Monday, May 24, 2010

Tour de CU

This past weekend was the highly anticipated (by me) Tour de CU in Champaign-Urbana.  The Champaign course was the same as last year’s research park crit (a fast rectangle with a slight rise through the start/finish) while the Urbana course was a giant bubble letter “L” when viewed from above.  A box with a long straight ending in a 180deg turn, then back into the box.  Needless to say, fun fun fun.

Setting:

The conditions were harsh.  Not by absolute standards (80 deg. Sat. and 90 deg. Sun.) but when one considers that we’ve been racing in 60deg F temps, a sudden 20-30 degree increase really raises the workload on the body.  It seemed very few were ready for the heat.  Otherwise the wind wasn’t bad, and the roads were ok.

The Field:

The Cat 3 field had about 40 guys both days.  Plenty of fast guys were there.  Of particular note for me was one John Whipple (Tati) who drove the break that popped me at Hillsboro-Roubaix earlier this season. 

Nick and I were racing for WCC and it was quite a comfort to have a teamate in the races – knowing I could cover a move and he would get the next one.  Plus, I lean on his experience a lot.  The Verizon guys were familiar faces and their friendship out there was cool, too.  The big surprise at the start line was Dan Penner (of Portland, OR) who was in town for a wedding.

Saturday’s Tour de Champaign:

Nick went with the first move or two while the pace was pretty quick.  Joe (Verizon) and I found ourselves on the front blocking for Nick (WCC) and Mark Sills (or Ethan Stone?) (Verizon).  That move got brought back and an ISCorp rider (Scott, orange Madone) went off the front.  He was looking good up there with Joe (Verizon) and another couple guys for company.  I was riding next to Nick at the time and he said “that looks good” or “we need to be in that”.  I don’t really remember, but I took off and bridged to the move.  I took some hard pulls to help establish the break and we seemed to have a decent gap.  Unfortunately that’s about all I could do and I started to get fatigued. 

Eventually I got popped out of the breakaway.  That’s twice, I want some butts! (Film quote.)  I had this moment of indecision in the finishing straight, as the group rode away, but as Don Hiles, John, and John (WCC) yelled at me to keep going I jumped on it and chased for half a lap and caught back on.  Needless to say, I was gassed. Perhaps the same was true for the other guys (save Scott) as it became the Scott show: him dragging us around.  Every once in a while one of us would pull through, but it was not enough to keep the field at bay.

After about 5 laps, on the headwind stretch, the field was within 5 seconds of our break and Ryan Zook (Start 2 Finish) attacked out of the pack and while flying past our disintigrating party shouted: “You boys done racing?!”  Scott answered his acceleration and they were off.  As 3 of us were absorbed into the pack Nick went across and the 3 of them were away.  Turns out, that was the break of the day.

Nick dropped out of that break (I think) and I tried to bridge up to it later and popped in the headwind section halfway across (which was a pretty crappy thing, let me tell you!), so Nick went again and I think that finished him off.  I sat in for a few laps to recover.  I maintained good position but got swarmed with 2 to go.  Sprinting out of 15th, the long false flat tired many a rider, as most did not have a 300 meter sprint left in the legs, so I was able to come around 9 guys and take 6th.  Not bad for my first full fledged 3’s race.

The heat was definitely a factor; I could not go hard for that 3-5 minute duration as I was already panting and feeling like garbage.  C’est la vie.

Lessons (I should have) Learned:

-Early breaks usually die.

-The heat kills early breaks (if nobody is acclimated).

-Don’t bridge unless you’re going to make it.  And you best make it!

-You MUST be in the RIGHT position for a sprint.  It’s worth it – move up!

-Don’t kill yourself with hard pulls in the break.

-If other guys aren’t pulling, you shouldn’t pull either.  One man can’t make an early/mid race break unless he’s a monster.  And monsters are rare.

 

Sunday’s IL Cup Urbana Grand Prix:

Same players, new board.  The figure 8 was edited in a last minute change to avoid some unpatched pot-holes, with a longer straight and a 180 deg turn added (a nice touch), the figure 8 became a “bubble letter ‘L’.”  Also, the temps were another 10 degrees hotter.  I was sipping water all day, but 2 laps in I was parched.  Yikes.

Nick covered the first few moves as I didn’t feel great during the warmup.  Not sure if it was the heat or Saturday’s racing in the legs.  All eyes were on Scott (ISCorp w/ the orange Madone, who pulled out the win the previous day). 

