Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The March Through May

Race Reports: Tour de Grove, O’Fallon Gold Cup, Tour de Champaign-Sunday (2011)

Midtown Rally [30/108]:
A big, open, 4 corner crit.  100 cat 2/3’s lined up under perfect dusk conditions.  I felt ok and bridged to a break.  We got swallowed by the pack.  The group was pretty fast.  I counted down the laps and started getting worried about being boxed in with 2 corners to go.  I yelled at BJ (Momentum) “Let me out BJ, let me out!”  He did and I took the final corner top ten.  I opened up the sprint flying up the right side.  “Man, these guys are slow!” I thought as I dug all the way to the line and sat up.  Unfortunately I had counted wrong, we were now at “1 to go.”  I am an idiot.  I ruined good legs and good position for nada, rolling in 30th.  Meh.

Tour de Grove [62/108]:
Rain.  It makes the ground wet and slippery.  After my mental breakdown in the rain at Belleville I lowered my tire pressure to 80/85 and girded myself for action.  Unfortunately I continued to slip my rear wheel.  On one such occasion I slid out in front of the wheel pit (back side of the course).  It was the craziest thing: one moment cornering gingerly, the next moment sliding on my hip.  Between my palm, knee, ankle, and hip I bounced off the ground and found myself sliding on my cleats, standing up!  So I started running!

After all that excitement I hopped back in the race only to continue losing spots in every corner and eventually got dropped with 3 to go.  They pulled me with 1 to go.  On the upside, Chris Connolly (708 Racing) rode like a beast and finished in the top third of the field.  He had it in the legs and between the ears.  Kudos!
 Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel.
This was the first race my in-laws saw in person.  For all my talk of cycling with them, my result was pretty disappointing.  “If he trains that much and finishes 62nd, perhaps he should take up knitting?”  They didn’t say that, but that’s what I would have thought!  It was also good to see Mr. and Mrs. McJones and their son Will.  Rob has had to take a hiatus from racing to recover from an injury but it was good to see him on the bike again.

Dutchtown Classic [17/108; 3rd cat 3]:
Rain.  It continued to hover over the weekend’s proceedings.  I had procured “rain tires” and prepared myself for racing in the wet.  Surprisingly the pavement was dry when we started, but the rain came in after the start and guys started stacking it in the corners.  I was caught up in a crash (in the first 15 wheels) at the S/F and went to the pit.  When the field came around again, they neutralized the race: cue mass tire deflation exercise.

I maintained position well and cornered ok compared to my peers.  I stayed in the top 20 wheels and felt good on the course.  The kicker at the s/f wasn’t too bad for me as I gained positions there each lap (which I would cede in corners to save my hide).   Entering the last lap I was top ten through the start finish but bled many spots to more aggressive/confident riders in the turns.  I wound up sprinting for 17th, which was 3rd cat 3 across the line.  Turns out I missed the $$ by 2 spots.  Ouch.

Rob braved the conditions again and we got to take a cool-down lap on course.   That was nice to chat for a bit and catch up.

Arkansas Work Trip

I took my first work trip for the new company in May.  I was able to toss the bike in the back of the rental car and sneak a few rides in.  Coming off of the 3 day Tour de Grove I didn’t need a hard week on the bike, lest I get sick (we did race in the rain 2 days!).  I got out for a good 5 or 6 hours in the hills around Ft. Smith, AR.  Aside from a few jerks the people were surprisingly patient.  Now, I did get a lot of strange looks while rolling through small towns but the courtesy from motorists was better than any other state I’ve ridden in to date.
I must admit that driving past the turn-off for Devil’s Den made me think of 2012 plans.  Plans for getting smoked in the 1/2 field at JMSR!

O’Fallon Gold Cup Crit
I was tempted to go to the Champaign Crits Saturday and Sunday.  But BJ and the Momentum boys were putting on a local race in StL so I split the weekend between the O’Fallon, MO and Champaign, IL.  Let me just say about O’Fallon: the race, organization, and venue were fantastic!  StL racers: you definitely don’t want to miss this race next year!  They had buckets of free beer for crying out loud!  (I did not imbibe, btw, so as to maintain the purity of my precious bodily fluids.)

Cat 3’s [8/19]:
Course:  flowing, open loop.  You could pedal through every bend and the one turn, save an off-camber uphill bend (should you be going fast enough).  The race was in a park so nary a car was on the course.  Some trees were present for shade and a nice open area at the s/f provided plenty of room for families to watch or nap or whatever.

The field was a paltry 19 riders.  However, during a 5 man 50+ mile RR last year I learned that it can be plenty exciting in a small field.  708 Racing had the largest team, at 4.

Mike had already raced aggressively in the master’s field, so Keith was our man to take the win.  We worked to keep him in good position but the heat and hill seemed to steal the power from our legs.  We weren’t looking too fresh.

With 20 minutes to go the field started to break up and Keith went up the road with BJ.  We sat up to try to let things congeal.  A group of 7 formed off the front and Keith was in there with a chance.  I wasn’t feeling too great after doing some work on the front, so I sat in a bit and followed wheels.  In hindsight I should have gone all-in to bridge and then help Keith work over the break/split.  Live and learn.

Coming into the final lap I jumped and got away with a momentum rider on my wheel.  He pulled through and I jumped him on the back stretch easily “winning” the field sprint for first…out of the money.  There is a theme here!

Cat 1/2/3’s [10/23, 1st Cat 3]:
I caught some rest while my teammates headed out to do other things.  With my family out of town I was free to play bikes with the big boys.  My legs had come around towards the end of the 3’s race, but I wasn’t sure how much I had left.

The first few laps were quick and before I knew it Justin (Dogfish, cat 1), Jim (Dogfish, cat 2, should be a cat 1), and Cale (St. Johns, cat 1) were off the front.  Bear in mind, this is like lap 4.  Austin (Horizon Organics, cat 1) bridges and I decide it’s the move du jour.  I jump hard and stay on the gas till I’m on.  It took almost half a lap.  Yikes.  Almost immediately Cale appears to be in difficulty and is looking for a rest – read: non-smooth rotations.  Austin is NOT interested in doing more work than he has to, and is probably trying to recover from his own bridge effort (Note: he went on to win, so maybe he knows what he’s doing!).  Me: I’m a cat 3 surrounded by cat 1’s.  And I’m trying to catch my breath.  I pulled through a few times and even bridged some gaps since Cale, Austin, and I decided to play: “No, You pull!”  After a few laps Cale waved the flag on the s/f hill and Austin jumped from behind me up to the dogfish.  I should have given everything in that moment to ride with them but all I have is excuses.  Cale and I rotated evenly for the next 20 minutes which felt like an eternity.  I want to see pics because I think I sold the hot-pain face rather well.  I’m not saying it was Chris Anker Sorensen material, but it was hot.  And painy.

Eventually a group of 5 that was not working well caught us and the field was not far behind.  I tried working with this group but everyone was a passenger.  Sitting in the field I felt rested pretty quickly and had a chat with Chris Creed (Mesa).  Dogfish had the field shut down pretty well but before long the lead 3 came around and lapped us.  Aaro called a prime for the field so Maurice (BMC/Walmart) and Cale jumped onto the passing Dogfish/Horizon break.  This was a huge tactical error on my part.  I had been foolishly inattentive and was boxed in, buh bye top 5.  Nobody to blame but myself for that one!

I rode around in the pack and won a prime for 4 hamburger meals (from a local burger joint) and 4 burritos (from Chipotle – which have already been consumed).  So that was good.  But I probably should have saved some of that pop for the finish.  Regardless, Chris decided that with 5 to go he would attack on a lull.  It was a bold move and he probably got up to 20 seconds on us.  As he was in his own private hurtbox the field would swarm a little then back off.  Nobody really wanted to work.  Coming into the finish I stayed top 5 but waited too long to sprint, tried to switch lines, but sat up rather than get pinched into the official’s tent.  It turned out that the first 2 in the field sprint (Anthony [Dogfish] and Eduardo [Michelob/Big Shark]) nipped Chris at the line.  He still managed 8th.  I finished 10th, which is my best finish in a 1/2/3 (or 2/3’s) race so far, and good for last one in the money.  But oh that top 5 was within reach!

