Archive for April, 2012

Velo Fest Old City Crit: The Crit in Cleats

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra

Sean Hess in the Old City Crit

Yours Truly wearing my blue-and-yellow St. Augustine Team Realty kit in the Old City Crit, photo by the St. Augustine Record.

Racing Through Historic St. Augustine

Well I finally got to race in my hometown.

For the inaugural Velo Fest they held what was billed as the Old City Crit in downtown St. Augustine, Florida.

St. Augustine, in case you don’t know, was founded in 1565 by the Spanish and is the oldest European settlement in the United States. Forbes magazine recently rated it one of the “10 Prettiest Towns in America.” The race was held in the Historic Downtown area, around the central Plaza de la Constitucion and the Flagler College green, a distance of about .8 miles.

Normally it’s too dangerous to ride downtown after about 7 a.m. I’ve been hit twice there by tourists who changed lanes at the last second, or, appropos of nothing, opened their door into the bike lane while I was riding by on the bridge (and then yelled at me). So it was a real treat to race in the beautiful old streets without regard to lights or fear of traffic. Though two pedestrian Tourons (Tourist + Moron = Tournon) sauntered right into the peloton holding their morning coffees.

The Crit in Cleats

I am a mountain bike racer. I don’t own a racing road bike. Instead I road-train on a Trek 5200 with eggbeater pedals, and instead of road shoes I wear Sidi Dominator cleats.

Though the Trek does have a race pedigree (Lance won the Tour on the model 5 times), it was replaced by the Madone line. My wheels are training caliber as well, though I sport them with Kenda Kriterium race tires.

I did make some minor modifications in a bow to roadies: I removed the presta valve caps and the front reflector. Hey, it’s a training bike, right? In the early morning you need that reflector.

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting much, and sweating those tight turns on pavement. Which is strange: I can charge down the face of a mountain and occasionally go too hot into a corner and crash into tree…I have no problem with that but gravelly corners on a road bike freak me out.

But the course was immaculate…swept clean and most of the manhole covers were blanketed with carpet and taped down.

The Race

From the start I was in a group of four for several laps, a regular wheel sucker, right where I should have been and doing what I should have been doing.

But I’m a mountain biker and and I don’t know why I did it, but I think I got bored…I jumped out and bridged a gap between riders (twice) and of course everyone followed along. And of course it tired me out a bit and I never had the same pop afterward.

I did really start to figure out cornering though, and by the end I could feel the g’s compressing my bike as I took some really aggressive lines. I would pedal into the corner, feel the bike compress, and as I felt it start to release I would pedal hard and kind of jet out of the corner right into the line where I needed to be for the next turn.

The trouble was, that no matter how good I thought my own cornering was, I could never hang on to anyone else’s wheel in a corner. I would go into the corner in a line, a gap would appear and I’d have to jump out of the saddle to close the gap. This happened anytime I was riding with anyone for the entire race. I just could not get rhythm and speed on it down.

And it never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to close a gap on a road bike. With about 6 laps left a faster group came by and I jumped on back, but when we hit a corner a gap opened. I would sprint after the group, desperately trying to close what always became a two-bike length gap. The only thing I could do was wait for them to bunch into the next corner, where I’d just catch up, and then the gap would open on the corner and I would have to start all over again. I could only do this for about a lap before I let them go.

In the end I finished approximately 1:45 behind the leader, which I don’t think is bad considering it was my first crit ever, and only my second ever road race. And as the other riders told me after the race, “If you stay up and don’t crash in your first two crits, you’re doing a great job.”

I’ll take their word for it.

SERC / US Cup East #2: Tsali and Hardtimes

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra

Tsali and Hardtimes

Tristan Cowie of CTS

Tristan Cowie of CTS, Coach of Awesomeness

Another race at Tsali, another heartbreak.

At least it was just my heart breaking, and not my front wheel (like last year).

I finished 28th in a field of 41 after I thought I had a pretty good race.

I blamed everything. I especially blamed everyone else having newer bikes, which is true but not the reason I placed where I did.

The fact is, while some of the group probably climbed better than I did, at least 27 of them descended better than I did.

And that’s fair. I always have a little difficulty with this race on the downhills. I live and train in Florida, and at this point in the season I simply am not acclimated to the speed yet.

Usually there’s a trade off; while I may not sparkle on the hills I’m generally in better shape than the other riders because I can train on dry roads all winter. So I usually place higher. But it’s been a warm winter everywhere and my built in advantage will now have to wait until it gets really hot.

So what to do?

Hardtimes Trailhead

The Hardtimes Trailhead is in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in nearby Asheville, North Carolina. That’s where I met my coach, Tristan Cowie of CTS, the day after the race.

Officially Cowie raced for Brevard College and has stood on the podium at the USA Cycling Collegiate Nationals on multiple occassions.

But the reality is, if there was never a podium, Tristan was born to mountain bike. He’s like one of those guys you see in Bike magazine, photographed while flowing over singletrack. He’s like Harry Potter on dual suspension, coaxing magic out of the bike and the trail where none existed before.

As we worked the flowy uphills and downhills of Bent’s I trailed behind and absorbed as much as I could. At first he disappeared on the downhills like a ghost…literally gone while I trailed in the dust.

But we’d stop and work over a set or corners, walk through them and look at each of five different lines, and then go over them a few times. He still left me in the dust, but at least I could keep him in sight after awhile.

My whole approach to corners is different now, more elemental. I still overbrake at times, but I brake a whole lot less now because the bike natually finds the corners. And things are so much smoother, so much easier.

Will this translate into success in the SERC?

Well, if they don’t, it won’t be the bike’s fault.

BTW, my older, heavier bike did have an advantage at Tsali: more weight means more momentum means more free speed out of corners. An advantage I didn’t take advantage of but which I will in the future.