Since my last blog post, over a month ago now, I have been working hard both on and off the bike in preparation for Exergy's February training camp and the start of the NRC season in late March. So other than training, which I think is an absolute waste of time to talk about (unless you are a coaching client of mine), there hasn't been much to write about. Yes I have done the occasional cyclocross race, but between various mechanicals and four weeks away from racing due to a warrantied fork, there hasn't been much to talk about. However on those long training rides and days in the gym, I've had the chance to remember where I was just a year ago and reflect on how I got to this point. Since I only starting blogging after I graduated, a few of you may be wondering where I came from. Looking back at the four years since I stopped ski racing, sometimes it just blows my mine when I think about how quickly I have improved, but on the other hand Whitman has been the perfect place to develop as a cyclist and it is no wonder that the program has produced more than few good riders despite the team's short history.
McInroe Road on an early September morning
Nothing beats gravel
Last autumn I started my final year at Whitman College. Where is Whitman you ask and why on Earth did I go there? Unknown to many, Whitman is a small private liberal arts college in eastern Washington's small town of Walla Walla. Known for its prison, great onions and booming wine industry, Walla Walla also has a three great universities and tons of roads for riding your favourite two wheeled iron horse. Since it was not a Division 1 alpine skiing school like Denver or Reno, it was originally off my 'skiing-in-college' radar. But after one of my ski coaches, a Whitman alumni of '00 and a few of my old skiing teammates tried out Whitman (graduating in '06 & '07 respectively), I decided to apply. Since I knew I was close to moving away from alpine racing completely, Whitman's division 3 status (which disallows any athletic scholarships), its provocative mix of antiquity and modernity classes (which I didn't have access to in the Canadian public system) and that fact that the admissions team liked my accent, made for an easy decision once I found out I got accepted. I also found out later that they had a sweet biking team! After balancing school and a hectic travel schedule my freshman year, I knew that at the conclusion of the collegiate skiing calendar in February I was ready to hang up the boards for good. Within two days I was riding with Whitman's 11 strongest riders on a five hour adventure touring the Kellogg Hollow road race course which featured as the opening stage of that year's Tour of Walla Walla. Good thing unbeknownst to my coach, I had been training for cycling since December!
Over the next two seasons I progressed from Category 4 to 3 (Collegiate B to A) and attended collegiate Nationals my sophmore year. Wow did I get stomped! I got dropped from the road race, was in contention for a strong feild sprint finish in the criterium before my chain looped itself with 200 metres to go and Colin, Zac and I showed up late for our team time trial start! Later that spring, I earned my Cat 2 upgrade after claiming the Washington State Omnium Championship, which included a road race with 2 laps of a 50minute, 12 mile climb! Back in Canada over the summer I trained hard despite working full-time for the Resort Municipality of Whistler as a painter (the Fire Hall still looks pretty good to me!) and got to start the Yaletown Grand Prix and the Canadian Super Week alongside the likes of Canada's best riders, including all the Symmetric riders and American superstar Chris Horner. (Led the RR for a second)
In 2009, with the help of my buddy Colin Gibson, I took over the reins of the Whitman team. We worked hard to make a lot of good changes, like a new website that could be edited by every team member, installed shelving in the team trailer which made the whole conference jealous (nice design Andy!) and successfully pushed for extra funding from the school for a coach and flight expenses for Nationals (since some riders couldn't attend in 2008 due to missed exams). With the help of Walla Walla cycling community superstars MaryAnn Duffy and Kay Barga, we also put together a series of elementary bike safety rodeos; actually they did all the work, we just showed up and got the young riders amped.
Whitman's 2nd annual Edison Elementary Bike Safety Rode in 2010 was a great success
And at the end of it all, we regained the National title! The women's team crushed the team time trial once again (have only missed out on the top spot once since 2004!) and the men's team for the first time ever, matched our historically strong women's side when we claimed the men's omnium title with strong performances in all three events. That was a great moment for all of us as the 2005 & 2006 teams were legendary and to match their achievement was very exciting.
Paying homage to the team founders - a team shot from 2005
with 2011 Exergy teammate Sam Johson'07 on the far right on the top row
Later that year and again in 2006, the team took their first
Omnium National Collegiate Road Championships
Celebratory Gravel Ride May 2009
Later that summer I continued to race in Vancouver, BC with a local Cat 2 team managed by Scott Laliberte. It was my first experience racing on a team outside collegiate and although I learned a ton, it proved exceedingly difficult to perform as I was working many hours as an excavations labourer in Whistler. An early end to the season, right at Canadian Super Week in July in fact, provided a good rest before my preparations for the 2010 season. I realized that I was usually faster in the spring since I did not have to spend energy at physically demanding day jobs, so if I wanted to pursue cycling, I would have to take full advantage of my last year at Whitman by managing the mental strain of academia even better than years past and come out of the box in the spring flying. Training hard and resting harder would take on a whole new meaning.
Ballard Criterium (Seattle '09) courtesy of WheelsinFocus.com
When I showed up for classes in September, I was pretty motivated to say the least. But after meeting all the new riders, I was ecstatic! In 2010, my buddy Colin took over the team leadership so I could focus more on rider development and what better way to start those goals of mentoring the new crop of Whitman riders than to meet a whole ton of them! The unique thing about the arrival of the 2013 class wasn't that there were a lot of them, it was very common to get 30-50 people signing up for the listserve with 10-12 showing up for a team rides, but the 15 new for 2010 riders were all non-varsity! Which meant that instead of going through the regular rigamarole crash course of "how to ride a road bike and race it too!" from late February through mid March (as that is when varsity athletes are released to participate in club sport), we could groom and fine-tune these riders throughout the entire autumn semester. This is much different than the cycling team's history, who has always had to work extremely hard over multiple couple seasons to pry runners, swimmers, skiers and anyone else foolish enough away from their varsity sport, into the student-run, sleeping bag/peanut-butter & jelly troop that is the cycling club. Fortunately after the early success of the team, which brought home 2 National Omnium Championships in its first five years (started in '02, stars & bars '05 & '06), 1-2 riders have wheeled up to Reid Campus Center each year specifically in pursuit of cycling excellence at Whitman. To name a few: Duncan McGovern'10 took 3rd at the 2007 National Collegiate Road Race in his freshman year while Kendi Thomas'10 shared podium finishes between road and track every year of her collegiate career including a tie-on-points for the individual National Road Omnium Championship in 2008. So when fifteen riders showed up in 2010, it was really a dream come true!
First Whitman Cycling Team ride of 2009-10
Even bigger turnout on the first Friday ride!
The Cycling Team Milkshakes were better than those of Greek Row during Orientation Week
By November, the new recruits started to come around!
But that is a story for Part 2