Matt Willing Selects MHC, Wins First Race

24 05 2009
Matt Willing on his way to victory at the Town Mountain Hill Climb

Matt Willing on his way to victory at the Town Mountain Hill Climb

Matt Willing, a new recruit to MHC Cycling who will be starting in the fall, demonstrated the immediate value he brings to the team by winning the Town Mountain Hill Climb (men B) on May 15th. Matt is a transfer student from Eastern Michigan University who has a solid running background, although he comes to the team with comparatively little cycling experience. A standout cross-country runner, Matt was on three conference championship teams at EMU before a serious injury sidelined him. Matt found cycling as a way to rehabilitate his injury and started developing a real passion for the sport. Starting his first bike race last fall during the cyclocross season, Matt immediately demonstrated that he had the tools to excel and went on  to win 5 of the 9 races in the Michigan series on the way to the overall season championship in the B category. This year Matt makes the next step to racing with the elite and pro riders in the A category, and MHC looks forward to supporting his quest for a national cyclocross championship.

After cyclocross season, Matt will race a full road season for MHC. Up until the Town Mountain Hill Climb, Matt had never raced on the road. But with his first victory under his belt, he’s motivated to make the transition, which he’s regulary demonstrating on our local Tuesday night world championships. On yesterday’s club ride, we were joined by Team Ouch director Mike Tamayo and Team Ouch pro rider Karl Menzies (aka TenMenzies for his superhuman strength). On the last 3 km climb of the ride, where we let it all hang out and sprint for the top, Matt had Karl shaking his head as Matt led over the top of the climb, wondering who is this kid? It may not be long before everyone knows.

Collegiate Nationals Part 3: Nik’s Crit

16 05 2009

While Yoly’s race finishes up with an exciting field sprint, Nik makes his last minute preparations, which basically consist of nothing. Nik’s been ready for about  an hour. We’ve talked a little about who to watch and the course and how it might play out, but with no other teammates, Nik is free to race his own race. He’s been racing major events for years, so he really doesn’t need much coaching. The plan is to get to the front and stay near the front, conserving energy, avoiding crashes, and following wheels. Nik does a great job at positioning himself in the top 10-15 for the entire race and avoids an 11-rider pile-up about half way through. About this same time, a two man break, including Cumberland’s Thacker Reeves (the men’s overall winner of our Southeastern Conference), gets about 15 seconds on the field. Constant attacks from the field start bringing the two back and as the race enters the last 15 minutes it looks like the two will surely be caught. But then the field mysteriously sits up, spreading across the road, and the two have a new lease. Spencer Beamer from Furman (also from the SECCC) almost catches the break with three laps to go but is absorbed by the field and coming around the last corner the field sprints for 3rd place. Despite getting swarmed in the last lap, Nik manages to sprint to a fine 15th place. Combined with his road race finish yesterday, Nik finishes 19th overall in the individual omnium. Very respectable. Nik has three years left of college racing, and I fully expect to see him on the podium a number of times before he graduates.

After the race, we grab some pizza downtown and discuss with a nearby table of CSU cyclists whether or not there will be a naked crit tonight. The naked crit is an infamous collegiate tradition that usually takes place in a secret location in the evening after the lycra and spandex crit. We learn that the Ft. Collins police prevented its occurrence last year and that tonight’s weather calls for rain anyway, so we move the conversation forward and decide to check out bikes from the Ft. Collins bike library. A bike library? What an awesome idea. Why don’t we have one in Asheville? Everyone rides bikes in Ft Collins. The city is basically flat (although at the base of some pretty tall mountains) and makes riding around town kinda easy.  We check out three bikes and enjoy an afternoon of leisurely riding around town and the CSU campus. It’s been a real pleasure visiting Ft. Collins, although I do hope that next year’s event will be closer to home. I vote for Brevard College to host. They put on a professional-style Conference Championship this year, and they’re only about an hour from Mars Hill. We’ll see…

After the crit we checked out bikes from Ft. Collins' Bike Library.

After the crit we checked out bikes from Ft. Collins' Bike Library. Put a smile back on Yoly's face.

Collegiate Nationals Part 2: Yoly’s Crit

14 05 2009

Nik wouldn't be striking poses after the challenging wind and hills of the road race.

After the road race, Nik decides to ride the 20 minutes back to the hotel to spin out his legs in anticipation of the next day’s early criterium.  His race starts at 9:15am in the morning, but Yoly’s starts at an earlier 8am. It’s now 6pm and time to recover by eating, showering, eating, and finally sleeping. I attend a meeting at the race hotel hosted by the National Collegiate Cycling Association’s board of trustees and am impressed with the tenor of the meeting and the creative ideas proposed. I enjoy hearing the strategies that other conferences employ to continue collegiate cycling’s growth. But exhausted from handing out that one bottle to Nik in the road race, I eagerly make my way back up to our room to make final preparations for the morning and get some sleep. Yoly is already asleep and obviously still not feeling herself. Nik is still in laptop land. Lights out and we start squeezing in sleep before our 5:30am wake-up call.

