In years past, 'off season' has taken a variety of meanings. In 2015, my off-season consisted of sporadic CX racing and the occasional run. In 2016, off-season was about being a college student for 3-4 fleeting weeks. Wednesday night beer specials and college football let me reset mentally and take much needed time off the bike.
My off-season in this year has been nothing like either. Running has become my new outlet for the time being (until I get back on the bike for base training). My focus has been on preparing for an 8k running race on the 23rd this month. It's been refreshing in two ways -
1) Running is different. After a long season of pedaling day in and day out, different is good.
2) Running isn't my favorite. Of course, I like running enough to do it for a month, but by the end (right about now), I'm ready to start riding again.
The fact of the matter is that off-season can come in a lot of different shapes and forms. One year, you may feel ready to charge right from one season into the next, and another year you may feel like you need a full 2 months away from riding. While going to these extremes really isn't advisable in most circumstances, it's important to tailor your off-season to your physical and mental wellbeing.
In my case, running has struck a good balance between maintaining fitness and taking time off the bike. While I don't think I'll become a full fledged runner anytime soon, it's been satisfying to switch it up.
After MSA, the Bear Dev Squad geared up for the drive to Windham, NY. We took off early on Monday morning, and made it to our host's (Steven van der Zwan) house in the evening. Luckily for us, Steve was kind enough to host us for the entire week leading up to the race. Thanks Steve!
With the week to kill, we focused on keeping our training ticking on time for one more week; Windham was the last ProXCT of the series, and the last race of the season for many of us!
With no short track, our full focus was set on Saturday's XC. The course featured a long (roughly 10min) climb, followed by a descent that took us all the way back to the start. This style of course, with the climb punctuated only by a very short descent, is akin to older XC courses. For us, this course was a change in pace from the short, steep climbing of more modern XC courses. We enjoyed the course nonetheless!
On race day, we enjoyed much cooler temperatures from the year before. Even though temps were still in the mid 80s, it felt wonderful in comparison to last years triple digit affair. The start went well for me; a good call-up, and great legs for the first lap found me in a great position. However, as the second lap rolled around, I started losing steam. Unfortunately, I had hit a 'wall', so to speak, and that lapse cost me time and positioning. Doing what I could, my legs slowly started coming around again, and I was able to finish on a good note, and grab a top 10 finish. With a UCI ranking of HC, my 9th place finish secured me quite a few UCI points. Overall, I was happy with the way I had persisted through fatigue in the early laps, and was glad to get a few more points towards my ranking.
To that point, I'll be lucky enough to use those points at World Championships in September! With my results this year, I'm excited to say that I have made the selection for the US Team, and will be racing one more time this season. I leave on September 1st for Carins, Australia, where I'll spend the week with USAC and the rest of the team preparing for my race on the 8th. Wish me luck!
Photo: Dinner after the race, courtesy of Steven van der Zwan!
The Bear Dev. team left straight from Boston to end up in Canada on Monday evening. A bit of a haul with an 8 person group, we took a majority of the day to make the drive and were ready to hit the sack upon our evening arrival.
With only air mattresses to sleep on, it was a little tough to get quality sleep (especially since Jerry Dufour and I were on the same 'queen' air mattress). Our 3 night stay in Quebec City was punctuated with day trips over to the course at Mont-Sainte-Anne (MSA), where we sussed out the course and got a feel for the venue. Thursday evening marked the start of our housing with the USA Cycling Federation - all of us were lucky enough to receive support from USAC for the race.
With proper beds and a sweet (and tough) course, the week was going well. However, with the promise of rain on race day, we were a little apprehensive to race the already demanding track in even more difficult conditions... Sure enough, the rain started Friday evening and continued until Sunday morning, making course conditions slick. The notorious 'Le Beatrice' was a great spot for spectators to watch the worlds best slide around on greasy, rocky, switchbacks (and occasionally eat dirt).
The race on Sunday morning started with a furious pace, and I quickly made a mess of my call-up. Starting on the second row had held the promise of a good start, but my legs didn't show up for the first 5min of the race, and as such I went backwards from the gun... I found some rhythm as the race progressed, however, and made my way back up into the top 15 (apparently within spitting distance of the top 10 according to spectators) before fading slightly back into 16th on the day.
Overall, happy with the result! I managed to snag some good UCI points on the weekend, further improving my start position in later races. On top of that, we rode top notch trails all week, and even made an appearance at the infamous MSA after-party.
Next, we'll be back in the States for the Windham ProXCT (UCI HC), a great opportunity to put in a last dig and secure some more UCI points before the end of the season.
Photo Credit: Juergen Gruenwidl
After Nationals, the Bear Development U23 squad went straight up to Boston for the last round of the US Cup circuit, the Boston Rebellion. The race was ranked a UCI HC, so there were a lot of points on the line. Additionally, with both the XC and STXC events attracting talented pro fields, the racing was sure to be good!
