Monday, June 30, 2014

Kermesse Racing Extravaganza

Friday, June 27th
     After completing our massive Paris-Roubaix adventure on Thursday, Friday was a day for recuperating and preparing for the upcoming weekend. The team did a split workout to prepare for the weekend in an ideal manner. I joined a limited group that completed a one hour rain ride, along the canal that traverses through Oudenaarde. It turned out to be beneficial before Saturday. Riding, training, and racing in Southern California is outstanding but it is not the greatest preparation for the consistent rain and wet roads of Belgium.

Flanders Museum gift shop.
Saturday
     Saturday included our first kermesse, of the weekend, and brutal racing conditions. After beginning under clear skies, the heavens opened fifteen minutes into our race. The rain continued for the remainder of the race, which was slightly over two hours. Being littered with rain water, mud, and grit for multiple hours is ridiculous. The country roads that we were racing on proved to be a test against the hard men of Belgium.
     Aside from the poor weather, which is all part of the experience, the race was full of action. Although a group of about forty riders finished together, breakaway groups were attempting to escape all day. I made my bid early on and was fortunate enough to take a prime with the help of teammate Kendal James. Joining forces with two more riders prolonged the pain but we were not able to stay away from the charging field. The wet conditions made navigating the tight, twisty course more difficult and I witnessed three miserable crashes, during the course of the day. After swerving around a crash in the final turn of the race, I found myself chasing the peloton. I finished about five seconds off the pace, in 37th. A total of 92 juniors started the race and about 50 finished. Kendal, Robert, Tom, and I finished slightly behind the main group, after being caught behind the crash.
     The car ride home was quick, which was greatly needed. Mr. Shein was an enormous help and he succeeded in preparing our bicycles for the kermesse on Sunday. I never doubted him for a moment and his selfless drive is inspiring. While Mr. Shein was washing and fine tuning our bicycles, we were busy cleaning equipment for the following day. A lovely dinner of spaghetti and meatballs closed out the day on a warm note. The morale was back up heading into Sunday.

Four tired finishers.
Sunday
     Sunday was another day occupied by persistent rainstorms and the possibility of thunderstorms near Ravels. The team was set to race in the Ravels region but the morale was low with heavy weather, during our drive to the race. However, the rain was letting up as we approached our race and the high road was taken.
     Registration, or "Inscription," as they call it here, took place in the back of a small bar off of the race course. After taking care of our registration and number situation, the usual race preparation began to take place. The list consisted of: bike priming, number pinning, weather discussions, clothing decisions, and lathering up the legs with oil. It is a tradition to be rubbed down with oil, as a form of massage, prior to racing. A few team riders have been taking the approach but I have not. Our final instruction was given to us by Jozef, who will be acting as our team manager in the upcoming stage race.
     The race was about to begin and the team caught a glimpse of the Junior Belgian National Champion, on the start line. He is undoubtedly treated as a national hero, wearing the number one bib and starting on the front row. However, never give anyone respect until you have raced them. The course consisted of twelve laps at seven kilometers, for a total of 84 kilometers. As compared with our first two kermesse races, this course had fewer turns, wider roads, and more extended stretches to increase the pace. I sat in the pack for the first hour of the race, prior to moving forward. It is impossible to describe the bike handling skills, confidence, and mental perseverance needed to survive a kermesse. The peloton is tightly packed and always fighting for position. It is a good feeling to be off the front and not have to worry about the madness behind. I was able to make a breakaway with about 45 minutes remaining in the race. The breakaway group consisted of about twenty riders, including the Belgian National Champion. He made a move with about three laps to go, which was countered by his teammate from Avia Crabbe. Avia Crabbe is a junior development team for Omega Pharma Quick-Step. I immediately jumped onto the wheel of the rider because counterattacks have a great chance of succeeding. Originally, it was the two of us before we were joined by two more riders. The four of us remained off the front of our chasers to the very end. In the final sprint, two riders came around me fairly easily. I lost by about a bike length to the third. Finishing fourth, in my third kermesse, is a performance that I am very excited about.
     The afternoon ended with number return, prize collection, and van loading, prior to heading home. I think it is fair to say that everyone was very tired, after the long weekend of racing, but we still had enough energy to make up a pasta dinner and crack jokes at the dinner table.

