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Today’s stage unfolded in spectacular fashion. Straight out of the blocks, and all 140+ starters were sprinting up Chilkoot Hill, trying to make up positions, after being stuck on the starting grid for what seemed to be an eternity. I think that the first trip up the hill, was also the last time we were all together. While the group seems to usually maintain a fairly low rate of attrition for the first half of a criterium, today was an exception.
No where was the magnitude of the day’s extreme demand more obvious than in the race officials generous time-cut; requiring that riders only complete 25% of the 20 lap race. Yes, after only 5 laps of racing, riders were eligible for a pro-rated time. What a deal! Although I had no intention of using such a generous time cut, it turns out that I benefited from such generosity.
Before the race started, I knew that I would be facing up to one of the hardest criteriums in the country. The Stillwater crit is something of a legend in the domestic peloton, as everyone knows of and about, the Chilkoot Hill. At 250 meters with an average gradient of 18%, and ramps as steep as 20%, each lap would be a brutal test of mental and physical strength. With my warm-up completed, and the legs feeling ready for one last fight, I picked up a fresh ice-cold bottle of Hammer Heed before making my way onto the starting grid. Seems the entire field, except for a few of us, believed that a good start position would be worth more than a good warm-up. Huh. Interesting idea, and I am not sure which ended up prevailing, as the truth is that we always end up sitting around for a good number of minutes before the race gets started.
I was going to be in the last row no matter what. With everyone else ahead of me, I had to accept this. My teammate Jim Camut, also found himself in a similar situation. We decided that if we were going to be last, we might as well keep the legs moving. Rather than sitting on the line with one foot down, Jim and I rode our bikes in slow and lazy circles behind the nervous peloton. A few others joined, making for an almost comical looking side show. Inside of 10 seconds to go, and Jim and I were executing track-stands right behind the field; ready to explode into the race, with both of our feel already clipped into the pedals.
The first time racing up the hill was brutal. Imagine sitting in your car, simply idling at a stop sign, and in one instant, you stomp on the accelerator, and drop the clutch. Yeah, a real shock to the system. From a comfortable track-stand with my heart-rate hovering around 80-90 beats per minute, I exploded into the race. Over the top of the hill, and I couldn’t pump enough blood through my body.
Within the next few laps, I began to feel settled in the race. The rhythm of each lap was starting to flow, and I knew what points on the course were my strongest and weakest. As I began to work my way forward through the field, I was feeling better with each passing lap. Those first few laps, as I got into the race, I was ready for a battle right up to the end. Ready to fight hard, and to suffer. Coming over the top of the course on my second or third lap, (I don’t remember the exact one) I came across a group of riders who had gone down. Ordinarily, I would have ridden straight passed. In this situation, I found my teammate, and potential U23, winner Bobby Sweeting picking himself up with his bike.
Before I even came up to them, I had already gone into “autopilot.” I had shifted my bike all the way to the hardest gear, 53×11, to ease the changing of wheels should that become necessary. A quick exchange of words with Bobby, and I knew he was good. As he wheeled off to the pits for his free-lap while sorting out any unnoticed mechanical issues, I was being harassed by an official. All he seemed to see was that I had stopped despite not crashing. After listing to repeated yells along the lines of, “Number 113, you did not crash! You will not receive a free lap. You must continue…” I rolled off. Of course I knew I didn’t crash, and I wasn’t looking for a free lap. I was looking after my teammate who stood to win, or lose, more than I did.
A few more laps of riding, and the hard charging field was coming up behind me. After just 5 laps, I was pulled from the course. Although it was the least of my worries, it turns out that the unusually low time-cut worked in my favor today. Of course, I wasn’t really worried about how I finished, but it is nice to at least know what I made it, technically. If I had ridden all the way, who knows how things would have turned out.
In the end, my teammate Bobby Sweeting won the U23 competition, and Mike Northey followed yesterday’s strong ride with another big performance today. By limiting his losses, Mike finishes the week 3rd on the U23 race. This last week has been a fantastic week of racing and experiencing Minnesota. For many of us, this year was our first time racing in the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The racing has proven to be some of the best, and I will look forward to coming back for more racing in the years to come.
