Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Backwards and Forwards 2013/2014

January is the month of Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks backward and forward simultaneously, and that's what I'll be doing here on January 1, 2014.

Backward to 2013
This was by far my most busy and successful season of bike racing. I raced 48 times: 1 gravel race, 5 road/crit races, 12 MTB races, and 31 CX races. The gravel and road races were just for the sake of training, and while I had a very good result at the treacherously icy and snowy Barry-Roubaix gravel race (13th out of 119 in the Masters 40+ 62 mile race), my road results were mediocre, reflecting my lack of experience in and enthusiasm for road racing.

My first glimpses of good form came in the WORS MTB races; I placed in the top 25 consistently in the open pro/elite field (need to go look up my results to be more precise) and felt very competitive, with lots of good races-within-the-races against strong guys. My MTB season peaked in late July at the MTB XC National Championships held in Macungie, PA on an extremely rugged and swelteringly hot course. There I was 3rd going into the singletrack and 5th near the beginning of the second lap when I got a flat. I threw some air into it, lost about 15 spots, regained a few spots, and then had to stop and throw a whole new tube in, losing I don't know how many spots in the process. I had a strong 3rd lap though, picking off a bunch of riders, and finished 18th. After that my MTB racing was less focused since I was transitioning to CX, but I had a strong Oar To Shore, finishing 64th (11th in age group), despite a major mechanical, and my best-yet Chequamegon result, 64th (12th in age group). And then I hung up my beloved Trek Superfly for the year.

In cyclocross, technically we have to go back to January 2013, when I placed 24th at Nationals in the 40-44 age group and 2nd in the "Non-Championship" race used as a tune-up. I then went to Louisville for the Master's World Cyclocross Championships and placed 24th in the sickest frozen mud anybody has ever seen. That was an experience to remember for life, and it got me very psyched about the next season. To get myself even more excited about the upcoming season, I purchased a Trek Cronus frameset and built it up over the spring and summer, eventually resulting in a 15.05 lb race machine. When the season started with the Sheboygan CX race, I completely surprised myself by taking the holeshot, creating a gap, and soloing to victory ahead of some strong riders, including a few very fast guys that came up from Illinois. And that launched my season because it gave me the confidence I lacked in 2012 and lit a fire under me. I then won the Lake Geneva race in deep mud despite having raced Chequamegon the day before, and I also performed very well against a more national-caliber field (including the current 40-44 World Champion) at the Trek CXC Cup, placing 6th both days. I then won 6 out of the next 11 WCA Master's 35+ races, placed 6th, 10th, and 6th at the three days of Jingle CX, and rounded out the regular season with a good win at Melas Basin in Chicago in the 40+ category and a surprising 3rd place in the pro category at the Norje Ski Jump race. In the championship races, I won the Wisconsin State Cyclocross Championships (Master's 35+), took 2nd at the Midwest Regional Championships in epic snowy conditions, and placed 6th that same day in then pro field. The only thing left to mention is that, with 9 wins, 3 2nd places, 1 3rd place, and 1 5th place result in the WCA Masters 35+ series, I won the series in addition to the state championship race.

2013 Performance Analysis
Why did I have such a good season? Many things came together for me:
--I was uninjured and stayed that way apart from a sprained thumb in December
--I was much less stressed by family life this year
--I got much better sleep (at last!) now that my daughter is 3
--I was highly motivated since racing was/is like a life survival strategy for me
--I became obsessed with CX and learned as much as I could about it on and offline
--I had a great diet and the discipline to stick with it
--I had an excellent fitness base (core, flexibility, etc) thanks to P90X and P90X2
--I had great support from my team, KS Energy Services / Team Wisconsin
--I was able to draw on all the experience I gained doing 17 CX races in 2012
--I had a much better bike, a Trek Cronus with SRAM Red/Force drivetrain
--I also had a good B bike in my Specialized Crux Disc
--I had a fantastic race wheelset, Easton EC90SLXs
--I prepared for the season very well by racing WORS and doing lots of road miles
--I methodically honed my skills on the new CX bike throughout the preseason
--I worked very hard on having a strong start
--I worked to address my main weakness: putting the hammer down on the straights
--I followed a detailed race-day routine, which really kept race stress at bay
--I learned how to race at the front of the race, how to think tactically while racing
--I had a great, very regular weekly schedule once the season was underway
--I prioritized recovery: rested every Monday and Thursday and took some naps at work
--I consistently used the foam roll and a basic yoga routine to stay loose
--I just became more confident with every win and thus raced better and better

Like I said, many, but many things came together for me. For that reason, it will be hard to top this season, but I definitely mean to take it to the next level in 2014.

Forward to 2014
The 2013 season rather awkwardly wraps up in early 2014 with 2 days of CX racing in Longmont, Colorado on 1/4 and 1/5, then with CX Nationals on 1/11. It has been a challenge to keep good form during the holidays with the lack of races, the stress of travel, and the opportunities to indulge, but I've managed well. I drove out to Western Colorado on 12/23 with my 3 year old daughter and have been staying with family and friends in Gunnison (7700 feet) and Crested Butte (9400 feet). I'm struggling with the altitude, the cold, a sick child, and other things but still getting on the bike a lot and feeling pretty good. I plan to race the pro category in Longmont on Saturday and both the masters and pro categories on Sunday just to jolt my body back into race mode. I then will have a few days of training back in Gunnison, a couple of days of previewing the course in Boulder while cheering on teammates in their races, and my race at last 9:00 AM Saturday. Then finally it's time for some indulgence!

After a two week offseason, I will begin preparations to the 2014 season proper. My goals for 2014 are pretty ambitious:

#1 become the Cyclocross National Champion in my age group (45-49 for CX)
#2 place in the top 3 at MTB National Championships in my age group (40-44 for MTB)  
#3 win one of the Jingle CX races (Masters 35+)
#4 win one of the Trek CXC Cup races (Masters 35+)
#5 defend my Wisconsin State CX Champion title
#6 become Midwest Regional CX Champion (Masters 35+)

I have some secondary goals as well:
--place in the top 15-20 overall in all WORS races
--place top 3 in my age group at all WORS races
--place in the top 50 at Chequamegon
--place in top 5 at whatever WCA Pro 1/2/3 races I can get to
--get on the podium at whatever Chicago Cross Cup pro races I can get to
--place in top 5 at all national-level CX events I can get to

I'll have more to say tomorrow or the next day about how I plan to make all this happen in 2014. Until then, happy New Year to all, and a big shout out to everyone who supported and took any interest at all in my racing in 2013!

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