Pre-race rain.
Finish line decorations.
The weekend is over and the team is excited for a mellow week. Our next race will be Sint Martinusprijs, in Kontich, Belgium. It is a five stage, four day stage race, which will occur from Friday through Monday.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Exploring Belgium

Tuesday, June 24th
     USA! Unfortunately, Tuesday began with an early morning after a late night. However, Kendal, Robert, Michael, and I were headed for the USA Cycling service course in Holland. The service course was outstanding and USA Cycling was extremely supportive. They were willing to loan us three time trial bicycles, along with spare road bicycles, and wheels for our upcoming stage race. The bicycles were prepared by two serious mechanics. Thank you USA Cycling!

Early morning sunshine. 

USA Cycling fleet of vehicles.
Wow! Every last detail was covered.
     After spending multiple days in Oudenaarde, Belgium and growing accustomed to the general landscape, it was time to settle down for our first race. Tuesday consisted of a light recovery ride. The spin took us over multiple sections of cobblestone roads, including our first taste of real Belgian cobbles and not pavers. The ride ended uneventfully, although our minds were crowded by the love-hate relationship we were developing with cobblestones.
Wednesday
     Another quiet morning followed with excitement building towards the afternoon. It was time to race our first kermesse in Belgium. Belgian kermesse races are fairly long, extremely fast, and action packed. This particular kermesse took us to Ravels.
     In short, the kermesse was an eye-opening experience for the first few laps. The course was twenty laps on a short course, for a total of 86 kilometers. The 86 kilometers were covered in just under two hours, at an average speed of 26 miles per hour. After settling in for the first few laps, confidence was certainly growing. About thirty minutes into the race, Tom (a teammate from New Zealand) and I ended up off the front of the peloton. We were attempting to chase down a three man breakaway. Tom and I remained off the front for multiple laps but we were about to be caught by the peloton. Suddenly, a Belgian racer sprinted out of the pack and onto Tom's wheel. The two rode up to me and we remained off of the front. The Belgian spoke English and he turned out to be a fantastic ally. Our breakaway was caught by a splintered field with under twenty riders. After numerous laps of full gas sprinting out of every turn and extreme bike handling, the end was coming. With about one and a half laps remaining, attacks were in full swing. Tom made a group that remained off the front and he finished in eighth! Unfortunately, I hesitated just enough and was caught in the back half of the group. I finished in 18th position. The experience is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. First, I am looking to carry a few tips and tricks into our next kermesse races on Saturday and Sunday.
     The post-race madness consisted of number return, prize collection, and van loading before an entertaining ride home.

A loaded race van. 

Announcing booth.
Post-race formalities.
Thursday
     After racing a kermesse, on the previous day, many of us had sore legs. The fact of the matter is that this is a once in a lifetime experience and we had to explore historical areas. We embarked on a journey to Paris-Roubaix. On our journey, we rode about 65 miles, where many of the roads and cobblestone sections were in the Paris-Roubaix classic. We also rode the Arenberg Forest and the Paris-Roubaix finishing velodrome. It was quite the experience and difficult to absorb. Cycling is an amazing sport because it is possible to physically and mentally understand what professional athletes conquer in the most difficult races, across the globe. Television screens do not give justice to the size, stature, and punishment that cobblestones take on the bike and body. I am slightly sore, while typing, but I am sure to be hurting in the morning.

