The 2016 Northstar Grandprix Composite Team Experiment

(This post was originally for my friends at Panache Cyclewear.  You can find it here.)

One of my favorite races on the USAC Pro Road Tour is the Northstar Grandprix (formerly Nature Valley Grandprix). I have participated for many years as both a rider and team director and have gotten to know the promoting team quite well.  They have some great creative concepts at this race: Smaller 6 man rosters and no TT bikes allow the smaller teams to compete on a more level playing field with the big guys and create a more open and interesting race. Their downtown courses and finishing circuits bring out some of the best crowds in U.S. racing.

So when they approached me this spring to build a composite pro team to compete in the race this year I obviously jumped at the chance! The idea was somewhat unique in that the title sponsor of the race (North Memorial Health Care) wanted to have both a Men’s and Women’s team competing in the race as part of their sponsorship of the event. Frankly, I think this is a great idea and everyone I have discussed it with agrees.

Now the big challenge in building a composite team is that most of the best riders are already contracted to ride for their trade teams all season and are not allowed to compete in a race their regular team is also entered in.   With my regular squad, Gateway Harley Davidson –Trek U25, entering its own team; I would lose many of my top choices off the list right away!

(Younger) brothers from another mother – it was great to see the Gateway guys ride so well all week. I look forward to reuniting with them at Cascade Classic!

(Younger) brothers from another mother – it was great to see the Gateway guys ride so well all week. I look forward to reuniting with them at Cascade Classic!

Around this time I came across a post on Facebook from former pro and Olympian Mike Friedman who was looking to get back into racing. I’ve known Mike for some time from local racing in CO and knew he would be a great anchor to the team. Even if he didn’t have his old legs underneath him, he is a great ambassador for the sport and as a former winner of the race would bring some great prestige to the squad.   I also heard through the grapevine that Jeremy Powers was looking to do a block of road racing this summer in prep for his cyclo-cross season and convinced him to come on board. Joining Mike and Jeremy were local CO studs Yannick Eckmann, Michael Burleigh, Andrew Clemence, and Drew Christopher. Rounding out the team were my wife Faith Clauson (soigneur/chef) and Michael Christopher (mechanic).

Your North Memorial Men’s Pro Team hit squad for 2016! Photo: Iain Patterson/blueeyesandahat

Your North Memorial Men’s Pro Team hit squad for 2016! Photo: Iain Patterson/blueeyesandahat

Now this is obviously a team with plenty of horsepower, but more importantly it was a group of guys that I had enough history with to know they would be able to gel quickly in a one-off team situation; and even more importantly, be willing and excited to execute on our sponsor obligations during the week.

Mike Friedman and Greg Lemond leading the CEO charity ride before the start of the Minneapolis downtown criterium. Mike was tireless in volunteering to do these events all week and an amazing ambassador for the sport.

Mike Friedman and Greg Lemond leading the CEO charity ride before the start of the Minneapolis downtown criterium. Mike was tireless in volunteering to do these events all week and an amazing ambassador for the sport.

The fact the marketing return on investment rarely matches sporting value has been a big take away from my recent experiences in the sport. At the professional level, winning bike races is important, but far more important is the message your team has and how it delivers it for your sponsors. Only a few teams do this consistently well which is evidenced by the small number of pro teams in the U.S. that last more than 2-3 seasons. The way I like to look at it is that you need to race well enough that people are interested in listening to you, and then put all your energy into what you have to say and how to say it!

Nick, Jeremy, and NSGP Race Director, Brendon Hale. Jeremy is one of the best examples out there of building a brand that is even bigger than his results on the bike.

Nick, Jeremy, and NSGP Race Director, Brendon Hale. Jeremy is one of the best examples out there of building a brand that is even bigger than his results on the bike.

This was a big theme in our team during the week of the race, with several sponsor events throughout the week outside of the actual racing. We spent time with employees, joined their group ride, participated in expo events, and were active in helping document the race with the help of Mike’s videographer friend Iain. As a matter of fact, our racing performance was pretty average for the week, but no one seemed to mind.   On the final day of racing I was talking to one of the marketing executives from North Memorial in their VIP tent. She was telling me how pleased they were with how the race has gone all week and the work our team had been doing for them. When I pointed out that one of our riders (Yannick) was in the break and riding really well on the day, she smiled and admitted to not really paying much attention to the actual racing itself.  She had it exactly right all along…

We joined our sister team for a nice ride through the awesome bike path system in Minneapolis with employees and friends of North Memorial. This may be the last photographic record of Drew’s amazing hair before he decided to cut it all off. (Photo: Drew Christopher)

We joined our sister team for a nice ride through the awesome bike path system in Minneapolis with employees and friends of North Memorial. This may be the last photographic record of Drew’s amazing hair before he decided to cut it all off. (Photo: Drew Christopher)

 

“Mike captured some great POV footage of the big crash at Cannon Falls during the race – he also demonstrated some great bike handling skills while doing so!”

