All I want to do is drink beer and train like an animal.
- Rod Dixon

I'm feeling rough. I'm feeling raw. I'm in the prime of my life.

Race Report: Johns Hopkins Cycling at College Nationals (By Mike 'Tank' Retzlaff)

The Johns Hopkins University Men's Cycling Team comprised of Ryan Bloom, Nathan Coleman, Mike Retzlaff, Toby Weatherall, and coach Beth Leasure left Baltimore on Thursday the 8th of May in search of glory at the collegiate national championships in Fort Collins, Colorado. Thursday's travel was free of complications and the entire team was out previewing Friday's team time trial course early in the evening. We rode the course twice as to be sure to know every riser and bump in the road, and threw in a few moderate efforts to open up our legs. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for an early night, catching dinner at the hotel restaurant for some pasta delights.

Friday morning was an early start, we woke at 6am to catch the hotel breakfast and be out on the course by 8am for our 9:38am start time. Arriving at the course we suited up, hopped on our bikes, and got in a solid warm up. We arrived near the line with 10 minutes to go, where we had set up some trainers to keep our legs spinning until start time. Thanks to Performance Bike of Fort Collins for letting us borrow 4 trainers for the weekend (though the unfamiliar trainers took us a few extra minutes to get set up properly!) After all of us spinned out for a few minutes, it was time to head to the line. While arriving at the line, Mike noticed that his rear brake was rubbing against the tire, and after a short panic, we managed to find an allen wrench from a helpful spectator, and loosened the brake all the way, making it useless. Who needs a rear brake in a time trial anyway? The four of us were being held up at the line and as the countdown started our hearts were racing in anticipation of the gun. We sprinted off the line, the start felt incredible; there was the huge official time clock mounted overhead, barricades surrounded the road, spectators were cheering, and the announcer said loudly: "There goes the Johns Hopkins University Team!" We pushed hard, made great exchanges, made a textbook turnaround, and flew through the course, a simple out and back which was dead straight and slightly uphill out, slightly downhill back. There was a slight tailwind heading out, and tailwind back in, which made the speed nearly consistent both directions. Mike's rear brake would end up making intermittent contact with his tire even after the adjustment, which felt like getting pulled backwards and lessened his ability to make killer pulls. Everyone put themselves in the hurt box, deep in the hurt box. With our legs on fire, all 4 of us crossed the line together of the 20K course at 25:27:40, an average of 29.8 miles per hour. As we crossed the line we heard the announcer say: "That's Johns Hopkins with a first place time!" Unfortunately it was not to be as our time was bettered by 6 other teams. However, third through sixth places were all within 20 seconds of us, making our time a very respectable one.

We headed home from the course, and as we arrived at the hotel, we remembered that we forgot the trainers by the start line, and Beth volunteered to drive back to the course to get them while we stretched out and relaxed. She drove all the way out there for nothing as the trainers were gone, picked up by someone else. That afternoon Nathan had to leave us for B'more to attend to his medical residency the next day, and Toby, Ryan, and Mike had almost the whole day to chill out. We found a yummy Jimmy John's sub shop for lunch and headed to the deli at Whole Foods for a healthy dinner to prepare for the following day's road race. Toby and Mike later took an excursion to Cold Stone for some glorious ice cream. The 4 of us then chilled out to the comedy stylings of Steve Carrell in the movie "Dan in Real Life."

Saturday's D2 road race had a late start, 2:30pm, so we were able to sleep in and take plenty of time to prepare for the hilly monster. We all woke early enough for the hotel breakfast (thanks to the eastern time jet lag), and found the local Quizzno's for their $5 sub special at lunch time. 1pm rolled around and the three of us kitted up and headed out for our warm up. We all felt a little rusty from the day before, and the weather was looking to turn sour a few minutes before the race started, as it briefly snowed then rained, but luckily it stopped within in 5 minutes. However, the wind was howling – 20 to 30 mph with gusts in the 40's. We got to the line in time for call-ups of the nearly 100 participants, when we were informed that the 70 mile race was shortened to 60 miles in fear of the weather (or, by rumor, lack of corner marshals). Nonetheless, a short mile into the course, the hardest climbs of the day were set to begin. The first was nearly 2 miles long and incredibly steep, Toby's legs weren't quite ready for that level of output yet and fell back from the leaders. A short downhill then lead to another climb nearly a mile long, Ryan and Mike were still holding strong with the leaders. Another really short downhill and up came the third climb, which was about 2 miles once again, this time less steep than the first two. A few riders at the front of the peloton hammered the pace, and the field shattered like a broken window. Bloom and Retzlaff gave it all they had, but at the top, with only a few short meters to go to the summit, they lost contact with the group nearly simultaneously. Mike teamed up with a guy from Notre Dame to begin the chase back to the front group of now only about 40 riders, but they couldn't compete with the speed of the large group in the terrible winds. Ryan caught up to the 2 chasers in short order with 2 other riders, and then there were 5 chasing the leaders. The peloton was still in sight, but it was just not meant to be. Our group continued to grow, as we picked up a few other riders that fell off the leaders and a larger group of about 10 caught up from behind us, which included Hopkins' own Toby Weatherall. This was at the start four ten-mile loops in a valley, which brought 5 miles of headwind and 5 miles of tailwind. We could manage only 14 mph into the wind, and were spinning out in our hardest gear with the tailwind at speeds over 40 mph! With a group that now numbered about 20 riders, we chased the leaders hard, rotating a paceline as one team, but were only able to keep the gap at a consistent 3 minutes instead of closing it. With 4 great feeds from Beth (who also found the lost trainers during the race) we stayed hydrated and focused on doing the best we could. When we took our last feed we realized catching the leaders was not possible, and we chilled out for a few miles for the remained of the loop and up the first climb back to the finish line. The chill didn't last too long however, the second climb back saw some attacking, and the third, which was nearly 20% grade, shattered our group apart. The Hopkins team stayed together and kept with the group, and as we made our way down the 2 mile sketchy descent back into Fort Collins, Mike and Ryan strategized for a "Bloomtastic" lead-out. Mike marked the wheel of Githens from Georgetown, and around the last corner it was a guy from Denver at the front, then Githens, Retzlaff, Bloom. Githens made his push and Mike followed, but unfortunately Ryan got pushed off Mike's wheel and Mike's effort was wasted. Bloomer, being the smart rider that he is, didn't let that end his race and found another wheel to bring him closer to the line. Ryan ended up 4th in the field sprint for 37th place, with Toby and Mike rolling in at 48th and 49th, respectively. We were wasted as that was probably the hardest race we have ever done due to all the climbing, wind, and fierce competition.

