Monday, August 29, 2011

Sedalia/Otterville Weekend

I’m a pretty fortunate guy.  You see, this past weekend was my wedding anniversary and my wife let me go to the races.  Yeah, I’m a lucky guy.

Sedalia Crit [8/40]:

We stayed at the Hotel Bothwell.  Recommended.  Know going in that it was built during a different era, namely the era when people weren't so big and used to such big spaces.  As Cameron pointed out: "it's euro."  In the one bedroom we fit myself, my wife, two toddlers, and my road bike, so it wasn't that small.  After watching the 3/4 race (with teammate Eric holding off BJ by a whisker for third!) we tucked the kids to bed and I ran back out to warm-up for the 1/2/3 race.  Perhaps the best warm-up was the trip up/down 6 flights of stairs?

This was a night-crit in a small MO town.  A good mix of StL and KC racers turned up, I’d guess around 40 guys and Carrie Cash Wooten (kudos to her!).  The course was lit just so-so as turns 1 and 3 were pretty dark.  Ok, turn 4 was dark too.  Pavement was pretty good, a few bumps here and there but nothing awful.

A huge number of primes were offered, it felt like every other lap $20 was waved in front of us.  A $300 crowd prime was put up.  It was pretty cool of them to offer so much cash at this small race.

I followed wheels and practiced cornering in the dark.  The field was pretty hungry and the constant primes meant nobody was staying off for long.  The legs felt good, especially in the second half of the race.  I noticed I could stay seated coming out of turns 2 and 4 when others were standing – always a good sign!

Unfortunately, the race organizers/officials did not have a clock/lap counter at the venue.  For once I wasn’t so hypoxic that I could actually look for/read it and it wasn’t there!  That was pretty bush-league, but Aaro kept us informed of the last 5 laps over the PA.  

Coming into the last couple laps I was in the top 20 or so as swarms were constantly altering the pack.  On the last lap I was in the top 15 and moved up going into corner 3.  I got a little nervous when I saw 4 guys to the inside of me as we hit the turn faster than any lap prior.  I tapped my brakes and instantly lost a lot of speed and valuable positioning.  A loser in all white kit then chopped the last turn, clipped a pedal, slid out, and took Cameron Rex (Gateway Harley/Mesa) into the curb (and breaking his s-works tarmac).  I was the last rider through, but the whole ordeal distracted me enough that I let a gap open – not ideal with 250 meters to go!  I jumped hard and passed some folks taking 8th place.  

It was a fun crit and sort of a slower dress rehearsal for the Lafayette Square crit next weekend.  I’m pleased with another top 10 in a 1/2 race though it highlights many lessons I need to learn about crit racing.  Thanks to my teammates for cheering me on!

Otterville RR [DNF/14]:

After getting to bed around midnight due to the crit, I was up early for the 9am RR in Otterville!  Otterville does not have a gas station or any restaurants, so any food or water you needed you had to get in Sedalia.  I had enough to start the race (3.5 bottles) but not enough to finish (3 laps/72 miles/2 feeds), so I had my lovely wife run back into town to fetch a pail of water.  Yeah, I’m a lucky guy.  The other thing Otterville had a dearth of was restrooms.  Big blunder by the organizers here: 2 restrooms on site.  Sorry guys, but before I spend (an anticipated) 3 hours on the bike, I’m going to have to hit the potty – and so does everybody else!  The line was 15 minutes long which, given the early start sent a lot of people to the trees – not what you want if you wish to hold the race again!!  Toilet talk aside, the road race course was a good one.  The roads were pretty empty and featured rolling hills and changing winds which reminded me of the Hermann RR course, though more open.

The crit field was 40 strong while the RR field the next morning turned out 14.  Jensen and Stolte (Trek/Tradewind), 2 Mesas, Justin + Jim + Anthony (Dogfish), a Monster drink, Lawrence (CBC), Kent (Colavita), and a few others made for a small but fast bunch.

Justin attacked on the second hill and built up a sizable gap.  Jensen then organized the chase urging us to help out.  I foolishly obliged.  I would pull a turn or two, then think I was being conservative by dropping back and resting a while at the back.  However, all I was doing was softening myself up for the decisive move later in the race.

