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"I've never truly failed at something because I've never had a chance to truly fail." Danny Katz Quits His Day Job

Photo: Jordan Clark Haggard

What drew me to bike racing as a sport was the risk of fast, circuitous descents, bikes kept up only by small rubber tires and a will to go as fast as possible. Propelled only by your legs and your heart and your lungs, the accomplishment of getting up a long climb merely piques the thrill of racing down the other side or railing corners in tight bunches under the floodlights at twilight criteriums. Feeling like a rock star but also sometimes crumpled in a heap of bikes.

But, the adventure that comes with being an elite level bike racer kept me in the sport more than any other chase.

Travelling in a van with a bunch of other adventurers, going from town to town, race to race, provided me an opportunity to break the ad nauseum office life drenched in sterility, buzz words, emails, and needless, unhealthy sedentism. 

Photo: David Moore

Photo: Stage 17

It is the travel that stimulates most of us, even if it’s to places in the middle of nowhere. Nobody ever gets to see the culture of the middle of nowhere; to appreciate that people in the middle of nowhere are you and me whether in a small farm town in Mexico or the United States. They come out to watch us bike racers try to reach the finish line quickly and before the others or merely before the time cut. They’re all racing.

I am doing the least rational thing I've ever done and leaving my steady job as an editor. I enjoyed the work, to some degree, the educational mission. But I was giving 60% to two occupations, and only one was my passion. At 120% capacity I was too tired to do anything. I've lived, up to this point, a relatively risk averse life. I've never truly failed at something because I've never had a chance to truly fail. Well, it's time to give my self a chance to do that in the binary world of bike racing. Though, my focus will now be on other projects and life goals as well so I won't be abandoning an intellectual world for a purely athletic one. Those two aren't mutually exclusive, anyway. I can only be a twenty-something once. Time to run. 

But, perhaps, I can't fail, because I'm seeking the adventure, a simultaneous egress and entrance.

So I leave to go race my bike.

I will spend my time entering numbers into boxes at an office job, when it comes to it. Yet, until I find a vocation that I can chase with the same voracity as cycling, blinders on, cycling will be my endless, boundless commission.

UCI Tour of the Gila Recap - Revisiting the Monster | Photos by Andy Bokanev

Sign in sheet had a lot of names crossed off by the time we reached the criterium | Photo: Andy Bokanev

We started the race with six very strong riders committed to specific plans for each stage and we can find solace in the implementation of those plans going almost perfectly. 

In stage 1 our plan was to stay near the front and protect Gera Medina until the middle of the final KOM. Rene Corella Braun was let off of his leash to go for breaks and try to earn points in the green jersey competition. Rene was active for the first hour showing the BMW Roundel in almost every move that escaped the front. Rene has earned enough respect for some of the pro teams to feel uncomfortable with him off the front as United Healthcare chased him down every time. The one move he ended up missing became the day's first real breakaway, as our road captain, Rene knew it was time to worry about making sure Gera was safe in the front and had good wheels to follow up the KOM.  

Collin Berry | Photo: Andy Bokanev

This first stage has often had crashes once the riders hit the open highway and are completely exposed to the wind, and this year was no different as a crash defined the stage and most of the pro race discussion. We were prepared for a crash, so our guys were situated close to the front to stay safe; we were not prepared for the front of the field to crash and take out nearly half the field. We escaped without major injury, but Ian Moore, Tyler Brandt, and Rene all went down and needed some assistance; Ian needed a new bike.

Luckily Gera was able to escape the crash and continued on in a depleted peloton making their way towards the Mogollon. It took the team car almost 20 minutes to get back to the leaders, which was just over 40 riders now. 

Gera sat in the group as it continued to thin out on the climb when he was hit with insufferable stomach cramps. It took a gritty performance for Gera to finish the last 7 km all out of the saddle to avoid searing pain; he lost over 7 minutes in the final stretch of climbing but was still well ahead of the crash victims. It was Heartbreaking to say the least. Collin Berry, Ian, Tyler, and Rene all managed to finish the stage in one of the several small groups affected by the crash. Ryan Miller suffered knee pain early on in the stage and spent most of the day fighting through his own pain at the back of the race and was able to finish; he would not start the next day.

