Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Feeling The Heat

I've been catching a bit of heat lately for not keeping my blog up to date, and to those of you that have been giving the heat, you're right. There's nothing worse than a half or fully deceased blog, they're really just an eye-sore  Either write on it, or take it down. Otherwise, YOU'RE JUST HOGGING THE INTERNET.

I've got a few things that I had been feeling were worthy of a blog post, the least of which was my performance at Joe Martin... but don't worry, like any good cyclist, I've got excuses for you! I've even got visual aids for my excuses!

In my opinion, the most blog-worthy topic running around in my brain is about us cyclist and our predisposition to race-facing each other. If you've ever been on a ride with me when I've been race-faced, then I'm sure you've heard my rant on the topic. But now, I've got new information that makes the race-facing issue even more troubling.

As many of you know, I've recently become the partial owner of a motorcycle. I say partial, and actually I own no part of the machine, but my father bought one under the pretense that I'd ride it too. I think he just needed to convince himself that he wasn't just spending the money on himself alone. Regardless, I now have access to a two-wheeled rocket ship. And I've been accessing it regularly.



In extensive travels on said motorcycle, I've been on the receiving end of numerous "motorcycle waves". I would imagine that many of you have seen this before, and it looks similar to how a cyclist would point out a pothole to the group during a ride, only you throw out a couple of fingers in a really awesome, swag-filled manner.

I've received this wave from everyone from overweight scooter riders, to women on Harley's. I can probably count on one hand the number times I been the first to throw the motorcycle wave while passing another rider. And believe me, I'm a trigger-happy waver. I find it unbelievable that the average/ majority of motorcyclists are in fact cooler, nicer, more outgoing and less self conscious than the average cyclist.  I mean, these guys are running around with tattoo's, piercings, and black leather and we're wearing fruity, colored leotards, yet we're the ones acting tough and "bad ass"...

Seriously people, if Joe Motorcyclist can wave every time, surely we as cyclists can get our heads out of our asses and wave to someone who at least enjoys the same hobby as you do! Please don't race face me, as I'm obviously very sensitive about it.

OK, on to the Joe Martin Stage Race.

I'm not going to go to the trouble of giving you every detail from the week, but in short: I struggled. I'm not exactly surprised to have had a rough week, but it doesn't necessarily make it any easier to stomach.

The reason I'm not surprised to have had a rough time, is that I haven't been able to do any real training in almost 6 weeks. According to the doctor, I ran my immune system down a bit too much with my training and weakened it to the point that it couldn't keep the symptoms of mono at bay (the virus is always present once you've had mono, but your immune system develops the anti-bodies to keep the symptoms suppressed). So basically I was dealing with similar symptoms to the first time I had mono, but just a bit lighter this time around.

This was frustrating to say the least, but I do feel like I'm recovering well, I'm just not very fit because of the lack of training.


Here is a graph of my training load from January- April.


As you can see there are two distinct build periods, then the training just falls off the map. The only weeks where I've had over 10 or so hours are the ones where I've had a longer race or races. Like I said, the good news is that I'm getting closer to normal, but I've just still got to be careful for a bit longer.

Joe Martin was definitely a great block of training, I just ended up suffering quite a lot more than I had anticipated. Just ask anyone who was driving a car in the caravan last week, they saw lots of me, and I had the pain face on nearly full time. Supposedly suffering + rest = form.

Thanks for reading.














Friday, April 27, 2012

Roughin' It at The Joe Martin Stage Race


Coming off of our host housing experience in New York a few weeks ago, we were feeling pretty spoiled. Fast forward to our situation here in Fayetteville for Joe Martin and it's getting downright ridiculous. For this week's race we're staying at the Hazel Valley Ranch on the outskirts of town because, luckily, the owner of the property is a friend of our guest rider and former Panther rider Kris French.

The 300 acre dude ranch has multiple buildings on the property, but our building can host the 7 of us comfortably, has a stocked bar, cold beer on tap, a handful of tv's, 2 kitchens, a game room, a Tourette tower lookout, skeet shooting area, and a few other decent amenities... And a bunch of buffalo.