In a repeat of Saturday I found myself bridging with Joe (Verizon) up to Scott and another rider (or 2/3/4?) in an early move.  We knew Scott could ride away with the race and even more than the previous day, the course, with it’s 5 corners and short straights, favored a breakaway.  Not surprisingly, Scott powered the break, doin his thang.  The pack was strung out in chase and eventually our group ballooned to 15 (?) or so as I think a field split was occuring.  I watched as out of turn 3, John Whipple (Tati) accelerated to catch 2 who had just attacked our group.  Thus, the break du jour.

Scott, Joe, myself, and one other guy chased for several laps in a replay of the previous day’s break.  We were all very tired in the heat and Scott was getting fed up with pulling our lazy butts around – for the second day in a row no less.  He would holler for someone to pull through, and I think I was the only one to oblige him.  Granted, my pulls were short and sweet (1/4 lap? ½ lap?) but I figured if I could give him a little rest, it would go a long way for our group.  Besides, everybody feels like poo currently, right?  Well, Scott eventually had enough and the field caught us while Whipple was pushing the break to an insurmountable lead.

I remember bridging solo to a move later in the race (halfway?) but the details are blurry in my mind.  It wasn’t pleasant, but I made it across, unlike on Saturday.  +1.  Like every break prior, we got caught after not working well together.

I sat in and noticed I was drifting further and further back in the field.  Efforts to move up brought cold chills and I started to think about pulling the plug.  After a few more laps I decide I had enough and I let the group ride ahead.  After the 180, off the back, the breakaway lapped me.  Within 5 laps they would lap the field. Whipple ended up winning the sprint and the race by a millimeter (NOT an exageration – Rob took some slow-motion footage at the line, and it was too tight to call after 3 viewings!).

Epilogue:

The Sunday Pro/1/2 race followed the 3’s in more ways than one - more than 50% of their field dropped out, just like the 3’s.  After my race I felt like crying.  I haven’t cried about a sporting event since middle school soccer (as a player – not a coach!).  I didn’t, but that’s probably since my body knew it needed the water elsewhere.  The words of a certain narrator keep coming to mind: “Sometimes you eat the bar (bear), and sometimes, the bar eats you.”

Bike racing is fun but hard.  I’m happy with my result from Saturday and I’m glad I rode hard in the Sunday race and helped animate it while I was in it.  I certainly have a lot to learn in this game and can’t bank on superior fitness to make up for na├»ve tactical decisions.  Frankly, I’m brand new at this breakaway stuff as I don’t think I was ever in a break that lasted very long in the 4’s.  The heat was a factor all weekend long and I hope my body has begun acclimating to it as the June races aren’t going to be any easier.  A further positive is the fact that I’m active in these races and see the winning moves happening.  As Joe (Verizon) commented after Sunday’s race: “We were too early in the race for the breakaway.”  And he’s exactly right.  The next step is moving from the 2nd best move of the day to the winning move.  This incremental increase I doubt is easy to attain.  Yet, I feel I was on the cusp of the fitness and tactics necessary to be in that elusive right place and right time.  I hope I can continue to get fitter and smarter here in the cat 3’s, and for crying out loud – it’s only my second weekend in this category.

Finally, my wife was super patient letting me participate in the crits, help out here and there, and cheer on my teamates in other categories. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Planet Adventure CMT Brookside Park Crit

