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CYCLOCROSS!!! Racing for Team UPB/www.ultimateprobikes.com:

I suppose today is as good a day as any to announce that I’m racing for Team UPB/www.ultimateprobikes.com this cyclocross season.  The owner of Ultimate Pro Bikes, Joe, is my road team’s (Tower Racing) bike shop affiliation and I got my 2014 Felt AR5 there.  I plan to get a power meter next spring so I didn’t have any funds for a cross bike.  I was going to race anyways, on a 26″ rigid fork MTB that we have that weighs +/- 30 lbs, but Joe heard about my predicament and is letting me borrow a bike for the season.  How awesome is that?  It’s such an honor because this is my first cyclocross season and he’s putting a lot of trust/faith in me.  Here’s a picture of the sweet Felt F65x that I’m riding, blinged out with some Clement MXP Clinchers (I’ll probably do a full photo shoot w/out the battle scars at some point, similar to my Felt AR5 shoot):

A picture of a 2014 Felt F65x

A super-solid CX rig. I’ve already pushed it through its paces through my poor riding skills (ha!) and it’s still riding awesome!

Maybe I’m sponsor-plugging, maybe I’m not, but I really like that Felt specs all their CX bikes with disc brakes.  The F65x is specced with Avid BB5s and they’re a lot better than most cantis I’ve ridden (and I’ve ridden the Shorty Ultimates on aluminum rims).  Although I haven’t raced, I’ve been following cyclocross (BTB, svenness, World Cups, etc) for over a year and it seems like disc brakes give a big advantage.  If you have the money to get into Felt’s hydraulic disc models, even better.  My dream build would be a Force CX1 w/ Hydraulic Disc Brakes on Felt’s F1x Frameset.

This year, Joe is trying to invest in juniors like other people invested in him when he was a junior.  He’s always looking for other juniors who want to compete and have fun, so contact me (comment, e-mail, etc) if you’re interested!  We have clinics/practices pretty much every week either on a Wed/Thurs morning or on Saturday, which are really helpful b/c Joe has tons of experience.  It’s a ton of fun and a great team.

At the beginning of this post, I say “as good a day as any” because today I got my first win!  The season has started in absolutely fine style: First race of the season was out in DeKalb, where I raced Category 4 and Category 4/5.  I got 5th in the 4s, and 3rd in the 4/5s.  Podium in my second (sort of, I raced the 26″ MTB at Afterglow juniors last year) CX race?  I’ll take it.  We’ll ignore an embarrassing Juniors race yesterday (Saturday, 15-18 Juniors) and skip to today, where I got 7th in the 4s after getting stuck behind another racer on the singletrack climb and 1st in the 4/5s after a 1st-row stage and an overall great race (fastest lap of all participants, fastest average, 29 second gap, etc).  Here’s the money shot:

 

 

A picture of the podium of the Men's Cat 4/5 race at Dan Ryan Woods

Team UPB takes 1st AND 3rd!

This win is AWESOME, but there’s still tons of work to do.  Gaining experience with different pressures, continually practicing corneringz, dismountz, and runningz, gaining fitness, etc, etc, etc.  Let’s not forget what happened just a few weeks ago, and get too caught up in what’s happened thusfar.  I’m going to upgrade to Category 3, but I don’t know how that will work with church.

Until next time,
Zach Wong

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Quad Cities Criterium Race Report

Category 5 Quad Cities Criterium 2014 Race Report

The old Quad Cities Criterium was a mile-long, eight-turn affair, dead flat, and almost invariably a sprint.  After crawling up the 25% grades of Snake Alley and bunny-hopping the Melon City speed-bump at 36 MPH, I was looking forward to a flat course.  Not how I said the old course was flat.  This year’s course was not.

