Monday, April 07, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Criterium de Bethel Recap

Some of you might have noticed that I didn't do a "Pre-Criterium de Bethel" bit. This is because, as it sometimes happens, getting ready for Sunday became a somewhat disorganized and behind-schedule affair.

In California I'd noticed that my derailleur cable housing was rubbing through where it hit the front brake, and earlier this week it started shifting a bit weird. Worried about the possibility of the cable going, I decided to break out a set of Nokons and install them.

This would also let me replace the tape on the bars, portions of which were starting to wear through. Very unprofessional, this bar tape wearing through, so it had to be changed. Bike washed too, drivetrain wasn't gleaming at all and the sticky sugary drink stuff on the frame wasn't looking too pro either.

In addition there were a bunch of normal things to do for a Bethel - charge the radios, wash the jerseys (stuck myself pretty deep with an open pin on one of the jerseys), cook food, gather my bike gear, ride a bit (30 minutes at 130 watts... pitiful I know), and pack the car. Then I got to my dad's place near Bethel, unpacked the car into the van, and went to sleep. No blog nothing.

In all this hustle and bustle a few things happened. First I realized my good electrical tape was in the van. At my dad's. And my bike was with me. At the apartment. So I did everything but wrap the bars - that would have to wait until race day.

On race day I went to get my knickers. It was about that time that I realized I had forgotten my "50 degree weather" bag which contained my knickers, favorite base layer, and some other "mid-chill" stuff.

The promotion aspect of the race went smoothly this week. We had an extra official - a third pair of eyes and ears is a good thing. We had two extra full time marshals, saving me the headache of finding people from race to race. And, since there was no major sweeping to be done, I sat at the registration table for a bit. It made it feel more like I was helping promote a race, not doing infrastructure maintenance for the town of Bethel.

I guess all this helped because I had a decent race. I rolled to the line without a warm up (but with handlebar tape nicely wrapped, a clean frame, and a gleaming drivetrain lubed with some ceramic lube that gets black as midnight in about 3 seconds), one of my friends asking me, "Did you get to warm up at all?" I had to shake my head no in response. I finally learned, after a quarter century of racing, that if I get my heart rate up to about my exploding point (160 bpm or so) in my warm up, I just bought myself about 90 minutes of "I feel good" riding. Since I was at 105 or something this didn't happen. Therefore I needed to ease into things.

The team went in with a more easy going attitude, no real strategy, but with no one but me gunning for a place, the strong guys were trying to help me out. The plan was pretty straight forward. Keep things together. Keep things fast at the end. And let me do what I need to do. If I need a hand in the last lap or two, have someone there "just in case".

Another racer, a friendly rival at Bethel but a strong ally in any other race, approached me and told me that his team didn't want moves to get away, and that they would ride to keep things together.

Good friends are hard to find, you know?

Early in the race, as usual, a number of guys tried to launch a race winning "the pack forgot about us" move. I went to move up to maybe see if I could launch a chase. Since I was virtually at the back of the field, I planned on moving up for a lap, figuring out from where to launch, and then launching. In order to move up I went up the hill using a bit more power than usual. A little too much.

My short effort moved me right past the front of the field.

Since it's kind of dumb to use energy like that without something to show for it, I kept going. I figured someone would chase, maybe even a few people, and if the field let us meander up the road, hey, great.

I'm on the hoods. This means I'm not serious. I'm looking for others to see if anyone else wants to make it serious.

Okay, now I'm serious, even if no one's around. Peering around Turn One to catch a glimpse of my quarry.

Wattage and speed tells a different story. I almost doubled my normal effort on the second half of the hill and I went about 5-7 mph faster. I did a nice, steady effort down the first stretch, realized I wasn't going to make it, and with about 50 feet separating me from the two man break, I started debating with myself. Should I go? Or should I sit up?

Since it was the fifth lap of the race, I sat up, tried to catch my breath, and had two chances to sit on - the first when a small group went by me, the second when the field caught me. Luckily I was okay and I managed to recover.

The overall leader is a powerful rider. After taking the lead in the second week (he won), the other teams made him chase everything down in the third week of racing. That backfired as he rode away from the field while doing a big pull - and he won again.

