The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 3: Sign Sprints

INTRO: Sprinters are the pariahs of the peleton, despised and verbally abused as “wheelsuckers,” “peleton trollers,” or worse: http://www.truesport.com/bike/2005/articles/druber/druber13.html   Deep down though is the unspoken truth: jealousy is at the heart of the contempt.... But, being a sprinter is more than fast twitch muscles, podiums, and podium girls – it is a lifestyle, with a clear set of unspoken rules and traditions – most of which are in direct contrast to the majority roadie rule. In these next few volumes I’ll attempt capture some of them.

Volume 3: The Sprinter’s Guide to Sign Sprints

Sign sprints are a common element of group rides that create a love/hate relationship with roadies. On one hand roadies design the routes for most group rides, and attend them religiously – hence they have insider knowledge of where and when the key sign sprints  are. If you see a roadie suddenly pop out of his saddle and accelerate out of the peleton in the middle of nowhere (when it is not a hill or false flat)– then you can be assured a sign sprint is in the making.

That said, sign sprints are… sprints.  And hence, in the absence of an element of surprise, will ultimately lend themselves to the fast-twitch group.

Rules: The rules of sign sprints are fairly simple: group rides will abandon the traditional rules of steady pacelines, pulling through, accelerating only on inclines, if, and only if certain street signs are within a reasonable distance on low traffic roads with ample time to slow & regroup.

Typical Sign sprints – in order of ‘importance’:

“Yellow signs” – any yellow sign is potentially fair game, though it is usually specific to the ride and sprinting for an “undesignated” yellow sign can look foolish.

“Stop Ahead” – these signs, depending on locale, are ubiquitous, and are generally “legitimate” as long as there is ample distance before the actual stop sign. They are convenient in that the looming Stop sign also creates the natural opportunity for the group to re-form

“Tractor crossing” – in the Midwest these are premo destinations. Rare, usually very rural, and typically requiring insider knowledge, these signs will tend to have a ¾ mile ramp up.

“Town line” – these are the kings of sign sprints – these matter most as they indicate a true change of venue.

“The final sign” – at best a “town line” sign, but perhaps merely a “stop ahead" sign, the final sign of the day features the greatest effort, and the most glory. Win this one, and you’ve won them all…

Below is a great set of posts I found on a forum from a “Newbie” rider who is clearly a sprinter and feeling some guilt about it. He was getting hassled for not pulling enough for some sign sprints. I love his final post – no way to argue with that...

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Newbie Sprinter: Is the cyclist wrong by sprinting at the end if he did not pull "during" the sprint? In most cases during these sprints, several strong riders try to up the pace as much as possible, but these same riders usually do not engage in the final sprint. But often times I hear riders condemn the rider who did not pull "during" the sprint, with comments like " he was never in the wind" etc. And if it matters, the prize is just a beer for the winner of the zone. My feeling is someone who doesn't work with the group or do his/her share during the ride shouldn't sprint, but in the actual sprint zone it's every man for himself and no one's forcing anyone to push the pace at the front. For instance I've not seen Cavendish "take a turn at the front" before he sprints to the finish.

Roadie Response: In my experience, the guys who sprint for county line signs, etc., are usually the ones who do the least pulling during the actual rides. The same guys tend to crank it up in the last mile or so of a long recreational ride -- like they are actually proving something by "winning" the sprint or being the first one back to the parking lot after sitting in at the back of the paceline for most of the ride.

Newbie Sprinter: I'm willing to pull, just can't sustain a long (mile or more) pull at the speed of the best pullers. Is that my fault?

Roadie1 Response: Yes! You should be working on your weaknesses rather than showboating your "talent".

Roadie2 Response: If you're this concerned about sprinting, you should save it for an actual race.

Newbie Sprinter: I have… and I won the race…

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Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to cold weather riding

Casablanca, Morocco 25 years ago Pt. 8 - conclusion

The final diary entry:  

Friday:

Today I got up at 9:20am, ate breakfast, then went to bed. I re-awoke at 11:30 and went for a ride at 12:00. I rode with Mike. We seem to get along OK. It’s only when Aaron is around that he ignores me. Aaron told me he hates Azdine – right after I said he was really nice. No one I know would be so abrasive. I have to put up with things like this all the time, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of Morocco – of being accosted at every step by poor greedy starving people. On my ride I noticed a huge pipe going out to the ocean – I never saw it before because always the tide was high, but at this time it was low and riding past, I was hit with and incredibly powerful smell. It was sludge – pure human waste – there were hundreds of thousands of gallons of it just spewing out – making the whole bay brown.

After the ride, I ate lunch – the best one I have had since I’ve been here – steak and French fries.

I then went with Azdine to the market to look for shoes. We went to many places – he even took me to expensive places downtown – too much for me – 300 durhams for a pair! So we finally found a pair I liked. He wanted 240 for them. Azdine got him down to 160, but he wouldn’t go lower, so we started to leave. He went to 140. I was ready to buy, but Azdine made me leave – I didn’t understand. He then explained – “We go back and offer 120” – so we did and I got a $50 pair of shoes for $12.

We then started to go back to the bus and I stopped to look at some watches. One in particular caught my eye. It was really slim and expensive looking. I asked how much – just out of curiosity. He said 200 durhams. I was really surprised.! So I bargained him down to 150 durhams and I bought the other possibility for a graduation present – an expensive watch!

So we left and I paid for the bus fare again (a whole 44 cents for the both of us). Then I showed everyone what I bought. Instead of dinner here at the hotel, we went around the corner to the Italian restaurant. It was so good – I’m really tired of lamb and liver. I had a pizza and an order of lasagna. After this I returned to my room and read “The Son of the Morning Star” – I’m pretty far – I’ll probably finish it before we leave. After that I’m going to see how far I can get into the “Lord of the Rings.”

Then Azdine came down and we talked, and then went to his room and talked until 1:00am.

Oh, when we went to the market I brought a pair of jeans to sell – they were too small anyway. Anyways, Azdine wanted to look at them, so he pulled them out of the bag. Immediately, without exaggeration, over 20 vultures converged on them and almost started fighting over them. The kept shoving money into Azdine’s pocket and then trying to take them. But none of them offered enough – cuz they were just going to take them and sell them themselves. So finally I grabbed them and quickly walked away. A boy had tried them on yesterday and liked them so I took them to him and sold them to him for $8 – the jeans were 2 years old.

Azdine told me in his room that there are 4 kinds of people here – the rich, with 4 houses and 10 cars. Then the wealthy – with 1 house and 1 car.

The two previous are rare. The working class are the third – which has an apartment and not else. He said the average worker makes 1000 durhams a month. That’s $110 a month. He says that their apartments cost 600 durhams a month on average, so that leaves $45 a month to buy food and clothing. And this is the richest city in the richest country in Africa.

The final class is the unemployed. They are 50% of the population. He said that they rob or beg to get money, and they fish or steal corn for food. Many times have I seen desperate faces gathered around small fires with corn placed on top. It always comes out black, but that is what these people eat.

He makes 1000 durhams a month but he doesn’t have to pay for food or a place to stay – the hotel provides that. I asked him what he does with his money and he said he puts it in the bank. He said that after he gets a promotion, he will take the money, buy a house, and get married.

(Azdine works 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He makes $100 a month, $4.22 a day, or 35- 40 cents an hour. At my Stanford Library job, I will make more in 1 hour than he makes in a day.)

Saturday: The Big Race

 

Today I got up at 12:00pm then ate lunch. Then I went out and watch the line up and start of the road race.  There were 184 riders. The King was there – sitting on a pavilion next to the starting line. I watched the start and took pictures for Clark.

I then started walking to the far end of the course. The farther I went from the hotel, the more obnoxious the people became. I decided I was absolutely sick of all this “attention”. Everyone had something to jabber at me as I went past. A cop

(here’s where it ends)

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One other undocumented event is worth noting. The closing ceremonies were held at a new developed aquatic center complete with swimming pools and a high dive – 10 meter platform. For some reason I became obsessed with jumping off the platform – I had always wanted to jump from the 10 meter, but never had the chance. So after instigating some “dares” I climbed up with several Americans, French riders, and I think a few Moroccans.

In my suit and tie, I jumped and plummeted into the pool. I don’t remember if anyone else followed my lead, but I do remember that the noise from the pool area drew the attention of Craig, and some of the Moroccan royalty. I remember Craig looking pissed even as a lower member of the Royal family shook my dripping hand, saying something in French that I interpreted as being, “I’m happy you American’s are enjoying our facility.” After that Craig didn’t say anything, and I finished out the evening sitting on towels someone found for me and shivering a bit. Still, I had a small silent pride for daring to pull off the stunt.

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25 years later, sitting around w/ Stefan and Scott at a cafe in San Francisco we reminisced over our adventures. For each of us, we realized that this trip, despite its hardships and culture shock,  laid the groundwork for a perpetual wanderlust. Being 17 and unsupervised in North Africa, the souk with its shiny treasures, the shanty town slums, the contrasts of  royalty and slums - something about the sights, smells and experiences - and some unique attribute of our own personalities melded together to form a lifelong passion for travel. In the annals of "really living" and the supporting thesis that you can "make time" or "kill time" we also found that these 7 or 8 days had filled a much broader expanse of our memories, and that with the patina of time, those days have become years of living memory. Further proof came in the form of the impressions and value of shared experience: 25 years later, friendships that were formed in just a few days and in quiet moments watching the Atlantic crash upon the rocks, were rekindled as easily as if we had been childhood friends for years.

PS: Stacie - if you ever read this, I want my Moroccan leather jacket back...

Vancouver Journal #13: Beginnings and Endings

Vancouver Journal #13: Beginnings and Endings  What spark might cause a little girl to aspire to something great? What magic mixture of activities, encouragement, talent and belief combine to ignite the passion and perseverance required to become an “outlier” like an Olympic athlete?

Endings Part 1:  We knew it was over before we saw it onscreen by the thunderous roar coming from the stadium. I am a speedskater, but,  sitting outside of the closing ceremonies venue (BC Place), watching the Canada - USA gold medal hockey match on TV in the NBC commissary I couldn’t help be enthralled by the drama. The game, which had entered sudden death overtime, was being played in a venue a few hundred feet away, but was on a brief tape delay. Moments after the thunder from the stadium began, USA goalie Ryan Miller slumped face first onto the ice,  puck in the net behind him and a whole city – a whole nation - celebrated. I was happy for Canada I guess. For the U.S. it was just another medal, for Canada, it was a matter of national pride. Besides, I wanted to enjoy my final night in Vancouver.

It was the last evening of the Olympics, one last night, one last hurrah for the world’s biggest party. A few hours later I entered the stadium hosting the closing ceremonies where I would fulfill my final duties for NBC as a “spotter.” I stayed busy finding athletes for interviews and the ceremonies were of a blur until the lights dimmed and Neil Young came onstage. His voice quavered as the torch flickered and went out, and I felt a sudden rush of coldness wash over me – it really was over - tomorrow, reality would resume…

This feeling, however, was nothing in comparison to another ending exactly 12 years earlier, when friend, competitor and part time announcer Chris Needham announced my retirement from the sport of speedskating. During my time in Vancouver, I was acutely aware that many of the athletes I was spending time with were about to undergo this same transition – Ian had declared his retirement from speedskating a few months prior, and Nick Pearson announced his the day of his 7th place finish in the 1000m.

Chris Needham was here as well, having made his own declaration of retirement from the sport just a few months ago after his own failed Olympic bid, and then there was Alex. Alex Izykowski was a boy of 11 when I was lucky enough to put my medal around his neck at Steamer’s pub in Bay City Michigan. He was 23 when we reconnected after his bronze medal in Torino, and now at 27 we have become great friends. Alex was training for this – what was to be his second Olympic games - when a series of misfortunes struck; back problems emerged interrupting his training, and then, last February Alex was struck by a car while biking through an intersection on a training ride and a few torturous months later he too announced his retirement from the sport.

Like me, each one of these athletes had spent more than a decade pursuing a dream, and like me, none of them quite reached their ultimate goal. As athletes aspiring to become Olympians, the mindset is ever one of “never give up, never give in,” and the Olympic dream becomes the North Star that directs and sustains through the suffering over the years. To suddenly extinguish that light is to give up on a belief, and for a great number of serious athletes, the transition to “reality” can be cold, empty, and directionless.

To say I was devastated when I failed at my second Olympic bid and decided to retire would be an understatement.It took me 8 years, and the inspiring words of a concerned parent – Alex’s father – before I truly transitioned from athlete to Olympian. I hoped I could return the favor for Alex in much shorter order.