Tour de Champaign Downtown Crit
Despite unsuccessful carpool attempts I hoped in the car and drove up to Champaign Sunday morning for my former-hometown race.  Skies were clear and everything looked great: fun downtown course, decent pavement, and the usual suspects had shown up to dance.  Unfortunately the prospect of horrendous weather canceled the race.  The entire episode felt oddly familiar though:

Carefully, I measured out the quantities of liquids and gels I had with me.  A muffled voice over the load-speaker made an announcement – was that directed at me or another?  I chose specific clothing to be comfortable and effective for the duration.  I found my place in line after paying.  I received a pat-down (UNSOLICITED, from ETHAN STONE).  I chatted with the people next to me in line, ready for take-off.  But then we were delayed.  And delayed.  Oh, wait, perhaps we could be shuffled in the schedule – can I take off with that group?  Nope.  Cancelled.  The whole thing felt just like American Airlines.

But it wasn’t a flight home, it was a flight of fancy.  With the specter of natural disaster, cancelling a bike race is so shamefully small a thing it does not bear mentioning.  Perhaps next time we’ll be able to shred each other’s legs and egos in Champaign?
2nd in line for refund.  Podium in ‘the race after the race’!


This concludes my May block of racing.  With the drought of personal wins, it could be depressing.  However the team has notched some good results (including a win) and I’ve been a part of several top ten results (both for the team and individually).  In addition, I’ve learned a lot (cornering in wet conditions, pack positioning, and leadouts).  

Thanks are due my wife for letting me play bikes so much and to Mesa Cycles for keeping the old bike rolling with wheel repairs and spare parts.
Now the month I look forward to all year: June.  It’s time!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Belleville Criterium (Ardie Miller Memorial) Cat 3 and 1/2/3 Race Reports

Cat 3 Race

High 50’s, brisk wind, cloudy skies.

6 corner crit.  Long headwind backstretch, 3 or 4% incline before the penultimate turn.  A few sketchy pieces of pavement but nothing “Delmarvelous”.

40 guys in the cat 3’s give or take.

The Action:

708 and Momentum Racing kicked things off with the usual suspects of Mike (708) and BJ (Momentum) turning out some hot laps.  A racer (named the LJO – will be made clear later) tried an early move which I brought back.  A prime was announced and Nick (708), the leader for the day yelled: “It’s yours Mark”, so I felt free to collect $35 when I passed “Go”.  I even did a cocky mini salute when I hit the line.

Attacks were tried and chased down and other primes were offered.  My legs hadn’t really come around yet (having attempted too many Gilbert impressions the day before) so I was pretty content to sit in.  Two crashes happened in front of me during the race.  One Dogfish rider went down a few wheels up and I had one of those fun “slow-motion perception events” which fortunately did not end with me hugging pavement.  Unfortunately Nick came to a complete stop but Keith paced him back to the front.  We’re getting this teamwork stuff sorted!

Nick wanted to win out of a break (like he did in the 2010 cat 4 edition) so about halfway through he took off solo.  I followed a bridge (LJO) and finished it off to join Nick and Jason (CBC – and a strong dude) in a nice 4 man group.  I immediately went to the front and pulled for a lap to try to get the gap going.  When I flicked, the Lindenwood Jerk-O. protested that there were “two of you and one of me” and refused to work.  I shared some sailor talk and Jason shook his head (perhaps at both the LJO’s antics with 25 min to race and my indiscretion).  As an aside, I’ve never understood why Mark Schwartzendruber gets so upset in his race reports about such jerks when they don’t pull through.  I understand now.  The jerk’s actions are not just a snub to the work you’ve already shared/invested in the break, but a middle finger to the endeavor of racing altogether.  We’re here to race, to ride our bikes faster; therefore each man must offer his best.  The nobility of cycling is soiled by such men.  Now, I’ve done my fair share of sitting in during races, but we all know that the last 2 laps (and associated tactics) are a far cry from 25 min to go with a 10 second gap.

