Friday, April 29, 2011

How to Execute the Perfect Sneak Attack

Last weekend, Lucas and I did some hill work near Crescent, IA. In the process of doing so, we were sneak-attacked by two dogs on Mudhollow road. The dogs weren't that big. Actually, they were kinda small and fat, but still strong enough to put on a good chase. Anyway, I took note of their attack. Here's what I learned.

How to Launch a Stealthy Hill Attack

1: Use the element of surprise.
Attack when your foe is least expecting it. Recently, Steve Tillford blogged about attacking when an opponent reaches for the water bottle. And last year, I won the cat 4 Papillion Twilight crit in part from launching an attack when someone flatted and caused a mini pileup in the field.

On this past Sunday, Lucas and I were sneak-attacked during a transition zone. We had just finished a section of gravel and were soft-peddling a moderate climb when the dogs suddenly appeared. At that point, the farthest thing from our minds was a sneak attack. For one, we weren't even racing. And for another, until the moment they appeared, our foes weren't even known. Advantage: dogs.

2: Leverage home field advantage
Being intimate with the pave sections of a spring classic certainly helps a pro cyclist minimize risk of failure.

Likewise, it should follow that being familiar with roadside hazards like concealed ditches alongside Mudhollow Road will minimize your risks, too. This point is especially true when a couple of ankle biters will come barreling out of that same ditch when you're least expecting it.

3: Timing your attack
It's common knowledge that many stage races are won and lost in the mountains. Who can forget when Alberto Contrador counter-attacked his own Astana teammate, Andrea Kloden, on the 17th stage of 2009's Tour de France? In doing so, he not only dropped Kloden, but also pulled the rival Schleck brothers along for a stage win (Frank).

Alberto Contrador pulls the Schleck brothers to stage victory

And speaking of the Schlecks, wasn't it Andy who lost the maillot jaune on last year's 15th stage of the TdF when he dropped his chain on a hill and no one waited for him?

Andy Schleck drops chain climbing 15th Stage of 2010 Tour de France

Heaven forbid that you should drop a chain climbing Mudhollow with those little fellers stripping their teeth at your feet.

In truth, the dogs appeared to be just having fun. While they made a big fuss trying to get to us, their tails were also wagging. Perhaps next time, I'll take a page from Rafal's notebook and toss some bacon for their efforts.

The scene was amusing enough that after catching our breath, we turned around and made a second run at the hill. Fortunately, Lucas captured the moment forever:

The Mudhollow dogs launch a perfect sneak attack. Photo credit Lucas Marshall

Happy Friday everyone

Friday, April 22, 2011


Last weekend, Bryan Redemske, Eric O'Brien and I entered the Tour de Husker road race. To say that we had our work cut out for us is an understatement.

First was the course and conditions. The Tour de Husker is staged at Branched Oak Lake, on an 11 mile loop with one longish climb, some rollers and a notorious crosswind section on a dam road. The cat 1-2-3 race completed five loops for roughly 60 miles. The conditions at the start were: 33° F with NW winds at 18 mph with gusts over 25 mph.

Then there were the competitors. Only 16 entrants made up the small field. The three of us, representing Midwest Cycling Community, were all cat 3s. There were a handful of other teams represented including two wearing Iowa Hawkeyes kits, but by and large, Team Kaos and their six riders (a cat 1, four cat 2s & two cat 3s) was the dominant force of the race. They practically had it sown up before the starting whistle even blew.

But nobody could tell us that. Before the race, we carefully drew up a plan on my Big Chief tablet, and it was filled with moxie. Actually, I forgot about these plans until I found them much later, crumpled up beneath a dirty chamois, while unpacking my racing bag.

Anyway, here they are:

STEP 1: Send most experience w/break
Did that win the race? No? Proceed to Step 2
STEP 2: Send next most experienced w/break
Did that win the race? No? Proceed to Step 3
STEP 3: Have least experienced sit in Chase
Did that win the race? No? Proceed to Step 4
STEP 4: Quietly weep, prepare for time trial

Yeah, that's about sums it up for the Cat3 MWCC guys at this year's Tour de Husker.

However, the race wasn't a total loss. In a stinging defeat, there are so many things one can learn. Bryan shared. So did Eric.

During this road race, I learned about tactics by sitting in with much more experienced racers than myself. Like how the strong team gets to mostly sit-in while the others work to pull back the break.

But one thing I didn't learn from the others was how to create a fantastic photo opportunity for yourself. You know, the photo that gets tagged in Facebook for all to marvel at? Or the same one you choose for your Twitter profile? Heck, if it's really good, it can be the one you have Kinkos blow up into a foam-backed poster board to update the triathlon photo you had blown up five years ago.

So pay attention, here's how I did it. Actually, what transpired was totally by accident, but here's how it went down anyway.

