Last week's B race prompted some discussion, and after some offline talks with riders (on Expo) as well as some online debate, I approached this race even more as a "helper" than as a "competitor".
I'm a realist, and last year, when I raced the Tuesday Night races, I don't think I finished a single one. This year, with even less training, I'm not optimistic about my ability to hang tough with a bunch of flying Cat 1s and 2s (and 3s, to be completely truthful).
In addition Junior's schedule is such that if we want to eat dinner (we can't before the race due to the timing of things) we'd need to leave shortly after the A race starts, so my options are pretty limited.
My one worry this week was that because I didn't ride for 6 days (and 23 hours) before the race, I hoped that I wouldn't cramp. That's my main non-training effect, my legs cramp in 5-10-15 minutes.
Pre Race Stressors
I felt extremely stressed getting to the race. One of our cats peed on a couch (technically on a blanket and a towel on the couch) just before I had to leave to pick up the Missus, Junior went Number Two (which necessitates a change, unlike a simple Number One). With throwing the pee stuff in the wash, cleaning the couch, tracking down Junior (he got into some stuff that was supposed to be off limits) the "hey I'm getting ready an hour before we have to leave" turned into "we're 15 minutes late".
After some rushed driving and fortunately lighter traffic we got to the venue with a good 15 or 20 minutes to spare, enough time for sure. I got dressed (I was all dressed minus jersey, helmet, gloves, shoes on the way over, number pinned at home too), got the bike together (pumped up the tires at home, on both the primary and spare wheels), and registered. Because Junior roll out takes a minute or three we got to do a lap or two before the race started.
Course Conditions (i.e. Wind)
The wind felt brutal going into the final stretch. Since said stretch curves left the wind started on the front, even front right at times, and the turned into a pretty decent right side crosswind. This was quite the opposite of last week's race, where the headwind was after Turn One.
Since the finishing stretch is much longer I knew that the wind would wreak havoc in the field, mercilessly sawing off the unfortunate or inattentive.
Massive headwind here, at the beginning of the final stretch.
This is the beginning of the headwind bit. Wyatt (to the left) is bearing the full brunt of the wind. I'd have helped him except I was redlined going into the wind also. I had to be close to the rider in front, like less than a meter or two, else it would take me 50-75 meters to get on the wheel.
With my goal to help as much as possible I tried to give shelter to those around me, even riding past in the wind to offer shelter. I ended up at the back, trying to keep riders from losing contact with the group.
My final resort was to actually push riders back up into the group. It is technically illegal but if it buys a bit more time (and therefore experience) in the field then it's worth it for me to offer it to someone else. It's not uncommon for one rider to give another rider a friendly shove to, say, close a gap.
You have to be careful though - the pushing rider accelerates the "pushed rider" by giving away momentum. In other words the pusher goes backward, and if there's a field behind you it's not good. In my case I was at the back of the field and I said so, telling the guys, "We're at the back of the field, you gotta get on the wheels!"
Trying to help a couple Juniors.
I'm giving Tom a push and had just given Wyatt a push also. I got Tom in the field but I think Wyatt was way in the red already. To his credit Wyatt has a good position on the bike, he's not sitting upright at all.
I tried to impress on them the importance of staying on the wheel. I couldn't verbalize it but that third turn, leading into the final straight, was absolutely critical. In fact, at the end of the straight above, Tom let a small gap go in that critical third turn and the wind pretty much picked him up and blew him off the back. I was helpless to do anything except try to stay on wheels.
The other thing I discussed was helping some of the Expo guys with race craft. Although Tuesday Nights are races, a lot of riders use these races for training. Therefore it was understandable to see guys at the front, Expo or not.
Unfortunately some of the Expo efforts ended up a bit misguided. For example we had guys at the front for literally laps at a time, pulling their hearts out… while an Expo rider struggled just 50 meters ahead trying to escape the field.
Expo riding after Expo
The above picture is an example of a couple lap effort by an Expo rider, chasing an Expo rider (and one other) in a break.
I made a big effort to move to the front to tell the Expo rider to ease up.
A little talk up front and we eased.
You can see the gap stretching out already.
So here's the race craft bit, and it applies to everyone, not just Expo guys. I'm using Expo as an example because, well, I'm an Expo guy.
Racing Vs Training
There are two opposing things at work here.
It's great that most of the Expo Cat 4-5s are so much stronger than me. They can ride me off their wheel easily, as demonstrated in a group ride I did earlier this year. Training is great, making big efforts is great, but if they're properly directed it's even better.
That brings us to the racing bit.
Racing is different from training because, at some level, there are riders who want to win the race (the crit in this case), and in fact everyone that starts the crit is eligible to win.
