Sunday, April 20, 2014

Early Season Teamwork

Coming off of a big block of racing with San Dimas, CCCX, Sea Otter, and Copperopolis now is a good time to reflect on the highs and lows of these races. Each race has its own story, and one of the main themes that prevailed was the importance of teamwork.

At San Dimas, with Nick, Matt, and Sean, I rode the cat two race. The first stage was a roughly 4 mile uphill time trial that took the fastest cat two just under fifteen and a half minutes to complete. I warmed up and was feeling good. The adrenaline and excitement of racing pumped through my veins as the starter was holding me. 5…4…3…2…1 and I was off. I went out too hard and paid for it in the last few kilometers. I ended up 19th, about a minute and a half down on the leader.

The next day was the road race. Without anyone in contention for GC our plan was be aggressive in the first two and a half laps of the seven-lap race, in hope of forming a break that would shake up the GC standings. We did exactly that. The second time up the feed zone climb I followed a move initiated by Gavin Hoover. The two of us rotated for a lap and then were joined by three other riders. One of the riders quickly attacked our group and I followed. The two of us continued for another lap until we were joined by three others, including Nick and second place on GC. This group of five buried ourselves until we were brought back; just as we heard the bell for one lap to go and Dave Towle screaming his trademark ONE TO GO, ONE TO GO, ONE TO GO. Nick and my efforts had set up Sean perfectly to follow the counter attack and outsprint his companions for the win. After the stage he was tied with me for the sprint competition (I picked up points while I was off the front). The day could not have gone much better for us as a team; we set a plan, executed the plan, and won the race as a team; I was happy to have played a supportive role.

In the crit, the team goal was to maintain Sean’s lead in the sprint competition and hopefully lead him out for another stage win. We remained aggressive and keen for breakaway opportunities. Both Nick and I followed various moves, allowing Sean to sit in and save for the sprints. In addition to covering moves Nick, Matt, and I led Sean out and he picked up points in the intermediate sprints, adding to his lead. For the final sprint we started our lead out train too early and were unable to deliver another stage victory.

Sea Otter saw a different side of the teamwork coin. In both 17-18 races we were on the receiving end of well-executed teamwork with five HotTubes riders running the show, trading turns attacking and counter attacking until they formed a break that they liked. Unlike San Dimas, we were not the dominant team, and on this occasion we learned the importance teamwork from the receiving end. However, the my 15-16’s teammates proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, going 1, 2, 3, 4 in the circuit race and 1, 2 in the road race with impressive shows of teamwork.

These early season races have been great learning experiences and have prepped us well for the rest of the season. We now turn towards the build up to Nationals, which is ten weeks away.

Jason S.

Neilson's European update

Today was the second stage of Ster van Zuid-Limburg.  After racing my second time trial ever, and my first time trail on a TT bike yesterday, I was pretty far down in the GC. So, I went into the race today with very little stress. The race consisted of two 30k loops followed by four smaller loops to equal out to 113k. 

In the first 60k of the race I was staying at the front throwing out attacks and chasing attacks with my teammates while trying to get food down. Unfortunately nothing that I went for or instigated stayed away and for my teammates it was the same.
Once we hit the short circuits, my teammate Jonny Brown told me that there was a break up the road that needed to be chased back since we didn't have any teammates in it. So for about half a lap, we worked at the front to bridge the gap. Once we were three quarters of the way through the loop, I gave one last huge effort to do what I could to bridge the gap. Once I finally got out of the wind, about five guys on Team Avia hit the front to bridge the rest of the gap, and in the process strung the field out and put me in the box, but fortunately I was able to hold my spot and stay in the lead group. 
 With the race all together now, I tried my best to stay out of the wind for the rest of the race, but even when I'm in the slipstream of the peloton, I still had to put major efforts in to hold position. 
During the final lap, everyone started to do everything they could to get to the front. So that means about 150 riders are cutting each other off and attacking from the outside on very narrow European roads. This all resulted in two huge crashes which I fortunately was able to escape without losing any skin. But the second crash which was 1.5k from the finish was across the whole road which forced me to jump off my bike after almost going over my handle bars and hop over a few riders and thrashed bikes.
Overall, it was a good day, no one from USA went to the hospital and I learned so much. The final stage is tomorrow (120k road race) and will most likely be even more aggressive than today. Let's go! 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Limits

