So I had this revelation a couple days ago. I'd revamped my trainer set up a bit and realized that I'd trained myself to ease into my sprints so the tire wouldn't slip on the trainer. Although that's fine for Zwift it's not good for real bike racing. I've felt like in the past few years I rarely got in a solid, solid jump, and I think this is the reason why. I stopped training outside, I stopped doing these massive stomp efforts, and instead I was doing these softer sprints on the trainer. Consider trying to jump into the draft of a passing truck - one chance to get it right and it takes a massive, massive effort.
I hoped that this evening I'd be able to do a proper sprint. Although I couldn't fix the power bit of my SRM (I screwed up something when I soldered in the last battery I think) I figured just doing the massive stomp/sprint would be a good thing to experience.
As usual I started getting ready while still at home, starting with pinning my number.
My dad had a little crisis which distracted me. I forgot to finish pinning the #2.
Due to an accident on I-291 we decided to head into the heart of Hartford, taking the I-91 HOV lane. We knew we'd need to navigate regular I-84 to the Rent but it seemed worth it. Until we took a wrong exit and had to go past the exit, turn around, and get back. We got to the venue with a few minutes remaining before the start.
Fortunately for me the Juniors had the last race of their summer series and there was a bit of a delay after their finish. This meant that not only could I kit up and all that, I even had time to do a couple laps.
This Tuesday the weather ended up perfect. I think it was about 80 deg F with low humidity. There was some wind but it was opposite the normal wind, giving us basically a tailwind finish. The swirling wind around the stadium meant the right side crosswind was still there.
To my absolute shock two guys rolled up to me as I got on my bike - Vassos and Bryan. Vassos was one of my teammates a long time ago, in the mid-90s. He raced for a rival team until then but their core riders, led by a guy named Gene, moved over to Carpe Diem Racing. He's one of the few guys that I put in a clip commenting on the last of the Bethel Spring Series races (go to 6:19).
Bryan I've known since he was something like 15, we raced against each other for literally decades. For something like 20 years we talked about racing together on the same team, we have the utmost respect for one another, and only in 2011 did we get to race on the same team. It was after 2010 (when I defeated him in a very closely fought Bethel Spring Series finale) that he could move over to Expo. Ironically we pretty much never raced together because the first year I upgraded to 2 (2011) while he remained a 3 (but won the Bethel Spring Series in a dominating fashion), then Junior came along so I really backed off on the racing. We couldn't even do Masters races together that much because he's younger than me. His work cranked up at the same time so he stopped racing. This was the first race in three years for him, and, really, because he did one race here and there, he really hadn't "been a racer" since his successful 2011.
To see both these guys on the same day was an absolute bonus. I spent the extra time before our race chatting like mad with them. They admitted that they weren't sure about how they'd hold up in the race. I wasn't sure myself, seeing as I got shelled a bunch of times. I hoped the Juniors would take it easy on us.
Vassos (Class Cycles) and Bryan (Expo)
I did give them some advice while we rolled around. I pointed out some of the more diesel riders - they're the good wheels to follow when there are gaps everywhere because they just diesel along and gather everyone up. I also cautioned them on how strong the Juniors were, telling them the time a Junior pulled the field around the course for a while and when the group moved left I just stayed right and sat up. I was absolutely cooked just sitting on wheels.
Other than that it was just business as usual. Bryan is one of the rare riders that feels comfortable in a break as well as in a field sprint. Vassos is more a sprinter but he's often given up his chances to help friends or teammates. Both are exemplary team players, willing to cover moves, never taking a pull if a teammate is up the road, etc. Both are very crafty as well, combining good judgment with well honed race instincts. They're ideal teammates for sure.
We also had Esteban, Junior's new favorite teammate thanks to a delivery of a boxload of Thomas the Tank Engine tracks and accessories. He was more a break rider and he has what has got to be the best reading on team work habits I've ever seen. I don't think I've ever talked to him about tactics specifically but he knows exactly how to help me, how hard to pull, when to ease, everything, all to help me. I try to return the favor, basically by marking moves whenever he goes. I think, though, that the favors go more my way than his.
Junior waving over to the right.
