Monday, September 4, 2017

Part 3: Back At It Again

Hello everyone!  I know that it has been quite a while since my last post.  I was preoccupied with working, racing bikes, and have an awesome summer.  Anyways, I'm back again with the final part of my three part foray back into blogging.  The first part that I posted was all about my year racing with Hagens-Berman U23.  That post was focused on my riding and time spent immersed in cycling.  My second post was centered on my first year at the University of Minnesota and my decision to step away from cycling.  This third and final post is about the past two years of my life.  These two years have been great, and I hope y'all enjoy another trip into the "way-back-when" machine!

Where we last left off I had just started summer break after my freshmen year in college at the University of Minnesota.  It was a turbulent year to say the least.  I had just come off of failing three of my four classes.  On top of this, I made the decision to stop riding bikes altogether.  Menard's had just hired me to stock shelves from 5 to 9 in the morning on top of my job at The Bicycle Chain.

That job at Menard's was aneye opener.  For one, waking up at 4 in the morning to go to work was awful.  On top of that, the job was utterly mindless.  I would grab a cart, go fill it up with boxes of freight, find the correct isle for the freight, and stock the shelves with said freight.  Repeat those 4 steps for a few hours and you're all set.  Exciting, I know.  The one bright side to the monotony of this job is that it gave me quite a lot of time alone to just think.  Most of my mornings were spent wandering the plumbing section of this fine home improvement store, thinking about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  I thought about whether or not college was for me, what I wanted to study in college, and how after I left this job I would avoid walking into another Menard's ever again.

I did learn a few comical things about Menard's when I was working there.  I learned how irritating the "save big money" jingle is, especially when they play it on the PA system every 10 minutes.  I also learned that the go-to breakfast for my fellow employees at 5 in the morning was Mountain Dew and Doritos.  A well-balanced meal for sure!  Lastly, I found out that Menard's doesn't let their employees use a box cutter when opening freight, but we are encouraged to carry porcelain toilets up wobbly safety ladders.

My time at Menard's was not a fun one.  On the flip side, my job at The Bicycle Chain was, and still is, awesome!  I came into the job with very little experience of working on bikes.  I knew enough to get a bike in and out of travel cases, but that was about it.  During the summer of 2015 my main tasks were usually building bikes from boxes to be put on the sales floor and a few minor repairs.  The owner of the shop, David Bole, was very helpful in learning how to work on bikes.  My coworkers, Bob & Josh also helped me in figuring out the nuances of working on bicycles.

The shifts at The Bicycle Chain usually flew by because I would be having so much fun.  Although I was fed up with riding bikes at the time, it was still nice to be around them.  The only tidbit about working at the shop that I did not like was when guys that I had raced would come in.  Whomever they were they would usually ask why I wasn't racing.  Usually I wasn't sure what to tell them so I would just utter out a non-answer like "I'm just not feeling racing this year" or "I'm focusing on school".  Luckily this scenario didn't happen too often.  Besides this little inconvenience, The Bicycle Chain was a great way to spend the summer.

I spent the first few months of the summer wandering the isles of Menard's trying to figure out what to study in school.  Finally, after many mornings of thinking, I asked Jim if I could shadow him at work for a day at Medtronic.  For those of you who don't know, Jim (my dad), is an electrical engineer at Medtronic.  Naturally, Jim let me shadow him at work.  Upon seeing what an electrical engineer actually does in a normal day at work I was immediately smitten with the field.  It's a career path that I feel beyond excited to work in and since that day I shadowed Jim I have had my sights set on graduating with a degree in electrical engineering.  It felt awesome to finally find something that felt right to me, rather than something other people told me was right.

During the summer we also hosted to Australian riders for the Northstar GP, Ben Hill and Jake Magee.  It was a great time hanging out with riders again and seeing Ben get the yellow jersey on stage two keeping it for a bi. Watching the races was a good time, but there wasn't ever a moment that I wished I was racing in it.

The rest of the summer passed by without consequence as I just tried to work as much as I could.  I went the whole summer without riding a single time or ever feeling the urge to get out and ride.  After 12 summers of racing it was quite a change, but it was not one that I regret in the slightest.

Towards the end of August I moved into my new apartment in Dinky Town on campus.  I was ready to hunker down and get set on a path for academic success.  To add on some motivation, I was on academic probation after failing 3 classes, so if I had another lack luster semester I wouldn't be finding myself at the U in the spring.

The fall semester went quite well for me. I was able to get good grades again and enjoyed every minute of it.  It was especially satisfying seeing my academic advisor go from telling me that "Maybe this University isn't for you.", to "I knew you could do it", within the space of a few months.

As far as bikes were concerned, I really didn't think about them ever.  I still rode to class everyday, but I only went out for a "training ride" twice in the fall.  One of which was the Swanson's "Turkey Ride" on the River bottoms.  That ride was a blast even though it was a 4 hour ride on muddy single track with file treads.  It was one of those odd rides where you roll to the car and think about how awful it was from start to finish, but it was somehow still fun in its own way.

