Monday, March 21, 2011

Forest Park Criterium (2011 Cat 3 Men)

Great Forest Park Bicycle Race Report (2011 Cat 3 Men)

Big Shark hosted the StL racers for the opening criterium of the season. The weather was perfect for bike racing: high 60’s and sun. There was wind out of the south which gave certain legs of the course a head/cross/tail wind respectively. The finishing stretch had a bit of a cross wind to make it interesting.

The field was of good size, I’d say at least 50 riders, perhaps 75 in the 3’s. My new team, 708 Racing p/b Dressel’s Public House lined up with 4 cat 3’s. Chris, Matt, Nick, and I were outfitted in our new team kits and racing together for the first time. (One of our captains, Mike, was busy winning the Lake Perry Road Race out in KS…) The other StL teams were out in force with 35 Dogfish and 47 Michelob/Big Shark riders. For someone used to racing in the Chicago area, I’ve merely exchanged xXx-Athletico and Burnham for these other mega-teams. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Momentum had a strong contingent, with Hub, Off the Front, and Livestrong-looking-kitted team also ready to dance.

I usually have power and speed numbers from my handy-dandy powertap, but with a winter’s worth of riding on that rear hub the bearings sound like corn-nuts. So I borrowed a spare set of wheels from my good friend Dan (EA70s, which feel like butter!) and threw some race rubber on. The result? No data beside percieved exertion. But we’ll get to that in a moment. FYI, those wheels were great.

With the wind in play and the fact that it was an early season race with variable fitness/motivation/skills in the field, we elected to try to get a breakaway up the road. If that didn’t work out, we would try to get Nick to the front in the finale for a sprint win. Nick didn’t feel like going off the front all day (having done a hard day’s training on Saturday) and Matt was unsure of his early season form. So Chris and I were looking to cover moves and get off the front when the race got hard. Nick, Chris, and I all got in some early moves and it was clear that Momentum had a few riders also hungry for some suffering off the front. Dogfish and Michelob would get a guy up the road and then one of their other million riders would get greedy and the pack would chase. Matches were burned and smiles were shared.

About halfway through our 60 min + 5 lap affair (is it just me or was that a long race?! Ok, I made it long for myself…) a Momentum racer and Michelob (or was it Dogfish?) guy was off the front. The pack was looking tired so I thought this could be a good time to go. I jumped to the wheel of a guy bridging and he started to stall out in the headwind. I pulled through and finished the job, going to the front and trading pulls with Momentum. At this point we had 5 or 6 dudes in the group: a Hub, Livestrong-like-kit, Michelob, Momentum, and your’s truly. Having already driven previous breaks that got caught when dudes didn’t rotate through, I was hollering (no sailor talk) for smooth, fast turns. Sure enough the guys were working together well, and after burning off Hub and Michelob, there were 3 of us with about 25min and 5 laps (another 10 min) to race. Oh joy.

We were rotating through well and starting to get splits from spectators. A HUGE thank-you to Katie Hand, the SLGC girls, Jason, and Kurt who cheered for me. I definitely needed that help to keep rolling. Our gap topped out around 30 sec but then started to come down with the clock. Sure enough, as the board went from minutes to laps the gap was shrinking and my companions in the break were starting to fatigue. Livestrong-like-kit was skipping pulls and Momentum (who did a heck of a lot of work) was looking rough. Spectators were telling us to “keep-it-up” but they also informed us that our 25sec gap was now 15sec…now 10sec! Surely our teamates had blocked for us but the chase was finally getting organized. As Momentum pulled off early in the finishing straight we had just over 4 laps to go. I glanced over my shoulder to see the pack strung out on the previous stretch – a false flat with a tailwind. It was now or never. I punched it to strike out on my own.

Spinning out I shifted while giving a little “shake and bake” to ensure it was all 708 off the front. It was showtime. That first 30 seconds was exhilarating. Spectators cheering and I was flying through the crosswind with adrenaline pumping. However, once I turned into the headwind I regretted my decision. My legs began to tell me how much of a fool I was for choosing this route. My coaches words rang in my head: “if you aren’t hurting, you’re not racing.” I guess I was racing.

My friends who cheered for me in the three man break now got loud as I passed by. Thanks guys! It hurt but I pressed on. During the tailwind stretch I kept looking back and I still didn’t see the pack. A Mesa Masters rider rebuked me: “Quit looking back!” Indeed, the race was ahead. Pedaling through the corners and hugging the sides to hide from view I pressed on to the final lap. Having emptied my bottles and my legs I stood on the false flat to give my last effort. I died in the final cross wind. Power gone, oxygen deprived, I saw a line of sprinters fly past in the closing meters. I sat up. I had emptied myself for the win, not a middling place, but now it was all gone.

Thinking about it on the ride home three seconds would have made the difference. With three more seconds in hand, mine would have been raised. Cest la vie. Until next time I’m looking for those three seconds and I think I know where to find them – up the road!

As my first race of the season Sunday’s outing answered some questions about my fitness and how the winter training went. Early indications are good. It reminds me of the near constant whining to my coach that was the month of January. “Does everybody train this much? Do I have to torture myself like this? I hate the trainer!” “Everybody who will be fast this year is putting in the time.” Thank you coach.

Finally, it was great to see some of our sponsors out in attendance (which isn’t surprising because they are supporters of bike racing in StL), Russ from Mesa Cycles (our sponsoring shop) and Ben of Dressel’s Public House. Check ‘em out! I think we flew the flag for them bravely today, from Jason in the 4’s to Kurt in the P/1/2’s. And there will be more excitement to come!