Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cobb Park Criterium and Gateway GI Extreme Circuit Race 2010

This past weekend I planned to double up on the bike racing Saturday and Sunday while mixing in family activities all over IL. Saturday I took the wife and kids up to Chicago to visit one of Michele’s good friends from college. They’re expecting their first child and so there was lots of excitement with that - and the world cup. After a leisurely lunch at a cafĂ© in downtown we headed to Kankakee for the Cobb Park Criterium. This is Michele’s favorite race of the year. The shaded park along the Kankakee river provides a very comfortable location for family viewing. Furthermore, the short laps taken at (relatively) high speed make it more fun to watch than say, Hillsboro.

Burnham lined up 6 guys in a 30 man field. I think XXX did the same. Needless to say, these teams have been having their way with the cat 3 races lately. An early move went and so did Nick. It got brought back and Jason (Burnham) went again. The move had a XXX racer in it and Nick took off to catch this one, too. He took a Psimet rider with him and they were out of sight for a long time. Eventually, John (Tati) decided it was time and went, and that was the cue for those in the know to not miss out. The rest of the field was split and I was the last man in this group on the road. I shouted that we had a gap, but John realized he was pulling the field and sat up. The split ended and XXX and Burnham went back to blocking. In the hours since I consider this moment a mistake on my part. After John’s big pull and subsequent field split (though it only lasted about a lap) I should have countered and taken whoever was hungry with me. We could have had 4-5 guys in a chase group. However, Nick was up the road and I thought I should sit in. I’ve still got a lot to learn!

Nick eventually made it up to the break with psimet, but popped. This is a familiar scene in the 3’s this year. One of us will get to the move of the day and then blow up. Leaving the other to counter or chase. But, Nick lasted until 7 to go. His fitness is right there. One of these races he’ll connect, I’m sure. Anyway, Nick comes back. ½ lap later I go. I get a gap but as it turns out, we’re at 5 or 6 to go. I don’t have the juice to go the distance, and the pack is not interested in letting me go at this late hour. Alas. I did get a “pizza prime” while off the front, but with a 50 second gap to bridge, well, it didn’t happen. After getting unceremoniously caught, a lap or 2 went by and I started telling myself that I “needed to check the lap count”. 2 to go. At this point I am SO glad I burned a couple matches off the front for nothing! I start thinking about how I can move up but we’re on the last lap. Going into turn 2 I’m on John’s (Tati) wheel. John is a big rider and I watched him win the drag race at the Urbana Grand Prix, so I figure he’ll move up and I’ll have a great leadout. John rubs the wheel in front of him coming out of turn 2 and sits up. He kept it up but I moved ahead for another wheel. I see Chris (Burnham) who I know has a good sprint, but he’s 4 riders ahead of me and I do not want to chop the last turn. Some other dude decides that IS a good idea and he proceeds to clip a pedal coming out of the turn, sending his rear wheel into a little slide in one of those slow-motion moments. I was looking through the turn so I was essentially watching it happen. Homeboy kept it up, but it was pretty harry for a moment. Newt (Ritte v Vlaanderen) checked up a bit to avoid homeslice’s powerslide – not something he was pleased about after the race. Well, if you’ve raced or seen Cobb Park before, you know that at this point it’s full gas for the last 200 meters around a gentle left hand bend. Everybody was up out of the saddle, but I was able to move through the group “easily.” I say “easily” but my HR was above 180, so that should be put into perspective. I saw Chris (Burnham) ahead of me move up the left side, and seperated by about 3 bikes I followed his line. He then cut right to the outside and I began going in that direction, too. I kept the gas on to the line but he still had some distance on me. Probably a bike length or two. I honestly think I was gaining on him, but not enough to matter without another 50 meters. He crossed the line having just overtaken the first two who took the last corner (we had started from outside the top 10 around the last corner). I came out of it 4th in the field sprint and 7th overall. It was a fun sprint but there was a lot to (re-) learn.

First, I was not in the correct position for the sprint. I knew this and had hoped to get a “leadout” from other racers, but still, I should have been 4th or 5th wheel around the last turn, not 12th. Second, while shifting down the cassette in the finishing stretch I was ready for one more shift but decided not to hit it. Why, you might ask? Well, on the previous Wednesday I had shifted into my 11 while sprinting for the Urbana town sign (at approx. 37mph on flat ground) and my chain began jumping. Being the fastidious bike mechanic that I am I neglected to do anything about it between the training ride and the race. In the finish I didn’t want my chain to start jumping, so I was “only” in my 12 tooth cog. I realize that I am entering an entire new world of whiney-bitchdom by saying I would have done better in an 11 tooth cog…but I would have. Having clocked 39 mph in the sprint in the 12, I’m confident I would have gone a little bit faster had I shifted into a reliable 11. Needless to say, I will get this fixed before the state criterium this weekend. New chain? Clean chain? Cabling? It’ll get sorted tonight!