With most of the midnight oil being burned replacing and repairing broken equipment, the team was excited to put stage 1 behind them and focus on our objective for stage 2, jumping the field and surprising the sprinter's teams.

Rene Corella leads though a corner. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

Stage 2 starts abruptly with a very fast climb up the Continental Divide at Pinos Altos, which is historically the most difficult point of the entire race. We were confident our guys would have no problem staying near the leaders on the climb to remain in the peloton on such a difficult climb. Unfortunately the ghosts of the day's previous crash crept up and pulled Ian Moore out of contention just after kilometer zero. Ian suffered a mechanical due to the crash that only presented itself in the race and spent the rest of the day chasing the peloton, for 70 miles. We were able to get Ian back into the caravan after we put him on a new bike, however the officials created several barrages (when team cars are prevented from moving past dropped riders, so that when they do move passed them, they accelerate too quickly for riders to use) that made it impossible to catch the field that was almost finished with the climb up to Pinos Altos and about to go flying down a descent. Ian finished the stage only an hour behind the winner despite not taking a single illegal pull off of a team car or having shelter from the wind; he was allowed to start the time trial on stage 3, however, he was considered "out of competition" and he would not be able to continue Stage 4 due to missing the time cut.

Tyler Brandt had the grittiest ride of the day, fighting back both from getting dropped on Pinos Altos early on and then again later from a broken spoke to rejoin the field once the peloton slowed and decided to let a break go. There really was no way to get back onto the fast moving field unless the field finally relented and let the break get some time. Tyler would get disconnected for good on the climb through Mimbres; between him and Ian, it’s difficult to say who had the hardest workout on the stage. 

We still had Collin Berry and Gera Medina in play to put our plan with Rene Corella into motion. We hoped to take a page out of Francisco Mancebo's book from last year and set Rene up to attack at 1.2 kilometers, or just before the right turn off the 180. Collin did the work early on to protect Rene. At 5 km to go, Gera took over and pushed Rene up to 5th position in the field around 2 km out; exactly where we wanted him to be. Our luck turned sour once again when Rene flatted soon after; though he did try to ride the flat tubular out for the sprint, there was no way he was going to be able to execute.

Team Director, Michael Roecklein, and Assistant Director, Ashley David Knights Jr, were both upset for their rider's missed opportunities and pleased to see the team is capable of going toe to toe with the big professional squads. 

The following day was the Stage 3 time trial where Ian Moore was first to go off, if only to test himself ahead of nationals. Ian placed 51st on the day, proving, we think, that he belonged in the race officially, however the decision on the time cut would not be overruled. We escaped most of the craziness with the new UCI regulations because we were prepared after having dealt with it at Redlands a month earlier. Unlike some professional squads, everyone was able to make their start on their personal time trial bike. We’d be remiss to point out that Collin Berry only just made his start as his official height was questioned for a while by officials and Ashley tossed him onto the start line as their count turned to zero.

Tyler Brandt on the way to his time trial start. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

With the Stage 3 time trial and the carnage of stages 1 and 2 behind us, the BMW Development Team rolled on into the Stage 4 Downtown Silver City Criterium with 4 of our initial 6 riders: Gera Medina, Tyler Brandt, Collin Berry and Rene Corella Braun.

Our goal for stage 4 was to be active off the front early and try to initiate attacks and protect Gera ahead of the final Gila Monster stage on Sunday, where we expected him to shine like he did last year. It turns out United Healthcare had the same plan and put Ben Day in the early break, making it extremely difficult to make any early moves of our own. A four man move with Bjorn Selander, Luis Amaran, Zach Bell, and UHC's Ben Day was able to surprise the field and actually lap the race before the halfway point. This move put the red leader's jersey in play on a day which is normally left for the sprinters. 

