Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Racing - 2014 New Britain Crit, M45 and Cat 3s

My bike, resting.

Podium Ice bottle, no longer a rarity with the new version coming out soon.

I think I have an 11-23 for the cassette.
Nokon housing.

My one light thing - a carbon railed SLR.

Thanks to teammate Heavy D, who grabbed my camera after the M45 race, I have some pictures of me on the bike. This is unusual since normally I'm the one taking pictures with it. Coincidentally my helmet cam failed to stay powered on so I don't have any video. Therefore the pictures Heavy D took are the ones I'll use to narrate the Cat 3 race.

At the start.

I preach about long finger gloves. They save your finger tips on the off chance that you hit the deck and slide on your fingers. It doesn't happen all the time but it's happened to me. I'd rather not repeat that experience so I wear long finger gloves all the time, even training rides in the summer. I sometimes forget them and since it's not a critical thing like a helmet I'll still go for a ride. However you'll almost always find me wearing long finger gloves.

I use a RoadID. I have a heart thing so if I'm unconscious and someone hooks up an EKG thing to me, it'll look like I'm having a heart attack. Since I don't want anyone to do anything to me to try and "fix" my heart, I wear the RoadID. I carry a copy of my EKG in my wallet as well, per my doctor's recommendation.

They've been a generous and steady supporter of local bike racing for literally decades.

I'm starting again with this bike. Note Outdoor Sports Center, sponsor of the Bethel Spring Series.

I race for that club.


First the M45+. I don't have pictures at all so it'll all be words. I lined up with no warm up, per my Strava. I was running a bit slower than I thought and I didn't feel the need to warm up anyway.

We started off fine, some attacks early on. We had pretty strong winds, with a very strong cross-headwind on the main stretch. I expected a break to go because of that so I figured that I'd go after any bigger move that started rolling away from the field.

One big move went (I think) but I figured it would come back. It did.

Then another, bigger move went. This had a good 10 riders or so, and there were a number of break member teammates in the field. A few of us had missed the move but the chase seemed a bit half hearted. I made a dig, accelerated a bit more than I wanted, and decided to follow through with it. I rolled up to the break within half a lap, connecting on the backstretch. I felt okay, not totally redlined, and I figured that if the break kept at this pace I'd be okay.

Behind me the field seemed strung out but not any more motivated than before. In front of me the break started to splinter, with the front half separating from the rear. Over the top of the hill my chain inexplicably dropped off the big ring, not quite going into the small ring. I must have been in the 53x23, meaning in the big-big, and either stutter pedaled or something to unhook the chain.

I lost a few feet getting the chain back up to the big ring, looked back, and sat up.

By the time we hit the main stretch the field had caught the break. I was definitely working harder than not but I didn't feel in trouble. The field, already a bit stressed, split again, I think under the impetus of some of the stronger riders.

Unbeknownst to me there was an ex-pro in the field, Kurt Begeman, who used to be the resident pro at the velodrome in New Hampshire. Had I known he was in the field I'd have kept track of him, but I didn't so I didn't.

From my tail gunning position I thought the break had come back but it had actually increased its lead so quickly it was around my reference corner (the last one). When I looked it wasn't there so I mentally relaxed. A few laps later I saw that they were actually really far in front, a good 30 seconds or so.

I made another dig, hoping to bring some guys with me, but no luck. Everyone let me blow up out there and a lap later I came back.

Going into the final lap I figured I'd go for the sprint (of course). I actually debated whether I should just sit up and save my legs for the 3s. Ultimately I decided to sprint because I couldn't possibly know what would happen in the 3s. I might crash or flat or get shelled or something because that's what bike racing is all about.

Carpe Diem, right?

Seize the Day, or seize the moment.

An ex-Cat 2 (or 1?), Martin, went really early, gapping off the field I think going clear just before the last turn. My friend (and long time Bethel Spring Series helper) David B sat on his wheel. If they won, so be it, I didn't want to chase them myself.

Another guy followed and I immediately jumped on his wheel. We rounded the last turn and I looked up at Martin and David. They were probably 15-20 meters ahead, a closable gap in the sprint. I knew the powerful headwind would really slow my sprint so I went as soon as I thought I could get to the line.

I thought I'd left it late as it was a big gap to Martin and David, but I think the wind really shattered them. I got past both of them to get 15th. In the Tour that might be good but here at New Britain, not so much.

I'd used up a bunch of water, the day was getting warmer, and I had another race in 2 hours. I realized that I'd made an error in my race supplies - I should have brought more water and some food. Instead I ate a bar, drank some of the precious ice water, and waited. Junior wanted to play and stuff so we played and stuff. Heavy D collected my camera to take pictures of the Cat 4 race. I was hot.

Cat 3

Strava here.

Unusually I'm near the front. Cat 3s.

I didn't intend to line up near the front, I just rolled up whenever and there were more people than I expected in the field. Naturally since I lined up with at least one rider behind me I screwed up my clip in. I apologized to the rider that had to pass me as I clipped in and we were under way.

The Stingers in action.

