sick, but as Ray says, “It doesn’t matter how well you feel that day, if they go up the road, you still need to go”. The race continued to ramp up with many attacks from the Carbon Racing Team. With about 7 miles to go, the field eventually came back together. However, I didn’t think I had too much left in me at that point to make something happen. Then, with about 5 more miles remaining, a move went up the road that I was fortunate to put myself in. It contained Ryan Cross (former teammate and now of Panther Pro Cycling), Brian Adams (One of Michigan’s finest long standing accomplished racers), Brian Crosby (Black line Racing) and Brian Batke (Carbon Racing). For the next five miles we pulled hard enough to stay away and the race came down to a sprint finish. Although the sprint was downhill it was into a headwind. Knowing Ryan Cross was probably the best finisher of the bunch I decided to tuck into his wheel. With about 100m to go I came around him and threw my hands up in complete surprise. In the background I could hear the amplification of Tony Bruley’s voice announcing the race and yelling my name over and over.

After the race Tony interviewed me. Our dialogue went a little something as follows:

Tony: Tim, you are a very accomplished mountain biker but seem to have a great season going on the road this year. Is road your main focus this season?

Me: To be honest with you Tony, my main focus this year is simply getting married. There have been a lot of summers of Tim in the past; this summer is the summer of Angela.

This really sums it up I suppose. I am very happy with the way my season is going; I have six wins total now. However, my most important priority is getting married and beginning my foundation for a family. I love bike racing. I feel it in my soul and it is a burning passion of mine. I plan to do it for as long as my body will physically allow me to.

Lately, the sky has been all the more blue, music just sounds all the more sweet, and I’m very content with my life. But bike racing has not been the main cause of this. Racing will never love you or care for you or be with you by your side in your worst of times. In the end, love is the most important thing. I have come to the realization though, that bike racing makes me a better person and in the end allows me to love all the more.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Northern Neighbors, Fluid Friction, and Filthy Land Mines

After a two week hiatus of any quality regimented training, my legs seemed to be a little confused last week.

The week’s racing all started with the second session of our fort nightly Canadian escapades to Ciaciaro. Despite a few failed attempts to break things up, the race came down to a dreaded field sprint. As par for the course usually follows in these situations, Paulo Eugeni proved once again that his dominant fast twitch muscles were no match for us horse heads in the final 200 meters. Despite not claiming the top podium spot, the WSC still stood atop the other two which was good enough for another evening of burritos and cervezas in Detroit’s Mexican Town. I took 2nd and Randy took 3rd.

It had been 5 years since I did my last TT, and Saturday was once again another reinforcing reminder of why I tuck my tail between my legs when the notion of Time Trialing is ever brought up. I certainly wanted to make the bike go fast, but it seems 8 other people wanted to make it go faster than mine, and they did. I managed a mediocre 9th place. However, the day was a success because I mustered up the gumption to line up to a discipline I’ve avoided for years. Time Trialing is certainly a beast of its own and I give major props to the consistent specialty gods of Michigan Time Trialing like Tom Burke and Jon Card.

For now, I need much more practice at this discipline. Seeing as I built the machine I was on that previous Monday, perhaps more time in the TT saddle will help.

There are few races in Michigan that equally draw me to them and well as detract me. At Cone Azalia, you can either have terrible luck or be terribly lucky. In the past, I’ve been on both sides of the gun. Despite the elation I had after finishing second to my own teammate three years ago, I still harbor the dream of crossing the line first at this venue. However, 2011 was not the year for this dream to come to fruition.

The conditions of this year’s race were the worst I’ve ever seen in my 8 year tenure with this event. The dirt sections were littered with wheel swallowing pits, coupled with loose rocks, and muddy skunk-tail inducing puddles. If you did not front run the first few laps, you were destined to be led into a bad line and shelled off the back.

Although I made the selection after the first three laps and was poised to put myself in a winning position, sometimes bike racing comes down to nothing more than patience and attentiveness. On the fourth lap a field split of six rolled away while I was at the back of the pack in mid conversation with Clint Verran about some speculations of how the race would play out from here. Although I put in my best effort to make contact with the front group, it was too little and too late. I watched the race roll up the road and realized the rest of my day was going to be simply spent racing for 7th place. After three more mundane laps, I won the sprint in my chase group of four for 7th place.

Cone Azalia is a tough mans race. I give major props out to Dan Lam who crashed on the first lap. As the race rolled onward his ankle began to swell up like a grapefruit. He forged onward in the first chase group for another 60 miles after the crash. Just before we rolled out for our final lap he pulled out of the race to go straight to the ER. His diagnosis was a broken ankle and a suggested 6 weeks from the game. It just goes to show you the ability a bike racer has to suffer. 60 miles on a broken ankle…indeed Cone is a tough mans race.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

STS: The Finale

In life and in bike racing, adaptation is a skill that can often lead to success.

