Jack MacDowell works hard and plays hard. So it is no surprise that he has spent nearly a full season working diligently to understand the nuances of road racing, and especially criterium racing.
Although initially, these nuances appeared similar to those he experienced as a triathlete, the unique tactics and strategies of bike racing have taken more time to adapt to and conquer than expected.
In a season that was punctuated by a mid-year setback which meant almost a month away from training, Jack never lost his tenacity and drive to be on the top step of the podium.
Having recently earned his very first win at the Turbulence Criterium in San Bernardino, we caught up with Jack to talk about his big win, his training, and what lies ahead for his cycling in a 4-question interview.
Standing tall never felt so good! Jack MacDowell earns a well deserved win at the San Bernardino Airport Turbulence Criterium. Photo Credit: Jack MacDowell
Primary Sport/Discipline: Road Cycling
Average Hours of Training Per Week: 8-12hrs
Upcoming Goals: Off-Season CBR Upgrade Series Criteriums
Question #1: Congratulations on your first race win Jack! Having raced numerous times this season, always working to master the tactical element of criterium racing, how did you achieve the win?
Jack MacDowell: One of the key elements of our coaching strategy in crits has been to stay near the front, but not on the front unless it is a definitive break-away.
In each race this approach ‘sinks-in’ a little more. At the Turbulence Criterium I followed the aforementioned strategy for several laps before slipping back into old habits and going on a multi-lap solo-breakaway. As you might expect, I never got too far from the pack.
After a lap or two, one guy was able to bridge-up to me and we tried to put some distance between us and the peloton. Unfortunately he ended up bringing a handful of riders along with him, which brought the whole group back together.
With a couple of laps to go the same rider and I got a gap on the peloton which had me leading going into the final lap. I kept the lead for about half of the last lap and then had him pull until about 200-300 meters from the finish when I was able to jump around him and sprint to the finish.
The final lap strategy was enlightening as it happened out of luck, it turned out that encouraging him to pull to the last 200-300 meters was the key to me being able to win.
I was very excited to cross the line first!
Coach's Perspective/Coach Brian: I am so excited for Jack and proud of him for earning his first win! We have been discussing tactics and race strategy, throughout the season, as a means to better utilize his fitness and achieve a break-out result.
At various races this season he has been very strong and eager to work hard on the front of the peloton. This put him in the position of being a ‘marked rider’, which made it more difficult to achieve his best finish.
It is great to see that all the pieces came together for Jack at the Turbulence Criterium, both strategy and fitness, to take his first road cycling win. Congratulations, Jack!
Question #2: You had a setback, mid-season, that kept you from regular training and since then you have worked diligently to regain lost fitness. Following your win, what aspect of training would you say has made the biggest impact in getting back your race fitness?
JM: The combination of rest and consistency seems to have made a big difference. And by that I include “consistently resting.”
Missing almost the entire month of June was tough and I thought the fitness may never come back.
Oddly enough, that rest seemed to help (after 6 weeks of being back into a consistent training regimen) as I have hit some PRs in terms of 20-minute FTP and heart rate peaks since June.
Additionally, as Coach Brian has encouraged (numerous times), it seems to be important to listen to my body and, if fatigue is setting-in, take a mid-week rest day. This has been helpful since I normally get up before 4:30AM to train during the work week.
With that said, without being on the bike consistently we are not going to see gains, so balancing the need to train versus the need to recover has been a point of focus.
Coach Brian: It is great to hear and see that Jack has been learning what his body needs to best adapt to training stress!
As a Coach it is my #1 goal to teach my Athletes more about themselves and how their bodies react to the constant workload of endurance training while helping them achieve their goals.
Yes, there are basic (and advanced) training principles that we heed to maximize workout effectiveness. But, when we factor in the reality that most Athletes are working 40+/hrs. a week, we must consider all the life-stress that does not get a Training Stress Score when developing an individuals training plan.
Understanding the notion of taking an easy-day or complete day-off when unexpected work or life stress happens is key. Altering training to include these unprescribed rest-days is paramount when work and life stress mount, even when a big training block is necessary to prepare properly for an upcoming event.
Being a part of a cohesive race team is a goal of Jack's and something that draws him to road cycling. Photo Credit: Jack MacDowell.
Question #3: What is one of your long-term cycling goals? And what is next on your cycling ‘to do’ list?
JM: My long-term goal is to become a Category 3 road cyclist and be on a competitive, as well as cohesive, team!
There is definitely a lot of work to get there, so my near-term goal is to complete two more Cat 5 races, get my Category 4 upgrade, and then work my way through Category 4.
With that said, more than anything, my goal is to continue cycling, have fun and stay safe, while working to make the most improvements I can.
I want to be one of those 70-year old guys that still gets out and hammers on the group rides!
Coach Brian: These are excellent goals! Getting through Category 4 is no easy challenge as so many racers possess the same goal, making it a very competitive group.
The benefit of this increased competition is that it requires an Athlete to better understand and execute race tactics and strategy.
This experience will serve Jack well as he works toward being able execute these tactics in a team environment, whether that comes in Category 4 or later in Category 3.
Question #4: Describe your favorite workout in your training program. Also, please share a ‘knowledge-bomb’ you have learned while training with Big Wheel Coaching.
JM: Great question, I think my strength would arguably be time-trialing, as I did a lot of triathlon training back in the day.
So, up until recently some of my favorite workouts consisted of long-steady efforts.
However, Coach Brian and I recently discussed, and have been implementing, the concept of polarized training into my workout routine. This is where I go out and do short high-intensity efforts followed by extended periods of super-light recovery riding.
That has really seemed to make a difference both physically and mentally in my performance. Additionally it has helped boost my confidence going into the last 200-300 meters of a race.
The short-hard efforts over the last number of weeks made me feel comfortable and strong so that I could go all-out at the end of the race!
Coach Brian: Every Athlete has a different and unique sporting background that they will draw upon to be successful in Endurance Sport.
For Jack, he has a well developed aerobic system from his days in triathlon. This allows us to focus on high-intensity work, coupled with extended bouts of rest to help him excel in the volatile, high-output, world of road racing.
This style of training seemed counter intuitive at first but as Jack mentioned, once he embraced it, he made gains very quickly. What’s more, these gains were not just physical in nature. They boosted his confidence, giving him the assuredness that he could sprint for victory amongst his peers in any criterium or road race scenario!
The long steady efforts of triathlon might be Jack's first experience with Endurance Sport, but recently it is the tactical and high-power world of criterium racing that he has focused on. Photo Credit: Jack MacDowell.
We hope that you have enjoyed reading about Jack MacDowell’s first race win and that it has inspired you to work toward your own goals.
Although road racing is a fun, challenging, and rewarding way for a cyclist to be the best Athlete possible, it is only one element of a sport that can bring out the very best in every participant.
At Big Wheel Coaching, it is our passion to help you achieve your very best and your highest potential. Whether that journey sees you grinding it out on gravel roads, hitting the trailhead for adventure, or pounding out the miles on the open-roads, we hope that you are ready to clip in.
Blending an Athlete's drive, a solid training plan, and regular feedback from a Coach helps make memorable results, like Jack MacDowell's criterium win, possible.
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching