Monday, April 26, 2010

THe Spring Valley Road Race

The Spring Valley Road Race


The wife and I were in Ohio for a wedding, and the icing on the cake (pour moi) was the road race the next day.  The Spring Valley RR was only 30 minutes outside of Dayton, a 9 mile loop, run 5 times (for the cat 4’s) with some small rollers, a little wind, a few turns, forecast of thunderstorms, and a ½ mile climb that could be taken in the big ring – but you had to be Mr. Big Watts (or not carrying the 10 extra pounds I am) for that.

We showed up 2 hrs early to give me plenty of time for race day reg. and bike assembly (post and wheels were off, since it rode in the trunk).  Since the race organizers were still getting reg. up and running, I started in on the bike.  “Crunch!”  The first thing I did was strip my seat post collar threading!  I had this Zen moment – no part of the bike is superflous – and then began to panic.  No seatpost collar means no bike riding, and therefore NO RACING.  I began introducing myself to people and pandering for spare parts.  45 min. go by before Paul (Team Dayton/Michelob Ultra), an older cat 3 dude, saves my bacon.  He was the only guy with a spare seat post collar at the race, because really, who carrys an extra seat post collar?  [NOTE: As of today, I now carry a spare in my tool box!]  So with Paul’s collar, I register and get dressed with 25 min for a warm-up, plenty of time.

The cat 4’s rolled out a hair shy of 40 combatants as the road dried from the first t-storm cell.  A rider from University of Cincinnatti was clearly itching to get off the front, and after my result at Hillsboro, I was daydreaming of winning solo out of a long break.  Perhaps today would be my day?  Cinci’s move went clear and teammates of the break riders started blocking.  I decided (foolishly?) that this was therefore a serious enough move and bridged.  The pack decided 3 was too many and soon pulled us back.  A few miles later, Cinci went and took another rider with him.  Shortly enough 3 teamates of those riders were on the front blocking.  I decide again that this looked serious enough and bridged.  Nobody came with (I sprinted hard out of the first 5 wheels, setting a new 1 sec and 5 sec power PR), and proceeded straight  to the front to take a pull.  We had a decent gap going into the ½ mile climb, but it looked long and steep so I decide to shift into the little ring..and droped my chain.  The 15 seconds in hand were soon gone as I was stopped on the roadside and the pack flew by to the tune of my cursing.  I was only angry with myself for being so stupid.  I know how to shift even on a climb, and I was being stupid.  I then began to chase, and caught the pack in the next 3 (4?) miles.  That chase, from a dead stop on that 10% grade was ZERO fun.  I knew I was burning energy for stupidity, energy I would need in a breakaway for some solo win which was getting further and further from happening.

Once I caught on I sat in for a while before moving back up into the top 15 wheels.  Several riders commented on my reappearing act.  It seems that after being aggressive early on the front, getting dropped with a mechanical, and catching back on, I was now a marked man.  Perhaps it was my bright red aero booties that tipped them off?  Or was it the frame pump I forgot to remove before the race?  I guess we’ll never know. 

At this point I told myself to be patient and not get all Jens! out there.  Needless to say, I was in at least 1 break per lap for the rest of the race.  The only move I didn’t get to was the pair that rolled off the front on the last lap.  (I had recently been reeled in.  Again.)  Those 2 stayed away, and though I later bridged to a pair behind them on the road, I was caught on the last hill by a few other riders.  4 of us crested the final climb together, and coming out of 4th position I took 4th overall (2nd from my bunch).  What can I say, I was racing in the 4’s?!  I definitely made a mistake going into the sprint, though.  I was boxed in against the centerline (which the guy who took 3rd completely ignored), and was forced to slow-down and then re-accelerate around the other riders on the right side.  I should have been smart enough to just open it up down the right side to begin with, but I waited.  Glad it’s a training race and not O’Fallon!

Speaking of “training races,” my only complaint was the $32 day-of entry.  A little steep, but hey, it’s their party.  Regardless, I’d be happy to pay it if my next race report is about a cat 3 race!



Monday, April 19, 2010

The Tour of Hermann

This weekend past was the Tour of Hermann in lovely Hermann, MO.  You should go to Hermann, and I should go back.  The people were nice, the hills were plentiful, the views picturesque, the B&B’s ubiquitous.  Did I mention there are wineries every 5 miles?  Besides the obvious “cycling destination” places I’ve ridden (Germany’s Rhine river valley; Tucson, AZ) Hermann is someplace I’d like to go back and train, race, or cyclotour.