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Beginnings: Shannon and Katelina arrived the night before the opening ceremonies, or rather early the morning of. They were supposed to arrive at 1am, but flight delays and customs meant that they walked out of the terminal at 3:30am PST (5:30CST) and were exhausted.

Katelina is a sweet and senstitive nine year old girl. She reminds me of myself at that age: slight of build, innocent of the world, and mostly quiet and shy with periods of intensity that speak to untapped inner drives and motivations. At that age I was one year away from hating speedskating. Kat already hates it – or at least she hates the racing part… I was hoping that being at the Olympics might provide a spark of interest in sports for her.

The good news was I had managed to locate opening ceremonies tickets. In order to purchase tickets, weeks ago I had completed my taxes the very same day I received my tax documents, and I received my refund the same morning of opening ceremonies. I now had the money and had found available tickets - timing was serendipitous. Still, spending serious dollars just to watch a torch being lit?

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Talent: I have read a host of books on psychology, training, rational vs. irrational thought, happiness, strengths, and talent over the past couple of years. I’m probably somewhat of an expert on the data available in this field, but that doesn’t mean I’m an apt practitioner. To date my daughter holds speedskating races with only slightly less contempt than math classes at school. Speaking with the other parents in the USA house made it easy to confirm: more often then not, the offspring of Olympians prefer NOT to follow the same dream as their parents. Conversely, most of these parents were just like me growing up – clueless and normal… until one day…

Daniel Coyle, author, talent expert and no relation, dug deep on talent development in his highly recommended book “The Talent Code.” He expertly uses the latest neuroscience along with anecdotal and statistical data to show what most “outliers” have in common when it comes to excellence. Specifically he finds that it is the passion to pursue “deep practice” of an activity over a period of years despite the suffering it involves. This deep practice causes “myelination” – the wrapping of electric circuits in the brain that then surface as “talent.”

Daniel clearly shows how hotbeds of talent around the globe have arisen where the suffering required for “deep practice” is overcome and fueled by a concept he calls “ignition.”

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We filed into the stadium and I had no idea what to expect except that it “will be great.” It was a significant investment and I was nervous. Then it started. The lights dimmed, the crowd of 60,000 in white fell into a hush, and then a snowboarder shot down a ramp from the top of the stadium, off of a jump through the Olympic rings, and with an explosion of sound and fireworks, the opening ceremonies began.

The anthems, the singers, the lights and colors were an amazing spectacle, but through it all I was watching other eyes – I was watching Katelina. Despite an earlier pronouncement of “It sounds boring, I don’t want to go papa,” she was enthralled – eyes wide open, transfixed by the pageantry of the ceremonies - here she was, watching one of the world’s great shows preceding one of the world’s great competitive dramas. She swung her flashlights of different colors, banged on her blue cardboard drum (which became important for other reasons), watched skiers and snowboarders drop from the sky, ballet dancers pirouette onstage, a gigantic glowing polar bear rise from the floor, and a massive torch being lit. Our excellent seats were also right next to the athlete section, so I was able to point out a few Olympians I knew as well. The three hours flew by in minutes and she sat up, leaning forward throughout the entire show.

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Ignition: Why would anyone begin this irrational behavior of training for the Olympics? I say irrational because any rational analysis of the situation must include odds and outcomes. The odds for anyone to become one of the few hundred athletes at the Olympic Games are very, very low, and the odds of earning a Olympic medal are even slimmer. The silver medal we earned in 1994? In the nearly 100 years of the modern Olympic games and thousands upon thousands of athletes and competitions it was only the 52nd Winter Olympics medal ever awarded to an athlete from the United States.

Then there is the barrier of outcomes. The expected outcome for newcomer in any sport with a skill element tends to start as “poor”. In my very first speed skating race of three laps, I got lapped – meaning the leaders passed me on their third lap as I was finishing my second. I was embarrassed, horrified and 10 years old. I cried… and cried some more. I demanded to never go again to that rink (Farwell field) I demanded to never skate again, I demanded all kinds of things, but parental relationships were different then: my dad consoled me – I’m sure of that – but he also had the power to decide for me. We returned again and again and it wasn’t an option - thus incredible importance of parents. And then someone who didn’t need to helped me (Jeanne Omelenchuk) http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/02/08/jeanne-omelenchuk  and I got better at it, but I wasn’t yet “lit” for skating – that came later at the hands of Marc Affholter http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/12/24/marc-affholter/

Ignition. Even more than the breakthroughs of myelin and “outliers” and deep practice, to me the concept of “ignition” is the real magic. Yes of course: if you suffer through 10 years of dedicated focus on a specific skill and have a reasonable level of genetic talent, odds are you can become great. Fine – but we have just described almost nobody.

What is the primary difference between the talented kid who plays ball, runs, or skates for a couple of years and then moves on, distracted by “life” and all its fruits vs. the kid who focuses and abandons many of the easy joys of day-top-day living, embraces the suffering, and hence, in many cases, becomes “great.”? What makes a Bonnie Blair? A Katherine Reutter?

We know from science that repeated contact with a subject matter, a sport, instrument, or topic causes myelination – even if it is somewhat “accidental.” Over the years, circuits are developed that may lie somewhat dormant, and then, one day, through the right words, images, or circumstances, they are called upon. When this miracle of timing, confidence, and latent skill presents itself, the audience perceives “talent” and accolades suddenly form to support the activity and then “ignition” might occur.

For me it happened when I was eight years old. I was just a normal kid doing normal kid things. Then my dad bought me a bike and I started doing longer and longer bike tours with him. I didn’t know I was wrapping myelin around my circuits, strengthening the electrical impulses twitching the fibers in my mind and legs. If I was a harp, I was being strung and tuned, fiber by fiber, chord by chord. My father, like most parents, was the craftsman and tuner, and the chords were the series of 100 mile “century” rides I participated in before my 9th birthday… But the craftsman and the harpist have different roles, and more often than not, it is the expert touch of an outside hand that pulls those first pure notes from the instrument. For me, the hand whose resonant touch first activated those circuits belonged to a passing cyclist named Clair Young. http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/clair-young/  Suddenly I had a label. I was a “bike rider.” I said it in my head a dozen times before I said it aloud. For an 11 year old Alex Izykowski, it was the weight of an Olympic silver medal around his neck. For Meryl Davis or at least her mother, it was the realization that “if my neighbors can do this, we can do it too…”

If building experience and skill is the kindling and logs for a fire, the moment of ignition is the match. Without the match, all that preparation goes to waste. But how to light that fire? Dozens of books on psychology, training, strengths focus, neuroscience, and happiness later, and I still haven’t figured it all out, though I do have some hypotheses. What appears to have happened in each of these cases is the neuropsychological phenomena of “irrational belief” overcoming “rational thought.” More specifically it is that those athletes (and musicians and other paragons of achievement) move from “I think I can” to “(I know) I can.” And in the process of removing “I think” they have invoked belief; that irrational process that does not rely on day-to-day facts and data and instead can weather the vagaries of the day-to-day failures inherent in the pursuit of something difficult – and great.

