Monday, April 6, 2009


[Caution: this pedal-stroke by pedal-stroke replay is way too long with respect to its actual importance for reality. If reading my bloviating will piss you off, but you want to know how it went, here you go: I raced in Hillsboro. It was hard. I finished safely, and in 38th place out of 100 cat. 4s. The girls said they had a good time but they lied. – please stop reading.]

Hillsboro-Roubaix was a great race this year as last. We (Wild Card Cycling) didn’t have the impressive success (1,2,6,7 in the 5’s) but we had a respectable showing (9,15,19,38 in the 4’s – I was the caboose.) Rob and Scott have given race reports, but here’s my perspective for what it’s worth.

It was sunny and the winds felt light. However, once we got up to speed the winds didn’t feel so light anymore. The field seemed very twitchy on the country roads and there were a LOT of tire rubbing sounds. Surprisingly I did not rub tires once! The twitchiness of the pack produced a constant surge-stop rhythm that sapped your strength. As the pack would slow, you touch your brakes to stay out of the guy’s cassette in front of you – but now they’re putting the gas on again so you have to accelerate. If you don’t speed up, you open up a gap and you get more wind in your face, etc. Rinse and repeat. Regardless, I felt good for the first lap and stayed with the leaders in the top half of the field.

The cobbled section that blew me up last year did a number on me this year and I drifted back through the pack through the finishing circuit. I definitely had to burn a match to stay with the group at this point and I was in the red after the 2 hills into town. I thought I climbed them well and maintained my position (not something I usually do on climbs) but it took its toll. At one point during the cobbles Tom gave me a little push (which was a BIG dose of encouragement) and said (something like) “Hang on Frenchy.” My body (especially my lower back) was telling me to quit, so that little bit of help went a long way. In bike racing as in life: encouragement is nice in good times but is really powerful during tough times!

Well, I held on to the group and stayed with the lead pack during the next climb after we left town. I was recovering a little, and even gave Tom a little return push in a crosswind section. However, with each little rise my back was getting tighter and more painful. I noticed my cadence was dropping and I was “mashing” the pedals more frequently, even standing at times. The hill around 5 miles into the lap popped me out of the group (a la West Lafayette RR last year). I thought I might be able to latch onto the back of the pack but the tailwind section was the cue for the horses to let loose. Not long after that turn the wheel truck came around and I knew we were done. I say we because there was a rider with me (Cervelo bike w/ HED or Mavic carbon wheels, black jersey?). I told him to “hop on” and tried to catch up to the wheel truck draft (which is illegal, mind you.) We rotated through once or twice but the next time I flicked my elbow for him to come around, he didn’t do so. I flicked again and slowed 1-2 mph. He didn’t come around. Being the hot-head that I am I attacked him(!) and tried to bridge to a dropped rider up the road (who had just been passed by the wheel truck). All I accomplished was blowing myself up again, so I stretched my back out and was rejoined by the Cervelo rider. I made a truce with him.

The rest of the race was a series of picking up dropped riders as we rode in a paceline. I noticed that the guys I was joining did not properly place themselves with respect to the wind for a paceline. They were still riding in “race mode” whereby you position yourself in such a way as to minimize the draft of the trailing riders. This is not “nice” and does not give the guys you are working with very much recovery after their turns on the front. I finally spoke up and instructed the group to “move left” or “move right” and some of the guys complied. We then had a decent echelon with which to draft; the group actually speeds up when you do this. The down side is that the group recovers better and you don’t burn people out as much, so they may be fresher at the finish and beat you. But that’s the risk you take.

The composition of the group varied over the rest of the lap as we picked guys up and dropped guys from the group. Cervelo was dropped on a climb, some cat 3’s and a cat 2(!) joined our group. Now, it is illegal to work with riders from other races during yours, however when you are 4 minutes in arrears of your race leaders – who cares? I suppose there are some rules (receiving assistance from a motor vehicle) which you just don’t break, but there are others (yellow-line, working with riders of other fields) that are dictated by the situation. Speaking of which, I was in the race with a former race director who clearly felt the same way as he moved up through the field in the left gutter! That’s right; it wasn’t just a possible center-line infraction, but a flagrant one. However, while I was heckling him (teasing really), I would have done the same thing. We could see that the road ahead was clear and the crosswind section had the pack all over the road. On the other hand there are obvious circumstances where this would be foolhardy and reckless – which is why there is this “iron rule” imposed on the racers.

