Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Race Reports: Ste. Gen + Hellbender Crit

Le Tour de Sainte Genevieve Cat 3 [24/40?]

Ste. Gen served up the MO state RR championship this year.  Dare I say it was nearly perfect for a June bike race?  A gentle wind and some clouds were present as we started on 2 laps of hilly racing for a total of 69 miles in the cat 3’s.

The field was similar to the O’Fallon Grand Prix (2011 IL RR Championship), with fewer turning up than I expected.  It really puzzles me why more do not come out for these races.  They are in my view the biggest road races of the season.  With frequent complaints regarding the “critcentricity” of US racing, here we have two ~70 mile road races, with hills, and guys don’t come out to play.  Perhaps we just have too many races?  Between Tulsa Tough, Ste. Gen, and Galena, a limited number of racers were spread thin.  (This isn’t even accounting for MTB races, of which I know nothing.)  But it begs the question:  why do riders show up for training crits and early season races yet avoid the races for which the training exists?  Do we train all winter to be fast at Froze Toes?!  Or do we train all winter to win Ste. Gen?!

Anyway…the racing began as Shawn (Momentum) attacked through the feedzone (which marked when the neutral start ended, I think – but it’s humorous considering the recent discussions of feedzones following O’Fallon…).  Shawner was off and nobody seemed too interested in chasing or bridging – it was a suicide break with 67 miles to go.  But then, maybe it could work!  

 708 dispatched some riders to the front to keep pace.  Kudos to Keith, he did the thankless job of setting pace for many of those early miles.  Eventually it became clear that the other teams would not lend a hand in the chase, so Keith rolled off the front and was soon joined by an opportunistic Dogfish.  Several riders from other teams bridged.  The cards kept reshuffling as different breaks went up the road and came back.  Nothing very serious was let go as Momentum, Dogfish, and Hub instigated and chased moves alongside 708.  After several miles of this I considered myself a carrot, and with a few riders dangling off the front, I decided to provide something a teammate could counter – perhaps to glory.

On a slight incline I was joined by Aaron Koch (Dogfish) and we soon got out of sight of the peloton.  I did a fair amount of work on the front already and was hoping this would only last a few miles.  However, the pack didn’t chase too hard at first so Aaron and I kept cruising.  Soon we found ourselves on the KOM.   The benefits to my teammates of my little move were already showing up – no attacks on the KOM as the points had already been taken.

On the rollers into town we caught sight of the peloton and knew pretty quickly that they were chasing enough to doom our little run.  Alas.  We stayed off until the feedzone, which was good as I grabbed a few bags for teammates, allowing them to avoid that dangerzone.

After completing my domestique duties I returned to the pack while the pace ebbed and flowed.  I was starting to feel the day’s effort on the hills and was concerned several times that I would be dropped.  Always a humbling thought.  

Coming into the final hills Shawner had been caught (and was livid that no teammates countered his suicide break – Paging B.J.!) and Adam (Recycled Cycles) was off the front.  I found myself sag climbing the hills but the bunch wasn’t flying yet.  I ate a little something and the body woke up before the KOM.  Turns out my decision to use another product instead of my normal Hammer Gel was a poor one!  Nothing new on race day, genius!

Chris (708) is a big rider, so when he attacked the pack on the KOM, I was impressed.  The group surged to catch him over the top as gaps started opening.  Nick and I held tough and I paced him back up through the group.  Coming into town Adam (Recycled Cycles) was being drawn back from a long, bold move while the descents gave me a chance to rest the legs a bit before the finish.  Nick and Chris were with me and we discussed the leadout briefly.   I had a flash of adrenaline and excitement: “we really can do this, we are going to get a jersey” I thought.  The finish is a really cool one: a wide right, followed by a tight left, then another mile run-in to the line.  We had to nearly stop taking the sharp left turn – I think I took the worst line in the history of bike racing that didn’t end in a crash.  I paced Nick back to the front and Chris had taken the reigns and was doing his Berny Eisel impression.  I pulled through around 600 meters out (too far!) and pulled off after we went up the little hill under the rail road bridge – completely cooked.  Nick gave his best but the hills had softened his legs.  He finished as the 9th MO rider – a universe ahead of the DNF he had last year.  Just think of how he’s going to crush souls in this race in 2012!

So the team had a lock on places 21, 23, and 24 – a failure, right?  No.  While we didn’t win we raced our plan and wrote the story on the day.  While many teams race like individuals, we’re trying to execute team tactics.  Big ups to Momentum for taking the race to everyone, too.

Hellbender Criterium Cat 3 [3/12]

I wasn’t expecting to race the Hellbender Crit but the schedule got flipped around.  As preparation for the event I accepted a “challenge” from some coworkers to go for a 4 mile run during lunch the day prior.  Not a big deal, except I hadn’t run that distance since August of last year.  Add in that I was wearing my Chaco’s and we were at lunch with the power out from a t-storm and you have a fuller picture.  Oh, and I had just eaten a pizza.  Needless to say, my intent was to sit in and survive come Saturday!  My teammate Nick wanted to ride in a breakaway, so we were set for the day’s tactics.

The course had great pavement and featured some nice touches: tight cornering (2 corners were off camber), a little rise on the back stretch, and a false flat into the finish line.  A great course that would have been very tough with more than 30 riders.  12 showed up to contest the cat 3’s and what we lacked in quantity, we made up for in quality as I believe the top 10 in MOBAR were present for the 3’s.

Jason (CBC) got a little gap on the first lap through the tightest section of the course and decided to push it a little.  A lap later Nick decided to bridge.  I thought it was a little early for a move to stick (race was 45+5, and we were assured by Aaro that we’d be racing a full 45 minutes!), but Jason is a strong rider and I wouldn’t mind blocking a bit.  A few more laps go by and Trent (Michelob) rolls off the front.  At this point, alarm bells should be going off in everyone’s head: the best cat 3 TT rider in the area just snuck off the front – all hands on deck!  The group chased with a little more gusto but didn’t bring him back.  Once he made contact with Jason and Nick, I knew my boy would be safe up the road.  Trent is a diesel!

The rest of the race was good tactical fun.  I had a problem to figure out: to bridge or not?  As BJ, Brett, Chad, and Adam worked themselves down in the chase I constantly took stock of myself, should I bridge now?  Next lap?  The last thing I wanted to do was bring back Nick, and with crappy legs, would I even be able to get away?

I found myself continually saying: “next lap, Mark.  Attack on the rise next lap.”  But each time there was a reason not to: I haven’t seen BJ for a while, oh, he’s been sitting on my wheel!  Or, I just had to close a gap and don’t have the confidence, etc.  I missed an opportunity to do something great, but at least I didn’t screw it up for my teammate up the road.  It’s the least I could do: no harm to his chances.

As the minutes switched to laps I knew it was very unlikely that I would bridge and focused on preparing for the sprint.  At the end of the penultimate lap I tested everyone’s legs (including my own) to see if I could get away early.  The results were ok, but not as good as I had hoped.  So when Adam (Recycled Cycles) put in an attack on the back stretch, I made sure I got his wheel.  Coming around the final bend I managed to hold off B.J. in the sprint, taking 3rd on the day.

Jason popped in the break and Nick fought it out with Trent, getting bested but learning a lot.  I was very pleased with the result considering the quality of my legs and I think Nick was rightfully happy.  Big congrats to Nick who rode strong and notched his first cat 3 podium finish!  Five out of six cat three 708 racers have gotten on a podium this season!!
Nick (708) 2nd, Trent (Michelob) 1st, Frenchy (708) 3rd - who happens to be channeling his inner male model.

On Sunday I skipped the hilly road race but Nick rode to a top ten, earning 4th in the weekend omnium.

Next up: the Glencoe Grand Prix (IL Crit Champs!) and the Webster Groves Crit (MOBAR points!).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

O'Fallon Grand Prix (Cat 3, 2011) a.k.a. The Sour Grapes

IL RR Championships (O’Fallon Grand Prix, Cat 3, 2011)

June is already here!  And with June came the first state championship of the season for the 708 Racing team: the Illinois state road race championships.  O’Fallon has a good course for determining an all-around racing champion.  There are three climbs per lap but they aren’t long enough for the mountain goats to distinguish themselves.  There are open areas and long stretches exposed to wind but nobody will argue that this is the Leland Kermesse, favoring the big gear grinders.  Meanwhile, the final climb (which on the third approach in 104F heat doesn’t tickle) is inside 1K from the new finish line, meaning the sprinters have to earn it.  In sum, it’s a course that produces a well rounded winner.