Under the direction of a new race promoter, someone from the same company that runs ToAD and the Prairie State Cycling Series, a new course was drawn up, located in downtown East Davenport.  The course featured narrow roads, a 2-block 4% climb into a 1-block 11% climb, a screaming but straight descent into two narrow, super fast corners.  Normally, this would have been a really cool course.  After Snake Alley and Melon City, it wasn’t a race I was looking forwards too.

Luckily, my dad and I were staying overnight just outside Davenport so we headed over to the course the night before to preride and check out the climb and lines through the corners.  As soon as I saw the course, I groaned – although wide, the climb was really steep and even going up it easy was difficult.  The descent is super-fast.  I reached 38/39 mph each time down.  The best tactic, especially on junior gears, is just to tuck and fly down – spinning out your gears will only waste energy and won’t make up any ground.  The descent comes down at pretty much the same grade and spits you out of the trees onto a long straight, probably about 400m long.  Along the straight, you’ll still be going 32/33 mph so pedaling can be efficient, but still probably not worth it.  The corners are tight and over sealed brick – the kind of faux-brick pathway that turns banana-peel slippery in the rain.  If it’s a rainy day, have caution going through the corners.

After pre-riding the course and discussing with my father, I decided not to race the juniors race.  I knew it would be really fast and going down the descent and into those two corners at the end of the back straight would be dangerous and I didn’t think I would be able to be safe with such an aggressive, more advanced field.  Bike racing isn’t exactly about safety, but you have to know your limits and when you’re taking unnecessary risk.  If I had three more years of experience and Cat 2 fitness and could think clearly the entire race, I probably would have stayed in.  First year racing, it wasn’t worth it.  As it was, my first lap, I overcooked the first corner and almost locked the rear wheel up, which would have been pretty bad.  Even then, for the rest of the laps, the last corner was always super fast (b/w the two corners, it’s downhill).

Lining up for Cat 5, it was hot and muggy.  85 degrees but more humid than a dog’s breath.  I warmed up on a great bike path along the Mississippi, jersey unzipped, trying to stay cool.  Strategy going into the race was to go into the last two corners second, ideally, or first with a gap.  From the last corner to the finish was probably 350m, making it better to be second wheel, but I figured the speed coming out of the corner would be so high that any farther back and it’d be too many people to come around.  First or second into the last two corners meant some sort of attack, probably onto the climb as it was almost impossible to pass people on the descent and flat (spinning out).  I could attack into the corners, but that’s sort of a jerk move and not entirely necessary to win.

30 people lined up at the start but I sorely overestimated how competitive the field was.  After the first lap, there were only eight of us in the front group.  Huh.

Anyways, second lap, the eventual winner of the race attacked on the climb and dangled about 20 seconds off the front for 3 laps.  It turns out he had won Snake Alley and Melon City the two days before.  When he attacked, I didn’t follow because I didn’t think it would get away.  I should have known that, with a group of only seven, no one would chase him down.  After about 4 laps, the eventual second place racer got a small gap over the top of the climb inadvertently, looked back, figured it was better to be off the front than on the front and held his gap to the finish line.  By that time, there were only 4 others left and the next time up the climb, it was just me and one other racer.

I’d like to tell a story about how we went back and forth, tossing attacks at each other, each time clawing back the time advantage to the chaser.  But alas, it wasn’t to be.  I pretty much sat on his wheel while he led the remaining 5 laps.  He tried to accelerate a few times, on the 4% or the 11% grades, but he didn’t have a lot of pop and I was able to stay with him.  Also, it was hot, hard, and humid, so that probably contributed to it to.  Last lap, I tried to attack at the bottom of the climb and was giving it everything, but when I looked back, he was only a few seconds off my wheel and I knew he would catch on the descent, so I sat up.

Here’s when the race was won (for third): On the descent, he came around me.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I had conditioned him to be in front.  Regardless, I immediately got on his wheel and stayed there until about 180m to the finish.  He started the sprint and I came around him and took third by about 2/3 a bike.