Anyways, spring semester started after winter break and I was once again in "school mode".  Going to class, studying, taking a test, repeat.  It started to feel very similar to my days racing bikes where I would settle into a routine and keep it up indefinitely.  The school routine worked out perfectly and I was really enjoying it.  However, one day in the spring I was just really bored and did not have any homework or studying left to do.  I had my bike with me in my apartment and I decided to go for a ride.  There wasn't really a switch inside me that flipped and said "You should go out and ride right now".  It happened more out of boredom than anything else.

I went on a quick 90 minute ride and really enjoyed it.  Yes it was early March and it was cold and windy, but there was something about it that was plain old fun.  I tried to get out for the same 50K loop a few times a week throughout the spring.  With each ride I would enjoy it a little more and start to get those same feelings on the bike that I got so many years ago when I started riding.  It wasn't a chore anymore like it had been for the past year or so, it was something I could enjoy once again.

My grades in the spring were even better than the fall and I was able to make the Dean's List.  I'm hoping there's a special club for wayward kids who went from academic probation to the Dean's List in 12 months.

The following summer I elected to take summer courses to expedite my delayed college career by a bit.  I was still riding most every day and just keeping it fun while going to school and working a few days a week at The Bicycle Chain.

Then we came into The South Side Sprints.  When I stopped riding after my freshmen year, I did so expecting that I would never pin a number on again.  When I started riding again I did not do so with the intentions of racing as I don't think racing adds to the enjoyment of cycling.  I was just riding for the sake of riding.

The week of the South Side Sprints I figured "why not".  I messaged Jim that I wanted to race and he got my trusty HED Stingers all glued up and ready to go.  I wasn't riding for a team so I was went with the blacked out "unattached" look.  I had no delusions about how I would do in the race.  All of the riding I had been doing was just for fun, no training, no intervals, just spinning around to enjoy it.  To be honest, my only goal for the race was to finish, but I wasn't even sure that I was capable of that.

Onward to race day.  Jim, Carla, Maren, and Charley (Maren's Husband) all came out to watch the race and have a great time while sipping some margaritas next to the course.  I lined up for the race not really sure what to expect, as long as I finished on lead lap I'd be happy.  The whistle goes off and Hollywood made his token move to take the hole shot.  I let him get a bit of a gap before bridging across and making a solo move.  Although it was a meaningless breakaway, coming through that finish stretch alone is still etched in my mind as one of my best memories of cycling, especially after a tough "retirement" from racing the previous year.

On a comical note, this memorable moment was followed by an incredibly dumb one.  Turn 2 on the course was a downhill left hand turn, nothing crazy.  However, I had totally lost the feel of cornering at high speed by myself.  While still of the front, I went into the corner way too hot, locked up my front wheel for a second, which caused my rear wheel to kick up, and proceeded to take the worst line possible through the turn.  Luckily, I stayed up and turned like less of a cat 5 for the rest of the race.

Eventually I was brought back from my solo move and I was pretty glad as I was starting to go a bit cross eyed from the effort.  I sat in the field for two or three more laps to recover before attacking once again.  This time, 4 others came with me and we were working quite well together.  The group was cooperating great and Jim was giving up time gaps every lap.  To my satisfaction, the gap grew and grew continuously.  We continued to rotate smoothly until the race was stopped due to a crash on the back side.  This was a bit of a problem because I wasn't confident that I would be able to hammer right away after a restart.  Luckily, the officials gave us the gap back properly and the break was able to maintain a good pace.  With about 10 laps to go, I started feeling real bonky.  Thankfully no one in the break knew that, but if the group started attacking itself, I would've been shelled without a doubt.

The attacking started just like I knew it would coming into a lap to go.  Nick Kimpton brought the move back and proceeded to lead out most of the final lap.  Coming into the last turn I took the inside line and tried to box in Chris Anderson as I knew he had the best sprint in the group.  I opened up the sprint early and Chris was able to come around me with ease.  My initial reaction to the results was more humorous than anything.  I found it funny that after more than a year off from racing I was able to hop on the bike and score second place at the state crit.  I was stoked to take second, but I was even more stoked on how much fun I had from start to finish.  Say what you will about talent, results, training, tactics, etc., but I think no amount of any of those 4 things can make bike racing fun.

My family was pretty excited with the way the racing went.  Especially since, like me, they didn't expect any sort of result.  Another thing that I found to be quite cool was the number of people that came up to say "congrats" or "Nice to see you racing again".  Yes, this happens a fair bit at any race to a lot of people, but this race stood out as there were junior parents saying it, fellow racers, officials, and so on.  It truly felt like the Minnesota cycling community was happy to see that I was pinning a number on once again.

After South Sides I raced a Tuesday night crit at the state fair and had quite a blast.  Then it was back to school for the fall.  One day when I was working at The Bicycle Chain Brandon Krawczyk came in.  He mentioned that he was going to start a new local team.  A team with modest ambitions that wasn't looking to be the next "super team", but rather a team of like minded guys that all know racing is just a hobby.  Brandon offered a spot up to me and I gladly took it.  That team became my current team, Borah Factory Racing.  I'm not going to go into detail about this season as I intend on writing a "year in review" post during Thanksgiving break that will chronicle all my riding and racing adventures that happened in 2017, so keep on the lookout for that!

