Saturday, March 22, 2008

Racing - Plainville March 22, 2008

With no Bethel on Easter Sunday, the weekend panned out a lot different from the "With Bethel" weekends.

First off we had no scurrying around on Saturday getting ready for Sunday's race. This meant, among other things, being able to sneak out while the missus was at work. So I snuck south a couple towns to Plainville and entered a couple races.

(Okay, to be totally honest, I didn't sneak out - I got the missus's full approval before venturing off with my racing stuff. It just sounds better when I say I snuck out.)

My first race was at 10, the 3-4 race. The second at noon, the P-1-2-3 race. I arrived with plenty of time to register, change, and warm up. I saw a couple friendly riders but instead of chatting a while I went to my car to get ready. I had maybe 40 minutes - I figured I'd change, pump up the tires, hand off my spares to a good friend David who parked 15 feet away from me so he could take them to the pit, and get a decent warm up. This is all stuff I rarely find time to do at Bethel so I was determined to take advantage of my "non-promoter" status to actually prepare for a race.

Instead I spent 35 minutes re-taping my helmet.

I didn't like the clear tape stuck haphazardly all over the helmet as seen in this picture. So I got some black duct tape and replaced the clear stuff with "custom fitted" black tape. This way the helmet would look, well, better.

But my scissors stuck on the black tape (hint #1: when cutting sticky tape, cut with the sticky side up) and the clear stuff disintegrated when I tried to peel it off (hint #2: when buying packing tape, buy the thickest stuff you can find).

So my wheel pit friend David came over and pointed out that maybe I should be getting ready as my race was about to start.


I dressed, put the wheels on my bike, pumped up the tires, and rode to the start.

Then I realized I pinned the number on the wrong side.

So, as the officials were calling out the last instructions, I was pinning my number on my jersey. I got it on, put my helmet on, and started about a minute later.

I did remember to bring my heartrate monitor watch and wear both parts of it (the chest strap and the watch) and remembered to start the thing half way around the first lap. I looked to make sure the "chrono" was "chrono-ing".

Good news was that it was. Bad news was the 161 above the chrono number.

I get uncomfortable when my heart rate is somewhere in the mid 160s and I was rapidly approaching that number. Soon I was gasping for breath, my heart rate ranging, whenever I looked, from 161 to 165. I prayed and hoped that as I warmed up my body would react a bit more favorably to my efforts.

In the mean time I mapped out the route. Meaning I figured out where to ride on the course. Since I hadn't ridden more than the couple hundred yards from the car to the line, I certainly couldn't take a recon lap. Therefore my first few laps of the race were my recon laps. I learned quickly (negative reinforcement is a strong learning tool - and getting clobbered by wind is about as negative as it gets without crashing) that I needed to get from one side of the road to the other four times each lap.

Each half mile lap.

This meant discretely sliding back a bit and getting to the other side of the wheel in front of me, four times a lap, doing it literally every 15-20 seconds.

Since discrete in-field moves are my specialty, I spent the next 40 or 45 minutes practicing the art. For the most part I was successful but in one segment lasting a couple laps I rode in the wind, probing for any changes in the wind pattern. This effort cost me dearly and put me pretty much at the back of the field.

I did notice that when I was in difficulty, my heart rate was 166 (when I had a chance to look - twice). When I wasn't, I was at 165. A fine line, no doubt.

By the way one guy I finally met in a race (not talking before or after one) was Mr. SOC. I tried very hard not to ease him off a wheel or otherwise impede his progress in his second race of the day.

I moved up with a few laps to go, did some less discrete in-field moves, and found myself perhaps 20 riders back with half a lap, 400 meters, to go.

That's about all I did though, and with a surprise negative sprint (I actually went backwards when I jumped), I went to the right curb, braked firmly, and watched the field stream by me to the line.

Looking back I probably could have salvaged a 15-20 position, but that's not really a place and because of my horrible jump, I wasn't inspired to sprint. I had no regrets after my looking back, unlike most sprints where I sit up.

