Mark McCormack’s 2004 Race Diary
Diary Entries – August 17, 2004 – Long Overdue
A lot has happened since the Tour of Connecticut. I returned home for some well deserved rest to freshen up for America’s biggest week of cycling. The time at home was very short but much needed.
I once again jumped into my trusted old Saturn wagon and made the drive south to NJ for the Tour of Somerville, a race I hadn’t competed at in more than 10 years. The weather was terrible – 60’s and rain – which made for a very nervous race. There were plenty of crashes from start to finish. I can recall one in the very first corner of the race and one in the very last corner of the race. I happened to be within inches of both. Fortunately I managed to make the 60 miles with both tires never leaving the ground and all my skin intact. I finished 7th on the day in a very hectic field sprint. The main reason I chose to race was to have an opportunity to “open up” before the next day’s race in Lancaster, PA.
My team was staying at the same hotel I have stayed at during this week for the past 5 years. It is an older hotel near the Art Museum (where Rocky did his famous stair climbing run). This is not one of the nicest hotels but given its location to area roads, grocery stores, and restaurants it is a perfect place to stay. For those of you that are looking for a hotel for next year’s USPRO road race this is the one: Best Western Center City. You can walk to the start/finish area the morning of the race and leave your car parked in the hotel’s parking lot (which is free, unlike many of the hotels in Philadelphia).
The first of three races during Philly Week is held in Lancaster, PA. This is by far the hardest one day race in the US. The course is very technical and very hilly. The amount of time spent suffering depends on how long a rider is willing to stay in the race. From the start to the finish the race never lets up. Imagine the hardest criterium you have ever raced in and then imagine doing it for over three hours. The roads were wet from a very nasty late afternoon thunderstorm. I felt very good for most of the race but didn’t manage to get a result. US Postal won with an amazing solo finish.
Race two of the week was held in Trenton, NJ. This race is held on a much flatter course with two distinct sections each lap. This course is like a dog bone: one end has a criterium feel with several 90 degree corners, some bricks and cobbles, and several manhole covers; the other end has the feel of a countryside circuit race as it winds through a nice park. In between the two ends we went back and forth on the same road. This race ended in its traditional field sprint. MAYHEM is the word that best describes the final few miles. I was amazed that no one crashed in the approach to the sprint. Although there were several major crashed throughout the race including one of the VIP motorcycle drivers who washed out in a left hand turn in the park. I felt bad for that guy as he was a volunteer using his own motorcycle.
The final race, the USPRO Road Race, was held for the 20th consecutive year. It was my twelfth time starting this event. This was the day I have been waiting for since the start of the road season. I went to sleep with no problems only to wake at 4:00am with severe nausea. I so badly wanted to vomit to end the misery. For several hours it was unbearable. Finally at 6am I called the race doctor to have him give me a check up. He gave me some medication for the nausea and by 8am I was feeling like I wanted to eat. This gave me one hour to eat, get dressed, and get to the start line for the biggest race of the year. Not exactly my idea of a good lead in. I managed to eat 2 donuts for my pre- race meal. I had no appetite for my normal routine of oatmeal and peanut butter and time was not on my side.
For the first 3 hours of the race my stomach was not very comfortable but I was able to keep everything I ate and drank in me. I was racing a smart race, starting the Manayunk Wall at the front and keeping an eye on the big names in the race. My teammates were doing a great job nursing me along and keeping me in good position. The race was taking a traditional path in terms of its tactics: early break, break gets a big gap, break starts to weaken as the field starts getting anxious, final few laps up the Wall are crazy fast, and the final time up the wall is the fastest with the main contenders making the final selection.
I made that final selection and was glad to see two of my teammates did as well. Aaron Olsen and Will Frischkorn were the ones that survived the Wall with me. It is a hard thing to describe but the final approach to the Wall is as important as the finish of most races and everyone in the race knows it. Once again, mayhem best describes it.