The Tour of Hermann Omnium Stage Race had 3 stages: time trial, criterium, and road race, in that order.  The TT and crit were on Saturday, with a nervous, recovery intensive overnight before the Sunday RR.


The TT

First, I hate TT’s.  Steady state, solo, self regulated pain ain’t my bag, baby.  If you want to torture yourself, go ahead.  Me, I like the path of least resistance.  I must say though that as I punish myself with interval training, TT’s are becoming a little more understandable, even acceptable.  Even still, going into them I feel like Gandalf the Grey in that scene from “The Two Towers” LotR film, where Sauruman says: “You have chosen the way of PAIN!”  Yeah, that’s pretty much what I picture before a TT.

The upshot of the TT’s is all the “bells and whistles” I borrowed from friends for the event.  Larry graciously lent me his super pro Zipp 1080’s for the occasion, and Shunk lent me his carbon Easton clip on aero bars.  I also acquired my own “go-fast” equipment in the way of a TT helmet, aero booties, and a short sleeve skinsuit.

I was not very organized for the TT (I’ve only done a couple) and my buffer of prep time soon slipped away.  My warm-up, which I had hoped would be 30-45 minutes, was barely 15 on the trainer.  And my powertap head unit battery decided to die on me at that moment.  As I quickly rolled to the start, I was concerned about my brakes rubbing the braking surface of the wheels (I had shaved the pads down to avoid this and remove metal bits which would harm the borrowed carbon.)  As I was called into the start order I realized I hadn’t pumped up my rear tire.  I frantically ran to the mechanics station and filled it to 120psi.  I checked the front at 115, NOT the 112/115 front/rear pressures Larry recommended for optimum performance.  I then realized (as I was next in line for the start station) that I hadn’t put on my aero booties.  I tossed them to the mechanic, and asked him to hold onto them till I came back.  I jogged back in line, hopped up on the ramp, realizing that I was in the little ring, I shifted up, now with less than 20 seconds to start.  I look down and I’m not in the right gear – my derailleur and chain are not lined up on the same cog – my first several pedal strokes will be wasted.  I resign myself to start easy as the official counts down from ten.  I look down at my Timex ironman watch, and realize it’s not there.  I’m wearing my work watch, which although VERY nice is analog and not conducive to timing one’s splits.



As I roll down the ramp and push the pedals a huge “KLANK!” echoes in the morning stillness of Hermann.  I’ve now found the right gear.  How embarrassing.  I pump it down the initial straight and then point to the right to the volunteer and begin my turn.  He (and several spectators) yell(s): “LEFT!”  I retort: “SH!T!” as I screech to a halt and turn around, and sprint in the correct direction.  I hate TT’s.

At this point I tell myself not to blow up and curse TT’s as the stoopidest kind of bike racing.  It wasn’t Frank Schleck or Michael Rasmussen TT bad, but it was bad.  It can’t be that bad, right?  Remember, borrowed 1080’s!  At the 2 mile mark, it was that bad.  A dude passed me.  He started 30 seconds behind me, and no doubt my PERFECT start gave him some help in the task of passing me.  He was a master’s racer, and I just told myself to hold him at 50 meters and that he was probably some super TT state champ type.  The games we play.  Soon I hit the turn, and after checking my brake pad clearance, accelerated back up to speed.  Very soon I began passing folks.  I think I passed between 5 and 7 people.  Memory beyond threshold is questionable.  I KNOW I passed 4, but I think it was more.  This was my favorite part of the race as each person was a new target.  I started saying things like “You’re mine!” as I rolled up (internal monologue, of course).

The TT ended with leg burning and heavy breathing and a 6th place finish in the Cat 4’s.  My time over 11 miles was 27:19.  Disappointing, but still nabbing Omnium points, and best on Wild Card.

Omnium points: 19.


The Crit

I like crits.  They are my favorite type of bike racing.  Fast, turny, accelerations, open aggression!  I likes them a lot.  However, the crits that have big hills each lap, not so much.  Hermann was like that.  Big BIG uphill (like 10mph at race pace), false flat, bomber downhill over crappy pavement (like 45mph coasting!), several 90 deg turns, and surprise surprise, BIG HILL again!

The group lined up with 50 guys and Mike Rickey of Wild Card St. Louis (the sister team of WCC) lined it out from the start, busting it the entire first lap, leading up the opening hill.  Mike is an experienced racer who catted *down* recently after several years away.  So he was testing his legs, and sadly, they didn’t answer.  He was quite fatigued from training, and popped. I however felt ok and stayed in the top 10 through those first few laps.  Soon enough the group was strung out and the selection had been made – 6 of us at the front and everybody else behind shattered into smaller groups.