The morning comes abrupt with the ringing of the beside phone, but after a quick buffet breakfast downstairs, we can see through the windows a brightening blue sky and trees standing still. No wind today, but it’s colder, temperatures expected in the 40’s for Yoly and Nik’s start. Yoly gets a good 40 minute warm-up on the figure eight course, which is great for spectators as it allows for great viewing where the loops meet. We scan the competition and point out the winner of yesterday’s road race and one of the field’s top pros, Kimberly Geist, as riders to watch and follow. We hope the race will end in a field sprint and that Yoly will unleash her finishing speed to land on the podium. She hands me her jacket and makes her way to the start line. The race starts and starts fast. These women are all business. And it’s attack after attack. I can tell from the 2nd lap that Yoly is struggling with the speed. She’s still sick and the altitude has really had a bad effect on her. About midway through the race, she succumbs and pulls out. She’s more than disappointed and I understand. But so many things have to come together on any given day for a rider to perform at the highest level, and unfortunately for Yoly this just isn’t her day. But she’s a tough one and by the end of the day we are planning to get some redemption at track nationals.

Nik’s race report is next.

Collegiate Nationals Part 1: the Road Race

13 05 2009

May 7-10: Yolanda Colon, Nikola Milanovic and I travel out to Fort Collins, CO, for the 2009 Collegiate Road Championships. Our trip out there is smooth except for a slight delay when our pilot gets in a car accident on the way to the airport. Better to wreck  a car than a plane, I think, and I’m happy to hear that the pilot is okay and even happier to learn that we’re getting a replacement pilot. Landing in Denver, we pick up our  mini-van rental, drive the hour to the race hotel, find some pasta at Rasta Pasta downtown, nap back at the hotel, put the bikes together and go check out the course. It is beautiful. Absolutely. The exposed and rocky mountains and hills are a stark contrast to the mountain foliage of WNC. And challenging too, as the course winds its way along the Horsetooth Reservoir and across two dams.

We drive the entire course and along the way witness a huge deer get hit by a pick-up truck driving right in front of us. And right next to a sign warning about deer crossing, too. The driver has been swerving and we were just wondering aloud if he is drunk or maybe texting. The driver is a local and justly mad at himself. He is not hurt.  He doesn’t seem drunk and doesn’t look like the texting type either.  The deer can’t possibly be in one piece but jumps right up and gracefully walks toward the reservoir. We make a note to avoid deer/bicycle collisions and  this particular white pick-up truck, and then Nik hops out to ride the hour back to town. Yoly doesn’t feel well since this morning’s plane ride and decides to save her energy for tomorrow. Back in town, we shower and go back to Rasta Pasta for dinner. The waitress is surprised to see us again but seems up to the challenge. Yoly and Nik keep it simple–wisely not wanting to put anything questionable in their bellies prior to the next morning’s big event–but I experiment with a dish called the Rasta Mon, a recommendation of the waitress: a bed of pasta with bananas, pineapple, and grapes. Which one of these things doesn’t belong?

Morning of the road race: Yoly is still not feeling well. We go to the course, get her all set up and discover that her front tubular is flat. Shimano’s neutral support loans us a front wheel, which will probably serve her better than her deep dish Zipp on this very gusty day. Yoly does a few warm-up efforts and reports that she’s having trouble breathing. Normal, I guess–we’re at altitude. Yoly’s Division II race starts at a little after 8am, about 10 minutes after the Division I field departs. I rush to the feed zone to get a good spot. The Div I women come through split up into chunks. Finally the Div II women appear in the distance and they seem to be all together, no one willing to leave the group and battle the wind. This is good for Yoly. She has a solid sprint. I grab bottles, wait for Yoly, scan the group as it passes and can’t find her anywhere. I wait. I worry. The Div I women come around again. Then Div II. Still no Yoly. Did she crash on one of the steep descents? Get blown off the road and into the reservoir below? Did she roll her rear tubular, the one that I glued on two days ago? A deer? The man in the white pick-up? My thoughts panic. I look for an emergency medical number in the race guide. Why is there no number? I drive back to the start and find Yoly and her bike, both in one piece. I’m estatic. She is disappointed. Yoly tells me that she can’t breath and that her body just wouldn’t go up the climbs. We start planning our revenge for tomorrow’s flat crit.

Nik’s race starts mid-afternoon. Eight riders are off the front by the time the race passes the feed zone for the first time. I anxiously await the peloton, which looks about a minute in arrears. And there is Nik, looking comfortable and riding in the top ten. Great. He doesn’t want a bottle. Never does. I imagine him racing a 200k event in Serbia with one bottle. Each time the group passes, Nik is looking good, maintaining his position near the front of the group. The break continues to build it’s lead and by the last feed only six riders remain off the front. Nik still has a shot at a top ten. I quickly jump in the mini-van and get first position behind the race caravan so I can watch the last few miles, which contain a couple of killer climbs on the way out of the reservoir basin. Nik gets gapped on the first climb and I yell and honk encouragement from behind. Then the police tell me that I can no longer follow the race. Something I said? By the time I take the detour back to the start, the race is over. Nik finishes 33rd. Solid. Respectable. We start planning our revenge for tomorrow’s crit.