Category Archives: May ’10

Tour of Altanta, Stage 6

We all sat up on the porch of an abandoned Golf course club house, watching the rain drop buckets on the hills around us.

A cyclist who rides for Kazane Racing, the team I raced for last year came for the final race. He sat on the porch with us, admiring the two Kazane bikes’ picturesque pose in front of the foggy mountain tops.

“Stratton would think this is bad ass,” he said.

“Stratton wouldn’t think it’s bad ass when he finds out I didn’t race today,” I replied.

My legs were dead, we had a huge mountain climb to complete on the sixty mile stage today. And it is pouring rain. But, today is the last day of the Tour and I am only a few points away from a second place finish in the overall. Every one of the top five GC contenders has scored points in every race so far. So the chances that I could skip this race and maintain my position is nearly impossible.

Fortunately for my inspiration, the rain stopped before the neutral roll-out was over. The race began and soon the skies were clearing and the roads were dry.

I had not noticed in the elevation profile for this race how ridiculously hilly it was. The giant pinnacle mountain in the middle of the profile I guess had distracted my attention from all the lesser, but still huge climbs we had throughout the day.

Each time I would ask, did we pass the lake yet? This is the mountain right? And then we would coast over the peak only to roll down into the valley and do it all over again.

Finally, I was almost happy to see the landmark lake that signified the climb was about to begin. I knew that the field would become select here and we would drop the guys who could bluff an attack over the smaller climbs.

Less than a quarter-mile into the climb, I saw a group lightly riding away from the field. I had been caught out of the attack that would roll away effortlessly. But a gap opened up on the side of the road and i jumped off the front to bridge the gap.

Caught out between the two groups, I looked back to see a flurry of attacks coming from behind me. Several riders had missed the break and knew that I was their last chance of bridging that gap. I looked back twice more. The second time I saw the attacks continuing as the peleton had turned into an “every man for himself” free for all.

And the third time I looked back, there was nothing but an empty road behind me.

When I reached the breakaway, another two groups had gone up the road even further. The lead group was two riders, pedaling away from us at an unbearable speed. Then chase group 1 was three riders all struggling in the middle, not willing to accept racing for third, but also not knowing if they could maintain this energy for the twenty miles back to the finish.

When I reached chase group 2, about a third of the way up the climb, I knew I could not accept my position. Two of the three riders ahead of me in the GC were in this group. Once my heart rate settled, I went to the front and made a pull to show everyone I was willing to work. But when I turned around and saw no one on my wheel and the Canadian, Nicholas Jay pounding on his pedals using all his might to try to get back on my wheel, I knew this was my chance.

So i jumped again, and increased the gap, jumped again and increased the gap, and the third time, once again, there was no one in sight. Soon I found myself in chase group 2 to make our pack four riders strong.

We pulled each other up the mountain and just hung on until the peak. By the summit, we had caught a category 1 cyclist from the race ahead of us and now had five in our group. But on the downhills, the bigger the field, the faster they go. Our hope was to chase down the leaders to increase both our chances of staying away from the chasers behind.

But as we raced down the mountain at fifty miles an hour, the day was not meant to be won so easily. First the group with the other two GC contenders caught us and then, less than five miles from the finish, a select peleton of fifteen or so riders caught us.

Instantly, so close to the finish I needed to re shift my focus from a climber to the chess match of the sprinter. So I set myself up, watching out for sluggish, tired riders that I could possibly get stuck behind in the lead out to the finish. As I worked my way through to pack, avoiding certain wheels, I ended up on the perfect wheel. We cruised, riding easy with our tired legs almost all the way to the 200m mark and then the guy in front of me went. It was a futile effort at that point, having been trapped out in the front but he managed to salvage a third place finish in the field sprint. Three guys managed to stay away off the front. But I raced past all my opponents in the field to win the sprint.

Nicholas Jay stayed right on my wheel, knowing that as long as he was only a few points behind me, he need not beat me today to keep his third place in the GC. I finished out the weekend in fourth overall only a few points behind second place and a couple behind third. It was definitely and exciting weekend of racing but I am sure ready for a few days of rest and recovery.

Tour of Atlanta, Stage 5

With the built fatigue continuing to wear on my spirit and performance, we all knew that we were almost there.

Stage 5 would lead us eight times around a five mile circuit. Only thirty guys would start the race this afternoon. I guess most guys have more sense than to do six races in four days.

