Monday, August 11, 2014

Thank you

I have been racing bikes for eight years now and every year as I grow in my experience and achievements, I receive more and more support. And like many other sports or even job positions, people tend not to notice all of what goes into getting me to races and finishing well. Because we are about to cap off the 2014 road season I would really like to send out a thank you to everyone who has helped me thus far.

To begin with, I have been on ICCC (International Christian Cycling Club) since my first race. They have provided me with great coaching, and race support at most of my local races for the past eight years.

Another group I would love to thank is the NCCF/Team Specialized Racing. Since I joined a couple of years ago, the team has helped better my racing career by providing support for me to travel to larger races which has given me more experience than I could afford to get otherwise.

The final people I want to thank, are my parents and my sister. Even before I started racing they have been there for me. Throughout my racing career they have been there to help me along. I can't imagine being where I am today without their support and encouragement.

Gage Hecht

After looking back at all of the support I have received throughout the years, I want to make sure and thank all of you that have encouraged me and showed your support whether in person or via social media.

You all are why I'm here today!  Thank you!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Emotionally driven!

While riding around Lake Tahoe twenty four years ago a triple trailer clobbered me and took triathlon away from me.  A year after that accident I won my first NCNCA state championship in the criterium.  It was a good day and I remember it well, including crying in my car because it had been a long journey back to health. 

Three weeks before 2013 masters track world championships I crashed.  I cancelled my trip due to injuries (fractured pelvis and four ribs).  Today, eleven months later, I won my 125th NCNCA state championship.  I just finished a good cry. 

60 days out from 2014 masters world track championships and I very much want to take that top step of the podium.... and, then go off and have a good cry.

Yes, I am weird and proud of it!  Larry Nolan, Team Specialized

photo by world record holder Jim Turner
oh, and I want to be drug tested too!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Heers Kermesse - A Belgian Drought

        After a few days living the dream of an American Cyclist in Europe, we finally packed up and drove to our first race. All day the team was checking the weather on phones and looking up at the dark grey sky. Around fifteen minutes into our car ride it started to rain, then it got harder and then you could feel it shaking the door of the van. When we got to the race the roads were deep in water, the rain jackets were on, and the tire pressure was low. We then registered and went out for a lap around the course. The lap started with a climb averaging around 4% for about 1km. Then it flattened and it was tight corners and wet streets all the way back. The race started with bang and we were immediately shedding riders on the first climb. I launched a few attacks and so did the rest of the team. We were just trying to break them down. The rain wasn't quitting on our third lap and the race was picking up speed through the streets. On the second to last corner of the third lap Chris was second wheel and I was third, we took the corner too hot and he went down hard in front of me, I managed to jump over my bars and land on my feet, but when I picked up my bike the field was gone and my chain was twisted around itself. When I got back on the bike I rode really hard to chase back to the main field. By the time I made it back this was no longer the main field. I attacked to get to the break but it was me versus every one in the field. They would all work to chase me and then attack me. Sean made the break and finished 8th.
Overall a very hard race for the team and a great learning experience,
Grant McElroy

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Love me some white handlebar tape

Yep, I hate that I have white handlebar tape when I flat and/ or have greasy hands.  But, I love white handlebar for the way it looks on my bike and because its a telling sign of how much time I spend in various positions.  Tops, hoods, drops... over time the grime and dirt just pop out on white handlebar tape. 

Better yet, as a coach I find myself checking out other riders handlebar tape all of the time.  It's like they left some clues for me.  Where do they spend the majority of their riding time?  hmmmm, let's have a look!  Not judging, just being observant...

Larry Nolan, Team Specialized Juniors Director

Are you weird too?

I'm weird, and I'm proud of that fact.  Why be normal?  A normal person cannot become a champion.  I embrace the fact that I'm weird.  One of my weird routines is that I like to wear new socks for  important races.  It became a tradition after I did well at an important race.  So important was that race, that I can't even remember which one it was.  Its not that my memory is failing me, its that I've had a really good run of doing well in important races.  Thanks in part to new socks, but also for accepting my weirdness.

So, I needed new socks for some upcoming races (masters world track championships is 60 days away).  Well, is having a sale on their socks!  Oh lucky day for this weird dude!  $4 and $5 for $15 and $16 socks - sold!

