It's really incredible how hard you work for good form, and how easily it can just slip through your fingers when you try to hold on to it.
This winter, I did more work than I ever have before I took a short break at the end of the cyclo-cross season, relocated to Athens, GA, for the winter on January 2nd, and quickly proceeded to build up to 30+ hour training weeks by the end of the month. I maintained that through February and my team's training camp in the first two weeks of March, finishing up camp with a Chronic Training Load of 130 TSS/day, a new high for me. I was well-trained, and ready for the team's 6-week trip to begin racing in California, including San Dimas, Redlands, Garrett Lemire, and Sea Otter, all with the goal of bringing me to the Speedweek criteriums series at the beginning of May with top form.
Instead, my trip to California turned into a series of bad luck, stressful travel and living arrangements, unfinished races, and lots of rest. Things started well enough, with good results in some local California crits, and solid rides at San Dimas. The bad luck started on the final lap of the criterium, where the first 8 riders in the filed piled on top of each other with a few turns to go, with me in the middle. I narrowly escaped by hopping a curb and taking a detour through someone's front lawn, but the sprint was over for me at that point.
Redlands was the next stop, and another key ingredient to my early season training recipe. I wanted to be fresh for the final 3 stages, and planned to soft pedal the time trial, but this was an important mistake. I was supposed to be using this race for training, but with a race as big as Redlands, it can be hard to risk showing up for it tired. At the last minute, I was left with some administrative responsibilities for the team I wasn't expecting, and much of my energy and attention was directed there. By the time I got to Friday's first stage, I was spent from stress, and shut down from no hard efforts in 5 days. As soon as it was time to go hard over the first climb, my mind was elsewhere, and my motivation was non-existent. So much hard work, lost in a moment of distraction and lack of focus.
I took a day to get my head together and manage the team through the rest of the stage race, and made the best of things by racing in the local p/1/2 criterium that's held in conjunction with Redlands. My legs were much, much better, and my result was good, but my overall workload was slipping, not rising, as I had hoped it would. I was starting to get some of the race intensity I was looking for, but at much lower volumes than I had budgeted for, and with much too much rest in between.
After Redlands, I escaped back home for 5 days for a mental break, and put together 2 decent training days to make up for the racing I had missed, with a particular focus on VO2 power. When I returned to California on Friday for Garrett Lemire, I felt like things were on the upswing. I felt very strong in the local race on Saturday, nearly winning the field sprint. Garrett Lemire was a long crit with a big hill, held in nearly 100 degree temperature. It couldn't have suited me worse, yet I was able to bridge across to a big split of 25 riders, and then hide in the back of that break for the rest of the day. On the final time up the hill, starting the sprint, I was taken down from behind and beside me, going straight over the bars before I knew what was happening. Broken front wheel, broken fork, and road rash on my elbow down to the bone, landing me in the hospital. Not to mention a lost opportunity for a really good result.
That meant another few days of recovery now not only from the race, but from the crash, and a day spent dealing with the stress of trying to get a rideable bike. I managed one day of hard training during the week to keep sharp for Sea Otter, but still, the backslide continued. At Sea Otter, I felt strong again, but a windy, hilly race with a small field that shattered early meant I was closing gaps and fixing splits much earlier than I planned, leading to another early exit, and another short day of training. The California trip was finally over, but I was leaving less fit than I had arrived, and incredibly frustrated.
In retrospect, I could have gone home to New England, had a much more positive environment, controlled my training and diet, and done races that I could have used for training, gotten the intensity and volume I was looking for, and been racing to win. It's always difficult to use the biggest races in the country just for training, unless you're one of the best riders in the country. I'm not, and I just didn't feel comfortable training through them like I should have.
Going into the Speedweek series, I knew that while I had originally been trying to peak for these events, I was now going into them slightly undertrained, but still fresh from all the recovery I had taken from such a high fitness level 6 weeks earlier. From a CTL high of 130 on 3/13, it had now dropped to 100 TSS/day on 4/29 going into the crit series, with a TSB of 28. If you know your WKO numbers, a TSB of 28 is huge, and usually something you only see after a week or more off the bike.
As I expected, things started rough. I managed a 16th place at Athens Twilight, but was pinned for most of the night, and did my best to keep some of my younger teammates near the front for the sprint. At Beaufort, where I was 3rd last year, I was popped off a split of 25 that lapped the field, and quit the race thinking there was no one else left and that we WERE the field. By Wednesday I was starting to come around, and took a prime at Walterboro, before getting stopped in my tracks behind a last lap crash at the front of the field and rolling in. Greenwood saw my finally hitting my stride by putting myself 4th wheel through the final corner in the uphill sprint, albeit fading to 6th place. In Spartanburg I felt like my old self again. I had no problem winning a prime, and then putting a lot of energy into leading out my teammate Mike Stoop, who was doing very well overall. In the last couple of laps when Mike lost my wheel, I was able to step it up and turn it into a 3rd place for myself and the team. Knowing how much time I had already spent in the wind, I was very pleased with the effort, but disappointed with what might have been. Saturday's race at Dilworth is always a hard one for me, with a long uphill sprint, but I was able to win primes, be active, and spend most of the last 10 laps keeping our sprinter, David Guttenplan, in the mix. Sunday at Sandy Springs, I felt like I was floating all day. Most riders were getting tired, but I was just getting in the groove. Stoop spent the day in the break, while I followed wheels in the field sprint for 11th place on the day.
Guttenplan was 4th overall, I had moved up to 7th, and Time Pro Cycling won the team competition, a major result for a first-year squad consisting primarily of under-26 year old riders. That's the good news. The bad news is that from there, it was time to load up all my belongs, move out of Athens, and relocate back home to Boston. I had expected to be cracked following the crits, but instead, I was finally going good, and looking for more racing to do. I spent the next few days in the car, followed by a weekend without the bike on vacation with my girlfriend in Montreal.
Now, it's time to get back to serious training, but I'm starting from a point so low I can barely believe it. My CTL is now down to 91, matching where I was at the start of February. I essentially have 10 days to work with in order to get ready for my next block of racing, which includes Kelly Cup, Somerville, Ricola Twilight, CSC, and Philly week. It's not where I expected, and it's not a lot of time to prepare. I have freshness on my side, and a lot of motivation, but that's about it. I'll make the best of what I have to offer here, and we'll see how it goes.