In a typical cycling race I will never even consider switching to my small chainring. But on this course, my legs dictated switching four times every lap. We had to ride up four climbs each lap for eight laps. That is a lot of wear and tear on a cyclist, even someone who came prepared. I began using tactics to save all the energy I could. I was cutting the inside of turns to move up in position. I was bombing the downhills, weaving between more cautious riders. But when the grade turned positive, my legs weren’t helping me at all. I drifted back to the last rider every single lap on at least one of the climbs.

With each passing lap I found that I had less and less distance to drift back. By the sixth lap we had dropped nearly half of the riders and the peleton was the size of a large breakaway. Most of the attacks during the race were pulled back by riders in the GC not strong enough to bridge the gap but not willing to let another overall contender get away. This race had put everyone on the defensive. If we could just stay in the field till the finish then we were guaranteed to score points towards the overall.

But a local phenom time trialist definitely had higher aspirations. He and a rider for Sfatto, a well represented team in the field, broke away about three laps to go. But when the Sfatto rider was reeled in a man named GW, still off the front was not ready to call it a day. He continued by himself to the third solo victory in three races.

When the field came towards the finish my sprint did not follow. I struggled for my eighth place finish but beat several riders in the GC. We were all getting pretty beat by now and were pretty much ready for this weekend of racing to be over.

Greg, Joe and I returned back to the hotel to relax. One more race left to conclude the Tour of Atlanta. What a birthday.

Tour of Atlanta, Stage 4

I sat at the Continental breakfast sipping on my apple juice, chewing on my frosted flakes. And then in sync, as we both remembered, Joe looks as me and says “Dude, Happy Birthday.” And at the same time I said “Whoa, It’s my birthday.”

The morning for stage four was not a pleasant one. I was dead tired and not in the mood for racing, especially not in the rain. Happy birthday.

This morning’s course was a lollipop. We would ride out ten miles, do eight loops out on the course and then head back for a sprint finish about halfway back to the start. The field was about the same size as yesterday morning’s. Most of the riders had come out for just a couple of the races or even one. The guys contending for the overall were out for their fourth race with less than stellar legs.

The field cruised out to the circuit and we quickly learned the hills, turns, and fast descents. Guys were attacking off the front but just like yesterday evening, only a solo break toward then end of the race would succeed. The roads dried around lap five and we were happy to see some sunshine for the sprint finish to come.

Heading back toward the finish line I was moving up in the field too slowly and got caught being a little too patient at the 5k to go mark. I had been taking my time to get up at the front of the race and now I was getting caught out of the action at the front. Finally however I made it up to fifth wheel with 1k to go. Sadly however with my focus concentrated on moving up in the pack I neglected to notice that the guy whose wheel I sat on had made a monster pull at the front and was getting ready to blow up as we raced into the finishing stretch. He sat up with just 500 meters to go and pulled me rocketing towards the back of the pack.

I had two choices, play it safe and not score any points for this race, or bunny hop into the deep grass and take my chances to minimize my losses. I took the obvious choice.

Immediately when I jumped off the road into the grass I felt the sticky, slow, rough ground almost like riding on a field of molasses. But even with the added resistance I passed the guy still gently rolling to the finish, hopped back on the road and salvaged a 12th place finish.

Tour of Atlanta, Stage 3

Greg Grosicki and Joe Obrien-Applegate, two cyclists from William and Mary, and I all laid in the hotel moaning in pain and exhaustion. I was by far complaining the worse and I am guessing hurting the worse too. I had been thrown into a new category for this race with faster, stronger cyclists and a race that was twenty miles longer than the category four race. And my legs hurt. My whole body hurt. I had done everything I could to recover quickly but after this morning’s seventy miles, not much could inspire me to do it all again in the afternoon.

From some reserve inspiration within me though, I did manage to roll out on the same course we rode for the TT. Except this time we would do a twelve mile loop a few times. The race began about half a lap from the finish line. The way out was a gradual uphill perfect for breakaways, with the roll away from the finish line and back to the start a gradual, very fast downhill, perfect for destroying any chance a break may have had.

The race went the same each lap with a break succeeding on the uphill and being reeled in easily on the downhill. The only chance for a break to succeed was for the riders to go on the last lap. And that’s what one man did. With the race won by a solo rider with nearly a minute lead, the field sprint was up for grabs.