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Team Chef, Faith Clauson, (with some help from Skratch Labs) kept everyone well fed!

 

 

Big THANK YOU to Sue and Charlie Lloyd for opening their home up to us for the week. Host housing and the great friends we have made around the country remains one of my favorite things about the sport.

Big THANK YOU to Jan and Charlie Lloyd for opening their home up to us for the week. Host housing and the great friends we have made around the country remains one of my favorite things about the sport.

 

Day Inside the Team Car w/ Gateway Harley Davidson | Tour of the Gila – Stage 5

(This was first written for my friends at Panache Cyclewear.)

So I’ve been directing for the Gateway Harley Davidson U25 team at select US Pro Road Tour events this season. The team is a blast to work with and we’ve been surprising folks with some great breakout results. Panache asked me for some insider’s perspective from this year’s race, so I thought nothing would be more fitting than giving the play by play (blow by blow?) from inside the team car during the queen stage: Gila Monster Road Race.

The Boulder Sports Management / i25Kia.com 2017 Kia Sportage Support Car.

The Boulder Sports Management / i25Kia.com 2017 Kia Sportage Support Car.

 

To start with, a few rules every good director follows when driving in the caravan:

  1. Don’t hit any of the riders.
  2. Don’t crash the team car.
  3. Don’t get fined.

These are followed in order of priority. Our mechanic, Garret Suydam, asked me to include something about not running over your mechanic. I told him I would think about it…

A day driving in the caravan during is usually 4 hours of boredom combined with ~5 minutes of complete terror. The goal of the director and other support staff is to prepare as well as possible to minimize the latter! Here is how Sunday went down:

7:30AM: We roll into the start area and everyone jumps out to start getting ready. The team is a bit quiet this morning due to the combination of early morning starts and the fact it is day 5 of the hardest race most of the guys have ever done. I am pretty sure Bryan Gomez managed to sleep while still eating his breakfast this morning.

The guys absolutely love the early morning starts here!

The guys absolutely love the early morning starts here!

8:00AM: I find a few minutes to call Mom and wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Still the perfect son!

8:10AM: A reporter comes by and asks for a quick interview with Sepp Kuss. Sepp has been in a tight battle for the white jersey all week and is definitely on people’s radar after a great Redlands as well. We’ve been talking a lot lately about next steps in his career and I look forward to seeing where he ends up!

Sepp Kuss in the best young rider’s jersey doing an interview before the start of stage 2. (Photo: Bob Simpson)

Sepp Kuss in the best young rider’s jersey doing an interview before the start of stage 2. (Photo: Bob Simpson)

8:15AM: I track down some fresh batteries for the car’s radio, and get a few copies of the results from the timing official. – one for me and one for Garrett. Except in the rare case when there is a second director in the car, the mechanic will help me keep track of who is in the breakaway, intermediate sprint results, etc.

8:40AM: The flag drops and we are racing. Garret is already asleep in the back of the car. #pro

9:20AM: It is starting to warm up a bit and George Simpson brings a bunch of jackets and extra clothing from the start back to the car. George was in a bad crash at Joe Martin and is a bit down on form as a result, however he has been a great teammate all week!

10:00AM: We come up on the first feedzone and quickly stop to give Faith some extra bottles for the next feedzone. The race will be shattered by that point so it will be tough to support everyone from the car.

10:40AM: The UHC car drifts back a bit and opens a gap while talking to their rider so I slot in front of them to do bottle service for George. Their use of the horn would indicate they didn’t necessarily agree with that. While there is a decent amount of mutual respect amongst all the directors on the circuit, we all still drive like we are in a bike race…

11:10AM: We are on a very tricky high speed descent, so Garrett decides to film a Mother’s Day video card for his Mom. Dear Garrett’s Mom, I promise we didn’t crash once and Garrett only had to hang out of the window at 40 mph to fix a bike once all week!

11:30AM: We are coming into the last stretch of flat road before the Cat 1 climb out of the Cliff Dwellings. That means that every team is trying to get their riders serviced one last time before things blow up on the final climb. While handing bottles to Bryan, the Guatemala National Team director cuts us off to get to his rider forcing me to drive off the side of the road and putting some fresh scars on the wrap of our Kia. I am pretty livid, but Bryan barely notices (See rule #1.)

11:45AM: The climb starts in earnest and Sepp can be seen on the front driving the pace and pulling a small group clear of the field. I told him to have fun this morning and he seems to be taking that to heart!

