Every year they hold the UCI Master’s World Cycling Championships in St. Johann, Austria. I had competed there in 2008 and found the fields to be huge and aggressive with tons of attacking. Since I didn’t know anyone I tried to chase as many attacks as I could, but ended up missing the winning break. I found out there is a week of racing the week prior to the worlds in another area of Austria called Deutschlandsberg. I figured I could go there and hopefully get to know some of the racers who would be competing in St. Johann. I could race seven times in that week, so I decided to go.
I left my house at 1am for LAX. For some reason we sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half before taking off to Kennedy airport in New York and then sat again on the runway for another hour. With the lay over at Kennedy I arrived in Budapest, Hungary the next day at around 2am the next day. I had already read three of the six books I brought for the trip. I think I’m going to need more books! I was met by a very nice driver named Peter and his son who drove me to Vienna. They spoke English very little which was fine by me. I was so tired I didn’t really want to talk. In fact, I left my camera in the van. He was such a sweetheart, he realized it an hour later and drove it back to the hotel. By the time I was in my room in Vienna, 32 hours had passed! Went to bed at 5pm and slept 15 hours.
The course had a 180° left turn, a sharp 90° right turn, a sweeping left turn into an off camber left turn and then 50 meters to a tight 90° narrow left turn which brought you about 100 meters from the finish line. Add sections of little cobbles, cement flower pots and fencing that made the narrow streets even narrower; all happening in about 1/6 or a mile or one kilometer! This was going to be fun. At least I thought so.
That morning, as we warmed up my legs were actually cramping and we were going easy! Something was wrong. I drank both of my bottles over the next 35 miles, ate a banana and drank more fluids combined with Cytomax and some magnesium supplement they gave out in the race bags. I rested for 30 minutes and the headed off to warm up for the race. With such a technical, tight course I knew I needed to be really warmed up. I found myself a hill that was about 11% and attacked it three times. I had no legs. Nothing was there. They felt terrible. I must have been dehydrated from the trip.
I started the race in good position. I knew it would be fast so I started in the small chain ring. Easier to spin. It worked. I was in 4th position for about three laps. Everyone had warned us the night before on how technical it was, but for me, the more technical the better. I had no problems with the corners. After three laps, my legs started to turn into lead and I couldn’t stay with the leaders. Halfway through, I started slipping back. Going around the sweeping left hander a racer was too hot in the corner and crashed right in front of me. Luckily I was tighter on the inside and blew right by him. Second week in the row this has happened to me. I usually try and take the turns on the inside. If someone slides out, it always goes wide. The crash caused a big gap behind me, so if I could just make it back to the leaders….. It wasn’t to be. I couldn’t get my legs to recover. Ended up 11th out of 15 in my category. Yeck!
2 – Man Time Trial
Last night I was designated to do a 2-man time trial with one of the best master’s time trialists in the world, Grant Potter. He consistently finishes in the top six in the world. His fastest 40 k is 50:08! I knew this was a double edged sword. All I had to do was let him drag me around the 14k course and I was sure to stand on the podium. The only problem was, I knew it was going to involve a lot of pain!
