Monday, March 23, 2009

Bethel Spring Series 2009 - Bethel CDP Gold Race Report

Ah, Spring. Balmy sun, wavy grass, bursting blooms, green and warm and nice and all the things you love about riding bikes outdoors.


I wouldn't have called Sunday morning "bitterly cold", but I borrowed my brother's brown canvas and leather winter coat to do the race. I couldn't find my warm knit hat so dealt with my camo Echo cap (prompting comments like "yo, you goin' huntin?"). My ears were cold, my neck was cold, and I felt miserable.

A couple days before I didn't feel quite right, and Friday put me over the edge. Saturday I could feel the piercing stiletto at the back of my throat, and Sunday I was surreptitiously swigging Vicks cough medicine (the kind that you don't have to show your license to get) to keep my eyes from watering.

From a promoting point of view things went well. Relatively large fields, lots of prize money given, some new primes for women forgotten (don't worry, we'll increase by 1/3 the primes for the last two weeks).

With a full "novice" crew, i.e. no missus and no Gene, the transition to the new generation of tent folks went well, with pretty much no problems. I say "novice" in quotes because one of the guys has been doing so well with his tasks that at one point I had him doing the finish line camera, day of registration, and looking after the marshaling situations. I thought about having him do live updates but then realized that might be a bit much.

It helped, of course, that the missus helped me set up the paperwork on Friday night, but all that stuff went very well.

From a safety point of view it was medium successful. A clash of wheels in the 4 race led to an ambulance ride for one rider, and there was at least one tumble in the 3-4 race. So not great but not horrible either.

My teammate John had a great race in the 4s. Last week he managed to win the field sprint, with a huge leadout from teammate Todd, behind a charging Guido Wollmann. This week, early in the race, he went noodling off the front in search of a prime or something. Wollmann chased him, they linked up, and in one lap they had a 30 second gap.

Problem was this was something like 2 laps into the race, and the field was full of fresh legs ready to pummel those that try to get away. Wollmann, admittedly the stronger of the two riders, made sure the break stayed away, with John contributing a good amount too. The field dwaddled, never committing to the violent chase necessary to close gaps like this. At the end John wanted Wollmann to win, but Wollmann wanted John to win. After arguing while holding their hands up a la "Hinault-Lemond", Wollmann got his way and John got his first win, coasting, in his small ring. I suppose that if one guy does more work but wants you to win anyway, might ss well take it!

My race went was not one to write about. But I will anyway!

I actually got warmed up, which, it seems, hurts me more than it helps me. I managed to get cold, focus on how bad I felt, and started second guessing my clothing choice. I thought maybe I should get a jacket instead of a LS jersey and a vest, but then I'd have to repin my number, and that would mean taking off my gloves, and I'm already cold, and maybe I'd get the warm gloves, but then in the race they slip a little bit in the drops...

You get the idea.

A few guys came up to me and told me they were going to do my style of warm-up, i.e. change less than 5 minutes before the race and ride to the start line. I'm thinking that I may race better that way. (After the race one guy said it worked great for him, so I may have to revert to my normal way of warming up).

Whatever, after figuring out I felt really, really, really bad, I lined up for the race. Being an absolute chicken, I chose not to wear my yellow jersey. A different year's overall winner said that it was a good thing - wearing the jersey, unless you win every race, seems to curse the wearer. Since he is my main rival (I decided that on my own), I figured that's the way I'll approach it.

We started off briskly, and on the first lap I felt a twinge of goodness in my legs - I powered up that thing like it was flat as a pancake, my (still) properly positioned bars feeling particularly delicious as I climbed on the hoods. (That first week, when my bars moved, made me realize how much I like a properly fitted bike).

On maybe the second lap a Jonathan Adler guy rocketed up the hill. Okay, I may have felt good on the hill, but this guy, he really stuck it good. When we rounded the first turn, he had at least 100-120 meters on us, and when we hit the backstretch, he was gone.

This dude was flying.

Normally someone like that explodes before you get back to the hill, but he simply rode away from us. The guy who warned me about the big break last week rolled up to me.

"This guy's going to lap us. And now no one's gonna let anyone go."

I looked at him a bit dejectedly and nodded.

A few severe slowdowns in the headwind section and the Alder guy was gone. Then, a bit belatedly, the field started chasing, in fits and spurts. Just as predicted, the field wouldn't let anything go.

I didn't have too many teammates to speak of, and the ones there would have been hard pressed to do the 10 or 30 pulls at 28 mph to drag this guy back. I just hoped that a different team would be able to chase.

My rival, with a strong team, probably could have had his team shut down the break. But he thinks like a strong man, not like a sprinter - he figured that if he could bridge, then the race would be much easier to decide. So he started launching attack after attack, trying to get clear of the field.

At some point, in my addled mind, I thought that 7 guys were 30 seconds ahead. I looked up the road and saw 1st GC (tied with me) rocket away.

No. Couldn't be.

About 10 seconds later a well meaning rival rolled up to me.

"You know that Steve just rode up the road, right?"