The conditions on Saturday were hot.  Air temp reached 97 or 98 degrees, while the sun’s heat reflected from the black pavement cooking the riders in 100+ conditions.  Winds were up to 11mph out of the WNW if memory serves.

The field was a little small considering (in my view) this is THE most important road race on the calendar.  But no matter, you have to show up to win and many were choosing not to win.  With only 26 riders pre-registered in the cat 3 field, my homework was pretty easy.  Two IL riders to watch were Dustin Morici (Burnham) - who has had a great year so far and was strong in the heat and hills of the Hermann RR - and Patrick L (R-Bikes.com) - a MTBer who had some good RR results.

The 708 plan was to work for someone other than me in a 2008“Ronde Van Vlaanderen” scenario.  In 2008 all eyes were on Tom Boonen who was marked heavily.  This allowed strong man and Quick Step teammate Stijn Devolder to get away for the win!  Is it not a little bit of vanity that I thought of myself as Tommeke?  The plan fell apart and I’d rather not get into the kiss-and-tell.  As it worked out, I was by myself in a selection of 10+/- that included 4 other IL riders.  3 MO riders were up the road.  I mistook Joe Fuller (Veda, MO) for Brett Bohanan (Proctor, IL) and instigated his capture.  2 MO riders up the road.

Speaking of Joe, I need to write a few words about him.  I was in the break with Joe and Shawn (Momentum) at Forrest Park a couple months ago.  He’s a strong rider and comports himself with class in the pack.  At the end of the first lap in O’Fallon he attacked immediately following the final turn.  I took it as an “attack the feed zone” move at the time and complained about him to others in the pack (we were not actually in the feed zone yet).  He, being the classy rider he is, bridged to 2 guys off the front and was not to be seen till the latter stages of lap 3.  My grumbling (and surprise) about his move reached his ear so he came to me the next day at the crit to talk it over – a class gesture.  I was wrong to say he was attacking the feed – he thought there was a prime for the intermediate laps. 

I don’t think I saw anyone attack the feed but the eventual winner did take feeds outside of the feedzone from his significant other.  Not his only clever tactic.  (Yes, my sour grapes are quite sour.  Nobody like a sore loser, i.e. me.)  The whole “attack the feed” concept lacks the class that makes cycling a sport of gentlemen.  These unwritten rules of etiquette belie the honor that each man carries into the race.  You may dismiss this but remember, these are the guys who follow decorum to the point of shaving their legs, wearing specific shoes, and piloting $4K carbon fiber rigs.  Alright, enough of that rant.

Back to the race, Dustin (Burnham) and I had done a lot of work at the front through the race and the heat and miles were starting to wear on us.  But about 8 miles out guys started attacking the group (remember, about 10 of us).  Dennis K. (Dogfish) took off with a nice seated move before a turn and dutifully applied a little pressure.  Brian K. (Dogfish) kept telling me what a good move it was.  I guess I agreed as I jumped hard (bike creaking and wailing – more on this in the sour grapes section below), going over the top of him into the corner I shouted for him to get on.  The group chased and after the next two turns we were back together again.  Dustin smartly countered, taking Patrick with him.  I jumped to close the gap.  This kind of thing went on more or less to the finish.  Dustin looked completely smoked yet he put in at least 3 such attacks.  Patrick always followed then sat up.

Sums up my day.  Photo Credit: Dennis Fickinger

Coming into the finish I asked Brian to lead it out and promised him $20 if I was the first IL rider across the line.  Tyler (The Hub) lead us after the penultimate hill, then Brian took the front up the final climb.  Patrick held his wheel and I was on Dustin’s.  I moved up to Patrick’s wheel during the climb, cresting third.  We took the corner nice and fast and Patrick jumped around Brian.  I held his wheel as he sat back down before jumping again.  In the last 100 meters Patrick stood up and I jumped trying to come around him on the left.  I threw at the line but knew I wasn’t there.  I had lost the state road race by half a wheel.  0.035 seconds.  Thanks chip timing.

