Sunday, September 16, 2012

Racing - 2012 White Plains Crit, Cat 3-4

This is a long post but it dates back to the spring of this year. At the time a guy Joe asked me about getting some help for a race he wanted to hold. Thinking an industrial park race I told him sure. Then he laid out his idea - revive a twice used course in White Plains, NY.

Not a big deal, right?

Well, the first time they raced there it was the National Criterium Championships and a "newbie" (technically, because he got some special permission to race as a Cat 4) named John Tomac won the national title. To be fair he was the top downhiller of the time and ended up wearing a pro road jersey for a short time, but still, to have a new racer win Nationals was quite the thing.

The second time they held a race there it was the New York state championships. A friend Abdul won that one.

Well, the talk got places and suddenly we had a race - the White Plains Crit.

Incredibly this was Joe's first ever race promotion gig and it basically went off without a hitch. I helped with registration and the finish line camera, and I brought my bike and kit along hoping I'd get to race. We had the normal interesting adventures but that's what makes life, well, interesting.

It started with an earlier realization that we'd need a better finish line camera. I decided to get a fancy shmancy 1080 60p full HD camcorder, manual shutter speed control, the works. It worked great in some low light tests (I recorded Junior in his bouncy saucer) so I headed over to David's on Saturday confident that we had very little to handle. We'd hook it up to the existing tripod, hook up a USB cable, and read the video.


At David's I proudly handed over the new camcorder. He looked at it, looked at the tripod.

"Where's the rest of it?"
"Rest of what?"
"The tripod."
"Um, that's all I have."
"There's a piece that fits onto the tripod. It's not here. It's what the camera attaches to."

I thought about it for a moment.

"Wait, there's no way to attach the camera?"
"Not like this."


Well David has a virtual hardware store in his garage so we cobbled together a new mount (and I told myself a zillion times to remove the mount off the old incredibly good but too slow and too low resolution camcorder).

We hooked up a cable and tried to watch Junior bouncing in his saucer thing.

File format not recognized.

We started Googling stuff in parallel.

"What's the file extension in Windows?"
"It says here it's Blu-Ray."

Ohhhhh. 1080 @ 60p is BluRay. And apparently Quicktime and such don't like BluRay.

We asked David's son about this because he's young and technologically connected. It's like childproof bottle tops - you need to ask a kid to open it for you.

"Oh, just use blah blah blah."

And it worked. 4 hours or so after I arrived.

Race Day

With an early 4:15 wakeup call I hit the sack hard.

Sunday we quickly got ready. David's wife had left us food, left me a towel for a shower, and in about 30 minutes we were ready to go.

"Before we get on the highway I need to get gas."
"Okay, I'll just follow you."

I followed his car and trailer. We drove up to a gas station. A dark gas station. It was closed.

I could see him hesitate but then he turned onto the highway. The show must go on, and if need by I had 5 gallons of gas for the generators (25 hours worth for each generator so plenty for the 6 hours we needed power).

We got to White Plains in good order although I noticed him driving a bit erratically, speeding up and slowing down at odd times. I figured it was a trailer thing and I kind of blanked on it.

We got to the venue, he got some directions, ran over to the van, hollered to follow him, jumped in his car, and got going.

He promptly ran a red light, with a cop right next to me (and therefore just behind him). I saw him run another light too.

I finally caught up to him, the car kind of nosed up against the curb. Apparently that's where the start/finish would go. I was about to lay into him about running red lights and such when he came over.

"I just lost the brakes in my car."
"I have no brakes. I have to use the e-brake to stop."
"Is that why you ran those red lights?"

He almost drove into the doors of the Macy's on the corner but managed to avoid setting off their alarm. We dumped all the finish line camera stuff there - I had to drive 3 blocks to the registration area, in a KeyBank branch. They sponsored the race and gave us indoor registration, bathrooms, seats, power, everything we needed to get stuff going.