On lap two we started to reel Justin in and I knew the punches would start flying.  Everyone else knew too, so nobody would pull except for Kent and the Tradewinds.  Brian saw this coming and sat up while Kent kept riding and cruised off the front to join Justin.  Over the top of the next climb Jensen attacked hard taking Jim with him forming the break du jour.  Brian had successfully isolated the best TT’r in the race (Justin), tired him (getting everyone else to chase him for a lap), isolated the next best chasers (Kent + Jim) to weaken any possible chase group, and then dispatched us on a climb.  By leaving Bill in the chase group, he was guaranteed a rested counter should it all come back together.  Well played sirs.  

After we topped out I took a few breaths and then tried to bridge, I got away cleanly but blew up on the next hill before making contact.  The chase group caught me and I slotted in to recover.  After a spell of resting I started to take turns at the front again.  We were catching them and I wanted to help our group stay in the race.  Unfortunately, we hit another steep ramp after I pulled off the front and that was all she wrote – popped off the back.

While cruising into town I could make out another rider in front of me, I “caught” him as we came into the feed zone hill and both of us decided to call it a day.  I started rehydrating and cleaned up while getting to spectate the finish (actually I was just waiting for the wheel truck!).  Jensen won, with Jim and Kent filling out the podium.

I was quite impressed with the way Jensen and Stolte played the field.  Why did we let the strongest guy in the race talk us into working for him?  Next time I don’t plan on playing the pawn so easily.  Kent also impressed as he was working the entire race showing strong fitness, earning that podium.

This race will serve as fodder for the trainer sessions this winter as I struggle with forging ahead in my fitness.  How fast do I need to be?  How fit must I be?  This is a new benchmark.  The entire weekend reminded me of the words of Wayne Simon here, under Cat 2.  

Next up: Friday Night at Gateway and returning to AR for work…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Morton Crit Race Report

Racing in Peoria

The Proctor/Peoria crit has been a favorite the past several years.  Not only was the race on a really fun course, just a short drive from Urbana, it also served as the state championship criterium.  I was disappointed to see the classic 8 corner removed from the schedule but excited to return to greater Peoria nonetheless for the Morton Community Bank Cycling Classic.

I was excited since Peoria served up my very first bike race back in 2007.  I was reminded of this when I bumped into Nick Ramirez (Psimet/Enzo’s) and he introduced me to a cat 5 named Michael.  Mike just completed his first race and (I think) placed fifth!  I hope Mike finds the rewards we all enjoy through the challenge and discipline of competitive cycling.

Like Michael, this part of the season is all about experience for me.  As a new cat 2 I have a lot to learn about racing, so I approached Morton with this in mind.

At registration I handed in my waiver and said I was there to race.  The woman responded: “Cat 4’s?”  Ouch.  Nice ego bruise that.  Whatever, I cheerfully said what race I was in and was given the number five.  I love low numbers.  It is clear you are in the big boy race.  But five?!  It didn’t look like a big field would be showing up today, meaning there would be no place to hide in the peloton.  I’d need a lot of tactical nous and good legs to finish well. 

Morton Crit P/1/2 Field.  Photo Credit: Niki Campen Nation.

Sixteen other riders found their way to the start-line: Hogan Sills (ABD), Nick (Psimet/Enzo’s), the Stone Pony (Scarlet Fire Racing), Drew (Nuvo), Joey Iuliano (Racing for Riley), James Bird (ISCorp), two Wheelfasts, two Bloomingtons, two Proctors, two Panache, a guy in orange/purple kit, and an SCW rider.  There were lots of fast dudes in the group but I was particularly concerned with Sills, Ramirez, and Drew.  The only reason I was not watching Mr. Stone that carefully was that he already raced twice that day!!  (And if you know about this guy you know that he races at and off the front.)

The race was very exciting with numerous attacks from the start (Joey gets the “most attacks” prize by a nose over Nick!) and (perhaps wrongfully) I was concerned not to be left out of early moves.  I was bridging and jumping with early stuff as I had witnessed Hogan get away early in other races and I watched Nick ride away with the Hermann Cat 3 RR earlier in the year.  Nick was hyper-active during this time, jumping away and driving breaks.  My legs hadn’t really come around to feel good but there was little time for that – go go go!

