Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Racing - 2012 Ronde de Bethel

As race time approached I found myself getting nervous. I think this happens every year but this year I was already a bit jittery and so the upcoming race just amplified what was already there. This made me one nervous, twingy kind of guy.

I kitted up and rolled out, just in time to roll past everyone already lined up. This year I had some more expections than last, for two reasons. First I downgraded from Cat 2 to Cat 3. And second, I had a lot more teammates.

Last year's winner, Bryan H, had joined our team over the winter, bringing along with him a trusted lieutenant Jeff M. Together they added a huge amount of firepower and experience to the team. Combined with a number of notable upgrades (from Cat 4) and the already competent cast of Cat 3s, Expo could field a huge squad of riders.

But, with a field close to 100 riders, even Expo had hard time controlling things. Yes, they pulled things together. The field was just overwhelming in strength, riding along very quickly, instantly chasing moves, and as a whole just vacuuming up everything ahead of it.

I haven't been training much at all, doing I think one hour in the prior week, and not really training much for the last few months save a couple 8-10 hour weeks.

This became painfully obvious as I struggled to hold wheels on the hill.

It might have been a lack of warm up too, as SOC kept saying before the race, "I don't know how you do this." He warmed up with me, which consisted of wheeling our bikes outside Panificio Navona, throwing a leg over it, and soft pedaling for 20 seconds to the back of the lined up field.

Bryan H came up to me, asking me how I was feeling. I'd just pushed away the thought of dropping out, but I wasn't feeling much better, and I told him so.

"Don't worry, you'll come around. I have faith in you."

I did start to feel a little less terrible as the laps wore on. In reality I think what happened was that the other racers were starting to tire, and the hill became a bit easier for riders like me.

Vassos, a fellow racer and former Carpe Diem teammate from the mid 90s, rolled up next to me. He'd been living overseas for a few years.

"It's so good to be back. I've been reading your blog and your race reports and I really missed this place!"

It's good to have you back too.

Someone else rolled up to me, someone who'd watched me stress out earlier in the day.

"How are you feeling?"
"This is the most relaxed I've felt all day!"

Lance J, one of my faithful teammates from 2010, came up to me just before two laps to go. He looked over and asked me if I wanted to be moved up to the front.

"No, I don't know how I'm going to be."

And with that he eased.

I really wasn't sure how I was going to feel, and I didn't want to get brought to the front only to explode spectacularly and shoot backwards through the pack.

Then I started moving up anyway.

I rolled up to SOC, who was really intent on helping me set up for the finish. He knew my inclination to stay buried until the last moment, that I hated trying to maintain a front position for the last lap.

At the same time we needed to move up. Sitting 50 back wasn't going to help my chances any.

Going into the hill before the bell we were probably just holding that position. At Turn One we were probably 30 riders back.

We stayed there going into Turn Two, just behind Jeff.

SOC moved up on the inside, tried to drive forward a bit, and found himself blocked. He dropped back a bit, then moved up again on the backstretch. I could see his pedaling style change - he was really starting to drive the pedals, ready to make a huge effort to get through whatever hole appeared in front of him.

With so many riders in front of us, once again he couldn't find a way through. I went left, seeking a gap, Jeff letting me in front of him, and moved forward inside the field.

Behind and to the right of me SOC ended up getting ridden into the curb. He hopped it, rode on the grass, and got back onto the road.

But I never saw any of that.

Bottom of the hill, just before the sprint.

I slipped into a gap between two riders, asked frantically to let me through, and then spurted through that gap. As we hit the bottom of the hill another gap opened to the right so I dove into that.

We streamed by someone sho0ting backward, squeezing a bit on the right shoulder. I got on the wheel of a TeaNY rider just as one of his teammates shot backwards past us, exploded from his leadout duties.

This brought me to the right curb, the only place I thought I could go as we hit the hill. The left side will never be clear in a big sprint, leaving only the right.

Right I went.

Starting the sprint, far left.
Picture courtesy Mobile Bici

Moving up but not enough. Bryan is center right.
Picture courtesy Mobile Bici

I managed to clear the bulk of the field, but a half dozen or so hovered just in front of me. I'd hit my peak already and, unfortunately, I wasn't gaining on them.

One guy did blow through, and he closed up to get something like 2nd or 4th, but the basic front group finished together.

I managed to snag an 8th.

That's 8th.
The power meter is saying 730-something watts.

I saw Bryan with his left fist up.

How the eff did he do that?

He'd timed his effort just right, basically stopping at the line. Other guys went streaming past just after, but he'd reached the line first.

I'd commented a long time ago on one of my own finishes, where I was going so slow at the line. I had to throw my bike to take the win. The others swamped me right after the line.

A salty veteran pointed out to me that it didn't matter who passed me after the line - it's what order we hit it that counted.

And so it was for Bryan.

I was fourth into the first turn after the race ended, so I was going too fast at the line. I need to start my sprint earlier.

