Tuesday, April 14, 2015

North Carolina Isn't Very North

This past week I put on 34 hours in the car and 22 hours on the bike for spring break.  My destination was North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. My mom, brother and I decided it was time to leave the frozen tundra, also known as the Upper Peninsula. The trip had two objectives:  look at potential colleges and get some road miles on my legs. 

The first school, Lees-McRae, is located smack dab in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Banner Elk.  I loved the environment, the school and students.  I rode with at least fifteen riders on several mountainous routes.  We never were at a loss for challenges or conversation.  Matter of fact, the twisty roads and switchbacks were some of my highlights.

The second school was Brevard College, about two hours away from Banner Elk and close to my teammate, Colton Brookshire.  I contacted Colton before my arrival hoping to have a chance to ride in his neck of the woods.  He met me the first day, where we went for a three-hour ride in Brevard. The ride seemed epic; we climbed above the clouds while it was raining with hail below.  Needless to say, my mom was a bit worried. Colton and his father were gracious enough to join us for dinner in Asheville at a burger joint called Farm Burger. The make-your-own burgers and legendary draft root beer seemed perfect as an after-ride dinner.

The following days included riding with a former teammate, Janelle Cole, and a student-athlete named Wyatt.  Wyatt made quite an impression on me.  We'll just say we were similar and different in many ways.  The ride seemed so gratifying that the 4.5 hours just slipped by.

Some things that I learned on this trip......  The Blue Ridge Mountains are beautiful;  Lees-McRae and Brevard, and all that went with them, were worth every minute of the long drive; white squirrels are good luck (spotted some); and cyclists are the same regardless of where they ride. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

1 Second Off

This past weekend was one of Southern California's most prominent local stage races, the San Dimas Stage Race (SDSR). This stage race has been most commonly used by the NRC caliber professionals for last minute preparations for the NRC opener at the Redlands Cycling Classic. Even more special to this race this year was the surprise heat wave that hit the area very hard along with a little more wind than usual.

The 3-day stage race starts with a TT up the infamous Glendora Mountain Road (GMR), a rolling, technical circuit race around Bonelli Park, and fast downtown crit in Old Town San Dimas. 7 out of 9 Team NCCF/ Specialized Juniors raced in the Elite 2's (Sean is on the DL with a broken wrist and Christopher in Colombia for MTB Pan-American Championships). I finished 8th on stage one, a ways off of 1st place but within 50 seconds of 2nd place. The team went into stage 2 looking for a stage win and improving my GC position to get on to the podium. More than half the team had unfortunate day of racing resulting from mistimed flats to crashes but this is cycling, these things happen, and one must learn to adjust to the situation. After multiple attempts of breaking the field up over the KOM climb (Heckler Hill), a group of juniors finally got a little group going but with some riders not fully committing the main field was coming back together. The yellow jersey (Brandon McNaulty) pulled a cheeky "Geraint Thomas" move as I was pulling off the front and countered the group as we were getting caught. It was a hard chase but the yellow jersey had the stronger legs so Jules and I finished safely in the main field. After this stage I moved up from 8th to 6th on GC, 3 seconds off of the 5th podium spot.

The last stage contained two Hot Spot Sprints with time bonuses at each of them. The goal was for me to obtain at least one of them to take over 5th on GC. The first Hot Spot Sprint was taken by teammate Grant out of a breakaway which allowed me a good warm-up for the second Hot Spot Sprint. The Vumedi rider that sat in 5th GC had all of his teammates watching me. I can personally say that they did a stellar job in doing so and made my effort to win a time bonus very hard. I eventually won the second Hot Spot Sprint to snag the 3 seconds, but the Vumedi rider that sat in front of me on GC put in a very strong effort to get 3rd and take a 1 second time bonus. I finished safely in the field to take 6th GC at the 2015 San Dimas Stage Race in the Elite 2's race.

This stage showed our teams aggression and really showed how close races can finish in GC. In my case, I lost a podium position by one second but I am content knowing that because the team and I raced hard and did what we could to take advantage of trying to improve on GC.

I would like to thank NCCF for the financial support over the past weekend. Specialized bicycles for our brand new Allez's. Larry Nolan for his continued direction and help setting up our new bikes. And one last thank you to my parents for allowing my team to stay and invade our house.