We tested each other up the climb and saw who could handle a bike on the downhill and turns.  Nobody was much interested in pulling through the wind-protected flats as that was the perfect time to rest before the kicker each lap.

It was in this section with 4 to go that Ian of BMC/Walmart (not that BMC, another BMC.  But yes, that Walmart.) said adieu and rolled off the front of our group.  He kept the heat on up the climb and soon had a 20 second gap.  The rest of us looked around at each other as if to say: “why don’t you chase that down and haul our sorry butts up to him?!”  He had chosen the perfect moment, when everyone was tired and not eager to chase.  (Note to self: attack at this time in the future.)

Our group of five watched him and continued in our pattern of quick climbing, but not balls out, and two of us found ourselves regularly going around the rest on the downhill.  Homeboy (I forgot his name!) was an unattached rider on a Lynskey Helix with Zipp 1080’s.  (Yes, it was a 1080 weekend! EDIT: after looking at some race pics, they might be 808’s.  Jury is still out.)  He was the only dude who was faster than me on the descent.  Noted.  Though he had a PRO setup, I had something better, a little tip from Dave Stone on the climb.  You know that false flat after the hill?  Yeah, save a little for it, and drop fools there.  Well, I exercised that and started testing the breakmates there.  Sure enough, they were gassed after the climb and started getting gapped on the teasers through the false flat.  On the last lap I knew what I had to do, I ramped it up on the false flat, stringing out our group.  I bombed the downhill, pedalling it for the first time during the race.  Fla-hi-ing.  Homeboy passed me and I locked on his wheel.  He towed me through the first 2 turns as I told him we had a gap (which we did).  I jumped him on the inside of the 3rd to last turn, kept the gas on through the last 2 turns and started the climb with several seconds in hand.  1/3 of the way up the hill I look back and a slighter guy is gaining ground on me.  His name is Walker, and he rides for Michelob/Big Shark out of St. Louis.  Darn climbers!  His teamates (from other catagories) start cheering for him.  I hear the announcer congratulating Ian for winning (by 8 seconds!) and begin commentating our duel for the rest of the podium spots.  I decide I will NOT cede a spot to this guy.  I glance down and see 750 watts sustained on the power tap.  Keep the cadence up, I think, and throw the bike at the line.  I had him by at least a bike length.  So I wound up with second place in the crit, and my last lap attack produced the fastest lap time of the cat 4 race (Hooray chip timing ego boosts!) of 3:15.  (FWIW, the fastest P/1/2 lap time was 2:59!!  Smokin!  Cat 3’s were a little more realistic with 3:09, if memory serves.)

Omnium points: 31.  Total: 50  (Leader, Ian: 57)



Saturday had been tumultuous and I now needed rest.  Scott and I grabbed food with the St. Louis crew (talking training the WHOLE time – Nick’s poor wife!) and then drove the RR course.  The hills scared me.  Could I hang on with these guys through ALL these rollers?  I mean, they didn’t seem to end.  Up and down and up and up and up.  I was starting to think about how it had already been a good weekend, and two top tens was great, don’t get greedy, etc.  Scott and I discussed the road conditions (90% of it was great, with a few potholes being the exception) along with tactics as I nodded off a few times.  I don’t think he noticed though.  We drove back to his folks house in western St. Louis and got to bed early.


The Road Race

Would I have the legs?  That was the question du jour.  I honestly didn’t know.  I had a decent night’s sleep and I did all the recovery tricks I know of (aside from spending the night drunk/applying testosterone patches, Floyd).  I got up early and had a light breakfast, and got my kit ready.  Pinning the numbers on in the car, I was determined to have a better warm-up than the TT! 

We arrived 2 hours before the race and I went to work on the leaderboard writing down anybody within possible striking distance of my omnium position.  It was here that I struck up a very fortitous conversation with Steve, the injured P/1/2 rider from the Tyson U23 team.  It started with Steve’s PRO Cervelo SLC-SL w/ SRAM Red and Zipp 404’s.  Yes, a PRO bike.  I was staring.  And drooling.  He let me ride it, and although he had MEGA seat-to-handlebar drop (PRO!) it was a pretty good fit for me.  Hmmm….  We talked about our races thus far and he asked me how I was going in the GC.  When he heard I was in second place, he took a personal interest in the situation, as he had been in second, while a cat 4, going into the last stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race in AR several years prior. (For the record, he pulled out the V in the stage and the overall!)  He counseled me to have Nick Hand (WCCStL), my teamate, mark the guy behind me on GC and I would mark the top guy.  He then gave me some confidence by sharing that “after the KOM, if you come over the top solo, go for the win in a solo break if the pack is 10 guys or less.  Go for it, you can hold off 10 guys.  20 guys will reel you in, but 10 or less, you can do it!”  While I favored a sprint, I agreed and bouyed by his words I wrote  down the bib numbers of the marks on my wrist, ready to spread the strategy to the boys and prep the bikes.