I'll let the photos do the talking:













We took a "tour" of the ranch on the four-wheeler like vehicles. We ran out of seats, so I had to ride in the back...







Oh, yes, the bike racing...

Today's first stage was a 2.5 mile uphill time trial. I had an early start time, which was nice because that meant I was able to get it over with quickly. I finished a little bit south of mid-pack, but certainly nothing to write home about. My time was 20-plus seconds faster than last time I did this TT and times were considerably slower than in previous years due to a headwind on a decent portion of the climb. Improvement is good, so I guess I'm fine with it.




Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Battenkill Revival



Since I was already writing a blog post for the Panther website, I figured I could post it one here too. And you though this old thing was dead...



As the 6 of us sat together in the pre-race meeting, some of us in folding chairs, some leaning on the bumper of the car and the others resting on the top tubes of our trusty Orca's, we poured over the details of the course, the important climbs and different strategies for taking on feeds. After a few minutes, one common theme hit us all like a cobble-stone to the head: Be at the front. Be at the front to put someone in the break. Be at the front for the climbs. Be at the front for the gravel sections. Be at the front for the narrow covered bridges. Be. At. The. Front! We could practically hear the other 160 or so riders saying the same thing in their meetings. I knew that if we were going to be at the front, we were going to have to earn it. 

We rolled out for 1 mile of neutral, and then it was just 4 miles of wide open four lane road leading to the potential bottle necking covered bridge that took us onto the first dirt section and subsequent climbs. During these 4 miles, I was part of the most nervous pleloton I've ever seen. Legs raged and elbows flew as we nervously, but rapidly, hurdled towards the first decisive moments of the race. From this point on, things get got bit blurry, as trying to take care and position myself took all of my mental resources. Every inch was critical. 

My sweat dripped from my chin down onto my top tube where I had written the mileages of the important points of the race, turning the notes into useless ink swirls. Guess what, I guess you just have to "Be At The Front", I thought to myself. I didn't bother looking around to see what type of damage had been done to the peloton around me until we collectively, briefly exhaled as we exited the most difficult part of the course from miles 40-50 of the first lap. It seemed we'd already lost 100 or more riders, leaving roughly 40 of us. 

Back to business we went. A long exposed cross wind section lead us into the lap's final climb, Stage Road, at mile 55. I was hanging on for dear life and feeling the burn before we even hit the climb. I made it 2/3 of the way up the climb before coming off the back and promptly vomiting on my left arm, left leg, and left everything. Although it didn't feel like it at the time, this was probably the single moment that saved my race. Prior to Puke-Gate, I was having some serious issues getting any food down, but afterwards I felt like a new man. Someone had hit the reset button and I was ready to go. I fought my way over the rest of the climb and made my way through the caravan of cars and was able to reconnect with the dwindling front group by mile 62 at the Start/Finish line. At this point I took stock during a lull in the action and tried to smile for the cameras as we went through town. I found that Chris and I were the 2 Panther riders left in the front group, but then again, most of the pro teams only had 2 or 3 riders as well. 

As we headed back out onto the wide open 4 lane road that lead us to Bottle-Neck Bridge for the second time, the racing got spicey. Chris and I we're chewing on our stems as we tried to go with all the waves of attacks. Just before we turned onto the bridge, the decisive move of the race went up the road, never to be seen again. It's hard to see the move going like that and not be able to go with it, but we we're both pretty well red-lined at the time.

