Friday, September 02, 2016

Tactics - Bike Throw, 2005 Bethel Spring Series

Bike throw pictures. They fascinate me because it's a skill/practice thing. Pretty much anyone can learn to throw their bike in one or two tries, and after 20 or 30 practice throws (it might take a few minutes, or, if you're actually sprinting a little before the throw, maybe an hour), you'll be pretty proficient at it.

Yet even pros don't throw their bikes properly at the line. These are guys that make their living on results, at least if they're vying for a win. Okay, fine, the team rider that is supposed to pull the first 150 km of the race, I get that they don't get into situations very often where they're trying to win a race. But even the most hardcore domestique should know how to throw a bike at the finish.

Imagine if it's the one day out of ten years where your break actually made it to the finish intact and now it's just you and a couple other riders going for the win. You jump well, you sprint well, and your body is even ahead of the next rider... but at the line the other rider beats you with a bike throw.

How horrible is that?

Not just that, how horrible is it when the loser realizes that it's just a little bit of practice, a little bit of horsing around, that lost the race?

Recently two riders made it to the finish of a race and for once both had spectacular bike throws. One won, one lost, but it certainly wasn't because of a poor bike throw. It's good to see that in a pro race.

For some reason I never posted these pictures from the 2005 Bethel Spring Series on the blog, or if I did I can't find them. So I'm putting them here, possibly again, for reference.

To me normally the Series was the World Championships of racing so it was really, really important for me to do as best as I could. However, two years prior, I'd promised my mom to win the race for her about a month before she died.

This made the Series even more significant to me.

My friendly arch rival that year was Morgan. He's an admittedly better racer than me but he'd spread himself a bit thin by trying to win both the Masters and Cat 3-4 Series yet again. This led to him not starting one of the Cat 3-4 races after an icy cold rainy day sapped him of strength in the Masters race.

Each time we went head to head in the sprints he absolutely demolished me, typically by a solid 10 or 20 feet, if not more. However, because he missed one race, and I think in another he had some problem, I ended up coming into the last week with a 1 point lead.

On the last week the top seven racers got 10, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 points respectively. If tied on points whoever placed ahead of the other on the last day would win. Therefore I basically had to beat Morgan. If he got any place I'd have to place in front of him. Even if he got just 7th he'd tie me on points but if I didn't place in front of him he'd win on the tie-breaker.

I had a bit of help, both from teammates and friends, including some very strong riders that could pull like mad. They knew that it had to come down to a sprint, and that I'd handle the final lap or two on my own.

Morgan had a superb team, including a Portuguese ex-pro. They were strong and motivated, and collectively had much more experience than my team. More than anything I feared them setting up a break so that Morgan could bridge to it. I wouldn't be able to hang in a break so a move like that would end my chances of retaining the lead.

Another racer John was in the mix. Like me he preferred sprints, but that spring I'd been outsprinting him consistently. He knew this and admitted later that he wasn't up to it that day. A realist, he would be satisfied holding onto third overall. However he decided at some point that his team would ride for me if it came down to Morgan and myself.

Finally the local shop team, Bethel Cycle, had two very strong crit racers looking to win the day. Both of their sprinters, Stephen and Bryan, were friends of mine, but on that day I couldn't count on them for any gifts.

Even with the relentless attacking by Morgan's team, it came down to a field sprint, thanks to the efforts of my teammates, John's teammates, Bethel Cycle (who wanted to win the sprint), and a friend here and there. On the bell lap Bethel Cycle put four riders up front just after Turn One, two leadout men and two sprinters. I sat on their wheel and I think Morgan was on my wheel.

The first leadout man peeled off rather quickly, leaving Brian W to do the majority of the lap at the front. Patiently the rest of the field waited as we flew down the backstretch. Then Brian pulled off, absolutely exploded, and the sprint started to unfold. Unfortunately for Stephen and Bryan, the leadout Brian couldn't make it another 100 meters or so, and so one had to start the sprint early. The fourth rider was already in trouble, which set Morgan and myself up for a battle royale.

As we hit the uphill finish the two Bethel sprinters both blew up at the same time, jamming up the inside line. I managed to clear them to the right but Morgan got boxed in on the left curb. He had to back out of that spot, go around the two riders to their right, and hunt me down before the finish line.

After I passed Bryan I found myself on a clear road, nothing between me and the finish line, and something like 75 meters to go. I thought for certain that Morgan had run into problems, I knew there would be no one else approaching me (and it didn't matter if anyone except Morgan did approach me).

I started thinking about if I should raise my hands or not. Maybe just one. I've only raised my hands once and it was a two up sprint and the other guy sat up long before the finish line. I even looked back and confirmed he'd stopped sprinting before I raised my hands.

The only time I've ever raised my hands at the finish.
It was 1992, almost 13 years before this particular Bethel Spring Series.

So all this was going through my head as I got onto the flat part of the road by the finish, maybe 15 or 20 meters to go.

Then, to my absolute horror, I saw a wheel coming up fast on my right. I couldn't even make out the jersey but I knew the only racer who could make that move was Morgan.

I pedaled a few desperate pedal strokes to the line and threw my bike as far forward as I could. I looked over at Morgan as I did and ended up a bit disoriented, losing the grip on one side of my bars. It slewed me to the left and I almost crashed into the curb.

I had no idea if I'd won or not, and in fact I thought I'd given away the win by dreaming about "posting up" (the raised arms thing).

You can see that we're already throwing our bikes.
At this point our bikes are even.

Here I'm starting to really drop back over the saddle.
This is pushing the bike forward.

I'm running out of "going backward" room.
However it seems that I've done enough to keep my bike in front.

Any my front wheel passes the line before his.

In the last picture you can see that my head and shoulders are in front of Morgan's. If neither of us had thrown our bikes I'd have won, barely. If I did a less intense throw, or no throw at all, it's clear that Morgan would have beaten me. This is because my head is usually over the front wheel, at least where the hub is, and if you moved my wheel back so that the center of the wheel was under my head... I'd have lost by about the margin I won by.

It looks all set and pretty in still motion, but if you watch the clip in real time all this stuff unravels really fast. Go to about 5:45.

2005 Bethel Spring Series

Ultimately the finish line camera told the story. Both Morgan and I checked ourselves because we both really didn't know who won. I was also the promoter so I had to make sure that the win was legitimate, not just because I made the race happen.

Morgan later told me that he still thinks about the race. It was a good race, a fair race, a hard race. We both raced to our limits, we both made our moves, and we both did a technically perfect sprint. In the end the race tilted in my direction, but it could have gone either way.

No comments: