Sunday, April 20, 2008

Racing - Plainville April 19 recap

With a series of extremely warm (I didn't hear record so I won't say "record high") temperatures, touching the high 70s and probably the low 80s, I managed to get a couple rides in towards the end of the week. With my "flexible" schedule, I chose the warmest part of the day to ride. The result? I got sunburned on only a few hours of pedaling.

Saturday promised to be cooler, 60s allegedly, and I looked forward to some relief from the sun, some cool air for my perpetually hot skin. In the meantime I was extremely uncomfortable with my itchy skin and my spring allergies (they started just this last week). Ends up I lost a lot of sleep, waking up at 2 AM one day, 4 or 5 AM another.

In fact, before Plainville, I was up at something like 4 AM, exhausted but unable to sleep. I hung out downstairs, played with the cat, read and posted to Bike Forums, and after a bit of time, I tried to go back to sleep. I forgot the food I'd nuked in the microwave - I'd woken up both hungry and itchy and was so uncomfortable with my allergies that I forgot about the hungry part.

After a short nap the missus and I left for the race. We literally drive down our road (route), take a right after 25-30 minutes, and we're at the race.

The alleged 50 degree temps in the morning were quickly giving way to warmer than anticipated readings. When we got to the race it felt warm to be in jeans but there were guys racing in arm warmers and tights. By the time my race started (in 30 minutes) it had to be close to 80 degrees.

I normally warm up with a bottle of sugar stuff and a bottle of water, and if it's cool, I ditch the water. If it's warm I keep both. I started warming up intending to leave the water with the missus, but after my warm up I decided to keep both bottles with me.

For the first time this year, if you don't count when I do two races in a day, I got a good warm up. I realized that getting my heart rate uncomfortably high (160 or so) and then recovering lets me feel a lot better the next time I ride hard. So, accordingly, after a bit of twiddling around, I did a somewhat hard effort to try and get my heart rate up. I did a little jump, sustained a bit of an effort, and ran out of breath after about 30 seconds.

Reviewing the data later, I'd done a 750+ watt 30 seconds. Hm.

Properly warmed up, I tooled around for a bit more, totaling an incredible 29 minutes of pedaling around.

I lined up for the start with my teammate Mike. He's very strong, and with a small field, I figured he'd be the go-to guy. I sensed a lot of splits, a lot of single file stuff, sharp attacks, and lots of stuff that I generally don't enjoy. We decided to play it by ear, neither of us willing to commit to a single plan.

The leading team (who I'll call "Team", with the Leader, Captain, and about 7 or 8 henchmen) dominated the field, launching attacks from the gun. I didn't check the overall standings before the race so I had no idea if there was anything left to race for in the overall, but they appeared in force to defend or take whatever they were trying to defend or take.

A second team (I'll call them "Chase"), with four guys, did a boatload of work. At the beginning they immediately went to the front to bring back the leading team's first attack, and when a counter attack went, they gamely plugged away. I thought it unusual for 3 of their guys to do so much work so I asked the fourth guy, a taller sort who seemed to ride a bit more conservatively, if he was defending an overall position (or trying to take one). It would make sense to have your guys chase everything down so you could mark your targets more selectively.

He looked at me and shook his head.

Oh. So... they were just chasing.

Mike and I sat in about 8 or 10 guys back, behind the train at the front - the 1-3 Chase boys, 2-4 Team guys (usually the Leader or Captain in the mix, along with 1-2 henchmen), and one or two miscellaneous guys.

The race evolved into a pattern. We watched at the Team guys launched attack after attack. The Chase team would drive the pace to bring them back. As soon as one of their moves came back, the Captain would bark out a name. The selected rider would typically look back with a "Who, me?" look, shift up, and attack furiously. Then one to three Chase guys would go to the front, pull like mad for a lap or so, and bring back the attacker. Captain would bark another command and another Team rider would go up the road.

I split the Team into two groups - those who were out to break legs and those who were out to do well in the race. The BreakLegs boys would attack, get caught, and immediately move up to the front, ready to do it again. The Placers, on the other hand, would only sometimes attack, usually to bridge to a BreakLeg guy, and when they got caught, they'd sit in a bit to recover. By default I placed the Captain and the Leader in the Placers group, a mistake that would eventually be my undoing.