Yeah I guess I did. I moved up a bit, waited for the group to come back, but they seemed to be holding their slight gap. I waited another lap, the gap still there, and I realized that with 17 guys up the road (7 at 30, plus 10 at about 5-8 seconds), and a very, very strong overall contender that can TT in there, they'd be gone if there was another slow down in the field.

Therefore, I countered.

Actually I tried to move up a bit to prepare for a big counter later that lap, but it turned into a counter. As I rode up through the group (on the hoods, hence not a serious move on my part), some of the gaps started to swing shut. I accelerated through one, lateraled to avoid another rider, and suddenly I was carrying way too much speed and realized I was going to pop through the front of the field.

I kept my effort going. I thought I heard someone saying "They're sitting up!", but I couldn't hear anything clearly so I kept going. I did the big gear around the first turn and almost rear ended the 10 riders.

They'd totally sat up.

I looked back - I hadn't broken the elastic so the field had just used me to bridge up as well.

The guys in the break looked pretty fresh, and two immediately jumped away, one of them the GC rival. I briefly considered going but I realized quickly that my concern should be not getting dropped, not "how do I bridge that gap?"

I blew through the field in full reverse, almost jettisoning off the back, but a worried Andreas, a former great rival and now a friendly teammate, managed to snag me (literally) and kept me from permanent ejection.

I dangled off the back for the next five or six laps, the field in full cry for some reason. I no longer knew what was going on, except that when I bridged to that second group of 10 (behind the 7 at 30 seconds behind the 2 that still hadn't lapped us), there was no 7 at 30, and the guy off the front was solo, not a duo. I'd actually bridged up to the group that contained second rider on the road.


So... now what?

I decided I better get up there in the finish, get some points. Motivation is key in races like this, where you suffer greatly but the desire to do well is there. If this was, say, some non-peak race (I only have two peak races a year, and this is one of them), I'd have simply sat back and not cared a bit about any breaks up the road. I'd just wait for the field sprint because field sprints are the most fun thing to do.

But with a leader's jersey (that I didn't wear) on the line, I started making efforts. Andreas carefully monitored my situation, drifting back on the hill to make sure I had a wheel when we crested, and he offered to bring me to the front "whenever you tell me to".

I rarely use such an offer because I am rarely capable of following such moves (I blow up before the guy can drag me to the front of the field). Sometimes they actually work, but right after a 100% bridging effort?


I had faith in my own abilities to navigate the field though, especially in these conditions (headwind backstretch, tailwind hill). I knew that if the field slowed just a bit at the end of the backstretch I could move up on the hill with maybe 5 or 10 moderately hard pedal strokes.

I wasn't about to try and communicate this with him, but that was a moot point. We got split up since he was riding on the fringes of the field, trying to keep a clear line for me, while I was trying to find shelter in the middle of the field. Then, as I'd hoped, the field slowed on the backstretch, I did my penance pedal strokes on the hill, and I was sitting near the front as we crossed the start/finish line. I looked at the lap cards.

3 to go.


Windy, the front is. Windy and cold and lots of guys riding in such a way that they try to take wheels from you. And you try to take wheels back.

I hate wind but I love the jockeying for position. So I jockeyed, tried to go with the flow, and crested the hill in good position for the last couple laps. At the bell I still had decent position, and my hopes started going up just a touch. By now someone had let us know that there were, in fact, three total riders up the road. This means we were sprinting for fourth. Since there are GC points to sixth, I had to get top three in the field.

On the backstretch it got strangely quiet, with a few guys noodling off the front, the field sort of bunched up. No opener like last week, and with the headwind at the bottom of the hill and absolutely no wind going up it (big tailwind), I knew that it was imperative to jump before the hill, to break the elastic, to accelerate super hard to gap the field before they hit the hill. Once on the hill, because of the unusual wind, it would be nigh impossible to close gaps on a good sprinter, even for another good sprinter. I also knew that if I went first, I'd blow up half way up the hill.

Then I realized that SOC was right there, to my outside, on the edge of the field.

"Chris. Go. Chris. Go."

I tried to subliminally make him go. If someone went right now, and I was on their wheel, I'd have a top three in the field.

He, properly, ignored the request. Maybe I should have identified myself, but I'm glad I didn't, because when the sprint finally, belatedly, got under way, I couldn't jump out of a bucket to save my life. I counted at least five riders in front of me, and pulling away, and all my motivation evaporated in a heartbeat.

One of SOC's teammates, sprinting furiously, yelled at me for sitting up. I've done the same when I've gotten blocked, so I understand. And in this case I had even taken the best line possible to try and get up to those guys in front of me. But with nothing propping up my legs, I was done. I glanced over at the teammate, because you tend to look at those that justifiably yell at you. My coldly calculating mind told me that if he shifted up a gear he'd have killed me long before in the sprint. Just another thing to file away in my head.

I felt disappointed. Frustrated. Sat in the tent and sulked a bit. Which, with all the friendly folks around, wasn't too bad. I re-elevated myself and started getting things done for the race.

