Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where's Matthew Now?

I'm in Canada, 'ey! Hello hello from the land of maple syrup (yes I had some at breakfast!) I'm here in Quebec City for the Grand Prix Cycliste Quebec, a one day World Tour race. It's 11 laps of a challenging 18km circuit totaling 199km. The rain is falling today, but I THINK we are supposed to have dry weather tomorrow. I really hope so anyway because this circuit in the wet would be disastrous. Riding it with a few of my teammates today was scary enough! I don't have any predictions or ideas about the race really. It is long and hard enough that I think it is kind of a matter of natural selection. Positioning is a key factor for saving as much energy as possible in a few sections of the course, so I'll do my best to stay well placed and/or help my teammates do the same. I'll report back with the results!

I've been a few places since the last time I blogged in Colorado. Following the race, Lisa and I returned to North Carolina for about 10 days. It was absolutely glorious. The weather was perfect. We each had some fun out training. I did a charity/group ride in the neighboring town of Hendersonville called Tour de Apple on Labor Day. It turned out to be a great ride with some beautiful new roads I'd never been on, and the course was not easy at all either! Lisa and I found a night to sneak out and go camping, which was super fun despite my three hour saga of starting/maintaining a fire with wet wood. I can admit that I was unbelievably frustrated, BUT I did prevail and have a fire that burned all the wood by the end of the night and produced awesome coals. Let me tell you that those s'mores never tasted so good!

Most recently Lisa and I hopped on a plane back to Minnesota for a friend's wedding. The ceremony was really nice and it was really fun to catch up with some of our college friends. After dancing the night away, we took a quick nap before getting on the road to Milwaukee for my sister-in-law's baby shower. We actually showed up unannounced, which was kind of fun. Thankfully they accepted us crashing the shower and then my parents allowed us to crash their house for a few nights, otherwise we would've been sleeping in a park somewhere! It was a short but nice visit at home. Yesterday Lisa dropped me at the airport at 6:30am in order to catch my flight here, while she turned northwest to drive back to Minnesota. She's spending a few days at home while I'm here and then we'll both fly back to NC after the weekend. Then who knows where our next adventure will take us! Ideas? Suggestions?

Friday, August 22, 2014

So Close and Soggy

Let me begin with the excitement in Colorado Springs yesterday. I think the number one objective was for Jens to be in the break and go for the stage win. He was clearly very motivated. Things went to plan with Laurent and Jens making the break. The gap grew nicely and it looked very promising as the kilometers dwindled. I kept myself out of trouble to preserve my gc place and rode on anxiously just hoping Jens was going to pull off his magic one more time. As we raced into the final 3km I could see Jens just in front of us. Finally as we took the turns into the final kilometer I could see Jens was fighting with everything he had, but it wasn't going to be enough. I was heartbroken as we caught him with about 700 meters to go. Nonetheless it was another inspirational and heroic effort. It's really incredible how Jens rides. I'm not sure anyone else has or ever will ride as hard as him. It's been a true honor to be his teammate.

After the fireworks yesterday, it would only be fitting that we'd have a little more excitement today. The rain drops were sprinkling on us as we rolled out. We had a few moments of dry roads, but that was temporary. It took nearly 50km of pretty difficult racing for the break to get away. Laurent played it perfectly and got into it. Finally a moment to breathe, eat, and drink something. There wasn't much of a slow down though as BMC began to set a steady tempo to keep things under control. As we rolled through the feedzone, it was evident that the weather was going to get ugly. For the next 50 or so kilometers we had some miserably cold rain. I wore my rain vest and rain jacket to try and stay warm. Still it wasn't enough. My savior might have been Markel offering me a spare pair of long finger gloves he had. I happily accepted them even though I had already asked Jens to grab my gloves and another jacket from the car. I never did receive those items though. I came to find out after the stage that Jens was so cold that he had to stop for a bit to have the mechanic put his gloves on. By the time he fought his way back to the field it was basically too late. Thankfully the rain had let off and I was able to warm up a bit.

We arrived at the base of Hoosier Pass and Optum set about trying to blow things up. I simply tried to follow. At the top of Hoosier there were only a few of us left. Garmin set about driving the pace down the descent into the final KOM. I followed and prepared for the last steep climb that blew things up last year. I wasn't familiar with the climb because I was at the Vuelta last year, but I knew I needed to be patient. Saxo took over the pace making as we hit the climb. Finally about 300 meters from the top Tejay attacked. It was the final steep section. I reacted a little slowly and tried to chase. By the finish I was 5th of the gc guys and 5 seconds behind the lead 3. It was a good way to finish up before tomorrow's vital time trial.