I sat on as fifth wheel as no one wanted to pass the first rider and get caught out in the wind with too far to the finish. The field just kept slowing and slowing and with a strong jump from the field, the race would have been won. I saw the attack out of the corner of my right eye and heard the whirr and crank of the spin-up of the man’s carbon wheels. Instantly I was on his wheel and instantly we had a gap from the field. But he was cranking hard, my legs hurt, and the commotion from behind us was getting organized. Initially riders panicked, crossing the yellow line, breaking a very important rule and also risking their necks around a blind curve with oncoming traffic.

But the chase was quick and fast and I and the rider who jumped were swarmed at the finish and passed by three riders. Several riders were relegated after the finish because of their dangerous move with one kilometer to go.

With my fifth place finish however, I only moved up in the points standing for the weekend. None of the GC contenders crossed that finish line in front, earning me three points more than Nicholas Jay, four points more than David Lansden, and six points over James Gotsick. Still, I was moving up in the Overall, starting at nearly last, now I was in third place.

We drove back to the hotel and with a Sonic milkshake in hand, my body was beginning to feel better. A good nights rest would surely help with my recovery.

Tour of Atlanta, Stage 2

For my first category three cycling race, I had a little extra motivation from the experience the day before. Having refrained from venting with a temper tantrum, I instead kept all my anger for this race.

Stage 2 would be a sixty mile, three lap road race with a 1.5k climb to the finish. On the neutral roll-out from the parking lot, it was obvious the organization of the cycling teams in this area. Maybe it was the upgrade to category three, maybe it was Georgia. There were no more scrubs in this race. Everyone had to do the work to get here, 20 points worth of work in a 12-month period. Everyone had experience and knew how to win races.

So when the breaks started flying off the front at the first big climb, the teams at the front let them go. I was seated comfortably in the top ten safely out of the draft wondering if I had missed my chance. The official rode away and came back with gaps saying “30 seconds!”, “One minute!”, and finally “Ninety seconds, two riders!”.

Three cycling teams from the area that had missed out on the break then swarmed the couple of guys on the front blocking for their teammates up the road. I guess ninety seconds was past their comfort zone. About ten guys settled into an echelon, taking turns reeling in the lone riders. Soon enough the guys came back into sight and with one lap to go, the teams pulling let the breakaway dangle off the front.

The two riders kept pulling, hammering their hearts out, not yet willing to give up on their chance at glory. But the lead they had was a false one. A team from Atlanta on the front was letting them stay in that fifteen second gap range, letting them waste their energy. I kept sitting on, watching as we rolled closer and closer to the finish and these two riders suffered off the front, being teased by the sixty man field ready to engulf them before it was too late. And with one swift pull from a fresh rider, the two riders were pulled in and instantly shot out the back of our field.

We had ridden the finishing climb twice already before we would climb it one last time. I had studied it and decided that it was too long for an attack right at the bottom. Any rider crazy enough to try to hold a sprint for that long would blow up and barely cross the finish line. But when we hit the bottom of the climb, the top ten riders all went. Sitting in tenth place I watched as the first few riders rode away and crossed the finish line with an over ten second gap. Back in my position it was a total suffer fest. I passed Nicholas Jay of Canada, a competitor for the overall for the entire Stage Race, just a few meters before the finish to secure ninth place and begin my fight to make up after my disadvantage resulting from Stage 1. David Lansden from Alabama crossed in fifteenth place to keep himself in the fight for the GC. And all of us cried as James Gotsick, winner of the TT yesterday, crossed in first place today, earning 40 points before I had even earned half that many.

At least I was making progress however. That is all I needed, continue scoring and continue being consistent, especially consistently better than the guys racing for the overall.

Tour of Atlanta, Stage 1

We were cursing traffic, the three of us, on the estimated eight hour drive to the race site. Dawsonville, Georgia, just north of Atlanta was the destination. Starts for the Stage 1, seven mile prologue began at 7:00 p.m. With the help of congestion from construction, NASCAR, and memorial day, the trip turned into an ten hour drive.

We made it just in time however, 6:40. With barely enough time for any serious warm up or preparation, we ran around in the pouring rain gathering what we needed to hammer the seven mile out and back course.