With the break established, the field took a little siesta and we took a moment to eat, drink and be as merry as one can be in the throes of a 200 kilometer dirt road race. I was taking on fluids and emptying my pockets of all their food, knowing that an unprecedented bonk was still very possible given the fact that I'd take all of my nutrients and ejected them to the roadside 30 miles earlier. The most selective section of the lap came around again at mile 100 and our siesta was a distant memory as we aggressively tackeld the last few dirt sections as if there were no tomorrow. Chris and I floated near the front and out of trouble, a much easier task with 35 or so riders, rather than 160. We both made it over Stage Road for the final time and tucked into the group for the fast, slightly downhill run into Cambridge for the finish. With so few teams with more than 2 riders, the sprint was very chaotic and uncontrolled. We did our best to milk our legs of their last watts and "sprinted" the last few hundred meters off the two hundred thousand meters we had done on the day. We both came across is the middle of our small group, finishing 34th and 40th on the day. 

It's tough to be satisfied with a result when it's a 34th place, but on such a difficult day I think Chris and I were both happy to have survived and learned something in the process about suffering and fighting.



And finally, a little video from pre-riding Stage Road on Saturday.

video

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Done Campin'


I've just finished packing my bikes and wheels, and as soon as the dryer is finished, I'll have my clothes packed as well. Today was my final race of this year's Belgian campaign, and my 3rd whoopin' (race) in 4 days. I'm heading to the airport tomorrow morning at 6:45am and will be back eating a pizza in Bloomington by probably 7pm, Indiana time. I'm ready to be home, but I'm also not really ready to be done here. I'm not sure where to start catching you up on the developments of the last few days, but I'll try.

The 3 races since my last post were: a World Cup in Zolder, a GVA in Loenhout, and just a regular old bike race in Bredene today, all 3 of which I did last year.

Zolder is one of my favorite courses and the fact that the race takes place on an F1 track makes for a generally awesome scene. Awesome like, garage bays that would normally house Formula 1 cars are now Frite shops. As you know, hard field, hard course, hard conditions, blah blah blah...

Strangely enough, I actually felt like I was participating in a bike race. I was in a decent sized group for most of the race, but one bad lap that included a few, maybe a bakers dozen, crashes. In the world in which I'm racing over here, there just isn't room to make many or any mistakes and expect a decent outcome. I did come away from the race feeling pretty ok about my technical skills, especially dealing with those massive drops where everyone congregates to laugh at your expense. My legs also started to feel a little recovered from the flu earlier in the week.

Loenhout was my worst race of the trip last year, and I would probably say the same for this year too. The course is just muddy and a total power course. It feels like doing leg-press at the gym for about an hour. This year we were treated to a 200m or so run on the flats, directly after long tractor pull like section. Torture. Time gaps were bigger at this course than most because of the difficulty. Huge crowds, but, no amount of encouragement could have gotten me on the lead lap on this day. I finished with a group of Americans and American types (Craig Ritchey). Agenda for next year: learn how to make watts.



Finally, today was a race by the coast in Bredene. Being near the coast, the soil is sandy and thus there's not too much mud to be found. Thank you, 8lb 6oz tiny infant Jesus. Since the race wasn't part of the GVA, Superprestige, or World Cup series, the field wasn't quite as big, but still had Stybar, Niels Albert, and a bunch of their meanest friends. (Editors note: my roommate Jake Wells just sent my a message on Twitter telling me to stop punching my keyboard. Good thing I'm moving out tomorrow, or Ryan Knapp might have to choke a bro.) With my semi-inflated status due to my American racing calendar, I got the very last call-up in the second row, right behind Niels Albert and Stybar. The guys with the cameras were trying to get some great photos of me, but those two a-holes were getting in all the shots... I decided to not say anything at the time and just lets my legs do the talking, or crying. Minus one minor detail of hitting a spectator with one lap to go, the race was a smashing success. But, since that did actually happen, I was denied my first official finish on the lead lap with a legitimate field, and instead rewarded with a smooth DNF next to my name. However, the guy that walked out in front of me was unbelievably nice and apologetic. He actually found me on Facebook and send me another apology message.




So now the trip is over and even though it was full of 5 course meals consisting of only Humble Pie, I'm glad that I decided to come back for another round, because there is really no limit to the number of things you can learn from dealing with the challenges of racing your bike here. Once again, thanks for following along and supporting me throughout the process. Luckily, I'm dumber than a box of rocks, because otherwise, trips like this could be a bit demoralizing...