My teammate Heavy D took control of my camera, with the 55-200 zoom, and snapped away. He'd try to cheer us on while taking pictures. You can tell when he was cheering because there's a whole lot of pavement and grass. The laps where he wasn't cheering there's a bunch of cyclists in the frame. The above picture is one of the in-between ones.

This is interesting. Note the gaps between wheels and such.
Cat 3 race so we're all reasonably experienced.

Keep in mind that the wind really socks us hard from the front left after this turn. Tactically speaking then it would make perfect sense to be shielded to the wind side, i.e. to the front left. This means riders should be exiting the turn behind and to the right of the rider in front of them, giving them optimal protection immediately.

The picture above doesn't show much of that.

Now note the tight formation, center screen.

The crafty guys at the back of the field are a bit better. You can see we're in our own mini-echelon. The rider in orange, the rider  with the white helmet, they're in the wind for no reason whatsoever, using enormous amounts of energy and gaining nothing.

Another picture of the tight formation.

We're overlapped to the right because the wind is hitting us from the left. The two riders in front of me have multiple national titles between them and both are former Olympians for other countries. I'm not so good but at least I know what's up.

A shot of the "kick over the top" pedal stroke I have.
Here the wind wasn't as powerful so being close wasn't as important.

I don't have long legs, as evident in this picture, but I run 175mm cranks. It just works better for me, now that I've lost a lot of leg speed. 25 years ago I was using 167.5mm cranks, and in about 1995 I started using 170s. Over the 2003-2004 winter I started using 175s. I thought 170s would be faster so I tried to go back to them in 2008 and then again in 2011. I tried for most of a season each time, starting sometime in the prior fall (typically Oct/Nov to July/Aug). Both times I went back to the 175s and immediately had better results. It wasn't the power, which I found didn't change much at all, it was how that power translated into fatigue and results. The 175s just work better for me.

Although technically I was okay sitting at this part of the course, at the top of the hill, I needed to stretch my legs out a bit. As the second race of the day my legs were getting fatigued. I also ran out of water so that didn't help on this hot and humid day.

Coasting and stretching. I'm pressing my right thigh against the left side of the saddle.

I'm coasting here, trying to stretch my legs out a bit. The standing at the top of the hill helped but I still needed to do something, my legs felt really blocked and fatigued.

Last wheel in the field, suffering.

I'm last wheel here and not very close to the next rider. This was in the first curve and the trees break up the wind. Still, though, I should be a bit closer.

This picture, more than the earlier ones, shows that I really need to lose weight. No muscle definition - my body fat is in the 25% range, give or take. I'm realistically 20 pounds heavier than I could be, than I was in 2010, and in 2010 I still wasn't really cut/defined. Someone calculated my lean body mass is in the 130s so 10% body fat would put me in the 140s. It'd be nice to be in the 150s again.

More suffering.

We're exiting the tree area I think and I'm closer to the wheels. However I'm still suffering, still at my limit.

My ContourHD didn't work in the Masters race so I removed it for the Cat 3s. You can see the mount on the helmet. No camera though.

Also you'll note that I have no SRM. I forgot it at home.

I ran out of water pretty early in the race, saving a few sips "just in case". At about 10 to go I started thinking about stopping. It was hot, there was a break up the road, and I wasn't recovering at all.

Then, at 8 laps to go, the sun disappeared behind some clouds. It was still bright, mind you, but the sun wasn't beating down on us. I could feel my body start to shed some of that excess heat, finally getting ahead of the recover curve. I hoped that the sun would stay hidden, and it did, at least until it was too late to cook me again.

Sprinting for 13th. I was 12th when I sat up, my wheel just in front of that tall rider to my right.
I would have sworn up and down that there were 20 riders ahead of me.

I was so far back going into the sprint that I really didn't feel like sprinting. On the other hand I'd worked so hard just to get to the finish that I decided to give it a go, even as I saw riders 10-20 feet in front of me sitting up.

I didn't have a good jump and my legs were twinging even as I jumped but I kept going. The pedals turned really slowly, no 105 rpm sprint like last time. I know when I'm not sprinting well because my butt gets lower and lower, and that's what was happening in this sprint. At some point I started to pass a tall, skinny rider, the archetypal non-sprinter, and my legs told me I was done.

I sat up and the other guy passed me back. I saw three guys at the line within passing distance, including the tall guy, but at best I might have gotten past those. No way I could have caught anyone further up.

Ends up I was 13th so if I'd done a reasonable sprint I probably could have gotten 10th. No better though, especially based on the fact that I really couldn't move up in the last lap. If I was so blown that I couldn't move up then I was really on edge in the race itself.

The good thing is that I finished the races disappointed in the Masters to have missed the break and disappointed in the 3s to have screwed up the finish. Previously I'd have been psyched just to finish. I'd bumped up my training in June to 16 hours, double that of May, and more than April and May combined. In July I've already done 10 hours and we're only halfway through the month.

Note the last day's bar in July is taller than any day except that tall day in late January.

Incredibly, with the EVEN Hotel recon ride later that day, this would be the longest day of the year for me since January, and in fact it was the second longest day of the year on the bike period.

With that my next big day is the EVEN Hotel Fun Ride coming up on Thursday morning.

No Tuesday Night CCAP Race tonight due to the thunder, lightning, flood watch, and all that. I even got an emergency broadcast message on my phone. Tomorrow I'm heading down to the EVEN Hotel thing. This weekend is booked solid with family stuff. Next Tuesday there's no race - I may try to figure out a way to do the Wednesday Night race at Ninigret, which is withering on the vine. Hm, they're off next week also. I guess my next race will be Limerock on the 27th? M40 and Cat 3.

Well, I guess that's okay. One way of looking at it is that I'll have time to train a bit. Imagine that.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Training - EVEN Hotel Recon Rides

A very short time ago I got a vague email about helping out with a non-competitive ride. It was a weekday ride, it was early in the morning, and they wanted it to last a maximum of about an hour. This seemed pretty straightforward except for missing a few details. I asked a few questions, the person that contacted me gave me a few answers, and it seemed really doable. After figuring out how to handle Junior (he'll be at half day day care that morning and I'll have to pick him up at noon the day of the ride) I committed to helping out.

For a fun ride the permitting process through USA Cycling is a bit more forgiving. No officials, no scoring, no road closures, so it's just a group ride. USAC offers insurance for group rides, basically letting a club or shop permit their evening or weekend rides. To encourage this they keep the hoops and hurdles to a minimum.

This helped a lot since I first heard the details of the ride just two weeks before it was to take place. If it was a race there'd be no way to permit it (2 weeks is the minimum time required to permit a race). For a fun ride, aka "a group ride", we just had to pay the somewhat substantial late fee and we'd be set.

Of course I needed a route as well. Fortunately for me I grew up in the area, and in fact I trained on roads literally a little bit up the road starting when I was 13 or 14 years old. Back then it was a big deal for me - I was riding in the next town! My friend Allan and I would ride to a hobby shop in Norwalk to check out plastic models of tanks and planes.

Later, when I started training for racing, I rode some of the same roads with a friend and teammate in high school, Kevin F. He and I last rode together just a couple years ago, exploring some roads near my  "new" hometown. Back in the mid-80s we trained together somewhat regularly. I remember turning left into a road and cutting him off - his frame ended up breaking in that crash.

Actually, now that I think if it, it was about then that we stopped training together.

Ironically I ended up buying a house just off that left-turn-road, my home for a good 16 years or so.

At any rate, 7 years after moving away, I needed to refresh my memories of the area, including those roads that I explored so many years ago. Naturally the roads would have evolved so I wanted to know the conditions of the various roads, widths, stuff like that. Many of them are smaller roads, more neighborhood roads, and some are busier roads.

I mapped out a route that might work on gmap-pedometer, eventually mapping it out on Strava.

I also did some research on exactly who was doing this fun ride. It ends up that it's a new concept hotel,  EVEN Hotel, a healthy lifestyle hotel. It's one of those ideas that you think, "Oh, that makes sense!" when you hear about it. Basically it's a hotel where you don't have to sacrifice your health oriented lifestyle just because you're traveling. For me, when we stay at a hotel, it means eating foods that we normally don't have at home - processed foods and the like. It means traveling with, sometimes, push up bars, so I can do push ups like I do at home. With EVEN Hotels it seems like they want to handle that part of it for you - they'll handle your non-business stuff, you just do whatever you're there to do, like work or visit family or whatever. I'll have more to report after I stay a night there and go through the whole experience myself.

I figured that this fun ride was at just one of many locations but to my surprise it ends up that the Norwalk location is kicking off the EVEN Hotel chain, being the first of the hotels.

Well now.

I've done two recon rides now, adjusting the route slightly, and I'm pleased with what it is, at least based on the area. My goal was to make for a safe ride that challenged, encouraged, and rewarded. The ride starts on a short, steep climb, has some rollers, lets you get some speed up, then hits you with another short, sharp climb. Finally you roll back on friendly terrain, a nice cool down. All the major turns are right turns, although there is one left on a not-quite-quiet road.

The front of the hotel.
The inside is really, really nice. No pictures yet.

I've only been in the lobby area so far but it was unlike any hotel I've been in - for me it was more like a spa than a hotel. One of the people behind the desk in the lobby told me that someone walked in the day before and asked if it was a spa, it's that nice and peaceful. I didn't take pictures on my brief visit but I will Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The kicker is that it's not a super pricey hotel.

At the end of the first recon ride I headed down a bit that's now off the route. There's no shoulder (as evident in the picture), there's a no-turn-on-red, and there's no shoulder or sidewalk for the few hundred yards of busy road back to the hotel.

However, on this first recon ride, there was a minivan in front of me with "Happy Birthday Trevor" on the back window. A boy was leaning out of the window, watching me do a track stand. He motioned to me.

That is not Trevor, the birthday boy, but Trevor is in there somewhere.

"How do you do that?"

I thought of the technical aspects of doing a track stand, the idea that steering allows a rider to stay upright, that you have to move back and forth minutely while steering minutely in order to stay upright.

"Practice", I replied.

He grinned.

I nodded to the back of the minivan.

"Are you Trevor?"

He looked puzzled for a moment.

"Oh, the letters are still back there? No, I'm not Trevor, he's back here."
"Tell him I said Happy Birthday."
The boy duly poked his head back into the minivan.

