Monday, May 16, 2011

Racing - 2011 Mystic Velo Crit P123

So I have some raw numbers from Sunday's Mystic Velo Crit.

Average power, 198 watts. Max, 1208 watts. Heart rate averaged 161 bpm, hitting a max of 175. I pedaled an average of 86 rpm, hitting, allegedly, 140 rpm. I don't believe that last number. I coast a lot and I probably did a stutter pedal stroke, moving the whatever (battery?) past the sensor in two different directions. I'll believe maybe 120 rpm, not much more than that.

I did average 26.9 mph, and I managed to do 28 mph when riding alone for a minute.

The officials politely placed me 29th.

Last year I averaged 205 watts, hitting a max of 1198 watts, and I weighed about 10 pounds less than I do now. I averaged 160 bpm, with a max of 180. I averaged 85 rpm, so virtually the same. My race speed was lower, 25.4, and conditions were very similar except it was 12 degrees warmer in 2010.

But all of this is running talk. It's talk about how the engine did, pace, stuff like that. These are the things that an athlete can control, at some level, by training or resting or eating better or whatever.

Even if the athlete has no control over it, the athlete understands. Some limitations are simply set in stone, i.e. through genetics, and some factors come into play seemingly randomly, like illness, an off day, or, hopefully, a good day.

Running talk doesn't belong in bike racing though. It's hard to get new racers to comprehend, especially if they're a runner. All those numbers I just listed above?

They don't mean a thing.

It doesn't matter if my heart rate seemed a bit flat, or if I went about as fast as I've ever gone in a bike race.

Bike racing deals with wind, gradient, and gears. The latter is almost overlooked, but it's the key to bike racing. It allows the athlete to multiply their effort. I can't lengthen my legs when I run, but I can shift into higher gears on a bike.

Gradient is key of course. Even the "master tactician" Bruyneel states (in the well written book Lance Armstrong's War whether or not you're a fan of his) that at their level there really are no tactics.

The "master tactician" himself is saying that.

It's because the long gradients of those insane Grand Tour climbs reduces bike racing to, well, running. It's all about fitness and genetic talent (and for the cynical, the rider's "doctor").

Ninigret has no gradient so it retains bike racing's allure to me as a racing cyclist. I like watching racers battle it out on the mountains, but only from the comfort of my living room. I've never, ever seen the pointy end of a mountain (or even hill) battle in person. Nothing wrong there - McEwen probably has never seen it either, at least at a mountain level, and he was one of the best sprinters in the world. I like mixing it up at the front of the field (if I can) and duking it out in field sprints if I get there.

Let's put it this way. In 1983 the only race I finished was at Ninigret.

After gradient and gears you have wind. The wind is key. I read in some book that if there was no air (i.e. no wind resistance), 1/6 the gravity, and a lot of open space, a rider could theoretically reach something like 2000 mph. The author had the moon in mind when stating this, where there is no air, 1/6 the gravity, and, for now, a lot of open space.

But at Ninigret there's air. It's at sea level, and it's next to a broad expanse of water so the course gets buffeted by wind.

Wind is key in bike racing because one racer can draft others. When you do this you reduce your power requirements. You reduce, in other words, your fitness requirements.

This makes bike racing different from running.

An unfit, genetically lacking, or otherwise limited racer can race effectively in a bike race against more fit racers. This is absolutely impossible in a running race.

What this means is that in bike racing, the results matter. Within the scheme of things it's good to be able to put out higher power. It's usually indicative of a good race if you can hold a high heart rate.

And, for me, it's a good race if I finish with the field.

In 2010, as a 3, I romped around in the race for a while. I went with moves, jumped around a bit, and generally had fun in the race. I went in with no plan except to have fun, and I ended up second in the race.

In 2011, as a 2, I started the race... nervous. I knew I had less fitness than last year. I knew my power was down, my weight was up, and overall I felt worse on the bike. Everything is a struggle this year - last year it was almost effortless, if I can use that term as a "lowly" Cat 3. This year I was worse but I had also upgraded.

My teammate and friend SOC (it should probably be SoC but I've been typing SOC so it'll be SOC) joined me in the P123 race. We'd originally showed up to support our strong Cat 2 teammate David, but David ended up opting to win a state championship gold (for some Masters category). This left the two willing and able domestiques with no leader to protect. We decided to see how it went. I personally had more faith in SOC than myself, so I decided that other than trying to make the correct half of any split (i.e the front half), I'd see if I could do anything to help out SOC.

With little wind I figured it'd be more likely to stay together. I find that the tailwind sections are the hardest in a windy race. It's easy to find shelter when the wind is battering the front of the field, but when it's pushing everyone along, it becomes less of a peloton and more like "a whole bunch of single riders going in one direction".

To wit: at the Arc-En-Ciel M35+ crit, I came off the winning break as we hit a tailwind section.

There's one more random tactical thought before the start. At Ninigret, for P123 races, I have this rule: The Third Break Makes It.

It seems the first break goes when everyone feels great. No matter how hard the guys up the road go, the field has the energy to chase.

The second break always fools me. It gets out there, maybe as much as 20 or 30 seconds, and looks really, really, really promising. It's perfect bait for a bike racer, much like a Mosquito Magnet resembles a huge moist mammal panting in a backyard, at least if you're a mosquito. Just like the Mosquito Magnet, the second break is deadly. It pretty much always comes back, dooming whoever tried to make it work. Legs recovering, they'll miss the next move.