12PM: Sepp is in a small elite group of 11 leaders at the front of the race. Unfortunately it is going to take us another 20km to safely get past the various barrages to get up to them. (A “barrage” is used by the officials to keep team cars from helping dropped riders from rejoining the front of the race, by holding them back until the gap is large enough.)

12:30PM: Sepp cracks a bit and loses contact with the lead group. We load him up on Coke and shout some encouragement as he tacks on the back of the chase group coming by.

1PM: Finish Line! We park the car and wander over to our amazing hosts Susan and Brian who have a giant BBQ going. Garrett and I load up on steak and beer while cheering on the stragglers as they finish who quickly join us to do the same.

9AM the next morning: Officer Martinez let’s me off with just a warning for exceeding the posted speed limit while leaving town. Possibly the biggest victory of the week!

Team road Capitan Dennis Ramirez, comes back to the car to discuss tactics with Nick during Stage 2 of Tour of the Gila.

Junior Essay Contest – Winning Entries

In case you missed it, we held an essay contest for junior cyclists earlier this month.  We got some great entries from all over the country and it really got me stoked about the future of cycling to read them all.  Without further ado, here are the winning entries:

Female Winner – Shae Dempsey, Age 14 – Arlington, VA

Shae hanging tough in a local race. Photo courtesy of Dominion Cycling Photography.

Shae hanging tough in a local race. Photo courtesy of Dominion Cycling Photography.

Shae Dempsey races for the National Capital Velo Club on the east coast.  Not only is she fast on a bike, she is already a far better writer than most of us!

My Race – by Shae Dempsey

I wait for my race to start. My legs and toes tingle. I glance around and make out my mom in the crowd of spectators. I catch her eye. She waves. I take a deep breath and let it all out. Why are races always so stressful?  Why are they so exciting? What is taking so long? I am wound like a taut rubber band.  I hear the scream of a whistle and I go.  

Once biking was a scary thought, a daunting challenge left undone. I was afraid to let go of the brakes, relying on wobbly training wheels for support. But I pushed off and started rolling down the street and I’m never going to stop.

Now I crave biking. I crave the hills. I like to suffer a little bit. When my legs really hurt and my breathing is labored I tell myself “one more pedal stroke, one more, one more” and I become lost in the moment and I realize I am at the top. And as I recover for a second, I laugh and look ahead to yet another set of hills, flying downward, wind whipping my hair. The risk and intensity are exhilarating and uplifting; downhill, after uphill, after downhill.

I like the perfect days, when the temperature is great, a wide road stretching out as far as the eye can see and golden sun rays stream down. I like the hard days too; I like the hot days, the cold days, the mud days, the I want to stay in bed days. Those days help me learn and persevere. I just deal with one thing at a time, adjust, and continue on.

Biking has shaped my character and has pushed me to be stronger. Being one of the few junior girls on the National Capital Velo Club I have learned how to keep a “can do” attitude, persevere, and most importantly work together with others. Being fairly new to competitive cycling I have learned that everyone has different skills. Some are good at hills or fast, some know biking terminology or just have years of experience and some just like to have fun. Regardless of your skills and strengths, you can always improve by practicing and learning from others.

I round one more bend. I see the finish line. Heat waves bounce off the asphalt. I glance forward and see a girl only meters away. This is my race. I stand and crank. My head down. We are even. One more pedal stroke and I’m in front. Her breathing fills my ears. My heart is in my throat. Then it is all over, I am spent and in slow motion I climb the podium steps.

-Shae Dempsey

Male Winner – Issac Ross, Age 16 – Colorado Springs, CO

Issac on track at the Olympic Training center in Colorado Springs.

Issac on track at the Olympic Training center in Colorado Springs.

Issac is an up and coming rider out of Colorado Springs.  He has moved up through the ranks of the Front Rangers Cycling Club as a rider, coach, and is now Vice President of their board – at age 16!

I am hard pressed to find an area of my life that Cycling has not touched, since beginning to ride seriously at twelve my self-confidence, my health, my relationships, and my community involvement have all been greatly improved to better than they have ever been. Before I began cycling I hated looking in the mirror, at just twelve years old I had crippling self-confidence issues that prevented me from comfortably making friends, getting involved in my school sports or my community. On top of this, I was not healthy, I could not run down a soccer field without becoming winded, my face flushing, and feeling ugly and pathetic. I hated what I looked like when exercising and thus never partook in it, certainly never around other kids, so I would watch as great communities of student athletes grew together, building lifelong friendships that were tenacious and genuine, I longed to have a community like those but could never find one to fit into.