I’m really happy that I finally got a good result.  Like I said on Strava, I’ve felt like I’ve had the fitness to grab a good result, but I just… haven’t.  Getting on the podium also gives me confidence for my 4 upgrade.  I’m excited to race Glencoe Cat 5s with my teammate, Tommy Will, next week and also excited to see real power numbers the week after that.

As always, thanks for reading my race report/blog.  The best way to keep up is to follow me on Strava.  Second best would be to follow this blog (in the sidebar).

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Snake Alley Criterium and Melon City Criterium Race Reports (+Extras)

This was one of two A-race weekends this year (Glencoe Grand Prix, May 31st being the other – I dropped out of Galena due to SATII Testing).  The purpose of this weekend was to get experience racing against the top juniors in the  Midwest.  As I explained, the Memorial Day Criteriums are all part of USA Cycling’s Road Development Race Series.  RDRS is meant to find talented juniors in the United States for the National Development Program.  The product of this is that juniors come from all over to race.  There were people from Kentucky (440 mi from Burlington, IA to Louisville), Ohio (440 mi to Cinci), Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, etc.  Probably the biggest news was that Hincapie Development sent four riders, David Lombardo, Richard Rainville, Simon Jones, and Gavin Haley.  I don’t know much about the others, but David Lombardo is from Crystal Lake, IL and has gone to the Junior Cyclocross World Championships.  So he’s pretty fast.  He won both days.

Snake Alley Criterium Race Report (Juniors 15-18)

Link to Strava File

The hallmark of Snake Alley is Snake Alley, a twisting street in Burlington that, according to Strava, has an average 20% grade, peaking at 26-29%.  The rest of the course is a fast, 3-corner descent, with about a half mile of flat until a short, 1-block, 10% kicker before the Snake.  Although the corners were wide and kept clean of gravel or dirt by a great team of volunteers, the corners were still super fast.  If you could corner, they were a good place to make up time or catch up to a group.  Because of the hill, I figured the race would just blow up into a brutal time trial.

That’s essentially what happened.  Racers are lined up by pre-registration order.  I was third row and came into the first corner (into the 10% kicker) in about 25th position.  I entered the Snake, first lap, in 25th as well.  The Snake, because it’s so short, ends up being just a power climb, albeit one complicated by lots of racers in a narrow road and on a steep gradient.  (Luckily, in none of the laps, I had to dismount, although it was certainly tight)  It’s sort of a climb where you just have to bear through the pain for 30 seconds and then try to recover on the descent and flat… and then do that 9 more times.

I shot up the climb and passed a few kids the first time up, exiting the alley probably in 20th.  When I got to the top, the race was already strung out, racers already descending down the backstretch.  From there, it turned into a time trial as I thought, descending, TTing on the flat, and then busting it up Snake Alley again.  One nice thing was that, because the whole thing was just a TT and the flat part was short relative to the descent and climb(s), people weren’t looking for you to take pulls.  So, if I caught up to someone, I was able to sit on their wheel on the flats and draft.

In general, each lap I would lose time on the climb and then catch up on the descent, sit on someone’s wheel trying to recover, and then repeat.  I guess I need to get better at climbing or anaerobic endurance.  It might even just be a mental thing, sticking it out when the legs are hurting a lot.  For sure in the middle of the race, I tried to take it easier, tried to limit the burn of the lactic acid accumulating in my legs.

I ended up coming in 26th out of 34 (37 starters)

Extra #1: Check your Ish before you race

I failed rollout like an idiot at Snake Alley.  I thought I was running a 44/34 in the front and a 12-25 rear cassette, making the max gear 44-12 and expected rollout of 7.67 meters (7.93 is the limit).  Ended up I was running an 11-25 in the rear and rolled out to 8.37 meters in front of everyone like an idiot and should have been DQ’d.  My fault.  Lesson: Check before the race, at home, etc.