What is belief anyway? Daniel Coyle, Malcolm Gladwell, and others have built a great case for how this mysterious substance of myelin – the gray matter of the brain – wraps neurons and can speed the processing time through the neural substrate by 1000X and hence accelerate well past the time required for “rational thought.” At its best, this myelination results in “automaticity” whereupon rational thought isn’t even required and the action becomes “instinctive” and hence gets labeled as “talent.” Tiger Woods and John McEnroe are great examples of this – trained since they were little kids they developed skill circuits beyond the levels of anyone in their game. But why did they bother to do it? They could have rebelled, could have quit.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea how ignition works. My daughter pretty much hates the idea of racing – but that is likely due to the fact that the few times she has raced, she did not win. I think I have done a decent job of helping her build skill in the areas of skating and cycling without the undue pressure of competition when she’s not yet ready (she can’t win, so for her, she’d just rather not compete - a feeling I understand completely…)

I would love for Katelina to someday have the kinds of opportunities that I have been so blessed with through my pursuit of excellence through sport…  It doesn't have to be speedskating or cycling - really it doesn't have to be sport at all. Mostly I want her to feel the positivity, direction and camaraderie shared when a group of people take on big risks for big rewards. But how? How can I as a parent help create the kindling and fuel that might someday be lit? How do I keep it fun and remove the kind of pressure to achieve that causes so many kids to rebel and quit? I worry and worry about this and grasp for answers…

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Endings Part 2: Vancouver City was described as “No Fun-couver” by its residents prior to the Olympics, and they were reticent or anxious in their unique Canadian way about the arrival of the Olympics before the start of the games. The costs, the traffic, logistics and security issues had put the local citizenship on guard… Then the torch arrived and overnight this relatively sleepy large city became party-central for the world. In speaking with tenured NBC staff and support personnel, it seems the unanimous opinion is that Vancouver truly has become the world’s best 17 day party - ever.

Earlier on the day of closing ceremonies, I was walking down Grandview by Robson (the Olympic “main drag) on the way to a meeting when I first saw them – a group of 7 or 8 young male Canadians clad in bright red body paint including their faces and hair, flags as capes, and little else other than shorts despite the 50 degree weather. “CAN-A-DA! CAN-A-DA! CANADA!”. It was only noon, but by their ragged chanting and singing it seemed likely that no small amount of Canadian beer was involved in their festivities.

There was nothing particularly unusual about passing a loud group of brightly painted, underdressed and intoxicated Canadian men - this had been par for the course for two weeks now except that A) in one hour one of the main events of the games was to start – the USA – Canada hockey showdown just few blocks away, and B) I had just overtaken 6 or 7 guys similarly underdressed, but with blue face paint and American flags chanting “USA, USA, USA!” and they were just behind me and heading this direction.

I was already at risk of being late, but I had to slow and watch the inevitable train wreck to follow as both parties had now seen each other. The chants grew more fervent and the pace picked up, and I watched the aggressive acceleration of alcohol fueled nationalism streak towards each other, their roars and chanting reaching a fever pitch. Then, like a scene from Braveheart where the Irish and Scots meet mid-battlefield the two groups suddenly slowed and came abreast. Much like a post-game hockey lineup each “team” passed by with high fives and genuine smiles before continuing their respective marches.

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After closing ceremonies finished I stopped by the USA house, but it was empty - no more medals to be awarded and most of my old and new friends already en-route for home. I left and walked one last time down Grandview and there at least the party was still on. Throngs of Canadians were celebrating the hockey win, and their best Olympics medal count ever.

As I walked back to the hotel, I passed a couple wearing USA gear. They were dodging the craziness just as I was. They smiled ruefully at me and said “I guess we should be glad they won or this walk might be more difficult.” I nodded in agreement and continued on to my hotel to pack. As I folded up my bike and stuffed my clothes into my suitcase I reflected on the previous 20 days while saving the most important items to pack for last.

A few days prior, alone for a few moments at the USA house, I looked over at Alex and asked him whether being at the Olympics as an Olympian vs. and athlete was difficult and how he was feeling about it. He turned to me, paused, and then with real clarity said something along these lines, "To be honest, I feel more blessed and lucky now - by far - than I ever did as an athlete or in Torino."

I knew exactly how he felt.

My bike and bags were packed and it was time for my 3am pickup to head to the airport. I just had one final item to put in my carry-on where it would be guaranteed to arrive home safely. This blue octagon and “Sharpie” pen had been my companions for the last week, packed safely in my backpack wherever I went. It was the cardboard drum from opening ceremonies – nothing particularly special in and of itself. But inside, I had collected the pins and tickets and keepsakes from the games for Katelina – as a scrapbook and memoir from her trip.

Perhaps more importantly, on the outside I had managed to gather, over the past week, dozens of signatures and inscriptions from Olympians and medalists from all over the world. Specifically I had asked each one to sign their name, and then write one short piece of advice for my nine year old daughter. This, oddly, proved a daunting task for these exceptional people, but everyone obliged in the end, and I carefully packed it, along with “Quatchie” – one of the Olympic mascots – into my bag and headed for the lobby – and for home.

Postscript: Last night, two weeks after my return, we took Katelina and a friend up to the Petit Center in Milwaukee – a U.S. Olympic training site, and one of only two covered Olympic size long track rinks in the country. Normally she has greeted weekly practice with disdain, but last night she couldn’t get her skates on fast enough, and immediately took off in a blaze of speed, blond tresses flying behind her. Flushed with excitement she did lap after lap on her own, wearing her little Polo USA jacket and long bladed speedskates. A half dozen kids stopped her to talk to her about her skates or how fast she was going, and breathlessly she related her excitement on the ride home. Two hours and 27 laps later (almost 8 miles) it was time to go.

