Monday, July 16, 2007

Racing - Naugatuck Crit, Sort Of

Emergency Broadcast Service.

Okay, so now it's called the Emergency Alert System.

I don't remember ever hearing it, even when I was in NYC during 9/11, with the walking the streets of Manhattan, waiting for train service to start. Sure you hear tests and stuff. But never the real thing.

Well, someone hit the panic button yesterday.

Our "flashback to the 90's retro music radio" was interrupted by the EBS (and on a side note, when the 90's is retro, well, suddenly we both felt a bit older). Anyway, we heard a warning of damaging penny-sized hail, wind gusts of up to 60 mph, and ground lightning, and all this as we were driving about two miles from the course. I actually parked the car under a big tree so that hail wouldn't hit it as hard. My logic - I figured hail falls everywhere but lightning only strikes here and there.

I registered just because I was there. Plus the D'Aniellos are good people. Got back to the car. Sat in it while they stopped the Pro/1/2/3 race for the lightning to pass. I had my work laptop with me so booted it up and checked out the weather. A red band of rain stuff was passing over us and when it seemed like it was about done I got out and put my bike together. Then, dressed in my kit, I started to warm up in a steady rain.

Now for all my talk about cornering and stuff, I haven't done a race in the rain where I have to actually turn sort of hard since, well, since maybe a Danbury Crit (I crashed) or Tour of Michigan (I crashed). So a crit in a downtown area with crosswalks, manhole covers, and other slippery things wasn't the best way to ease into rainy riding.

I also started a bit gun-shy as I'd actually trained outside in misty rain a few days earlier - and bombing down a descent in my 53x11, I started losing the back tire around a long curve which ended on a bridge over a 20 or 30 foot gorge. After a bit my more cautious teammate caught up to me and asked if I almost lost it. I guess my "stop pedaling, no body English, slow drift until I was inches from the bridge wall" sort of gave him a hint.

Apparently he did a nice, slow rally spin on a wet ramp a short time before (unfortunately hitting things with his rental AWD Subaru) and so, like a smart person, took the descent a bit more cautiously than yours truly.

It didn't help that on my warm-up my bike felt really skitterish - I almost went off on a fast but gradual left curve as the crown of the road forced my bike deep down the right shoulder - only the rougher pavement there got me feeling like I could correct my trajectory.

The last straw was watching the last few laps of the Pro/1/2/3 race - and there were two crashes in the last five laps or so, both in turns.

So I lined up a bit nervous about the road with about 15 or 20 hardy souls. I think most of them were quite fit. When there's a small group with wet roads, the general outcome is a break which wins followed by a field blown to pieces. Fitness counts more than anything else.

And I don't have fitness.

The weather eased up for the race itself. It was raining but nothing major. The wind died down. The skies weren't as dark. But the roads were still wet, the shiny crosswalks still there, and the even shinier manhole covers waited to slip up an overconfident racer.

Me, not the overconfident one. I drive like an old man in snow - I'm rarely above the slowest 25% on the road and I have very aggressive snows on my (winter) car. Okay I accelerate hard, I don't mind driving aggressively when I'm going slow, but get me to a point where the car could go into a nice, lazy spin and I back off and let the others take their chances.

I read in a car thing somewhere that nothing is as scary as feeling your car start to drift on a long, fast, sweeping turn when you're going 100+ mph.

I felt that feeling once and I really never want to feel it again.

Works to keep insurance rates down.

Doesn't work to race bikes.

During the race I jumped hard out of the two harder turns. The first turn leads to a downhill so no real jump necessary, but the second turn leads to a long, slightly uphill straight and the third turn is a hairpin leading to the long finishing straight.

My light PowerTap wheel worked fine, I accelerated reasonably well. But my fitness doesn't allow me a lot of those types of jumps.

Actually, thanks to this race, I now know exactly how many jumps I have for a race.


I did two laps, i.e. four jumps, fine. The third lap I went around the first turn, down the hill, took the second turn, accelerated... and could not get onto the wheel I let go. I held a reasonable speed to the third turn but blew completely by the time I started the fourth lap.

So I stopped.

My fiancee was watching from the side of the road - and the gap on the third lap meant things weren't going well. So when I rolled in almost lapped on the fourth lap she wasn't surprised.

We packed up and went to get something to eat. Of course some work related thing popped up so I had to work before I could munch on the food in front of me. We talked about things, the race, work, you know, things.

I realized that if I want to race in any kind of competitive manner, I'd have to ride more. I've been faking it well but I simply don't have a lot of fitness. I'm waiting for our move up north as I'll be able to do a lot more riding. But for now I decided that I'll be riding a lot more in the morning. Even if I can't do crazy efforts, at least I'll be on the bike.

Earlier I talked to one of my best friends Mike. He raced with me a while back, worked with me, and he'd been a friend for many years. Strong rider. He hadn't ridden for about 10 years. He'd threaten to buy a bike now and then but work would catch up to him and he'd postpone the bike thing. A couple weeks ago he called me about bikes.

He ended up buying an off the rack bike, shoes, pedals, clothing, helmet, everything you need to ride. So it wasn't like his polish-like-a-jewel Coppi with all Campy, spinning on some handbuilt wheels. But it's a start. And he is riding an hour or two, every day, before he gets to work. And he gets there at 7:30 in the morning.

So he's my inspiration.

If he can do it, so can I.

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