I also want to take a quite a bit of text to go through and thank a few people that helped me over the past few years, both when times were good and bad.  First off, there's my Parents Jim and Carla.  They have been there every single step of the way and have never been scared to tell me when I wasn't applying myself  guide me in life.  There's also my sister Maren and her husband Charley.  Maren has been around bike racing as long as I have and Charley isn't far off.  They have been to countless races and always try to enjoy themselves. On top of that, they let me watch Packer games at their house, so there's that too!  My grandparents, Tom and Connie, much like Jim and Carla, have helped me every step of the way.  They have sponsored 2 different teams that I have been on, knowing full well that it rarely leads to any business.  Finally, to shy away from family, I've got to thank Chad Macy.  I've known Chad forever and he's one of the best guys I know.  He's always been a blast to ride with and incredibly supportive when it came to any of my endeavors in life both on and off the bike.  There are of course dozens more that I need to thank, but I can't thank every one in one post unfortunately!

Thanks to all of you for reading these 3 parts of my blog.  I hope you enjoyed it and that it gave you a bit of a glimpse into what my life has been like for the past few years.  I know my writing could use some work, but that's why I'm not an English major.  Keep on the look out for my year end wrap up in the coming months!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Summer update and the OKC Pro-Am

Hey y'all!  It's been a couple of months since my last post.  I've been meaning to finish up part 3 of my foray back into blogging but school and life happened and I haven't had a ton of spare time.  I'll try my best to get to work on it and get it our for all of you after NorthStar.

The season has been underway for a couple of months now and it couldn't be going much better!  I'm spending a majority of this season racing with Borah Factory Racing and it has been a blast!  Ripping up the Tuesday Night Worlds scene has been great fun and I couldn't ask for a better group of dudes to race with!

Spring semester wrapped up at the University of Minnesota in the beginning of May.  I also take classes during the summer so I have about 4 weeks to work, play bike racer, and chill.  The first 2 weeks of my vacation were spent just riding and racing.

Luckily I was out of school for the first Thursday Night Lights up at the track.  I had not raced up at the track since 2014 and I was eager to go out and turn left real fast.  That night at the track was an absolute blast!  There just isn't another feeling in cycling like dropping down the banking and launching an attack during a hard track race.  I'm really looking forward to racing as many track nights as I can, especially partaking in a few madisons with my teammate Brandon Krawczyk.

The week after racing up at the track Jim (my dad, yes I call my parents by their first names, but so does Bart Simpson) and I headed down to Charlotte, North Carolina for the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600.  I started watching NASCAR around this time last year and I've been hooked since!  It may be a bit on the low-brow end of the spectrum, but we all need a bit of low-brow in our lives!  While we were down there I put in few longer training rides in and a couple of high intensity workouts.  The riding there was quite scenic, my only gripe was the lack of a shoulder on many roads.

After we flew back from Charlotte I was home for two days before heading down to Austin, Texas.  During this trip I am guest riding with ELBOWZ Racing p/b Synergy.O.  I will be racing the OKC Pro-Am, Tulsa Tough, and the NorthStar GP with the team.  I'm stoked to be given this opportunity to spend a few weeks racing at a high level with the team.

The OKC Pro-Am was this past weekend.  Consisting of a twilight crit on Friday, followed by two standard crits on Saturday and Sunday.  I was a bit anxious about this weekend of racing because I had not raced a Cat 1 crit since my days with Hagens-Berman in 2014.  I went into the weekend hoping for the best and that I would be able to help out the other ELBOWZ.

We drove up on to Oklahoma City on Friday morning and dropped our stuff off at our host house before heading to the race.  Friday's course was pretty simple, four right-hand turns and a bit of elevation change.  Pretty simple right?  Well, to keep it exciting we were racing at 9 PM with minimal lighting on the course.  Stuff like that can be a bit annoying, but at the end of the day taking a step back its things like poor lighting during a night crit that contribute to the hilarity that I love about elite domestic bike racing.

The race itself was pretty fun.  I was able to cover a few moves and have a great time.  I wasn't able to contribute to a team effort as much as I'd have liked to, but baby steps are better than no steps I suppose.  One of my temporary teammates, Kevin Girkins was solo in the closing laps until half a lap to go, while another, Tony Baca was able to sprint it our for fourth.  Another ELBOWZ rider, Stefan Rothe was able to nab a prime near the end of the race.  All-in-all it was a fun night and nice great way to re-introduce myself to crit racing.

Saturday's race was a simple figure 8 course close to the previous day's race.  It would have been a fun day of racing but, as luck would have it, a torrential down pour struck the race right as we were lining up to start.  This caused me to lose my nerve quite a bit as I have never raced crits with much courage in the rain.  As it turns out, three-fourths of the field had the same feeling as a majority of us pulled out after only riding a handful of laps.  This was a bit of a bummer for me because I have always been a fan of flat, figure 8 courses.  On the bright side, getting back to the host house early allowed me to do some much needed laundry and do some reading.  It's the little things in life, right?  Tony and Kevin were able to get in the prize money with 8th and 9th place and funny enough, my former roommate from California, Eamon Lucas, won the race.