A bit frantic by now we set up registration, starting just about 30 minutes before the first race started. I carefully put two grate covers down over the sewer grate under the van door - it wouldn't do to drop something important like keys or a phone or something in the rush to unpack the van. It took us about 5 agonizing minutes to get the absolute minimum set up but then we started rolling hard. Delaney, my help for the day, knew this stuff from the Bethel Spring Series so she jumped right in.

I honestly thought we'd run late with the first race but no, it went off on time. Things started getting more normal - I even started thinking about getting my bike out of the van and doing a race.

So I did.

Kitted up and on my bike I rolled over to the finish just before the Women finished. This gave me a chance to review the procedures for getting the finish shots, they worked fine, and lined up confident in the finish line camera set up. Delaney had a handle on registration; my responsibilities were being handled well.

In the race I noticed a few things.

First, it's a fast course. Two of its turns have a downhill lead in, two have flat lead ins. This works because there are both an uphill and a downhill on two straights. With just half a mile lap things went by very, very quickly.

In fact, on the first lap, I was close to a full straight behind the front of the race.

I just exited Turn 1 on Lap 1. The front runners are about to apex Turn 2.

Second, because it's a 3-4 race, I saw a wide variety of cornering skills. Some riders were great, including a former Cat 1 who managed to enthrall me at the races - he was my default favorite when I did races in New York and New Jersey.

Other riders weren't quite so good. A huge factor was cornering on the hoods. I could see those riders having problems with the front end bouncing around. They had to slow for the third turn, a fast downhill, because they probably couldn't hang onto their bars. On the drops I had to really hold onto the bars - I can't imagine doing that corner on the hoods.

Poor basics, like cornering on the hoods, multiply their effect as you go up the food chain. Riders on the hoods turned in early, possibly because they felt they didn't have quite the control they wanted (and could have had if they were on the drops). Early apexes are typical for riders who don't feel secure cornering; it's something easily worked on. These early apexers would leave the wheel they were on to cut the corner, then (usually) braking hard to avoid t-boning the same wheel they just left.

With a poor start position I tried to follow wheels, like I'm supposed to, but so many riders used different cornering lines that I couldn't find a good wheel to follow.

Although most of these riders managed to (poorly) corner themselves right off the back, the really strong ones managed to stay in the race until the end. Those still in the race really wreaked havoc in the group, opening gaps through virtually every corner.

It got to the point where even I said something to a couple people. I usually ride a bit harder after such comments and today was no exception. I felt pretty taxed by the course, my lack of fitness, my weight, but nonetheless I made some physical digs after my verbal ones.

I have to admit it was a lot of fun diving into the downhill corners and taking advantage of the huge gaps everyone left. It took a few laps for guys to get the hang of the course, and since I was at the back I had to follow other riders' lines and so I had to wait for the others to get the hang of the course.

I paid on the uphills. At first I thought I was going okay but a quick sanity peek down at the SRM told me some bad news - I was pushing close to 700 watts on the start/finish hill and my heart rate was climbing over 166.

This was about three laps into the race.

I tried to ease earlier before the fast corners, stay steady on the two slight uphills, and tried not to worry too much about gaps ahead of me.

The latter almost got me at the beginning of the race. I realized at some point that the guys in front of me were cornering poorly and then not accelerating hard. I was trusting them to close the gaps they left but they didn't, and eventually I went into the wind to get back in the field.

Gap riders left. I eventually closed this one myself.
This is shortly after Turn 3; I tried using the hoods on this hill but it was a bit bumpy.

Someone told me after the race that they were yelling at me that the field was splitting. I realized a lap or two after the above picture that, woah, I'm the last guy in the field. Everyone else behind me had sat up or gotten pulled.

Eventually I got into my groove. I guess I warmed up a bit - my last ride was a week ago, and that weekend's a story in itself (I'll write posts out of order for that one). Combined with some left ankle injuries (that has to do with the weekend too), I had few miles and few workouts recently.