Just before the season started rolling, knowing I was in decent form, I decided to set a goal of winning the Michigan Spring Series. Winning the opening race at Waterford Hills sparked confidence and intensified my motivation to want to continue to do well in the early training races. Furthermore, my consistent podium finishes had me sitting content with the belief that mathematically I had already won the spring series.

Sometimes it’s hard to hit a target when you are aiming at the wrong one or without knowledge of the target all together. Such was the case with my standing in the STS overall. In the past, the STS was always based on a racers finishes at Waterford coupled with the Ann Arbor races. However, I was unaware that this season the points were based on the Ann Arbor races exclusively. Having finished in 2nd place twice in 2 of the 3 races leading up to the finale (I missed one when I was in NC), I became aware literally minutes before the gun that I was only leading the series by a mere point. What was expected to be a laid back day of racing in which we planned to try and set another teammate besides myself up for a win, turned out to be a title battle.

Robert Foshag, of Lathrop Industries, and Vince Roberge, of Trails edge were both tailing me in close second for the series title. If either of them finished in front of me, the 3 year running streak of the Wolverines would come to an abrupt halt. Both Robert and Vince are riders who I look up to and respect greatly. Also, both riders’ skill sets can be quite a handful to deal with when going up against them in seclusion. Robert Foshag is an all around strong rider and has a vicious finish when the line is in sight. Vince, just as he proved last week, is capable of motoring away from the field never to be seen again until after he crosses the finish line in front of you. Needless to say, I lined up on Sunday knowing that I had my work cut out for me and that I needed to be crafty.

After a short team meeting just before the start, we determined that I did not have to win the race but simply ensure that neither Vince nor Robert finished in front of me. Both riders had a strong team surrounding them. It was incredibly windy and Ray suggested that I make sure I stay near the top wheels right from the gun because the selection was going to happen quickly.

This is one of my all time favorite racing pics. It looks so ominous and tells such a great story!

Ray’s advice proved to be very valuable as the break of 8 riders or so quickly developed in the first two laps. I was fortunate to make the break but was without any teammates. As I looked around at my break mates I realized that all the players of the game were represented. I couldn’t help but be filled with exhilaration and anxiety of the heightened healthy competition. Albeit nothing more than the Michigan Spring series, this WAS what bike racing is all about; anything could happen from that point on.

The break quickly started lapping some of the fragmented field which made for a lot of confusion and congestion. There were many attacks and cat and mouse antics that played out but the main break managed to stick together coming into the final 5 minutes.

As we were lapping a group of riders, Paul rang the finishing bell. There was much confusion in our group as to whether or not this was our finishing lap. However, no one was willing to risk it, so we treated the lap as if it was the end of the race. Vince attempted one last TT to the line but Robert and I followed. As we made our last left turn with the line in sight, I was sitting comfortably in 4th wheel. I saw Foshag get pinched into the curb on the left side of the road and I hit the gas as hard as I could toward the opening. I crossed the line and threw my hand in the air only to find out that Paul was simply finishing the field early and that our break still had 2 laps to go.

The first and fraudulent sprint

I was gassed from an all out finishing effort but had to quickly recover and put myself back in the mindset to do it all over again in two more laps. Luckily I was able to muster up one last good finish and crossed the line first on the day for a second time.

After the race, Ray said to me, “Tim…I’ve had to win a few races twice in my day as well. That was pretty freaking awesome.” I take great pride in helping claim a fourth year STS title for the Wolverines!

I can’t help but feel very satisfied with the early season success I’ve had. I equate it all to a natural defense mechanism that may be sub-consciously or consciously taking place in my head. I’m getting married this summer and with that I recognize that I will have to make many personal sacrifices in the future as I start a family. Also, the welfare of my job looks more dismal each day. Perhaps part of me wants to cling onto the small and romanticized hope that possibly I could do this for a living for a few years. However, the saying goes as follows:
Do you know how to make $1000 bike racing?
Answer- Start with $5000 at the beginning of the season.

No matter how unrealistic the goal of being a salaried professional bike racer may seem, I’m hard pressed to think that it is not a common fantasy of most every racer that lines up week after week, year after year all around the world. Sometimes I analogize it to my high school students telling me, “I want to be a video game tester when I grow up.” My usual response is, “good luck…get in line”. Whenever these thoughts seep into my brain I have to take my own advice. Besides this is all just for fun, the struggle is part of the appeal.