“Papa,” she told me, “This man, a boy, and a couple little girls asked me how I could go so fast” she spoke quickly as she often does when she’s excited.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Papa, I told him - I told him I could go this fast because I’m a speedskater!” she said with emphasis. My smile grew and grew.

Ignition often starts with a label: “I am a ___________”

Vancouver Journal #8: Prime Time! The Short Track Competition Viewing Schedule

Stephen Colbert is here - somewhere - he'll be at the races on Wednesday.  Who would have believed it - my little sport, little old short track, was broadcast live and in Prime Time on Saturday night to ratings well above the last Olympics where skiing was the headliner. And it did not disappoint - from Apolo's sweeping pass in the heats showing that he's here to race and "send a message," to JR Celski's miraculous return after a major injury, and then the rough and tumble final where at first it looked like Apolo would win, then a near certain 4th, and then around the final corner a crash leading to a silver and bronze for USA - that's short track.

In case you were ever wondering what kind of intense training is involved for these skaters to race like this, here's a great piece done by Time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdKiY92WE40&feature=player_embedded

I HATED the turn belt, though I rather enjoyed the stair jump workouts - jumps were one of the few workouts I was good at.

I'm a bit behind on posting pictures - haven't figured out how to download from my older camera (can't find the right driver), but opening ceremonies were amazing, as was last night's first medals ceremony. I'm off right now to watch the Long Track 500m races, followed by US short track practice. Here's the current schedule - only the finals are guaranteed to be shown, but it seems likely we will broadcast most of the races:

February 17     5:00 p.m. – 5:12 p.m. Women’s 500m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

Wednesday      5:25 p.m. – 5:57 p.m. Men’s 1000m Heats Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:10 p.m. – 6:17 p,m. Women’s 500m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:32 p.m. – 6:53 p.m. Men’s 5000m Relay Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                7:06 p.m. – 7:10 p.m. Women’s 500m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                7:11 p.m. – 7:15 p.m. Women’s 500m A Final Pacific Coliseum

February 20     5:45 p.m. – 6:15 p.m. Women’s 1500m Heats Pacific Coliseum

Saturday             6:28 p.m. – 6:44 p.m. Men’s 1000m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

                                   6:58 p.m. – 7:15 p.m. Women’s 1500m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                   7:28 p.m. – 7:37 p.m. Men’s 1000m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                   7:50 p.m. – 7:56 p.m. Women’s 1500m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                   7:56 p.m. – 8:03 p.m. Women’s 1500m A Final Pacific Coliseum

                                   8:05 p.m. – 8:09 p.m. Men’s 1000m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                   8:10 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. Men’s 1000m A Final Pacific Coliseum

February 24     5:00 p.m. – 5:32 p.m. Women’s 1000m Heats Pacific Coliseum

Wednesday      5:46 p.m. – 6:11 p.m. Men’s 500m Heats Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:25 p.m. – 6:35 p.m. Women’s 3000m Relay B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:35 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. Women’s 3000m Relay A Final Pacific Coliseum

February 26     6:00 p.m. – 6:12 p.m. Men’s 500m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

Friday                  6:14 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Women’s 1000m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

                                  6:43 p.m. – 6:50 p.m. Men’s 500m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                  6:52 p.m. – 7:01 p.m. Women’s 1000m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:13 p.m. – 7;17 p.m. Men’s 500m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:17 p.m. – 7:22 p.m. Men’s 500m A Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:23 p.m. – 7:28 p.m. Women’s 1000m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:28 p.m. – 7:34 p.m. Women’s 1000m A Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:50 p.m. – 8:02 p.m. Men’s 5000m Relay B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  8:03 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. Men’s 5000m Relay A Final Pacific Coliseum

Vancouver Journal #7: An Introduction to Short Track Speedskating

 Tonight, short track will be LIVE and in prime time! The men's downhill was cancelled due to snow conditions, so we are now the lead story and the pressure is on. The men's 1500m Gold medal race is tonight as well as the women's 500m heats and relay heats.

I'm just back from the pre-production meeting with Ted Robinson (announcer), Andy Gabel (color commentary), Fred Gaudelli (producer) and Andrea Joyce (field interviews).  Sitting one table over was Bob Costas, and two tables over were Al Roker and his family. We walked through all the various stories and builds and order of events, the commentators practiced all the names, and then we wrapped - we head to the rink at 2pm to get ready.

So, what can you expect tonight? Here's a summary I wrote for the crew back in Torino:

SHORT TRACK SPEEDSKATING – a primer

 Basics:

 The logistics of the sport of short track speedskating are easy to comprehend. A simple visual will suffice: inside the nicked and gauged plastic walls surrounding hockey rinks the world over an oval track is laid out using black plastic lane markers: 111.12 meters in length.

 Add a half dozen speedskaters in their skin tight multi-colored suits racing for the finish line – like track and field or horse racing – and the simple format is complete.

The logistics of short track speedskating are also straightforward – a fixed number of laps (or half laps) comprising an even distance in meters (500, 1000, 1500, 3000 or 5000 meters), with the first skater across the line being first.

Time on the stopwatch, while an interesting anecdote, does not factor into the results except for the honor of holding a record.

Racing

Yet, like many things in life that seem straightforward, the actual play by play of the sport tends to defy the simplicity of its rules. Crashes, interference, and disqualifications factor into the results at levels unprecedented in any other sport, and even in “clean” races, the dynamics involved with multiple competitors lined up on a tight, short, narrow track of ice going 35 mph on 1mm wide, 17 1/2 inch blades means that the “fastest” skater quite often does not win.

One need only to remember watching the Australian Stephen Bradbury in the 2002 Olympics, who advanced by luck of disqualification in the 1000 meter heats to the semi finals. Self admittedly the slowest skater in those semi-finals, he proceeded to win that race - after all the other skaters crashed, placing him in the finals and into the medal round. Then again in the finals, while pacing off the back of a pack of top ranked USA, Korean, and Canadian skaters, Bradbury managed to avoid disaster and come across the line first – again not through his own merits – rather through the misfortune of the leading skaters. The gold medal was his – even though his efforts in all the preceding rounds suggested those of a non-contender.