Ben Day would earn the average time of a lap in the race as his advantage on the day when all was said and done and eventually take the leaders jersey. After the race Mike Tamayo, director of United Healthcare, proudly boasted that this was part of the race day plan all along.

Tyler Brandt and Collin Berry warm up. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

We had our boys shift gears mid race when the move lapped the field, because it looked as if UHC would try to manage the lap times to ensure Day got the most time on GC possible. This meant an amateur team might be able to get a gap late in the race and fend for the 5th place spot, with the top four stage places all but shored up. Rene's hard work all race has made him a lot more noticeable to the other teams as they chased him down repeatedly. One final late move should have been good enough to stick, however 3rd place overall, Joesph Rosskopf, went with him and that sealed Rene's doom immediately.

Message from the wheel pit. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

All of these attacks off of the front coupled with United Healthcare and Optum fighting for position in the last lap allowed Gera to sneak into the lead-out train in front of Ben Day. Gera capped off a brilliant team ride by Rene, Tyler and Collin with a 6th on the field sprint and a 8th place on the stage (2 lapped riders finished behind him and Zach Bell crashed out on the final lap).

Collin Berry. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

Stage 5 of the Tour of the Gila is essentially a one day race as nothing is settled in any of the jersey classifications until the day is done. Every single jersey changed hands multiple times during the race, proving stage 5 truly was a monster.

Our plan for the day was to make as much noise early on firing off as many bullets as possible while Gera sat patiently, waiting for the final climb to make his move. There isn’t much the team needs to do other than make sure Gera is well fed at this point, so letting Collin Berry test himself and instigate attacks became the early option for them team.

Collin actually made the first attack of the race and made it a small breakaway as some heavy hitters joined him, hoping to gain a little bit of time on the field heading towards the first KOM. The field responded eventually and his break would not last, but the tempo was set as Tyler and Collin attacked with everything they had left. Rene cared after Gera in the field.

The real break of the day was purpose built, with Luis Amaran and Luis Lemus both represented looking for sprint jersey and KOM jersey points, respectively. Carter Jones, second on GC, and two Optum teammates were also represented to try to gain back the GC lead. Collin’s day was done by the time we hit the feed zone, where he hung up his cleats after a job well done. Rene and Tyler fought on to make sure Gera had the food and MRI he needed to follow through with our plan.

United Healthcare became worried about the time the break was able to put on the main field and with Carter Jones in tow, they had good reason to be worried. Carter and Ben swapped the virtual red jersey on the road several times and UHC picked up the pace on the Cat 1 climb out to the Cliff Dwellings, shattering the field. Tyler and Rene settled into a chase grouppetto awaiting word from the team car that Gera was safely in the red jersey group. A lone thumbs up from Rene returned with a smile from Director Michael Roecklein was all that needed to be said, Gera was now in a group of about 20 riders being towed by the United Healthcare team in chase of Carter Jones and the rest of the breakaway.

The field takes a corner through town. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

The gap to the break was a bit much to overcome alone and the pace UHC was setting made attempting to bridge to the break out of the question and Gera sat about 4th wheel for several hours, watching the riders around him slowly drop away on the climbs. This time last year, Gera was dropped with another 30 miles to go, now he was one of the lone amateur riders left in the race; development takes many forms in a race like this.

As we hit the Gila monster we finally got an idea from the officials what the gap really was; up until then the course made it impossible to get any information via race radio about what was happening up the road. The news was bad; the gap was insurmountable and the jersey would change hands at the end of the day.

Gera on Ben Day's wheel. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

We hoped that, just like on stage 3, United Healthcare would be preoccupied with their own pace to worry about a lone attack from a development rider, and had Gera prepare for an attack on the base of the final climb up to Pinos Altos. This was about 2 or 3 kilometers to go.

Just as we hit the foot of the climb, Gera jumped and put some distance between him and the rest of the field. While the road tilted uphill, he continued to gain time; however, there were breaks in the climb where the road shallowed that allowed UHC to slowly pull him back in. About 500 meters from the line Gera was caught and popped, having given his last effort of the week his race was over.