For the final 18 miles the race was very aggressive. Lots of attacking from many different riders. I was not able be an attacker but was still liking my chances for a similar finish as in 2003. My two teammates were doing a great job and we set it up identically to last year. Aaron took me to the front as we exited the final rotary with about 500 meters to go. This year when Aaron pulled off I was beside the Navigators lead out of four riders. There was no chance I was going to get in on that so for 200 meters I was stuck out in the wind. By the time I got behind someone it was time to start sprinting. I just didn’t have enough left to finish it off. I don’t think I would have changed anything about my finish. It is so rare that a team of four would still be together for a lead out so close to the finish. I feel as though I was in the right place to have a great result. Unfortunately for me there was a 10-15 second window that totally impacted my result in a 6 hour race. Hard to believe? Not to me. When racing against some of the best in the world the smallest errors can mean so much.
After a long day of racing I showered, packed, and then drove the 7 hours back to Plymouth.
The Thursday after the USPRO RR my wife Suzanne and I made our way up to the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds to buy our new home. By 11:00am we were once again home owners. Fortunately for us we have some great friends and relatives that were eager to help us move, again. It was a two day move. I hope I never move again.
We are now living in Foxboro. Fortunately for me, I already know the roads around here for training so my time on the bike will remain productive and I can still make it to both of my favorite training races at Wompatuck and Lincoln.
Never put a new chain on your bike the morning of an important race, unless you have the right tools. It turns out that you need a 10 speed chain tool for 10 speed chains. No one ever told me that one. I had a trained mechanic put on a new chain for me the morning of the Olympic Trials road race in Redlands, CA. I didn’t know to ask him if he had a 10 speed chain tool. Apparently he didn’t have one.
The race was going great, I was feeling strong, the heat wasn’t bothering me, and the hills were manageable. About half way through the race my chain fell off the inner chain ring while I was climbing the steepest climb on the circuit. I wasn’t shifting, it just fell off. Turned out the chain was coming apart. I managed to run to the top of the climb while maintaining contact with the group. My chain was starting to make noises and skip when I applied pressure. I called up the Shimano Technical car for a bike change and eventually got a new bike. When I jumped on the new bike the seat was about four inches too low. After about 5 miles of messing around trying to get the saddle in the right place I felt as though it was close enough. Just then the attacks were launching on the series of climbs. By the time I made it back to the front of the race the break was gone. I rolled around with the main field for a few laps until I realized that there was no way were going to be racing for the win. And in this race only the winner would have a reason to be racing. First place was a ticket to Athens, second place was as good as not finishing. I pulled out with one lap to go.
I cleaned up, packed my bike, and drove to the airport for the red-eye overnight flight home. Oh, I stopped at In-n-out burger for some comfort food. That was tasty.
Home Sweet Home
Fitchburg hosts a great race every summer, one that I have always wanted to win. I was hosting a few of my teammates at my house during the race. It was nice to be a host family for once, rather than a rider staying at a host family’s house.
The time trial went great. I had been training on my Felt TT bike almost exclusively for the previous week. What a difference that made. I managed my best result in this stage: third place. My teammate Nathan won and my ex-teammate Victor was second. My teammates had all finished in the top 20. The depth of the team would be a big plus for us going into the three remaining stages.
The John Fitch Circuit Race stage is always very demanding: 25 laps on a 3.1 mile lap with that very challenging climb to the finish line. Hard to believe it all ended in a field sprint. Victor won the stage and the time bonus and took the leader’s jersey from Nathan. I finished second and remained in third overall.
The Mt. Wachusett Road Race is long and hilly, and has a very tough finish climb to the summit of the mountain. I had a great day and a great team on this day. Victor and Nathan marked each other throughout the day. Eventually Victor was left on his own with his teammate Marc Walters covering a break up the road. In the break I had two teammates, Todd and Will. Somehow I bridged across to the break. At first Will, Todd, and I took turns trying to get away from that break with Walters so that we could take the leader’s jersey. Walters was amazing, he covered our every move. I couldn’t believe that one rider could cover three, but he proved me wrong. Eventually it was decided that Todd would sit on the front of the break and ride at his best tempo until he could no longer do so. He just kept going and going and going. It was very impressive. Then at the base of the climb to the summit of Wachusett, Will took over and set a very stiff tempo up the climb. A few riders attacked at separate times on the climb but none could stay away. As we made the final right turn with 250 meters to go in the stage it was just Will, myself, and Walters. We finished in reverse order. Another second place on a stage for me but it was good enough to take the orange leader’s jersey. This is the first time that I have pulled on the leader’s jersey at Fitchburg.
