Sunday, April 22, 2007

Plainville - A Diamond in the Rough

"Back in the day", the old guys would say. I was 15 and to me it seemed like all I heard about was "back in the day" from those old guys. I mean they were at least 20 or something, old fogeys, they had to shave and stuff. And they always talked about how lucky I was, how things were so much easier for me. When they started, racers were tougher and grittier and didn't rely on new-fangled equipment like they do nowadays.

Now I say "Back in the day". Go figure.

Well, back in the day when the racing community found a budding new racer, they'd call them a "diamond in the rough". Nothing negative about it - simply a racer that needed a bit of time to mature. They said this about Greg LeMond who ended up one of the best riders ever; they also said it of other racers, many of whom didn't make it through the system before burning up and dropping out.

I raced the Plainville Spring Series race yesterday. As soon as I did a lap in the race I knew that this was a diamond in the rough. The course has two right turns, a right "bend", and a right-left swerve. It is totally flat. It promotes speed work, pack riding skills, and encourages sharp attacks and violent chases. It even has a "last turn" which is reasonably critical in positioning for the sprint.

Okay, the weather was incredible - a touch over 70 degrees, sunny, a hint of wind. And although I hadn't ridden much in the last month or two (except racing at Bethel), I did do an intense two days prior - I rode just over two hours in two days. Not a lot I know but to me I felt like I was immersed in training (the two hours took place over three rides on Thursday and Friday, ending at 7:30 PM Friday). I had my new pedals, shoes, and a yet-to-be-mentioned gizmo so I was making efforts all over the place. So my legs felt reasonably good albeit a little more fatigued than normal. But with the lack of riding, fatigued legs felt a lot better than, say, puffy and swollen slow legs.

I got lost getting to the race, breaking a basic rule of bike racing - know where the race is before you leave the house. The Plainville police station was closed (I didn't want to call 911 to find out where the race was) and after about 45 minutes of rising panic I finally drove by a bike shop, slammed on the brakes, parked, ran in, and got directions. Ends up the exit where I made a highway u-turn was the exit for the race - if I'd gone right instead of left, I'd have been at the course almost an hour earlier.

Anyway, I got there, registered, started setting up the helmet cam, and tried to do everything at once. I lined up okay with a one lap warmup - I think that amounts to about 1 mile of riding including riding over from the parking lot.

There were all sorts of permutations in the race - individual and team standings, just like in Bethel. And with a smaller field and a lot of three teams present, I figured any break with the three teams would simply disappear up the road. And when the leader crashed at the start (dunno what happened) and the rival team launched half their team at the same time, we were off at a crackin' pace.

Small fields are terribly hard to read. It's more important to choose your moves because if you follow the wrong one and blow, you get dropped. And after I went with what I thought was the winning move, suddenly we got caught, I was blown, and hasta la vista, I was OTB.

I rolled around till I got lapped then sat at the back, which is where I should have been instead of bridging to breaks. And since I was a lap down, I didn't do much to interfere with the fight for the two overalls - the team and the individual prizes.

Because I got lost on the way to the race, I had had no time to learn who was in what place in the Series. So I had no idea who was in what position other than the leader (he wore a Leader's Jersey). He raced for team Blue. This other team wanted to beat them. That was apparent when one of their guys yelled to his teammates "We only chase Blue". They must have had second overall and wanted it to come down to a sprint.

Hey I know how to read races! With that in mind I stayed out of Blue and We Chase Blue's way.

Interestingly enough, with a few laps to go, another team's rider came up to me. They'd been somewhat active, had shown up with some numbers, but I didn't understand why. Well, it became clear at that point when the rider told me he was in second overall.


I asked about We Chase Blue - ends up they wanted the team prize.


Sub-plots within the plots.

Anyway Secondo would have to win and the current leader finish worse than third in order to take the Series. The only way to do that would be to bridge to a two man break and beat them. But it didn't seem likely (the other two teams were marking all the moves). And we were rapidly running out of race - it was only a few laps to go.