At 7:28:30 p.m., I rolled off the start line. At 7:29, merely 30 seconds later, I was anaerobic, hammering my guts out up a climb less than 200 meters from the start. I forbid myself from implementing the comfort of my little chain ring on such a short race. I have never raced a time trial of this distance so I had no clue of pacing. To me, seven miles was a hammer fest. With my heart rate established at 190 beats per minute, ten beats below my max and ten above my lactate threshold, I was fully into racing mode. The definition the race director had for “rolling” hills was not exactly in sync with mine though. Rolling to me indicates you can carry momentum over them, not suffer and piston your quads till your legs feel like exploding.

My legs were in perfect form even with the lack of warm-up. At 25.5 miles per hour, I was pounding through the course in great time. The Tour of Atlanta was not meant to be sandbagged however. Less than a mile from the finish, an ignorant volunteer on the course directed me down the wrong road. He watched me as I rode directly past him, hammering my heart out into one of the most important races of the season while he lazily stood there. I guess it was too much for him to stand at the intersection and point the flag to the left. And then I guess it was way past his capabilities to maybe hint with a shout or a scream that I had gone the wrong way.

“Ha, what a fool, he went the wrong way. He’ll figure it out somewhere down the road,” he probably thought. Yeah I figured it out, two miles later. As I retraced the route back to the intersection, he sarcastically pointed his flag to direct me this time. It took strength that I simply did not have to not mutter an obscenity. The last thing I want when my standing in a six-race event is ruined is to be mocked by the same man that caused it.

When I rolled by the finish, shoving away the misplaced cheers of spectators, the race director shouted “Grayson?!”. I turned around and rolled my pitiful performance up to his truck.

“Grayson Cobb?”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“What happened?” My time had shown up immediately on his laptop as my chip crossed the finish line and having set the course record for slowest time on my Felt DA TT bike, I guess I attracted some attention.

“I rode the wrong way. The volunteer I guess was holding the flag pointing down that left turn just up the road there. So I followed where his flag pointed.”

He laughed. At least someone thought it was funny. “Hey man I’m sorry about that. Volunteers just don’t care sometimes.”

“I mean yeah I appreciate their help but seriously that job is not that complicated. He just has no idea how important this is to us.”

“Grayson, I appreciate your attitude. I’ll help you out with this. Just come see me at the awards and I’ll get you some points.”

At the speed I was going my time would have put me in second place for the day, with twelve points. No doubt I appreciated the three points that I received for my unusually calm attitude. But my legs deserved the twelve points that day though. I wouldn’t have complained if they were rewarded for their effort.

These things happen I know. I know because they have happened to me too many times. There is a difference between flat out neglecting directions and being screwed. I think I received the latter. When the race director changes 5 out of 6 of the course in the days and hours leading up to each event, trusting the directions I was given while out on the course seemed only logical. The race volunteer’s job is always simple, simple enough that nobody deserves to be paid to do it. And when I think and over think the several times I have been misdirected, I believe it has been partially my own and partially the race directors fault. It is the director’s responsibility to establish to a volunteer the simplicity of their job and to enforce how crucial it is that the job is done right. These races are not superficial to us. It is not me who does not appreciate the volunteer position. It was the race director himself. He thought lightly of the volunteer’s responsibility and in turn he screwed me, my weekend, and my wallet.

Tour of Atlanta

This winter I searched for Georgia, Springer Mountain to be exact. I hiked 1,350 miles before finally deciding the task was not worth the risks.

Tomorrow morning I and two other cyclists will drive ten hours to Georgia to race in the Tour of Atlanta, a four day cycling event just north of the state capital.

This race begins tomorrow evening in Dawsonville, Georgia with a 6.5 mile Prologue time trial. On Saturday and Sunday the event will continue with two road races each day. On Monday, the race will conclude with a mountainous road race through the same hills I searched for this past winter. These six races comprise the 250+ mile Tour of Atlanta.

This will be my first cycling race this year and my first race as a category three. Last year I was intimidated by the upgrade, new competition, higher level, more experienced riders. But I’m not scared anymore. I’m excited, and I’m ready. Downstairs, an explosion of bikes, equipment, and clothes scatter my kitchen. But tomorrow evening everything will come together as I attempt to win my second big omnium.

Power Sprint Triathlon

In 2007, I finished in second, behind Otstot and Harlow.

In 2008, behind Otstot and Stiegmann.

