Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Ris Van Bethel, March 11, 2007

Compared to last week, things were a lot more chaotic from a promoter's point of view. First there was the Daylight Savings thing and the earlier "spring ahead" date. I didn't think this was a problem until we got to the course and it was still pitch-black outside. When a guy is holding his release form in front of the van headlight so he can see it, you know it's pretty dark out. The sun made a magical appearance just as our registration crew got under way, so ultimately it worked out.

For registration anyway.

The heavy fog started to cool and sink to the ground (I'm no weatherman but that's what appeared to happen). The frozen ground. The frozen pavement. What was a nice but damp surface at 6:45 AM became a sheet of black ice by 8:00 AM. Incredibly people were still riding around and no one crashed. People did say their back tires were slipping. One rider remarked "I know I'm strong but I'm not that strong!" Well, when I went to check things out, I could barely walk on the road, it was that icy. We promptly shut down the course.

I bought a really cool flamethrower thing just for an occasion like this. I was eager to try it out. And after searching for a while realized I left the proprietary hose at home. No cool flamethrower.

Bring in three leafblowers. If you park them on ice, it'll melt and dry the ice in about five minutes. Then you have a 6 inch by 6 inch patch of nice pavement, surrounded by ice.

We realized it might take a while to clear a couple hundred yards of black ice.

Next try - send some of the CT Coast Cycling crew went to buy some salt. They bought 400 pounds of salt. I did give them $100 and told them to spend it all. They stopped at $84, luckily for me. We spread 120 pounds of salt in the two big icy spots (i.e. the shaded parts of the course) and presto, ice went away. And yes, they gave me the change.

Just to be safe, we put cones in the vicinity of the icy spots so riders wouldn't want to ride there.

So, an hour and a half late, the very understanding and patient Cat 5's went off.

We had already seen a lot of traffic in the park due to a gymnastics competition held at a building at the bottom of the hill. In other words, where the sprint starts. We gave them priority but we still had to wait for open spots on the course (i.e. after the pack went by) to let them in. The traffic was very understanding considering they're driving their kids to a competition where they are judged on individual performance in front of everyone else.

It might be like doing stints on a wattage trainer, one at a time, in front of all the racers and spectators, and being judged publicly on your performance. Nerve-wracking. Not conducive towards polite traffic manners. Ultimately there were probably 100+ families driving in and out of the course and things went smoothly.

And finally there was exciting racing as usual. The 5's (there was one race) raced hard and ended in a field sprint. The 4's were very animated and there was a two man break, one dropped, a solo bridge (so now two men up front), a solo chase attempt, and finally the finish where the two man break won and the field swallowed up the solo chase attempt and finished as a whole.

But in the Masters race there was a pretty bad crash in the final sprint. It seems someone basically fell on another guy, the guy saved him by staying upright, but when the original someone recovered and suddenly unloaded the good Samaritan's shoulder, the good Samaritan went down. A third rider went down over said Samaritan, appeared to have landed on his eye/face based on the destroyed lens (amateur CSI - Crash Scene Investigator - here), and unfortunately a fourth rider hit the third rider hard somewhere (but not in his face as the poor guy originally thought).

That third rider, as you can imagine, was hurt pretty bad.

Obviously not a good thing. The officer was down there quickly, EMT's and some other peoples (not sure of titles) were there, and ultimately the downed rider was backboarded, loaded on an ambulance, and carted to the hospital.

One positive thing that I saw was that all the racers, regardless of their "race face attitude", were extremely conscious of clearing the road as soon as they knew what was happening. This reminded me that the racing community bands together when "real" things happen. They might argue about someone holding their line or closing the door in the sprint or pulling in a break but when it comes to real life, they stick together and look out for each other.

With everyone's thoughts subdued a bit, the race I focus on, the 3-4's, lined up. I was wearing my helmet cam again, had just eaten a mega-calorie muffin and coffee courtesy of Matt and Kate, and topped off with a couple of Power Gels and a swig of water.

My promoter's cap was off after a very chaotic morning. And my racer's cap was on. Literally. And from a racer's point of view, things were good.

That missing fairy godmother made her appearance today, waved her wand, and things were very bright. I felt very feisty. I really didn't warm up - after riding for about 2 minutes the crash occurred, I rode down the hill to the crash site, back up, and then a lap. But then those that know me know that today's warm up is typical for me - it would not affect the race.

Earlier I talked to the mushy Giant guy (from last week) today and he apologized up and down for putting a psychological brake on my bike. But I was really, really sick then and this week I was less sick (almost not sick). Lo and behold my really mushy bike suddenly hummed and quivered like a finely tuned race bike just aching to go fast.

Okay, I admit I did put an extra 50 (!) psi in each tire.

The tires sung up the hill and I found myself moving up at will (on the hill). I didn't think I'd drink too much and remembering how tossing my bottle helped last week, I tossed it this week too. I didn't wait till two to go though. I tossed it a bit earlier. Like after about 10 minutes of racing.

The temperature started to drop, the wind picked up, and then suddenly my mouth was parched and my legs were getting crampy. I started having serious problems applying power while seated so I had to stand whenever I needed to make efforts.

The rosy picture appeared to fade a bit. That fairy godmother stuff wears out pretty quickly sometimes.

The topper was that I watched eight guys ride up the road. And I was right there when they went. I kept thinking, "Oh, this looks dangerous" and figured I'd try and do a hard bridge to get across to them.

A hard bridge (my term) is the only kind of bridge I can do. It involves going flat out for a minute or less. If I'm not on by then I have a serious chance of not being able to hang on when the field catches me. A hard bridge attempt is not to be taken lightly. I've only executed this once successfully at Bethel, a few years ago. And the field promptly brought everyone back.