Extra #2: Dan Hollywood Holloway is a boss

We stuck around the whole day for the pro race and got to watch Dan Holloway (Athlete Octane Cycling) break away with Alexander Ray (Hincapie Elite Development Team) and win for like the 8th time in a row.  If you don’t know, he swept Speed Week in Georgia (no one has won more than two in a row), then went to Dana Point and promptly beat UHC, SmartStop, etc.

But what’s more impressive is how good he is for his sponsors.  Every time he wins, he highlights the front of his jersey, thanks his sponsors, welcomes fans to talk to him, thanks the crowd for coming out, compliments the race organizers and volunteers, etc etc etc.

Melon City Criterium Race Report (Juniors 15-18)

Link to Strava File

Melon City was Sunday’s race, a 1-mile lap of “Weed Park” in Muscatine, Iowa.  It features a 530m climb that starts out at 8% and ends with a false flat that really sucks the legs.  The 8% part isn’t that hard because the descent goes right into the base of the climb so you can carry speed into it, despite the best efforts of the park staff: There’s the infamous speed bump at the bottom, although it’s overhyped.  It’s definitely ridable with a bit of caution, although certainly nerve-racking.  Strategy on the descent is to just tuck.  With junior gears (this time corrected by blocking out the 11t) spinning out at 33ish, it’s better to get aero to save energy.

Anyways, the pace out of the gate was really fast.  The strong teams/riders kept throwing attacks, trying to get away and, since I was at the back (what a surprise, right?  I should work on that) I was feeling the accordion a lot.  Everything got chased down by the field, although I failed to chase down the field and got dropped with 3 or 4 to go.  Sucks when the moto passes you.  Anyways, I finished strong, going all out to the finish and came in 26th again, this time out of 38 (maybe b/c there weren’t any DNFs).

Tip if you’re in contention to win: In my not-in-contention-to-win, the winning line is on the inside the entire course.  The cuts down the distance you have to pedal by at least a couple-ten meters each lap and, going into the sprint, it’s definitely the line b/c you’ll have a shorter path up the hill and you’ll come around the last corner wide and carrying speed, instead of having to break and then accelerate.  Also, you’ll have the inside of the small bend in the finish and, when sprints are won by tire widths, any advantage you can get you should take.


Overall, the results so far have been good, I think.  The competition is much higher than anything I’ve raced in and, at least according to the USAC points system (the lower number the more competitive), I’ve done the best I’ve ever done.  I’ve been beating a lot of Cat 4s and even some 3s, so that’s pretty good.  I’m certainly riding faster than last year and earlier this year and I’ll be doing power testing after Glencoe, next week.  It’s also great to be able to race in this super-competitive fields with Cat 1s and 2s.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Next is Quad Cities Criterium which, although traditionally flat, now has a 9% hill in it.  Cool, thanks race promoter.

As always, if you’ve gotten this far, thanks a lot for reading.  If you want to connect with me, hit me up on Strava (strava.com/athletes/zachryanwong) or e-mail me.  If you do happen to see me or race with me (I’m looking at you Diego Arana – I saw your dad by the Mississippi River), come say hi or something.  That’d be cool.  Learn about me at (guess where) the About Me page.

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Polar Dash Race Report

Polar Dash 2014 Race Report and Review

Strava File, Official Results

Polar Dash 2014 took place on January 11th, 2014.  It was a 14 mile out-and-back along LSD (Lake Shore Drive).  I signed up to run because I wanted to do something with all the running (cross-training) I did during the winter.  It was about 35 degrees, which was really nice because the week previous it had been ~7 degrees Fahrenheit, pretty cold.  However, it was rainy, which I’ll talk about later.  My goal for the course was an 8:00 pace, which would be a 1:45:00 half-marathon.