Since the race I’ve learned that this bit of pavement is fairly famous for local racers. It is said that one Greg Lemond once raced there. This past Saturday I did my part to add to the history of the course. By crashing out. But first the “rest” of the story.
Luke, Nick D. and I piled into Nick’s car early Saturday morning to head over to Indy. We were in good spirits and chatted about racing and cycling culture for the ride over. Nick is already eager for cyclocross season.
The temps were colder than expected, and the conditions were not met with joy from our lot as Luke had forgotten his knee warmers. Fortunately, in a last minute addition to the gear bag, I had added my red tights and could therefore loan out those precious knee accoutrements. (As a double backup, I had also brought a light embrocation. No, I was/am not a boyscout.)
The race start was unnecessarily hurried as we were beckoned to the line for some 10 minutes and then had to wait 2 more for no apparent reason. Normally this would not be a problem, except that in my rush to empty my bladder and get to the start, I had soiled my beautiful, red, specialized tights. Little did I know to what extent I would soil them that day.
After missing my pedal with my left cleat (when was the last time I did that?!) I was under way and slotted into the top 10-15 wheels. My mishaps continued as my shifting was terrible. Like, constant shifting even though I didn’t press the lever, terrible. I decided on lap 2 that I had to make a wheel change and moved to the front. Coming into the straight-away, I hollered at the guys that I was going to the pit, and with a raised hand, accelerated off the front towards the pit. It must have been a sight. I quickly began removing my rear wheel and a guy (never got his name) helped me with my spare. Even more helpful, he lied to the official for me, saying I had a flat. I was prepared to chase down the field (since the shifting issue is NOT worthy of a free lap), but the official told me to take it easy, and that I would enter on the next lap. How fortunate. A small break was off the front as the field came through and I jumped up to speed fairly quickly (it is, after all, what I *do*.) So now I’m in a breakaway. How delightful. Perhaps the bull of the peloton saw the red pants dancing ahead and accelerated? Perhaps we didn’t work well together. Regardless, it was all together within a lap or two.
With nearly 60 minutes of lactic acid delight ahead of us, the team’s goal was to keep the powder dry early. That didn’t really happen (see above) and all of us were in early moves in the first 15 minutes. Oh well. The race went on with futile moves going and coming. Luke was off the front solo for a few laps and Nick took a group with him later, but it was not to be.
The most interesting part of the course was the extremely bumpy uphill section going into the 2nd (and final) turn each lap. Many riders found it difficult to keep the pace up the hill, while the WCC boys powered up it. This is not just hubris here. Every lap I either maintained or gained positions here – even the time I was pushed into the grass. In such ways the bunch was pretty squirly and with only 2 turns it was easy to sit in. This contributed to a larger field jostling for position later in the race.
With about 5 or 6 laps to go, Luke bridged to a move off the front. It was his turn after I had been reeled in last (or was it Nick?). When he got up to the break, the dudes popped, and Luke started his TT thing. Basically, this was a perfect position for us as a team. Luke can time trial 2 categories above his license, so I slotted onto Nick’s wheel and the two of us patrolled the front. I will admit, I was thinking that if it came back together, I was perfectly situated for a sprint. Nick is a bad dude on a bike, and he would provide a smoking leadout. Further, he has good sprint legs himself. I dreamt of going 1-2.
A group of 3 went off the front with 3 or 4 to go and Nick and I let them be. Luke looked secure and it might be the case that if they catch him, he can draft, recover, and then beat them for first. It was looking more and more likely that Luke was going to raise his hands shortly. And a win for one is a win for all.
Luke continued to hold off the chase as the laps slipped down to 1 to go. Coming through the start/finish, the pace was quick but not hot. The pack usually slowed going into the downhill left hand bend, just as the road narrows. Entering this section, I called to Nick that we were getting swarmed. What I should have said was: up up! Meaning, increase your pace, we’re loosing positions. Soon enough the group was swarming us as we set up for the turn. At that moment a gentlemen to my right decided he should occupy the space that I was riding in, and we began to bump shoulders. Usually I do not “freak out” during these circumstances – I have even been racing up a climb and bumped shoulders and bars with another racer, and both of us just soldiered on – but this was different. A rider on my left moved right (to set up for the left hand turn) and clipped my front wheel. This is a gauranteed way to meet the pavement. And that’s what I did. Skidding on the ground a gentleman behind me ran into me and went flying over the bars.
Coming out of the fetal position after a crash, your senses come back one by one – they were there all along, but you were in the midst of the matrix-esque slow-motion-survival-pacing of reality – and you weren’t watching or listening. You are reacting. I began testing my limbs and checking myself for injuries. After spouting some upset words I realized my bike was nowhere to be found. “Where’s my bike?!” As I got to my feet I saw a rider splayed across it 10 feet away. Oh joy. It’s not ridable, but everything is fixable. What may not be fixable are those beautiful red tights. Alas.
At the business end of the race Luke got caught on that little rise before the final turn. He smartly got in the draft and came out of the group (of 4) with 2nd place. A great result. Nick kept his nose clean and powered out of the last turn to handily win the field sprint for 5th. Not bad for a team of 3.
Nick then lent me his Madone for a cool-down spin (a class gesture, as I was bleeding in several places) and I had the kind nurse clean up my road rash while I nursed my recoverite.
A highlight of the day was seeing Axel line it up with the big boys for 75 min of pleasure spiked with pain. Riding solo he put in a good effort and took 10th. Not bad on a 2000g wheelset.
As a result of the crash, unexpected expenses (bike fixing stuff), and a couple of emergency room visits for my son that night (he’s doing great btw.) we (the wife and I) decided to skip Monsters of the Midway last weekend. I am very eager for the CU crits this weekend and hope I can pull out another hometown win. I know, a big ask indeed!