Have fun with that.  Embrace your weirdness!  Larry Nolan, Team Specialized

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cascade Cycling Classic Wrap-up

Cascade Cycling Classic Wrap-up

After visiting Bend, Oregon the last two years for Master's Road Nationals, I have been looking forward to racing Cascade.  This year the schedule worked out and I was able to make the trip.  Since it was only Craig and I making the trip (plus Jason who was guest riding for Bear Development), we decided to jump in the 2s race instead of the Masters race.  I was looking for upgrade points and the 2s stage race was spread over 4 days instead of the 3 days for the Master's race.

Stage 1: Crooked River Time Trial

This TT was on the same course at the Master's National TT for the last two years, just a shorter distance.  This was great for me as I knew the course well.  Looking at my previous files, I set a goal time of 33 minutes, based on times for the previous year and what I thought I could do this year.  The course is mostly rollers, so I broke the course down into 2 mile blocks (for 8 splits total).

There was a slight tailwind out and head wind back, so I was a little ahead of my splits on the way out, catching my 30 man.  At the turnaround, however, I was struggling a little in the wind.  After 2 slow splits, I started to get back on top of my gears.  I also started picking off a few more riders, helping with my motivation.  Coming into the final few kilometers, I knew that I was a little behind my goal time, but emptied what I had left in the legs.  Across the line I had the best time so far, but I was early in the start list and had to wait through some 80 more riders.

In the end, my time was good enough for 3rd, 4 seconds off the leader.  I was super stoked, despite missing my goal time, sitting in a perfect GC position.

Lesson 1: Know the course (and use it to your advantage).

Stage 2: Cascade Lakes Road Race

This year they decided to run the road race in the opposite direction compared to previous years.  This made for a 96 mile road race with a 10 mile grind of a hill to the finish.  I have been in a few larger stage races, but this was the first time in a field of 110 riders with the centerline enforced.  This was especially important in the first 20 miles, which included a high speed descent down from the Mt. Bachelor ski resort.

Early, a small group got away and got a bit of a gap.  The GC leader did not have any teammates, so there was no real control in the peloton.  Instead there a few minor attacks and some moderate tempo in between.  About 25 miles into the race, the moto that was leading the peloton turned the wrong way!  As a result, SO DID THE PELOTON!  A few riders that were on the right of the road continued on the correct course, while the rest of us had to stop and turn around.

Since it was an official error, the moto neutralized both the lead break and the impromptu break that had formed and reset the original gap.  With racing back on, we slowly reeled in the lead break before the first feed zone.  Again a few attacks went of, but nothing of note really happened.

Passing the second feed zone and starting our way back towards the finish, Craig appeared at the front to start driving the pace.  After a long stretch of rollers and a mild climb, we were fairly strung out and rolled through the final feed zone at the base of the climb.  The final climb is a long big-ring climb.  There were a few attacks again, but nothing stuck and basically came down to attrition.  At this point I knew the GC leader was struggling, but I was not sure where the 2nd place guy was.  I was able to follow wheels as the Bear Development riders were pushing the pace.

We finally made the summit as a group of maybe 30 riders.  Unfortunately I expected the finish to be at the main ski lodge (where the National finish had been), so the real finish came up before I was ready.  I was able to dig and stay with the lead group, but was out of position to get a high placing (and any time bonuses).  After rolling over the line, I took stock of the riders to find that both the GC leader and the 2nd place rider had been dropped from the lead group, putting me in yellow. 

Lesson 2: Know the course (so you know where to go).

Stage 3: Downtown Twilight Criterium

The crit was in the afternoon, so I spent the morning pre-riding the final road race course.  Once at the crit, I got set-up and put in a good warm-up.  With the yellow jersey, I got a call-up to the front of the pack, which was essential for this 4 corner crit.  I was able to patrol the front fairly easily as minor attacks would go, but nothing dangerous ever materialized.  In the final lap, I was actually leading the peloton down the backstretch.  Into corner three a rider took a flier with no one else reacting.  I was slow to react, but still went through the corner at the front of the group.  Sprinting out of turn four, I did my best to power to the line, but was passed by two other riders.  Finishing 4th, I missed out on the time bonuses again, but still maintained my lead.

Lesson 3: Riding a crit in the middle of a hilly stage race is pretty easy (since there were no real sprinters).