We scouted the course this morning and practiced the turns, direction of the wind and any hazards that might cause us to fall. It had rained all night so parts of the course had some water. Went back to the room to get ready. I used every trick I could think of, lotions, Tums, oils, choked a chicken, burnt a cigar and prayed to the gods to help me at least hold his wheel. The plan was for me to start and bring us up to speed, then he would take over and I would just try to hold on. When we got to the start the wind had tripled in force. It looked like we were going to get a cross/head wind. I got us up to speed and as we turned into the wind, bam! Then Grant “the engine” took over. He told me his average watts for an hour is 440! I can barely hold that for two minutes! I got on his wheel and I was good. We passed the duo that started a minute ahead of us in less than two minutes. He was motoring. As we got close to the turn around, I could not only feel my legs, but I had no arms either! I could barely hold myself up. We went through the turnaround which gave me a few seconds to recover. Now for the downhill. In practice, we had a tail wind, but the wind had changed. Again, it was a strong cross wind. He was flying. It was so windy I had to stay right on his wheel or I would get blown backwards. We passed the other duo that had started two minutes ahead of us. With about 3k to go we went through a sweeping left hander and I lost contact with him. I buried myself to get to his wheel and yelled, but with the wind he couldn’t hear me. That effort killed my legs. Now it was a death march. We had another left hander into a narrow road and then up a slight hill that was as wide as a goat path. In practice I could stand an attack it, but now my legs were lead. I barely made it up the little hill and he had to wait again. Around a sharp left hander that worried us in practice but at the speed I was going I could’ve walked faster. The pain got worse as he tried to egg me on by yelling “only one more mile!” Only problem was, I had lost my legs….. We got to the straight away where he had to wait again and he yelled “give it all you got.” “All I got” had been given about 2k before. I stood up anyway for the last 200 meters and tried to have a heart attack. It was the highest max heart rate I had seen all season; even higher than my VO2 test the week before. I averaged 95% of my max heart rate for the entire race and like I figured, we ended up on the podium. We lost first place by about 30 seconds. I figure, I cost us at least a minute. The amazing thing is Grant could’ve beaten all the 2-man teams all by himself! Thanks to Grant I got to stand on the podium. Now if I could only find my legs….
Gianni Motta Road Race
Today was my birthday so I hoped to have a good race. I went out early with one of the racers in our group, Richard. My legs have been feeling like led since I’ve been here and I wanted to get in a good warm-up. We rode about 12k to the start but no one was there! I said to Richard “if there’s a race starting in 30 minutes we should be seeing something.” He agreed. There were no racers, officials, cones, barriers; nothing. Just like in the movie Princess Bride when the Spaniard is looking for the “Man in Black,” we decided to “go back to the beginning.” It turns out we had gone to the wrong town. Now we were in trouble. We had to hurry. Luckily some giant Frenchman flew by us, so we jumped on and made it with three minutes to the start. At least we got a good warm-up.
The little town was packed. There was a band playing music and of course the ex-Italian cycling great, Gianni Motta. The gun went off, and all was well for a while. An Aussie went off by himself and on the first long climb and he managed to stay away. The first climb was about 2-3 miles long and very gradual at about 2% (the percentage indicates the grade of the climb). However, when you’re going 26 mph and then 28 at the top, it can hurt. Luckily for me, we had a steep, winding decent. Don’t ask me why, but I can go fast downhill. I managed to pass everyone on the descent and then kicked it up the next little hill and again motored down the next descent. It went like this for awhile. I would kill it on the descent, the pack would catch me, a bunch of attacks, maintain my position near the front for the next hill and on and on.
We had two categories or age groups racing together. I was the only one from my touring group in category 4, but there were three racers from our group in category 5; Lorin, Richard and Dirk. Dirk was super aggressive. He’s been here a million times and knows the course. Lorin was also attacking and stayed away for a while. I was feeling pretty good in the front of the pack. On one corner on a descent, another racer’s bars were so close to my ribs I had to move my elbows from my side! Don’t know why, but it doesn’t freak me out.
Fourteen miles in to the race we were descending into what seemed like a valley and something felt weird in my tire. “Do I have a flat?” I thought. I kept checking and looking down (which is not a good thing to do while you’re riding in a pack). It kept getting worse and with so much more to go in the race, I was going to have to stop and check. I was at the front, so I raised my hand to indicate a problem and moved to the left side. I stopped and checked both tires. Nothing! Shit! Now I had to chase. It isn’t easy to catch a racing pack going downhill, but it was my birthday and I wasn’t going to let it end with me not making this race. I put my head down and floored it. My speedometer said 32 mph. If I could just make it to the vehicles following the race, I could draft them and make it back. It took me a bit, but I made it to the first car. Drafted for a second, jumped to the next car, then the next, then a motorcycle, then the van, one more car and I could leapfrog to the pack. Made it! I had seen professional cyclists do this on television but I’d never done it before. I was pretty proud of myself.