Velodrome madness.
Wrapping up Arenberg Forest.
Strong men and great entertainers.
Please check back soon for more updates from Europe!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Belgium...The Mecca of Cycling

     While in Belgium, at "The Chainstay," with fellow teammates from Team Rokform Junior Development, I will be attempting to keep an active blog. However, a majority of this depends on a variety of factors. I am going to take the no excuses, get it done approach while taking in Europe and not leaving my face behind a laptop screen for extended periods of time. I am planning to post short bits of written information with mainly photographs. Enjoy!

Sunday
     Sunday, June 22nd was arrival day in Belgium. Myself and four other teammates landed in Brussels, during the morning. However, our bodies believed it was nine hours earlier because European time is much farther ahead of the time zone in America. After landing in Brussels, we met with Michael Shein, Will Doyle, Jozef, and Gregg, our host at "The Chainstay." After such an inviting welcome, I knew that the trip was going to be well organized and stunning.
     The first day at "The Chainstay" consisted of bike building and some exploring to the east of Oudenaarde, Belgium. I had a blast and it was outstanding to finally be in Belgium with six other teammates (five others from American and one from New Zealand). The ride consisted of cruising around and we tackled the "Koppenberg." Please enjoy these pictures from Sunday.

Viewing a local kermesse.
Riding on the "Koppenberg."
Monday
     Monday began with a late wake-up call. We left the house mid-morning to go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping is difficult when you do not speak the local language. However, we got it done.
     Lunch consisted of a quick sandwich with phenomenal Belgian bread, ham, and mustard.
     After a lazy morning, a few of us went out for a ride. Michael, Mike (another man at "The Chainstay"), Elijah, Tom, and I rode to a kermesse about thirty kilometers from home. Michael and Mike were competing in the race, along with a few friends. Elijah, Tom, and I watched the first lap before cruising home. The ride took us east, about halfway towards Brussels. It consisted of rolling through beautiful countryside, plenty of cobblestones, road furniture, and road construction.
     I am typing this post after a spaghetti and meat sauce dinner prepared by two teammates. Belgian chocolate followed and it proved to be outstanding. It absolutely lived up to the hype. Elijah and I were on dishes duty tonight. The night is ending, in a quiet manner, and I am looking forward to posting again soon.

River crossing.
"Lindor" cycling shop.
Belgian bike shops are serious. 


Watching a few friends at a kermesse.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Skratch Labs

     From food and drink, to apparel, neutral support, and more, Skratch Labs has you covered. Skratch Labs, originally "Secret Drink Mix," was founded by Dr. Allen Lim because of probing complaints about upset stomachs from professional cyclists. Lim and his team, which started small, set out to create the ideal drink mix for professional cyclists, through testing at the highest level and with the most elite athletes. What started as an idea to provide a nourishing, soothing drink mix, emerged into nutritional ideas, an apparel line, and neutral support at professional races, including the Amgen Tour of California. Skratch Labs has taken the cycling world by storm and it continues to expand.

Food and Drink

     After taking the European racing world by storm, Lim and Skratch Labs began to transform the concepts of nutrition and hydration within the professional peloton. Arguably the most innovative and transformative feature of Lim's beliefs is his obsession with rice and rice cookers. European cyclists are known for consuming ridiculous loads of pasta, as their primary means of carbohydrate intake. However, Lim made a point of attempting to outfit team vehicles with rice and rice cookers for ideal carbohydrates. This expanded into rice cakes, which are highly utilized by nearly every professional team for on the bike fueling needs. Lim, alongside Biju Thomas, developed The Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables. Both contain phenomenal recipes for the health nut, elite athlete, and everyday food consumer.
     As duly noted, Skratch Labs stemmed from the primary concept of drink mix. Skratch Labs was originally "Secret Drink Mix" because of their involvement with professional riders, while not being an official team sponsor. The drink mix aimed to focus on the essential elements of hydration, while avoiding dreaded "gut rot." This was accomplished by taking a simplistic approach that was light on calories and accomplished the necessities. Skratch Labs now produces hydration mixes for everyday use, exercise, and cold weather exercise. Additionally, "Hyper Hydration Mix" delivers a sodium bomb for the extreme athletes competing in brutal conditions.
     Delivering outstanding recipes and hydration mixes, Skratch Labs is on point.