The final day was a 6 corner, L-shaped course with a couple of rises thrown in.  The race didn't go great for me unfortunately.  I felt quite flat from the gun and I just couldn't find a nice rhythm that I usually can during a crit.  I sat near the back of the field for a majority of the race until pulling myself with 6 laps to go.  This was pretty frustrating for two reasons.  First and foremost, I was bummed that I was unable to help out my teammates as much as I'd like to.  The second was that the race was never "Oh man we're really flying!" difficult, which made dropping out feel even more lame.

Luckily, I'll be spending the week in between the OKC Pro-Am and Tulsa Tough getting some nice riding done in the Austin area while I stay with another ELBOWZ rider, Justin Stanley.  Huge shout out to him for hosting me and showing me the best routes around town!

I'll be heading out to Tulsa on Friday morning and I'm hopeful that it'll be a more successful weekend of racing from a personal standpoint.  However, even if the racing doesn't go 100% perfect I'll still be stoked to have been given the opportunity to race with ELBOWZ for these past few weeks!  Look out for my next update after the NorthStar GP.  Also, if you happen to be at the races feel free to come up and chat!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Part 2: Back At It Again!

Hey everybody!  I hope y'all enjoyed my first blog back after a long time away.  I'll be restarting my blog with a three part series about the past few years of my life.  These past three years taught me more than the previous nineteen ever did.  The first part I wrote was focused on my year racing with Hagens-Berman U23.  It was an up and down year that saw me step away from the "dream" of professional racing that I had grown up chasing.

At the conclusion of the season I opted out of attempting to secure a contract for the next year and instead chose to attend the University of Minnesota and race with Donkey Label Racing in Minnesota.  As many of you may already know, 2015 saw me step away from cycling entirely and shift my focus entirely to academics.  This blog will be focused entirely on my first year in college as well as prompted my decision to step away from the sport that I had spent a majority of my life surrounded by.

Back into the time machine we go.  After leaving the season on a high note at the Cascade Classic I was slotted to move into my dorm room at the University of Minnesota.  My intended major at this time was kinesiology.  Moving in wasn't much of a hassle.  After all, I was coming from the controlled chaos that is bike racing, sleeping in a new bed was nothing new to me.  I acquainted myself with my roommate and other hall neighbors throughout the first two days of  "welcome week".  I was lucky enough to have a unique high school story of leaving a brick-and-mortar school in favor of online school to "chase the dream" of bike racing.

The first few days of welcome week went on without a hitch.  However, on the third day, after all of the afternoon festivities there wass a Golden Gopher football game that is free for all freshmen to attend.  I had linked up with a fellow freshmen who I had been friends with at Hudson High.  We went to the game and afterwards we headed back to his dorm to hangout with some other guys.

A bit of a disclaimer about this next story.  I know some of you might think that I was not into the drinking scene when I was in high school, and you'd be right.  However, just like every other kid my age, I had drank before coming to college and I went to the college full well knowing that I would probably drink in excess a few time.  I quickly learned that I could handle alcohol much like a Cat 5 can handle racing in a Pro/1 crit.  The account of my night of the Gopher game will quickly illustrate this to you.  When arrived back at the dorms, my friend's roommate informed us that he was able to get some cheap rum from a friend of his.  Us, being the mature, well-educated guys that we were starting pouring it into red solo cups and drinking it straight.

This drinking of the rum continued on for a bit longer before we decided to fill a water bottle with the rum and head out to walk around.  I have no idea why we decided to leave the dorm.  I would tell you all about our adventure across campus, but I don't even recall leaving the residence hall.  I have zero details from this point on until waking up the next morning.  Waking up the next morning is where this story turns from run-of-the-mill night out, into something more.

Fast-forward to 4am the following morning.  I wake up in the hospital in nothing but a hospital gown, still plastered.  I glance at my hands and notice that they're covered in blood.  I touch my face and feel an odd texture right over my eye brow.  A nurse walked by and I slurred out "Where am I??" in her general dirction.  She informed me that I was at HCMC, a hospital a few miles from campus.  She chuckled and said "Honey, you really can't handle your alcohol".  Apparently, on my adventure on campus, I had fallen and cut my face.  We then headed back into the dorms where I proceeded to throw-up oodles before the community assistants called 911 and I was ushered to HCMC in an ambulance.  At the hospital they hooked me up to an IV and stitched up my brow.  Let me tell you, if you want to have an extravagant bill after a night out, this is not the way to do it.

I left the hospital a few minutes later and contemplated what to do next.  First, I texted my sister that I had messed up.  Why I contacted her first I will never know.  Next I called Jim.  Let's just say that was not a fun call.  He told me to get in a cab and head back to my dorm.  I of course decided to walk home instead, in the wrong direction at first, as my own "walk of shame".  My clothes and face were still covered in blood, so I'm sure I looked a sight.

Upon arriving at my dorm I washed up and told my roommate about the story of my night.  I felt awful about what had gone on the night before.  I had been incredibly immature and reckless and it was just and awful feeling to have.  I talked to Jim and Carla about what had went on and they were not stoked, and rightfully so.  My night out was not without consequences from the school either.  I was put on probation in the dorms, had to attend a session with a doctor regarding my drinking, write a short paper about what I had learned and how to prevent something similar from happening again, and finally I had to meet with a provost.  Keep in mind this all happened before the semester even started!