With some sketchiness in the field I moved up some and ended up semi-active, i.e. responsible for keeping on the wheel in front of me. I tried to be some invisible pack glue, holding things together but not influencing the moves.

With the bell approaching, I was following Secondo and he was trying to get his guys lined up to do a leadout. We Chase Blue had a good half dozen guys on the front. Blue, with the leader, were just behind.

I figured this would be the time when I tried to "get my lap back".

I rode around Secondo and a teammate who had just slotted in ahead of him. Knowing a good thing when they see it, they latched on, I think a third teammate getting the picture and joining the train. Then I started to gun it.

I had to get around the We Chase Blue leadout before the first turn - I didn't but I drew up next to them and we went into the first turn two wide. Then, after checking to make sure the guys were on my wheel, I moved my hands to the tops, sat upright, and started going hard.

I learned a long time ago if I leadout from the drops there's no draft - so my leadouts are on my tops, sitting up, elbows out, trying to be as tall and as wide as possible.

I accelerated to the low 30's and held it there. I recently saw a great clip of Fred Rodriguez leading out his man (I forget but maybe Zanini?) to a stage win in the Tour. I wanted to emulate him. But I'm no Freddy. I started to thrash. I started recruiting muscles I forgot existed. And finally I started to cramp a bit. I realized I couldn't make it to the final turn so I pulled off just short of it - ideally I should have gone around the turn in front and then pulled off.

About 6 or 7 riders came past me - the rest had been gapped.


They sprinted and after all that work, all that chasing, nothing changed overall, at least nothing at the top.

I spoke with the promoter as he's been struggling with the Series for two years. He mentioned some of the things he's run into over the last year. An unpleasant tenant near the course which he's seemed to be handling well so far. I've dealt with the same, even going to the guy's liquor store to speak with him about the "unpleasant marshal". Said marshal is now my fiancee and she told him he couldn't drive on the course as the race was about to pass. You can guess who's side I was on in that one.

Another problem - in the rush to give out prizes he gave out money to the wrong people. In one race the overall teams were thought to be tied on points and the promoter awarded the prize to the team that did better on the last day. But one rider's annual purchase license finally made it through the USAC system the previous week and his points at the beginning of the Series technically won his team, the one in second, the team GC. I told him he should ask for the money back as the now-second-place team technically didn't earn it. I've done the same - it's embarrassing but I awarded the team trophy to the wrong team one year. The team with the trophy graciously met with the team that won at a later race. The trophy changed ownership, they shook hands, and then proceeded to pound each other's legs into Jello in the race later that day. And personally I've mailed back prize money I didn't win - like my miraculous 6th at the Jiminy Peak Road Race. Miraculous because I got into my car after a lap and was well on my way home when the race finished.

And finally, like all new grassroots promoters, low turnouts have hurt his budget - I guess it's two years now where he's essentially paying a lot of money to watch other people race. He's struggled with race categories and is focused on trying to appeal to more racers willing to show up and race.

Like all new promoters, he has his struggles. That is what I call rough.

But the course really suits racers preparing for the speed and intensity of the summer racing. I think a cold, windy, sandy race there would be less than pleasant, but that would be the case anywhere. A day like yesterday was great. Very fast, very consistent, and a long enough course that you can't solo easily for a lap.

I call that a diamond.

I think this is a great venue. There are always improvements - the promoter was talking about what changes he wanted to make for next year before he finished paying out the prize money. I was doing the same at Bethel too.

Although technically his race sort of competes for a limited pool of racers with mine (since it's tough to do two days of racing in a row in March and April), I really hope his Series blossoms like Bethel did more than 10 years ago. His Series has slightly different offering than Bethel and I think it a better course for the new racers who need to get used to the speed of racing. Bethel is better for racers easing into the season.

And heck, maybe next year I can do both Series. I could virtually double the number of races I do every year!

Here's to polishing up a diamond.

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