As we approached another key landmark in the race things started to slow down and the pack fanned out. I found myself blocked in on the left side. But as we approached a steep 10-11% 500 meter power climb POW! A blowout to my right. This forced everyone behind him to slow down, but luckily for me I was on the left side. This allowed me to get a good position on the climb. You see, on narrow European roads, if you get stuck behind some slugs on a climb, you can’t get around them, so you have to fight to get a good position before the climb which usually tires you out which then makes the climb harder. Better to be tired in the front of the climb then stuck in the back. I made the climb in the back of the front group and again on the descent, moved to the front.
At 28 miles into the race I started to find my legs. It’s a good feeling when you find them.
We finished the loop, went out of town and now I had no idea what would happen next. I had never been on this part of the course. I had heard there were two 16-17% back-breaking climbs with about 90 seconds in between them, but I had no idea when they would come, how long they were and how far from the finish they were.
As we approached, the first clue we were getting close to the climb was the pack had really slowed down. As we made a left hand turn I could see a dark green forest looming ahead. It was ominous. I knew what was happening. Everyone was taking a breather before the misery. We made a right hander and there it was…. it looked like a wall winding into the dark trees. I fought my way towards the front, got in the small ring and started the climb.
Attacks happened immediately. I had no idea how long it was, so I calmed myself and just kept my own pace. Lucky for me I have a 29-tooth cassette on the back. Now, most racers would say I’m a wimp, because ego dictates you wouldn’t race with anything larger than a 27- tooth cassette, but I don’t care. I‘d rather have it and not use it, then need it and not have it.
Maybe it’s because I’m a drummer, but I can spin my legs really fast….. faster than most guys in the pack. That’s what I did. I just spun. Slowly but surely, I started picking off racers. I made it to the tail end of the lead group and whoosh, downhill we went. My “angels of the downhill” were with me and I moved to the front for the second “wall.” Repeated the same thing except it was longer than I thought and man, did it hurt. I was trying to swallow air!
Downhill again, and even though I got yelled at twice I passed everyone (at least I thought). Lorin flew by me and I got on his wheel. I drafted him and then flew by him at 50mph! Shoot! I could still see a small group ahead of me. That’s the hard part of racing; keeping track of everyone is a pain.
For some reason I thought the finish was close, but we made a right hander and the head wind was brutal. We kept going and going until finally I rode up to Richard and asked “how long to the finish?” He replied “12 k!” What? Time to hide in the pack and reserve some energy.
Lorin then attacked and stayed away for awhile. We caught him and then Dirk attacked for what seemed like the 20th time. The guy was so aggressive. I couldn’t believe how many “bullets” he had in the chamber.” He got a gap and stayed away. Even though I wasn’t in his category, I wasn’t going to chase him because I didn’t want to drag any of his competitors up to him.
“1000 meters to go” sign! Left hander. Americans do a lot of criteriums which involve a lot of high speed cornering. Europeans think they’re dumb. I’ve done about 30 of them this year. I barreled in to the corner and moved from the middle of the group to the front. 500 meters to go and it was uphill. We started to go hard, but I wasn’t going to sprint yet. 500 meters up a hill is too far. We made a right hander and Richard got out of the saddle to sprint. I jumped on his wheel. He went too soon and started to fade to the right. Oh no, he was going to box me in! I yelled “on your right Richard” and the classy guy held his line for me to sprint by him. I was the first to the line or at least I thought. I found out later the Australian who had been off the front from the beginning of the race had stayed away! Unfortunately for him, the lead car led him off the course and then realized it and brought him back. But when they did, a Russian named Dimitri was off the front. Rules say that even though the car led him off the course, he’s responsible for knowing the course and shouldn’t have followed him. Both of them were in my category plus I had never seen Dimitri go off the front. It seems there were four others that finished ahead of me nevertheless; I ended up with 5th place and a birthday trophy! What a great birthday.