One of the riders we picked up (and dropped) during this time was Brean. Brean is part of the uber-hip Chicago Cuttin Crew bike messenger team. I was surprised to find him towards the back end of things and asked him why he was off the back: “Stuck in the little ring” he said to me. “Stuck with a small motor” was my reply. Turned out his front derailleur had malfunctioned and he was stuck in his small chainring. Most of the race I was in my big chainring (hard to believe, I know), so this would be a significant disadvantage to him. It was good to have a “friend” in the group though as we’ve ridden together in races before. Well, his luck went from bad to worse as he got a flat a few miles further down the road and fell off the pace. He was wise enough to carry an emergency pump/sealant deal, but that was all he could do to limp into town. However, he is the type of bike racer we all should be: he was happy after the finish. Whining like a child about his bad luck? Nope, laughing at the adventure of this silly race. In bike racing as in life: don't take yourself too seriously.

Coming into the final set of hills I was trying to decide if I would “use myself up” on the course or “save some for the sprint.” Now, in cycling circles, unless you WIN the race or WIN a bunch sprint, sprinting at the line against the other stragglers is dangerous, foolish, and a lame move that only shows your self-worship. Really, does it matter if you finish 50th or 51st? No, it doesn’t. Neither does it matter if you finish 38th or 39th. However, you always want to practice winning out of a “breakaway” or “small group”, so in light of this I tried to keep a steady tempo up the hills and stay with my group. I succeeded and no cat 4 from our group beat me up the 2 hills. One guy I was with purposely stayed with me, but after the 2nd hill (we traded off going up the hill); I attacked him before the hard left into the downhill stretch. I dropped him and stayed on the wheel of a cat 3 rider up the road. In the final turn on the course I saw a cat 4 rider up ahead and accelerated to get on his wheel. Once there I stayed to his left since he was checking on his right. With 200 meters to go I accelerated and held a high pace to the line. Mission accomplished, I won my group (of 4’s), worked hard, and didn’t save a bunch of energy for a foolish “blaze of glory sprint” – I just finished hard.

I definitely learned a lot from this race; here ya go in bullet format:

· This is the second weekend in a row of hard riding that was limited by lower back muscular pain. Obviously I need to strengthen my lower back and abdomen. This is probably performance limiter number 1! (Yes I did sit-ups this morning between indoor soccer games.)

· Practice riding in the drops (subpoint from the above). I like to ride on the hoods, but that’s a higher drag position than the drops. Less drag = less wasted energy.

· My average heart rate was 166 for the 2 hrs of racing. I need more endurance rides. My next race is in June (wha?!) so I’m going to focus on base miles during my weeks for the next month to build up my aerobic engine. Let’s hope another transatlantic business trip doesn’t destroy my fitness.

· While I positioned myself well during the first lap, I need to move up further during a race like this as I was getting a lot of yo-yo and frequently had to brake. Braking is throwing away energy, and that’s not something I can afford!

· On one twisty decent I grabbed a handful of rear brake and almost lost my rear-end! Definitely brake lightly in turns at speed and don’t just grab one or the other – otherwise you’re asking for it!

· All things considered I felt I handled turns well and got some of my racing “nerve” back after my crash at Oak Brook last year. I definitely was not afraid of following wheels in the pack, and even bumped bars a few times without any panicking or adverse effects (from them or me). Just a little – hey there, how you doin?

· Wear sunscreen – I went from pasty white to “solo cup red” in 2 hrs!

· Don’t bring the girls to road races. They were burnt and tired and had to endure 4-5hrs in the car for 90 seconds of “didjaseeme?!” Bring the family to crits and cross races.

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