As expected, the BreakLegs constantly attacked, and after a good 20 minutes or so, it became apparent that the only way to stop this constant flurry of attacks was to follow along with the attacks.

With that in mind, I moved into a prime "response" position, 3 or 4 back from the Chase team guys (who literally almost never left the front spot). When the Leader went, I followed, but he quickly shut down his effort. When a BreakLeg guy went, I followed. This guy went for a bit before he looked around, and after he moved over a few times and I didn't pull through, he sat up.

My goal was to try and make the Team members earn their dominance by splitting up the BreakLegs and the Placers - if a break of BreakLegs guys got away, the rest of the Team would be forced to chase, using up precious counter-attack energy in the process. Better yet, if a break went that contained a number of third party team guys, then the Team would have to go retrieve them.

At one point, after I made a few efforts, the Captain and a potential Placer went off the front. I was a bit cooked but Mike recognized the threat and did a big effort to bring them back. The Chase team took a short break, and when everything came back together, Mike kept going, toodling off the front.

This type of attack can be extremely effective, even if it's unintentional. It's like when Mike McCarthy, horsing around for the cameras at the Tour du Pont, ended up in the escape of the day. Everyone watched him pedal up the road, and when he realized they weren't going to respond, he started to ride.

I was hoping Mike would get clear, get one or two Placers to go with him, and then voila, end of race.

Instead, the Chasers launched a furious chase, probably more aggressive than any chase up to that point. Two hard laps later and Mike was back in the fold. The Team, properly rested, launched a flurry of counter attacks, ones that the Chasers kept chasing.

One LegBreaker went on a move, with a Chaser guy in pursuit (the tall guy I originally asked if he was in the overall hunt). It looked promising - a Team guy and a Chaser guy, both in the same break, with teammates numbering 2/3 of the remaining field. If Mike could get up there it'd be game over. I figured in a lap or two it might be time to launch Mike, get him clear, trust him to get to the break, and with three teams up the road, three teams unwilling to chase, the race would be over.

Instead the Chasers went to the front and dropped the hammer. A couple hard laps later and they'd managed to bring back their own guy. Incredible. I can't imagine being the Chaser guy up front - to look back and see all your guys chasing you down. It's like being a quarterback, getting hiked the ball, and then all your offensive guys turning around and tackling you.

I guess that would be pretty obvious though, tackling someone who's wearing the same colors. But chasing one down, that's not so obvious. Nevertheless, they managed to shut down the only move of the day that contained one of their own guys, and literally the only move of the day they didn't need to chase.

I started getting a bit demoralized here. Not only was this one team Chasers chasing everything down, the other team "Team" was doing everything right. And, with no recovery terrain (no downhill, no slight uphill into the wind, nothing), my heartrate was pegged as soon as I started making any kind of effort.

I started leaving gaps, some intentional, some not, and my riding started to deteriorate. I noticed myself going way off line, turning in late, and even forgetting to bend with the road's curves. And finally, with Mike up towards the front and the tiny field of 12 or 15 splintering a bit, I let a gap go. The Leader was behind me and I was hoping for a bit of respite as he went by - I could catch his wheel. But he never came around me and when he finally did, it was at a soft pedaling, easy pace. I looked back and saw just one guy behind me.


I sat on for a while, thinking that the Leader, who I'd labeled a Placer, would try and get back up to the group. Instead, probably thinking he was taking a sprinter out of contention, he pedaled softly around the course. After a few laps of recovery, I fantasized about doing a bit bridge effort. What came out were some paltry attempts to do some work, but it was obvious my body wasn't very happy. The heat, the higher level of work required in a smaller field, and probably some lack of race level fitness put done to my chances.

With a couple laps to go, my legs cramping, my head swimming with heat, I pulled off the course. I watched the Team sweep the first three or four spots, Mike got fifth, and apparently the Leader remained the Leader. His Team had done an excellent job controlling the field, aided inadvertently by the extremely strong but extremely misguided efforts of the Chasers team, and they'd earned the appropriate results.

Now, for a couple weeks, I'll be sporadically around. With a trip to Vegas courtesy the missus's employers as well as some catching up to do with friends and family, I may not be around too much, at least on the bike. But I hope to be back on schedule with my next race sometime in mid to late May. Until then I'll try and get on the training bandwagon. My fitness deteriorated significantly during the Bethel Series and my goal is to undo some of that damage before the June and July races roll around.

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