Thanks for reading and thanks for following along with me this week.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
Another stage down, and things are getting better. The last four days of racing have been filled with aggression, tactics, and battles fought down to the final meters of each stage, and today was no different.
Following a gross mis-calculation of the time it would take to drive into Mankato, we pulled into the venue parking lot with no more than 25 minutes before the race was scheduled to start. What followed was mostly-organized chaos that bordered on madness. Somehow, we all managed to get our bikes ready, dressed, and pockets filled with food, all before racing over to the sign-in table via the porta-johns. As the type of person who much prefers to meticulously measure, place, and prepare everything, this test of rapid preparation was perhaps the most stressful part of my whole day.
The race started with a short neutral section as we worked our way out of town, and onto the rolling farm roads that surround Mankato. Those few minutes of easy pedaling were a blessing, as they afforded me the opportunity to get the legs moving, and some blood flow going, all before the racing got up to speed.
Rolling up onto the plateau that surrounds Mankato, and the racing was full throttle. For fifty minutes, the racing was aggressive as riders worked to establish the day’s main breakaway, which was almost certain to go. Along with my teammates, we all took turns covering breaks, initiating moves, and hoping that today would be “our day.” In the end, it was my team-mate Mike Northey’s day. Mike made the key selection with thirteen other riders who would hammer themselves over the course of the next two-and-a-half hours before finishing their efforts on the closing circuits around the streets of Mankato.
For the rest of us in the field, things slowed down. Way down. With no riders or teams taking up the chase, the break quickly built up and almost astronomical advantage of 8 minutes. Finally, the Ciclismo Racing Team took up the pace making, sensing that they had “missed out,” and that no other teams were in a position of needing to chase. Coming back into town, the peleton began to gain some impotence, as teams worked to get themselves sorted out for the four finishing circuits around downtown Mankato.
The first time we came through, and the 3 riders who remained from the original group of 14 held just over a three minute advantage on the peleton. As the top GC riders and contenders began taking turns attacking each other, the 3 leaders quickly saw their advantage disintegrate with each climb up the Main St Hill. With 3.5 kilometers remaining, they held just a slim margin of 34 seconds over a select chase group of riders who were being driven by the Bissell Pro Cycling Team, as they worked to protect Tom Zirbel’s race lead. At the line, and that advantage had been cut in half.
After a terrific and sensible day of racing off the front, Mike put in some stellar efforts on those closing laps to take 3rd place on the stage, while also taking over the lead in the APC Best Young Rider competition. For all my wanting, trying, and hoping that I would make it into today’s break, I am even happier for my teammate Mike and the success that he found on the roads today. Clearly his legs were better than most, and I will look forward to working with my team tomorrow as we work to protect his lead in the APC Best Young Rider competition during th challenging 20 lap race in downtown Stillwater, MN.
With the laundry started, and my eyes drooping, I think we will have to shut down Guitar Hero as I get ready to rest up for one final day of racing here in Minnesota.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you all in Stillwater tomorrow afternoon.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
Another pleasant and relaxing day here in Minnesota culminated in a blur. With the Nature Valley having been comprised of late afternoon and evening races until now, the riders and teams have begun to settle into a daily routine.
After sleeping in, probably later than normal for most, we awake to our coffee pots which have been pre-programmed to turn on. The coffee is complimented by breakfast and time spent in front of the TV and computer. Some riders check the news, others update their Twitter pages, and the rest of us fill our time with e-mails and phone conversations back to our homes and family.
With breakfast and the first cup of coffee consumed, some riders will head out for an easy one or two hour spin, and the rest of us choose to keep our reclined position on the couch until the last possible moment; only leaving the couch for a massage or to refill the bottle from which we have been drinking out of. As the riders return from their morning rides, they get their turn on the massage table before returning to the couch.