For those of you interested in numbers, I only peaked at 1031 watts in the sprint, and I held below 650 watts for 22 seconds. It's a far cry from the summer, where a good sprint for me means 1000-1100 watts for 19 seconds.

After my paltry 650 watt effort I was absolutely maxed out as far as heart rate went.

I rolled into Panificio Navona, unpinned my 3-4 number, and, after a second and third thought, grabbed a vest. It'd obscure my number but I didn't think I'd be going too far in the P123s on my legs so scoring wouldn't matter much.

I had a GU, hid a Clif bar in my pocket, and took my first sip of water from my previously untouched waterbottle.

I rolled up next to SOC at the back of the field, waiting for the start. He looked positively miserable, shivering. I glanced over. He looked at me.

I gave him ten laps before he pulled out.

The P123s started off steady. With 46 laps ahead they weren't in any rush, and the temperature dropped what seemed like a degree every lap.

The day's, week's, month's events started to catch up with me. Suddenly I felt overwhelmingly tired. I couldn't think right, couldn't really focus. I didn't want to do anything.

My legs felt hollow, a steady low grade of pain but no bonking, no cramping, just this uneasy "not right" kind of thing.

I realized my day was over.

I moved towards the front, flying the colors, seeing if I could take a 100 meter pull for the boys before I dropped out.

Nothing doing.

I signaled at the bottom of the hill that I wanted to move right. The guy behind me told me to go ahead. I know he meant it politely, as a courtesy, but it was also maybe 10 laps into the race, and frankly it didn't matter.

I pulled to the right, kept moving right until I was clear of the field, and eased.

Dizzy, my breath catching once (that was new to me), I almost rode into the curb. I carefully made my way up the hill.

"DNF", I said to the officials as I rolled into the parking lot.

I sat down, without changing, and started working on the race stuff. I figured SOC would show up shortly and I could go over things with him. He took his time though, and I pictured him shivering in his car, trying to warm up.

He finally showed up, after the race. He was still shivering, still in his kit, and still had the "ten laps on his legs" look.

I looked at him, looked at the other racers milling around, and thought about it for a second.

"Did you finish the race?" I asked.

He nodded.

So much for that ten lap look.

With that I had to get back to registration duties.


SOC said...

Heh - after my "mountainbike" episode, I ended up dead last in that 3/4 race. So I figured as long as I finished the P123 (and didn't get dropped), I couldn't help but do better. And as long as I was pedaling, I wasn't shivering.

Awesome result for you - I still can't figure out how you do it. Seeya next Sunday!

Mark Cafiero said...

Hi There, I was reading another one of your posts, "how to avoid crashing" and you talk a lot about riders to turn in early. Do you mean riders who start turning too fast? I guess I am confused. Is there a diagram out there in the WWW that shows good and bad turn paths? Thanks again, for this blog, I love it.


Aki said...

Mark - Turning in early means you steer/lean into the turn early. So, for example, if there's a pretty sharp right turn, a non-trained (or uneducated) driver will turn in immediately, then, as the curve keeps going, drift to the outside. You'll see this a lot on public roads, where the yellow line is worn off in a turn.

Let me find a picture somewhere. I found a great article here.

Aki said...

SOC - I'm glad you stayed upright. A bunch of racers were commenting on the "I didn't know this was a 'cross race" kind of thing on the cool down lap.


Mark Cafiero said...

Very helpful! I see what you mean now. Don't get too anxious to turn, begin the turn about the time you hit the true "corner" of the turn. I found this to be helpful: "You don’t have to see the actual position of your imagined apex, just mentally slide it a little farther around the corner than where you think the actual road apex might be." I'm going to ride the course this weekend and practice. Hopefully this doesn't prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of sort! :) Thanks again.

Aki said...

Mark - you understand it now. That link was much better than my attempt at explaining. With motorcycles there's a lot more inertia, a lot more speed, but it's the same principle.

If you want to watch bad cornering action, look at the notoriously poor descending pros, like Michael Rasmussen. In the 2006 Tour he actually creates a gap in the group because he corners so poorly. Even last year there were riders who went wide at the turn exit, indicative of an early turn in. It's agonizing to watch.

At the same time it's beautiful to watch a good descender, they go so much faster than you'd think possible.

As I mentioned in a different post you can practice cornering all the time - driving your car, pushing a shopping cart around (this was the only way I could practice when I was a kid), pushing a Matchbox car around on a table (ditto), etc.

You can also watch car road racing (left and right turns), watch how a solo car will follow a good line, a defensive (leading) car will turn in early to defend, an offensive (following) car will turn in late to attack out of the turn.

Mark Cafiero said...

awesome! Thanks so much! I am getting really pumped for the 18th. This all helps a lot.

Mark Cafiero said...

I just wanted to say thanks for your tips. Believe it or not, your good time and effort really tied my experience together. I had a great first crit. Thanks for your generosity. I can tell you do a lot for this sport.

Also very sorry to hear about the crash in one of the races that you put on. Read about it on the forum and I am sure times are bittersweet for you as I also know you just had your baby last weel (congrats on that)