Race Reports

Don't Call it a Comeback...

SK Coaching athlete Vanessa Buccella is a wonder woman extraordinaire who manages to fit more into a day than most people fit into a week. Between owning Chicago's first women's-focused bike shop (BFF Bikes) and taking care of her newly arrived (and adorable) tiny human, she also (among many other things) runs the BFF racing team, is active in the Chicago race planning and cycling development scene, and is just an overall awesome person. We're excited to be working with her and stoked to see her back racing!

Awaiting a tiny human!

Awaiting a tiny human!

Actually, yes, a “comeback” is exactly what you would call it. July 26, 2014 was the last (real) criterium I raced before this past Saturday. That’s 631 days, or 1 year, 8 month and 22 days. However you count it, it’s been awhile. In 2014 I started a business and in 2015 i started a human life, both of which take time out of one’s schedule for racing and training.  However, I REALLY wanted to start racing again.  As soon as I could after having a C-section, I got back on the bike with a training plan in place from Sprintin’ Kitten.

My first time out to a start line was March 13 for a practice race in Kenosha, WI. That race was wet and rainy and cold. I was also basically racing with a group of masters men. The only other woman in my race was a 16 year old girl.  At the start line i thought “please let me beat the 16 year old”.  I did. There were other races starting at the same time, and I settled in with a group of 55+ masters men. I felt surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because I am pretty bad about underestimating myself in race situations.

After getting that first “race” out of the way,  I went to Menomenee Park in Menomenee Falls, WI this past weekend for my first real USAC sanctioned, women open category race in 631 days.The weather could not have been better either! It was so far the MOST beautiful day of 2016. I mean, it was #flawless. The course was in a large park which was also beautiful.

As always, I was LATE, despite having my bag packed and my bike in the car the night before. I had a bunch of little things to do before leaving the baby with his grandma. I also underestimated the drive (and because it was in Wisconsin, OF COURSE I got stuck behind a farm machine I couldn’t pass). (Note to self - add at least 5 minutes to get to races in Wisconsin because of Farm Machines).  My warm up was running to registration while updating my USAC license and being nervous. Good thing my race was 50 minutes!

I barely had enough time to pin my number on and put air in my tires before going to the start line where there were 16 other women lined up. This was good, as only 2 had pre-registered. Most of the field was ISCorp p/b Smart Choice MRI. It was nice to see familiar faces Michelle Moore and Kelly Clarke there, too. While waiting for the whistle, I switched from the small to the big ring. When it blew, I realized OOPS I was also in one of the smallest cogs, which meant I did not jump of the start line so much as almost fall over. While i was floundering, the race was starting. Thankfully my Liv Avail let me shift into an easier gear without complaint! (Di2 to the rescue).

At first I was thinking about my lack of a warm up and hoping I didn’t blow up. However, the first laps weren’t horrible and I kept thinking “I’m doing it, I’m doing it!” My last races in 2014 were bad, like off the pack after 2 laps bad, and those were 3/4s races. This was a smaller field, but an open race, so I was excited to be even hanging on. The course was beautiful through a park around a small lake.  Most of the turns were soft curves and there were some very slight elevation changes. I thought to myself, you can’t really call them hills. How about land bubbles?  

After getting over the fact that I was indeed racing, and able to hang on, I decided to try some skill building. I moved to the front for awhile, about 6th wheel or so. When I found myself further back again, I started to move up through the middle of the pack, a skill I haven’t exactly mastered. I also practiced ever so slightly laying claim to a wheel by ever so slightly edging someone from it.

The first half, the race was fast, but pretty bland. There were a few attacks, which I didn’t follow because I didn’t expect much from myself this first time out, I was happy just racing. Also I was pretty sure they wouldn’t get away.  

After the midpoint of the race, a small group did get away and get a little gap. I believe it was after a prime. Anyway, I started to get dropped. This is where the “bad talk” in my head started. I do this during races where I tell myself  things like “I’ve done well enough, I can ease off now” and “I’m not that fast, I’m not going to be able to hold it”. So as they were pulling away, and I was getting into the pain zone, I was telling myself it was OK to get dropped, I had done well enough. I was thinking well, this is where i get dropped, as if it were a fate I couldn't escape!  Fate, however, actually had other things in mind and everyone seemed to be slowing up a bit.

I decided to push that stupid talk out of my head and get back on. As I was drawing really close, the pack started to pick up speed again. Shit! But instead of relegating myself to being dropped, I pushed a little harder and caught back on.

I then thought to myself, I need a goal! If I don’t have a set goal in  mind, I am not going to make it the rest of this race with the pack. So I said OK for this race, my goal is to be with the pack the whole time. It really helped. I don’t know why I have to tell myself to stay with the pack. I think it’s because I don’t think I belong there. That I am doing well just hanging on for as long as I can.