I started cycling because it was an individual sport, I could go ride alone for a few hours, unimpeded by the worry of my peers seeing and ridiculing me. Gradually I took my beat-up mountain bike out on longer and longer rides, eventually riding upwards of forty miles on occassion, which inspired me to buy my first road bike, a lime green Trek 1200 which I adored. It was loud, it was fast, it was bright and I loved every moment I was on it. I met wonderful adults who would help me along. When I got a flat I went into my local bike shop and met Mindy, the owner who invited me out for rides, and later offered me an internship at the shop, growing my business and workplace confidence immensely and making me comfortable talking to adults as one.

The shop sponsored Colorado Springs’ only youth team, the Front Rangers, and after riding for several months became able to go further than I had ever been before, my face didn’t flush so much when exercising, and I felt ready to join a community and thrive within it. I joined and moved up their ranks, the team pushed me further than I ever thought possible, and eventually I became a veteran of the group. Leadership asked me to lead a skills day, then a group ride, then work on small projects for them. As this progressed I was eventually asked to come to board meetings, and from there I ran for, and was elected Vice President of the Board of Directors for our nonprofit. Cycling transformed me from a self-hating, out of shape kid into a confident, happy young adult with an abundance of peers to share my love of bikes with. Today I have a body that I love, cycling friends that I love even more, and I work within the Front Rangers to expand youth cycling within Colorado Springs for all the juniors whose lives can be transformed by cycling as mine was.

-Issac Ross

Honorable Mention – Avery Cavner, Age 8 – Colorado Springs, CO

Avery after trying out the local velodrome.

Avery, is 8 years old but will be quick to point out her racing age is actually 9!  She has been riding cycle-cross for two season and also happens to be a Type 1 diabetic – although she isn’t letting that slow her down.  Team Novo Nordisk are you paying attention?

Hi, my name is Avery.  Biking has improved my life by a lot of things.  I’ll tell you most of them.

1st, you can bike and have fresh air outside.  2nd you can bike somewhere and if there is no parking you don’t have to drive all over looking for parking.  It has also made me stronger, more athletic, faster and better at gym at school.  I think it would help others by losing weight, becoming stronger, better at being athletic, have bike rides with your family and have fun times.

-Avery Cavner

2016 Redlands Classic – Photo Essay

The Redlands Bicycle Classic is the first major stage race of the U.S. domestic pro cycling calendar and is the first full gathering of all the pro and elite amateur teams in the U.S.  For me it was also my first time getting to work with the Gateway Harley Davidson U25 squad out of St. Louis.  With my own GS CIAO team moving to a juniors program this year, I had offered to guest direct for them at a few select races this year and they were happy to take me up on it.  Garrett (our mechanic) and I got into the car for a 14 hour Sunday cruise from Boulder, CO to Redlands (with a brief layover in Mesquite, NV so Garrett could hit the casinos.), and soon found ourselves in downtown heading to Stell for a mandatory lunch stop.   After that it was time to meet the rest of the guys and get the team registered for the week.

What most people don’t know is that the team actually had its initial application turned down and only received a last minute invite to the race after another team cancelled.  At registration, I joked with race director Eric Reiser about being in the “1%” , as in having a 1% chance of getting in the race!  In our pre-race meetings I reminded the guys of this fact and told them to take advantage of being the unknown.  While the rest of the peloton might not have known much of the team at first, I knew the talent level of most of the riders and came into the race with very high expectations and ambition for what we could accomplish.  With a stage win and green jersey overall I would say we easily met and exceeded those expectations on every level.  However, I think I will just let some pictures speak for the rest of the week!

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Stage 1: Highland Circuit Race – Dennis Ramirez set the tone for the week by making the winning break and contesting the KOM and time bonus sprints.  Unfortunately Dennis would eventually flat out of the move.  Photo: Bob Simpson

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Boom! Sepp Kuss takes the stage win on top of Oak Glen. Sepp is a young mountain biker that was introduced to me this fall and is a climbing phenom in the making,. I am looking forward to seeing how far he can go. What you don’t see in this picture is the other 6 riders who perfectly executed our plan that day to deliver Sepp in perfect position for the win. Photo: Micah Escamilla/Redlands Daily Facts

Celebrating Sepp's stage win. It was pretty cool when the team owner and sponsors asked to do a conference call with us that night so they could give their regards and share in the celebration. There is a great family style culture in this program that I enjoy.

Celebrating Sepp’s stage win. It was pretty cool when the team owner, Chris Creed, and other sponsors asked to do a conference call with us that night so they could give their regards and share in the celebration. There is a great family style culture in this program that I enjoy.

Garrett Suydam preparing one of our time trial bikes for the Stage 3 TT. Garrett is a top notch wrench and an even better artist.