Given the seeming randomness of the results, one might be inclined to shake ones head and put the whole thing down as a bit of a lottery. One thing is for sure, in any given race, luck will play a part. It is this unpredictability that makes it the crowd favorite for all the other athletes at the Olympics

Analogies

Short track tends to draw two analogies in sports – first, Nascar – due to the importance of drafting and the critical path skaters must follow to maximize their speed, and second, horseracing, for the relative importance of the track conditions and race length in the final result.

Who will win on any given day? It depends….

  • Is the ice soft or hard?
  • How long is the race?
  • What combination of skaters are are racing? How will it play out?
  • What unforeseen events will occur?

What does it feel like?

Think back to certain winter moments - those times of walking on slick, wet ice – to your car across frozen puddles, or down the sidewalk after a freezing rain.

Then remember that moment when your shoes first touched dry asphalt after sliding across the icy puddle, or the instant when you regained traction after passing back underneath the porch roof. To a speedskater, that is exactly what it feels like to be on ice with our long blades – it is feeling of traction and grip, stability and power.

An 17” speedskating blade on perfectly smooth ice is grippier than rubber on asphalt and more stable than a ski on snow. The blade, its sharp edge, and its tracking ability while in motion, are able to smoothly receive every ounce of energy provided by powerful leg muscles to propel the skater forward.

Granted, the motion is sideways – like tacking in the wind with a sailboat - but the 17 inch blade is like yards of canvas gathering wind: the lateral forces are released in a tangential motion and converted to forward speed smoothly yet powerfully. Each stroke on the ice is a combination squat thrust (sheer power) and ballet (no wasted motion, fluid extension to the very tips of the range).

Now imagine that ultimate grip – no amount of effort will result in a slip – and a slow concentrated thrust  through with the legs: massive force passing in liquid slow motion through the blade to the ice.  The strength of the contracted leg is absolute, and the hold of the blade provides a supreme feeling of power. The controlled release of the piston-like skating stroke brings to mind the action of a hydraulic cylinder – a fluid, consistent, and powerful.

If you have ever had the ill-fortune to push a stalled car, and were lucky enough to have a curb or wall as a backstop for your feet, then that incredible slow thrust you were able to deliver to the car to get it moving is the closest thing in life to the feeling of a speedskating stroke.

Now, add to this motion the g-force dynamics of a jet fighter and you have the right combination.

As a skater moves towards the corner, there is a momentary feeling of weightlessness as the body lifts with the final skate stroke, and then falls as the body and center of gravity compresses downward and sideways to enter the corner.

As the direction of the skater changes, centripetal forces cause a 2G acceleration to crush the body lower. In order to stay aligned over the center of the 1mm blades, the skater rolls inward, and the upper body leans way out over the blocks.

The powerful motion of the crossovers (corner strokes) then take over and compel the preservation of the momentum carried into the corner. Timed right, you’ll see the powerful transition of the full extension of the left leg underneath the right leg, both blades carving firmly just prior to the apex of the corner (the center most block).

A smooth transition of the force between the two legs at that precarious moment preserves the integrity of the corner and allows the skater to enter a “pivot” – a one footed change of direction back toward the far end of the rink, and then relax the arc of the corner a bit through the latter half – reducing the G forces and allowing multiple crossover strokes of acceleration into the straightaway. The apex block is also the focal point of most crashes and many disqualifications. At the point of the turn the muscles of the body are stressed to the max – imagine squatting down to a 90 degree bend on one leg… holding it, and then putting on a 150lb backpack (the additional pressure provided by the 2G acceleration of the turn). Then balance all of that on a 1mm blade…

As the skater exits the corner, the body decompresses and lifts with the center of gravity returning to vertical. A pair of straightway strokes later, and it starts again.

Is it hard?

This extremely controlled and concise motion is difficult. However – the motions are repetitive – unlike ballet the number of required motions is drastically reduced. The real difficulty of the sport lies in the compression of the body required to form the aerodynamic shape. Wind resistance, ultimately, is the primary obstacle to speed.

If speedskating races were held a vacuum, a skater could stand nearly upright and kick out a series of highly powerful shallow strides in rapid sequence to attain maximum speed. However, with the friction of wind the comes with speeds approaching 40 mph, the skater is required to try and form a teardrop shape, with arms and legs bent in a greater than 90 degree angle. The loss of muscular leverage at these compressed angles is severe – I won’t try to describe the physics, but just imagine these two examples:

1) Imagine if you had someone sitting on your shoulders. Now, in a fully upright standing position, imagine bending your knees slightly and then straightening them again. If you can imagine that situation, you probably can imagine that performing that minor knee bend and subsequent straightening would be very easy. The human body’s power output from near-full extension of the muscles involved is tremendous. Most of us could imagine even jumping a little with that weight on our back. However, this position is ineffective due to the constraints of wind resistance. Instead…

2) Imagine squatting down – all the way down, sitting on your heels. Then extend one leg straight out – kind of a Russian dancer stance. Now, balanced on that one foot try to stand up using only the completely bent leg’s power: nearly impossible for anyone other than an acrobat, Russian dancer, or speedskater. Do that with the weight of another person resting on your shoulders (from the centrifugal force) while traveling 30mph, tilting sideways at a crazy angle balanced on a 1m blade and you have the essence of the sport. (Here's a rough diagram I put together for NBC with estimates of the forces:)

The compressed body position required by the aerodynamics of the sport demands high power from the legs in a full range of motion, with an extreme amount of coordination of balance, timing, alignment of weight and effort, and subtle coordination of a series of heretofore unused muscles in the abdomen, hip, knee, and ankle to ensure that the powerful compressed stroke passes evenly sideways without interruption or slippage.

This is why few that have started the sport after age 13 succeed, and how a 25 year old skater with 5 years of experience will look like an awkward novice compared to a 10 year old with the same experience. After some point, the synapses required for this kind of exquisite control wither away and cannot be trained.

The only exception to this hard and fast rule is the relatively recent crossover of in-line speedskating athletes. Not surprising considering the similarities of the two sports.

Why all the disqualifications?

In the relatively recent years since short track speedskating has entered the mainstream consciousness, it has brought along with it the expected perceptions of speed and danger and unpredictability. In addition, there also exists an ongoing element of controversy with regards to the judging system and the calls for disqualification (or lack thereof) that have occurred in many of Olympic races.