I’ve never done this before, but after doing it, I must confess I like it. You sprint 300 meters against another guy. They time you and then the two best times sprint for 1st and 2nd and the 3rd and 4th best times sprint for 3rd and 4th. I like this type of racing; it’s short and sweet and not dangerous at all. No one is going to knock you over.
They hold you in the start gate and give you a countdown. I smoked my guy in about three seconds! He disappeared. About ¾ into the sprint my chain dropped down, or something happened, I’m not really sure. All I know is the gear was too easy and I was spinning out. There was no time to look down or do anything about it so I sucked it up and spun my legs as fast as I could. I missed the final heat by .39 seconds! What is that? A blink of an eye? For this event they only reward the top four places and I got fifth. One less trophy I had to carry home I guess…..
Lucien Van Impe Hill Climb
I slept poorly last night. I had a dream I had just finished playing a gig and was out looking for my van to pack my drums and the van was gone! It was stolen. I went to go back in to get my drums and the woman was telling me the club was closed and no one was allowed inside. I informed her I was the drummer so she let me in. “John Platero, John Platero” someone was paging me. I woke up and could hear Grant’s voice yelling outside my room “John Platero, John Platero.” “Get up,” he yells, “we’re going to do the time trial course.” I dragged my weary butt out of bed and off we went off with Grant and a couple of the other guys. 45 miles later I was back in bed for a nap. 90 minutes later I’m back on the bike heading out to the start. I wasn’t motivated and didn’t feel like racing. I felt like sleeping…..
I staged early and got right in the front. The course was short and had a straight-a-way for about 2k and then a screaming downhill to a sweeping left hand turn to a tight 90 degree left turn and then a wall that wound up to the finish at a castle. The climb was only about a kilometer but, it was a 15% grade. Anyway, I led the whole pack to the downhill, was the first guy down the hill at 47.5 mph, first guy into the turn, first guy to start the hill and then four guys passed me. I was 5th in line, but started to fade fast. I just wasn’t in the mood to suffer today. Ended up 11th place. Terrible. I got two points for the overall standings which leaves me in 7th with 18 points. The leader is a Russian with 51 points so he’s got nothing to worry about.
I need a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is another road race.
67k Road Race
Woke up to rain. Not pouring rain, but a light drizzle. If I’m going to race in the rain I would prefer it to pour. With a light drizzle the roads get too slippery. However, by the time my race started it was dry, overcast and cool. Perfect racing conditions.
I staged in the back but moved up on the first climb and on the downhill moved easily to the front. Had no problems staying at the front and made it up the first steep 11% climb in the top 6. Motored down the hill and then muscled my way in all the corners. This was to be two laps around a 20-mile course. I realized we did a bunch of corners through a neighborhood before the last four miles towards the finish so I made a mental note of that. I had poor placing the first time through and it took a lot of my energy to get back to the front.
In bike racing, it’s important to be in the top 5-6 places when cornering so you don’t have to slow down. As you move further back in the pack, the racers will have to slow because of the congestion of the riders. This will cause a lot of wasted energy having to spring back up to speed coming out of the corner. In a bike race, you try and conserve as much energy as possible until you need it.
Second lap around, had a better position up the first climb and again top five or six on the descents. Made it up the steep 11% in 9th position this time, however, on the descent a guy in the next category (they had two categories racing together) who was insignificant in terms of the overall placings went down the road. We had just crested the climb so everyone was out of breath. I felt okay so I gave it the gas and set off to catch the rider up front.