After getting dropped, and catching back on, and finding my goal, I decided, NOPE I am NOT getting dropped again. When I saw a woman who seemed pretty strong gunning in next to me to get up to the front, I got on her wheel and hitched a ride.

At two laps to go I thought “I got this, I am going to accomplish my goal!” I SHOULD have set another goal, to really get up into the mix, but I didn’t. Instead, I was choking back bile and feeling nauseous. That’s always where I feel pain the most. Not my legs, not my heart and lungs, but my GI tract. It’s awesome. Not really. I felt bile and my breakfast making it’s own comeback up my esophagus. When that starts to happen, I really want to call it quits. Instead, I hung on for most of the last lap until the sprint started in earnest. As I was pushing toward the finish line, there was one Chicago racer right ahead of me (who’d gotten 2nd in the earlier women’s 4 race) that I coulda/shoulda been closer to. But what was going on in my head the last lap was a microcosm of what had been going on the whole race: I’ve done well enough, I can rest now. As I was approaching the finish, I felt like I had more to give and could have reached her, but the finish line was too close.

However, despite the bad decision making and the stomach issues, I felt the race was totally a success. It was my first real race back after a long hiatus and having a freaking kid. It was also my first time hanging on for a full women’s open race. I ended up 11th out of 17 and felt like I had more to give.

I learned a lot. Like “set goals before the race” and “set really lofty goals” and “maybe put ginger ale in my water bottle”.  

It’s going to be really hard to take time out of running the bike shop, and being a mom to race, so the next time out, I am going to have faith that I can do a lot more.

// Vanessa Buccella

Soaking up some desert sunshine and repping Liv bikes!

Soaking up some desert sunshine and repping Liv bikes!

Ghost Town Omnium - Back in the Racing Game

Max kicked off his road season with some epic, windy miles in and around Tooele, UT this past weekend. He won't say it, but he also won the award for most time spent at the front of the pack burning off burrito calories on day one.

Game face: on.

Talk on the block has been that Utah is trying to infuse new life into the road racing scene. And Jared Eborn is one leading the way with the Ghost Town Omnium in Tooele, UT – a 3-day, 4-race event (with Sunday thrown in for the extra-thankful cyclist).  

I, along with Lindsay, have adopted a bit of new life for racing and holding onto the ability to still braaaaap with the elites while I still can. The Ghost Town Omnium felt like a good fit for variety of terrain and training timelines.  

After being an asshole on Strava for a few weeks, I felt ready for this weekend. Day 1 was on a motorpark raceway, with just some gradual elevation changes and easy swoops. The race lined up facing gorgeous snow capped peaks with dramatic setting sun-rays. I would have been happy to just sit there and #sunset, but I had the entire fleet of Canyon Shimano to race (not literally, but it sucked and was a bit ridiculous). AJ-cutiepie Turner was my wingman. I can’t remember what happened initially, but with some trades, pulls, attacks, and missed chances, 4 dudes got up the road, and we weren’t in it. Canyon and Full-time 360 Endurance Magnum had representation, a gap, and were gone. Wanting to exercise so I could eat a burrito, I got on the front and set tempo for most of the race. I tried a short-lived bridge but cramped immediately in the calf, and just continued with tempo. Didn’t contest the sprint since I knew I would cramp. I finished feeling successful and not disappointed. This was just to get the rust off, my inevitable first race cramp out of the way, and set up the sprint for burritos.  


Day 2 was a 68 mile death march. The mountains here in Utah are very far apart and form many bowls between their ranges, pock-marked with wind-blocking sagebrush (sarcasm). We started on the edge of one bowl and suffered to the other edge before actually climbing in the pretty-pretty. The wind was OK, but not comfortable. 4 racer break went from the gun. This was not something I worried about because looking at the course map, profile, and wind, I knew there would be some EPIC bullshit to deal with between the 60 and 150 minute mark that would squish rider’s motivations. We caught the break before long, crested the top of the first climb, and descended into the bullshit zone. Canyon made the right turn after the descent, taking wind from the left, and decided that they were Quick-Step and that it would be fun to gutter the pack and run us over potholes. I flatted, 3 other guys flatted, CutiePie flatted, and we spent the next hour waiting in the cold wind for a ride back to the start to contemplate what the desire is to be a recreational elite cyclist. 

Ready for 68 miles of fun.