It isn't nice to chase down a teammate, just from the point of view of undoing all their hard work. It's like if I'm trying to put together a track for Junior and he's at the other side ripping things apart.
It's also not really effective in terms of race craft. If an Expo pulls hard for two laps to bring back an Expo, then no one else has to work to bring back that breakaway Expo. The other riders ("opponents", technically speaking, but at Tuesdays everyone is pretty friendly in that respect) can now counter the break and go away on their own.
Expo, with one guy who just pulled his heart out in the break, another guy who just dragged the field along for two laps, is now down two guys. It's a luxury to have 8 or 10 riders in a field but if it was just three Expos (not uncommon in a regular race) then using up two to neutralize each other… yeah, that doesn't make sense.
So let's return to training. What about the training aspect of things?
Well, it's very possible to train even better while working as a teammate.
The Expo rider in the break is gone, he's in the break, he's both training and racing. Let him do what he wants up there.
The Expos left in the field ought to let the others take responsibility for chasing. Those Expos should sit in, rest, recover, and get ready. For Junior I'd be saying, "Ready, Set…."
If/When the breakaway Expo rider comes back, then the other Expo riders go. For Junior that's when I say, "GO!" and he goes (or jumps or swings or whatever we're doing).
Now that the Expo guys in the field are more rested, more recovered, they can make a much sharper attack and hold a much higher initial pace. Instead of dragging the field around at 23 mph they can launch at 30 mph and hold 27-28 mph for a bit.
That lets a rider train as well as race. It's better training because the peaks are higher, the speeds are higher, and this lets them build the flexibility to handle a wider range of race situations.
Me Too Attacks
(Ironically I can't find the post where I describe the Me Too attacks so I had to write a bit on it, else I'd have just linked to the post.)
The other thing I saw Expo doing was a number of "Me Too Attacks". All too often a strong teammate in the field will want to "offer their help" to the teammates in the break. They'll ride up to the break, offer their teammate a wheel, and pull really hard.
This is very thoughtful, very nice, and completely the opposite of what you want to do.
What they don't realize is that in the act of riding up to the break they drag the rest of the field up, if not literally on their wheel then at least just behind as the field collectively scrambles to get on the wheel of "the guy riding up to the break".
So the first part ("riding up to the break") results in the break getting pulled most of the way back, if not all the way back.
Then, when the fresh rider bridges (at a higher speed than the break) and offers a wheel, it's super demoralizing to the break rider. Said break rider has been in the break for a while, is getting pretty gassed, and is at the limit.
It's not simply a matter of accelerating a few mph and getting on the wheel. It's a combination of being gassed, of seeing a teammate (of all things) bridge to the break, and then a quick peek behind to confirm that your teammate brought everyone in the field up to your break.
This can be pretty overwhelming and makes it hard for the redlined break teammate to go even harder.
Instead of doing the Me Too move, a teammate can sit on wheels, let others chase, and then make a move on their own. They'll be fresher, their opponents will be just a bit more tired, and who knows, maybe that's the break that will stay away.
The ideal situation for the teammates in the field is if someone launches a big move and goes clear of the field. The resting Expo rider can immediately jump on the wheel and go up to the break while sitting out of the wind. Once at the break the options open up - wait to see what happens, pull hard, etc. Typically the original break guys will be gassed so if you don't want to immediately drop your break teammate you need to give them a moment to recover.
On the other hand the guy that just pulled you across the gap is probably a bit gassed and he's really strong, so it might be worth it to push super hard to try and get rid of him.
These are the things you have to think about when you're active in a race.
Corollary to the Me Too Attack
The main thing I pointed out in the yet-to-be-found Me Too Attack post is that if you see a few of your teammates go up the road then you shouldn't try to go with them, unless that's the plan (like they're supposed to pull you clear).
Instead you should not react and force those behind you to close the gap.
This is especially true if your teammates at the front are putting in huge digs, going 100%. You don't want to help keep everyone together if your teammates are trying to blow things apart. The idea is to help one another, not neutralize one another.
Again, following rival team moves is great tactics, it allows you to sit in and keep your reserves while others are working, in a sense, for you.
Someone commented after the race that "3s are so fast!" It's not that I'm so fast but it's more that the others were pretty gassed. I'll get to that in a bit.
After a bunch of failed break attempts (not helped in any way by the Expo guys dragging the field back to the Expo-populated breaks), it came down to a field sprint, at least with a couple laps to go.
(Here, if one of the Expo guys had been sitting in all race, he could have made a move to try and solo the last couple laps. With at least half a dozen Expo guys not chasing in the field, such a move might have worked…)
I was intent on offering a leadout to someone, anyone, and I found Nick nearby. He and I talked a bit at our fortuitously scheduled team meeting the night before so I knew he was up for doing something.