The next week, classes started.  It took me around two minutes to figure out that I was not prepared for college.  Never, in all of my time in high school had I studied.  I had never learned to study when I was in high school.  Online high school was so easy that I was able to graduate third in the class without ever reviewing the material.  While I was out "chasing the dream" for the past two years, fellow classmates were spending time hitting the books, taking AP courses, and preparing for college. That being said, given a second chance, would I have stayed in a traditional high school and forgo the two years that I spent roaming about the country?  Absolutely.  There is not a doubt in my mind that I would have been able to race at a high level without ever leaving Hudson High.  Were there benefits to the non-traditional high school life?  Of course, and I loved it, but I paid dearly for it during my first few semesters of college.

The first two weeks of school were absolute torture.  I had no idea what was going on in any of my classes, and on top of that I just didn't know what I wanted to do for a living.  I know the second point is a common trend among freshmen in college.  The biggest difference for me was the past ten plus years had been spent with the intent of becoming of professional bike racer.  Once my dream had fallen through I had no idea what I wanted to do.  I intended on majoring in kinesiology because I had heard many fellow ridersdo the same, not because I wanted to.  This feeling of being lost in terms of my future, my feeling of being overwhelmed in college, and the realization that I was never going to be achieve my goal of becoming a world-tour rider sent me into a very deep depression.  There was also a lot of guilt about my night out drinking, but I don't think that factored in as much.  During the first few weeks of school I lost a lot of weight, never slept, felt miserable, and I had never been less happy.  It finally reached a point in mid-September that I went to go see professionals about my struggles.

After reaching out for help things started looking up.  I was riding again, with the intent of racing for Donkey Label, I had a new girlfriend, and classes were going better.  The rest of my first semester went on without consequence and I was able to achieve high grades in all of my classes.  The next semester was an entirely different ball game.  After winter break I headed back to the dorms with my head held high and ready to tackle any challenge thrown at me.  That lasted for a handful of weeks.  Eventually, I started staying up late and skipping class in favor of sleeping in.  I stopped riding, I stopped studying, I stopped doing anything that was mildly difficult.  From late February until the end of the semester my day usually consisted of waking up around 3pm, laying there dreading thinking of how I would waste the day, doing nothing until midnight, and watching movies on my phone until 3 or 4 in the morning.  Basically, I would wake up every day wishing that I was asleep again.

I never told Jim, Carla, my girlfriend, not a soul.  Other than my roommate, not a single person knew that I had stopped riding my bike, stopped going to class, stopped doing everything except eating and sleeping.  Eventually the semester ended and I went back to Hudson.  The week between coming home and final grades being posts was by far the worst week of my life.  That week felt like the final week of a death row inmate, knowing that something bad was going to happen, but not knowing what it would be like.  Finally, grades were posted and I had to confess to my family that I had spent the past few month lying to all of them.  The solution I put forward was to step away from the bike, both racing and riding, for the foreseeable future.

During this second semester I grew to despise cycling and everything that went along with it.  I saw it as the reason that I came into college so far behind and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life.  Every single time I rode that spring it felt like cycling was a chore.  It reached a point where even the idea of going out for a ride would put me in an awful mood.  I raced a few times that spring and that did nothing but emphasize how much I had grown to hate the sport.  Did the decision of stepping away from the sport help ease a lot of the depression that I had been feeling?  Surprisingly it did.  I felt that a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and I could just relax and "find myself".

The meeting with my parents concluded with not only the decision to step away from the bike, but a few consequences as well.  One of these consequences was getting a second job.  I already had a job at The Bicycle Chain, a wonderful shop in Roseville.  After a bit of searching I found a job at the Hudson Menard's working from 5-9am stocking shelves.  Most of my summer was spent waking up at 4am, working at Menard's until 9am, driving to the Bicycle Chain to work 10-4pm, and then driving home before heading to bed to start all over again the next morning.

Reflecting back on my second semester, there was no defining moment where I can say "That was when I decided to quit riding", or "That's why I stopped going to class".  This was a very strange time for me.  A time that taught me a lot about myself and showed me that it's never a good idea to keep secrets from loved ones, among other things.  I need to give a big thanks to Jim, Carla, Maren, and the countless members of the local cycling community that supported me in my decision to step away from cycling.

That's all for part 2.  I know this story was a bit of a downer, but this part of my story is one that very few know about.  A story that needed to be told.  If you ever run into me at a race, on the trail, or anywhere, feel free to ask me any questions you have either about this time of my life, or any other!  Until next time!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Part 1: Back at it again!

Well, after my long absence from this blog I decided to update y'all on the happenings and some of my plans for the coming year.  The last post I wrote was way back in 2013 after coming back from getting my teeth kicked in at junior track worlds.  Since then quite a lot has changed.  I'm going to separate this story into 3 parts. This first entry is all about my year of "living the dream" with Hagens-Bermans U23.  The next segment will be about my first two years at the University of Minnesota and my decision to stop racing/riding all-together.  The final part will be about the past ~18 months that have seen me go from despising the sport that I grew up with, to falling back in love with it, as well as my plans for the 2017 season.