A nice bonus to the day was hearing after the stage that Laurent had won the stage! I didn't mention above that the break would stay away for the day. We had our action behind, but they also had action in front. Laurent played it perfectly with a late attack at the top of the final climb. He was able to hold off the chasers to take the stage win. It's great to see him win because he's always working so hard for the team. Overall it was a horribly miserable day that sapped some serious energy, but it was awesome at the same time because Laurent took it home for us today!

**I apologize if this blog is horribly confusing and scattered. I think I'm completely drained and in need of some food!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Monarch Mountain Trials

It was another challenging day today in Colorado. The stage started with an onslaught of attacks that never stopped until the first slopes of Monarch pass began. The peloton exploded immediately under the pressure at the front. I was not feeling very comfortable but tried to find a rhythm. At about 6km from the top, Tom Danielson attacked and it made the already decimated field explode even more. I was unable to follow the front group and did everything I could to limit my losses, hoping to regain contact on the descent. Thankfully I had some amazing teammates today. Jens did a great piece of tempo making to the top and then with the help of Laurent on the descent and in the valley, we were able to make it back to the lead group. My confidence was rattled after being dropped the first time up the climb, but the team continued to work for and believe in me, so I did the same for myself. As we began the final ascent to the finish, Jens again sacrificed himself for me, riding in the wind for probably close to 20km. It was crucial for me to saving energy and giving myself a chance to fight in the end. Once the moves began with around 6km to the finish, I fought to stay with it. I didn't want to lose contact with the front group this time. The group slowly dwindled. Under the pressure of the attacks I think everyone was pretty dead, especially at such high elevations. At about 3km to go, there was a serious lull in the action and I decided I would try. I thought that if I got a small gap I would have a legitimate shot at making it to the finish because no one seemed to have any steady power left. I did get a gap, but there were still some guys left in the group to work for their leaders, so they were able to bring me back. I tried to latch onto the group but lost contact in the final kilometer. I took a risk that I maybe shouldn't have today, but it felt like the right move at that time. I'll keep fighting though and can still place high in the race. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Days 1 and 2 in Colorado

It's been a good first couple stages here in Colorado. Stage 1 started with a bang in the high altitudes of Aspen. It was a challenging circuit for sure. The team rode very well to make sure no dangerous breaks were gone and then to have us in a good position going into the final climbs. I had a mechanical in the corner at the bottom of the first of the two final climbs. It wasn't a major mechanical and I was able to keep going, but I lost some valuable position. I didn't panic and just set about to tag onto the back of the group as it splintered. I was on as we crested and sped down to the last KOM of the day. I watched as Jens launched one of his signature late race attacks, which brought out a flurry of attacks from some of the gc favorites. I was still fighting to come back toward the front, but managed to catch onto the back of the drastically reduced peloton as we crossed the KOM and headed toward the finish. Jens was eventually caught and a few other attacks began to happen. Around 4km from the finish one guy attacked and there was a short chase before a brief lull. I had a little momentum and should have attacked right there, but hesitation got the better of me and I stayed where I was. I made sure I didn't make the same mistake though as we came to 2km to go. The last short and steep climb was there and I followed as a couple guys made moves. I found myself off the front and chasing. I felt as though I was going to throw up, but I did my best to fight through it. When the finish line came, I had failed to make contact with the two who attacked in front of me and then was out-sprinted by two others who came with me, but I landed fifth on the day and gained a valuable 9 seconds on those in the peloton behind. I was happy and felt positive looking at the week ahead. I hoped it was a good sign that I was hopefully reaping the benefits of a difficult Tour and a good week's recovery after Utah.

Today's second stage was something pretty spectacular. It finished in Crested Butte, the same finish that we did in 2012, but the approach was different this year. We came over the Kebler Pass, which is not only long and at high altitude, but it is also mostly dirt road, up AND DOWN. And for extra spice today, we had rain (with thunder and lightning which is very scary), which made the road (or dirt) sloppy, dirty, slick, and a bit dangerous. Unbeknownst to I believe all the riders, at least those in our first group, the race was evidently neutralized at the top of the pass in order to allow us to safely descend the dirt section. Well that message was never relayed to us until we had raced down the dirt, come back onto the pavement, and saw (barely through mud pasted glasses) the road blockaded. The race came to a complete stop, everyone was confused, yelling, shivering, getting rain jackets, trying to figure out what was going on. After about 5 minutes the race was on again with the one lone leader allowed to go before the peloton started. I honestly had no clue what was happening. Riders protested a little and said let's neutralize the race, but it was never clear. BMC began chasing immediately and I simply followed. Once we hit the final climb I was still uncertain what was happening, but when Tejay attacked I figured I better try and follow. Again I pulled a couple guys with me who out-sprinted me, but I still finished up 6th and moved up to 4th on GC. Tomorrow is going to be another test of the legs with the race ascending both sides of Monarch mountain, finishing on top the second time. I'm feeling strong and hoping I can stick my nose in it again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Utah Completed