The final stage was the downtown criterium. My teammates rode perfectly. Much of the race they road in team time trial formation keeping the pace high enough so that any attacks would not get much of a gap. At the end of the stage it was a field sprint. Navigators won another stage and I finished third. My fourth top three for the race and I finished the stage race with the leader’s jersey still on my back. What a great feeling. I had such a great weekend of racing. My teammates were fantastic and Will managed to finish in second overall. It was a great team effort.
An important note: this event was the first for my brother Frank as the team director for Colavita Olive Oil. I think he enjoyed his experience. I know I enjoyed having him around again.
Tour de Toona and the NY City Invitational
Once again my team had a good showing in the opening time trial. Nathan crushed everyone again. I was sixth. And the rest of my team was in the top thirty or so.
In the second stage Nathan had a bad crash after only five or six miles. Bad enough that he couldn’t continue but fortunately he will be healed up and ready to go for some more racing later this summer. The team’s plans changed quickly from trying to defend Nathan’s lead to trying to win some stages.
By the end of the stage race the team had won three of the seven stages. Nathan, Ivan, and Aaron had each won. I felt like the guys all did a great job rebounded from losing Nathan on day two. I felt bad for Nathan because I know how much he really wanted to win Altoona this year. This was the event that ended his season last year. I know he was fit enough to win, he just didn’t have the luck he needed to help make it happen.
After the final stage we rushed back to our hotel to shower. Then it was time for four hour drive to Newark, NJ, for a night of rest before our next big race, the NY City Invitational.
The race started on wet city streets. It was a nervous start with so much on the line and so many chances to crash. City streets and water are not a good combination. To make matters worse there is a section of cobbles (real rounded cobbles). Fortunately the rain had stopped and the roads were drying. By the half way point in the 56 mile race the pavement was dry. There were plenty of crashes in this race. I witnessed a few on the high speed straights and barely avoided being involved in them. Guys were getting tangled in the fencing that was set up to divide the out and back start/finish stretch. The problem was that the fencing had poorly designed feet at the bottom that could catch a pedal or front wheel if a rider got pushed too close.
The race came down to a field sprint and I was looking after my teammate Ivan (he won this race two years ago). We were set up nicely coming out of the last turn. I jumped with Ivan on my wheel. We were coming by the front of the race when I noticed a HealthNet rider looking over his left shoulder. He saw me coming and decided to make a 90 degree turn just in front of me. Pretty lame if you ask me. I decided that I should ease off rather than smash into the fencing. Ivan made it safely through and finished an impressive third place. I also made a note of the HealthNet tactic and vowed to Ivan that it would not happen again.
After the race Frank and I loaded up the Saturn and drove back home for the few days before our flight to Charlotte, NC.
Charlotte, NC – August 4th to August 9th
There was a four race criterium series being held in the Charlotte area to go along with the “Richest criterium in the world,” the Bank of America Invitational. Our team could only do three of the four series races since we had the big one on Saturday that was not part of the series. It was a great series that Giordana sponsors (they make our racing clothing). It was nice to be able to win in front of Giordana folks and to show them that they made a wise decision to sponsor our team
Our team won all four of the races we entered. I won the first, Juan Jose won the second, Ivan won the Bank of America Invitational (B of A), and Gustavo won the fourth. The team really worked great together over the weekend. We struggled a bit in the B of A race as a few of the guys were not feeling like themselves and with five man team limits that meant that we had to rely on three of us to do the job of five. In the end it worked out in our favor and we got some revenge on HealthNet. Ivan is clearly the best sprinter in US racing and I really enjoy being able to help him out. One thing I have learned over the years is that it is really easy to sacrifice myself for someone that has the ability to come through with the results like Ivan.
I am home now and getting ready for the USPRO Criterium Championships next weekend. This is a race that is high on my list of goals for my career. I have been very close in the past five years but haven’t won it yet. I know my fitness is very good right now and my team is riding very well. I hope that will a little luck (or at least no bad luck) I will finally win the criterium title. My brother Frank’s role as our team director will be a big asset as well, no doubt.
Great news! I recently signed my contract for the 2005 road season. I will be racing another year with the Colavita Olive Oil team.
I will do a better job of updating my online journal in the near future. Life is pretty hectic with two children, a new house, a dog, training, traveling, racing, coaching, watching DVD’s, taking naps, etc!
Until then I wish you all the best in your riding and racing.
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