As an example we can remember back to 2002, where in the1500m mens final, a disqualification of Korean skater Kim Dong Song led to a gold medal – a first for American men – being awarded to Apolo Ohno who crossed the line second. However, the controversial nature of the call, and the dearth of medals for the strong team of Korean men led to highly publicized death threats from the Korean public. When Apolo returned to Korea for the first time since the 2002 Olympics for the 2005 world championships, he was met at the airport by 100 policemen in full riot regalia – just in case.

Then, of course there was the 1000 meter incident with Bradbury…

One unexpected outcome of all the uncertainty in the sport of short track is cultural in nature. One might expect that with all of the clashes and crashes, disqualifications and controversy that the tensions between rival teams and competitors might be very high: that the close proximity in the races might result in a natural distancing factor between athletes off ice and outside the venue.

Surprisingly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A look at the sister sport of long track speedskating, a sport with no physical contact, few to no disqualifications, and racers competing almost clinically against the clock (in separate lanes and only two at a time) finds a culture where competitive tensions are at their highest. Long Track speedskaters are, more often than not, solitary, taciturn creatures, with serious countenances betraying the competitive tension embodied in every activity.

Short track skaters, in contrast tend to convivial, open and playful, with the occasional prank between and within teams a long standing tradition – a culture where each emotional explosion at the referees for a disqualifaction (or lack thereof) is equally matched by the off ice hijinks, stories and accompanying laughter between the skaters in their locker rooms, in the shared spaces playing hackysack, and back at the hotel over dinner. It as if the vagaries of the sport, the unpredictability of the results, and the shared suffering of uncertainty over the whims of lady luck has created a common culture of tolerance, humility and respect between athletes of different cultures, languages and perspectives.

There is an oft repeated, little understood phrase repeated consistently by the competitors that ultimately reflects this shared understanding. Apolo Ohno was interviewed on camera after the 2002 Olympic 1000 meter gold medal race where he crossed the line sprawled across the ice belly up in second place after being taken down from behind by a chain reaction four skater crash in the final corner. He had just lost certain gold to the unlikely Australian Steven Bradbury who glided in on the wings of lady luck – well out of contention - yet the winner of the coveted gold medal.

Asked for his views on the events that had unfolded, it would have been understandable if  Apolo has been less than charitable: he could have said things such as “it was unfair, I had it in the bag, the Korean skater grabbed my leg, Steven wasn’t even a contender…” but true to the culture of the sport, and out of respect for the dozens, if not hundreds of races that Steven didn’t win under similar circumstances, Apolo merely shrugged, smiled, and uttered those those seemingly innocuous yet significant words repeated over and over in this turbulent and exciting world: “That’s Short Track.”

It sure is.

 

Vancouver Journal #3: Meet the (long track) speedskating team

Vancouver Journal #3: Meet the Long Track Team Friday, January 29, 2010

According to Dick Ebersol (head of NBC sports and Olympic coverage) the 2010 Olympics have four “breakout stars” to watch. Their names are as follows: Lindsey Vonn (5 events, skiing), Shawn White (1 event, snowboarding), Apolo Ohno (4 events, short track speed skating) and Shani Davis (4 events, long track speed skating.)

If my math is right, that makes speed skating THE sport of the 2010 Olympics. If you add up the # of breakout events, the numbers skew even more favorably for speed skating – of the 14 key “must watch” performances, 8 of them are speed skating, (and I’ll personally be covering four of them.)

However, lest someone think I’m on air or have an “important” job worthy of “talent” (a broadcasting word for those that are on air) I am neither important nor “talent” though I do get the luxury of being in the broadcast booth. My official role is that of the “statistician” which maps more closely to the “subject matter expert” providing stats, clarifications, and color to the two commentators, and coordinating some of the production activity (rewinds, queuing, zooms etc.)

Ebersol was interviewed on the Jan 20th edition of the Colbert report which also featured a “fire on ice” race with Shani Davis (see link below for some funny stuff)

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/262387/january-20-2010/skate-expectations---speedskating-race---shani-davis

One of my hopes during the games would be to meet Stephen Colbert: we have much in common - he’s been granted an position with the NBC Vancouver Olympic team due to his speed skating prowess against Shani Davis, he is also an honorary member of the US speed skating team as the “assistant sports psychologist”, and also happens to be on the board of DonorsChoose.org, a company we are partnering with at work.

OK, the long track team:

Long Track: Men

Shani Davis – skating the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, and 5000m. Shani will win the 1000m for sure – he’s dominated that event for 5 years or more and breaks world records seemingly each time he skates. Shani is not a medal contender in the 500m, but certainly is in the 1500m and 5000m. I’ve known Shani since he was a kid and he’s a quiet and kind – nothing like the occasional news report would let on. These aberrations are sometimes a result of the meddling of his mother who has pushed and protected him for all these years and continues to be an influence in how he is perceived.

Chad Hedrick – In Torino I spent a decent amount of time with Chad’s dad Paul and had some pretty strong feelings about the pressure both Chad’s dad and Shani’s mom put on these two incredible athletes. Subsequent to Torino I was able to find closure with Paul (in the form of yet another bear hug) and in a different form from Shani’s mom (who demanded that I remove her name and her picture from my blog, while concurrently filing suit against Google for the blog posts another (dead) blogger - I quickly deleted her picture and name). Chad had some middling years between Torino and now (getting married and having a child as well), but has recently come on strong in world cups. I put him as an underdog favorite in any event he skates.

Nick Pearson – I know his parents better than Nick (he was a little tow head running around the Petit Center when I was still skating) but Nick’s got some sprinting chops and will be racing the 500m and 100m

Tucker Fredericks - I met Tucker in Torino - he's a nice guy and small for a sprinter - but wicked fast. He's got a decent shot at the podium in the 500m

Brian Hansen – still a junior category racer (18), Brian was on of the “kids” I coached at Park Ridge club the last couple of years. Since then he’s gone on to set national records in most distances and now has made the Olympic team in the 1500m and the pursuit.

