Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sprinting - Karma and Kontact

A long time ago someone gave me some pictures of the final sprint in the Cat 3 race in Danbury, CT. A now defunct crit, the course pictured was the second and final version, a simple rectangle in the middle of Danbury.

I'd been near the front but my leadout man Mike H exploded just before the bell, so I think I was feeling tweaked from that still.

Mike, to the right, had started pulling like mad at 2 to go. I had to make efforts just to stay on his wheel.

The two lap leadout was a bit optimistic since at one to go... things looked not so good.
(Hint: we're at the front of the field)

This race was marked by some really big moves, the last one being a forever-long sprint launched by who knows who. Actually I'm pretty sure I know who but those guys aren't the point.

Behind the first two places though there was a mad scramble for the line. A rider in blue jumped early, gapped the guy behind him, and set the stage for some of the following two pictures.

The order before the photog snapped away was Pat's leadout guy, Pat, Nick, and me. I remember seeing knees and calves - the two guys in front of me were way taller and I was going cross-eyed with the effort.

As we came up to the beginning of the sprint, the guy in blue had already jumped and was pulling away. Nick and myself felt a bit more tentative, perhaps feeling the stress of a pretty aggressive race.
As we bore down on the finish Pat had his leadout man in front. Unfortunately said leadout man was fading hard and couldn't quite get up to the guy in blue.

Nick launched first, going to the right. I didn't want to go over two "lanes" (meaning go from behind Pat to behind Nick and then into a clear lane). I also figured that Pat would be the big threat, so I figured it'd be better to go to his left, one lane worth, and box him in.

As I pulled even with Pat I could tell that Nick was basically across to my right. Pat's leadout man saw Nick and must have mentally detonated because he slowed really hard. Pat had to get around his mobile chicane.

Imagine if you were in his position. To your right there's a guy on a 58 cm frame. On your left a guy on a 50 cm. Which guy do you think would move first?


That's what Pat thought too.

He went left.

Leadout man fading, Pat is boxed in. Nick is to his right, I'm to his left.
Pat has to move now.
(I think the guy in blue is a Thule engineer named Tom - he was killing it early season at a training series in Poughkeepsie)

Pat moved left. I stayed my line. And we had the inevitable contact. I remember the push because I didn't realize just how big Pat was until his forearm hit up by my shoulder. I thought it was his thigh for a second, but the steady pressure meant either he was coasting or it was his arm.

Given the choice, Pat decided to try and get me out of the way.

I refused to budge since, first, I wasn't moving towards him, and second, I didn't trust my sprint to beat him outright. Pat eased up and waited for the lane to clear, but it was too late by then for him.

I thought I could beat the guy in blue but I never caught him. I managed to beat Nick to the line, but I was both thrilled with my "line defense" and disappointed with my 4th place.

A teammate reported to me much later that Pat was pretty upset for the contact in the sprint. But since I didn't initiate contact, I felt like I'd done nothing wrong. Regardless, in the age before internet and email and stuff, I figured I'd just see him at whatever next race and talk to him.

Ends up it would be the following season at the Alpha Lo crit in Wallingford. I apologized for the extended contact. After all, in review, I could have eased off a bit and still done my maximum sprint. Pat laughed his genuine and infectious laugh - he told me it was no big deal. In the heat of the moment he hadn't been happy, but in the scheme of things, what's the big deal, right?

He and I didn't get to race head to head for a while - I think he did races I don't do, like ones with hills in them. In the ones where I raced with him he'd usually solo in or blow up trying. Regardless I didn't run into him in a field sprint for a while.

We finally got to race together again at the New Britain Crit, probably in June or July of that year. I had a new replacement teammate, Chris N, on temporary loan for the year (the following year he started up his own team and thoroughly dominated the Cat 3 scene for a few years). Mike I think was gone, moved up north, and I had yet to meet Rich, my next most dedicated leadout man.

Start line of the race.
I'm the red jersey to the left, white sleeves. Chris is three more riders to the right (picture right), red kit, white sleeves, white helmet, and a white bike. A Kestrel if I recall correctly.

Even though Chris barely knew me, even though he was significantly stronger than me, he insisted on leading me out for the sprint. He started just after the bell, about a mile from the line.

Too far, I thought.

He led through the backstretch, guys looking to hold position but not go past us. At one point, just before the hill, I saw a huge surge coming up the left side. I yelled for him to go left and Chris obliged, drifting left. He knew as much about racing as I did, probably more, and he did things perfectly.

The field followed us left, burying the surge on the curb. After the race a good friend Abdul said that he had been buried in the pack. He tried to move up on the left on the backstretch when suddenly the whole field shut down. I laughed and explained what happened.

Chris continued up the hill, hammering, and the field obligingly strung out. They started to swarm coming into the last turn but Chris launched yet again, stringing out the group.

Finally, his incredibly long effort put "done" on his legs.

He swung off.

I gamely jumped, but another guy jumped harder. He gapped the field and ended up winning.

I clung to the right curb, desperately driving for the line. I wasn't quite on the curb, carefully leaving just half a lane open, enough to tempt a fast rider but not enough to let them by. I wanted to use that false opening to defeat one opponent, and I knew whoever had the impetus to dive into the hole would be a rider I needed to defeat.

Well, plans are all good and such, but when I sensed a rider next to me, I knew it was a tall one. And a quick glance told me it was Pat.

I had left the half lane open to tempt and trap a faster sprinter, but I'd made a mistake and let it open a bit more than I should have. Now that faster sprinter was there and I knew he could push if he wanted.

I looked towards the line and the officials' trailer parked to the side. Saw the sharp, pointy, shiny aluminum leading edge (to us) of that trailer. Noticed that it was the same height as Pat's forehead.