Garrett Suydam preparing one of our time trial bikes for the Stage 3 TT. Garrett is a top notch wrench and and also an accomplished artist. Check out his work here: garrettsuydam.com

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Our 2016 Kia Sportage worked flawlessly all week and I have to say that the air conditioned seats are a must have for 4 hour days in the caravan! i25kia.com has been a long time supporter of Boulder Sports Management and are one of the best in the business!

Our most Marc asked us to come cheer on his daughter Lily in the kid's race before the Stage 4 Criterium. We did him one better and jumped in the race with her! Not many 9 year olds get a professional leadout!

Our host Marc asked us to come cheer on his daughter, Lily, in the kid’s race before the Stage 4 Criterium. We did him one better and jumped in the race with her! Not many 9 year olds get a professional leadout!

Leading our pre-race meeting before the final Stage 5: Sunset Road Race. You might notice Bryan Gomez in the green sprinter's jersey which he won with some perfectly timed and aggressive riding in the previous night's criterium. Bryan did a great job defending did a prefect job defending the jersey

Leading our pre-race meeting before the final Stage 5: Sunset Road Race. You might notice Bryan Gomez in the green sprinter’s jersey which he won with some savvy and aggressive riding in the previous night’s criterium. Bryan and Max Ackerman did a great job defending the jersey on the final stage.

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Your final jersey winners! Photo: Bob Simpson

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Your 2016 Redlands Classic Squad: Nick, Isaiah, Daniel, Max, Sepp, Micah, Bryan, George, Dennis

#teamworkwinsraces

Announcing the Boulder Sports Management Junior Scholarship Essay Contest!

I have been surprised by just how much fun I have had coaching the Melton Design Build/GS CIAO Juniors team.  Every junior cyclist has an infectious enthusiasm and riding with them always helps renew my love for the sport.  It seems that a 13 year old knows better than anyone, that regardless of your fitness or ability level, riding a bicycle is just plain awesome.

With the goal of helping propagate this attitude further, I have decided to hold an essay contest for junior cyclists.  This isn’t about watts/kg or Strava KOMs, but spreading the word on why cycling is great.  Here are the details:

Spencer Podium

Spencer Downing taking his second junior state title while riding for our Horizon Organic/Panache Devo Team.

Who’s eligible: Any cyclist aged 18 or under as of December 31, 2016.

Essay Requirements:  In 500 words or less answer the following question: How has cycling improved your life, and how could you use cycling to improve the lives of others?  All entries are due on or before April 22, 2016 and are to be submitted via email.  (You can find the correct email address by clicking the little envelope button at the top or bottom of this page.)

Prizes: The top male and female entry will have their essays published on this blog (and possibly prize sponsor websites) and receive a prize pack including the following: Panache Cyclewear cycling kit and $100 gift certificate,  Smith Optics Overtake road helmet, Skratch Labs product pack, CycleOps swag pack.

Fine Print:   All entrants give Boulder Sports Management, LLC and its sponsor partners copyright to publish their work in digital or print medium at their option.  To keep it fair, no current coaching clients of Boulder Sports Management, LLC are eligible for prizes.  Blah, blah, please don’t sue me for trying to do something nice, blah.

 

What we can learn from Formula One

Velonews recently republished an interview I did with them this past winter talking about the challenges domestic elite teams face in the current climate of U.S. Pro Cycling.  (You can read it here.)  It is pretty telling that of all the teams featured, only one (Elevate) will be returning with a national level program in 2016.  Given the struggles ours and other great programs continue to face there is a more endemic issue to be solved – at both the domestic and WorldTour level.

When I initially started writing this I was going to talk about what each of the individual stakeholders should be doing to help turn the sport around, but plenty of folks have already done a good job of that.  (My favorites can be found here.)  Instead I am going to give a quick history lesson:

Pro cycling is not particularly unique and plenty of sports have suffered from cheating scandals and divided self-interests as they tried to mature.  A fairly recent example would be Formula One.   In the late 70s the sport was suffering from all of the major complaints that you hear about in cycling these days, the biggest one being the teams were struggling and wanted a share of the coveted television revenue.  The FIA (motorsports version of the UCI) was often at odds with the teams and sure wasn’t helping make this happen.  What it took was a used car salesman and real estate mogul, Bernie Ecclestone, to bring all the parties together and agree how to split the pie in a way that everyone would profit.  This resulted in a series of “Concorde Agreements” with the main point being an obligation of the teams to participate in every F1 race on the calendar   This makes the sport easier to follow and creates a consistent story arc for broadcasters to embellish   In return the broadcasters invest significantly in media coverage throughout the season creating world-wide and year long activation for teams and their sponsors, and the teams are guaranteed a percentage of the sport’s commercial revenue as well.  Now Mr. Ecclestone definitely isn’t a saint, and there remains plenty of controversy about how this was all accomplished, but in the end he pulled it off and the pie has grown substantially – making all parties (and especially Mr. Ecclestone) quite rich.  If people are making money then you have a sustainable model!