Director Michael Roecklein and Gera Medina after the race. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

We hoped to move Gera up to the top 20 on GC, after starting the day 10 minutes out of first in about 38th place. He missed the mark by a few spots, but moved up significantly and also finished just outside the top 20 for the day.

The race as a whole was trying for the team, however, where in the past we might have just hoped to finish the race, now we knew our rides could be animators in a professional UCI stage race. The Gila is truly a monster, but we’re tough as whales.

Collin Berry, Ian Moore, and Gera Medina. | Photo: Andy Bokanev

Dana Point Grand Prix NCC Criterium Update from Daniel Katz | Photos by Huy Bui

Ben Bertiger leads the charge. Photo: Huy Bui

The Dana Point Grand Prix is nearly a hometown race for the team. With sponsors there like BMW, MRI, and Zevlin, there's the added pressure of showing them that their investment in the team is a worthy one. Adding to this, Dana Point is an NCC race that has grown each year in caliber and attendance with a major expo, relaxing grassy areas, lots of tents and food.
            
This year, the squad was split between the mountainous UCI race, Tour of the Gila, and the Dana Point Criterium. The long drive down from Santa Barbara was delayed by Matt Schaupp's not-so-punctual arrival from Watsonville, but hey, he got to Santa Barbara eventually where I commenced the drive down to the Irvine area. 

Matt Schaupp hitching a ride on Mike's Bikes to find his way to the front. Photo: Huy Bui

Daniel Harm. Photo: Huy Bui

We stayed with team director Mike Roecklein's parents, who, as always, are phenomenal hosts and graciously made their home ours.  We woke up in the morning to go for a pre-race spin in the pleasant sun, but the relaxed atmosphere had all the nerves that accompany an intense NCC race blanketing it.

Ben Bertiger and Daniel Katz. Photo Huy Bui

Matt Schaupp. Photo: Huy Bui

 We arrived to the race, set up shop and in a grassy area in the shade, met up with loyal and helpful sponsors like Zevlin and got ready. The game plan created, we were leading out Matt for the sprint. While it was his first NCC race, we had no doubts that the youngest on the team was capable. We had five members racing: Matt, Dan Harm, Ben Bertiger, and in his first NCC race, Kyle Torres as well as your humble author. Dan would float and perhaps follow some moves and win some money in primes and some exposure and then Ben and I would help Matt out in the final with Dan the potential guide. Kyle was to learn how the field moved and attack if he found a way off the front.
 
The big names were there, of course. The United Healthcare (UHC) squad that can dominate a crit like no other was there shorthanded with only four riders. Athlete Octane was there with top rider Daniel Holloway who had been winning everything at Speedweek. Other teams had representation including Champion Systems, Predator, and powerhouse KHS. Nonetheless, the tactics in the race seemed to be built around putting pressure on UHC.

Kyle Torres finds he's very comfortable in a pro peloton in his first pro NCC race. Photo: Huy Bui

A big crash split the field and after a shuffle, our game plan was, frankly, failing. Dan and Kyle were split off by the crash in the second group. Matt, Ben and myself made the lead split but all separated from each other but the speed made it hard to get to Matt. So Matt was on his own and through the jostling of the UHC leadout, found his way closing gaps on his own in the shuffle. He managed an 11th for the team, a great result at any NCC but especially for a first. Luckily, he made up for our lack of presence. Holloway proved he's one of the best guys on the circuit, beating UHC for the win. 

Matt Schaupp and Daniel Harm. Photo: Huy Bui

Onto the next race, the 805 crit series, a bit of a home race weekend for myself, and hopefully our organization and communications are quite improved. This is our first real time together as a crit squad, so it's going to be fun. 

Chico Stage Race Stage 3/4 Report by Tyler Brandt | Tyler Brandt 5th on Stage

Tyler Brandt gets a call up before the start of Stage 4.