I said hi to Mrs Suitcase, bye to a teammate, rode to the car. A friendly soul who had just parked next to me asked how I did and I told him I just sat up. I asked him how he did, realized he was in street clothes, and then asked if he was racing just the P123 race. He was.

That, as I said to someone later, meant he was at least a 2.

Later I talked with a rider I first met in the late 80s and who seems to get the scoop on the various riders in the area. He pointed out that he heard the friendly racer parked next to me was in fact an ex-Saturn racer.

Yeah, whatever. Whenever someone is remotely strong they end up some ex-pro. Still though, he seemed somewhat serious about this informational (and gossipy) tidbit.

After that I spent the rest of the hour between races dressing down a bit. Did a tights to knickers thing, change out my soaked base layer, dry out my gloves and my head thing on the convenient and unique dash vent.

The latter is a super high power vent which I use to heat up the car quickly, or, in this case, stick the head cover thing on. The vent, at fan setting 2 (of 4), was powerful enough to puff it up so it looked like some cyclist was starting to poke his head out of my dash. It was bone dry after 15 minutes and I put the gloves on next. These, unfortunately, didn't puff up to look like a couple Things sitting on my dash.

Suitably dressed down, I re-emerged, took a few swigs from my neglected (as usual) bottles, and rode back to the start/finish area. Same warm up as before but this time I had the benefit of having had 50 minutes of racing an hour before.

We started right up and the field went bonkers, trying to get some camera time at the front. I expected things to be harder but they seemed reasonable. I glanced at my watch - 165.

But I felt fine.

So my heart rate was at my explosion point but my legs were okay, like totally comfy. I guess I'm a bit more fit than I thought. And warm-ups help a lot. Sitting in reduces the wild heart rate swings, especially on a flat course (that's why motorpacing is such good training - you can adjust your workload 1 or 2 bpm at a time). At Bethel, going fast up the hill meant working hard no matter where you were in the field, and a couple mph either way meant a huge difference in pain. At Plainville, sitting in means you really were sitting in, and the speed could vary significantly without altering the workload.

I felt reasonable, even decent, but my legs told me otherwise. I started getting those twinges, felt a little bit more of that lactic acid, and realized that I wasn't going to do the whole race. I'd spent a big part of the race practicing taking wheels from other people, meaning sliding onto a wheel while someone else was on it.

Problem is that I pretty much know and respect everyone there, so I was really practicing taking wheels from people that, well, I like.

So, 30 minutes into the race, I decided I should stop being a subtle jerk and become an obvious one.


Okay, that was a joke.

I felt sort of bad for doing my wheel stealing practice so I decided to move to the front, just to get a taste of the high life before I dropped out. I saw a guy, a former break companion, plugging away at the front. So I slotted in behind him (in other words, I stole his wheel from whoever was on his wheel) and watched and waited.

Here I am, about 20 seconds from pulling through. Note the spiffy looking helmet that doesn't look like it's covered in clear tape.

A lonely Keltic rider dangled off the front and it looked like this was my former break companion's target. He pulled off just as we got to the windy stretch.


I got into the drops and started doing a steady effort, like the ones I do on the trainer when I fantasize that I'm pulling the field back up to a break. Or, in this case, a lonely Keltic rider.

Reality quickly collided with fantasy. I got maybe 200 meters into my pull when my calves started to cramp. Behind me, the guy (who I discretely eased off the wheel) said to me, "C'mon, pull to the corner."

I'd already told my elbow to wiggle so it wiggled, signaling him to pull through.

"Or maybe not...", I heard from behind me as he did a powerful turn of the pedals.

I veered left to pull out of the race, started second guessing myself, started to pedal to accelerate back up to speed, and my calves really protested.

I raised a hand and eased up.

An enthusiastic Cat 5, taking pictures for his friends and who got that shot above, yelled that he got a good picture of me when I was second wheel. Later we were talking a bit and he asked if I'd had a mechanical.

"No," I said, rubbing my leg, "My legs had a mechanical."
"Oh! You had a biological!"

Now how come I never heard that before?