BMC Service Course 

"SAMSONITE! I was WAY off!"

It wasn't even that nice on the inside...

Lots of not Zipp wheels. 




Sunday, December 25, 2011

Because I sure don't have any other plans...



Since I'm obviously not drinking Egg Nog and sitting around a fire place with my family, I figured I could probably squeak a blog entry into my schedule on a race-less Christmas day in Belgium. I really wanted to write an update right after Diegem on Friday, less to inform anyone who actually reads this blog, but more to vent for myself. However, the late start time and a few other things have put it on the back burner until now.

If you're a follower of my Facebook or Twitter account you may know that I got sick with some sort of bug and was dealing "flu like symptoms", as they say. This had me doing wind-sprints to the bathroom for the better part of an entire day. Openers? Not so much. I had to miss a race in Holland on Tuesday because of the sickness and was still too laid-up to muster much more than a light 45 minute spin on Wednesday. Fast forward to Friday and I was hoping to have the sickness banished and be ready to preform at Diegem. Anyone who's ever had the flu knows the exhausting feeling of walking up the stairs while in it's grasp. Although the major symptoms were gone, the effects like that were still around. 

I told Jake the morning of the race that I was still feeling pretty zapped, but wanted to give it a go because it was such a cool race, and my personal favorite. I did, what I feel, was a pretty good job staying optimistic about the prospects of racing well and blocking out any negative thinking. I absolutely loved the course during pre-ride and had no technical issues with any sections, and the mud was even manageable for someone like me. I did an appropriate warm-up and headed to the start line. 
Warm-Up
Another American, Jeremy Durrin

Jake and I were kind of early, so we spun up and down the starting straight with Sven, Jeremy Durrin, Styby, Mitch Hoke, Niels... you know, the gang. The atmosphere was honestly, Superbowl-like. The fans we all jazzed up just to see us spinning our legs. That scene was as much as cyclocross racer can ever hope to feel like a legitimate professional athlete. We all took our spots on the line, with an American in almost every row of the grid. It was very cool to have so many of us at the start. My points got me a second to last row call up. Pretty much what I had expected, and I was ok with that.

The start was hectic, but usual. No issues on my end as I exchanged elbows with my 50 closest Belgian buddies in search of the left turn off of the pavement. In general the start went well and I even surprised myself by hoisting my bike over my head to run through a tiny gap where all of the other rider had dismounted at an off camber turn. I've never actually used this move, but I'd seen the Belgi's use it previously. I snuck between a racer's bike and the barricades at the side of the course, nearly swiping the fans in the face as I wielded my steed above my head. Surprisingly effective actually.

Still running off the rush of adrenaline from the start I was able to turn the pedals at an acceptable rate for the first lap or so. Once I started to settle in, the totally zapped feeling was back in my legs and I was struggling to push the pedals over. I rode another lap, or maybe more, but it was painfully clear that I wasn't ready for this effort level just yet. Maybe stick to conquering stairs first instead of a Superprestige.

I pulled the plug the next time through the pits and thanked the guys for all their work on my bikes. It's really a shitty feeling pulling out of a race when you've got a whole crew there to support you. They were understanding and reassuring, and I tried to be for myself as well. It just wasn't very easy. 

See, Belgium has been on my radar for a while now. I have been planning my preparations around performing well here, not DNF'ing. I know that things out of your control do definitely happen, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach my first illness in who knows how long.

Geoff told me that tomorrow is a new day, and I told him that saying should be the slogan for Euro Cross Camp... In these conditions and in this environment, there are a lot of things you've got to put behind you. I'm more than prepared and the disappointment from Diegem is definitely pushed in a rear-ward general direction. Tomorrow is my first World Cup of this trip, in Zolder. I'm really looking forward to having a good ride and finally posting a positive race report on this blog. Thanks for supporting me, and also for taking the time to read what I've written.

Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad. I wish I could be at home celebrating with the family, but thanks for always supporting me. 


Muddy Pits...
Bikes straight to the shoulder in the pit

Before
After.







Sunday, December 18, 2011

Settling In

The stench of Belgian "mud" (read: cow poop) has officially infiltrated almost every room in the Euro Cross Camp house, my once bright yellow Mavic shoes are now looking quite mustard like, and the heating radiators in our rooms have turned into makeshift drying racks. Ahh, yes... the racing block here has begun. Before I catch everyone (mom and dad) up on the first race of the trip, I'll back up a bit and get you up to speed with the first few days in Belgium.

After my nightmare travel adventure from last year's trip, I was repaid with as painless of a Trans-Atlantic flight as one could have. Window seat, skinny row-neighbor, tolerable meals and everything was on schedule. Our old pal Josef from last year was waiting for us once we came through baggage claim and we were on our way to Izegem, with all of our bikes, luggage and optimism in tow. I had a weird home-like feeling as we got closer to the house. The awkward handshakes and introductions were replaced with hugs and updates on each other's lives over the year since we'd last spoken. I knew things would be easier the second time around, but I was surprised how much easier things felt just knowing what to expect from the situation. I've got the same corner room but a new roommate in Jake Wells of Colorado. We get along pretty well, I guess. If our rooming together were a first date, I'd say he's totally going to call.

We've only had one training day so far, but I went with my go-to route to Kortrik, plus showed a few of the new guys around "downtown" Izegem. We made a trip to the store to buy the necessities: Nutella, Speculoos, and rice cakes. The rice cakes aren't really my favorite, but they help us avoid the judgmental eye of the locals to some degree.

My sleep schedule hasn't been ideal over the first few nights, but that may have something to do with the 4 hour nap that I took in the middle of the first day here. Geoff warned us not to take a nap and to stay awake at all costs during the first day, but I couldn't help myself. I've been having these weird 4 hour blocks of sleep with 2 hour periods in the middle where I'm wide awake. Not ideal, but I feel like I'm getting closer to a normal schedule.

Contrary to popular Internet belief, I did not do the World Cup today in Namur. Thank God. It looked outrageous. I did however do a "National Race" in Maldegem, which is about 45 minutes up the road. Belgium has been getting some pretty intense rain over the last week and there's lots of flooding in West-Flanders. Our course had to be cut short because an ocean appeared in the field where our race was located. The truncated course consisted of a very narrow start straight (think cart path), with a right turn onto poop-covered cobbles, and then a lot of long straight sections, many of which it was faster to run. Everyone's favorite! Although, I'm pretty sure I had enough UCI points for a front row call-up, I got the standard American issue call-up, none at all. I tried to make some hand gestures and Flemish-like sounds to the official, but he just looked at me funny. How rude (90's kids better get that reference!). I moved up a bit from my last row starting spot on the road, but not much. There were absolutely no technical aspects of the course, just pick a rut and pedal feverishly. I pedaled and got pretty dirty doing it. I'm not sure of the result, or how to gauge the people that I finished amongst, but regardless, it was good to shake the travel out of my legs.

Tonight we were home by 6pm, and had dinner shortly after. By the time we got all of our dirty kit power-washed and into a washing machine, it was almost 9. A bit of social time and a blog post thrown in and it looks like bed time will be around 11:30. Racing in the mud definitely extends the time involved with the race, but it make you strong like bull.

Some of the guys unpacking and building bikes.

I've laid claim to the sweetest mug in the house. Yes, that's Pocahontas. Boom.

My phone is in the middle of that bag of rice. 

Training. I wear all black so people know I mean business.
Our mechanic Dave with Belgian legend, Johan Museeuw. He parked right next to us!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Christmas (in Belgium) Story


I've been holding off writing a blog update about my Christmas/ Holiday Cyclocross campaign for a while now, mostly because so much of it has been up in the air. As of this last weekend, I finally nailed down all of the details. Sorry, Mom and Dad. I won't be home for Christmas, again.