It is worth highlighting at this point that I was already on a bad day mentally.  My rear race wheel was not functioning before the race and my training wheel was kaput to.  Having allowed little things get to me, Nick offered me his spare rear wheel.  A gracious move.  So when the LJO messes up the break du jour (and I was going to make sure that Nick was in the break du jour!) the thread was close to breaking.  I told Nick “he won’t work” and dropped back to the field to recover.  There was no sense going into the red with a guy that won’t play the game.
Coming into the final laps Mike and Nick were at the front.  5 to go flashed by and the group was doing the usual surge and swarm.  As we started the penultimate lap, Mike was on the front with Nick on his wheel.  I knew it was the time to start the lead-out, but could we hold position for 2 laps?  And the fastest laps at that?  I set a hot pace and strung out the field.  From what I could tell later, the pack was breaking up.  Thank you very much.  Nick said later that I pulled for 0.5 laps but I’m pretty sure I pulled for 1.15 laps.  Regardless, I dropped Mike and Nick off on the backstretch of the final lap, with Mike doing the hard work into the final incline.  Nick held tough for a 7th place finish in the sprint.  Not too shabby a result considering his breakaway attempts and this is his first year as a cat 3.  We’re still fine tuning the leadout, perhaps with a little more luck we could have dropped him off at the final turn.  But, we’re learning and having fun even if we didn’t “race for free” this weekend.
Oh, and the worst part of the weekend: LJO won the sprint.  Let’s see if that happens next time. 

Cat 1/2/3
After the lead-out I strolled in chatting with Trey (Dogfish) and tooled around for the hour between races.  A light rain began and I could tell I was mentally fatigued.  I dropped the tire pressure down to 90/95 (not nearly enough!) for the wet conditions and lined up for my first 1/2/3 crit.
The pace started out quick and the field lined out right away.  I kind of enjoyed it as I wasn’t suffering, just working and it was pretty safe.  Unfortunately, the downhill left-hander over traffic paint seriously freaked me out.  I would slow and let a big gap open up into that turn every time and then sprint up the hill to catch on.  Honestly, it wasn’t that bad physically, but the specter of broken clavicles and bikes was weighing on me.  Tracey (Mesa) even said “this is where they all stack it!” on one of the early laps.  He then goaded me to quit opening up that gap.  I protested and then pulled him up to the field and dropped to the back of the line.  Another lap or so and I had enough of my rear wheel sliding into that turn (turns out the carbon rear braking surface and the alu front combined with my new cables – i.e. still being broken in – meant my braking was anything but consistently modulated!!) and when I locked up my rear and began sliding I check out upstairs and let the selection ride away. 
Sheepishly riding in I did a jerk thing which I hate: I explained to everyone who would listen why I dropped out.  Nobody cares.  Nobody needs to hear my justification for it.  And what difference does it make if I didn’t have the legs?  If you’re out of the race: you’re out.  You are not the best.  Get over it.
I watched from the car and then from an awning on the finishing stretch as the race unfolded.  Jonathan Schilling (Chipotle) and Devin Clark (The Hub) got away then sprinted it out at the line.  I was surprised at how close the final margin was considering A) Clark is purportedly a “track guy” (doesn’t that equate to monster sprint watts?) and B) Schilling is on junior gears (did he report to rollout?!).  I’m probably not one to pass judgment though, as I DNF’d!  A great ride by both men and an exciting finish.
It’s probably a good thing I’m not going to JMSR this weekend, but instead will get some longer miles in to keep the fitness going while unwinding upstairs.  I’ve got a few 4 hour routes here in Columbia but it might be time to recon some of the state RR courses.  We’ll see.
Next up: Tour de Grove!