"He says thank you."

And with that they were off. I concluded the ride (this was the first recon ride) and decided I had to test two alternate ideas. Otherwise I was pleased with the route, with the whole progression of challenges and rewards and such.

During the second ride, with one of my two personally-vetted ride leaders, I tested the two alternate ride bits. One has to do with the last bit of the route (the Trevor bit), the other to do with a "straight with no stops" versus "three stops but less traffic". We're going with the "no stops" option, for what it's worth, and that second ride made all the difference in making those two decisions.

After the first recon ride I headed north a bit to Outdoor Sports Center, the sponsor of the Bethel Spring Series for the last few years. They've been a great help both financially as well as in spirit. The sponsorship helps, of course, basically keeping the race afloat, but the owners would show up at the race and one of the owners showed up pretty much every weekend we had a race. They set up a tent, they gave away gift cards to their store, they wrangled all the raffle prizes we gave away, and basically brought the race up a level. They didn't just write a check, they really participated in promoting the race.

I'm working on the 2015 Series now and so I figured it would be good to stop by the shop and give them an update on how it's going. More on that as it happens.

Outdoor Sports Center.

With that out of the way I headed back. There's still a lot to do before the ride and I want it to go smoothly.

If you're interested in doing the ride, in checking out the hotel, you can sign up here at BikeReg. You get a free t-shirt, some refreshments, and a view of a brand new hotel chain. If you're around in the afternoon/evening there's more stuff happening, some food served, and some health/fitness type folks giving presentations and such.

The ride itself is at 7 AM, Thursday, July 17th. The route is on the BikeReg page but it's about 10 miles long and it's such that even I can do the route without struggling too much (and I really don't climb well). We have four ride leaders at the moment and it's absolutely a no-drop ride. All riders have to wear an EVEN Hotel t-shirt during the ride, that's the price of admission.

I'll try to have one more update on Wednesday but realistically the next post on this will be about the ride on Thursday. If you can make it I'll see you out there!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Racing - June 24, 2014 CCAP Tuesday Night Race, Bs

Tuesday ended up a nice warm day. With the really hot day supposedly arriving on Wednesday this would be a better day. The reality, of course, was that it was pretty warm. I packed more bottles of ice water, both Podium Ice bottles, along with one of the bars I bought for the winter training (which really didn't happen, so I have a lot of bars left).

On Saturday I discovered a crack in the rear Stinger 6 wheel. This, combined with a chip in the surface of the Stinger 6 front wheel, encouraged me to bring just the Stinger 7/9 wheelset. I'd spent much of the day outside and it wasn't very windy at the house. I trudged around a bit, spraying the ever-present poison ivy, washed/clayed/waxed the wagon, and packed the car.

Of course when we arrived the wind felt ferocious. I wondered if the registration tent would fly away, and even a clipboard didn't keep the release forms from creeping across the table.

It was windy.

With no choice I put the 7/9 wheels on. The 9 would be fine, of course, since it's a rear. The 7 was my tallest front wheel. Given the choice I'd use a different wheel but I didn't bring the Stinger 6 and my clincher front is a bit wacky (rim is straight with no tension on one spoke, causing the wheel to wobble aggressively when out of the saddle).

I reluctantly rolled away from the car, regretting not bringing the 6 front.

The good thing about today was that it was the BBQ night, this time hosted by Cycling Concepts. It meant that we didn't have to leave to eat and therefore we could hang out for the A race. Junior loves hotdogs and since that's a staple BBQ food so we'd be all set.

I didn't get a chance to talk much with anyone before the race, nor to warm up. I hoped that things wouldn't be too crazy with the wind, although I knew that the wind would allow the more fit riders to take advantage of the others.

NBC News was there with two cameras, a mic, and apparently they interviewed some people. The link went up and it's here. You can actually see the B race in the background - the short guy with the helmet cam is me.

Very windy day, about 85 degrees F.

We had a decent field, a little smaller than some of the earlier weeks. With some final words from Karen, the official, we started off.

Gaps on the first lap.
Wind here is from the front right.

We didn't have a neutral roll out this week and the attacks went from the gun. Immediately gaps started opening up. I abandoned the whole idea of helping others because I was absolutely at the limit trying to hang on. My legs were a bit sore, probably from the "heavy" schedule of riding more than a day or two in the last week, and I realized that I had to make it through a few laps before they'd start to feel a bit better. Until my legs came around I closed gaps without asking for help but I didn't have anything left to try and help others. Within a few laps the field had probably halved in size.

The wind really hit us hard in two spots - one at Turn One, the other as we cleared the stadium on the backstretch.

The Turn One wind was brutal - the first lap I almost lost control of the bike, and I really had to grip the bars firmly to keep the wind from knocking my wheel off-line. It got better as the race went on so I started to relax a bit. Then one lap the wind hit me super hard just as I stood to accelerate out of the turn. The wheel turned just a touch and for a moment I thought there was a small chance I'd flip over the bars. A quick correction, a touch less weight up front, and it was okay.