Rolled up to Nick and told him to follow my wheel.
I don't know if he heard me but within about 50 meters he wasn't on my wheel. I think I need to be more clear, even if the riders around us get the same message ("Hey he's leading out Nick, get on Nick's wheel!").
Next week maybe I can try again, but at that moment I needed to offer my help to someone else.
Nick wasn't there so tried to help Heavy D and Co here.
I found Heavy D leading a string of Expo riders as we approached the bell lap. I rode just past him, told him to get on my wheel (with the assumption that everyone else would follow), and started rolling hard.
On the hoods, upright, to give a better draft.
I went to the hoods to offer a bigger draft but Heavy D was blown from earlier efforts (sound familiar?). So too were the guys on his wheel. This meant that none of them were on my wheel within about 50-75 meters.
One rider did get on my wheel and hung on for dear life. Since he wasn't an Expo I didn't feel the need to offer him as much shelter. Once I realized that he was the one I got into the drops and drilled it, although had I known how tall he was maybe I'd have sat up more.
At any rate my legs were screaming and I had to get lower to maintain my speed.
One guy left on my wheel (riders to the right were getting lapped).
The one guy hung on as we passed a group of lapped riders. The shadows were pretty long and there was no one from the field visible when I looked down.
This was good.
A good leadout gifts the sprinter the race. It shouldn't even be a contest, the second guy should be able to pedal somewhat leisurely to the line and win, so to see the big gap was nice.
When I rounded Turn Three I yelled at him to go. I knew the wind would zap his legs but I hoped he had enough to get to the line. His expression, his pedaling style, his reluctance to go, they all signaled he was about to detonate, but he gave it a shot.
One guy left, I'm blown, into the headwind.
The guy was tall so I felt bad for trying to get low and fast. I should have sat up more, given him more shelter, but those thoughts had gone out the door once I realized that I was gifting a lead to a non-Expo guy. In this situation, with the massive headwind, I think he'd have been better off sitting and trying to get aero, but he stood up and practically stopped moving.
The next two guys. I think they caught him.
You can see the gap he had to the next rider, and the guy that I led out was struggling hard to keep going. A good leadout gifts the sprinter the race. A good way to counter a good leadout is to have a guy that can not only hang on to the sprinter's wheel but also sprint around the the sprinter getting the leadout. Another way to counter a good leadout is to do one of your own. That's almost never the case in a Cat 3-4-5 race but sometimes you see drag racing leadout trains in the pros. Quite the sight for sure.
My leadout wasn't that fast for a 3, and would have been ineffective in a Cat 3 race, but in the B race it worked really well, leaving just one rider when I pulled off.
As it was the field had blown apart behind me. Obviously the racers were collectively struggling already, with virtually no reserves. Two guys looked good and smooth and I think they overhauled the first guy (the one I dropped off at the last corner).
If I'd gone another 50 meters, into the wind, I think he might have hung on for the win, but I was really zapped and wanted to get out of the way.
Junior, with his shoulder baring Flashdance shirt, checking out my brake lever after the race.
I rolled back to the Missus and Junior, my "cool down" simply soft pedaling down the finishing stretch. Although my heart rate had averaged 171 in the leadout I was at 145 when I got to Junior (based on what I could see on the helmet cam clip).
Strava link here.
Strava playback here (you have to choose more riders to have in the playback).
Junior instinctively reached for a brake lever. People do that to bikes on the showroom floor so a good rule of thumb for a bike shop is to have the brakes adjusted so they feel firm and responsive. We always wondered why people did that. Now I know that it's partially wired into our brains.
We packed up and headed home. I'd talked to a couple of the Expo guys about everything I posted above, so it's not new to them, but race craft is race craft. Maybe by the end of the summer we'll see some good team duals as different groups of riders try to get the upper hand in a given race.
(Final note: Although I put forward the idea of not chasing, at some point this is a training race. My take is that once a break gets half a lap at the Rent then it's now just a "break", not necessarily a break with teammates. I'd start working to catch the break, partially because I know I won't - haha - , partially because it's easier if no one laps the field, but also because it's good practice to chase down a break as a team. Once the gap closes a bit, so the break isn't half a lap up, then I'd ease off as the break members regain their team identities. In the A race this isn't the case, as I'm ineffective in such races, but in the B race I'll chase any break that's more than half a lap ahead. Ultimately it's better for everyone involved to have both active as well as passive racing. Active means chasing, attacking, leading out. Passive means sitting in, not chasing, stuff like that. If everyone raced passively then races would be 12 mph and really boring. You need both to make a good race, for the racers as well as the spectators.)