Yesterday, once again, the other teams (mine included) let him pull back some breaks. I was afraid he'd ride away from the field again but some other racers beat him to the punch. With less than 10 laps to go, two riders dangled just out of sight, off the front. They'd steadily built a decent lead, grabbing 5 seconds here, 2 seconds there, and going from a "We can bring it back" 15 seconds to a "Now what?" 30 seconds.

Finally someone decided enough was enough. He went to the front and did a monster pull, and I mean monster. It came close to detonating the field. Actually, it did detonate the field. But when the debris landed back on the road, it was all together again.

I had been closer to the back of the field than the front when it happened. I thought that this was it, someone went for the whole enchilada. The first 15 or so racers huddled together like a comet streaking away, and the rest of the field resembled its broken up tail. I saw three distinct gaps in the 15 spots ahead of me, and when the guy in front of me hesitated as the rider in front detonated, I screamed, "GO!"

Hesitation gone, the guy closed the 10 foot gap, then the guys in front of him closed their gaps, and so on and so forth until half a lap later, we were technically in contact with the front of the field again.

I looked to see if the Leader had flown the coop - no, he was sitting near the front (at the front?), doing a steady pull.

Suddenly Mike appeared at my side, face red, looking a little winded.

"I think I brought them back. I said F it, I'm not letting them go so I went as hard as I could. I think they're coming back now."


So that's Mike when he pedals in anger. No wonder he rode me off his wheel, accidental like, when he was trying to lead me out. My SRM data shows he did a monster 32 mph pull for most of the lap.

Anyway, the two guys were still dangling up there. And then suddenly the field slowed so much it was like we'd stopped. We didn't go much faster than 12 mph up the hill and averaged less than 24 mph for a couple laps.

I, of course, like this, so I rested and recovered, getting ready for the big effort. Nothing like getting psyched up for the sprint. The only thing was that such a slow down could have been the field giving up on the two man break. But mine was not to worry about them, it was simply to sprint the sprint.

Mike went towards the front again, to keep things kinda strung out, and I steadily rode through the field to get into about 25-30 places back at the bell. I saw another blogger SOC move up the side a bit and I realized from his line and his pedaling that he meant to move up a bit more. Obligingly I moved onto his wheel.

He pulled into the shelter of the field about 15 guys back, I moved past him to slot in perhaps 10 back from the front.

The guys at the front were moving left more than right, perhaps trying to prevent too many racers from sitting in on the left side, but more realistically they were just trying to pull off and everyone just followed them.

Mike made his final appearance here, doing a pull to string things out, and then I lost sight of him. The speed started ramping up and the head of the race went single file. Some guy blew and came backwards - I went curbside to pass him and used that effort to move up a bit at the same time. When I slotted back in I found myself about 5 spots back from the Leader. Guys had moved up on the left side too, so I'm not sure if I was in the top 10 at that point.

We went past my jump point, well past it, and then people started sprinting, cutting left towards the apex of the left bend. I thought it'd bottleneck there so I went right, slicing through the line of racers to find some clear, open road. I went as hard as I could, my legs slowly turning a too-big gear. I could see it now - I lead out the sprint and get swarmed at the line.

I saw the eventual second place rider fade. Suddenly I felt a glimmer of hope.

Where. Is. The. Line.

I tried to find the finish line, my head poking up so I could focus on the white line. I really should get my glasses tightened up.

The "my glasses need tightening" look.

Then, my legs exhausted, my senses telling me no one was to my immediate right or left, I threw the bike early, reaching for the line.

Early bike throw due to tired legs.

Then, so I could breathe, I hauled my body back onto the bike so I could get around the corner without falling over.

It looks like I sprinted through the line but I'm just trying to get my butt back onto the saddle.

I rolled around, guys congratulating me on my win. Field sprint win, I thought, and I said so. A father/son pair disagreed - they were quite certain it was for the win win though, and I checked.

Mike had brought the break back.

I'd won the race.


(A million thanks to Bob Griffith for taking the above shots)


Colin R said...

Love the face.

patrick clifford said...

that is a great write-up, I was on the edge of my seat reading it, it's actually more fun reading it than watching it. Congrats, you deserve it.

josh said...

great job aki, you earned that one for sure.

Aki said...

colin - I didn't look at the picture closely until your comment. I had no idea. lol.

patrick, josh - thanks. It's been a frustrating series for me and this helped make it a better one.