Monday, May 26, 2008

Racing - Hartford Crit 2008

Ah, yes, the Hartford Criterium. Always a good race, always one that, if I feel somewhat decent, a race where I want to finish well.

The day had great weather, blue skies with puffy white clouds. I don't know their type but my last attempt at naming cloud formations made the missus crack up so I won't try. Upper 70s but I'd swear it was 80+ in the sun. Dry, a little breeze.

Felt like California.

We got to the race a couple hours before my race started so I had an inordinate amount of time to prepare. None of this "Dress and ride to the start line" business like a Bethel. I warmed up a bit, more than normal, and tried to get my heart rate up a bit higher than I normally do. I've been doing some double secret training and one of the things I learned was that I can't ride hard until I ride hard. Go figure.

The missus asked about my game plan for the race the night before. I'd been stressed about this unmentionable stressful thing in my life and this was a good way to transfer my focus from "stress" to "race". I thought about it, thought about what I'd learned about my body in the last four weeks of racing. I also thought about what I went through the last time I did Hartford.

The last time I did Hartford I was an absolute wreck. I was killing myself to hang on and I was so dead at the sprint I couldn't get up out of the saddle. This year I felt a lot more confident about my "sitting in" strength (i.e. my overall fitness). This boosted my confidence approaching a race where I'd previously died a thousand deaths.

So when the missus asked, I thought about it seriously for the first time, realizing that, under normal circumstances, I'd have been thinking about it for a week prior. It came to me pretty quickly.

"I'll try and start off by getting to the front. If I feel okay there I'll stay there, but if it's hard, I'll go right to the back. I'll move up at 5 to go if that happens. And depending on where the sprint is, I want to either lead it out or be in the top three coming out of the last turn."

Heady predictions.

A smaller than expected field lined up - maybe 55-60 racers, a far cry from the 100 racer fields I've seen in the past. As this was my first race since Plainville, the second turn (the first fast one) caused me a tad bit of concern - as I went sweeping through the bumpy right bend, I thought to myself, "Oh, this is my first group ride since April 23rd". I told myself I need to do more group rides. Within a lap I was comfortable in the tightly knit field and found myself racing without a hint of nerves for the rest of the race.

I quickly realized that if I sat at the back of the small field it was sort of like if I started moving up at 5 to go in a big field and it was 3 to go. In other words, if I'm 40 riders back in a big field, I think I'm in a decent "jump off" point, one that allows me to move up to a very good bell lap position. If I'm 40 riders back in a small field, I'm... at the back.

After a few laps of no data (I never looked down), I checked my SRM, wondering what my body thought of the race. Seemed that I would gain about 7-8 bpm on the start/finish hill, lose the same around the rest of the course, and then gain it again. If I rode the hill a bit smarter, I'd only gain 2-3 bpm. Regardless I was well within my comfortable range, in the low-mid 160 bpm range.


The niceties started the crumble in the last ten laps. Suddenly I was working to make sure I wouldn't be gapped off the back. Someone later pointed out I started sitting a bit to one side on the seat. Since I never had a hint of saddle discomfort, I guess that's my "tell", my sign of weakness. I didn't check my heart rate but I'm sure it was a bit higher than the low-mid 160s.

I decided that since I was already in a "3 to go position" (in a large field), I'd skip moving up at 5 to go - it'd be too hard to fight for five laps. So at 3 to go I started to move up. And I sort of rocketed up, so at 2 to go I was watching a team setting up a lead out and a lot of other guys yelling and stuff. It was getting sketchy like it always does.

I heard someone yell to his buddy "Dude! It's one to go, one to go, you gotta move up now!"

And that set the tone.

I moved up a bit, to the outside, and when someone hesitated a couple guys in front of me, I yelled at him to keep going. He or another guy really did go - took off just before the last turn and started sprinting up the hill.

I decided to go for it then, not wait 50 meters till after the turn, and went scampering off after him. My bike kept switching gears (I'd tuned it so aggressively to drop into smaller cogs that it dropped down an extra cog accidentally) so I had to keep shifting to keep my sprint going.

I was going perhaps 85% (I'll have to retrieve the SRM to check, but I'm guessing it was 1100-1200 watts), waiting at some level for the inevitable stream of guys sprinting past me. I don't like sprinting on my own - I'd much rather sprint against others.

Nevertheless something didn't seem quite right. It seemed too easy, too slow. And when I approached the finish line I understood why.

"One lap to go, one lap to go!"


I looked back and saw the field roaring up the hill. I looked forward to the guy who'd jumped before me.

"I thought it was the last lap," he said, looking back at me.

"I did too."

I contemplated doing a "get back in and trounce them in the sprint" move but my legs were dying and that was that.

To everyone's credit no one laughed at me after the race. One magnanimous racer asked me if I did my "final effort before dropping out" bit. Those that knew me probably knew that, as unlikely as it might have been, I sprinted on the wrong lap. I'd never take a flyer at the bell, not in my current state, and I haven't done it successfully for any sprint since 1986. I've also, to my best recollection, never sprinted on the wrong lap. There's always a first time, right?

The missus was proud of my race, regardless of my race end faux pas. With all the non-cycling stress and the resultant skipped training, it would be normal if our expectations were lower than normal. I didn't expect much, honestly, but I knew that I could maintain a torrid pace (in the field) for a long time, and although I hoped I wouldn't have to, I knew I could even sprint at the end of such an effort. It seemed I had plenty left at 1 to go, compared to my last race there where I was simply wondering when my legs would fall out from under me.

I got off the bike, sat in the shade, drank some Gatorade, and cooled down a bit. Ah well. There's always next week.

And next week is Bethel. We'll see how it goes there.

You can trust me on one thing for sure - I'll be making sure I know what lap I'm on.


K-Man said...

happens to the best of us! ;)

Anonymous said...

It's always interesting to read someone's race impressions. You manage to depict it as i was there, racing with you.

Shit happens, so try to get best of that situation

josh said...

Hey aki, I was wondering why you took off early. I was working my way towards you at 2 to go to offer my services as a leadout or at least to help you move up (I was spent from the p123 and also attacking a few times earlier...might as well help someone else take a stab at the W if you know you don't have the legs to) but you took off as soon as I got close to you. Next time I guess.

Aki said...

k-man - heh :)

samarskyrider - trust me, I'll be paying more attention to the lap cards going forward. Usually I mess up the other way, i.e. "What? Bell?".

josh - man, I was feeling pretty good for Hartford, especially considering last year I could barely hang on. That would have been awesome. Can't believe you did that ripsnorter of a P123 race earlier. But thanks for the thought.