Day 3 was a return to the race-way but in opposite direction. The wind was a good 20 mph consistently and reminded me of back home on the Sac-town levee. Breathe it in and embrace it. AJ missed the start time, so it was me against every damned racer that decided to skip church on Sunday. Looks like it was 11 racers or so. Canyon was down to just my bud Trevor and climbing talent Mitchell. Got the green light, everyone drifted left, so I gunned it to the right to get the whole hole-shot. Kyle from Plan7 (equally lamenting the previous crit) went with me and we stayed for a lap or so. Once the regroup happened, I was in full agro-mode and did two more attacks without effect. A sneaky move from the back saw 2 riders clear, then me and 2 others join. We had representation and rolled it, taking seconds per lap, working well in the wind changes, and letting fatigued racers take needed breaks from pulling. I like groups like that. What’s effective shouldn’t be undone just because someone gets tired and needs to sit out a pull. One thing I learned on the levee was that I don’t offer draft (even if I try).

The start finish came to be a bit of a drag into a cross-head wind, but it was after a 200m small descent tail wind. Could I win in a sprint? Maybe since I don’t offer draft. Could I surprise them on a small bump into a head wind and sail home? Maybe, but that would be taking a bigger chance and have slower speeds and half a lap to go. I knew we would cat and mouse the back straight, which would mean slow speeds, but a helpful tail wind. Bingo. We were going 25mph, for some reason they gave me a few feet of day light…#wattagebazooka time. “Do it.” Up to 130+rpm, 41 mph with the tail wind, get half way down the finish straight and chill.  Felt really good to get the win, but more enjoyable to ride wind with a dedicated group like that and use tactics more than anything else. Thanks to all the dudes in the break and to Jared for taking on some race organizing visions. Happy sailing, fellow kittens…

//Max Polin


2016 Fat Bike National Championships - Single Speed in the Snow

AJ Turner threw down in the single-speed category at this year's Fat Bike National Championships and earned himself some stars and stripes. #championkitten

With a mid-west upbringing, and some prior Fat-Bike racing results - I had somewhat of a pressure/pedigree to uphold for my fellow Iowans at Fat Bike National Championships. After a 3rd place finish at the Single Speed race the prior year (2015) - A similar placing, if not better, had to happen. Also - loads of fun were to be had, as this is fat-biking, after all. Smile machines, I call them. 

A good friend lent me a bike on the Monday prior to the race. That night, it was built, ENVE-ed out, washed, waxed, and dialed. The Midwest-Thunder-American-Muscle-Thigh man in me said, “Mash for Cash – Push a big ol’ gear – 34x17”. Worst case scenario, I would just run up the hills. One quick test ride on the race course Wednesday night, and I was ready to rip.

Saturday morning, I caught wind that a Pro CX racer and multiple national champion had registered for the Single Speed race as well. Race went off, and sure enough – he was near the leading end. I sat on, then jumped ahead of him at the single track portion of the race, and got a small gap on him leading into the climb. We yo-yoed for the entire first lap, and I was a bit frantic that he’d be hard to shed from my wheel on the final (2nd lap). Coming out of the single track into the less steep section of the climb – I put in a good dig, and saw I had about 100 yards on him. Dammit – Now I REALLY have to keep digging and capitalize. Some tough mental talk to keep the wheels from coming off kept me ahead through the first lap. Into the downhill of the second lap, I relaxed a bit and shook out my very heavy legs. Putting my head down, and grinding out a painfully big gear on the steep climb on the second lap - I focused on myself and continuing to ride the line of suffering, but maintaining. 500m from the finish, I started smiling, realizing I was about to be a national champion. I might have done a wheelie. It's still a bit of a blur. Rolling across the finish, I went a bit more loopy and lost my lunch on the finish line. My competitors rolled in nearly 4 minutes later. 

Eventually, my legs gave out and I had to be walked to my truck where I proceeded to eat 5 Clif bars, drink a bottle, and then pass out in the bed of my truck for an hour. A friend swung by, awoke me, and drug me down to the awards ceremony to get my stars and stripes jersey. I don’t remember much else of the day – I got home, somehow -  and today I feel as though my hamstrings were beaten by a gorilla. I’m just now realizing that I’m the national champion in what is probably the most obscure national championship of cycling category ever.

// AJ Turner


This kid. Born to be a champion.

Tucson Bicycle Classic - Sunshine and Cacti

LWP headed South and kicked off the road season with some fun in the desert sun at the Tucson Bicycle Classic. For some background on her racing, check out this article over at Competitive Cyclist.

The Tucson Bicycle Classic was a perfect excuse to escape to warm temperatures for a few days and get in some good training miles. As a framework, I set these goals for the weekend:

  • Have fun and play bikes in the sunshine
  • Get some great training miles and intensity
  • Work on pack skills and reading race dynamics
  • Finish each day, bonus if that’s with the main group

We had 32 women in the P/1/2 field – a good mix of UCI, domestic elite, and local elite teams and individuals. Enough firepower to make things interesting without being bonkers fast.