So everything had to be perfect. Attack as soon as we hit the non-wind section, drop the proverbial hammer, try and do most of the bridging in that section, and then try and hang on for dear life in the wind till I get there. I'd have to be in a particular position, feel totally right, and be psyched to do it.

So I'm thinking about this and suddenly the sprinter who slayed all in the field sprint last week rocketed up the side and away into the distance. A lap later he was still struggling to bridge but he was almost there. And then he was in there and disappearing up the road.

I really had to get up there.

Every lap, something wasn't right for my hard bridge. And every lap the chances of a successful bridge looked smaller and smaller. Positioning in the field, legs a bit tweaked when I'm in position, waited a bit too long in the non-wind section (due to being blocked in as the field spreads out when there's less wind), and finally, after three or four laps of this nonsense, a spectator yelled out.

"This is the last lap you can bridge!"

No kidding. I thought I was a lap late already. And it took me a lap to finally follow what seemed to be a good wheel. He blew, I pulled through (no warp speed attack though - I think I already realized the inevitable), and when I decided there was no way I was going to make it, I sat up for the field.

The break had already gained 25 or 30 seconds.

A long time friendly competitor rode up to me and said "That's it, race over." And I agreed. We were going pretty hard but the gap remained constant. There were a lot of blocking teammates and it just didn't seem possible to bring them back.

The only thing that kept a flicker of hope alive was the steady gap - it never increased.

Coming up on the lap cards (after the timed section of the race), some of the big teams that missed the break decided they'd do something about it. One rider in particular rallied his team and two other teams, and about ten strong riders found their way to the front and started to hammer.

Suddenly, I felt like I was in the Tour, following a huge chase by Lampre, Lotto, and Milram. The sprinter's teams had come to the front and wanted to settle things once and for all. The field was totally strung out - what a sight to see! The break resisted for a lap or two but then the gap began to tumble. I thought, wow, we might catch them. But it'll be really close. I was thinking we may catch them at the bottom of the hill on the last lap, with about 150 meters to go.

At two to go, the field had closed to 7 seconds. Theoretically a strong counter could close the gap solo. In fact, if my legs were feeling great, I would have contemplated such a move. And quickly discarded it because the break would get caught and I'd have just spent my sprint money. It didn't help that the pace was 28 mph on the windy backstretch, the field was totally strung out, and my legs were feeling not too great.

At one to go, the field was still back by 5 or so seconds. A field sprint would easily swarm the break. But the field was so strung out that in reality the gap was still probably 10 seconds back to me. The elastic was stretching and started to fray up front.

One team did some monster pulls there and I started to psych myself up for the sprint. Inexplicably, while doing this, I totally zoned and let about five riders past me - I guess I was focusing on drawing together all my reserves for this one final effort.

Suddenly, at about 300 meters to go, the front five or ten racers launched their sprint in a bid to catch the break. The guys right behind eased and bunched up. Yours truly was right behind them.


Brakes. Wait for the wind to die down a bit - I learned a long time ago that a couple seconds in the wind will eat up magnitudes more seconds of sprinting later. And when the field rounded the curve at the bottom of the hill and the wind started to relax, I launched.

It was nowhere as pitiful as last week's sprint but I lacked the snap I had to have to do something special. It was, unfortunately for me, a lackluster sprint.

Incredibly, the front sprinters (I think) caught the break halfway up the hill. My guess was wrong by 75 meters. One team totally rocked and got a lot of places.

Me, I was content to follow whoever was in front of me right up to the line. Eighth at the line, and I'd consider it virtually a field sprint.

Ends up I followed the guy in the picture from one of my first posts. No dramatic bike throw this time. I simply sat down as I crossed the line.

I put a vest on and started the Pro-1-2-3 race. A lap or two in I peeled off. Suddenly I didn't feel good and I didn't want to gap off whoever was behind me. I watched the race with the officer working the race. A guy who'd been racing at Bethel since he was something like 15 years old rocked the field. Rite-Aid pro and all. Rode away from them on the last lap. And there were a lot of good racers behind him.

We packed up with a lot of friendly racers' help. When the van was full, we did a "drive-by" of the course and picked up whatever was there. This week there were lots of gel wrappers - last week just one. And then drove home.

Only one unfinished thing to do.

After I got home, I called the "third guy" at home. He's there, recovering. He whacked his head hard enough not to remember too much. He didn't know I was there. He didn't know what happened. He didn't remember hitting anything. He recalled seeing the one lens which probably saved his eye - he landed on his face at just-before-sprint speed. He remembered kicking the dirt with his heels - and he was laying on the pavement with his heels on the dirt when I left him with the EMT's and policemen. Other than a bit of memory, he listed his losses as a right/rear shifter, the glasses, and one other thing (I recall his seat looking kind of tattered).

He was okay enough to reminisce about doing sprints at SUNY Purchase 15 years ago. He laughed and said that with all the close calls there, he should have had the instincts to avoid whatever happened at the race. I guess it happens to the best of us. Anyway, he sounded pretty chipper all considering.

Hey he was laughing. It probably hurt his head to laugh. But he laughed anyway.

So all is well.


Derek said...

Found your site on BikeForums. This was an awesome report. Has me wanting to bust out of this cube, get on my bike, and find another cyclist to race somewhere... anywhere...

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Aki and great race coverage - just as good as the cam - I felt like I was right there. I'm glad the "Third Man" is doing ok. That's sure scary. I'm glad you're obviously feeling better too!

Anonymous said...

That was great. You're so good at telling stories. :)