Apparel
Skratch Labs Jersey (Front)

Skratch Labs Jersey (Back)
     The advertising and marketing of Skratch Labs does not slouch in comparison to their fueling of athletes. With a range of products, including cycling jerseys and shorts, t-shirts, hats, and beanies, something is available for everyone.

Customer Service
     In case you had any doubts, customer service puts Skratch Labs over the top. Although they have their company in numerous puzzles, Skratch Labs puts out timely deliveries. On multiple occasions, stickers and additional drink mix have been included in orders. All in all, I have only had positive experiences with Skratch Labs and their representatives.

For more information on Skratch Labs, please visit http://www.skratchlabs.com/. Thank you very much for reading. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Product Review: Louis Garneau Course Race Cycling Jersey

Louis Garneau Course Race Jersey


     Louis Garneau provides an extensive array of cycling and triathlon apparel and accessories with the ideal article for every athlete. Garneau focuses on a range of pieces, with different prices and levels. Therefore, they appeal to an extremely wide audience and do not hold back. The Louis Garneau Course Race Cycling Jersey is designed for the extreme cyclist who is fully committed. Although expensive, the return is extremely noticeable and worthwhile.

Pros: Material, Aerodynamic Fit, Ventilation, Gripper
Cons: Pockets

Material
     The material of the Course is comfortable, smooth, and top of the line. Unlike a majority of jersey fabrics, this is is extremely innovative and rarely seen in jersey construction. The material is noticeably dynamic and ideal for the rider who is on the bike for extended periods of time. It is impossible to grow tired of a fabric that is gentle to the touch, stretchable, and aerodynamic. All of this comes in one package.

Aerodynamic Fit
     Above all else, this jersey was designed to be aerodynamic. The Course certainly accomplishes this mission. The sizing of the jersey is not traditional by any means. Typically, a size small jersey checks the box for me. However, a size large Course is plenty tight, while remaining aerodynamic. The sleeves of the jersey are elongated and snug, unlike a traditional jersey. Comfort is not comprised but it is necessary to confirm sizing.

Ventilation
Armpit and Neck Ventilation
     Unfortunately, the downside of numerous tight fitting and aerodynamic jerseys or skinsuits is a lack of ventilation. To counter this issue, Louis Garneau has included ventilation pockets in the armpit and neck regions of the Course. The armpit ventilation pockets make a noticeable difference but the neck section is inconsistent. Through combining specific venting material and an unbelievable jersey material, overheating is out of the equation.

Gripper
Gripper
      Louis Garneau is looking out for the consumer down to the last detail. Although it does not happen often, a jersey that rides up can be superbly annoying. A slight gripper is included with the Course. The gripper is powerful enough to lock onto a set of cycling shorts, while not providing irritation or discomfort. The Course is a fine example of engineering and innovation where Louis Garneau noticeably worked very hard on their design.

Pockets
Angled Pockets
     The one downside of the Course jersey is the use of angled pockets. The reasoning is understandable, in the sense that oversized pockets make it difficult to retrieve items. Unfortunately, the Course pockets do not provide a feeling of comfort or security. This jersey seems to be limited to shorter excursions, as it is difficult to store food and tools in the two side pockets. Although the two side pockets are a questions mark, the center pocket gets the job done. The thought was spot on but the execution was subpar.

     Overall, the Louis Garneau Course Cycling Jersey is a knock out of the park. The material, aerodynamic nature, and ventilation are superb, all while focusing on the small details. This article of clothing is a step ahead of the competition and it will also benefit you in remaining ahead of the competition. For more information on the Course, please visit here. Thank you for reading.