A lot of times I hear people talking on group rides or even in races about their "limits." And a lot of the time I hear the excuse that they didn't want to go past their limits so that they still have enough to finish the race etc. I believe that staying within your limits is just saying that you didn't suffer enough. As big of a statement this is and as much as it can offend some people, it is simply the truth when it's go time in a big/important race. These are the races you train all winter for to win, these are the races where suffering is key, and these are the races where "not going past your limits just to finish the race" just doesn't cut it. For me, if I was asked the question "what are your limits?", I would honestly have to say that I don't have limits. I race and train to a point where I can no longer push the pedals, and even to a point where I am vomiting my guts out. Whether I am off the front of a race or just trying to hang on the tail end of the field, I know deep inside that I pushed myself way past my limits and poured out every bit of energy that I had left. The sensation of pulling yourself inside/out may not feel the best at the moment, but it will feel bittersweet after you've recovered and reflected on what just happened. It will make you that much better as a cyclist, whether you're a "racer" or just a recreational rider that loves the joys of bike riding and the pain that comes along with it. You won't regret the satisfaction that comes along with suffering.

Pictured below is at the SCNCA Elite District Road Race Championships at Castaic Lake. I apologize if it grosses you out but it shows someone really going past their limits just to hang in there with the big boys.

Photo Credit to Dan Munson of Cycling Illustrated

Keep pushing,
Nick Castellano

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A time for reflection

As I approach my 49th birthday, I’ve been reflecting (as you do when you get old) on how I got into this sport and what I’ve learned along the way. I had no intention of sharing my story but then I thought it is one contribution I figured I can make to the Juniors as a mentor and Masters as a peer.  
As a kid I grew up in Oklahoma on the soccer field and on the tennis court. When there was any free time it was the 12 hour drive to the ski slopes and the mountains of Colorado. Once out of college it was straight back to the Colorado mountains to live longer than intended life as a dirt-bag climber climbing throughout the country, including Alaska. In the winter, it was to work multiple jobs and ski as much as possible. Then, there was no such thing as training for climbing or skiing. It was just get out there and do it…and do it more…and do it more. The goal was to ski as many days as you could or how hard you were climbing which indicates how much you’ve been climbing. There was a solid community of climbers and skiers where we would push each other. That was our training.

I was given a great opportunity to move to the Bay Area for an ideal job in my late thirties that more or less supported my passion. The only thing about having a career type job is that it’s hard to get out there and climb or ski, especially when you don’t have mountains and ski slopes out your backdoor. While it was frustrating not getting out there I saw that there were plenty of other sports to get into that were more convenient. After dabbling in trail running races and an Xterra Triathlon the one thing I missed was a strong community of people to play with (training and training partners was a foreign idea to me).

When I discovered road cycling in my forties, I methodically thought it out. I would ride for several months to just get some basic skills and bike endurance and then enter one race. Road riding and the community captured me just as skiing and climbing did, if not more. It was so brilliant to have a group of riders with you and go hard or easy, talk or gasp for air. The next season I entered a few more races. By 2008, I decided to try for a full season of training and racing and hire a coach for the first time ever. I had no idea what I was getting into with a strict training regimen but it quickly became addictive. I loved training and the discipline it required. Once racing season started I was determined to get as many races in as I could and upgrade within the season. I was focused. I put everything else aside. I was ready to become the dirt-bag racer. There was one problem though; I had a wife, a one-year-old daughter and a full time job. At the end of the season, I accomplished everything I wanted but at a very high cost. Let’s just say I was on the shit list most of the time. But I didn’t care. I was ready to go the next season to do the same thing with the same goals. I trained even harder and was even more amped for the races. The one thing I had lost, however, was the fun of training and racing. I had taken the bike training and racing so seriously because I discovered a strong desire in me to excel. It became a stressor as I was determined to get better and seek my potential. As quickly as I became in love with the sport, I became a mess.