After the top ten finish at Cobb Park, Sunday brought new challenges. My brother, who had been visiting for the week, needed to be sent by rail back to KS. I found the Gateway GI Babler Extreme Circuit Race flyer earlier in the week and thought I could put him on Amtrak in the morning and then do the race in the afternoon. Perfect, eh? There were 2 problems with this plan: first was the 4AM departure from the house that would deliver my bro to StL., secondly, I try to avoid close associations of the words “gastrointerology” (a.k.a GI) and “extreme”. Weighed in the balance I thought it was worth it for another race start, and frankly, racing in Missouri has been very very good to me this year.

After my bro was on his way and I had passed a few hours of work time at Panera, I showed up at Babler State Park. There were no signs of bike racing. Zero. I drove around, reread the flyer, and drove around some more. Nothing. The park ranger confirmed: race cancelled. The explaination was the lamest in cycling history: recent rains made the field planned for use as a PARKING LOT un-usable and therefore the race was cancelled. Beautiful pavement: check. Secluded, closed roads: check. Great course with a monster hill: check. Bike racers: check. All the essentials were present for a great race. For crying out loud, I will park 5 miles away and ride to the start if I must. Regardless, the race was cancelled. So I made the best of it and rode 6 laps around the park while thoroughly enjoying the terrain. The big hill would be difficult to get up in less than 2 min (I climbed avg 400W for 2:15 and ~10mph, to give you an idea; and I weigh about 190 w/ bike + bottles + etc). I imagine in a race scenario I could give a little more to hold a wheel while jamming out of the saddle (and weigh a little less – frame pump, spare tube, multi-tool, extra food), but it would still be a brutal climb at race pace. Most trips up I was riding in the saddle in a 39x21 or 39x23. I don’t think a 25 or 27 would be necessary unless the group is crawling (sub 8mph avg), you were doing 10 laps, or you just love to spin spin spin. On one of the downhills I clocked 47mph. I wasn’t “trying” to go fast by sprinting into it and then tucking, I was just in the drops. Yeah, fun times in a pack of 40 of your best friends, right? Well, it would have been good racing, but I got some good training in anyway. According to the StL forum (which I didn’t check before the race – doh!) they are trying to reschedule. A BIG thanks to my wife who gave me the Father’s day present of time – time to go play bikes in StL.

Next up: State Criterium Championships in Peoria, IL. THE race of the year.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