The 30 mile RR started with a 1 mile neutral start through town.  That quickly ended and a HUGE, 3 tiered hill greeted us.  Heart rate went up like a rocket as I was on Ian’s (Omnium leader by 7 points) wheel like white on rice.  I noticed he spun faster than me on the climbs, but no matter, I’m not Lance – 90 rpm would do.  Mixing it up between saddle and standing, I got myself over the top in the first 5 wheels.  It was intense.  Like a circus.  Every time I looked at the powertap it said something above 400watts.  I haven’t analyzed the data yet, but it was serious climbing.  We then hit the biggest downhill of the race, and the only one that might have asked for a touch of the brakes.  I decided the best place was off the front and allowed my fat, tucked body to roll off the front and hold an inside line.  I even got down into the PRO italian descender position with hands together on the tops, knees together, nose on the stem, and butt low.  I was flying.  After a little while I looked back and I had a big gap, but it was too early for an attack to last so I climbed easily until back on Ian’s wheel. 

The group was mainly intact through this stretch, and Mark (South Chicago Wheelmen) took a flyer and had a decent gap, but we would reel him in little by little on the climbs, so we didn’t worry too much.

During this time I felt pretty good.  My confidence was soaring.  I looked around and all the top GC guys were together at the front.  I felt like I was one of the “Heads of State” in the Tour de France, as the top dogs take the climbs at the front and test each other while trying to look relaxed.  “What?  This Cat 1 climb, it is, how you say, nah-zing.”  The height of the machismo was while riding next to Ian, about 5th wheel on a climb, he decided to take a drink.  Now, you don’t take your hands off the bars while climbing, it’s inefficient, and the climb is tougher as a result.  But not to be out-done I did the same.  “This is easy,” I tried to exude.

Every once in a while someone would roll off the front and Ian tried to bridge to them and I think, test my legs.  During these times I was determined to prove I had legs.  Instant gap closing sprint.  I even took a few digs myself but either the bunch would chase or Ian would come across and I would sit up.  A rider from Momentum Racing named Nick paid me the complement of saying “Frenchy, you’ve got a target on your back today, man.”  I’m not gonna lie, that was better than Hammer Gel.

My scheming continued through the rollers and a few opportunities presented themselves that almost changed the race.  On one climb, while riding next to Ian, I watched him drop his chain.  “ATTACK ATTACK!” surged through my little brain.  I didn’t wish him ill, but if an opportunity presents itself, why not?  I watched as he got it back on with some quick shifting, and the moment was gone.  On another occasion, BJ (Momentum Racing, who took 3rd at Hillsboro in the 4’s) had a small gap through a roller and was leading us up over a hill.  His teamate (Nick, who made the comment earlier) charged up the grade to get on his wheel.  Meanwhile I notice Ian drifting back on the right side of the road.  “ATTACK ATTACK!”  I jump on the gear and grab Nick’s wheel shouting “There’s 2 of you and 1 of me, we have a gap! GOOO!”  They held a steady pace.  Soon enough, here comes Ian charging across with the peleton in tow.  And so it was that the group stayed intact as we marked each other and the miles wound down.

I was getting apprehensive as the KOM drew near.  It was at about this time that Nick (WCCStL) and Mike (WCCStL) came to the front, flanking Ian and I.  The contrast of their dark jerseys blazed in my periforal vision.  I was Air Force One with full fighter escort off the wings.  People were getting nervous.  The St. Louis teams had witnessed the Wild Card teamwork at Hillsboro the week before when I forged the race winning break.  Some dudes told me they still remembered the cat. 5 Hillsboro “carpet bombing” we laid down 2 years prior which resulted in a 1-2 placing for the team.  Regardless, at the KOM a little flag and line awaited a man with 2 Omnium points.  I did NOT want to be 9 points down to Ian going into the finish.  What if he did have a sprint?  Fortunately, Homeboy was on a 2 mile flyer and he looked secure up the road to take the KOM bonus points.  The group began to surge on the lower slopes and I stayed on Ian’s wheel.  Open aggression hadn’t started – no ‘Berto like accelerations, just a ramping up of the pace.  Seeing guys digging for the KOM 2nd place (and single bonus point) ahead of Ian, I sagged just a hair and crested top 15. 

