Monday, March 10, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Ris Van Bethel recap

I started preparing for March 9th on Friday morning - when I woke up at 4:30 AM, I stayed up. On Friday it was 4:30 AM, but on Sunday, after Daylight Savings kicked in, it would be 5:30 AM.

And, on Sunday, it'd be time to get up.

Saturday I started "trying to get tired". I succeeded too, getting to bed (and sleep) about 7 hours before we were scheduled to wake up. Then, at 2:00 AM, I was up, my early bedtime no match for my body's ingrained day/night schedule. I tried to get back to sleep for a few hours but simply couldn't, so I lay in bed, waiting for my alarm, resigning myself to a long day at the races.

I got to do a lot of thinking about last week's race in those few hours. I hadn't been training too much once I returned from California, and while I was out there, I realized that I rode pretty strongly after a hard day or two. This past week, after taking a few days off from the bike, I did two hard days and one somewhat long day in the three days prior to the race. Not my normal operating procedure since I normally take Friday off before a Sunday race, not do 2 hours of pedal to the metal riding.

Nonetheless my unusual training meant that maybe things were a bit different now.

Sunday the weather at Bethel ended up cold and blustery - high 20s, low 30s, winds of up to 40+ mph. It got to the point where I had two guys literally holding the tent for much of the day. I was worried pieces of it would fly away (the removable sides, the tent top, or one of the ropes would let go) and I didn't want a tent or a side to go cartwheeling across the field or into one of our heaters.

I got to try my new torch out, one used to melt ice and such. I blasted a patch of sand to test it but after that it wouldn't ignite. And with all the dead, dry grass around (think of California in fire season but with 50 degree lower temperatures), I realized that my numb brain wasn't working very well. The ignitor failure was probably a blessing in disguise because it would have been bad news to have the local fire department called to douse a fire next to the course.

We left the frozen sand for the sun and chipped away at what we could.

With the cold weather forecast I'd prepared vigorously so I'd have enough fuel for the day. I brought the microwave, pasta, bottles of water, and some high-sugar, high-caffeine energy drinks. Then I realized I forgot the pasta and the bottles at the house.

Smart move, Sherlock.

So, after 6 hours and two Dunkin Donuts egg sandwiches and large coffees later, I got ready to race. I wore less than I did last week - knickers (not windproof tights), one LS jersey, jacket, and a SS jersey to fly the colors. Booties, warm gloves, and my normal neck and head coverings completed the get up. I also wore my taped up helmet, taping up five vents that weren't taped last week.

The whole day the missus had been suffering in the cold. Even in the relative shelter of the sided tents, the gusts of wind were so strong that wind blew around inside the tents. I'd put two body heat pads (the iron stuff) on her but she took them off, saying they weren't helping. So I went back, grabbed them, and slapped them on my knees.


I did a warm up lap or three and lined up on about as bare a bike as I've ridden in a while. No helmet cam. No fiddling with wires and cables and switches and tapes. No SRM head (the cranks were there though). One bottle, half full.

This was a "Perceived Effort" race.

The race was not as fast as last week. For one the wind was just atrocious. The field would slow to a crawl on the back stretch. To give you an idea of how powerful the wind was, at full gas the Pro-1-2-3s were going 21 mph. Atrocious.

And I think racers were less willing to work. So it made for a slightly easier day. At some point a teammate rode up to me.

"My heart rate is 168."

I looked at my watch. It read 134 - it couldn't be right since I was hurting a bit. I looked back at him.

"Mine is broken."

Next lap I glanced at my watch. 163. Right.

We scampered up the hill since it turned in a sort of crosswind direction, then recovered on the first stretch before lining it up again on the long bend ("Turn Two") to the back stretch.

With the strong winds, any gap left heading into the backstretch turned fatal, with riders behind the gap desperately pushing to close them. I figured one of these gaps would launch a break but it didn't work quite like that.

With about 10 or 15 to go, the field blew apart, splintering into four distinct groups. Four from my standpoint at least - I could see the break of 5 or 7, a chase of 10 or so, the front field of 30ish, and my group, of which I sat maybe 20 back, all separated by 10 or 15 meters. With 80 something racers (8 places, so 8 places x 10 = at least 80 racers) starting the race, I wasn't sure what was behind and I wasn't about to go back there to check it out.

I felt like I was watching a clip of a race in the flatland of Holland, the field blown apart by the wind. Only thing was no echelons, it was all a result of gaps left before turning into a massive headwind.

Then, collectively, all the groups blew up. The front guys essentially sat up, the chase merged with them, the field surged up to them, and the second field group merged with this curb-to-curb group of racers.

What I didn't know, and it was hard to tell, was that two riders never blew up. They went clear of all these groups, holding a gap of something like 47 seconds with 5 to go. A bunch of guys were working to bring them back but to no avail. The race victory was up the road and out of reach.

As a team we'd tried to work something out last week but in the excitement of the moment things didn't work out. This week we'd tried something a little less organized. I told the guys that I'd work it out on my own, following someone and jumping if things seemed good.

Ends up that someone used up a lot of gas moving into position and didn't have much success in the sprint. I, on the other hand, had saved a lot of gas in the move up process because, well, frankly, I didn't move up very much. At the bell I might have been 30+ riders back with the field somewhat stretched out and going at a ferocious pace.

Three sharp moves on the backstretch moved me inside the top 10, the last one even psyching me up, and I jumped a bit late at the bottom of the hill. I quickly cleared all but two guys and then, in agonizingly slow motion, started to reel them in.

One I beat at the line - in fact, after my bike throw, he passed me back - and the other beat us decisively.

The legs, it seems, are back.

During the race two guys started swinging at each other, and I went looking for them after the finish. I wanted them to talk to each other, work it out with words, not fists. But before I could implement my intervention, the official came by. After listening to both of their stories (both admitted to taking their hands off the bars), both were disqualified. This interrupted what would have been a decent day.

I did the P-1-2-3s, stayed in there until 10 or less to go, then used a lot of my racing currency to move to the front. I wanted to offer my riding services for a lap or two if I could as I wasn't sure what I had left. Ends up we didn't need to do anything so I drifted back through the field for a few laps, raised my hand, and sat up.

Five hours later, after dropping the van off, transferring things to our car for the drive home, food, and the actual drive home (and unpacking of the car), we were at home.

As the missus put it:

"Two down, four to go."


From Head to Toe said...

Hey Aki,
Is the microwave reserved for staff use only?... just kidding. I think last Sunday was the most wind I've encountered at Bethel. See you next week.

Aki said...

We're trying to keep it on the down low but feel free to bring over your coffee or whatever. The registration people get dibs though :)

From Head to Toe said...

I'll bring you some more coffee next week...