Stage 4: Awbrey Bette Road Race

The final stage was four laps around a hilly 16 mile circuit, culminating in a 1K hill climb.  After pre-riding the course the day before, I knew where the danger areas were (where breaks could go, when I needed to move up, and where the decisive climbs were).  Craig did a great job patrolling the front and keeping the pace up for the first three laps.  I took one flier in the middle of lap two to bridge up to a small break, but everything came back together quickly.  The rest of the lap was spent staying near the front, suffering up the main climbs and marking the few riders within striking distance.

On the last loop, the team of the 2nd place rider (13 sec back) came to the front and drove the pace towards the final hill.  While it was nice to have someone take control of the front of the race, I knew that the last time up the main climb would be decisive.  Predictably, the 2nd place rider hit the climb hard and I did all I could to follow his wheel.  Cresting the main kicker, followed by several smaller kickers we were down to maybe 15 riders, but most importantly we were still together.

There was a short descent down to a left turn for the final 1K.  I did my best to recover and stay near the front of the group as the pace started to quicken.  Setting up for the left hand turn in the middle of the group, riders on the right side of the group went straight!  Meanwhile guys on the left side riders were jockeying for position and went down!  Fortunately I made it through and pedaled squares up the hill trying to hold position.  I knew that I had the second and third placed riders behind me, so I just kept pushing.  I ended up 10th on the stage, good enough to clinch the leaders jersey.

Lesson 4: Know the course!

Big thanks to Craig for all of the effort he put out to get me into yellow and stay there.  It also payed off to have friends in the peloton as a number of NorCal riders were up racing and would pitch in here and there.  Lastly, thanks to all of our sponsors (for both the Masters and Junior teams), including NCCF, Touchstone Climbing, Specialized, Clif Bar, and Zipp/SRAM.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Multiple subject lines

"Sharing", "Development", "For the good of the athlete" or "I love those voicemail messages!"

I'm having a tough time with a subject line for this one so I'll just take the machine gun approach and hit them all... they are all connected

Late last summer former world Xterra champion and Junior World MTB competitor Neilson Powless and I connected about his racing on the road.  He was quickly added to our roster.

When the Garmin junior cycling team folded last year we connected with 2013 National MTB Champ, BMXer, and roadie Christopher Blevins and he joined our team.
Both Neilson and Christopher race mountain bikes for Whole Athlete.  Late spring 2014 and Whole Athlete teammate Sean Bennett saw how much fun Christopher and Neilson were having on the road, so we added him as a guest rider.  All three race for Whole Athlete and NCCF/ Team Specialized.  Common thread being Specialized Bicycles plus Dario and my belief that a junior loving to race any type of bike is good for their development and longevity. 

2014 road nationals saw Christopher working with his 15-16 teammates to pull out wins in the road race and time trial, Gage won the time trial, while Neilson pulled off an impressive 4th in the individual time trial then made the decisive breakaway with teammate Jason Saltzman in the criterium.  Unfortunately, a crash with two other riders extinguished the move.  Fortunately, Sean Bennett was ready and in good positon for the next move.  This one turned out to be the winning move and Sean finished 4th in a super competitive race.  Even more impressive was that this was Sean’s 4th ever criterium!  Nick led Matt out for the field sprint win and 5th overall so we saw every teammate play in the outcome of the race!

Fast forward to USA Cycling Junior Mountain Bike Nationals.  Last Friday Christopher Blevins won his 2nd consecutive 15-16s MTB National Title and Sean Bennett won his first 17-18s stars and stripes jersey.

On Sunday Christopher, Sean and Neilson teamed up in the short track championships.  One of the benefits of being director to this great group of juniors is the voicemail messages and e-mails I get after their races and here’s one I got from Christopher “It was a great weekend overall.  Especially today.  You would have enjoyed watching this one.  Sean and I were trying to get Neilson the win after his bad luck on Friday in the cross country.   We treated the short track like a criterium.   We went one-two and four.  It was great teamwork.  Everyone was wondering why mountain bikers were using teamwork.  Yay, that was kind of fun!”

Larry Nolan, Team Specialized Junior Director
(17-18's plus Christopher... l-r Matthew Valencia, Jason Saltzman, Christopher Blevins, Nicholas Castellano, Sean Bennett and Neilson Powless)