We watched the sprint (the "ex-Saturn" guy got second) and chatted with a couple guys. One guy asked me what happened to me. I explained that, even with all my training (close to doing my 2007 hours by now), I was at my limit the whole time and I eventually caved in. He asked if I was stepping it up to be a Cat 2 or something, with all my training and stuff.

I told him, no, I was training a lot because I wasn't working. I added that I realized as I trained a lot that I'm a Cat 3 and always will be. He argued a bit, thinking maybe I was a bit off base.

No, I told him.

I am a Cat 3.

(I didn't yell this or anything, I actually thought it in my head.)

I told him I could train forever but my threshold power isn't going to magically jump 100 watts to some mid-300 watt level. I feel good for me but in comparison to the others, I'm just a Cat 3. He started to see the light.

"I guess if your threshold isn't at like 380 watts then it just won't be. I kinda get it."

It was a sobering conversation because it was so true. My threshold isn't above 300 watts right now, and although I might be able to find 30 watts like he did, it won't push me into the wattage stratosphere.

Eventually I rolled back to the car.

The "ex-Saturn" guy was there at some point. He'd gotten a vest to ward off the wind while he cooled down. I recognized it as an older Jelly Belly vest.

Jelly Belly?

I asked him if that was a "real" vest. Meaning did he race for them.

He answered, almost bashfully, that, yeah, he did race for them. In 2003. Just before he retired from racing pro. He'd raced for Saturn until then apparently.

I couldn't help myself but blurt out about how I helped Jelly Belly (or, more precisely, Danny Van Haute) put some roof racks on their cars and such. Nice guys, friendly, mellow.

He said that, yeah, "Dan" is a good guy, has a good group of people around him. The guy seemed totally down to earth, mellow, not hyper about his cycling strengths.

I guess he really was "ex-Saturn". But to me it was more significant that he was "ex-Jelly Belly".

And his bashful way of answering, like he was almost embarrassed by it, meant he was, at that time, really, really, really good. Because the really good riders don't talk very much. They don't need to.

They just pound your legs into jelly.

I never got his name but apparently he lives near me as I followed him to within a couple miles of our apartment.

I thought, wow, it would be cool to ride with someone like that. But then I thought about it. His easy rides are probably at 250-300 watts. I'd die just following his wheel. I think I'll skip asking him if he wants to go riding one day.

Plus I don't know his name anyway.


josh said...

hey aki, i was that annoying skinny kid in the white/blue/green targetraining kit that tried to say hi to you during the race(s) a few times.

PolishPostal said...

Chris Fischer
Ex Saturn/Jelly-Belly Rider

Aki said...

josh - I was wondering if I gave you a mad look or something. lol. When I'm racing I usually look unhappy, probably because I'm in some kind of pain, and I also have a hard time talking for the same reason. But hi back to you.

polishpostal - I got a flurry of emails letting me know who this guy is but thanks for actually posting it.

Anonymous said...

A "biological"? That's hilarious! And I appreciate your not easing me off any wheels. I needed all the help I could get - and it would have been like stealing candy from a baby for you anyway. Unsatisfying LOL It was great to finally get to race with you - the chat was gravy...

josh said...

i wouldn't call it a mad look, but it was a look that told me not to try talking to you for awhile. i was wondering if i had unknowingly cut you off or something. no worries. i'll try and say hi while not racing @ bethel next weekend.

PolishPostal said...


"...practicing taking wheels from other people..."

What are the chance of you making a post of your approach/technique on how to take wheels?


Aki said...

polishpostal - oh man, this is the essence of crit racing, the secret to my success (well at least it lets me try to succeed). I'll post something if I haven't already (I have so many drafts and other things that I have a hard time keeping straight what I've posted or not).

captkweb said...


The results on the Plainville web site have you finishing 21st. I like the way that they posted the field size and the finishing time.

Aki said...

I didn't know I was placed 21st. A vid on SOC/YouTube shows me pedaling slowly on the left side of the picture (the right curb if you were racing). I actually braked pretty firmly once I got to the curb so I wouldn't be in the way. I'm pretty sure I got close to last.

Times and field sizes are nice. I'll see if I can't get them for the upcoming Bethels.