The other spot was the end of the stadium, a normal wind spot as the wind swirls around any big structure. This spot was also brutal, with my front wheel moving sideways a good 6 inches the first lap. After that I realized I couldn't relax there either, so no drinking or anything like that. Putting a rider to my 2 o'clock really helped stabilize the bike as the rider at my 2 o'clock would take the brunt of the wind. Of course they'd get pushed to the left a bit so I would leave a bit more room than normal.

Early move with an Expo, with other Expos waiting.
Wind here, at Turn Two, is from the front right.

With Expo riders well represented, and with their fitness levels pretty high (I was one of the weaker ones), the day's race ended up belonging to Expo. The early moves all had Expo riders in them, with Heavy D launching the first attack, then dropping back to the field as someone else (not sure who) continued on for Expo.

Expo waiting for the next move.
You can see that Heavy D, in this case, is sitting third wheel.

The Expo boys let the others chase. Heavy D looked good, patient, biding his time. I told him to go with the next move. Just as the catch was made, Heavy D made the move of the day, launching up the side, passing the tired chasing riders and the tired break riders. He instantly had a big gap and set about broadening it.

Heavy D makes his move.
First four riders are the break coming back, the next two are tired from chasing.
This is a tailwind bit, immediately after Turn Three.

Back in the field the Expo boys marked moves. Only a few riders wanted to chase. ERRACE got two riders chasing but they came back. Expo John N rolled off the front inadvertently. I hollered at him to ease, which had the effect of making everyone around me ease as well. Because, you know, if the "experienced rider" says to ease then they'll ease.

Waving John and Nick to go.

Nick had accidentally rolled off the front and looked back questioningly. I realized that it would be a great time to go so I told them to go, even gesturing with my hand. Nick put his head down, rolled up to John, and they rolled away from the group.

Now although we weren't necessarily chasing our own guys down we were still willing to take pulls here and there. I figured that once whatever Expo group got more than about a length and a corner away from whatever group I was in then I'd chase, so whenever the gap got a bit big I went to the front. The idea was to let the other Expo guys save it for the counter moves.

Telling Aaron he has to go with the next move.

At this point we had two Expo riders dangling just in front of the field. I went up to Aaron and told him that he had to go with the next move. He was one of the stronger riders, with both him and Nick up there in the finale at the Cat 3-4 Berger race. I barely got the words out of my mouth when someone went up the left side.

Aaron launches.

A perfectly timed bit of advice as Aaron basically jumped when I finished telling him to go with the next move.

In the past the Cat 4-5 Expos would be at the front, working no matter what the race situation. When the inevitable moves went they didn't have the snap to follow because they'd just been pulling. They'd dulled the edge of their fitness and training by exhausting themselves before the moves started.

Now, sheltering by default, they had the snap to respond to the moves, or, if so desired, to make them. Even though they weren't significantly more fit compared to a few weeks ago they were racing much more effectively. Aaron's instant response to the counter, Nick's move to go with John, and Heavy D's move to solo off the front all showed that they always had the strength to make the moves. Now they actually could make them because they weren't working senselessly in the wind leading up to the moves.

Pulling as the breaks are gone.
This is on the backstretch, at about the stadium "break", i.e. where the wind blasts us.

I turned to one of the few Expo guys left in the group and remarked, "I think we just team(work)ed ourselves off the back". When most of the field is up the road then not contributing to the workload doesn't make sense. As another rider put it, now the race would be just a hard workout. Those of us that could would pull.

I didn't pull much, to be frank, as I wasn't strong enough to pull much. I usually pulled into the wind, trying to offer shelter, so that made my pulls pathetically short - usually between Turn One and a bit past Turn Two, or even to Turn Three.

That was it.

I rode on the wrong side after the first turn, also to try to offer shelter. My weak point has always been the steady efforts, the FTP/theshold stuff, and I think for a while that one rider thought I was still blocking. The reality was that I had nothing more to give - if my team had asked me to chase as hard as I could I'd have gone the same pace.

My lack of form really showed as I slogged in bigger gears, unable to spin smoothly. I have to work on this as it's super inefficient. I even felt different muscles straining as I worked hard, particularly in my hips. I normally don't work so hard so consistently so the chasing efforts really socked me.

Heavy D lapping us.
(He's in the bright yellow shoes and socks.)

If that wasn't enough Heavy D rolled by, unexpectedly. I never heard anything about him approaching so it was a bit surprising when I turned left and saw him flying by. Two guys went with him but since Heavy D had lapped us solo we sort of ignored them.

Aaron (first rider) and Nick (to my front right) lapping us.
This is exiting Turn One, wind is from the front right, and just after we got the bell.

As we approached the final lap Aaron and Nick also rolled by us. No one else had lapped us, and they passed us just after the first turn of the last lap. Aaron admitted he'd pushed really hard to lap us, and Nick had rallied to bridge to him just as Aaron reached us. Eventually Nick would roll away from Aaron. Two riders were placed between Heavy D and Nick but I don't know when they escaped and I'm not sure when they lapped us.

I sat up in the last turn, my legs pretty spent, tired from a really tough race. I have no idea how the group did in the sprint, nor the other groups that were lapped and such.