Lunch and a brief nap come next, before we depart for the day’s race. Many riders climb into the team vehicle with some snacks and a steaming hot cup of coffee for the drive. Upon arriving at the race, it is go time. With the vehicles staged for the race, riders begin their pre-race routine. Different riders will have a different way of preparing for each day’s race, depending on their job for the day, and their style of riding.
This week I have been focusing on trying to find my way to the front end of the race, making and following moves that look to have promise. When I am not covering moves, I have done my best to look after our protected riders, ensuring that they have plenty of food and drinks to get them through the day’s stage.
Tonight’s criterium was run around downtown Minneapolis on a very fast and fun challenging circuit. With fans lining the entire length of the course, and the battle for the overall General Classification becoming tighter, it was sure to be fast – from the gun. And it was. After spending what seemed like an eternity on the start line, I could feel my heart rate slow, and my legs bristled with goose-bumps. Not exactly what I want to feel. Sitting there with my heart beating only 60 times per minute, I knew that my world was about to be rocked. Out of the blocks, and I was summoning every ounce of strength I had, trying to push the pedals faster and more forcefully.
Twenty minutes passed before I was finally feeling comfortable on my bike, and on the course. The remainder of the evening was a blur as the peleton raced around the course. Near the 1-hour mark, and with 10 laps remaining in the race, several crashes took place. With some riders starting to feel fatigue, while other teams were setting up lead-out trains, the tight corners became chaotic, and I found myself caught out on two separate occasions.
Initially I gave chase, hoping that I would be able to regain contact with the peleton, but realized my efforts were in vain after several laps of riding flat out, only to maintain the same gap between myself and the field. With the writing on the wall, I sat up and rolled across the line. My day ended a little bit early, but I knew that there was no point in wasting energy that will be valuable over the final 2 stages.
With tonight’s race behind us, we have returned to our host house for showers and dinner. Tomorrow’s stage will be a change of pace as we again hit the open roads of Mankato, MN for nearly 150 kilometers of racing in the middle of the day. Between now and then, I have some serious resting and recovery. Hopefully I can find some freshness in the legs tomorrow, and with that, I might find my way back to the sharp end of the racing.
Thanks for reading. See you all in Mankato tomorrow afternoon.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
The Nature Valley Grand Prix hit out for the open roads today. The racing was aggressive right from the start. Only 5.6 kilometers into the stage, and we crested the first of several KOM sprints on the day. I have noticed that Minnesota, at least this area, has no mountains. In fact, to highlight my point, the officials here have changed the KOM (King Of The Mountains) competition to a KOH (King Of The Hills) competition. As a rider who prefers extended climbing to the short and punchy hills that we are currently facing, my duties today would involve covering and initiating break away attempts, as well as fetching bottles from the car if the need should arise.
As I mentioned yesterday, with the legs starting to come around to the efforts, I am wanting to move towards the front end of the race – the sharp end of the action so to speak. Last night’s one hour race was just what I needed to sharpen up my systems, and I felt like I was firing on all cylinders today. Rolling along after cresting the first hill, and the peleton was getting settled into the rhythm of today’s race. As we wound through the countryside and farmland that surrounds Cannon Falls, MN, I put in several digs trying to escape the stranglehold which the Bissell and Ouch teams had on the field. No luck, just some moments of suffering.
I drifted back into the field taking a few minutes to evaluate the racing, as well as to take the opportunity to get down some food and drinks. Another 20 minutes down the road, and I was starting to feel frisky, again. Looking for the right opportunity for another attack, and I finally found my chance. A rider from the Colavita Sutter Home Cooking Light Team came down the left gutter, and looked to be headed up the road. I was right on his wheel, which initially resulted in disappointment when he arrived at the front of the peleton and stopped going forwards. With one lone rider up the road, and a hill coming quickly, I thought I had a good chance at getting away. Over the top of the hill and I had finally escaped from the peleton. Finally, it has been many days of racing and trying to get away, and today that success came – for a few short and agonizing minutes. I poured on the gas, hoping my gap would grow. When 3 riders from Bissell and 1 from Ouch came across, I thought we had it made. A few attacks and counter attacks from Bissell and I was blown to pieces.