Later a guy introduced himself to me. He thanked me for putting on the races, thanked me for the hard work I put into the Series. I asked him how his race went, and he started describing how he had raced really hard at Plainville the day before and was cooked, but he was still in contention in the sprint. Then some overly optimistic idiot (note: my words, not his) sat up in the middle of the sprint, everyone swarmed around him, and that was that. He asked me the same question, how was my race.

I told him that I'd been frustrated with all the conflicting information I got from various friends and spectators, but in the sprint I had to get top two (my addled brain said that there were only two points places available, not the actual three), and when I realized that I couldn't get them, I sat up in the sprint. Then some doofus on CVC yelled at me. For sitting up in the sprint.

Suddenly I realized something.

He looked at me.

I looked at him.

"Um, what team do you ride for?" I asked.

"CVC", he replied.

CVC is SOC's team. Which means...

Big smiles.

"Oh, man. Of all the guys I had to yell at, I yelled at the promoter!" he said.

"You had every right!" I laughed.

Then, always trying to help, we started discussing the finer points of his sprint.

Later on I saw the guy tied with me on points at the start. He was in street clothes now, but the last time I saw him was when he went barreling up the hill in the sprint, in front of me, his distinctive style propelling him to the line. I just assumed he won the field sprint because he's that kind of rider, and that would knock me out of the overall. We got to talking and I asked him how he placed.

"Right near you."


He was being modest, as usual, but he hadn't earned any points. As soon as I looked down, he blew. Since I blew too, I didn't see him slowing - I was too far back.

Phew! I figured that would mean I'm tied with him, and whoever won would be, say, 2-3 points ahead (since he earned 7 points today, and probably had 3 or 4 more from before).

We put stuff away and I prepared for the long drive home. First the drive to drop off the van, swap cars, and load up my red car for the way home. I shoved everything inside, even had room to shift into 5th and reverse, and started on the way back.

Less than a mile later I was doing serious leg presses to push my seat two clicks back, but I managed to squeeze something out of the way behind me, although the front edge of it dug into my back. Whatever, I was on my way home.

My throat was bothering me so much I almost drove off the road when my eyes started watering, but a swig of Vicks (non-drowsy, not the NyQuil) chased the severe tickles away. I had to hit the bottle two more times, but finally I got my throat under control.

Once home I started working on the results, and I realized something when I looked at the points. I wanted to see how many points this Adler stud had going into today.

I looked again, not believing my eyes. He had to have scored points. I mean this guy rode so strong today. He had to have some points, right?


He said as much last week when we ran into each other at the local Sycamore (warning - music plays when you open site) burger joint. I saw his team jacket, remembered we had found a team vest, and returned it to him while I waited for our food. He told me that since they don't have a sprinter (anymore), they had to try for breaks.

Since they hadn't had any successful breaks... no points. And that means the overall lead stays the same.

Two more weeks.


ridethecliche said...

Heh. Good write up Aki!

Funny how that sprint worked out. I saw the video and smacked myself for stopping my sprint too early. I would have easily moved up 2 spots if I hadn't stopped sprinting a second before the line. Whoops.

Hopefully I'll see you next week. I might end up going to plainville instead if it's raining.

We'll see how it goes.

Suitcase of Courage (SOC) said...

One of your best reports - it always amazes me how much DETAIL you see in these races. My report of the same race is nowhere near as vivid (prolly cuz I seldom know what it is I'm seeing or know what's actually happening %^)

Hoping the weather holds out for Sunday. We've strung some really good ones together, so no complaints. But I admit I'm a wimp - won't race in the rain.

Hope you're feeling better soon - and congrats on holding your points position!

Suitcase of Courage said...

Oh, and your encouragement wasn't *all* subliminal.

I **distinctly** heard "Chris! GO!" and, thinking it was my teammate, I went.

My "sprint" just made it *look* like I didn't go.


Looking forward to next Sunday already...

Our Cycling Chronicles said...

Very nice write-up! Now I can see your passion runs deeper for cycling than just promoting. I enjoyed reading your descriptive post of how the race unfolded for you.

I enjoyed making the trip, however long it is, down to Bethel for your race and have already shared my positive experience with many other cyclists and encouraged them to make the trip as well.

I hope to have an opportunity to race with you again some time this year.

Thanks again for a great venue. SOC's Teammate! Up-shift and Go!!!

Anonymous said...

Great report, Aki. Your tent crew is great--they do not at all seem like they're new to the game. The girls running the pre-reg table are so kind and professional.

Aki said...

Thanks all. My day was all over the place, bad, good, bad, good. It's hard for me to focus on actually doing well in the race because I spend most of the day worrying about holding a good event.

FYI two of the girls (Delaney and Erin) at registration literally grew up at Bethel, basically spending their early year March and April Sundays at Bethel as toddlers - their parents are the officials. Various racers and friends would take turns looking after the girls so the mom and dad could officiate. I was one of those so tasked, and I've looked after Erin and sometimes even carried Delaney around.

Great crew though, you're right. I think a friendly and polite "tent crew" can make a race (and lack of one break it). The current crew is meeting and exceeding all my expectations, that's for sure. The race wouldn't be what it was without them.