I rolled to the finish, carefully crossing the line to make sure I officially finished (even if only the first three are scored). If it's important to finish then a rider has to make sure they actually finish.

Junior was tugging the Missus toward me. I carefully dismounted so I wouldn't kick his head (that would be bad) and Junior proceeded to touch different parts of the bike. He knows it's "Daddy's" bike, he knows "wheel", and he really likes the pedals.

Junior with my pedal.

Heavy D was all grins. He'd just soloed the race, lapped the field, a really great ride. Aaron and Nick were also really happy, lapping the field as well. All the Expo riders had done a great job with teamwork, with racing smarter. Although their fitness would not have increased substantially in four weeks their results were something else - they've been racing smarter and it showed.

With that we relaxed a bit. The Missus, Junior, and I didn't have to leave immediately, contrary to other weeks, because Cycling Concepts was hosting the BBQ night. With Junior's favorite (hot dogs) on the menu, and my favorite (burgers), we were both good to hang out for a bit and eat. Along with a couple burgers (few? I might have had three) I downed a Coke, feeling the need, but after that it was just water, water, and more water.

The A race was pretty spectacular as always, with local pro Ben Wolfe ripping legs off like usual. Expo's Lance had a great race, going basically at the gun, and taking part in the first serious three man move of the day. They eventually lapped the field but I think Ben not only didn't get lapped, I think he lapped everyone again.

Or something like that. It's the hot and hazy days like these that give rise to the myths, the stories, the legends. Maybe in twenty years I'll hear that Ben lapped the field four times. Who knows? Whatever the stories it was a great night out at the races, the way it should be.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Racing - 2014 Keith Berger Crit, Cat 3-4, 14th

After the thrashing I received yesterday I wasn't keen on the race today. The Keith Berger course, located in East Hartford, favors a longer final effort, something like a minute type effort, not the 20 second efforts that a New Britain or a Bethel requires. Since my minute numbers aren't that good I historically haven't done well here.

We'd spent a bit of time with family after the race Saturday so we got back pretty late, with Junior even refusing to go to sleep until we basically got home.

Sunday morning I woke up with really sore legs. In the last few months, for whatever reason, I don't get very sore. This is in my "1-2 hour a week training" period so I really didn't change much from one week to another. I suppose I don't race very hard (I sit in and hang on) and during my admittedly minimal training rides I go longer and sometimes harder than I do in a race. After those training rides, yes, my legs feel sore. After races, not so much.

The sore legs made me think that maybe I should actually warm up a bit because that helps when I have sore legs. Overall warm ups become more important to me as I train more. If my short rides are two hours and I'm doing 6 or 8 or 10 hours a week I need an hour warm up. If my short/only rides are an hour and I'm doing 1-3 hours a week then I really don't need much. Right now I'm in the latter schedule so warm ups haven't been important at all.

I worried a bit about my lack of speed, a problem I normally don't have. It's not sprint speed per se, it's the "sitting on the wheels in a tailwind section" kind of speed. It's what killed me at Ninigret yesterday and I knew that we'd have one tailwind straight at Berger. I hoped that my lack of speed was from not riding the day before, versus a lack of speed because I've been training just an hour or two a week.

Turning the camera on.

Before the race I rolled around to drop off a bottle, my camera, and say hi to some of the guys. I spoke with two of the 4s, Aaron and Nick. I warned them not to go out too hard, even though this was the "team race" (Expo helped man a lot of the marshal positions and with the hay bales and stuff - I didn't do anything except race and take pictures).

With a "hometown" race (Expo was one of the two clubs putting on the race, although we mainly supplied hours rather than venue experience) the temptation is to fly the colors early. The problem is that when you do that you're done for a bit and usually just as the hometown team collectively blows up the winning break goes up the road.

I didn't want that to happen so I told Aaron and Nick not to do that. With that said, and with a short talk on getting away (Lance, a Cat 3), that was that for any team talk.

The Missus and Junior found me, Junior all excited to see me again. He's at the age now (about 2 years and 3 months) where he gets really psyched to see us again, even if he just saw me a few minutes ago. He doesn't have massive anxiety when we leave either so it's nice. The separation bit isn't that painful now (no monkey-cling and the resulting finger-by-finger peeling him off of me while he screams bloody murder) and he's even more excited to see me when he sees me again. A nice combo.

Junior happy to see me.

We lined up, I sat at the back, the announcer (a racer as well as someone heavily involved in trying to make the sport grow) commented on my stem, and the race went off. The field seemed pretty solid, no real obvious new racers.

The pace was really, really high for the first few laps. I didn't know who was pushing it but I'd told the 4s (Aaron and Nick) not to go hard at the beginning.

Ultimately, as expected, the breaks came back, but only after a lot of hard chasing. Ends up that Joe, a Cat 3 Expo rider that's sort of unretired himself, traded turns attacking with Lance, pushing the pace, flying the colors. So much for that advice!

Joe, a long time racer, knew his limits and he knew that he'd be done quickly, therefore he did what he could before sitting up. Lance, after his forays off the front, drifted back to about where I sat to recover a bit.

During the race there were a few consistent bobbles in the field. Nothing like the rolled tubular from last year, or the clincher blowout that resulted in two pretty injured riders, so it's all relative. I caught a couple of the bobbles on the helmet cam.