On to Sea Otter,
Nick Castellano

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Peaks and Valleys of Sport

    In every sport there are highs points which I like to call the peaks; and the low points which I call the valleys. (Valleys adds a more positive spin than the usual low point saying.) Both of these can come at planned times, and of course the unexpected. This season I have faced every circumstance.
              Valley of the Sun for me was a planned low. I had an awesome time getting to know the team, but after a long season of cyclocross (40 minuet efforts) I knew my road form (2+ hour efforts) would not be "Super". Unfortunately I was correct. Hard races put me int my place and lit my fuse to begin my tarmac training. I had been training for about a month in Bend, Oregon and had seen some improvement in my endurance. I was lucky enough to be able to ride with Chris Horner and Conner McCutcheon a few times to really get my humility back. If you ever need motivation to train harder I would highly recommend racing Chris Horner up a hill... Group rides began and the season was about to get into full swing. I expected definite improvements from my attempts in Phoenix. Though was not entirely confident in my shape in regards to the southern California pack I would be racing.
             The opening time trial was uphill, around 17-18 minuets, and twisty. Perfect for all 126 lbs of cross racing me. But one factor I underestimated was the 95 degree heat. I took off hard and held a good rhythm for my personal standards until around 2 kilometers from the finish. The heat broke me in less than 15 minuets and my pace payed the price. I ended up with a time of 17:10 and in 16th place. Not terrible for a 90+ rider field, but as always a result that could be improved upon.
            The road race was 8 laps of a approximately 7 mile course with 100 meters of climbing per lap. A lot of data that ultimately means the race was going to last around 2.5 hours, and should begin to hurt by the end of the second lap. And that is exactly what occurred. Personally I was riding well, not too deep into the pain cave and was looking forward to when the pace would be high enough to dwindle down the field. On lap 5 of eight the race started to get harder. I looked at my Garmin to see if the speed had increased. We were going about 1-2 miles per hour slower than the previous laps. I thought to myself " Dang, the wind has really picked up." Almost as soon as I monologged that my rim hit the pavement and I had the realization no cyclist ever wants to face... I have a flat. I thought "Only two and a half laps to go, I bet I can make it." so I proceeded to ride the flat tire about a third of the lap before we started to go downhill. I had no control of the back half of my bike at the high speeds and decided to take a wheel change. By the time I got off, was aided by the follow car, and back on the bike, I had gone from racing to win; to attempting to make the steep time cut. Fortunately for me I crossed the line within the time limit so I could race another day. This was an unexpected valley for me. I hoped and truly believed I would take a good result, but one must roll with the highs and lows as they say.
               The Crit the next day was not all too eventful. All the big dudes laying down big watts. I was happy to sit near the front and stretch my legs when the time arose. This past weekend at San Dimas was a true roller coaster foe me. Though everyone and every sport comes with its peaks and valleys. I am thankful I am not Lewis and Clark who quite literally had unexpected peaks and valleys and that my highs and lows are bike race results. I am also thankful for the support from the Northern California Cycling Foundation, and all the sponsors that make this team what it is. Hopefully Sea Otter Classic will bring some peaks in the near future.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Cycling: A Family Affair

Cycling is a highly competitive sport. It's easy to get caught up with the stresses of life and forget how you even started this crazy sport--why you actually love it so much. For me, it all comes full circle. Last week my family and I celebrated my brothers 19th birthday by, of course, going on a family ride. While out on our ride, I was reminded why and how it all started for me. For me, competition began early on with my brother and sister. Growing up in Asheville, NC we were always out riding either on the trails, the road, or just around our family farm. It was always a competition! Who could climb the hill the fastest, descend the fastest, track stand the longest, and who could come up with better ways to ride up and jump off mom's picnic table. Our poor mom has not had a picnic table in years that hasn't had chain ring damage.
Having a family that loves and supports you is everything. Being there for each other through the high and the low points in this challenging sport is what makes it all worthwhile. We all started racing road bikes at age ten (the earliest possible age to race at that time). We attended our first National championship at ages twelve (me), and fourteen (Grayson) in Bend, OR in 2010. The next year, my sister joined us and we have now attended 11 National championships, all with each other by our sides. You can be certain that we push each other towards excellence, and sometimes we don't like the criticism we dish out to each other. But one thing is for sure, we all want each other to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves, and will never stop helping each other to reach that point. Being there on that ride last week and helping my baby sister climb up those same hills that I did at her age, all the while smiling and laughing, did remind me why I ride.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Experiencing a new level of cycling.

I've been racing for 4 years and i was blown away with the level of racing.
I  never had a teammate/teammates with me in big races, for example Valley Of The Sun I had both Sean and Jules. I've learn quite a lot from those two,but I am still learning new racing tactics and proper conditioning from other teammates as well. New race tactics have helped me, and I'm still curious on how the team will race together instead of racing different junior categories.  There will be more racing soon I can't wait!  I'm looking forward to training on mountains this year since where I live lacks elevation and fun roads. I've learn throughout team camp that I enjoy climbing. I haven't mastered the skill of descending yet but I want to conquer it. The thrill of switchbacks are breathtaking. The Ride was different. The feeling on the bike was different. As I progressed more down the mountain with the sun near to set, I had learn many things from descending.
Larry (team director) told me at camp, how we should always think for each other, rather than just ourselves. Never had junior teammates and now I know how it feels to be part of a real team. I'm definitely looking forward in making this a superb year. Not just for me ,but for my teammates as well.

-Sandor Jr

Friday, March 6, 2015


DNF, ala "Did not finish" might conjure a few negative ideas in your head, but to me it means you tried something new and different.  DNF could be the test that brings out the real bike racer in you.  DNF might be something you should try.

As the former NCNCA upgrade coordinator I saw all sorts of requests, but as I poured through results trends jump out... too many people race their strengths!  America is the land of crits, so let's admit that there is a HUGE difference between sitting in the field in a pro/1/2 crit and a long road race.  I'm not suggesting that we have different categories for different disciplines and venues, but getting tossed off the back of a real pro/1/2 road race and ending up with a DNF might just be what you need. 

Pulling in a DNF every once in awhile helps you stay grounded, it helps you play your strengths as a teammate or friend, and it helps to motivate you for the next big race.  You are working on your weaknesses, not just flexing your strengths.  Turning a DNF into something good is not easy and takes time, but above all, bicycle racers are a very determined lot of people.

Cheers, Larry Nolan

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Metamorphosis

Weeman they called me; I was the domestique of Team Specialized. In priority events, working for my teammates, helping them succeed. Deep down though, I wanted MY success. What I didn't realize at the time however was that through the process and moments being the underdog, I was actually being prepared for my future cycling career. To help me reach my success, Larry, my coach, enlightened me on the philosophies of racing and provided a well thought out training plan for me to take advantage of. From him I've learned about base miles, recovery, intervals, phases of training, peaking for priority races, tactics, and just about everything else that's helped me progress as a rider; I wouldn't be the rider I am today without this knowledge. My teammates inspired me to be greater because I've always looked up to them and they gave me the determination to try and become the best racer I could be. This team has helped me progress from a young up and comer to a full fledged racer. The motivation and support I've received from this team is what I truly owe to my achievements. Thanks to Team Specialized, they now call me

-The Man.