Right now everyone in pro cycling is so panicked about the shrinking pie that all they know to do is hold on to what they have tighter (or take their toys and go home.)  Until we can achieve some form of unification and resultant maturation of the sport, this trend is going to continue.  The catalyst isn’t going to come from the UCI or USA Cycling, they have their own problems and too much bureaucracy and politics to be that forward thinking.  It isn’t going to come from the teams or race promoters because they are to busy barely keeping their heads above water.  The savior of the sport we all love is going to be an individual – with enough means to make it happen and crazy enough to actually want to.  I sure hope to meet that person.

We can learn a lot from these guys.

We can learn a lot from these guys.

 

UCI TTT World Championships (Photo Essay)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had the opportunity to direct the Champion Systems – No Tubes professional team at the UCI Team Time Trial World Championships this past Sunday.  Here are some of my favorite moments from the weekend:

Giving the riders final instructions before the course pre-ride on Saturday.

Giving the riders final instructions before the course pre-ride on Saturday.

 

The team rolling off the start ramp to pre-ride the course.  (No one told the fans the race wasn't until tomorrow.)

The team rolling off the start ramp to pre-ride the course. (No one told the fans the race wasn’t until tomorrow.)

 

The team showing good form in the pre-ride on a very pretty section of the course.

The team showing good form in the pre-ride on a very pretty section of the course.

 

Hanging out with a local at the start.  The entire community rallied for the event and everyone was super friendly.

Hanging out with a local at the start. The entire community rallied for the event and everyone was super friendly.

 

Spending a moment with George Simpson who rides for my GS CIAO program.

Spending a moment with George Simpson who rides for my GS CIAO program.

 

Look Mom, I'm on T.V.!

Look Mom, I’m on T.V.!

 

The guys hitting one of the corners on a very technical circuit.

The guys hitting one of the corners on a very technical circuit.

 

Rolling through downtown Richmond.

Rolling through downtown Richmond.

 

Enjoying our time in the hot seat with the guys!

Enjoying our time in the hot seat with the guys!

This one time at TTT camp…

The UCI Team Time Trial World Championships is only 1 week away!  I was asked to coach and direct the team for Champion Systems-No Tubes (a U.S Continental team based out of New York) and of course jumped at the chance.  I ran a training camp for the squad at the end of August (with the help of Jon Tarkington) and wanted to share some of what goes into a strong TTT squad and effort.

I had the opportunity to recruit some additional riders to the team to compliment the existing roster.  Here is what I looked for:

  1. Strength:  Obviously you want strong riders that can generate high sustained power in a time trial position.  What is less obvious is that a proper TTT effort requires the ability to make several efforts above anaerobic threshold and then recover quickly.
  2. Size: For aerodynamic reasons you ideally want everyone to be the same size.  In a stage race team trial this is almost never the case and you would then try to put the smaller riders together and a stronger rider behind your smallest guy in the rotation.  In a single stage team trial like World’s you get a bit more control – so everyone on this team is ~ 6 feet tall with big hips!
  3. Awareness: You have to quickly adjust to the terrain, wind, and other riders in a team trial effort.  All while going flat out!  I looked for riders that I new had good ‘pack awareness’ in their road racing and that I knew I could communicate well with.  Rider communication during the effort is super critical to properly metering effort on a given day.
The Team (left to right): Nick Traggis, Drew Christopher, Andrew Clemence, George Simpson, Bryan Gomez, Max Korus, Mac Cassin, Jon Tarkington.

The Team (left to right): Nick Traggis, Drew Christopher, Andrew Clemence, George Simpson, Bryan Gomez, Max Korus, Mac Cassin, Jon Tarkington.

Coach Jon, checks Bryan's new Argon 18 TT bike to ensure it meets UCI size requirements before the first day of practice.

Coach Jon checks Bryan’s new Argon 18 TT bike to ensure it meets UCI size requirements before the first day of practice.