A racer is only as good as his next race. I’m keeping this in mind as the “real” season nears. But for now, I’m pretty happy with the way things are going. Also, I’ll be pretty happy even if the season doesn’t yield anymore results for me. I have a lot to look forward to.

A special thanks goes out to Erika Fulk, Cristin Robb, and Scott Kroske for consistently doing a stellar job of documenting all of these races. While I am extremely grateful of these pictures now, I know that 50 years down the road they will be of great value to me. Thanks for selflessly capturing so many cherished moments for so many people!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ciociaro Series Race #1

A.D.M.C.= any guesses?

Another great team race last night led to this...

And this!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

STS Week #3: Who Cares?...I’m Flying!

It’s been sometime since I’ve made any reference to the Dybo-inspired mantra of “Who Cares?...I’m Flying”. For those who are unaware, this mentality is attained when one puts all life responsibilities on hold to devote every ounce of their being into their training and racing. For instance, your gutters may be falling off your house, your family and friends may have not seen you in months, perhaps your bills are piling up but you’re out there every weekend racing and doing well. Hence, “Who Cares?...You’re Flying”.

Years ago I always used to award any rider whose efforts stuck out in my mind with the W.C.I.F. Award. This is a practice I’ve gotten away from. However, one individual this past weekend inspired me to start it back up again.

In the past, I’ve always thought to do my best I had to make sacrifices and postpone other priorities in order to achieve my goals. However, as I get older I’ve found contentment in the idea that bike racing is secondary to certain things in life. Despite my secondary devotion to the sport, my results have seemed to have improved. So while I may not be adhering to my previously held notion of the pathway to success…”Who Cares, I’m Flying”, so I’m going with it.

Randy Rodd, fellow teammate, has certainly not followed what most may view as an optimal training plan going into this season. Fresh off a 6 month bender of sewing his wild oats throughout all of Europe, Randy returned to the states a mere 4 weeks ago to once again start turning the cranks. The first race of the season led to tired legs for him and a DNF. However, the next day he showed character by simply finishing the race in Ann Arbor.

Alas, this brings me to this past weekend’s race recap. Low and behold Waterford once again manifested itself into an early race breakaway. Many of the riders who spent their entire off season doing their homework, myself included, wound up in the 9 man break. However, Randy Rodd, fresh off the couch, also placed himself into the break after a tenacious bridge up to the front group. After about 80 minutes of breakaway high jinx, Randy managed to survive to the finish line and led me out for a third place finish and a 9th place finish himself.
The final Sprint
Getting nipped at the line by an old man and a Canadian!
A bird's eye view.

The next day, Ann Arbor brought about another strong spring season field coupled with high winds. Again, an early break formed which I found myself in. After a few laps of pacelining, I looked back and saw a fellow Wolverine racer attempting the bridge to our group. Much to my surprise it was Randy Rodd! After about 40 minutes of breakaway efforts we were able to lap the field. I ended up 2nd on the day and Randy was 6th. Hence, let’s all raise our beer steins to Mr. Randall; he is the first rider in 2011 to receive the W.C.I.F. Award. This also reminds us that the training races are not always about gaining fitness but also sharpening your technical chess game of bike racing.

Sunday's final sprint for second, Vince Roberge had already slipped away after we lapped the field for a well-earned victory

As a whole, the entire Wolverine team has ridden in great cohesion this season. Each member has selflessly played their role to ensure that the whole of the team is a success. I do feel great things are yet to come. So although we may be low in numbers this season, and slightly rag tag, who cares…we’re flying.

After my finishes this weekend, I do believe that mathematically it is impossible to not win the spring series. This is particularly meaningful to me because a Wolverine will have won the spring series for the last 4 years now (2010:Ryan Cross, 2009:Luke Cavender,2008:Ray Dybowski). However, Ray stated to me, “You better still ride like you stole it”, which I intend to do. Some may view the spring training series as meaningless, and perhaps it is. A racer’s fitness can significantly change from now until the bulk of the season, and one’s success in the spring does not dictate their success when the big races roll around. In essence, the real work is still ahead of us, but for now…Who Cares…I’m Flying!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

6WC: Less can be More

Why do we travel for hours in search of venues to test our mental and physical fortitude and essentially beat the crap out of ourselves for little to no payout other than the intrinsic satisfaction along with the mediocre amount of half-hearted props given to us by our dysfunctional sub-culture? After years of searching for this ever illusive answer, I have given up. I'm simply settling with the idea of nothing more than that I just like it more than most any other things I've done in my life. So nonetheless, Six Hours of Warrior Creek in North Carolina served once again as a perfect medium for my sadistic conquests.