Oops. Second turn.

The above was a relatively big bobble, especially since the rider that bobbled was on his own avoiding the curb. The problem was that he didn't need to avoid the curb - he'd have been close to it but not hit it. The resulting bobble was pretty big but fortunately no one went down, even the guy doing the sideways power slide.

The chase back on - I was the third rider after the gap - hurt me. The speed felt extremely uncomfortable but I knew that if I didn't hold on my race might end right there.

Wind from the right on this, the second straight.
Break is already at the corner.

The main crosswind hit us on the second straight, from the front right, which is sort of the norm here. Sometimes I ended up on the right and it felt much worse than in the middle or the left. I actually grinned once when the rider in front of me carefully and determinedly fought to move to the left safely, succeeding just seconds before we hit the second turn.

Another oops, second turn again.
The rider in the middle of the screen is headed directly away from me. Everyone else is heading right.

I've noticed that this year there haven't been a lot of guys cutting the inside, like a conspicuous lack of guys cutting off others at the curb. On the other hand I've seen a lot of guys go wide, too wide, and end up slowing to avoid the curb or falling when they hit it. Because I wasn't in the midst of the bobbles I couldn't tell if it was one or two riders consistently making the same mistake (aka they don't know), if it was a course "feature", or if it was just a "racing incident". I've noticed this at the Rent as well so I'm going to keep an eye out.

Regardless I think there was one crash and two really close calls due to riders almost stacking it up on the outside of the turn.

I found myself consciously slowing approaching a turn, giving myself a gap, and then cornering more along the inside than the outside. I rode through guys that had slowed for the bobbles without having to brake or otherwise waste too much energy.

Basically I'd go into the turn a bit slower, I'd start pedaling usually before the apex of the turn, and I'd be right on the wheel as we accelerated up to speed. Less time out of the draft, room to maneuver if something happened, and reasonable efficiency. It was certainly easier than sitting up near the front, something I have a hard time doing, and I still had a lot of time/room to adjust for bobbling riders. The clip will show that better but I wanted to point this out.

Clawing back on.
No bobbles or anything, I was just suffering.

All the smart riding won't make up for lack of fitness or speed. So although I may have been riding as optimally as I could, I still struggled with the pace. This particularly applied to the faster bit, the back stretch. There I struggled to hold wheels, coming off by some decent distances on some laps.
Ultimately, though, with cornering speeds lower than necessary, I could close up the gaps pretty easily in the next corner or two. This wasn't ideal and I'd rather have been controlling the gaps (aka "tail gunning" or letting the gap go on purpose to save energy), not worrying each time that I might not get on.

Bottle toss.

When I realized it was getting down into the last three or four laps I gave my mostly full bottle a heave. It's one of my two precious Podium Ice bottles so I tossed it near the Missus so she could retrieve it. You can see Junior watching as I tossed the bottle - hopefully he doesn't randomly toss his bottles when he goes for a ride on his bike.

At the bell.

I'm on Aaron's wheel. He's a new guy, strong and savvy. Strong, okay, everyone is strong, but he's a bit more familiar with the bumping and barging of crits because he comes from a motocross background. This is like a few other teammates of mine and they're all good in the turns. This raised my expectations for him and he's met them.

I didn't feel good enough to yell at him to bring me to the front - I think he'd have dropped me - but I felt like the team had potential. Thinking back I should have done something but I don't know what. I didn't know it at the time but Nick, another strong 4, had been close by as well, maybe even on my wheel.

I realized that since we don't race together as much I didn't know how we could best take advantage of our collective strengths. Since the Rents are the only times I've raced with them and we haven't finished together in any organized fashion yet, I had no idea how they'd react to various scenarios.

Even when I have an inkling sometimes people step it up a lot. For example in the last Bethel race, the Zwiedzanie, Joel went to lead me out. He'd blown up with about 300-350m to go the prior week so I hung back when he committed into the wind. I ended up in the wind a bit because he rode off the front of the field, dragging a few riders clear. I worked super hard just to draw even with him and he finally detonated only about 50-70 meters short of the line. If I'd stayed on his wheel I'd have had another 50 feet or so headstart, but since this was only the second time he tried to do something in the sprint I wasn't sure what would happen.

I also felt uncomfortable barking out a command or two because, frankly, we'd never been in this situation. I've been trying to help them win the B race but I either screw up (poor leadout moves) or they get caught in traffic. I didn't have a clear idea of what we could do so it made no sense for me to yell out much of anything at all.

After our race I watched the P123 race. The most active team really impressed me with its road captain barking out commands regularly. They ended up second, their leader simply outsprinted by the rider I thought would win, but they rode a superb race. I didn't see any tactical errors on their part.

First turn of the last lap.

At this point the race, for me, was static. I was just holding position, trying to gather my breath. I had no expectations, no plans for doing anything. Aaron has disappeared to the right. A guy had eased up in the middle, Aaron went right, I went left. After filling a hole or two I ended up at the first turn.

In retrospect I might have been able to move up a bit on the next stretch, after the first turn, but I think I was pretty cooked. I was relying on moving up on the long and wide backstretch so I sat and tried to recover just a bit.

Second turn of the last lap.

Number 812 did a superb job of cornering here. He hit the turn much faster than me and he cleanly slid through the gap ahead of me, ending up virtually on the inside curb. In a less experienced rider I'd have been worried but he did it so well, so smoothly, I was really impressed. I never felt endangered, I never needed to react. A good move. The only problem is that he left a gap - it seems like he was pretty blown.

I fought to stay on wheels but ended up dumped unceremoniously in the wind, in the middle of the group.

The fanning out on the back stretch, last lap.

You can see the typical fanning of the front. I wait for this and move up on the inside, sitting second or third row, gambling on finding an opening. However my legs wouldn't allow me to move up hard so I sat in the wind, a bit helpless. This is where fitness would have made a difference because I wouldn't have been back here, I'd have been 20-25 feet further up, right on the wheels, ready to pounce through an opening.

Third turn, last lap.

You can see that even though they slowed a bit I couldn't close the gap before the turn. This is all energy I had to expend and therefore didn't have for the sprint. I have maybe 20-25 pedal strokes in the sprint, and every hard pedal stroke here made my sprint that much shorter. I was holding about 32-33 mph here, so not ultra fast considering the fact that this was going to decide the race. My heart rate, on review, was about 170-171 bpm and holding steady, which is high for me. This explains why I couldn't move up quickly - I had very little left.

As we exited the third turn I pulled up right behind a few guys. They had slowed hard in the turn, mainly because guys tried to squeeze in from the inside.

Fourth turn, last lap.

I've obviously closed up, mainly because the front guys were slowing or the narrow third stretch made everyone string out a bit. I think the front guy was blowing up and the rest of them were waiting for the corner. I was going a steady 30 mph here, and my heart rate dropped a few beats per minute to 168 or so.

About when I sat up.

When I came out of the corner I did a few hard pedal strokes - my sprint was about 6 pedal strokes long, something like that, peaking at a relatively low 1075 watts. I was at 27 mph when I jumped, immediately went to 35 mph, and that was when I realized there was a lot of real estate to make up in not a lot of time, and in fact I think the winners were basically winning when I sat up.

In addition my jump was too weak to gain on anyone. At Nutmeg last week, when I hit a more respectable 1200-ish watts, I immediately gapped some riders. It helped that I was the first to jump and all that. In this sprint I only stayed even with the others. The rider to the left in the picture above? He was directly in front of me in the turn. Tactically speaking my sprint did nothing to change that.

On review my heart rate peaked at 171 just as I sprinted but only dropped from there. That means my sprint didn't really load up my aerobic system, showing just how little effort I put into it.

I didn't realize it until I reviewed the clip but I passed at least two people while I was coasting and may have pipped a third at the line. This put me at a non-pedaling 14th place, a great place considering the best I've done here is about a 10th (and I sprinted and blew).

For me, then, the finish was a bit of a disappointment. I was so far out of position that I didn't even feel like I could use my sprint, what I had left of it. Likewise, with teammates around but no plan, we couldn't coalesce and use our strength together to try and get a better result.

Junior greeting me after the race.

The Missus was a bit worried when I finally rolled back to the start/finish area. I think I'd coasted past her while shielded from view, so she didn't know if I'd stayed upright on the last lap.

Of course Junior doesn't understand that yet. He saw me and came running over. His first reaction is to grab a tire, then a skewer, then the brake lever. It was great to see his smiling face, his excitement.

I went looking for my bottle, which I saw bounce into one of those bushes there. Comically I couldn't find it, and after some digging around two other riders (father/son, Bethel regulars) came over to help me look. We really dug around a lot (no poison ivy, I was checking) and I finally found the bottle. It looked like someone dropped it in the middle of the bushes, and you had to peel back the layers just right to see it.

I didn't realize it until I watched that Cat 1-2 team work the P123 field afterward - the team needs to race together consistently to get the hang of different scenarios and appropriate tactics. It's a steep learning curve for everyone including myself. Two of my regular Cat 3 teammates last year, Chris and Joel, have backed off a lot from racing and two other regular teamamtes, Bryan and Jeff, have already essentially stopped racing this year. This really depleted our team of a few of our more experienced racers - the least experienced ones have been racing 3-4 years, and the most experienced ones for literally decades.

Of course it helps if I actually train and stuff. If I'm suffering at the back I can't do much at the front.

For training this week was a big one for me (relatively speaking for the last year or so), with four rides totaling 5 hours. Strava says I only did 37 minutes of rolling time at Berger when I really did about 65 minutes, so there's half an hour missing. I rode 6 hours in April, of which 3 hours was racing, and I did 8 hours in May, of which 3 hours was again racing. In June I'd done 4 or 5 hours before this week, bringing my total to 9-10 hours for the month.

My training log; for more info my Strava profile is here.

Considering the amount of training I've been (not) doing I can't be really unhappy with my racing. However to be there and not be able to do much, that's both frustrating and motivating. Going forward I want to be a bit more fit and I want to get the team to gel better. Both goals seem attainable to me, even with regular life stuff going on, so that's going to be focus for the rest of the year.