Thought how bad it would be if I didn't move and Pat didn't move and he hit it and split his head open at the officials' feet.

Moved to the left a bit.

Let Pat by.

And once Pat started passing me he held his line to the finish, carrying us well clear of the curb.

I got third. Pat second.

The finish. The really tall guy is Pat. I'm next to him, barely clinging on to third.
Note that Pat's head is not impacting an official's trailer.

Karma had returned the favor. Or, if you want to look at it a different way, Pat proved once again that he was a faster finisher than me, given the freedom to prove it.

Tactically I'd ridden as good a race as I could have ridden. I couldn't beat the guy who won, no way no how. But second could have been in my grasp. If I'd left the door closed a little longer, giving Pat just 5 or 8 meters to move up, I probably could have beaten him.

But look. It's just a bike race. I did what I could.

I'm proud of how I raced in both races. I'm proud that I held my own in the sprint for 4th at Danbury. I'm also proud that I got 3rd at New Britain, even though I had a chance at 2nd. I can look Pat and Chris in the eye and say that I raced honorably, honestly, and to my maximum.

At the end of the day that's what counts. I can't ask for more.


Anonymous said...

I've always valued your opinion. The other day I commented on this video

Apparently it opened a discussion among the participating riders. I wanted to know your opinion on the incident at 3:47 in the video. Was green or black to blame?

I think it might be a good educational situation for me, since it involves both lines and setting up for a sprint.

Aki said...


Your video link is an interesting one. Basically a guy on the outside cuts in pretty aggressively, and a guy that looked to be working hard at the front brakes to avoid contact.

In the scheme of things I'd chalk it up to just "it's racing".

But that's a cop out. If I were to analyze things, and I didn't play either side a favor, and I had to assign blame, I'd assign the following blame (although I'm not a lawyer, I could probably play one on TV).

Green guy - he brakes. I feel that he had some room to his right, although he may not have been comfortable with moving over. If he moved over a touch, maybe he could have avoided braking. He plays the safe move by braking. He could have moved in hard, done some body English, or done some other stuff to deal with that guy cutting in (and without affecting the guy to his inside) but he didn't. I'm assigning him 20% of the blame, really only because it's possible he could have made it without braking quite so hard.

Black guy - he dives into the last turn aggressively, about a foot inside of the guy in front of him. He promptly goes wide after the apex. This latter bit, going wide, is the move that illustrates intent. He cut in for no apparent reason. With a relatively long sprint to the finish, it's unnecessary and dangerous to move in so much at the apex, and the rider in black proves it by changing his line to go wide after the apex.

Personally I'd feel uncomfortable diving in that hard knowing there were at least two lanes of riders to my inside. I'm assigning him 80% of the blame because he made a pretty risky move, intentionally, with no excuse.

If I were judging this for the finish, I'd let things stand. As a coach for one or the other, though, I'd be upset at both sides.

Aki said...

I'd be disappointed with the green guy and make him work on close quarters riding, especially with overlapping wheels and such. I'd also tell him to work on staying out of the wind more, esp just before a sprint. Overall he made the effort to be at the front, but he was burning a lot of matches staying there. He could have hit that turn wider in order to control the outside a bit (steadily moved out a bit before the turn), saved a bit by sitting in a touch behind someone near him and then making a move, or committed to an early move up the inside that couldn't get passed by anyone on the outside. If I were a teammate I'd try and get him shelter before the final corner so he could hit it faster and more fresh. He does well to hold his position as long as he does in the sprint.

I'd be upset at the guy in black for riding more aggressive than necessary, for putting others into unnecessary danger. I'd work on some of the judgment aspects of racing. It requires a friend or a teammate or some unemotional party to tell him else the rider won't listen. It also requires some reflection on the rider's part.

If a teammate or friend doesn't do point this out to him, someone else probably will, and not in a good way. There are stories of dirty Cat 3s upgrading to 2, then immediately downgrading after they got rough housed by some of the P12 boys there. The P12s don't have time for that nonsense and will fight back as hard or harder. The guy in black may find curbs suddenly coming his way or worse.

For the guy in black, if I were his coach, I'd point out the following. First, he should know that he can corner pretty fast without panicking about overshooting (that's the one excuse that could be believed for cutting in so aggressively at the apex). So work on fast, smooth cornering, a la Cancellara. He could have easily gone a little wider at the apex and been okay. He could have made his big move a little less big because it forced him to ease a bit and may have cost him a bit in the sprint.

I suspect the wind was coming from the left before the final turn (or it was just because that was the long way around that guys were staying right), and the guy in black probably burned a match moving up. These kinds of errors encourage taking short cuts, and in this case it meant trying to dive into the turn in front of the field. If I were a coach I'd tell the team to get a much faster leadout for this guy, as fast as the guy that led him through the turn but for at least 15-20-25 seconds before that last turn (35 mph? faster?). If he is a solo rider then I'd tell him to figure out a way to get on better wheels sooner.

As it is he loses the sprint. In fact you do a great sprint to win from behind. This puts you in the hot seat as the wheel to follow.

btw I wrote this before I read any of the comments below the clip.

ate2fiver said...

Well I was hoping for a more complete answer, but OK.

First, thanks for the whole response.

Second, sorry if I was misleading, but I merely commented on the video, and had no part in it. I was just using it to learn.

I guessed your first part (about at-fault) almost exactly.

The coaching part my be your best write-up for me ever. The part about controlling the outside for the final sprint isn't intuitive and that's likely huge advice.

Also, the part about Black going in too big and burning extra again, is probably huge to realize.

The other parts I can't appreciate yet (about the overall setup.)

Thanks again.