So, into the time machine we go.  After my last year with Slipstream-Craddock I picked up a contract with Hagens-Berman U23.  I spent the winter/spring of 2014 living in Pacific Grove, California with a teammate of mine on HB-U23, Eamon Lucas.  It was a wonderful 4 month period.  I had graduated from online high school in January (more on that in part 2).  This allowed me to spend almost all of my time training and getting ready for the season.  I was able to get quite fit and I was stoked for the season to begin.  Flash forward to late March 2014 and HB-U23 had our second team camp.  The plan was to spend a week training with the team in Oxnard, California before heading to the Redlands Bicycle Classic the following week.  Unfortunately I caught a wicked stomach bug while at the team camp.  This knocked me out for the first few days of training camp and I was not able to get healthy again during the team camp.  However, I still made the team for Redlands.

Coming into the race I expected it to be no harder than any of the junior races that I had participated in while in Europe.  I could not have been more wrong.  There were a couple of factors working against us from the gun.  First, we had a very young team, with 2 juniors, 2 second year U23's, and the rest being first year U23's like myself.  Also, many of us had picked up the same stomach bug during the camp, leaving us a tad weaker than we'd prefer.  I'm going to avoid going into detail about each stage so I'll just give you a little tidbit about each.

Stage 1:  100K Highland Circuit Race, dropped 20K in, made time cut (barely)!
Stage 2:  12.6K Big Bear TT, made time cut (there's a trend here)! 
Stage 3:  200K Beaumont Road Race, spent a lot of time going back for water/food, dropped with 50K to go, still made time cut!
Stage 4:  60K Crit, First NRC crit, basically 'Days of Thunder' for 60K, pulled after half way.
Stage5:  160K Sunset Loop Circuit Race, dropped on the way to the loop, still made time cut!

So that was my introduction to NRC racing.  Basically, it made the devastating experience of getting 26th in the Individual Pursuit at junior track worlds seem like a gift compared to the results I had at Redlands.  One of the few fond memories I have of Redlands is going back to get bottles for my teammates.  It was awesome to see that even though I was having a garbage week on the bike, I was still able to contribute somewhat to the efforts of the team.

After Redlands I drove up to Seattle in the HB-U23 team van with our mechanic, Tre, and three other teammates.  The drive was your standard 20+ hour jaunt up the west coast.  Typically spent on your phone or staring blankly off into the horizon.  I was really looking forward to getting back into the groove of things in Seattle and getting some training in before doing some local races in the Sea-Tac area.

Once we arrived in Seattle I got all settled into my host house and set about training.  This year with HB-U23 was my first experience with true "host housing".  Basically, to save money, domestic teams like HB-U23 will stay with families that offer their houses for us to stay.  Don't get me wrong, this is an incredibly generous gesture by these families to open their house to us, but it still feels weird staying with strangers.  It's was fairly hard for me to get comfortable at a host-house as I always felt that I was intruding in one way or another.  For instance, the day we arrived it was around dinner time when I rolled in.  My host family was already sitting down for dinner and my arrival interrupted dinner.  In reality, this is only a minor convenience, but it still felt a bit off-putting to me personally that I had to interrupt a family that was opening their door to a 19 year old stranger.

I was able to get three or four solid days of riding in while in Seattle before, sure enough, I got sick again.  This time it was just a cold, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.  I was slotted to do Joe Martin and Gila in the coming weeks but I sat down with my director and told him there was no way I would be in good enough form, mentally or physically, to race.  Without going into details, my director was not at all pleased with my decision.  Luckily I didn't really care if my director wasn't pleased at this point, so I flew home.

It's worth mentioning that my experience at team camp, Redlands, and Seattle led to my decision to stop "chasing the dream" of riding with a top tier team.  The amount of sacrifice required versus what I thought I could get out of the sport just wasn't worth it.  I decided that after my year with HB-U23 I would go to college and race locally only.

Just to pull the curtain back on what it took to be a mediocre cat 1 and race the NRC.  During my time in Pacific Grove, California my coach at the time was $400 per month, rent was $600 per month (I know that is incredibly low for Pacific Grove).  Right there we have a thousand dollars gone per month, but that's not counting the sacrifice of moving away for 4+ months.  I missed a lot at home when I was gone, the biggest part being the death of the dog I had grown up with, Gulliver.  Some of you may shake your heads at that, but he was a huge part of our family from 2002-2014.  So that is the cost of those 4 months spent in California.  On the bright side, I was getting paid by Hagens-Berman at the time, but it was only $250 per month.  That is almost nothing, especially when you think about how much time was spent on the bike, but I was getting paid to ride my bike, so it was fine by me.  Also, it should be notedthat my whole experience with bike racing, travelling, and racing in far off locations wouldn't have been possible without the unwavering support that came from my family.  Jim, Carla, & Maren never stopped supporting my cycling from the day I started until the day I stopped, and I can't say thanks enough for that.

The next few months went by in a flash.  I raced locally mostly, with my only result of merit being winning the LaCrosse TT up Grandad's Bluff.  I spent most of my time just training in an effort to salvage the last half of my season.  Another highlight of this time was welcoming a new dog into our family, Theodore.  He's a great dog and getting him really livened up things in the Cullen household (even though Carla can't stand him).