As usual Junior was sitting with the Missus and my dad. I try to wave but it's not really good to do that in the middle of an intense part of a race. At first he was crushed when I didn't wave to him every lap but the Missus explained that if I was working hard I wouldn't be able to wave. So when I roll by, nose to my stem, hanging on for dear life, I'll not wave and be okay with it.
He'll turn to the Missus and say in a very serious tone, "Daddy is working hard."
Bryan off the front, to the left.
I think Bryan felt okay after a few laps because he launched a move. I'd done the same, on the second lap of the race. I didn't launch really but a guy was going up the road and no one was reacting. I was in the perfect spot, about 4-5 riders back, so I just put my hands on the hoods and rolled for a lap. I almost blew myself up but fortunately the pace didn't skyrocket after and I could recover. Bryan took my lead and did a little move. One rider bridged to him but then we all regrouped.
After Turn 3, shelter to the right.
The wind played its normal crucial role today. It was a crosswind at the start/finish, much better than the normal headwind we've seen all summer. This meant that the final stretch started out forcing the riders to seek shelter to the right (wind hitting us from the left). As the road curved left we'd sit a bit less to the side and a bit more behind.
Start/finish area, shelter to the right.
I'm sheltered to the right here, by the start/finish area. I remember times where the wind was much stronger from the left and everyone would be scrambling to avoid hitting the right side curb. Nothing like that tonight but I did get close now and then.
After Turn 1, shelter to the left.
Once we took the right at Turn one the wind hit us from the right side. To stay sheltered one had to move from the right side to the left side. This is tricky because you need to drift back off the wheel to your left, allow the wheel to cross a bit to the right, then move up to take shelter, all in the several seconds it takes to take the corner. You can see in the picture above that I'm sitting to the left of the rider in the red/orange helmet.
Note that the rider to my left is not really sheltered well. If he dropped back slightly behind me he'd be better protected, or if he moved up and sat between the two riders in front he'd be sheltered by the white/yellow rider on the red bike.
Backstretch after Turn 2, shelter to the left.
On the backstretch the wind still swirled around the stadium to our right so the wind hit us from the right. I stayed left to stay sheltered. This is the stretch I think I messed up most, I was on the right side most of the time.
Moved over to clear my nose.
I haven't done this in a while but I did so I wanted to point this out. I had clear my nose so I moved over to do so. Common courtesy. If it's in the throes of the bell lap or something I try to do it discretely and politely. But when things are tactically neutral I'll check, move over, clear my nose, check, and move back. Usually riders let you back in because otherwise next time you might just clear your nose in the field.
Sitting between two Juniors, comfortable.
One thing that surprised me was this bit. I was sitting between two Juniors. The thing was that I didn't realize this happened - it was a total non-event for me. That meant I was totally comfortable sitting there, I trusted the riders, yada yada yada. That's a good thing.
Sheltering right while everyone else in front of me is pretty much in the wind.
This shot struck me as well. I was sheltered to the right but everyone in front of me was lined up nicely in single file. Problem is that the wind is from our left a bit so it's better to sit to the right for shelter. I was soft pedaling here but I think others were working.
Esteban attacks (blue jersey, red shorts).
He'll solo to the line.
Esteban attacked at some point in the race. He rolled off (from the sheltered side, mind you) and quickly settled into a slightly-higher rhythm. He later admitted to me that he had a minor mechanical issue with his bike. To stay out of trouble he wanted to sit at the front and pull a bit.
Bryan (Expo) and me marking moves as Esteban gets clear of the last two riders chasing him.
Problem was that Bryan covered moves. I didn't cover per se but I wasn't moving and I was at or near the front. When the last two guys chasing Esteban sat up there was a momentary lull in the pace. That was all Esteban needed. His slightly-above-pack-pace pulled him away from the field and netted him an unexpected win.
My view for a few laps, until 2 to go.
Back in the field one of the super steady and willing to work riders sat the front, dragging all of us around for a few laps. I happened to be on his wheel when he went to the front so I sat there, second wheel, watching him work.
For the first time this year I felt a glimmer of form. My legs dropped quickly. I wasn't overchurning the gear, I could put a little stamp at the end of the pedal stroke.