Day 1 – TT – 3.2 miles. Sort of rolling. Trending downhill/flat for the first two thirds or so with a couple of kicker climbs at the end.

In short, I had a road bike in a sea of TT rigs into a headwind. The course wound through what looked like a forest of Saguaro cacti though, so it was really scenic while I was busy not being aero. And added sprinkles of not being last thanks to what I assume was a mechanical for one of the other riders.

Day 2 – Road Race - 3 laps on a 20.5 mile loop for about 61 total miles. Rolling terrain trending upwards on the first half of the loop and down for the second half, with a rolling climb from the last corner to the finish.

This was one of the longer races I’ve lined up for in a while, which was a little nerve-wracking since I’m not anywhere near race shape right now. All those years of riding rolling Midwest country roads left a pretty lasting impression though, so if there’s one type of terrain I’m most likely to be able to hang on, it’s rollers.

For the most part, things were surprisingly mellow, with a brief flurry of extended activity when a group of three got away 15-ish miles in and forced the pack to chase hard for about half a lap to catch them. I had a flicker of worry towards the end of that chase that I wouldn’t be able to stick with it, but a little internal yelling (we’ll call it positive self talk) and noticing that some riders were clearly way deeper in the hole got me through. I know, that’s not nice, but I’ve always been motivated to push harder when I can hear people hurting in a race. Apparently that instinct doesn’t go away.

The rest of the race was a rotation of someone attacks, pack chases, person(s) get caught, pack dawdles until another person decides to go. I was really happy that I was able to cover the speed changes and stay with the group, and focused on watching the flow of the pack and working my way forward as much as possible. Some moments were better than others, and I spent more time out of position than I’d like, but my comfort levels and ability to move definitely improved over the span of the race. I hung on until the final sprint launched a few hundred meters out (ermugerd, so many watts!) and managed to hold tempo across the line and stay in front of the group behind me.

Overall, #racegoals achieved! Felt pretty comfy in the group, finished, and hung with the pack ‘til the end. Not bad for a first race out.

Mental skills side note – if I told myself “don’t get dropped”, I tended to fall back, but “stay with it” or “hold that wheel” were much more effective as they put the focus on the action of staying with the group.

Hydration, party socks, and goat power. Important elements to a successful race.

Day 3 – Circuit Race – 7 laps of a 5.6 mile loop for about 39 miles. Rolly trending upwards with a sort of stair-steppy, grindy climb through the feed zone halfway through, more rollers trending downward until the last corner, then two punchy climbs to the finish. Sprint time bonuses at the end of lap 3.

More rollers. Yessssss. This was a ridiculously fun course.

The first couple of laps were uneventful – some animation, but nothing crazy. We were rolling about 15 minute laps, so quick math said seven laps was a timeframe I could handle. Front half of the course was a bit of climby headwind, but after the crest marking the halfway point it was easy to tuck in and recover through the back stretch.

With sprint time bonuses on the line, lap three was hard, and about halfway up that grindy climb my hammies were getting angry and I was thisclose to cracking. Rut roh. It took a boatload of mental chatter to muster those extra watts to get over the crest of the hill with the group, but I made it. Whew. Looking at the file, I wasn’t super in the red, so I think that moment was much more about mental fatigue and my legs not used to feeling repeated or extended tension than anything else.

After the sprint, a couple of riders went up the road just far enough to be dangerous, but not far enough to make bridging impossible. Hmm. While pondering whether or not to go for it, I found an opening and ramped up my cadence a bit as we started that grindy climb. Nobody responded (and my friend JL yelled at me to go), so I spun up, dug in, and bridged clean up to the leading duo. WOOT! This was exciting. And tiring. But so fun. #racegoals. Alas, they sat up over the top of the climb so everything was back together quickly, but that tiny section of the race totally made my day.

With that out of the way, I tucked into the draft, worked on moving with the flow of the pack and hopping on wheels to gain spots, and focused on maintaining a light, fast cadence to avoid getting bogged down in the torque of a big gear.

As we were setting up for the final corner, the men’s field passed us, which meant the sprint was directly into the back of their field with a tiny window of space on the left side. Clearly this was less than ideal (and a bit of an officiating failure), but everyone stayed safe and upright. I popped off right at the end and rolled in just a handful of seconds behind the main group, super happy to have hung on for the day.

Overall, it was a great weekend. I met all of my goals, and had a blast playing bikes in fantastic weather with awesome people. Many miles to go and work to be done, but the tan lines are back and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

// Lindsay Wetzel Polin

Bridging the gap! PC: Kathleen Dreier Photography, shared with permission.