This race was strategic because in the next category (category 5) our American Dirk Cowley was only a few points in the lead over a Belarusian. It turns out there were another three Belarusians in my category who had decided they were going to work for him. For some reason they chased me and this other racer. I don’t know why, because I was no threat to them, but they closed our break-a-way down. As we approached the right hand turn into those turns I mentioned in the neighborhood, it started to get fast again. I wasn’t going to get boxed in and remembered I needed good positioning so I jammed up the inside and made it through in third position. So far so good. As we started the long stretch of straight-a-way of about 3.5 miles up a 1% grade, the Australian who had broken away in our first road race put the hammer down. He was flying. The pack wasn’t going to let him do it to us twice, so we strung it out behind him at about 31 mph until he realized he better save some for the sprint.
1500 meters to go and the bumping and grinding starts. Every meter is essential now. If you hesitate you can lose four or five places in a blink. I move to the inside and I hear some yelling and metal hitting on my right. I don’t even look. It’s not in my way, so it’s not my problem. But I can feel the right side of the pack locking up. Whenever there’s a crash in a bike race it’s best not to look. Believe it or not, like an evil temptress it will draw you into the crash. Luckily no one eats it.
1000 meters to go sign…… We’re motoring now, but my legs feel good. 500 meters to go and now there’s a surge to the right. The Belarusians are going to lead out their guy! Dirk is in front of me, stands up and jumps to the left. I think he’s going to go for it so I get on his wheel. I figure he’s got to because he’s in first and can’t afford to lose the points. But, he’s not giving it the gas and we’re losing ground! Shit! I get around him and now I’m about six or eight guys back and here comes the last left hander which is only about 300 meters from the finish.
No matter what, I’m not braking for nothing or nobody. I fly through the corner, give it everything I got and overtake a few guys for 5th! That’s my third 5th place…..
Since the guy in my category who was in second place overall had a mechanical and finished last, and I think I beat the guy who was in 6th overall, which moved me up to 5th place overall for the week. I’ll find out tomorrow how it all ends up when it comes down to the 20k time trial……
20k Time Trial
My start time was 9:41am but it had taken me 45 minutes the day before to ride to the start. I figured I would head out early. You never know….. It was good that I did.
After a small town I somehow missed the turn and after about ten minutes thought I’d better go left. In Austria like all country roads, just go on forever. I’m riding on this road for about ten minutes and still hadn’t seen anything but cows so I thought, I’d better turn back towards the main drag. I figured, “maybe I haven’t gone far enough to reach the left hand turn.”
I went left on the main street until I got to a tunnel which I had never seen before. Oops! No way… Again, I decided to go back to the beginning…..
On the way back I found the left hand turn. The sign had been facing the opposite direction so I didn’t see it on the way out. Now I was in trouble, I had about 20 minutes before my start time and still had about six or seven miles to go, mostly uphill. I stepped on it and found my way to the start with about five minutes to go. At least I was warmed up.
I’m not very good a time trialing. I’m more of a fast-twitch guy. I tried as hard as I could and about eight kilometers into the race I went over some railroad tracks and my water bottle flew of the bike. “I’ll be sure and get that later” I thought. These aero water bottles are about $40. Anyway, finished the 19 kilometers in 27:12 for 18th place. There went my 5th place overall. I ended up 6th place overall.
I had to then ride back to get my water bottle, but it was gone. Now what? I turned around and as I road back towards the start, I spotted one of the officials on a motorcycle. I asked if he had seen a water bottle. Mind you, he speaks German and I don’t, but he reached in his bag and verschleierte…! he had my bottle.
Road back with Grant who of course killed it with the second fastest time of the day which was 23:16! Freaky! He was the overall winner. Super Cool!
We got back to the room, showered, ate and then sat in a hot minivan for over four hours to St. Johann for the World Cup race, the World Time Trial Championships and the World Road Race Championships to be held in the next week.
World Cup 72k Road Race in St. Johann.
Arrived in St. Johann last night after 8pm. By the time we unpacked, ate and got settled it was 11pm. The funny thing is, I hadn’t realized I had to race today. I was mentally fried. I could’ve used a day off.