The adrenaline was flowing. You could smell it waft from the pack. 35+mph on the decent and a big selection (30?)  was rolling into the finish.  Can you say bunch sprint?  Guys were getting twitching.  I shouted the cliché – “Easy boys!  You can’t win it here, but you can loose it.”  I was following wheels to stay near the front, but out of the wind.  I found BJ’s wheel, then a St. John’s Mercy Hospital rider, and so on.  “Conserve,” I thought.  “Keep an eye on Ian.  Stay near the front.”  The bunch was doing the rolling boil at the front as everyone jockeyed for position.  Suddenly, streaking up the right side was Ian, and we were just inside 1 Kilometer.  I look again and Nick Hand (WCCStL) is all over his rear wheel.  I know this is my chance, if the leadout is going to happen, I need to be on the other side of the peleton.  I drop the hammer and fly ahead, out into the wind, from the left side (I did NOT cross the centerline, BTW.) and swung across the front of the peleton to snatch the draft behind Nick.  Textbook.  I don’t think anyone was on his wheel, or perhaps Mike Rickey (WCCStL) opened a gap for me.  Either way, I was ready to get argy-bargy with anyone on that wheel.  Elbows out and all that.

The finish was a tough little chicane – 90deg left, ½ block and a 90deg slightly off-camber right, and finally a 90deg left with 75 meters to the line.  The finishing straight was so short, you really wanted to be first or second around the final turn.  Ideal position going into the chicane would be 3rd or 4th wheel in a leadout train.  Nick, Mike, and I discussed our sprint tactics before the race: Nick and Mike would drop me off at the final turn after sprinting their hearts out.  Nick, after escorting me to the drop off, would take the inside line and sit up, blocking anyone trying to come around me on the inside.  I would stand and power through the turn and, hopefully, win the day.

Sitting 3rd wheel into the first turn I almost watched our plans fall apart.  The pace car for our race was (nearly? Fully?) stopped before the right hand bender.  Brakes squeal, yelling – no, SCREAMING - ensued.  Ian and I brake hard.  The pack swarms us and Nick tries to go wide - AROUND the far side of the pace car – a VERY dangerous move.  The pace car peels out.  Two guys pass me on the right after the turn and I try to grab a wheel.  Nick opens up his sprint, full on Grand Tour stage bike rocking sprint action.  I loose Ian from sight.  Into the last corner, Nick sits up on the inside line, Rock (The Hub Racing) is first around the bend and opens up his sprint, I follow a GP Velotek rider and kick it, passing him on the right with a bike throw, maybe by ½ a wheel.  2nd in the RR.  I already knew Velotek finished 3rd.  I had won the Omnium.  Fist pumps and shouts.

Omnium points: 31.  Total: 81, and the overall victory.



As of this writing I’m preparing my cat. 3 upgrade request.  May the paperwork flow quickly.  I feel this race affirms my desire to race at the next level.

The boys laid it on the line for me in the road race, and to them I am grateful.  I hope they will be up for racing for me again someday – I know I owe them a leadout or two in the meantime.  The team function was impressive and the envy of the other squads – and that with guys I don’t see more than quarterly.

As I mentioned above, thanks are due to several people, including Larry for loaning me some PRO wheels (I “need” a pair for mass starts!), Dan for the TT bars, Scott for driving and his folks for putting me up for the weekend, Steve L. for the race tactics, The Stone Poney for giving me tips and his spare power tap head unit battery, and my wife for letting me play bikes all weekend long.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hillsboro (or 58 Miles is enough to find your weaknesses)

58 Miles is Enough to Find Weakness

Hillsboro is a hard race. For the last 2 seasons (as long as I've been racing), it's been my worst finish each year. May it be so this year.

Larry, the Patron, drove his race wagon down with 5 of us scheming and snacking for 2 hours. It was a fun time and part of what makes racing on a team enjoyable.

The conditions were very nice, with temps in the 70's and a 10+ mph wind out of the south.

The course was elongated from the previous year, adding about 6 miles per lap. The 4's race then, at 2 laps and 58 miles, is by far the longest race of the season for me. This will come into play below.

The Field:
120 guys. Wow. It was the biggest field I've raced in. XXX lined up with 16 or so guys. Unfortunately all the XXX guys I know are 3's now, and these boys were not at thier level (yet). The usual Chicago based teams were there (Tati, Beverly, Cuttin Crew, Psimet, etc). I don't really know the St. Louis based teams but they had to have been there to get 120 cat 4's.