Flash-forward to June and the NorthStar Gran Prix is coming up.  I guest rode for Twin-Six along with some other local riders.  I had a very good time trial and ended up 22nd after stage one, and second in the white jersey.  Later that night we had the St. Paul crit.  Upon signing in to the race I noticed an asterisk next to my name, indicating that I had a call-up.  I had no idea why but I gladly took it.  I was the last called up to the front two rows at the start.  Without a doubt I would say riding to the start in front of a home crowd at a race that I had grown up watching is still one of the highlight of my cycling career.  The crit itself went well, finishing in the lead group.  The next day at the Cannon Falls road race the field exploded in the cross-winds.  I was able to make it into the front echelon internally, but after I while I blew up and ended up in the groupetto with a majority of the race.  At the uptown crit I was caught behind a crash, and rather than just take a free lap and I should have, I kept riding in an attempt to chase the field down.  I did not make it back but I was still able to start the Menominee stage the following day.  Menominee was a bad day for me.  I wasn't super fresh and it was raining as well, two factors that set the day off on the wrong foot.  I spent a little over half the stage in the caravan just trying not to get dropped.  However, after a while the elastic snapped and I pulled out of the race in the feed zone.  I still had a great time at NorthStar and I can't wait to race it again.

Next up for me was the Tour of Americas Dairyland.  We were running a light squad for this trip, with just the mechanic, myself, three other riders, and good ol' JimmerC.  I raced 8 days in a row of what my team and I affectionately called "Tour de Crit".  The four of us really meshed together well and we were able to pull of results almost every day.  Personally, I had a really good day at Schlitz Park, finishing second in a 5 man break.  Because we had a string of good results I was able to leave the "Tour de Crit" on a high note and a bit of extra prize money as well.

Nationals in Madison was next.  The road race and TT were nothing to write home about, a non-result in both races.  However, the crit was something special.  We had a very good sprinter on our team in my roommate from California, Eamon Lucas.  The plan was to watch for the break to go, keep it in check, and then mass on the front with 3-5 laps to go.  Eamon and I really knew how to read eachother on the bike so I was tasked with taking him from the bell into 100 meters before the final corner.  Right away on lap 1 crashed with a bunch of guys, went over the bars, and jacked my hand up pretty good.  I ignored my hand and took my free-lap.  A few laps later I was able to get into "the move" with a handful of other riders.  I took my light turns in the break and just tried to keep things moving, knowing that if it comes back together, we have Eamon for the sprint.  Eventually it came back together with about  20 laps left.  At his point we (HB-U23) all try to find one another and find our way to the front.  We were line ourselves out on the front with 3 laps to go just as planned.  The next three laps were like amazing.  We were all riding perfectly and keeping the swarming field at bay.  Coming into 1 to go it was my turn to give it up for Eamon.  I took one last, hard pull for 3/4 of a lap before the sprint started.  Eamon had to start his sprint a bit early but was still able to nab third place.  It was a great day and the perfect way to end road nationals that year.

After nationals I convinced my director to put my on the team for the Cascade Classic in Bend, Oregon.  Cascade was one of the most scenic races I have ever done, with gorgeous views of the Cascade mountains and great racing on top of it.  My results at Cascade were fairly lackluster.  I was able to stay with the peloton for much longer than I was at Redlands or NorthStar, but when the going really got tough, I was unable to stay with the lead group.  I made time cut every day here before abandoning on the final stage.  At the time, I thought this would be the last NRC stage race I would ever do.  On top of that, Bend was the first place where I had a big result, finishing second in the Time Trial and Road Race at junior nationals in 2009.  It was interesting to think that Bend was the place where my "real" racing career had started and where it would end as well.  All-in-all, leaving Bend was bittersweet to say the least.  Once I was home from Cascade I spent the rest of my summer just riding for fun, racing at the track in Blaine, and getting prepared for my first semester of college at the University of Minnesota.

That's it Part 1. I hope the handful of you who read this enjoyed it!  The next part that I'll post some time in the coming weeks will be focused primarily on my first two years of college and the decision to quit racing.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Life in Cali

HBU23 Teammates (L-R): Jordan, Adrian, Zeke, Eamon, and Owen.
Just after Christmas, Jordan moved to Pacific Grove, California, to live with Hagens Berman U23 teammate, Eamon Lucas. He is just a short drive from 3 more teammates in Northern California. He attended the first HBU23 team camp in Seattle in early January, which was a great success.

Jordan is now coached by Colby Pearce, and has stepped up his training program, with a weight program, and additional core specific workouts.

He finished up High School a couple weeks ago, and will graduate near the top of his class. Congrats to Jordan! As previously announced, he will attend the University of Minnesota, starting this fall.

The Cherry Pie Criterium, in Napa, CA, was his first race of the 2014 season. HBU23 lined up 5 strong with Eamon Lucas, Owen Gillott, Adrien Costa, Zeke Mostov, and Jordan. The team rode aggressively, and finished 2nd and 3rd with Costa and Lucas, respectively.  Race Report by Owen Gillott. Picture below is complements of Christine Costa.

