Saturday, June 13, 2009

Racing - 2009 Nutmeg State Games

Whew.

That's about all I can say at the moment. I'm at home, tired, haven't eaten in 9 hours, and the missus isn't around. The day, well, the day was definitely mixed.

It ended on a relative down note. In the P123 race, exciting for sure, the race seemed relatively clean until the last lap, when there were four (4!) crashes. Ouch. Then, in one of the Women's races, a bunch of riders went down. I turned to say something to Hob, but he'd disappeared. I looked up, saw him running over to the crash site, and then saw Hob's missus walking around.

Goosebumps, I dropped my spare wheels, vaulted the bike over the stone wall between me and them, jumped on said bike (a 'cross rider would have been proud), and pedaled over.

Ends up, fortunately, that Hob's missus wasn't involved, but boy, there were some hurtin' folks on the ground. Not pretty, and there will be some very sore women tomorrow morning.

So not really a great cap to the day.

It started out a lot better. I woke up at about my regular time, 6 AM or so, but instead of getting up, slept some more, encouraged not to get up by the missus. Finally, after 9 AM, I got up, refreshed.

After running some errands, we packed up for the race. I brought my newly fixed Zipp 440 front wheel (the valve now works) and two pairs of Reynolds, the DV46 tubulars and clinchers. Lots of carbon rattling around in the back of the car, but I didn't want to flat and not have a wheel.

A leisurely warm-up in the overcast and cool conditions, and I felt, well, not that great. No immediate lactic acid buildup like at Bethel, but my legs didn't feel overfilled with power. I actually did some efforts yesterday until my legs started to twinge, and perhaps that's why today they didn't feel good. Because of that I never made any big jumps, no openers, and rolled back to the start to put on the helmet cam rig.

I lined up behind the field, a normal thing for me - it allows me to weave around fumbling riders. A photographer took my pic, and we were off. I immediately veered to the right to get around a mass of racers reluctantly moving forward and we took off.

The pace seemed pretty aggressive from the start. Nothing unmanageable, but, jeepers, these guys seemed really motivated. I don't know if it was the 440 front wheel but I felt a bit less comfortable in some of the curves, and with a lot of somewhat unpredictable riding in the field, I decided to leave a bit more leeway out ahead of me.

My sphere, as it were, had grown a bit.

Although I rode normally for the first few laps, holding position, checking different lines in the turns and curves, I didn't feel quite on top of things. So, at some point early in the race, I let myself drift back a bit, maybe back into the second third of riders.

I rode at a moderate level aggressive-wise, holding position, taking a spot if it looked easy, giving one up if the guy seemed to want it bad. Nothing crazy, just normal middle-of-the-field riding. I felt an ominous twitch in my left leg, the threat of a cramp. I focused on drinking my Coke, regretted not bringing the Gatorade (but I drank a quart before the race), and even swapped my water and my Coke bottles so I'd grab the Coke first.

Then, because I felt like I had a moment, I looked back.

I was at the back of the field.

Well, technically I wasn't, but me and about 4 guys were vying for the caboose honor. In other words, I'd been moderately fighting for a position in the back 10 spots of the field, my legs even twinging because of this absurd effort.

I immediately stopped fighting for position.

I went easy for a few laps, sitting at the back, but then as the laps started getting into the single digits, I decided to move up a bit. 9 to go actually showed up twice, but the first time I saw 9 was the time that motivated me to get off my butt.

Things didn't move too smoothly though. I didn't fight too hard for any wheels (with 9 to go on this course, what was the point?) so I couldn't move up quite like I wanted. It seemed that the guys were constantly making big efforts to move up, with other riders filtering back. Because of that it would have taken a lot of legs to move up just a bit.

I did count laps though, from 9 to go, so I only glanced at the cards to verify my numbers. I certainly didn't want to go too early, but I also felt like I needed some time to move up.

My legs seemed reasonably cooperative, any earlier twinging disappearing after a few laps of soft-pedaling. I drank what I needed, the lower than normal temperatures (70s) allowing me to dump the almost a full bottle of water to the side.

The lap cards started counting down and I wasn't getting any closer to the front.

I should point out that part of the reason I do well at New Britain is that the course isn't selective. It doesn't naturally string out the field, nor does it have any geographic barriers like a hill or insane amounts of wind.

Therefore it requires more guile than strength.

Therefore, as a rider with more guile than strength, it works for me.

The problem with all this is when you get a non-selective course, you're at the back, and you're running out of laps. Everyone and their brother are still in the game, still around, and still fighting for position.

It gets really, really crowded.

With 3 to go, I still felt trapped in the field. I'd try and move up, but unless I went way into the red zone, I couldn't hold any gains. It didn't help that the field rode virtually curb to curb, or that the sketchiness got a bit worse. In such close quarters, any iffy riding became a significant problem. So a bit of a wiggly line that wouldn't cause concern 15 laps ago becomes enough to cause unwanted reactions now.

I stayed buried in the field.

I'd done some thinking during the race, and I knew that the wind hit us on the final straight from the left. Therefore I'd jump right, and jump late. I'd get the guys who went first blowing up, and I'd be protected while I sprinted past whoever was left.