Tyler talks to Ben Jacques-Maine, 2nd on Stage 3, before the start of the criterium.

The last day of the Chico Stage Race featured a double day with a time trial in the morning and a downtown criterium in the afternoon. Rene Corella proved his off season work has been effective by placing 6th on the stage in the U25 field. The rest of the team had strong showings as well. Spirits were high heading into the Stage 4 criterium in Downtown Chico. Tyler Brandt recalls how it went down.

I was super excited for the criterium because I knew we had a strong team to animate the race and a strong sprinter that I could help in the finish. 

Tyler in an early move.

Matty sitting on all of the right wheels late in the race.

I planned to race as aggressively as possible in hopes of sticking a break. It was a super fun course with some small roads that led me to believe that a break might be able to go. 

After spending the first half of the race going for breaks, I became less optimistic about a break sticking and started to conserve to help Matt in the finish. We were able to work together and help each other near the end. We weren't quite able to make the move that we had planned on the last lap, but were able to follow the fast leadout and go 5th and 6th on the stage. Not what we had hoped for, but a good experience that will help us develop a stronger sprint duo. 

We had a great experience at the Chico stage race and can't wait to return next season.

The next race on the calendar is the San Dimas Stage Race where our lone Cat 2s, Matty and Kyle, will be looking to finish off their upgrades. Thank you Chico and everyone who volunteered to create an amazing event. You should all be proud and the whales will be back next year!

#ToughAsWhales

Chico Stage Race Stage 2 Report by Rene Corella

Rene Corella in a group of 3 during the race.

Matt Schaupp after the race.

The second stage of Chico Stage Race blew apart quickly and featured an early crash that took our Bryan Larsen out of the race. Rene Corella recalls how it went down:

We where pretty good at the beginning I have to say, good positioning by the guys.

Unfortunately Bryan crashed.

The wind was unreal.

I was in the move but I wasn't able to handle the attack from Tom Zirbel [Optum Presented by Kelly Benefits], my legs were swollen.

I rode with a small group and then it became bigger, like 30 guys or so, including Kyle and Tyler. I was trying to keep my position in the front and I closed a gap to one dude who attacked and that make another break of 10 guys approximately.

That was with 30 km to go when they start attacking and the move was defined in the gravel section. I think if I had Bryan and Tyler together in the front one of us could get a better place.

Bryan's Limar helmet took the brunt of the impact and he suffered some road rash and a broken bicycle, but, luckily, he's not injured badly. Rene was our best placed rider on the day, finishing in 22nd place. 

We're looking forward to redemption in Sunday's double day, which includes a time trial in the morning and a downtown criterium in the evening.

#ToughAsWhales

Clouds of dirt created by the race caravan on the gravel roads of Stage 2.

Spirits are high after a tough second stage. Rene Corella and Collin Berry relaxing at our amazing host family, the Wetland's, house.

Chico Stage Race Stage 1 Report from Bryan Larsen | Bryan Larsen 6th on Stage

Seven of us piled into the van in Southern California,  and a mere 10 hours of drive time stood between us and California's oldest stage race, Chico stage race. The drive flew by as moral had quickly recovered from our Mexico trip. People regained their health, had their much needed rest. Needless to say, we were excited.

That excitement quickly paralleled the fast course for stage 1 at Thunderhill Raceway. Multiple chicanes, perfect pavement, a kicker, and a screaming descent before the final straight made for a high speed roller coaster of a race. Tyler and myself lined ourselves up for the first sprint points. Testing the run-in to the finish would provide crucial information for the team on how to approach the finish. 

The last time over the hill Rene and I flew on the downhill delivering me right onto Mike Friedman's wheel with 1 km to go. Not a bad place to be, but with the fast mike bike's lead out I gassed myself a tad too hard and crossed the line 6th.

The bigger victory, I believe, was in the team's communication, focus, and moral following the Vuelta a Mexico. We are excited to race the gravel tomorrow and be aggressive as a team.

We're ready for stage 2 tomorrow.