Early Season Elbowz

Stepping off the plane in Dallas I was looking forward to a bit of respite from the Colorado winter.  Boulder CO is a great place to live, and boasts over 300 days of sunshine every year, but by the time February comes around and the serious miles need to be put in the wintery cold does have it’s setbacks.  So I was a little dumbfounded to arrive in Dallas where the weather was….. rainy and quite cold!

But never the less, we had a few very productive days. Building and setting up the bikes was a good day, although most my new team mates quickly sensed my lack of proficiency in that area. But that was highly overshadowed by the efforts of Eric and/or Matt in completely jamming a crank arm onto Eric’s bike. To everyone’s amusement the measures to try remove it got more and more severe until they had finally run out of options, there was just no bigger hammer to hit it with! The next day the crank just miraculously fell off, it had had it’s fun! Aaron Smathers did some great work checking our positions, and a big shout out must go to him and Doren for all the hard work they put in. We got one good 6 hour ride in north of Dallas while we there, had a great night at Cowboys Stadium watching Supercross, and a great team presentation at the Stackhouse accompanied by some of the worst singing you will ever hear a bunch of cyclists do! Everyone that had never seen Christian’s van had a good laugh, and then we moved down to Round Mountain outside of Austin for a week of training.

The ranch in Round Mountain was the perfect training venue, once we finally found it! Arriving late at night and with google maps, mapquest and every other map we could find taking us to where we thought it was, we found the code didn’t work on the gate. Gonzo and Joe bravely jumped the fence and wandered off into the dark. It was then we realised we were miles away from the place, so Joe and Gonzo were wandering around someone else’s property. They eventually returned without any shotgun wounds and we moved on. Heathy was a great taskmaster, putting together some great days on the bike for us. Brent Copeland, Ben’s trainer and jack-of-all-trades South African, was trying his best to intimidate us by leaving the skinfold callipers next to the breakfast supplies, but with the amount of training we were doing no one seemed too phased. In fact Nick’s car was seriously dragging it’s ass on the ground with the amount of Costco food that we took in there.

The training out in that area was great, quiet roads and fantastic weather. We only almost hit a cow once, and towards the end of the week some competition sprouted up. One particular day the last one back to the ranch had a task they had to complete. It was quite a frantic race back to the gate, and we all had a great laugh sitting around in the pool while this person paid their dues by coming in last. I’ll leave it at that. But we all definitely gained a lot from the training out there.

From Round Mountain we moved down to Austin for the weekend of racing at Walburg and Pace Bend. For me this my first weekend of racing for the year, and not being very much of a morning person Walburg with it’s 8am start time has never really been my cup of tea.  Spending most of the first lap half asleep and trying not to cross the dreaded centre line, I was finally starting to wake up. Eventually Joe and Heath got away in a group of 5 and the race was over, they had no problem getting rid of the others and came in for a great one-two. Behind, we took the opportunity to practise what we’d been doing at training camp and led Eric out for the bunch sprint which he won despite it being quite a messy, hard to judge uphill finish.

The next day was the Pace Bend road race, a really cool race on a 6 mile closed, rolling circuit meaning we could use the whole road. This day we decided on a different tactic, with 9 riders in the race we clearly had a numeric advantage. But at this stage in the early season it’s important that everyone gets a good hard race in, so we stayed pretty calm early and eventually let 3 riders escape up the road, deliberately not having anyone from our team up there. When the lead hit 2 minutes we stated to set pace on the front of the group with only Joe, Heath and Eric resting behind. This is a common tactic used in a stage race when you are defending the overall lead, or in a race like this where we wanted to try to bring it down to a bunch sprint. Everyone did a great job bringing the break back, but towards the end we did perhaps under estimate the strength of the riders in the break meaning we had to ride as hard as we possibly could to bring them back. With Joe and Heath needing to help out on the last lap as those of us that had been setting pace for 50 miles started to get some tired legs, this unfortunately left Eric a bit undermanned for the tricky downhill headwind sprint. Eric came in for second, but we all got a lot out of the race and these early season races are perfect for trying different tactics and getting everyone to be on the same page and gel together, so it was definitely a success in that regard.

This was the end of the official team camp, but most of us hung around for the week in Austin for some training and also to do the dreaded physiology testing at UT. For anyone unfamiliar with this it is probably one of the most horrible experiences of being an athlete. Basically you are put on an ill fitting uncomfortable indoor training bike in a lab. An unsightly and even more uncomfortable headpiece is put on with a mouth piece jammed in to measure how much oxygen (and snot, dribble etc) you are expelling. The whole thing is plugged into a computer, a peg is put over your nose and blood is drawn from your ear every 4 minutes as the resistance slowly increases. At first it isn’t too bad, but towards the end you are pushed to your absolute maximum until you can no longer turn the pedals. Very painful. Growing up in the Australian Government’s sports program we did these tests multiple times a year, and I have since avoided doing one for 7 years! But having said that, the data and info taken from these tests is absolutely invaluable and a very big part of modern training and improving ourselves as athletes. We are lucky to be working with Adam and the folks at Source Endurance this year and I think it is going to be a huge help for all of us.

The rest of the week was spent training and getting ready for the Lago Vista races. Joe and I did manage to head out one night and see a great British band Gomez that have been a long time favorite of mine. The Lago races couldn’t have gone any better. The same course is use both days, but one day clockwise and the next counter clockwise. The races had a good turnout, Saturday some of the riders from the Trek-Livestrong team came out to race, but our boys all rode really well with Joe and Heath easily managing another one-two finish.  The second day the course was considerably harder run counter clockwise, and with most the field closely marking Joe and Heath who were clearly the 2 in form riders of the TX early season, some other riders from our team, Gonzo, Christian and Tyler really took the initiative and took off up the road early. So it ended up with those 3 in a race long break with one other poor guy!  As the hill on the course started to take it’s toll, Heath most probably got tired of hearing my heavy breathing gasping for air every time going up it and decided to ride across to the leaders by himself. No one else could follow. This made it 4 Elbowz riders in a group of five leaders with Tyler taking the win in a 1-4 whitewash. But my race wasn’t over yet. It was 4:30pm and I had a 6:25 flight home, and we still had to drive back to Austin, pack my bike, pick up my bags from Heath’s house and get to the airport. Somehow I made it, although there just wasn’t any time for a shower. As I ran to the gate and was flying Southwest, I was sure no one would choose the seat next to me. Especially considering I was still wearing the socks that I raced in! But unfortunately for them the plane was full so one poor lady had to suck it up and sit next to me. I got home that night for one of the best showers ever!

So now we are all refreshing ourselves and getting ready for our first serious targets of the year, the San Dimas and Redlands stage races in California. I would personally like to thank all my new team mates for making me feel so welcome in the team, and a huge thanks to Nick and Ben and everyone that makes it happen. It’s a great group and we have a lot of laughs. The equipment, opportunities and support we have is truly top notch. We have everything we need to step it up and enjoy some great results nationally. Redlands in particular is amongst the most prestigious domestic races of the entire season with each of the top domestic pro teams sending their best riders. Imagine an Elbowz Racing stage win or a place on the final podium?