Unfortunately I have zero data so I can't check cadence or HR or power. Hopefully I'll have things resolved for next week and I can get some data.
3rd person view, courtesy Jeff Cote.
My head is down, which apparently is my tell.
Also I'm not super close to the wheel.
Sure enough we went by and I saw 3 to go. Second wheel, 3 to go, that's a bit forward. I knew there'd be a surge and I could get back into the field, sit 10 or 15 riders back, and see how things played out.
I waited for the surge.
Coming up on 2 to go the field went around.
Finally, just before 2 to go, the diesel pulled off, fortunately on the sheltered/right side. The field rolled by offering a massive amount of shelter (and they were on the correct side to offer me shelter). I checked to make sure I was clear and moved a bit to the left, into the field's protective embrace.
2 to go!
So at 2 to go I was sitting sort of on the side of the field. Riders naturally sat up or blew up in front, reducing the numbers between me and the air in front of the field.
I should point out that my philosophy for these B races has been the following:
1. Make it to the finish.
2. If I finish and there is no break, lead out the sprint for the field or for someone in particular.
3. If I finish and there is a break, try to do well in the field sprint.
Although Esteban was up the road, I was thinking selfish thoughts.
I really wanted to do a big sprint, to try and break that habit of easing into sprints. I also knew that this was the second-last week of the Tuesday Night races and, realistically, I wouldn't be racing anymore this season. If next week's race got rained out this would be the last race of the season for me.
Therefore selfish thoughts: I wanted to sprint for myself tonight.
Bell lap, just before Turn 1.
At the bell there were maybe 8 or 9 riders in front of me, other than Esteban of course. A couple small gaps opened up but I was more concerned with how far up the very front was relative to me. If there was a gap to close I'd deal with it later. If the front got too far away... that would make things challenging. Which wasn't a bad thing, it would just be challenging.
Bell lap, Turn 2.
Through Turn 2 and the front of the field stretched and contracted. A gap still existed between me (really the wheel I was following) and the front of the group. I still had confidence in my sprint though, and I figured that things would come together by Turn 3.
Bell lap, back stretch.
On the back stretch I knew the gaps in front of me were significant but I still felt things were closeable. The rider in front of me rallied and closed the gap just before we hit Turn 3. I think that if he didn't do it I'd have gone. Since he went the point was moot.
On a side note, if I was in the front group and noticed no one directly on my wheel (by looking down briefly to check shadows), I'd have turned around, checked for a gap behind me. If there was a gap I'd have jumped early. This is basically how I won that race in 2015, basically by accident, because I had a very small gap, just like the one above, with one turn to go before the finish.
Bell lap, just before Turn 3.
Bryan moved up hard here.
Fortunately for me no one went early up front (I think they even eased?) and the rider in front of me closed the gap in front of him. As we approached Turn 3, though, another twist in the plot appeared - Bryan rolled past me on the right.
Shelter will be to the right of green kit, behind Bryan in the red Expo kit.
I decided I wanted to get on Bryan's wheel after the turn. Since I wanted to be to the right exiting the final turn anyway, and since Bryan was there, I decided to move over a bit and follow him. If nothing else I could sit when he jumped, or I could jump around him, or something. It would work out.
Sheltered on the right going into the sprint.
We hit the final straight without any massive acceleration. The sprint opened up pretty late so we weren't going very fast at first. For some reason everyone was waiting for the jump, which, to be honest, is better for me.
I didn't consider jumping out of the last turn because I was too far back - if I was just a couple spots up I'd have jumped first, before the turn, especially with the relatively kind wind direction at the finish line. It'd be a fast sprint for sure and those usually work in my favor.
Early jumps seem to favor me as well, possibly a side effect of the long sprints on Zwift. One week I jumped halfway down the backstretch, sprinted for a total of 20 seconds, and had such a gap that I could soft pedal for 20 seconds to the line. This week I was focused on doing a big jump and a real sprint so I wanted to make my efforts in the last 200m to the line.
As the riders in white drift apart Bryan goes up the middle.
I hesitate to give him a chance to get clear.