In 2009, behind Biesecker.

In 2010,…

At 7:01:46 a.m., my race began. My coach Michael, a much better swimmer than me would begin 15 seconds after me. We both knew before I pushed off the wall that this was going to be a hell of a race.

Everything seemed to fall into place in the week leading up to this race. It began with walking into Rowlett’s bikes on Tuesday asking for a special order set of Vittoria tubulars. It was impractical to say the least. Not only are these about the rarest mass production tires on the market and it’s days away from the race, but they are tubulars, requiring several days of preparation to merely mount the tire. Initially it seemed impossible but as Fred of Rowletts continued his phone conversation with Vittoria USA, I realized it was going to happen. The next morning, my new tires were on the rim stretching before their first coat of glue.

Additionally, my new, much lighter, much faster helmet, the Spiuk Kronos, one of the only fully finished aero helmets on the market, came the same day.

As far as gear, I was set. Everything was going to be perfect. On Saturday I took my bike out for a spin and from the first pedal stroke I could feel the supposed one mile per hour gain from my new tires.

The only doubt was in my cycling ability. Michael had beaten me by over a minute on the bike at Smithfield tri just two months ago. If everything were a repeat of Smithfield, Michael would pass me around 200 meters into the swim and I wouldn’t seem him until the race finish. I had different intentions though. This year I have taken my training to a level I previously thought would drop me into a state of depression, burn out, and overtraining. But instead this year, I have only seen positive results.

Michael did catch me on the swim on Sunday, about 75 meters from the finish. Quickly, I was on his heels drafting. We came out of the pool together but with his Usain Bolt-like sprint out of the water, he left me a full eight seconds in the rear after T2. He raced out on the bike with intentions of catching Jay Peluso early on the bike. With Michael nearly out of sight by the time my feet were secure in my shoes, I knew it was time to hammer. I needed to catch Michael to pace off him or he would continue to pull away. Out of sight out of mind, so I needed to keep him in my sight.

At about a mile and a half, I had succeeded. I was safely well out of the draft zone but close enough to judge my efforts off his pacing. He quickly looked back to discover himself in the same situation that led him to a second place finish to my teammate Ryan Peterson last year. And with that, my endorphin rush jumped and my confidence soared. I might accomplish the goal I set over five years ago, a goal at the time I had no clue was going to be so difficult. I might actually beat Michael.

But as the miles passed by, Michael was growing more and more fatigued and I knew that Jay Peluso was pulling further away and Bruce Berger from behind us was capable of putting out a 16:30 5k. So with T2 coming up I understood that I would rather get second to Michael from having hammered the last bit of the bike than second or maybe even third to a non-teammate. With that knowledge, I took over the lead and headed into T2 with a ten second advantage over Michael, a gap that would disintegrate before leaving T2.

I knew that Michael and my opposing running styles would clash on the run, but my goal was to allow as little advantage for him as possible. Michael is a rabbit, he likes to go out a faster pace than he finishes. If I on the other hand go out at 5:30 pace, my second mile will most likely be 5:30, and my last mile will be 5:30. But the advantage of being on Michael’s heels was not one that I wanted to let go easily. Even at 5:20 minute/ mile pace I fought to hang on. But at the half-mile mark, as we passed Peluso, the first and only doubt during the race crossed my mind. And while that doubt only ran through my head for a millisecond before being swept out, it was enough to let Michael get a gap.

After he had the gap, the race was won. All it took was a hint of doubt, and he ran with it. The gap was a slinky between us extending to five seconds, contracting to a couple, extending to ten seconds, contracting to six, extending to thirty and contracting to twenty-five, until finally I reeled him in the slightest bit for him to cross the line twenty seconds ahead of me.

Everything went perfect in that race and Michael is a fast dude. I gave him a race but he still stood at the peak of the podium at the end of the day. Bruce Berger took third place, closing out his race with a 16:35 5k split. I was excited about my second place finish and I always love Endorphin Fitness domination, but I can’t lie about my disappointment for yet another second place finish.

To be honest I enjoy the dissatisfaction. I love racing especially when everyone shows up in their peak. But I want to be the one on top. I’m not done improving yet and I’m not done chasing. Every single day I am excited about my continuing improvement, but the day that I am content with performance will be a boring one. So for now Michael better keep looking over his shoulder.