We had 6 guys toeing the line for Wild Card: Razzle Dazzle (in white shorts no less!), Tom, Sweet Pea, Ragfield, Luke, and myself. Dazzle and Tom were rolling well last week and after a team vote, they'd be protected riders. Luke, Sweet P, and I would chase breaks and initiate moves on the second lap. Ragfield would babysit and leadout.

The Plan:
With the crosswinds and narrow roads shaping the race, we decided to give it some gas as a team after the first climb, thereby giving us about a mile till the first turn, into a tailwind section. If we could safely get through that tailwind/roller section, we would evaluate the damage after the next turn, in a tree protected crosswind. If we had a gap, TTT time. (That would be TTTT, I suppose.) If the bunch was together, we would stay to the front, protect the protected ones, and on the second lap start relay attacking. If that didn't work, we would line it out about 4 miles out and let the protected riders duke it out with whomever was left.

The Race:
[Caution, pedal stroke by pedal stroke commentary. You shouldn't care enough to read this, but here you are.]
We rode according to plan, getting a second row start position, and staying in the top 20 wheels as a team for the first couple of miles. We pushed the pace through the crosswind section after the first hill, per our plan, and then kept it hot during the tailwind section. As we turned the corner, I swung wide and looked back to see a VERY long line of riders. We had not split the group. Or if we had it was only momentarily. I had definitely burned a match during this time, so I was glad we relinquished the front and kept ourselves near the pointy end, should crosswinds come into play.

With frequent peeks over my shoulder I knew the protected riders were in good position. Although, at one point, we looked around and didn't see Razzle Dazzle. After querying the boys, nobody knew where he was. I asked Sweet Pea to drop back, find him, and tow him up. I was very glad to see him do just that. At that moment I decided I would work for that kid in a race this season. If he's willing to do what the "road captains" say, bravo boy. You've earned my respect.

The rest of the first lap was uneventful in this way, no serious moves rolled off the front and though I had to work to do so, I stayed in the top 10 wheels. I was very relieved when we came into the penultimate climb for the lap, which was "neutral" for the feed. I was feeling the effort of the climb, and I expected the pace to stay high through the zone. My thinking was: no "attacking" but my tempo doesn't have to be slow! However, everyone around me took it down a notch. Whew. Being the fat kid I am, I was glad to not climb at race pace. Things ramped up on the next hill however, but I was close enough to the front, and worked hard enough, I crossed the start finish (yay, just 29 miles to go!) in fourth position. This is in marked contrast to last year when I was suffering terribly at this point, and got dropped from the group 2 miles later.

Per our team plan, Luke attacked in the first crosswind section after the turn. However everyone was thinking the same thing: "it's lap 2, don't let anyone go." Furthermore, Luke had demonstrated during the first lap shake-down that he could hold a high pace at the front. Maybe it was the aero-booties that tipped them off. Regardless, the group surged and caught him. The pre-race plan said that Sweet Pea would attack next, but as I looked around from 10th wheel, I didn't see him. I didn't feel great but I knew I had to counter-attack to make Luke's attack worthwhile. Such are the indellible laws of cycling: you always counter your team's marked moves! So I jumped hard, and we happened to be starting the first hill out of town. The effort was the same as a jump for a townline sprint, and as I gasped for breath I looked back to see if anybody came with me. I was crushed to see I was by myself but with a decent gap (100 meters?). I had a moment where I considered slinking back to the pack. In that moment I actually thought of other riders laughing at me, as I just burned a match in vain. Vain is the key word, as I'm such an approval junkie that I was actually thinking of how I'd be welcomed into the peloton. I turned back to the crest of the hill and crosswind, and began to stomp out a rythm. If they wanted me, they'd have to work to get me.