Grant changed hotels to where my brother Eric and two of his friends were staying so I got to hug my bro when he came to pick Grant up. It turns out we would be doing our first race together the next day.
Got up around 9am. Actually, I was woken up around 7am because the hotel walls are paper thin and I could hear everybody and everything. Of course, its Sunday so church bells kept ringing and ringing… Isn’t it supposed to be a day of rest? How can you rest with all those church bells clanging??
Went a lap around the course with Thornsen (from our Deutschlandsberg group) Sydney (from Lincoln, Nebraska, wherever that is..) and Vic (a time trial specialist who had crushed me two years ago at the Huntsman Senior Games) and Enrique (nice guy from Jupiter, Florida). We were supposed to go easy, or as the Italians say “piano, piano.” But since Sydney hasn’t been racing and Vic had this wicked TT weapon, the new Cervelo P4, we ended going harder than I had planned to. Keep in mind, I had just raced seven times in the last eight days.
My brother and I met up before hand to get a good spot at the start and ended up staging right on the front line!
It was 91 degrees. Hot! I looked behind us and there were over 90 racers. The pack was almost four times the size as in Deutschlandsberg.
The race got underway and within about three or four minutes we’re at the hills. That’s why it was so important for us to have gotten good position at the start. Basically, it’s a step ladder of five hills. The first one isn’t bad, the second gets about 11%, but then you have a slight breather. The third isn’t too bad, but it’s fast by then and the last one is the longest. At the top of the hill there are a bunch of tall flagpoles where people hang out, cheer, drink Austrian beer, eat bratwurst and watch us poor saps suffer.
My brother road superbly. He was right up with me with the front group as we crested the climb. Now for a long downhill before the town of Scwentt which had another steep short uphill followed by three more “bumps.” This is where the attacks come. I stayed in there fairly well but started to feel tired on the second bump. Eric, road next two me and said “there are four bumps.”
Whatever, I couldn’t hang on, but I can descend with anyone. I got over the fourth bump about 25-30 guys back. Now for the really fast long descent which eventually did a “snake” and then a hard right hand turn. I was second through that left hand turn. So far so good.
My brother is a tough son-of-a-gun and as we headed towards a right had turn up the last short hill, he was right there. Now we were on what would be our time trial course in a few days. It’s a long downhill but, there was a head wind. Eric and I hid from the front and at 30-31mph we headed towards another narrow right hand turn that would start winding us through little towns on the way back to the second lap.
This is where I started get both physically and mentally tired. Eric and I still had good position through the towns and as we got closer to the start of the second lap it got faster and faster. People were jostling to the front to get good position on the climb. You had to fight and stay vigilant. Any window, any slight opening and someone takes it. I got a sliver of pavement on the inside and moved up right before the climb. Eric was there too!
We had good position but on the climb I just lost impetus. I was both mentally and physically spent. Neither I, nor my brother could stay with the front group. By the time we had crested the top, the lead group had over 30 seconds on us. We were goners. We picked up some other racers on the downhill and eventually, there were about nine of us, but I was just hanging on. Somewhere after the fast downhill Eric said “I’m cramping, do you have any Tums?” If you’re ever cramping in a race, down a few Tums and it will take it away real quick. I had been swallowing salt pills and Tums about every 30 minutes so I gave him my last one.
To make a long story short, Eric sprinted with about 400 meters to go but cramped up. I passed him to finish 64th! Not good.
I’ve ridden eight races in nine days; 461 miles, climbed 11,000 ft in 26:16:09. 426 miles and 23:21:09 were racing.
I’ve got two days to rest before the 20k time trial, then one day before my last road race.
I don’t want to even see my bike tomorrow.
As John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” I got sick and basically slept for the next three days, or should I say try to sleep. The hotel had paper thin walls and there was construction happening at 6:59am each morning right outside my window. Without sleep, I ran myself down and that was all she wrote. Bummer, the whole week was a waste.