After a short cool down ride back to the hotel, we all put in some serious time stretching, then the Hilton was privy to the screeching of the 3 of us enduring an ice bath, followed by a glorious hot shower. We then rushed off to dinner downtown for some delicious "Mountain Pie Pizza," humongous salads, a recovery beverage, then all 4 of us headed to Cold Stone once again for desert. Once again we tried to amuse ourselves with some comedy, this time Will Ferrell in "Semi-Pro." Bed time came around and the four of us were snoring up a storm.

Sunday morning once again came early thanks to the jet lag, and one last hotel breakfast before we were to have one last chance to shine in the downtown criterium race. The 8-corner figure-eight shaped race was to start at noon, and we rolled out of the hotel at 10:30 in order to have a sufficient warm-up. Surprisingly, we soon discovered that our legs felt better than they did all weekend. We watched most of the D1 men's race from the sidelines while sitting on the trainer. The course was fast and wide open, and as in the D1 race, we didn't anticipate a breakaway succeeding. We pulled up to the line after watching Mike's former teammate from Wisconsin sprint for a near-victory in the D1 race. The gun sounded, and as in every criterium race, the first few laps were really fast and very tough. The 3 boys from Hopkins held tough, and about 20 minutes into the race we found each other and were doing fine. Bloom and Retzlaff saw a breakaway roll off the front, but weren't too worried so we sat in and chilled in the sweet spot in the peloton. They got a 30 second gap and held it consistent for about 20-30 minutes. The breakaway was larger than we thought however, 12 riders, and after we and the Western Washington University team found a sense of urgency to try and chase them down, the break put the hammer down, and with 10 minutes to go the gap was a solid minute. Around this time Toby's bike saw a mechanical problem as his derailleur cable snapped, but he got some sweet neutral support from Shimano and chased back into the group on the next lap. Unfortunately his rear derailleur was unable to shift so he had only 53x12 or 39x12 gearing options, which made it tough to deal with all the speed changes. The race slowed with about 10 minutes to go for a few moments in preparation for the field sprint, now for 13th place. Then with 2 laps to go, the pace became nearly 35 mph for the duration. Bloom and Retzlaff jockeyed for position into the final lap, and were both sitting in the top 5 of the group coming into turn 3. In turn 3 however, there was some sketchy bumping and Retzlaff lost some positioning, back to about 15th wheel. Ryan held tight at the front and since Mike and Ryan were now separated it made teamwork down the stretch near impossible. But once again, Bloom, being the smart kid that he is, found a good spot to come around the last turn and ended up 4th in the field sprint for 17th overall. Retzlaff stuck it out in a bunch for 37th and Weatherall clinged on tight with his 2 gear choices for 51st place.

This is when the real race began. The time was nearly 2pm and we had a flight departure at the Denver International airport at 5:35pm. We had to take the trainers back to Performance Bike, go back to the hotel, change out of our chamois, take 3 really quick showers, pack up our remaining bikes, check out, grab lunch, drive 75 miles to the airport, fill the rental vans up with gas, drop off the rental cars, take the rental shuttle to the airport, check our 6 bikes and luggage, and get through the security line. We accomplished tasks 1-7 in reasonably short order and were rolling towards the airport by 3pm. Lugged all our bikes and luggage into the rental shuttle at 4:20, arrived at the check in desk at 4:45, paid our $250 in excess baggage fees and found the long security line at 5:05. Got to the front of the line at 5:18, Beth, Mike, and Ryan got through the line at 5:22, Toby was held for extra screening. Those not treated as terrorists got to the gate at 5:31, and got a hold of Toby on the phone. We told Toby he had to sprint to the gate and upon arrival to the plane, the flight attendant had to open the plane door for him. We got the last 3 seats on the plane. Well, at least we didn't have to wait around!

All in all the weekend was a success, though we certainly hoped for some better results. However, we had no major incidents that caused us any serious misfortune, the team finished 11th in the omnium standings (even without a women's team), Bloomer finished top 25 overall, Razzle-Dazzle in the top 40, and the Weatherman clung in the top 50. The Bloom-Coleman-Retzlaff contingent are already looking for a time trialist to fill out next years team to bring stars and bars back to Johns Hopkins!

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