Holding on to Hogan's wheel for dear life during an early attack.  Photo Credit: Niki Campen Nation.

75 minutes is a long time to be on the gas, but you need time to separate the racers.  After numerous attacks, counters, and reshuffling of the breaks two men were off the front with a good gap.  I think Dave Stone was one of them.  Nick and two others got free of the pack and began chasing.  Perhaps Hogan was in this group, perhaps Drew.  The rest of us were largely looking for others to do the work of pulling these guys back as the frenetic race had left many on the ropes – myself included.  If you’ve been in a race you know exactly the moment I’m describing: legs and lungs hurt, wits are dulled, and gaps are opening.  It is THE time to get away if you can.  Well, three more opportunists (including Sills – the order of the second and third groups may be off) broke the elastic and now half the field was up the road and half the field was left in the “pack”.  I was in the pack.  Then I saw it – the coup de grace – the moto ref pulled ahead of our group.  I don’t recall what time/lap we were at but I’d say about 45 minutes in (complete guess).  Was my race over?  Were we fighting for the distinction of “also ran”?  Would we get pulled?

It was gut-check time as a lot of firepower was up the road.  There were no more games, we had to chase!  Joey, a Wheelfast rider (#12), myself, a Proctor, and occasionally a Panache rider began rotating.  I recall several times having both legs light up with lactic acid on pulls going into the red as we chewed up tarmac to reach that front group.  Miraculously, we made it!  We closed down the gap and brought it back together.  The dark humor in the moment came when I looked up and the announcer/officials called out “22 laps to go!”  Oh, only 22 more laps?!  Then, on the next lap (or so) 2 guys went off the front.  Here we go again…

Ramirez, Bird, and Bloomington (?) took off and a new chase began.  I guess my legs came around as I did help a little.  Hogan, Drew, Joey, and some others did work and as the laps ticked down it looked like we could catch them.  During this chase we lapped several riders who got dropped in the field split chase.  The Stone Pony came unglued during this time, too.  The man made the big split in the race, only to have it blow up again.  His racing was absolutely incredible considering: 1) he had already podiumed in a master’s race on the day, 2) he already raced yet another masters race, 3) he has a son my age (!), and 4) it took an hour plus of an all-out-knife-fight to pop him.  Studly stuff that.

The last three laps I skipped pulls to try to save something for the finish.  I had a top ten on account of the lapped/dropped riders but maybe I could finish higher.  Perhaps this is the loathsome lazy sprinter in me, or perhaps said tactical nous.  Sometimes they are hard to differentiate.  The finishing stretch was quite long and I was too timid coming into the line.  Rather than jump multiple times to try to hang on to Hogan, I waited at the back and then moved up late to take 3rd in the bunch, 5th on the day.  I am still pleased with a top 5 finish in this race.  Racing with the big boys (and this isn’t even Gateway we’re talking about!) is much more taxing mentally and physically but also much more exciting and rewarding.  Of note: James (ISCorp) hung on for the win while Hogan (ABD) took the field sprint for 3rd.

It is worth noting that this is the third race on the new Tarmac.  I can't believe the difference.  Cornering and sprinting are noticeably better. I'm super pleased with the bike.

After the race Nick took me aside and clued me in to some needed tactical advice.  Here’s to gaining wisdom!  Then the wife and I headed to a state park for a fun night of camping with the kids. 

I am really thankful for that Saturday.

Next up: the Sedalia Crit and Otterville RR!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MO State Crit Report

MO State Crit

First time in Jeff City.  First race with Brian Jensen and some of the Trek/Tradewind Energy crew (he won, by the way).  First time a shifter broke with 4 to go and I DNF’d in a P/1/2 race.

Yup, that was the MO state crit for me.

My teammate Kurt and I raced well as a team but came up shy of the result we wanted.  Regardless, the race brought my confidence up as my new Tarmac felt great and I was able to go to the front during the race and put in some work.

With a few more crits before Gateway, I hope I can bring the speed up a bit and have a solid finish to this great season.