I've gone with the second break a couple times, breaking my own rule, chastising myself even as I jump to bridge to it.

And it's always, always come back.

Then the third break goes. By then everyone's getting tired, including me. Good riders start trickling off the front, suddenly clump together after a lap or two of insane one-rider-at-a-time riding, and suddenly they coalesce and pull away.

But with no wind, this rule went out the window.

Therefore I had to go with whatever moves I could go with. I had to ignore moves that seemed, well, fruitless. I also knew I wouldn't have to restrain myself if I thought a move was the Mosquito Magnet move. With less wind such moves could work.

In the warm up I rode my Stinger 6s for the first time since the ArcEnCiel crit, in the same location a month ago. They felt great, super responsive. I told myself to train on the Jet6 front and Jet9 rear so I'd have even more of a difference when I rode the Stingers.

I watched a few guys, part of a relatively numerous team, do some pretty hard efforts, sprinting up to speed in small gears. They looked antsy, barely restrained, and I figured they'd launch at the gun.

Sure enough, when the officials sent off the P123s, a couple of those guys sprinted up the road.

The rest of us reluctantly followed.

It'd be a long 35 laps.

For the first few laps I ended up near a guy who kept insisting on sticking his tire just next to and in front of the very back of the tire of the rider in front of him. In other words, he was putting his tire in a pretty dangerous spot, then wiggling a bit much to avoid getting taken out. I wasn't the only one to give him a sideways glance. I moved up to get away from him - so did a lot of other people. Ends up he got shelled - probably because guys were trying to get away from him, forcing him to accelerate relatively hard to stay on wheels.

SOC (on the right) swerving to avoid the single crash of the race.
Afterward we each wondered where the other was, checking the pits for Expo colors.
The helmet cam gives the answer - although SOC ended up behind me after the crash, he was in front of me before it.

Twice I thought it prudent to bring back a break. And with the race developing as it did, I felt it better for SOC to save something for the finish, rather than me. The field looks incredibly fragile, about to blow apart on any given lap, and SOC has a much better motor than me so he deals with that stuff better.

I did say I thought it prudent to bring back a break twice. That doesn't mean I went twice. In fact, the first time I started looking for SOC, to tell him not to work, to let me pull the break back. Problem was I couldn't find him, not until I looked up the field a bit.

He was at the front, drilling it, and brought the break back.

Another time a few good guys went away. I was rolling up from towards the back, the field eased, and I launched. I did choose a good break - the eventual winner was in it - but my bridge effort blew me up. 30 seconds at 33+ mph, about 35 seconds sitting on wheels, then "Boom" I was off. The field swept up the group and it was all back together again.

This is about when I realized that although the wheels felt great, the body wasn't doing too well. I still clung to the notion that the field would break up, somehow not allowing myself simply to sit in at the back.

I tried to stay involved, not just sit and grimace at the back.

Inside the last 10 laps a pretty large group had separated off the front, maybe 8 or 9 guys. Their move looked good - they stayed out there, held a gap, and resisted some half hearted chase attempts.

I figured this was it - that I had to get up there. I made a move at the same time as three others, deferring to them and allowing them to pull.

I'm looking left and deciding to let these two go in front of me.
Two riders precede them, but only one will stay with Ron.
(Ron in white)

CCNS's Ron L was the strong man there, but I was hoping just to bridge if we got a bit closer. I knew it'd be risky, that I didn't have the fitness I had last year, but I thought the race would be decided from that group.

When Ron finally pulled off, I jumped moderately hard for the short "pre-backstraight". Then I really buried myself in the tailwind "long backstraight" section, trying to get on the break. I came up about 50 feet short, unable to bridge the last couple seconds gap.

I eased, trying to recover before the field passed me. Ron led the chase group by, on the opposite side of the road (my jump wasn't an honorable one and I'm sure he wasn't impressed with it). It didn't matter as at that point I wouldn't be able to hang on to their wheels anyway.

The group rolled by next, much quicker than I expected, and I barely latched onto the Manx tail of the field. I guess a bunch of guys sat up and the rest of them were up the road. I happened to be on Aidan's wheel, Ron's teammate, as he sat last wheel in the group.

At that point... well, you know in the cartoons when the bad guy lights the fuse to the bomb and laughs manically? Well, the blowing up part is easy to describe, but the fuse lighting, let's just say that I knew I'd just lit my fuse with that failed bridge attempt. I didn't know how long I'd last but I knew that my legs were about to detonate.

A few laps later I reached the end of the fuse. Nothing spectacular, just a gentle turn of the switch and I powered down.

I knew I had one jump left in me (steady-state blow ups are different from not-being-able-to-sprint blow ups). I asked the official if I could do one more lap before they pulled me, knowing that if I got lapped I'd have to get off the course.

I managed not to get lapped over the next lap, rolled into the final straight in the high teens mph, and did a reasonable jump and sprint, a true race-sprint simulation, complete with fatigued legs and less-than-coherent mind.

I stopped with the Missus and Mrs SOC and watched the rest of the race.

I watched incredulously as Ron's group made contact with the formerly all-powerful break, followed quickly by the field.

A field sprint! After all that! I couldn't believe it.

If I'd ridden scared, just sitting in and praying I wouldn't get dropped, I'd probably have been in there. I know I had a decent jump left - I just proved it to myself by ripping out that odd sprint.

Ah well.

So what is my takeaway?

I'm racing like I'm fit.

I'm not as fit as I think I am.

I have to make those two statements meet somewhere.

No comments: