Thursday, March 8, 2012

2012 MABRA Race Scene Preview: NCVC Elite

This preview comes courtesy of Bert Garcia of NCVC, a long-time blogger and good guy.

(1) Here we go with the pro question: tell me about your off season acquisitions/departures and the shape of your squad this year.

Our only acquisitions included bikes and beer. Although they’re still on NCVC, Tom Blonkowski started law school, and Rob Sheffield is dedicating a bit more time to his professional life. Drew Armstrong also took a new position writing in New York, although he’s still a member of the club too.

Andy Shaw also decided that he would primarily race masters while still directing our elite team. That’s okay because he is a physiologically gifted feed-zone bottle passer. He’s over six feet tall and has really lanky arms. You can’t miss a feed from Andy.

This year we have a small but diverse elite squad. We have all-around killers, crit lovers, The Lengermann for TTs, and some of us trying to find our identity as racers. We complement each other really well, especially working together in the final few kilometers for whoever’s on point.

(2) NCVC is the largest squad in the region. How does the elite team fit within the team as a whole?

Because we’re so large, the club is softly divided into squads by categories and discipline. It makes the club as a whole easier to manage. We have a masters team, Cat 3 squad, Cat 4/5 group, women’s team, juniors team, MTB-specific squad, and cyclocross squad. Obviously there’s overlap, but the elite team members are as much a part of the club as anyone else. We still have to volunteer at our races, for example, but we also have to teach at our new racer clinics and represent the club in different venues.

NCVC has big club rides, but each squad has its own game plan. The elite guys are probably the most inclusive by necessity. Many novice racers think that elite racers just go out and ride really hard and really far all the time. Note quite. We try to have a more disciplined group where everyone has the same focus that day.

When we see a guy (or girl) that’s training and racing seriously, we do try to groom them. I think we’re slowly breaking down the barriers between Cat 3/4s and the elite ranks. It still takes a bit of proving your legs, but that’s how I got onto the elite team. I fought the elite guys for the town-line sprints during the club rides. People notice if you’re beating them and winning races. You’re offered a seat at the table because of what you bring, not what you’re craving. And it’s not just about being fast, but about being guy people want to race with.

Lastly, I should plug the NCVC “Masters Autonomous Collective” since they like to talk a lot of trash with the younger elite guys (and poach our old guys like Andy Shaw). They’re basically a bunch of really fast has-been sandbaggers that are too scared to race Cat 1/2/3 because their bikes are so nice. We beat up on each other a lot in training. When the masters double up and race 1/2/3, though, it’s seamless teamwork and beer for the horses. I’ve learned a lot from riding and racing with guys like Bill Luecke, Harry Fang, Andreas Gutzeit, and Pete Lindeman.

(3) You have written about riding and racing in MABRA quite a bit. How about a brief recap of your favorite NCVC experience?

When it comes to the team, one bittersweet memory is closer to the front of my mind. At the Cat 2/3 road race at Wilmington last year, we missed a crucial dozen-man break with a minute gap at 10k to go. We organized and put everyone on the front. Somehow, the guys told me to sit in for the finish. Well, we caught all but two guys in the break and I got fifth, but that was small vindication. After the race, a Philly team was mad at us for chasing the break and I remember his words. He said we had the whole team on the front “single file like it’s a Tour de France finish.” Are you kidding me? Of course we did, we were racing! That made me insanely happy and confident we could execute as a team. I just wish someone had gotten a picture.

Another good memory personally was my first true podium. At Dawg Days, we couldn’t seal the deal, but I took second while leading out Paul Mica, who took third. The team set us up excellently, so it was still a decent season-ending consolation. For me, it was vindication that I actually belonged in the Cat 1/2 ranks. Whether Paul gave me the points or couldn’t come around, I’ll never ask.

I obviously remember more mundane details than anyone cares to hear, but great teamwork is usually memorable. Probably the most important part of being on a team – especially at the Cat 1/2 level – is actually doing what you say you’re going to do. If it’s my job to chase a break down, take a flyer, protect a rider, or nullify Jared Neiters’ inevitable attack at the beginning of every race, I’ll do it. I never want a teammate to ask me, “Well, where the hell were you?” When everyone does that, it makes being on a team like NCVC a lot of fun.

(4) Tell us about the history of your squad--how did NCVC start and how did it come to be the dominant team in MABRA?

As a 4th-year member of the club, I’m still a newbie. Masters racer Bill Luecke is a better person to ask about our 40-year history. He’s becoming a historian of NCVC and MABRA, actually. It is really cool to be part of a club with history and a network of alumni. Riding in California two years ago, people still recognized the stars and bars.