After quickly being reabsorbed by the peleton, I hit the bottles and food again. I focused on staying out of the wind, and trying to get some energy back into the legs for the remainder of the stage. We rolled back into town at a furious pace which only quickened upon starting on the 5 technical finishing circuits. Another 20 minutes of all out effort racing around city blocks and the finish line was within sight.
Rolling across the line, my head hung low, with my tongue nearly scraping the pavement. After finally managing to get up the road, I was feeling a bit of success and joy, which was overshadowed by the pain and suffering of the previous two-and-a-half hours of racing. After a few minutes of spinning the legs, I rolled into our team tent and collapsed into a chair. Changed and ready for the drive home, we loaded our cars and return to our host houses for dinner, massages, and now bed.
Today was a fantastic and challenging day of racing here in Minnesota, and we are just getting things going. My legs are feeling better with each day, and I am finding my way towards the sharp end of the racing here. Three more challenging stages lay ahead of us. Time for another massage, and then it will be lights out for me.
Thanks for reading. I will see you all in Uptown Minneapolis for tomorrow night’s criterium.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
After the first day of racing here in St. Paul it seems like the legs are starting to come around to the efforts which I am asking of them. With Monday full of travel, and then just trying to get things moving yesterday, I think today was when everything started to finally come around.
This morning after almost one hour of riding, I arrived at the start of the 10-kilometer time trial just like I wanted to; confident, hot, sweaty, and armed with a solid plan for how I would approach each of the following 10-kilometers. I was aiming to finish the first test of the week in 13 minutes and some seconds, even a 13:59 would have been “successful.” In my last time trial, I set a goal which would have placed me in the top 25 finishers from the previous year, and I beat that goal. So today, I was confident for the time trial and my goal. Unfortunately, I was never able to find my rhythm on the course, and ended up finish a long ways down, losing nearly 1:45 to the fastest man, Tom Zirbel.
With my race getting off to a rocky start, I rode from the time trial back to our host house in Mendota Heights. The 20 minute ride was the perfect cool down, allowing me to pedal a light gear with a good cadence as I cleared the lactic acid from my legs.
The middle part of the day was lazy and relaxing. After getting back, I made a quick lunch, before taking a nap. After awaking from my nap, I jumped onto the massage table for a quick rub. Off of the massage table, and I was back to the couch where I remained for the rest of the day. I passed the time by checking in on the news, and then picking up a good book. Off the couch, it was a light pre-race snack, and then back to the couch for a few minutes before kitting up for the evening’s criterium.
Kitted up and ready to go, I rolled out with my roommates for the short 25 minute ride into downtown St. Paul for the criterium. It is no secret, and I make no fantasies about my criterium racing skills. In the world of domestic stage racing, crits are certainly my Achilles Heal. Driven by the morning’s frustration, along with a host of other emotions, I managed to ride one of my strongest crit’s of the season. Although I really accomplished nothing of note in the race, I did manage to stay in what seemed to be the top half of the field, finishing within the main pack.
As the legs start to come around, I am still a long ways down in the general classification, and I am hoping to continue the positive trend, moving farther towards the sharp end of the racing, maybe even off the front in the next few days. We will see what the future holds, but for now, I have a few more minutes on the couch before I crawl into the sheets for some much needed sleep.
Thanks for reading. We are off to Cannon Falls tomorrow afternoon for some autograph signing at the library, which will be followed by an all out throw-down over the course of a challenging 107 kilometer parcours.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
Carson Miller is a professional for the Land Rover-Orbea team, which benefits the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He’ll be blogging daily during this week’s Nature Valley Grand Prix, so keep tuned to the TRIA Orthopaedic Center blog for some more PRO insight during the race. Enjoy!