I will never forget the day when I came home from Wards Ferry. It wasn’t a very good race because I had high expectations since I podium-ed the year before. I had knocked my power device off the handlebars and had to go back for it. As I was putting my bike back in the garage, I saw my daughter playing in the backyard with my pregnant wife with the house looking in total disrepair. I cracked! That day I hung up the bike. I was not only fulfilling my responsibilities as a husband and a father of soon-to-be two children, I was not happy. My priorities were way out of whack.

At first, it was an incredibly difficult transition but I soon realized it was the best decision I had ever made. In my mind, the biking was a thing of the past. I was a father and husband first and everything else came after. However, after two years 30 pounds heavier it was time for to get back in physical shape. It is not in my DNA to be sedentary and I didn’t want to be the dad that used to do this or used to do that. I’m a man that lives for today. I also missed my bike buddies, especially Scott Herring. Even though we knew each other in college, we became great friends because of the bike.

In September of 2010, without even thinking about it much I pumped the tires and went for a ride. It felt good and right. I did it again a few days later and then it became a habit. There were no goals and there was no thought of racing. I focused on the moment and enjoyed it tremendously. I started losing weight and eating right. I lost a pound a week. By June, I was back to my race weight and enjoyed every moment of the process. I had more fun on the bike during that time then ever before. Later that summer, I entered Patterson Pass with Scott only to race with him. He was planning on doing two laps of the three to train for Nationals. As you can imagine I popped pretty quickly but that was ok. I enjoyed being out there. I thought maybe there is a place for me here where I can enjoy the hell out of it no matter what the result is.

Soon after, I got on a training schedule with only one goal- enjoy and focus on the process and learn from it. With keeping true to that goal, again, I had more fun on the bike than ever before. I raced some 45+ masters races for the first time and had a blast.

Last year, I decided to commit to my second full race season (2008 being the first) of my short career making an addition to my goal and that I would learn as much as I could from a new community of hot shot racers and, most importantly, friends on Team Specialized. You know what? It was the best and most fun time I’ve ever had racing. I got close to thirty races last year with no real result to brag about. As I long as I focused on the process and continue to see progress that’s all I cared about.

This year I have a little heftier goals but realistic ones as to not interfere my life with my children, my awesome wife, and my job. I can actually say that without any nervous twitch.

Juniors, these masters riders who have years of experience racing, training, and going through the ups and downs of life is invaluable to you. It is to me. I’ve learned so much from these guys not only in tactics but how mindful and relaxed they are about life. They are out there to race hard but all I hear is the importance of having fun. If a race doesn’t work the way they wanted it to. They learn from it and prepare for the next one. It’s been a great opportunity and an honor to be part of this program! Thank you!






Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Giving Back
      Over the years I've had a lot of success and a lot of that success came from the help of Rich Bartlett. Rich has walked and talked me threw every step of the way whether it's from learning how to shift a bike or learning how to be humble. I remember him pushing me back into a group riders when I'm about to get spit out the back, coaching me and giving some type of motivation not to get dropped.
       A few years ago when I was 11 years old, Rich got a group of riders, including myself, teaching and developing young kids how to ride a mountain bike. He would always tell us to look ahead out of a corner and not look straight down. By looking ahead your body will follow, allowing a lot faster and smoother exit of the corner. Still till this day I remember those exact words and I take those words into consideration whether I'm mountain biking or racing road.. This development program lasted for about a year and a half due to changing of location of Rich's bike shop. But most recently Rich has started up this program again and every Wednesday Rich has the same goal in mind, to develop young riders and keep them active.
       Every Wednesday I do my rode ride and then jump on the mountain bike helping Rich develop these young kids. It's a very good feeling seeing these kids go home happy and see them develop as riders and knowing that this is where I started. By doing so I feel that I'm giving back for all the help that I have received over the years.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Teamwork - San Dimas Stage Race


After spending a good part of the beginning of the year racing with our strong Masters team, I recently had the opportunity to race along side several of my junior teammates at the San Dimas Stage Race.  Lining up with me in the 2s were Matt, Jason, Nick, and Sean.  For those of you unfamiliar with the race, it is a 3-day race consisting of a ~4 mile hill climb, a 50 mi RR, and a 60 min crit (for the cat 2s anyways).