Originally, I had planned to stay with the extended family of a few of my friends from IU, but it turned out that car rental/ transportation was going to be so expensive that it made that route a no-go. About the time that was falling through (last month), Craig Ritchey messaged me about an opening at The ChainStay in Oudenaarde. The ChainStay could offer housing, some meals and most importantly, transportation to all of the races I was looking to do. I spoke with Craig, and also Gregg Germer, the owner, about the opening and put down a deposit to secure my spot at the house. The opportunity to stay in Oudenaarde was pretty exciting because the riding in that area takes you over many of the famous "Bergs" of the Tour of Flanders and I was also looking forward to the opportunity to see a new city for a few weeks, but it was not to be.

The most recent (and final) development started unfolding in the last handful of days, and it has hinged around Ryan Trebon's knee injury. Geoff Proctor called me on Friday to see if I would be interested in filling Ryan's spot if he officially backed out, which he did on Saturday. I had always planned on doing the Belgium trip on my own, not because I didn't love the camp last year, but I just to leave a spot open for someone else to have the same awesome Belgian experience that I was able to have last year. Part of the reason behind my invite is that the only other Elite rider attending Camp this year is Jake Wells, and he is an awesome dude, but also a first timer (because I've obviously been, like, so many times), but Geoff wanted to have another Elite around the house with some experience as well as someone to keep the Juniors, and Zach McDonald in line. The support and whole experience that the Cross Camp can offer is unbeatable; so needless to say, it didn't take much convincing.


Now that the final details are in place, I'm able to stress a little bit less and focus more on the fact that I'm just excited to be going back for another crack at all of these races that slapped me around last year. It really is amazing the difference that a year makes. Last year I was watching videos of the Belgian races and nearly having heart attacks thinking about lining up with those guys. This year, I'm still nervous, but I know exactly what I'm getting into and feel much more confident about where I am with my training and mental state at this point in the season. No, I don't necessarily think I'm going to go over and finish on the lead lap of every race, but I'm excited to fight the Belgi's as hard as they plan on fighting me. Imma kick someone in the stomach! WATCHOUT!

My schedule for the trip will look something like this:

Dec. 17th- Lichtervelde (Local Race)
Dec. 18th- Balagem
Dec. 20th- Surhuisterveen (Way up north in Holland)
Dec. 23rd- Diegem Superprestige (Night race; Probs my favorite race EVER)
Dec. 26th- Zolder WC
Dec. 28th- Loenhout GVA
Dec. 29th- Bredene

So that's 7 races in 15 days, ranging from a World Cup, to a Superprestige, and even a couple midsized and smaller ones sprinkled in, too. 5 of the 7 I've done before, so I'm hoping that those experiences will count for something this time around.

As I'm sure you're aware, all of this ain't free. Traveling across the Atlantic and living for 2+ weeks is never a cheap proposition, but when you throw in the costs involved with air travel, equipment, mechanics, food, transportation, housing, and racing, this opportunity gets a bit spendy. I'm budgeting around $3,500 for the trip, and that's with me planning on stealing the airline peanuts as snacks. I would never expect to get all of this, or any where near all of this covered by anyone other than myself, but I do have a Paypal donation button set up on the side of the blog if you would like to help me defray some of the costs. If you're not into the Paypal thing, shoot me an email at knapprd@gmail.com and we can work something out. For the right price, I could be persuaded to get your name tattooed somewhere visible, or even drop your name Nascar style in an interview or my Cyclingnews blog entry. Seriously though, every little bit helps. Regardless if you donate or not, I appreciate you even checking out my blog.

Keep checking back in the weeks to come, because I plan on making it rain blog posts.

Here's a bit of media from the UCI race in North Carolina a few weeks ago...

Watch more video of North Carolina Grand Prix 2011 on cyclingdirt.org

And just to refresh your memory on what exactly it is I'm getting into...

Easy.