I do know that the elite team developed in the late 90s or early 2000s. The club has a group of hammers come through together with a lot of success, and they ended up competing on the NRC circuit. Next time you’re at the Lost River Barn, look at Jay Moglia’s scrap book. Those guys, many who still race locally, were getting top-20s in races against Chris Horner and Fast Freddie. To race at that level, though, the guys needed extra support. That evolved into what you see today. We have 8-12 riders on our “elite” team and we’re required to do a certain number of local races. Nowadays, we all seem to be content with our identity as professional workaholics, but we still have firepower and have graduated riders to the pro ranks.

(5) It's easy to overlook NCVC's elite riders, partly because you win a lot of races and partly because so many different riders are capable of winning (you, Lengermann, Rob Sheffield, Paul Mica, and Greg Abbott, to name a few). Who else should we fear this year?

I think I am the least experienced guy on our elite team, so I fear just about each one of them. At some point on a training ride I’m sure I’ve thought, “I’m glad I don’t have to race against him.” Most of the guys are veterans with a decade of racing, some big local results, and experience racing big events. With a shorter roster, there’s good pressure for guys like me, in our sophomore year of elite racing, to not suck. I think we’re headed in the right direction.

We do have one dark horse we’re hoping will upgrade to Cat 2 mid-season and jump into the deep end without hesitation. He started racing mid-season last year and is kicking our butts. Another dark horse we’re grooming has a pony tail and she trains by trying to break guys’ times on Strava. I’m also looking forward to helping some of our promising novices make an impact in the Cat 3/4 scene.

(7) Last year at the elite level Harley was dominant in both strength and numbers, and this prompted maybe some grumblings. Instead of whining, what should other teams be doing?

To win a bike race, you have to beat everyone, so I don’t discriminate against just one team with some fast guys. I want to be one of the fast guys, so I discriminate against everyone. I guess that’s what people should do. I also don’t think there’s one dominant team because of teamwork. The dudes that win a lot just seem to be on the same team(s).

I am a bona fide complainer extraordinaire, but it’s never about fast dudes beating me because they were faster or smarter. My grumblings are about entitlement and attitudes on the start line. Our club does a lot for developing racing locally, so it’s unfortunate that some people take a lot more than they give. I take things seriously because you have to train seriously racing in MABRA at the Cat 1/2 level. We’re all amateurs, though. USAC racing would be nothing if we didn’t contribute back by mentoring young racers, promoting races, or at least contributing to their success. Too many people and teams forget that.

(8) NCVC (like many other teams with large membership) often loses riders who move up through the ranks. What (if anything) can be done about this? What do riders gain by sticking with NCVC?

VH1 could do a Where are they now? episode for NCVC’s former elite racers throughout MABRA. I think we are comfortable with that, although it always sucks to get word at the end of a season when a good racer moves on. We are proud, however, that the majority of our own elite team came up through our own ranks. Paul Mica, Paul Lengermann, Greg Abbott, Greg Faber and I have all raced with NCVC since we were novices.

Most Cat 3s on NCVC are masters-aged, so just as much as losing elite racers, we’ve lost non-masters Cat 3s that felt like the monkey in the middle. I was on the brink at one point, but there was no team really actively developing younger Cat 3s for Cat 1/2 racing. I know other Cat 3s have felt that way too. (Masters race masters, and elite guys are elitist – that’s universal.) It goes with what I said before about proving yourself, but NCVC’s elite team has made a big change to develop our future teammates. Hopefully they’ll become invested in the team and feel like they have a group of friends they can train with. Hopefully they’ll also want to race with us, especially because we’re a team that can help their meet their own goals.

Our club has a ton of resources, both tangible and intangible. Need a ride to a race? Need to borrow a travel case? You see where I’m going. Having a big club allows us to host three or four races per year, attract long-term sponsors, provide free professional coaching for our juniors, and provide some financial support to ALL racers competing in nationally-known events like GMSR, Battenkill, or Nationals. Those are benefits to ALL members – Cat 1/2 racers can be eligible for even more benefits.

NCVC has Cat 5s to Cat 1s, men’s and women’s masters, and juniors too. Not many clubs in MABRA, (much less the country) can say that they have competitive teams in each category.

(9) Doping--when riders do well, there are always mumblings. How does NCVC try to foster an atmosphere of clean riding?

We poke a lot of fun at dopers on our email groups. I secretly take pride when I beat former dopers in races, too.

Seriously, though, I think we just plain foster a culture of honesty – and not just about doping. I’ll let someone with more time on their hands get into the “testing at local races” debate. There are probably better ways for MABRA to spend its over-full coffers, like providing support to races or supporting hotshot juniors.

(10) Dream season for NCVC....paint the picture for us...

We get lots of champagne and kisses from podium girls. Unfortunately, too few MABRA races have actual podiums, much less champagne or podium girls. So we want to win some races, but a lot of NCVC members are constantly thinking about how to improve the local racing scene in general. Personally, I’m just sick of seeing NCVC as the Rodney Dangerfield of MABRA.

Bert taking the win at Dawg Days

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