With the team having completed a successful first year induction to the TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship, we were all on the road again. I was flying from our team base in Portland, Oregon to St. Paul, Minnesota, and the rest of the team was flying from Philadelphia to St. Paul, MN where we would all meet up to prepare for the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
After spending nine hours in planes, airports, lines, and public transportation systems, I finally connected with the team which had come into St. Paul on a different flight. With the Rovers loaded up, it was off to find our host families for the week. Despite having a GPS enabled LR3, as well as 2 iPhone’s, and 2 BlackBerry’s, I have learned that we almost routinely make several u-turns. And it is definitely easier to pull u-turns when you are not driving an SUV that is towing a 16-foot trailer. Turns out that our “3 u-turn policy,” was almost fulfilled. After some stumbling around, and 2 u-turns, we finally found our way here.
We got things rolling today with a hospital visit in St. Paul. The team was founded and came about as a way to “pay forward” the generosity of the Lance Armstrong Foundation as well as the cancer community that was so terrific in supporting David and Norrene, our team managers, while Norrene’s mom fought her battle with cancer. Part of that mission, is to visit approximately 1 children’s hospital per NRC event that we race in. During these visits, we get to share the joys of cycling with the children while handing out LiveSTRONG wrist bands and telling how they too can LiveSTRONG.
After returning from the hospital, we made ourselves some lunch and prepared the bikes for an afternoon training session. The team rolled out for a couple hours to get the legs moving again. Our evening was simple and low-key; shower, eat dinner, team meeting, and then some time in front of the TV before bed.
With all of the final preparations made for the coming 5 days of racing here at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, my eyes are getting a bit heavy, and tomorrow will get off to an early 9:45 start as we all take a crack at the challenging 7km TT.
Thanks for reading. As a side note, I am going to be keeping daily updates coming here. As part of this week’s racing, I have agreed to keep some daily updates, and you can all find them right here. Until tomorrow…
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
PORTLAND, Oregon; May 6, 2009 – Roman van Uden, 20 year old youngster from Auckland, New Zealand wins the 23rd Annual SRAM Tour of the Gila Silver City Downtown Criterium. “This is a huge win for the young Land Rover-ORBEA squad,” said co founder Norrene Godfrey “especially in our first year as a professional cycling team.” Land Rover-ORBEA has two core missions, raise funds and awareness for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and help develop young cycling athletes into the next generation professional athlete.
A big field, strong winds and tricky corners made it difficult for the men’s race around the 1.04-mile course that had 80 feet of climbing per lap. “I got into a good position, guys were riding pretty fast at the front, crashes took out Levi and a few other guys and I snuck through, so we had gaps forming behind. A rider shot through the front trying to get away a bit with half mile to go and then sat up and I snuck around him outside on the very last corner, he sort of opened a gap and it gave me enough room to take the win.” commented van Uden.
Photo courtesy of Brian Hoder, Veloimages.com
After the race, Lance Armstrong himself complimented the Land Rover-ORBEA squad on their professionalism both on and off the bike – as the team handed out LIVESTRONG wristbands to the crowd and to all the kids who participated in the kid’s event, further spreading the word and mission of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Positive results today inspire confidence for tomorrow. “Along with the stage win, the team continued to show aggressive racing by being represented in the major breaks and by learning to work cohesively as a team,” continued Godfrey, “and it’s great confidence boost as we go into the next races.”
Next on the team’s schedule race schedule is the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas -May 7-10th where the young team will be looking to keep the winning streak alive. After Joe Martin, the team will be leading a LIVESTRONG ride in Portland, Oregon on May 24th, racing TD Bank Philadelphia International Championship in Philadelphia June 7th and the Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minneapolis, Minnesota June 11th – 14th.
To learn more about the Land Rover-ORBEA cycling team please visit www.landrover-orbea.com or follow the team on Facebook.
Each year the team raises funds for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and each year the team gives away it’s spot in the Seattle LIVESTRONG Challenge to a cancer survivor. For more information, visit http://www.landrover-orbea.org.