Tour of Utah is complete and I think I’m happy it is. The team atmosphere was good all week, but I think my legs are still a little tired from the Tour. The final two days of racing were very tough. I did my best to hang on, but I was suffering to follow the hard accelerations of the front guys. It seemed like I just couldn’t get my body to make that last push. I didn’t feel the “ease” to go deep. Obviously going to your limit is never easy, but sometimes the body will respond better when pushed. I’m really hoping (expecting) that with a good week of rest and recovery, I will bounce back strong for Colorado.

Regarding the final two stages, the “queen” stage to Snowbird was very difficult. Jens and Riccardo did a great job to get into the breakaway. It was particularly impressive that Riccardo made it because he was involved in a crash near the beginning, so he had to chase back to the peloton and then attack to get into the group again. And then to seal it off he came in 3rd on the stage. For today’s stage I had decided I wanted to try something similar because I had nothing to lose. There were two scenarios possible. Either I’d get into the early move with a teammate or two and just wait to the last climb, or we’d have a guy or two get into the early move and I’d try to jump across on the first KOM of the day. The preference was the first early move and I tried my hand several times but was unsuccessful. At one point there was a good split in the peloton and I was in the front and trying to follow a couple guys across to the break, but I was unable to even follow on the flat. I just didn’t seem to have the power.

Once the dust settled, the stage was already a third over, but we still had the two difficult KOMs to navigate. I passed the first one with “relative” ease and had my teammates to help keep me safe and protected to the base of the final climb. From there I was on my own to try and make it happen. From the onset the pace was very hard and I slowly lost contact. Eventually Riccardo caught me and then we caught Clement who had now also fallen off the pace of the front group. It was a dual effort from there to try and save my gc position and also save Clement’s young rider jersey. Riccardo worked hard for several kilometers of the incredibly difficult climb and once he pulled off I tried to set a solid pace for Clement to the top. At that point I had resigned myself on my gc position in order to try and help him keep the jersey. In the end he lost the jersey by a mere 14 seconds. He was pretty devastated and I felt pretty bad because there was probably 14 seconds somewhere that we could’ve pulled out of ourselves. I did my best to tell him not to worry though because he had a heck of a race and I don’t think it was his goal to have the jersey before the race. It is of course hard to have it taken away once you have had it though. He’s a good rider with a lot of potential though, so he should be happy. At the end of the day I fell to 11th on gc, but that doesn’t make any difference in anything. Overall it was a hard week of racing that I’m hoping will really benefit me looking ahead to Colorado. Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sprinter?!

Not really sure what happened today, but I landed in 15th! Actually I was trying to set Hayden up for a late attack, but I guess he wasn't into it. When the dust settled, I had fought my way to the front and made a little prize money for the team. Now maybe we're not in the red after the few fines we've incurred. All good :)

What could've been a straight forward, somewhat calm day, was ravaged by wind and the chaos that accompanies it. Straight from the start it was windy and the field strung out and exploded. I found myself in the wrong spot on more that one occasion and had to really fight. I was on the wrong end of a few splits, but thankfully I came back. Several different breakaways formed and dissolved. Jens was a part of several different moves. He was in the initial move that got a good gap, but the field chased hard for some reason, and he dropped out of it with 3 other guys. He decided he wasn't finished though and bridged across to the remaining 3 on the only KOM of the day. The gap immediately enlarged and I really thought they were going to stay away. At the top of the KOM a mad chase was put on, mainly by Optum. It was quite impressive actually because they brought it back and then won the stage. Chapeau to them. The guys did a good job helping to keep me out of trouble in the madness. Tomorrow we will again be climbing, so I will have to turn back into a climber. Really hoping my legs come around. We'll see!

Powder Mountain

There's not so much to really say about today's stage! It was hard from start to finish and I felt strong, but others were stronger. I'm not disappointed with my performance, but obviously I would've liked better. Besides the first 3, I am only 1:10 out from 4th place, so it definitely isn't over for me. I believe I will continue to get better throughout this race too, so I really hope that over the weekend I can jump up some places.

The team rode great today. We had Jens in the first important breakaway of the day, but Cannondale missed that, so they pulled all out to bring it back. Once it regrouped, two of our stagiaires, Alex and Ryan, did a great job to get themselves into the move. The rest of the team did a stellar job from there to protect Riccardo, Clement, and myself until the final climbs. I definitely had it much easier today with a solid team around me.

And other than racing today, I had the privilege of having some fun before the stage...

video