I don’t have much to say on the event.  It was $60, including a fleece and a knit hat.  I would have liked to have an option not to get the geat, but they made you buy it.  It was all outdoors, which was kind of a bummer, especially b/c there were winds of 20 MPH+.  No tents, even.  Sufficient number of porta-potties (which is important).  Bagels, chocolate, water, hot chocolate, and bananas after the race.  Timing wasn’t an issue for me.  Pacers at 30 second-split intervals. (i.e. 6:30 pace, 7:00 pace, 7:30 pace, etc.)

Going into the race, my strategy was to just try to stay with the 8:00 group.  I didn’t want to or think I could go faster.  I had stopped training in the weeks prior due to super-cold weather (I know, I know) and final exams.  Mostly the weather, though.  Also, mock trial.

Anyways, race started off good.  Adrenaline was going crazy.  My HRM said 198 but I was at an RPE of maybe 9 (of 20).  Looking back at the Strava file, it shows that the first mile was 9:00 pace.  We got stuck behind a lot of people who didn’t estimate their pace well at all (although shout-out to the St. Charles West girls – was fun to run with you guys!).

Anyways, pace started to settle in after we got onto LSD.  Thanks to the pacers (didn’t get their name, although they were chatting away, sigh) for helping us.  There were two other people in my group.  A cross-country runner whose coach had signed her up and who was running her 50th mile in, like, three days.  She was hardly breathing.  And another guy who was huffing and puffing even more than me.  It’s a shame I didn’t stay with them (oops, spoiler!) b/c I should have told myself that he was suffering just as much as me and if he could, I could.

I felt good for the first 5ish miles.  I was carrying just a tube of gel (2 wet tbsp honey, 1 dry tbsp maltodextrin) and ate some before every water station (which was about every two miles).  Water stations were disappointing.  There were 3 (?) total and the volunteers were not spread out at all, which meant I could grab two cups max.  I’m a heavy drinker, so that’s disappointing.

I stuck with the group until about a mile after the turnaround.  I began to fall off the pace a few minutes after we hit the turnaround due to cramps.  I stopped and gulped air and walked for a little.  The way I recover from cramps is by bending over and taking huge breaths.  I’m pretty sure I worried a few people…

Anyways, it was hard after that.  I began to run with other people who were passing me, assuming they knew how to pace if they were pretty close to my group (8:00).  I kept falling off, though, either b/c of something mental or b/c of cramps.

About mile 9/10, it got really hard b/c there wasn’t anyone near me at all and my muscles were really hurting.  At that point, it was my muscles that made running difficult.  Every step hurt a little bit.  And my feet were hurting too.  I ran through puddles and then they kind of numbed up.  Then they felt like cinder blocks.  Dunno if that was a good idea.

I’m not one to wax on the pain and glory of it all, so let’s skip ahead to about mile 11.  At that point, I was determined to finish the half marathon ASAP.  I can’t fathom why the race was a 14-miler.  Their reasoning was “You can not only set a half-marathon PR but a 14-mile PR as well!”  Anyways, it was about 1:40 and I was trying to get as close to 1:45 as possible.  I ended up running 1:52:44.  That’s fine with me.  I hadn’t trained much, if at all in the weeks prior.

Anyways, running into the finish, I tried to latch onto the 8:30 guy, who was “a little bit off, like 5 minutes, because I fell.”  Anyways, lost his wheel/foot and ended up finishing at 2:01:32.

Overall, I’m glad I ran the half marathon.  I think it’s a good experience and I always welcome new experiences.  I would have liked to hit my goals, but I realized I didn’t put in the prep necessary.  I’m probably not going to run the Chicago marathon b/c this wasn’t very ‘fun’ and I can’t imagine how hard 26.2 miles would be, but we’ll see.

Thanks for reading the report.  I’ll leave you with this picture and its caption that I tried to use for the #stravaproveit of the day.  (And if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you totally should!)

Me w/ my medal

Proving that even in the rain, snow, and wind, even through puddles, snow banks, and ice patches, even through pain, suffering, and mental I-Can’ts, at the end of the day, WE ALL CAN. #stravaproveit #polardash2014

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