Photo Credit: Nikki Cyp

The Sour Grapes:

Two days later I took my bike to Champion Cycling in Ft. Smith, AR for repair during a business trip.  My bars would flex a good inch up and down when out of the saddle.  I suggested that the fork might be broken as I was sure the stem and handlebars were installed properly.  As it turns out, the carbon steerer tube was flexing all over as it was debonding (a word?) from the crown of the fork.  You can see the crack/separation on the unit.  When I think back to all the attacks, all the hillsides I stood on, and the sprint at the finish, I consider the wasted watts of the flexy front end.  Would it have been enough to give me a wheel in the sprint?  I think it would have.  Regardless, I have nobody to blame but myself as I am responsible for my bike and I am the one that cancelled the work order at Mesa Cycles two weeks prior.  Ugh.  My new Orbea Orca…fork is super solid and I feel like I have a new bike underneath me.  I’m pretty sure I’d have a new jersey in the closet had I raced in the new configuration.  Wah wah wah.

The two MO riders that stayed away had big earned results.  Trent (Michelob) and Brian (Momentum) both stayed away after bold early moves.  The gap at the finish was over 2 minutes.  Big ups!

Big big thanks to the Momentum crew who fed me each lap.  Thank you!

O’Fallon Grand Prix Criterium

Sunday we were back in O’Fallon for a technical crit.  Turnout was low but the conditions were near perfect: 92F (which felt nice after the previous day!) with minimal wind.  The pavement was horrendous.  It was the worst pavement I’ve raced all year.  I watched riders get air coming out of the penultimate corner! 
We had a few new faces on Sunday (Jason (CBC), Chris (The Hub)) but a lot of tired legs after Saturday’s deathmarch.  The pace was brisk and I noticed we were taking the corners foolishly – only using half of the road.  I noticed I wasn’t comfortable on those lines and getting gapped a little bit out of a few turns.  What gives?  I also noticed that I was breathing through my nose while we were lined out, so maybe things weren’t so bad.  I just had to focus on where the apex of the turns should be, as most of them had potholes in the actual corner.

Photo Credit: FicksPhotos.com
The early move was Mike and Keith (708) going off the front tempting the pack to chase.  I didn’t counter it as I think Trent and Joe (CX guy?) got off the front.  They are both motors so I bridged up – it only took an entire lap!  The two South Chicago Wheelmen juniors bridged up too.  More and more guys bridged up and soon our group was 10 strong, starting to look more like a field split than a break.  The field eventually came together and more attacks were tried and brought back.  Permit me to add that Trent (Michelob) is really rolling right now.  Keith (708) also got in a good looking move a little later but everybody had too much juice and it came back together.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel
Coming into the finish we decided we’d work for one of our sprinters.  I would do leadout work with Nick.  Trent was on the front (jeez!) as we crossed 3 to go.  I thought I could hold the front long enough such that Nick and maybe Keith would only have to lead Mike the last lap.  I pulled for the next two laps and felt like a fighter pilot, taking the turns how I wanted – outside, inside, outside – and just focused on picking up the pace on the straights (so as to keep it lined out).  Trent jumped me into the chicane entering one to go and I jumped back up to him as I flicked off coming out of turn one.  Unfortunately our train got derailed on that last lap as 5 guys swarmed the front.  Mike (708) managed a solid 5th place.  I’m convinced we had the right tactic, but we’re still ironing out the leadout.  On that course, first one out of the last corner wins.  Another “next time.”

Post race chat w/ Mike.  Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel


The results this weekend were disappointing but our team expectations are pretty high: a cat 3 win every time.  The state championship was a personal and team goal and we took 2nd by a pretty close margin.  Vittoria, you are elusive.

I’ve been weighing whether to upgrade or finish the season in the cat 3’s.  The prospect of getting smoked by the P/1/2’s is inviting, but I think I should race a full year as a 3.  It should be the last time I do so.  Further I have these opportunities each weekend to work as a teammate.  I truly enjoy it.  It is also an area that needs improvement.  Tous pour un, un pour tous!