Although I knew I had to move up, the headwind straight meant I didn't need ideal positioning (5th or 6th out of the turn), just decent position (8th-10th out of the turn). I felt like I could leave it later than normal, which, to me, meant getting near the front with 4 or 5 to go. Later, you may realize, can't be that much later with only 4 or 5 laps remaining. For me it gets hairy if I pass the 2 to go card without being near the front.

So, when I saw 2 to go, I knew that it would get a bit hairy.

Guys were starting to panic, to try and push through non-existant gaps. Everyone went for any open real estate, but with multiple riders doing that, things weren't always pretty.

I knew that the field would naturally string out on the hill and the slight downgrade after it, so I made an effort there. My style of riding works there too, since I can make up position when the racers ease after the hill. A crafty rider can move up, and an alert one can fill gaps that open up like magic.

Nothing worked.

We came down the final straight, coming up on the bell, and I lay hopelessly buried in the field.

But the field wasn't strung out, it was curb to curb. I knew I had some legs left. I knew that I could make it through the field on the last lap. I just needed one thing:

An attack.

As we went by the start/finish, one of the wiggly riders launched an attack, a sort of "almost crashed but didn't and now that I'm standing I might as well go". Although it didn't look pretty (he swerved to avoid something and almost fell, but then sprinted away), it had the magnificent effect of stringing out the field.

I immediately forgave him for all his swerves and such.

As the field opened up, the gaps appeared, and I filled them as quickly as I saw them, just like Lucy on the candy production line.

Opening? Bam. Filled.

Someone's shoe starts to disintegrate in someone else's wheel. Guys hesitate. Gone.

Pedal in someone's spokes. Lots of guys ease, looking for the culprit, trying to avoid getting caught up in the potential mayhem. I'm past.

Big hole up the hill as the field splits lengthwise into two, those trying to go outside and those trying to go inside. I slam forward, up the clear middle.

Huge surge over the top of the hill. Guys separating like I'm Moses. I pound the pedals, move up.

Hesitation as guys watch some grass surfing? I'm there.

Suddenly, miraculously, not only was I trying to get to the front, I was sitting, literally, in something like 6th position.

We flew out of the last turn, guys immediately jumping for the sprint. Been there, done that - it's like 150 meters to far for me. I keep sitting, keep sitting, and now, when I see all the guys ahead of me right there, I drill it, for the win.

On the wrong side. In the wrong gear.

I go backwards basically, never get the guy I wanted to get, then, as I realized the gravity of my error, I gave up. I turned in time to see a guy pip me for 6th place, the last money spot.

I get none.

Arg.

I roll back. All that insanity in the last lap, all that risk, all that excitement (well, I wasn't nervous excited, I just did what I needed to do), and for what.

7th.

But then, the save.

Second in the state (c'mon, first would have been too good to be true). The kicker? The guy I gave up on passing - he won the Gold medal.

But, yeah, a Silver medal. A really shiny (and really fake) silver medal. Heavy. With a ribbon.

Yay.

Today's haul.

A lifetime of Nutmegs.


(Note: Helmet cam clip successfully recorded. YouTube at some point.)

7 comments:

Jeremy Katz said...

From some of my teammates that were there, it sounds like the entire day was full of sketchy :/

Glad to hear you stayed upright and not a bad result either!

Our Cycling Chronicles said...

Nice Job out there... I rounded out 9th and found the bronze! it was definitely a challenging race, I enjoyed the write-up and your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Ride all the way to the line Dude, seriously. :)

Awesome reporting, like I was there.

Keep up the good work.

Doc

Aki said...

Thanks for the comments. Weirdly enough I never got a panic attack - sometimes that's happened and I'll just sit up. But if I just focus on focusing... the race happens.

The helmet cam is nice because it validates (or not) what I perceive. Sometimes I think "Oh, I totally killed it in that sprint" and then the cam reveals that I barely won. Or, in this case, I "gave up" when I looked over. Reviewing the cam, I gave up about 10 feet from the line, no time to do anything significant.

Luckily (?) last night the missus went out with the girls, and I got to edit for many, many hours. And today the missus is sick, so after running her to the doctor (double ear infection as well as some bad cough), I sat down to finish editing the helmet cam. I saw some stuff I missed when I first watched the clip, like the second (!) grass surf on the last lap.

Anyway, due to some of the newer "features" on Windows Movie Maker, there's one clip with music and one without, virtually identical except for the music (a couple words change too).

Aki said...

Doc - lol on "like I was there".

Todd said...

"I woke up at about my regular time, 6 AM or so, but instead of getting up, slept some more, encouraged not to get up by the missus. Finally, after 9 AM, I got up, refreshed."

I miss so many group rides this way... ;)

Suitcase of Courage said...

"More guile than strength" - while you shouldn't sell yourself short in the strength dept, yeah, you've got guile - and the skill to back it up.

Sounds like a crazy/sketchy race though. Don't mind sayin' I'm glad I missed that one.

The video is AMAZING though - one of your best. And having the write-up to go with it is outstanding. (and a LOT of work, clearly).

Hope the Missus is feeling better. Congratulations on your result (you better post about the "latest news" at some point! ;^)