On the fourth lap, one of the two Iowa Hawkeyes riders in the chase rotates past me and says, "your skewer's open."

Yeah right. That's the cycling equivalent of someone saying, "Hey McFly, there's something on your shirt," before getting slapped for looking down.

I nodded to brush him off. Eighth place was on the line, and I wasn't going to let a Hawkeye TT off the front on my watch.

But the Hawkeye persisted, "Your front wheel's skewer is open." His eyes motioned downward, inviting me to take a look.

I looked. Darn it , I'm weak.

But by golly, the Hawkeye wasn't lying -- the skewer was nearly wide open.

I glanced at the speedometer. We were doing like 32 mph with a favorable tail wind. I suddenly became aware of the heavy thumping caused by the road's wide expansion joints.

I knew that this could get ugly. I mean, it would be bad enough if I were to go down, but God forbid that I should take out any of the five others in our chase group with me. So with a neutral feed zone approaching, I asked the group if they would allow me to solo ahead to tighten up the skewer and then regroup in the neutral zone. They agreed.

So that's what I did, and in the process of pulling over to lock down that skewer, Georgia Hart O'Donnell snapped the most awesome picture of me. This is the photo I intend to blow up to let everyone at the office know how awesome I am at riding a bicycle.

photo courtesy of Georgia Hart O'Donnell

You see what you can learn by reading this blog? The race wasn't a total loss.

Technically, the race was nearly a total lost a short time later. That's when one of the Hawkeyes finally broke loose to TT for eighth place. Why I'm not sure, but he was gunning for it. When we tried to bring him back, I blew up, and in doing so got popped and also lost 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th place, as well as a lot of time on the G.C. clock that put me well out of contention for a podium. But really, at that point, who was counting?

Still, I can't complain. I've got a new cubicle prop, I didn't crash or take anybody out, and I've learned from failure how not to win a race when the cards are totally stacked against you.

In hindsight, if could do it all over again, I would revise our top secret race plan to actually give us a shot at winning.

Here's how the final draft would look:

STEP 0: Rig skewer to look open
Attack neutral zone
Did that win the race?

Happy Good Friday everyone

Friday, April 15, 2011

Twin Bing's Laterne Rouge

Finishing last in a road race isn't that bad.

photo courtesy of Lois Brunnert

I mean, it's a little sucky, but really, it's not without its merits.

For one, the last place finisher gets the most out of their entrance fee.

For another, last-placers get lots of extra attention.

For instance, there's at least one compulsory visit from a race marshal who's sweeping the course for stragglers. The stragglers will recognize the official as the one who sidles up alongside at 8 MPH in a pickup truck, and while putting an ice cold Coca-Cola in the cup holder, asks you if everything's alright.

Of course everything's not alright. You stink, you're bonking and you want to burn your bicycle at that point. But you nod your head and say everything's alright so you can resume getting every penny's worth of your entrance fee.

Another benefit is that you're almost famous for 15 seconds.

It's human nature to scan the podium for the victors,
or to ponder how many in your category finished ahead of you,
but you can bet your sweet-bippy that nearly everyone dredges the bottom line to see the guy who finished Dead Freaking Last.
I was that guy, the one who finished DFL at this year's Twin Bing Classic road race.

But hang on, there's one more merit to finishing last.

In the MWCC team sprinter van on our way home, Mark Savery reminded me of the prestige of finishing DFL as he said, "that's sweet dude, you're the Twin Bing Lanterne Rouge."

A few miles down the road, I quietly Googled 'Lanterne Rouge' on my smart phone:

The Lanterne Rouge is the competitor in last place in a cycling race such as the Tour de France. The phrase comes from the French "Red Lantern" and refers to the red lantern hung on the caboose of a railway train, which conductors would look for in order to make sure none of the couplings had become disconnected.

In the Tour de France the rider who finishes last, rather than dropping out along the way, is accorded a distinction. Riders may compete to come last rather than just near the back. Often the rider who comes last is remembered, while those a few places ahead are forgotten. The revenue the last rider will generate from later appearance fees can be greater than had he finished second to last
reference: Wikipedia

Certainly, there won't be any appearance fees for being Twin Bing's Lanterne Rouge, but I'll take the street creds, man. Thanks, Mark.

The truth is that it's no big deal to finish last in a bike race. Especially among amateurs, it's really not much different than winning. Sure, it feels great to stand on the podium, but in a couple days, nobody will care who won or who came DFL.

Still, I don't plan on making this a reoccurring event. Hopefully, what I took away from Twin Bing will improve my racing skills and keep my name from reappearing on the bottom line.

But if not?

Then, DFL Baby, the Lanterne Rouge will be all mine.

Happy Friday everyone.