So Tuesday the 7th was my second race of the year, second ride outside. My first week was a disaster, with a combination of issues making me feel pretty uncomfortable on the bike. As a reminder the main problems were that I had a too-tight headset, making it virtually impossible for me to make small trajectory adjustments. I felt like I was swerving from curb to curb. Which I wasn't, but still, I felt really unfluent on the bike. The other problem was I was experimenting with a longer position. It was okay on the trainer but unacceptable on the road. Because of the custom stem on the red bike I was doing my fit experimentation on the black bike.
For this week I decided to revert to the red bike. It'd have the same reach/drop that I've had for a couple years, once I got my custom stem. I moved the 170mm cranks back to the red bike, the final major undecided change I've made over the course of the winter.
Note: the one major change that seems to have worked out well is trying out the Adamo ISM saddle, the unconventional twin tusk saddle that people seem to love or hate.
With the red bike back on the trainer, before the race on the 7th, I noticed, too, that the FSA Wing Compact bars are much, much stiffer than the old 3ttt Gimondi bars. So a little bonus there.
Initially I thought we wouldn't be racing on Tuesday, due to the weather, but as the 24 hours prior to the race ticked away the weather forecast went from sort of grim ("50% chance of thundershowers") to pretty good ("0-15% chance of thundershowers"). By 10 AM or so I started adjusting my schedule to accommodate the 2 hour time slot the race (stuff to do with my Pops and such).
For me the great thing about Tuesdays is the incredibly quick pre-race process once I've raced there the second time. I have my number, I take my time pinning it at home, using as many pins as I want (I forgot to take a picture of my number two weeks running now), I pump up the tires before I leave (race isn't far away so tire pressure isn't a problem). When I get there I get my bike out, slip on the race wheels which I pumped up just an hour ago max, sign the big form, pay my money, and I can race.
I thought I'd get a warm up lap in and rolled away from our base camp just beyond the start finish. I got maybe 20 feet and Karen, the official, called everyone to the line.
So much for the warm up.
With a two lap neutral start I felt my non-warmup wasn't a problem. Unlike last week I even remembered to bring a bottle, so no stopping and chasing back on during the neutral bit.
And the neutral laps, although it picked up with about 200m to go on the second and final neutral lap, weren't fast laps. I remember watching the Philly race one year, when it was Corestates. Someone flatted in their neutral laps, which are parade laps around a short loop at the start/finish. Thing was that they were flying along, probably 30 mph or faster. A rider from a smaller team punctured, struggled to get back on, the team sent two more riders back, I think they worked so hard that one rider never got back on. At any rate when you hear "neutral laps" you might get a 15 mph thing or you might get a 30 mph thing. Just be wary.
Wind from the left here, then on the next bit it was from the right. Tricky.
The wind was moderately strong Tuesday. Not horrible but enough so that you had to Wind Manage a bit. I spent a bit of the race experimenting - the worst was that in the curving finish straight the wind started out from the left but then ended on the right. This meant being to the right of the rider in front of you as you exited Turn 3 but then being to the left of the rider in front of you entering Turn 1. Combined with the long sweeping, multi-apex curve, it was a bit tricky moving from one side to the other.
I did notice one rider consistently finding shelter to the right as we exited Turn 3. However he stayed right as I moved left and he ended up in the wind as we passed the start/finish. I helpfully pointed out that he should try to stay left at that point.
Then the next lap I realized that the wind had shifted just enough that it was a plain headwind on the start/finish line - staying left or right didn't matter, you really wanted to be directly behind.
So I gave incorrect advice. I'm sure the rider was rolling around for a few laps thinking, "Who the heck does that guy think he is?"
The B race this Tuesday felt pretty hard. Although not quite at last year's A race levels, the race was definitely strung out a bunch of times. People raced aggressively.
I noticed with alarming clarity that when the race got strung out I suffered. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this because although I haven't raced outside I didn't think I'd suffer so much. Obviously I lack some aerobic conditioning, even for me. The only thing I can think of is that I haven't been riding very hard on the trainer; combined with my almost 3 month late start, I'm starting on March legs when everyone else has June legs. If that's the case I never realized how important it was to start early. That's food for thought for a different post - I think it's significant for someone that is "just starting out".
Legs failing me, I had to let gaps go.
As the attacks continued I started doing something I never expected to do - letting gaps go. I literally couldn't respond to the pace surges. I felt like a restrictor plate racer in an otherwise open field (restrictor plates artificially choke car engines, it's like breathing through a straw). I was okay with the easy stuff but as soon as I gunned it my power seemed capped. Based on my SRM data, my heartrate basically plateaued at about 160 bpm. I lacked the conditioning to rev my heart into the upper 160s, something I could do in 2015.
Sitting second wheel, with Jeff right behind.
Picture by Jeff Cote.
Having said that I did manage to get up there once or twice, and someone (Jeff Cote in this case) happened to capture it on film.
My view at about the same time.
Sitting from left to right is the Base Camp with Junior, the Missus, and Pops.
No, I'm not off the back with this guy, although based on my normal crit riding tactics, if you see one rider in front of me it's either 100m to go or I'm off the back.
Moving up hard to do a leadout.
This is on the backstretch of the last lap.
I was pretty redlined so I decided not to contest the sprint. I did want to do whatever I could to lead out the sprint, but the actual sprinting bit I figured was a bit far off. On the last lap no one made an early move so I could follow wheels without going into the red. On the backstretch I moved up the left side.
When I got about 3rd wheel, drawing up to Ralph on ERRACE, I was shouting to get on my wheel and tapping my hip. My riding broadcasted that I was going "now" but just to be sure I was also yelling it out loud and gesticulating as well. Ralph got the message and was the first to make a move.