We went through several mock efforts and training drills during the camp.  Here are some of the critical facets of a fast TTT we worked on:

  1. Speed: Number one rule of a TTT is to keep the speed up!  That means stronger riders pull longer (but not harder), and weaker riders pull shorter (but not slower).
  2. Pull Duration:  This seems to be the number one mistake riders new to this discipline make.  Pull duration is constantly changing based on the effective windspeed of the front rider.  In general you will be taking much shorter pulls on fast downhills and longer more steady pulls on climbs.  Once our squad got this concept down, they were traveling faster for the same effort!
  3. Pace:  In the Worlds TTT we start with 6 riders and finish with 4.  Therefore the team’s pace is dictated by the 4th strongest rider on that day.  Everyone’s job is to get that 4th rider across the line as fast as possible as that is what dictates the time for the team!  (and that 4th man is in for a world of suffering)
  4. Communication:  On a given day one rider might be stronger or weaker than usual.  The ability to communicate that and adjust the team’s pacing, rotation direction, and pull strategy accordingly is key.  The second rider in line will often call out when the front rider should pull off since they can sense changes in pace better than the rider in front.
  5. All the usual TT stuff: Warm-up well, don’t start too fast, don’t start too fast, and don’t start too fast.
The squad in action during an mock effort.

The squad in action during an mock effort.

First Effort of the Camp.

First Effort of the Camp.

Final effort of the camp. One proud coach here!

Final Effort of the camp!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a Swiss time piece at 55kph:

 

P.S. Time Trial specialists eat a lot more than stage racers!

P.S. Time Trial specialists can eat a lot of food!

Tour of Utah and Pro Challenge

I just got back from a great few weeks directing with Team SmartStop for the Tour of Utah and U.S. Pro Challenge (Colorado).  For those of you that followed the race, you know the team put in a performance that far exceeded expectations.  I had a blast working with the riders and staff, and thought it would be fun to share some of the experiences from the last few weeks:

1. Hotel accommodations can be super hit or miss.  As the race moves from town to town some host cities are better prepared to handle the race than others.  We started Tour of Utah staying in dormitories with vinyl covered mattresses.  Pro Challenge probably has some of the best hotels of any race as most of the time we are staying in ski town condos.

This was my room the day we won the stage in Utah. All around a great day!
This was my room the day we won the stage in Utah. All around a great day!
The good news is that accommodations could only get better from here!
The good news is that accommodations could only get better from here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Race provided food is just plain terrible.  There is only so many days you can eat powdered eggs, overcooked pasta and dry chicken.  Every once in the while a hotel will get it right, but that just creates false hope for the rest of the week.  I talked my wife Faith into cooking for the team in CO which made a huge difference, but even some of the World Tour teams seemed to skip this option.  (Here are some pro tips from Phil Gaimon on how to make the best of it.)

Faith takes advantage of one of our ski condo kitchens to make some chicken fried rice for the guys.
Faith takes advantage of one of our ski condo kitchens to make some chicken fried rice for the guys.

3. The caravan is noticeably more relaxed than in the smaller NRC races that make up most of the U.S. calendar.  There is a mutual respect that everyone has a job to do, and the level of experience is much higher.  That being said, I did still have to “reaffirm my presence” to a certain Euro team driver from time to time.  I also managed to eat my sandwich every day without spilling any mustard on myself so there’s that.

Supporting GS CIAO alum Emerson Oronte in the break on stage 1 of Utah was a great way to kick off the week. (Photo: Team Smartstop)
Supporting GS CIAO alum Emerson Oronte in the break on stage 1 of Utah was a great way to kick off the week. (Photo: Team Smartstop)
This is what that same breakaway looked like from my perspective....
This is what that same breakaway looked like from my perspective….

4.  The staff on this team is awesome and I would go into battle with any one of them again.  (Might need to talk a few of them into coming over to GS CIAO next season!)

The mechanics prep TT bikes while the riders head out for a training ride. Jim, Randy, and Jason are great at keeping the riders safe and in the race and me entertained.
The mechanics prep TT bikes while the riders head out for a training ride. Jim, Randy, and Jason are great at keeping the riders safe and in the race and they tell pretty good stories as well!
Astrid with Jure post stage. Astrid works 14 hour days with a smile on all the time.
Astrid with Jure post stage. Astrid works 14 hour days with a smile on all the time. (Photo: Team SmartStop)
Everything you need to know about Performance Director Jon Tarkington can be found in this picture.
Everything you need to know about coach and Performance Director Jon Tarkington can be found in this picture.
Mike leads a pre-race meeting with camera crew in tow.
Michael Creed is the mastermind behind the team’s success and I learned a lot from him these past few weeks.  Here he is leading a pre-race meeting with camera crew in tow.

5. These guys punch way above their weight!  This team was one of (if not the) smallest team in the race both in Utah and Colorado.  However, you can’t tell by looking at the results sheet.  I see a lot of parallels here to the culture we have on the GS CIAO squad.

Jure takes the stage after a perfect leadout from Travis and great riding by the whole squad.
Jure takes the stage after a perfect leadout from Travis and great riding by the whole squad. (Photo: Team SmartStop)
Rob enjoys receiving the best team award. (Photo: Team SmartStop)
Rob enjoys receiving the best team award. (Photo: Team SmartStop)
Rob Britton celebrating the final GC podium at Pro Challenge!