Well, somebody wanted to join the party, as soon enough a shorter chap on a Scott in a red and blue kit (team/sponsor MEC?) rolled up beside me. We exchanged no words, just pulls at about 18-20 mph. I could tell he wasn't feeling great as he would let it drop down to 17-18 mph, and I encouraged him to keep the pace high, relatively speaking. At around this time we must have looked convincing enough as a viable breakaway (I am shocked, really!) but 3 more guys (a big Tati rider on a Storck, a shorter guy from Psimet, and a taller guy from Momentum Racing) bridged up and we turned the corner into the tailwind section.
The Tati rider (John) helped the pace immediately and provided a better draft. We were talking at the front just before the turn and he almost missed it! With the tailwind I put down a long hard pull, thinking we should exagerate the gap as much as possible while the going was easy. (In retrospect, this might have been a mistake. I think it helped our gap on the field at that point, but perhaps I went too deep into the red as you'll soon read.) After my pull I went to the back, but 2 of the riders couldn't decide if they should get on the wheel or not. By the time I found a wheel, a gap had opened and we were chasing back on. My original break companion was dropped in this mix. It sure would have been nice to have another rider to share the load with. Soon after the turn the Momentum rider was dropped as well. I don't remember this specifically, but it was quickly just the three of us: John Whipple (Tati), Tim Speciale (Psimet) and your's truly (Wild Card).
John was driving the break and coaching us all the while: "keep it smooth guys, we need a steady pace; c'mon guys, we need to go faster - they're chasing back there!; let's keep it up, they're hurting too!" Not only was he taking longer pulls than Tim and I, he was giving us positive thoughts.
Tim at this point was swerving a little. It was clear he was digging deep. I was starting to have lower back pain followed by spasms. This is the same thing that happened to me 13 miles into my first road race and at Hillsboro last year. It is my weakness. I came off the back of the group twice and the guys waited for me. That's right, my competitors waited for me in the break. I couldn't believe these guys. Then again, another body to block the wind is priceless when you're on the rivet late in the race, so it wasn't altruism. I took it as a class jesture though, and thanked them when I rejoined, saying: "If I'm at the finish, I won't contest the sprint." And in saying this I resigned myself to 3rd place - or worse.
Perhaps this was my undoing as soon my back attacked me again and I fell off the pace. Into the headwind I pushed, stretched, and worked some more. I watched as John and Tim rode away. They soon realized my absence (after John had taken yet another 3 min. pull) and as I found out afterwards, they considered waiting YET AGAIN, but didn't. I can't blame them, I'm just frustrated with myself that I couldn't push that last percent to maintain contact. In the hours since I linger on the thought that I gave up and called it quits. Did I? Did I have more and just say: "This isn't worth it?" At some level I have to admit that I did. I was measured in that moment and found wanting - I didn't have it. Whether it was the core strength, the aerobic stamina, or the mental durability, or all three - I didn't have it. This is eating at me. Was it because I no longer had my sights on first place? Who get's motivated to race for third?
I continued on at a pace that allowed some recovery but kept me rolling. As I looked back I saw the peloton get closer and bigger. Despite this, the startling thing was how small it had become actually. Trimmed down from the same wind and hills that had wracked me, the chase group was less than 30 strong.
I started waving at the group in hopes that my team would recognize my colors and initiate the chase (rather than continue blocking) but it was not the case. Luke greeted me with: "I blew myself up blocking for you!" And that was it. Not only had I failed myself, I had burned my teamates up. Like a town drunk I began ranting about how John was the only one doing work in the break and his teamate is softpedaling on the front, and he's only 1 minute up the road. Nobody upped the pace, they were content to sit in, they were racing for third. Could I blame them?
Sweet Pea had popped a tire soon after I attacked (18-22 miles ago) and Rob had popped physically during the course of the race. Tom and Razzle looked good, aparently still waiting to pounce.
If there was a time to kick off the chase, it was then, while there was still time I assumed, so I went to the front. As I came up the right side I heard someone say: "He's blown." No matter, I thought, I'll give what I've got since Tati is doing his job of blocking. In the Druber style I took a glory pull. The pace went up and when I flicked the elbow, Tati pulled through with a big grin and the pace wound down at the base of a small hill. On that knoll I popped again and sat up for the remainder of the race, finishing in 30th place. Which, out of 120 isn't so bad. But oh, what could have been.

As a team we worked very well the first lap and great until I was caught on the second lap. No doubt the blocking that Wild Card and Tati foisted upon the bunch allowed such a large gap for the breakaway. We still have some work to do in communicating position (so as to avoid my near-constant rearward glancing), and I need to have a lot more sense about what kind of pulling to do both early and late in the race.

Razzle Dazzle managed a sixth place finish, and Tom rolled in 11th. The pace was hot up the final hills I'm told, and the remaining bunch was properly shattered. I'm happy I could work for team-mates and in the process have a go at the podium myself. The thing that is most startling is that Frenchy, the fat sprinter type, had a viable shot in a long, hilly, road race - his weak event. Next time guys! Next time!

Larry continued to sheppard us while listening to our whining and showered us with encouragement as he packed up our bikes and shewed us towards recovery drinks.

My big consolation is the faith that once given enough recovery, hard efforts only make you stronger. To that end I smile, and look forward to the Tour of Hermann.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Race Report - Tucson Weekly Crits #6

You may be wondering why I'm racing crits in Tucson, AZ. A good question. Two days prior I was informed that I needed to fly out there pronto for work. The collateral damage was that I missed both my son's doctor's appointment and my cycling team's spring training camp. Needless to say, I was disappointed about both. However this race was something of a consolation.