The weekend kicked off with the XC on Saturday, however, while pre-riding on Friday, I went down and hit my head pretty hard. Of course, I was wearing a helmet, but the hit left me feeling out of it and with a headache. I cut the pre-ride short, kept a close eye out for symptoms of a concussion, and decided to make the final call on whether I'd race Saturday morning. My head felt normal the morning of the race, so I decided I'd go ahead and race.
The race was flat and twisty with plenty of exposed roots; passing was difficult for most of the lap. This meant the start was especially crucial... Ultimately, the start was chaotic as usual and I was stuck behind quite a bit of traffic in the woods. Most of the day was spent fighting back to the front, with only the last couple laps being more tactical racing. I ended up 5th on the day, snagging some good UCI points.
Short track was a lot more open, but still flat, meaning that the race was far more tactical. From my experience last year, I knew that the one separating feature was a mid-lap, flat rock garden, so I worked to stay at the front of the race to ensure I'd be clear of trouble in the rocks. This worked well, but I ended up lacking the last lap punch to make it higher than 5th on the day - where I would finish again.
Overall, it was a good weekend and served much needed redemption after last years race there. Happy to have a few more UCI points, too!
The most stressful race of the year is done... Mountain bike Nationals this year were in Snowshoe, West Virginia this year. A remote ski resort, about 6 hours away from Chapel Hill, NC, Snowshoe is also right next to an observatory. Although you can’t see the observatory from the mountain, you can feel the effects; the observatory necessitates radio silence - so there is no cell service in the area.
After driving back from Boulder in 2 days, I had 4 days in Chapel Hill, NC before heading up to Nats and the next 4 weeks of racing. Luckily, my family came up to Snowshoe with me, so leaving so quickly wasn’t as tough. My younger brother, Paul, raced his first ever National Champs race after a killer NICA season - so cool to see him out at the races!
The racing kicked off with STXC on Friday afternoon/evening. After some last minute uncertainty due to inclement weather, the race was ultimately set for Friday evening at 7pm. Dealing with the schedule changes was a little difficult, but I ended up having a decent race. While my start was lackluster, I ended up being able to claw back through the 35min race, making selections until it was Keegan Swenson and I chasing down a charging Howard Grotts. We ended up going 2 -3, with me rounding out the last step on the podium.
The next day, with the first race out of the way, quite a bit of the pre race pressure was lifted. The way the scheduling worked, anyone that raced STXC and XC had a day in between the events. Although a little different from the standard back-to-back format of racing, I enjoyed the extra day.
The final and main event (XC) followed the next day. I woke up early that morning to the sound of heavy rain and the promise of interesting course conditions, and, sure enough, the course was soaked and slick. Unfortunately I made a mess of my front row call up in an untimely tangle with eventual winner, Chris Blevins. I worked hard to regain contact with the front of the race on the first lap, but was able to settle into a rhythm riding with Chris once I had come back. We rode together and away from the field until Chris managed to ride away towards the beginning of the last lap. All in all, it was a good race and I can’t complain with the result. It’s a little bittersweet to miss the title my last year as a U23, but Chris was hard to stop!
Next stops: Mont-Sainte-Anne, QC and Windham, NY.
After a few weeks on the go, it's nice to be staying put for a couple of weeks. The trip to Canada with the Bear Development squad went well! We started out as a trio in Ontario - Jerry Dufour, Eli Kranefuss, and I set out to bring the heat in the hot and humid climate of the Northeastern summer. Getting to the race turned out to be more of a challenge than anticipated; extenuating circumstances prevented us from renting a car, so managing out logistics between the airport, our housing, and the venue proved stressful.
The race was flat, technical, and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my race day legs weren't quite up to par for the speed of the start, and I spent the majority of the race fighting to get in touch with the leaders, but fell short in 6th on the day. A tough race, but a good time on the bike!
The following week leading up into the Canada Cup in Whistler, BC went much more smoothly. With the accommodations in Whistler right next to the venue, it was easy to get around and pre ride the course. A completely different type of track, Whistler's course boasted plenty of steep climbing, and rough descents. The addition of Steffen Anderson and Xander Sugarman rounded out our squad at 5 riders - all of which raced the UCI C2 cross country event.
Race day was another warm one; but, I brought my legs this time around, and felt good on race day. However, a few errors on the second lap saw me go from 1st to 3rd and struggling to bring back contact. Then, a late race surge from Geoff Kabush pushed me into 4th, where I would remain until the finish. Happy with the race and thankful to grab another UCI podium!
Now, I'm back in Boulder, CO with Ellie. I plan to spent the next couple of weeks here before driving back to the East Coast for USAC Nationals in Snowshoe, WV.
Photos, from the top: Dropping into one of the descents at Whistler; Enjoying good company in an amazing location (From left to right: Eli, myself, Jerry)
Luke Vrouwenvelder - Head coach at lukeVcoaching and pro cyclist based in Charlottesville, VA