Rob Britton celebrating the final GC podium at Pro Challenge! (Photo: Team Smartstop)

6. The fans are awesome!  (Even if they are always trying to get run over during the race.)  It was great seeing so many friends out on course.

Following Mexican TT champ Flavio during the Breckenridge TT stage.
Following Mexican TT champ Flavio during the Breckenridge TT stage. (Photo: Team Smartstop)
Following an apparently hungry Travis during the Breck TT. (Photo: Team Smartstop)
Following an apparently hungry Travis during the Breck TT. (Photo: Team Smartstop)

 

CycleOps Secrets to a Good Warm-Up

(This is an interview/post I did for my friends at CycleOps and was originally published here.)

1. What type of athlete should focus on warming-up before a race?

All athletes of all ability levels should ensure they get a good warm-up in before competition! While the type of event will dictate the length and type of warm-up needed, you always want to have your system ‘primed’ and ready to go! In general, the shorter and more intense the event the longer and more focused the warm-up will need to be. So light spinning for 10 minutes might be acceptable before a long road race, while a more intense and structured warm-up routine is needed for a time trial or criterium. The exception would be if that long road race starts out right away with a long and steep climb!

Chris shows off his secret playlist!

Chris shows off his secret playlist!

2. What do you recommend people do for warming-up/cooling down on their cycle trainer?

Warm-Up: The current trend seems to be towards shorter but more focused warm-up routines. Here is my current favorite, although each individual will want to tailor it to their own needs and experience:

15 minutes light (Zone 1* – slowly build cadence) 3 minute build from Zone 1 to anticipated power output for event (typically around Zone 4). Build cadence during build-up. 2 minutes recovery (Zone 1) Repeat progressive build ups for a total of three times 3 minutes light (Zone 1)

I like to go ride around on the road for a couple minutes after putting race wheels on just for a quick mechanical check. Then it’s time to head to the start-house!

Total Time: 35 minutes

Cool Down: I think 15-25 minutes of very light pressure on the pedals (Zone 1) with a slightly elevated cadence (~100rpm but will vary with individual) is perfect.

* All Zones above are power training zones, however heart rate zones shouldn’t be all that different.

3. What is the importance of warming-up or cooling down on a bike trainer?

A gradual increase in effort helps prime the body’s metabolic processes so you will be at optimized efficiency at the start of the event. In addition, by warming up the muscle and connective tissue it is less susceptible to injury. There is also a strong physiological benefit to going through the warm-up routine and building athlete focus before the event starts. (Especially important in short events!)

Cooling down directly after the event, helps keep blood flowing through the tired muscles flushing out accumulated toxins and ‘leftovers’ from the harder efforts of competition. This aids in recovery between events.
4. How soon before the race should the warm-up start and end?

It depends somewhat on the type of event, but for a time trial I like to end the warm-up 10 minutes before the athlete’s start time. This should give the rider time to get to the start without any unnecessary drama or added stress. Some people like to cut it as close as possible before the start-time, but I think this just makes a rider stressed for no good reason. In terms of when to start the warm-up you simple work backwards from your start time. So if you have a 45 minute routine you would get on the trainer at 55 minutes before your start time.

Team GS CIAO warm-up set-up before the Joe Martin TT.

Team GS CIAO warm-up set-up before the Joe Martin TT.

5. At a race, where is the best place to warm-up when using a turbo trainer?

There are couple things to consider when selecting where to warm-up. First, I like to be as close to the start line as possible. This makes it easier to hear any last minute changes to the schedule, and allows you to end your warm-up closer to the actual start time. I always like to sync my watch with the official time clock when I get to the event as well since I have never met an official who was sympathetic to someone’s watch running 5 minutes slow! I go as far as writing down the start times for all my riders on a large white board in front of the trainers so there is no chance of ‘forgetting’ ones start time.

I also like to set up the trainers in a shady spot out of direct sun. The best way to warm-up is to get the muscles and connective tissue warm and at ‘operating temperature’, but while keeping core temperature from rising as little as possible. This is why you see professionals wearing ice vests during really hot days when warming up. Lastly, make sure you have everything you need in arm’s reach before you start your routine. This includes, water, any pre-race food, music device, towel, etc.

Sometimes you have to be creative to get to that perfect location for the team!

Sometimes you have to be creative to get to that perfect location for the team!

6. For those new to racing, where could they look for more information on racing and warm-up routines?

While there is plenty of basic information and routines people can find by searching on the Internet, there is no substitute for a proper coach. They can help you pick a proper warm-up and approach to each specific event, while taking into account your individual attributes! USA Cycling has a great online database for looking for licensed coaches, as well as events, in your area.