Jordan driving on the front at Cherry Pie
The HBU23 Spring Training Camp is planned in Oxnard, CA, March 25-April 1. Immediately following the camp, is the first NRC race for the team, the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

Monday, November 4, 2013

New Team for 2014 - Hagens Berman U-23

We are proud to announce Jordan Cullen will be racing for Hagens Berman U-23 Development Team in 2014. The team is new this year, and based out of Seattle, Washington. It is run by Todd Herriott and David Richter, co-owners of Herriott Sports Performance.

After 9 years of racing as a Junior, Jordan has finally graduated to the U23 ranks, and Hagens Berman U-23 is the perfect team for Jordan. The team provides a much needed bridge between the elite and pro ranks for young riders. The roster of 11 riders includes 9 U-23's (ages 19-22), and 2 Juniors (ages 17-18). On top of having a rock star roster, Jordan re-unites with former Slipstream Craddock teammates (and fellow Junior National Champions): 1st year U-23 rider Michael Dessau, and juniors Zeke Mostov, and Adrian Costa. The other riders include 1st year U-23 riders Stephen Bassett (formerly Texas Roadhouse), Daniel Gay (formerly Get Crackin), Owen Gillot (formerly Specialized Juniors), and Veteran U-23 riders Jeff Perrin and Eamon Lucas (both formerly Cal-Giant), Colby Waite-Molyneux (formerly Hagens Berman Elite), and Argentinian Sebastian Trillini.

The team will be racing many of the top USA National Calender events, as well as working in conjunction with the USA National Team, to provide riders with the opportunity to compete in Europe.

Jordan plans to graduate from High School this December, then move to the west cost to train full time. Next fall, he will be attending the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, majoring in Kinesiology, through the College of Education and Human Development. He plans on taking a full load of classes in the fall, and then attend classes on-line in the spring, allowing him to travel for bike racing.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My 2013 Junior Track Worlds Experience

I flew over to Glasgow this past week for the 2013 UCI junior track world championships.  I went into this trip just looking forward to riding an indoor track, as well as racing in my first world championship.

After settling in at the hotel the whole US squad headed over to the track.  Simply walking into the cabins where all bikes are stored was a bit of a shock.  Each country is given their own cabin to store bikes and supplies.  Many countries who are prepping to ride the track have their bikes prepared outside of the cabins, a dozen bikes, all identical to one another, all worth in excess of $10,000 each.  Having raced for many years, there's the obvious "the bike doesn't win the race" that you tell yourself.  Even with that, there's still the sense of awe when you see twelve BT track bikes painted in Aussie colors, for a group of juniors.

The two days before the team pursuit go well.  We get some team pursuit practice in, as well as become familiar with the track.  We wake up the day of the team pursuit and everything's good.  All of our warmups go well, we go up to the start area and ready for the race.  The first 3,000 meters of the race go well, never far off schedule.  Then with 1 kilometer to go we lose a rider, and only I see it.  The next man takes his exchange believing their to be 4 riders, not 3.  This causes him to fall off the back a bit and by then it was too late to recover so we finish in 4:27, 18th place.

During my cool down I watch the Great British, Russian, Kiwi, and Aussie teams ride.  Their rides are executed with such precision that it seems like a video game.  Leaving a space no wider than the width of a deck of cards between one another, all while riding at 35 miles per hour.  These 4 teams were so smooth that they made it look not like a race, but a dance of sorts.  In the gold medal round the Aussies ride a 4:02 to win, a breathtakingly quick time.  Watching these teams ride is one of the highlights of my worlds experience, and something I will remember forever.

The next day is the individual pursuit.  I feel good in my warm up and I am excited to race my last 3K ever.  In the ready area before my race I just think about the splits I am about to run.  Having trained at a pace well above what I was shooting for here I was not too concerned about being able to do it.  Then in the race I am not able to come even close to my splits.  Eventually I am struggling to hit splits more than a second slower than what I am used to.  I roll across the line at a 3:31 for 26th place.  A rush of disappointment floods into me, leaving me almost speechless.  I am not sad or upset with my ride at all. Just disappointed.  I still can not think of any reason that I rode so far off the pace I have been hitting for over a month.  All I can come up with is I had a bad day on the bike.

Aussies qualify 1st and 2nd with a 3:20 taking the top seed.  Watching these two guys ride was interesting as well.  I am used to trying to hold constant splits the entire race.  As anyone who has done a pursuit knows, attempting to ride a constant pace the entire race becomes near impossible in the last kilometer.  The Aussies approach this dilemma in a way that I never even thought of.  Simply ride the first half of the race extremely conservative.  And by conservative I mean outside of the top twenty.  Then in the last 1500 meters they accelerate, well above the pace they have been riding for the previous 6 laps.  And by the end they have made up all the time lost, and then some.

Coming home from this trip I reflected on the trip a bit.  I am not super satisfied with my results, but you can't always ride as fast as you want, so I'll live.  I also take away exactly the experience that I could only gain from coming to Glasgow.  How would I know about this different way to pace pursuits if I had stayed at home instead, I wouldn't have.  In no way do I consider this trip as a whole to be disappointing.  I actually find it extremely motivating, but I've always been someone who is motivated more by failure than success.

I can't express how grateful I am for everyone who helped me experience the 2013 UCI junior track world championships.  Without you guys supporting me I never would have had such an amazing experience as this was!  Thank you so much!