Ryan Bedford, Mitchell Whitmore, Jonathan Kuck & Trevor Marsciano - round out the team (I've not met them)

Long Track: Women;

Elli Ochowicz: Elli is an amazing sprinter, and comes from a proven gene pool, and a heritage that links closely with my own past. Her parents are Sheila Young (gold, silver, bronze in 1976 Olympics for speedskating and world cycling champion) and Jim Ochowicz (cycling champion and team lead for Lance Armstrong’s various teams – Motorola, U.S. Postal, and Discovery). Elli’s grandparents were my initiates and coaches that led me to join the sport – see post below:

http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/clair-young/

Nancy Swider Pelz Jr.: Nancy’s mom, Nancy, (yes that’s right) was a mentor to me on and off throughout my years of skating and I’m so happy to see her daughter taking the stage in Vancouver. Like Brian Hansen I worked with Nancy Jr. during the Park Ridge practices I coached over the last couple of years. Nancy will race the 5000m

Catherine Raney Norman: I’ve known Catherine since she was a little girl, and her mom Peggy as well. Her husband, Mark Norman, and I grew up racing bikes and skating together in Detroit Michigan – it is a small world.

Jen Rodriguez: at 34, the elder stateswoman of the long track team, Jen is the Darra Torres of the sport – super fit, super fast and a threat for a medal if things come together.

Jilleane Rookard, Heather Richardson, Lauren Cholewinski, Rebekah Bradford, Maria Lamb - round out the womens team.

 Vancouver Journal #4 Preview: Meet the (short track) speedskating team

Vancouver Journal #2: The World’s Biggest Party

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Last week I received my NBC credentials in the mail. More than airplane tickets, the hotel room, the food at the commissary, the salary or per diem, these two laminated plastic cards are the primary perk for being a part of the NBC Olympic team. With these two cards I will be able to enter virtually any event at the Olympics and get down to the “mixed zone” where only athletes and press are allowed. Sadly opening ceremonies are the one even where even these credentials won’t work. .

The Olympics, for most, are a television event. People from around the world tune in to watch their favorite sport and watch the unfolding drama. Part of the delight of watching is the grand backdrop, the once-in-four-years stories of success, and those “agony of defeat” episodes as well.
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A series of traditions help to create the spectacle: the running of the torch, the fanfare and fireworks of the opening ceremonies, the parade of nations and, finally, the lighting of the torch. (See pictures attached from the Torino Olympics opening ceremonies.)

But being there is different. The Olympics are the single biggest party in the world. For 17 days, a few million people, all in a good mood, all with a love of sport, walk around in a perpetual state of delight – wide eyes taking in the spectacle of a city transformed – many with family or friends, or the friend of a friend taking part in the events. I would expect that downtown Vancouver will be much like Torino was four years ago – throngs of people in hats and scarves pouring in and out of cafes and restaurants, bars and shops, camera crews and temporary broadcast pods, and the occasional brightly colored warmup suit of an athlete strolling casually along with everyone else.

 Most people are nervous to speak to the athletes, but for the most part, these fears are unwarranted. 99.99% of these athletes have toiled in anonymity for years, if not decades. To be recognized by strangers for their investment with few interested questions and a request for a snapshot can make an athlete’s day – and indeed in a half hour stroll you will likely see a dozen or more of these spontaneous group shots taking place, brightly suited athletes surrounded by a huddle of smiling strangers blocking pedestrian traffic to complete the picture. The atmosphere is even more enchanting in the evening. Even as the temperatures drop, a new level of interpersonal warmth is created.

In Torino, incredibly colorful and complex lighting displays arched over the streets downtown lighting the vapors of breath and laughter in the cold winter air. The question, “where are you from,” usually with an accent is more than a gesture of politeness – it is an invitation to a true conversation, one that often turns into an invitation – to a reception, an event, or to a party.  Some may consider the Olympics a frivolous enterprise – these are “games” after all. World hunger isn’t being solved, no mines or nuclear warheads are being deactivated, and despite efforts to become more “green” there is likely a negative net contribution to global warming. That said, consider world ills – world “weaknesses” as it were. Perhaps as a society, as a world culture, we are guilty of much of the same negative bias and focus as we are as teams and individuals. We spend our time and energies on fixing what is wrong rather than celebrating and adding to what is right.

The Olympics are ultimately a celebration of strengths – a study in what is right vs. a focus on what is wrong. The world needs its cancer seminars, and violence prevention workshops, but in the end perhaps what it needs most is a positive focus for its energies. Perhaps the world needs more of these games, a bigger focus on what is right in the world. For this we thank the Greeks of nearly 3000 years ago who fed the world this amazing enterprise where the celebration of excellence triumphs again and again. 

 

Preview of Vancouver #3: Meet the athletes – short track and long track team members

2009 Race Report #5: ABR Cat 1/2 Illinois State Criterium Championships

July 5, 2009: I was too lazy to show up for the master's event at Wooddale - the day was just too nice and I was enjoying sitting outside by the pool reading and writing. Finally I dragged myself into the car for the 20 minute drive to Wooddale for the Cat 1/2 race. A few thunderclouds threatened but only threw a few drops our way. The pace was hot and cold - we only averaged 26.8 for the race, and one rider ended up getting away solo with 6 laps to go. Oddly I didn't suffer much and started to realize I might have a shot a the "W" - that is until the solo rider escaped. Still, I felt I had jets on my legs up the small hill to the final straightway and determined I would use them.

My plan was to sit about 10th on the last lap and then hit the afterburners 2/3's of the way down the backstretch into the final two corners with the short hill in between. My assumption was that with a hard accel in the draft, combined with the corners and the climb, I might not get caught despite the long (1 minute?) sprint.

All the best laid plans... Well, the pack was swarming and the pace too low on the last lap so I found myself sitting third across the finish stretch and down the hill into the back stretch. I could sense the pack ready to spring and knew I'd be buried in the swarm so I did the unthinkable - I made a leap from the front into the lead with 700m to go. Instead of the my planned stealth attack from bowels of the pack shrouded from the wind, I was completely visible and had to fight through the suddenly howling gale as I accelerated up to 37mph down the backstretch by myself.

I was already dying by the time I hit the 3rd corner into the hill, but shifted carefully and was able to put some energy into the pedals up the hill and then shifted up just before the final corner and cranked some cold hard low rpms toward the finish line 250 meters up the road. I could feel the chasers on my tail and just before the finish I saw colors to my left, (Ken Delo and Robert Krohn) but I had it - the field sprint win, and 2nd place.

I enjoyed a post race vibe talking to Ken Delo, Ara, and  Robert Krohn and others before finally heading back to swim in the pool with my daughter, the yellow sun and warm water a perfect aperitif to a successful race.

Saturday is my re-entry to the Pro races of Superweek with the Blue Island Pro/Am. Last year I got dropped - I'm shooting for a top 10 this year - but we'll see...