BMCC pulled off another great race boasting a sold out field in some of the most flowing trail I have ever ridden. This race comes sealed with the Finkelstein approval of must-do races for the fellow fat tire endurance junkie.

Last year I did this race on a geared bike and received a lesson in humility and perseverance when I flatted on my last lap just as I was coming up on the first place rider Nathan Wyatt. I ended up with a frustrated 3rd place in the mens open category. However, these endurance events have always held the metaphorical life significance of the idea of moving forward.

"Anyone can plan to win a fight, it's what you do after get clocked in the jaw the first time that matters"
-Mike Tyson

Although I like to pretend otherwise, I am a teacher by profession and a cyclist by hobby. Lately things have been looking grim in the world of educational funding, especially in Michigan Special Education. We recently found out that we will be taking a cut in our contracts in the years to follow. This is coupled with the even more powerful underlying threat that we may not even have jobs in the near future. This ominous horizon has many of my coworkers in an emotional uproar as this news significantly threatens their comfort of life they have strived for. Although I have not allowed this problem to effect my well-being too much the anxiety of others I have been surrounded by has been wearing thin on my nerves. Perhaps I am coming from what some may view as an ignorant stance, but this funding problem seems to be a community issue that we are choosing to make a personal problem. Without going on too much of a rant, I'm simply saying that I'm choosing to not let money affect my happiness. I like to dwell on what feels real to me, like beating the crap out of myself at a 6 hour mountain bike race.

"Let's ride, the miles are free today" -Robert Herrimen

I mention these above frustrations because these were just some of the thoughts streaming through my head as I made the 11 hour trek down to North Carolina. Also, I feel it aligns itself nicely with this "less is more" theme I'm going for this season. Over the years, I've learned that your mental race fuel is just as important as your physical fuel.

In an effort to scale my velo-bill back this season to allocate more money toward my main event this year: getting married, I decided to only build up a single speed mountain bike. My motivation to do this was prompted by nothing more than the idea that the most fun I had on a bike last season was on one gear.

There are certain stigmas that have attached themselves to the SS world. Some may call it an excuse bike, or a purist, maybe even a bad ass. Some may insist that you better adhere to a healthy liquid diet of oat sodas and barely if you want to line up with one gear. I've heard others describe it as a way to be less competitive and strip away the egotistical motives of the sport. Many cling to the idea of resisting industry innovation, although those same people will line up with a sub twenty pound 29er, a steed that was non-existent mere years ago. Needless to say, the single speed crowd can be a little territorial. There are many egg shells you that you may be required to tread lightly on as well as toes you will want to avoid. However, regardless of what you may lay claim to, when you line up to race a bicycle you do it to try and do your best.

For me, it's all bike racing...whether it be skinny tires, gears, fat tires, monocogs, pavement, dirt, or track. To me, it's all the business of turning the cranks and it's all fun.

I'm not going to get too into the specifics of the race. I rode my bike as fast as I could in the woods for nearly six hours. On the first lap, I crashed three times. First I lost my glasses. The second crash, I broke my shoe necessitating a shoe change in the pit before the next lap. And on the third lap I took a branch to the chest that made me feel like I broke a few ribs.

A few days before this race started, the promotor published a quote that resonated with me. I felt it applicable to not only my racing but also the situation that is going on at work lately.

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive will start having positive results" -Willie Nelson

I was not feeling too peppy or confident after my multiple crashes, although I was still sitting in the lead. On lap four I found myself deep in a valley of self-doubt and low energy. Just as I started to settle into a comfort pace. The second place rider Luke Sagur rolled up on me. We chatted for awhile and I could tell his energy was much higher than mine so I let him pass and roll away from me. On my next pit, my support crew informed me that the third place rider, Tim Anderson, was a mere three minutes back from me. I began to fear the idea that I may lose a podium spot if I don't pick up my pace. I started to think about the above quote. Despite physical pain I dug deep into my emotional reserve tank and my pace began to pick up. By the end of that lap I had overtook Luke and began solidifying my first place position.

In the end I managed to put about 8 minutes on Luke and wound up first place in the single speed category. I must also admit that I did come equipped to this race with a secret motive; to win the overall on a single speed. This didn't happen but I did manage to take third overall.

It's pretty hard to spend that much time in the saddle on a mountain bike, racing hundreds of other people, without any dramatic happenings. 2011's 6WC was no exception to this idea. In the end, I am thankful to of had another sadistic opportunity to practice painful perseverance. More importantly, I give thanks for the reinforcing experience that less can often mean more.

Thanks for reading.