Jeff takes over leadout duties and basically pulls me until the sprint truly starts.
At the same time my teammate Jeff thought it would be a nice gift to have me win in front of my Pops. Very touching, to be honest, because I really hadn't thought of it. I went out and won the 2005 Bethel Spring Series for my mom, and my dad was there cheering on the sidelines. In 2010 I won and, in my mind, that was for my dad. Now, though, not much registers with him, so any win would be really for my benefit.
Well, maybe Junior's also. He's still getting to understand the whole racing thing and he is learning about "first, second, third, fourth" etc, and it would be cool if he could say "My dad was first!".
In case you're wondering about the Missus, I think if I won she'd be happy for me, but she also knows that my sit and sprint tactics work pretty well with the B race. Plus as a long time racer it's not nice to beat up on newer riders. It's like a low level black belt (mainly earned because you'd have to be a blackbelt in your 34th season of racing... has it been that long?) "winning" against a white or yellow belt.
If I won the A race she'd be extremely surprised as I've never won a proper A race here before (I'm not counting the rain-shortened one from eons ago).
I did win a B race in 2014 but it was about as hard a race as I've ever done, mainly because most of the protagonists were Cat 3s by the end of the season. So there's that. We'll see how it goes this year, but my expectation is that I won't go for a win in the B race.
Note Jeff and I have moved right to get out of the way.
As Jeff pulled like a madman I sat on his wheel. To put things in perspective my power numbers here were pretty low. My initial surge to move up the side took about 640 watts, so something I could sustain to the line. Jeff went and I hit 800 watts briefly to get on his wheel, but sitting on his wheel my power quickly dropped into the 300-400w range. I'm sure Jeff was more in the 800w range, if not more.
Jeff moved gently to the right as his legs started to go. I moved with him, not intending to sprint, opening up the left/inside for whoever. At this point Ralph was on my wheel but I didn't know that. I just hoped someone got my wheel before Jeff did his big effort.
Note Jeff kneeling by the cone, taking a picture.
A few riders passed us before we coasted across the line. Jeff's leadout was super effective, with just Ralph on our wheel.
The picture Jeff Cote took.
The field was pretty splintered at the finish. It's a sign of a good leadout. The point with a leadout is to first keep the tactical situation static, i.e. people really don't move around much because it's all they can do to just hold the wheel in front of them. The other point is to try and reduce the odds. Usually a leadout will occur around course features like a corner or wind or something. By doing what amounts to an early sprint, a leadout really amplifies the pack effects of said corner or wind or whatever. A lot of times a good leadout will cause gaps to form in the field, like if the leadout started just before a corner it's very difficult to accelerate up to leadout speed when you're focused on not sliding out in a corner.
In my case my "leadout" wasn't super fast because Jeff easily rolled by me. I should have been going a bit harder, closer to the 800w number I hit while getting on Jeff's wheel. However because of my speed differential to the riders at the front of the field I didn't want to go much harder.
Plus, to be totally frank, I didn't think I could go much harder.
Junior and my bike. Note ISM saddle.
After the race Junior, as usual, wanted to pedal the bike, meaning backward. His delight in everything always brings a smile to my heart. Last week I turned off the camera immediately but this week I tried to capture some of his glee in playing with my bike.
With extremely threatening clouds virtually at the course we packed up as quick as possible. My Pops doesn't move fast so if we got hit with a downpour it would have been very wet. As it was was hit some heavy rain just a few miles away from the venue.
As far as the race numbers go, I was actually a bit shocked. I knew the race was hard but I didn't realize just how hard. I averaged 197w for the 40 minutes we raced, including the two neutral laps. Golden Cheetah (the power software I use) is weird - it also says I averaged 215w, which is probably an error. Even worse it says my weighted average ("normalized power") was 210w. In other words it's saying my average was 215w but my normalized was lower at 210w. I'm sticking with the 197w. My average heartrate was just 157 bpm, well below what I'd expect to see.
I did hit a lot of peaks but none of them were very high. With Zwift I've gotten into the habit of looking for 23 second peaks so I do that even now, to give me some comparison numbers. In Zwift, for a max effort, I'll usually see 800-850w, with my best numbers being in the 950w range. In the race my best 23 second power was on the last lap and I did just 547w.
On the other hand I broke 600w about 20 times (of those four efforts broke 800w), meaning the race required me to make some efforts. If I was better, if I could rev my heart a bit more, I probably would have had bigger peaks but fewer of them - bigger efforts to get on a wheel but saving me the need to close gaps later.
So I got rid of the longer position. I went back to the red bike, which has my favored FSA bars in the right position and a properly adjusted headset. I do miss the slightly shorter stays of the black bike so maybe the thing to do is to move the stem/bars over to that. Not yet though as that's a lot of work.
I'm still on the fence about the 170 mm cranks. I felt like I couldn't surge well with the 170s, like I couldn't close gaps quickly. I'm definitely more a pusher than a spinner, although that might be because I used 175s for 10 of the last 12 seasons. However I definitely tend to push too much, as illustrated by the time I had a mechanical and had to do the Tuesday Night (A) race in the 39T chainring. So maybe I need to learn how to spin again?
I don't know.
It might be that it'll be easier for me to put the 175s back on. I felt capped like this in 2003 when I tried 175s for the first time. I felt like it in 2008, when I had only 170 cranks for the SRM, and again in 2011, when I tried to find some more speed. My best years in that time, 2005, 2010, 2015, I raced 175s.
Hm hm hm.