O'Fallon Grand Prix 2010

I’ve started 4 races now as a category 3 racer. I’ve learned a few things. Here are the highlights in bullet format:
• Cat 3 races are tougher than Cat 4 races.
• Cat 3 racers are MUCH cooler than you. Especially if you wish to speak to another cat 3 racer during a race.
• You (ok, I) can’t win a cat 3 race while making stupid mistakes (unlike in a cat 4 race, when you – I – can kind of come back from them).
So how did the race go? Let me tell you.
O’Fallon hosted the state championship road race. Typically, this has been my worst race of the year. I say typically because I’ve only raced the state RR twice previously, and I’ve crashed once and almost quit once. My first attempt at State road racing glory was way way back in 2007 – my first race ever. I finished 13th in fact. Out of 17. I got dropped at the end of the first of 2 laps, turned around, and headed for the car until a friend who got dropped before me, found me and talked me into riding it out. I passed 2 more guys to get that 13th finish. Maybe it wasn’t that bad then. In 2008 I returned to the road race, this time in Oak Brook, but unlike the late gain in placements from 2007, I was sitting 2nd wheel about 300-500 meters from the line. The rider in front of me pulled off to the right, taking out my front wheel, and about 10 of us hit the deck. My first crash in a race. Sadly, my teamates and I were stacked 3 or 4 deep in the top 10 going into that crash. None of us came out of it in the top ten.  With the background out of the way…
The O’Fallon course was a 22.5 mile loop over a mix of terrain. I wouldn’t call it rolling, nor flat, just a hodgepodge. There were some headwind sections, but the wind was pretty tame at a sub 10mph breeze. There were (if memory serves) 3 climbs of note on the course, each taking between 10 and 40 seconds to complete. Clearly, sprinter’s climbs.  However, this course was to be run 3 times in the cat 3 race. At 67 miles, it is the longest race of the season for me (by 9 miles!). And we all know what happened last time I was in a long, semi-hilly road race.
The Race:
We rolled out with about 50 combatants under hot and humid conditions. The pace was pedestrian, and it was clear a lot of guys were thinking something similar to me: 67 miles - 3 laps – is a long way, better sit in for a while. That’s just what I did. Sit in the top 20 or so guys and keep an eye up the road for trouble. Trouble found me anyway on that first lap, at about 30 minutes in. Going into a sharp left hander, I felt my front tire give. I was about to lean into the turn fully when this sensation registered, so I immediately yelled “flat!” and went straight through the turn into a gravel shoulder. By the time the pack had passed me, I had already taken the front wheel out and was waving it franticly at the wheel truck. Hooray for spare wheels. I fished my spare out of the truck, and asked for a free lap. After a small push from the driver (on foot) I was chasing the pack. Free lap denied. So much for saving energy the first two laps! I was pretty fresh at this point, but in the heat and starting from a dead stop at the base of the 2nd longest climb - I was pegged pretty quick. I just held a hard pace until I could see the back of the pack. As I got closer I could see my teamate Nick tailgunning it, waiting for me to get close enough and then he’d lend a hand. There was no sense in him taking himself out of the race if I wasn’t strong enough to get back in it, yet he was ready to help me out. Quite the class move. After about 10 minutes of hard riding I got a break in his draft and we traded pulls for a few more minutes until we were back on. I immediately began working my way forward as the accordian effect would surely sap all ability to recover.
It turns out that Nick wasn’t as fresh as I thought. He told me later that he had crashed in a corner after I had the flat and was forced to chase back on himself. He was at the back because he had just made the catch! Clearly he was strong that day.
With our first lap plan of resting in the pack completely shot, we hit the “big” climb of the lap. Pushing the little ring I spun up it and advanced several places. I was very pleased with the ease with which I moved up considering I had prepared myself mentally for sag climbing the hill. This would continue to be the case with the climbs on the next 2 laps – each time I would advance positions without much “work” beyond what I felt was keeping pace. Now I am no grimpeur, but this is a massive change from a year ago when any pitch up in a course meant I was sailing out the back of a group – and that in the cat 4’s!
The second lap saw some serious attacking from the bunch as the race was officially on. I went with a promising looking one, which got brought back pretty quick. Nick bridged to the next big move (which included Joe of Verizon) and it stuck. 8 guys were soon up the road with a big gap. Like 30 seconds big. I was pleased with the situation, as Burnham, Bloomington, WCC, and Verizon all had a guy in the move, with ample bodies to block. I was trying to keep cool and eat as appropriate, but in the heat, my stomach did not feel comfortable at all. Even drinking regularly was upsetting me.
After several miles of block and chase (most with me sitting in the top 15, only occasionally directly blocking), I saw a couple riders coming back from the break. Sadly, one of them was Nick. The group had stopped working together and Nick got popped after a pull. It was a shame as he was away for a good 20 miles – 1/3 of the race! As I saw him up the road I moved next to Scott (ISCorp) who is a big young motor. I asked him if he had anything left (since he had been animating the race a fair bit) and he said he did if I had a jump. I of course answered “that’s the only thing I’ve got man.” Since it’s true. I started tempoing up to the front with designs of countering Nick’s move before he got caught. The idea being that I would go “up over the top” of Nick and hopefully take a TT monster like Scott with me to the break and keep that funk alive. As I approached the front I heard guys calling me out, but I jumped anyway. I got a gap but after a few seconds of hard pedaling I checked my six to see Scott pulling the whole field up to me. I sat up at that point, and we soon caught Nick. Lame. I just didn’t have the legs to go all out for 2-3 more min. to try to shake the pack. Nick slotted back in the bunch and looked comfy while I was a few wheels hinter. It turns out my little flail began to exact a cost I couldn’t pay.
I began throwing up. It’s never happened in a race before. Actually, it’s never happened on a bike ride before of any kind. But it happened. Did I eat too much? With 1 gel down after 60+ miles, I doubt it. I think I was succoming to the heat again. You can guess what happened next …I started loosing positions in the pack faster than I could spew excuses or stomach fluids. On my way out Nick (WCC) and Keith (Unattached) shouted encouragement to “hang in there”, “dig deep”, and all of that. At mile 63, I was dropped. Now, it wasn’t just my tummy troubles which sent me out the back, though I think that was a primary cause. At the front of the race things were heating up as the break had completely shattered by then and the pack was greedily reeling riders in one by one. Attacks were flying (I would guess) and the race was getting tougher. What surprised me most though was how quickly I lost myself. From top 15 to out the back was less than 3 minutes. It was there one minute and gone the next. Slowing down to 15 mph and turning the pedals at 60 rpm helped me begin to recover. Getting some water made a huge difference. I tempoed up the final climb noting that I still had decent legs but sheepishly crossed the line alone in 37th.
This summer has not been the cycling-results-love-fest the spring often was. Since upgrading I’ve had a flat, a crash, a heat wimp-out DNF, and been dropped in a RR. Woohoo. The cat 3 races are more demanding and punish weakness. And as I’m sure you know – I have a lot of weakness(es). However, I have to say it was my best state road race attempt yet. I had hoped for a lot more, and frankly, the flat tire definitely reduced my chances. Therein lies a major difference of cat 3 and cat 4 races (for me at least) – if you make a big mistake, you won’t have enough juice to recover. When I dropped my chain at the base of the big climb, also on the first lap, of the cat 4 Springvalley RR, I caught on after some hard riding and still finished 4th – despite attacking the field another 4+ times. At O’Fallon I attacked the field 2 more times yet couldn’t finish with the pack. L’Ouch. I know I’m a strong rider (my powertap and my mommy tell me so), but I need to take the game to the next level between the ears if I’m going to be standing on a podium any time soon. Until I have fistfulls of increased fitness, the margins are just that tight.