The course was a go-kart track outside of Tucson. Temps in the mid 60's (yes, my pale legs made an appearance), with a light wind out of the west. The course was very flat, with just little rises after turns 2 and 13. But these were very little. As astute readers have already noted, I said "turn 13" two sentences ago. That's right: 13 turns - how lucky! 4 of them were 180's. :) We started before sun-down with the first race, and by the time the second race was underway, we were racing under the lights. Very cool. Visibility was not a problem, and the track was plenty grippy.

The Field:

Tucson knows how to roll. I was intimidated at the line over stupid stuff: tans, Cervelos, Zipp and Edge hoops, Tarmacs, DA7900, etc. Tucson knows how to roll, man. The majority of the guys looked pro and I was worried about it. I always get the start-line jitters early in the season due to "how fit everyone else looks" etc., but I always come out ok. By the end of the season, I'm no longer intimidated, it just takes re-learning I guess. Regardless, 35 guys and a few gals lined up for the 4/5 race, while the same number lined up for the 3/4/5, though a few 4s and 5s left, and a few 3s showed up.

The Race: Tucson Weekly Crit #6

Cat 4/5 (20 min)

From the gun, the kid who won the juniors race (Max) took a flyer. I chased him down and soon the field was on us. George (who I had just met, and lent me his floor pump), rolled at the front for a while and strung out the group. Guys were getting spit out the back, since the pace was pretty hot. Whenever a break got a little gap and there were 2 people in it, the field, which was down to about 15 guys I think, would surge to catch. This continued for the whole of the 20 min. race. Early in the race a rider went down on the 2nd 180 turn. I didn't see it (I was eager to stay in the front 5 wheels or so) but he was lying there for several laps. It turns out they had to take him off on a stretcher and he rode home in an ambulance. I don't know what happened after that, but it looked scary. Amazingly, they didn't neutralize our race!

Well, for the entire race I pretty much felt like crap. I tried to warm up well, but I don't think I "opened it up" enough. When the organizer yelled "2 to go!" something clicked and I felt MUCH better. It was as if my body knew it would soon be over, and my breathing relaxed and I didn't feel stressed. At the time I was in the top 10, so I started picking guys off on corners. Some I'd take on the outside and carry more speed, some I'd go on the inside and sprint out of them to move up a little. Coming into the final turn, I had moved into 2nd wheel in the bunch. The last turn being a 180, followed by a downwind, slight uphill sprint, position was critical. I jumped out of the turn and won the bunch sprint by several lengths. I even sat up before the line. The down-side was that the junior who took the early flyer had done the same thing with 2 to go and easily won by several seconds. Turns out he is 14 years old. That's right, I (and the rest of the 4/5 field) got whooped by a 14 year old. So I took 2nd, but it wasn't without some humble pie.

Cat 3/4/5 (30 min)

We waited some time for the second race as the gentleman who crashed was evacuated from the track. I chatted up the local racers and drooled over their pro bikes. I also basked in the knowledge that my bike cost a fraction of thiers, yet I beat them. Ah, vanity. (Mine and thiers!)

The next race I was pretty confident for and had a good starting position in the first row. We jumped to speed pretty quickly and there were attacks on the first straight. Things played out much like the previous race, where it seemed like any time more than 1 rider was up the road, everybody wanted to be in that break. I noticed I was getting out of the saddle more often to bridge to breaks or just stay in the group (which was lined out). Afterwards I would see in my power file that I had 22 spikes above 1000 watts during that race, with an average wattage above 240. So, I don't think it was an "easy" race. Despite that, I actually felt better than the previous race, and I think I helped animate things throughout. On the final lap I was sitting 3rd wheel going around the penultimate turn. After the previous result I was excited and thinking of the win. That thinking stopped when, before the final 180, 2 guys jumped along the inside, swung wide, tapped the brakes, and took the turn 1-2, moving me back to 5th wheel. It was a brilliant move, and those 2 had attacked individually probably every other lap during the race. Well, the sprint played out and I just didn't have it. I passed one guy, but another passed me and I ended up 5th.


I can't really complain as 2 top 5's on my first night of racing is a good result. I think I even nabbed an upgrade point for the 2nd place. After the race I collected my things, traded business cards with a few other racers, checked the results and heading north to Phoenix. This bodes well for my early season form and I hope the continued 3x20's and the VO2max intervals (which start in a fortnight) get me in even better shape. The lesson learned from previous crits remains true: when I'm in good position going into the last turn, I always do better than being further back. It's worth it to burn a match (or three) to get yourself in the right spot.