As much as I wanted to do a big jump, I couldn't hurt Bryan's chances in the process. When the leadout guy started to fizzle the two riders just behind him hesitated, drifting left and right. This opened up a hole between them, one that just screamed to be jumped through.
For a moment I hesitated, getting a read on what the two riders would do. If they closed in to get on Bryan's wheel I'd have room to maneuver. Also I didn't want to go with Bryan because if a good sprinter was on my wheel I'd just drag them up to Bryan. I banked on using my jump to gap off whoever was on my wheel and then I could wind out the sprint to the line.
When he jumped I jumped also.
As Bryan hit out for the line (he's never raced here before so he hasn't done this sprint dozens of times like I have) I jumped as well, and as we got toward the straight part I absolutely drilled it.
Sweeping around Bryan on the sheltered right side.
At the course straightened out I stayed to Bryan's right. Friend or not, teammate or not, I wanted to be on the sheltered side. I shifted up a gear, did another jump, and looked back.
Bryan in full cry.
There was no one close, Bryan was sprinting to the line, his son was there, and I wanted Bryan to win the sprint.
3rd person shot, courtesy Jeff Cote.
I'm trying to calculate where I need to be to lose a tight sprint to Bryan.
As we approached the line I wanted to see how close I could get to Bryan without passing him. Junior doesn't care at this point if I win or not, but Bryan's son is older and I wanted him to see his dad win the sprint. I took a celebration away from his son six years ago when I knocked Bryan off the top step of the podium at Bethel. Even though this wasn't some Series finale I could at least pay my respects to a good friend and person.
No need to sprint harder so finagled it so Bryan pipped me at the line.
Half a wheel. I wanted to be 2-3 inches behind, not 13-14 inches behind.
I did a bike throw that I'd crucify myself for if I did it for real, just horrible form, really didn't throw the bike, yada yada yada. I'd have fired myself if I was my team director.
Problem was that I was a bit too cautious, I lost by about half a wheel. Note that his hub is on the crack (the finish line) and my tire is just there. I wanted it to be that the front part of his rim was just past the crack and my tire was there, just a few inches.
I know, I should have thrown my bike for real.
I looked over at Bryan, he looked back, and we grinned like fools.
Pops is back there, Missus is barely visible to the left.
Note long finger gloves which I always wear in races.
I headed back to our base camp. Junior wanted to turn the cranks, backwards because that's the only way they turn when the bike's stationary. I grabbed another bottle of ice water. I was a bit more tired than I realized and really need to pedal a bit. My stomp sprint took a lot of gas out of me and for the first time in a while I felt the need to spin a bit.
I liked this shot, it's an unusual angle.
I rolled along with Jeff, another teammate as Bryan and Vassos had to get going for a long drive home. Jeff and Bryan moved to Expo together back in 2011. In that oh-so-difficult race in 2010 Jeff was one of Bryan's teammates trying to isolate me, trying to help Bryan hold the Leader's Jersey. Their team rode strongly and fairly and I had the utmost respect for their efforts. Jeff, after he joined Expo, laughed about how their (opposing) team had gotten all amped up about beating me and how it just fell apart in the last lap of the last race. I veered off when we got back to the start/finish and let Junior walk my bike to the car (with my hand on the saddle).
Vassos and Bryan both said bye as I was putting the bike away (with Junior's "help"). I headed back to base camp to get my dad and walk him to the car, Junior holding my free hand; the Missus carried the chairs and cooler. With everything put away we headed home, the Missus driving as I was a bit lightheaded. I don't think I could stop talking about Bryan and Vassos, how surprised I was to see them at the race.
I know that my limited race schedule is a temporary thing and that eventually I'll be able to race more again. It's a sad thing though. I'm not itching to race all the time because I know what it will take before I can do that. Yes I would have raced at New Britain this year if I could because that's within the same range as the Rent. But, no, it's okay that I can't race any other races right now.
With things the way they are it's days like these that make it super fun. Friends from 20+ years back, good riders, good racers, having fun racing our bikes, and, at some level, taking my mind off of other things.
Next week will be the last CCAP Tuesday Night Race for 2016. Race and barbecue. Then for me it'll be a long pause until the 2017 season.