I had ambitions of doing well and I put in what I thought was a good hill climb.  Unfortunately my time was only good enough for 13th, a little over a minute back.  I must say that there were a number of riders that were flying up the hill, posting really fast times.  For perspective, I would have been 4th and only 22s adrift in the old man's race (35+).

Without anyone in the top ten and within striking distance of the overall, our focus turned to other goals.  The plan for the road race was to be animated in the beginning, looking for the early break.  Several of us tried our luck, but it was Jason that had both the timing and the effort to get away with a few other riders.  After a lap, Nick was able to bridge alone on the main climb.  This gave us two riders of 5? off the front, dictating the race.  Meanwhile, the remaining three of us were following moves and trying our best to conserve.

The break was able to stay away for several laps and resulted in a bit of attrition in the main group.  We were back together on the last lap when Sean was able to make his move, joining three others in a late break.  In the end, it ended up being the winning move as the group was able to stay away.  Sean took full advantage and took the stage for the team.

With the stage win, Sean also found himself in the points jersey.  This gave us a new goal for the crit, which was to protect the jersey on two hot sprints and the final.  The beginning of the race was fairly tame.  There were a few moves which Jason and Nick did a good job of covering, however nothing really got off that was too dangerous.

For not practicing leadouts with my junior teammates, the team did an excellent job on the hot sprints.  On the first hotsprint, Nick was lining the field out on the front.  Sean found Matt's wheel and soon after Matt found my wheel.  We went past Nick on the hill and took Sean all the way to the final corner.  Sean put in a nice effort to take 2nd in the hot sprint.  The second hotsprint Sean again found either Matt's or Nick's wheel and then found mine.  We had a little help from a rider from another team, but again we delivered Sean to another 2nd place sprint.
Unfortunately, setting up a train for a mid-race sprint is one thing, while setting up a train for the final is another.  We were a little eager and we were amassed at the front a little too soon at 5 to go.  At this point, Jason took a flier.  A few people followed over top of us and the break never got any where.

We were back at the front again at 3 to go.  As the one who had been leading Sean to the final corner, this was likely my biggest mistake.  I should have pulled for a little bit (1/2 lap or so) and flicked for someone to come through.  Then I could have slotted in front of Sean and recovered for the final.  Instead I was running the front until 1 to go when Matt came through.  Matt was able to hold it until the hill, at which point we started to get swarmed.  As a result Sean got rushed and lost too many positions to make a difference in the final sprint.
Looking back, I was pretty proud on how the team worked in the crit.  We did a good job of talking and staying together.  Sean did a great job sprinting and we were fortunate that the final sprint didn't effect the points classification.  There are a few things that we could have done better, but every race is a learning experience.  The next time we are in that kind of situation, we will be the better for it.  All in all, it was a lot of fun.  Everyone raced hard and we accomplished some of our goals.


Friday, April 4, 2014

The Upgrade Dilemma

I have been struggling with  the decision of upgrading from a Category 3 to a Category 2 in the road aspect of cycling since the beginning of this year. Starting at the end of last year and so far in 2014 I have won just about every SM 3 race I have entered. With this I have realized that moving up to the next category is something I should be doing in the very near future. One of the major problems with moving up to racing with the pro's is the mileage I will be doing in the road races. There are a good number of races that I would like to attend this year but since the races can be upwards of ninety miles, I would not be able to race them. I am only sixteen this year and I have never done a ride more than about seventy-five miles. With these factors, my parents, my coach and I have decided to upgrade to the category 2's after racing the Tour of the Gila. I have enjoyed the past seasons racing in the 3's and I look forward to the challenge of racing with the 2's. Thank you, Larry Nolan for your advice on this matter and also thank you to my teammates for their input on the dilemma.

Gage Hecht