The other thing is that once the worst cornerers were gone the field started cornering a bit better. I felt better about riding close to others and in fact this was the closest I'd ridden to others in a while.

A close corner later in the race. Note riders on hoods.

At some point, with all the guys on the hoods, the fast and tight corners, the never ending suffering (I waited as long as I could before looking up at the lap cards and it said 23 laps to go), I eased mentally.

I closed this gap - I'm on the hoods right now, soft pedaling.
Then I changed my mind.
3 laps to go.

I managed to get into the single digit lap cards without getting shelled but I felt no excitement, no adrenaline rush. I was waiting for the Sprinter's Renaissance that Indurain described, but, to put it not-so-succinctly, there wasn't nothin' there.

I sat up again, knowing that I had nothing for the sprint and not wanting to try and fake it and get myself in trouble. Those of you less fit than the rest know what it looks like to be off the back at a lap to go. In case you don't know just look below.

Coming up on the bell lap. Those dots in the center is the field.

I felt a need to keep going and the crowd responded with, as Joe put it, the loudest cheer of the race. I finished off the race with a slow bike throw then turned around and went to the trailer to check the finish line camera stuff.

The rest of the day went by like a blur. I worked the camera for the M40+ and the P123 race. Delaney handled registration for the M40s and the sporadic times we needed access during the P123s. As the day wound down we started packing everything into the van, then headed over to the finish area to get the rest of the stuff.

David's car was on a flatbed, the trailer moved into a legal spot. The fatigue started to hit about then, but the day wasn't quite done.

It had been a great race. Great venue. Great cooperation with the city. For a first time promotion, by a first time promoter, I was absolutely shocked at how well the race went. Riders gushed over the ambiance - it's like a Somerville or Nutley. It's faster than either, more exciting, and it's a race I'd love to do again.

With that in mind we finally left. I pulled up to a light and I could see the white Walk sign. I had a bit of time to day dream. I looked down next to the van and saw bare wood.

A brand new grate cover,

About 2'x3'.


See, Joe had asked me about grate covers before the race, if they needed finishing, stuff like that. I told him that the grate covers should be 2'x3', not too thick, and that they didn't need finishing. I knew that because we still have four or five grate covers from 1993, the first Bethel Spring Series (or the Bethel Training Series as we called it back then). I pointed out that they're in remarkable shape considering they sit out in rain, snow, sun, they have no finish, and they're going on 20 years old. In fact I'd just measured them to make more of them - they're the best thickness, best shape, and if all the grate covers were the same size they'd be easier to move around.

The new grate cover also reminded me... I left two of those precious 1993 grate covers on the sewer by the bank, to keep me from dropping my keys down there. I debated just leaving them there but I couldn't bear to lose that history. I somehow managed to get back to the bank, left the van idling in the lane (I felt like I was one of those annoying unmarked delivery trucks in NYC), grabbed the grate covers from under a new Acura, and stuck them in the van.

This made me feel much better.

I started the long drive home, thoughts running through my head. How to get registration even quicker. Better camera stuff. More consolidated equipment. Less steps.

There's something about constantly striving to improve, to maximize one's effectiveness. It drives a person to do better. It drives new ideas, new procedures, new ventures. It pushes things forward. It causes change.

And in this case change is good.

See you at the races.

Parting shot.


Anonymous said...

Aki,, good to meet you yesterday. You sure were quick with a post. Nice work btw with event services. Hopefully Joe and crew can persuade the city of White Plains that a downtown crit is good for 2013 as well. Looking forward to your video.
-->Mike Starr (YMCA)

Aki said...

Good meeting you Mike. Yeah, this post went up quickly, I felt it ought to go up asap. Things seem to flow better with each race. I hope that the race returns next year. We were already talking about things for next time.

Anonymous said...

do you have any of the 40+ finish sprint video or clips?

Aki said...

I'm sorry I do not have anything online at this point. I have yet to experiment with uploading the finish line video; I do see a value in it though as issues with poorly placed or pinned numbers become clear.