Thursday, October 16, 2008

Story - Two And A Half Minutes

I recently spoke with a long ago teammate of mine, a friend who helped me get through some tough times at the bike shop. Back in those days we'd try to meet for breakfast and talk about all sorts of things. Business, of course, but also more "real" things. Life, relationships (I was having a lot of issues there), cars (I wanted to buy a 2 liter 200 hp turbo car like his Eagle Talon - or was it a Plymouth Laser? - but I couldn't afford it), and whatever else came into mind.

Bikes, too, of course. Wheels and posts and stems and frames and training and tactics and all sorts of stuff.

He was one of my first experiments in Maximum Optimal Sprint Speed (MOSS). He had struggled in one of the early Cat 5 races, getting shelled when the speed hit about 31-33 mph. I told him to check out a particular nearby stretch of road and to do some MOSS type sprints. He came back and grimly reported that his maximum speed was about 31 mph.

Okay, now we were getting somewhere - he was totally maxed out when the field cruised along at 31 mph.

If his maximum speed, under somewhat optimal circumstances, was less than the "attack speeds" of his field, then he was in trouble. I told him he has to get that speed higher. 35 mph minimum. 38 mph would be decent. 40 would be great. I gave him some tips on working on speed but, honestly, I don't remember exactly what I told him.

I didn't expect results in less than a few months, but within weeks he was reporting a dramatic increase in his speeds - mid to upper 30s. I can't remember when he broke 40, but by the end of a six or seven week series (Bethel of course), he was not only not getting dropped, he was contesting sprint finishes (!).

He improved throughout the year but realized that sprinting wasn't his true calling. Climbing was better - he won his class in a mixed field road race later that year - but crits weren't ideal for him. Since a lot of races in the area were crits, this made racing hard for him.

Of course I wasn't much help either. Ours was a team I ran and therefore it tended to run a crit heavy schedule. In addition the training in the area was more crit like than road race like. Finally the team placed a great deal of emphasis on Bethel because, well, because it was "our" race - we poured our hearts and souls into making it a success, with various endless envelope stuffing (for flyers the first few years), judiciously placed ads, and lots and lots of sweeping.

Plus it's easy to talk up a local race at the shop, a race that customers could relate to. Talking about some race in France wasn't as compelling when pointing out how nicely a bike works, but pointing out that this exact kind of frame won at Bethel ("and you can do the race next year if you want") had a lot more impact.

My friend (for convenience sake I'll call him Doc) was one of the really active folks on the team and in promoting the race. He even bought his own broom for the annual Sweep Day, which, as the folks that help out know, ends up being a weekly pre-race sweep event to clear away a winter's worth of sand and salt. On some days he would sweep until he had to race, change, and race.

Sounds kinda familiar.

I had no idea that brooms actually wore out until one day he showed up with what I thought was a "chopped broom". The bristles were maybe an inch tall (instead of three inches), perfectly even, and it looked like a "super stiff" version of a regular broom. I asked him where I could get such a broom. Doc pointed out that the bristles were just worn.


I guess a few years of sweeping can do that to a broom. Since the Bethel brooms get rotated, lost, melted, etc., I realized later that I only have one broom that is getting worn. The rest have been replaced long before they got to that point. And now, with our massive wheeled leaf blowers, sweeping is a much easier thing.

Anyway, during those sporadic breakfasts, Doc focused on helping me, helping the team, and helping assure the success of the race. He introduced me to the idea of having a website and to this day hosts (sort of) the Carpe Diem Racing website.

The following year he decided his biggest contribution would be to help out with the Cat 4s, specifically a guy named Tom, a team rider who seemed to be the strongest of our 4s. Tom was also one of the two full time guys at the shop so he was, at that point, committed to doing what he could in cycling.

This was back in the era of team meetings (convenient when everyone involved lived close to the shop, and a few of them worked there), team tactics, and race strategy plans. I, of course, loved this stuff, but, unusually, a lot of the other guys did too.

For the 4s Tom ended up the desginated leader by virtue of his strength - he seemed to rip the legs off of everyone around him. We decided (or he decided) that he'd try and infiltrate breaks if necessary, but if the field finished together he'd work the sprint.

Doc, a statistician of sorts by trade, carefully analyzed his own race and speed abilities. He figured that he'd be best at leading out Tom for the sprint. All for one, one for all. Based on his speed and his smooth pedal stroke (he'd worked on his pedaling over the winter), we gave him the final leadout spot.

We had a few other guys doing other things like working to chase things down, although, in the 4s in those days, that wasn't necessary very often. In addition Tom was strong enough to latch onto most threatening moves on his own. Other guys were assigned to tag along with breaks, help one of the "main" riders if necessary, and basically meld together into one huge elastic racer that covered the whole field.

We had one big (to us) rival team, customers of the shop actually, lead by a charismatic, friendly, and competitive guy named Gene. He'd come into the shop regularly and tease us mercilessly about the upcoming Bethel races, asking how we were riding, talking trash about how we'd lose the race (at his expense, of course), and goad us into joining his team (he'd wear his team jacket and point to it and tell us we could get one too). He was also really friendly, bringing us treats, inviting us to do the race at Yarmouth (we did, and we stayed at his place the night before), telling us stories of his various misadventures with wheels. He even came in and bought some tubes the first day I owned the shop.

Anyway, our goal that year was to win Bethel and to do so we'd have to beat this relatively strong trio of racers.

The first race came and, unfortunately, it was just after I'd bought the shop. We were doing some major reconstruction. Each night, after the regular long shop day, Tom and Doc and Josh and Kevin and a whole bunch of other guys were working a second shift work on the construction stuff. The first Saturday before Bethel, the shop guys (no Doc though - since he had a real job and a real relationship, these kinds of late nights were out most of the time) were up until some awful hour, maybe 2 or 3 in the morning. Afterwards we staggered out into the cold night, bid our goodbyes, and said we'd see each other at Bethel in, say, about 4 hours.

Incredibly we made it to the race on time, set up registration, swept the course, and did all those race promotion things. Doc had his chopped broom as usual and energetically swept all the various key points as usual. At race time Tom looked a little weary, but with a loyal and dedicated team behind him, he had a lot of motivation. Doc, the guy who had problems finishing a Cat 5 race the prior Bethel, looked to be a key team racer for Tom.

Doc's job, as we'd discussed ad nauseum, was to launch the field sprint, to go as hard as he could from a specific point on the back stretch. Tom would be on his wheel and go at the bottom of the hill, about 200 meters from the line. It'd be up to Tom and Doc to adjust their tactics based on wind direction, field competitiveness, and any other unseen variables.

As practice Doc brought Tom up on some particular lap. The experiment worked well and they settled in for the finish.

As expected the race came down to a field sprint. At the bell the various teammates were yelling their advice, cajoling their teammates to do something, all that stuff. Everyone's adrenaline was pumping - this was the first of the "real" races, the one where teams battled it out, not just individuals.

The field tore around the first turn and disappeared from sight. Everyone looking down course turned the other way, now looking to see who'd crest the hill first. We waited anxiously for the field to come around the last bend, the hush before the climax of the race.

Then, a cry, "Riders up!"

The screaming and yelling started again, but it was strangely focused because one rider was well clear of the rest.


He sprinted up to the line, raising his hands in triumph (luckily legally at the time). Our rival trio trailed in behind him, their leader unable to match Tom's strength.

The rest of the field crossed in dribs and drabs.

Tom, of course, was ecstatic. A big win for him. He said that Doc's leadout completely surprised the field, and that the sprint was a mere formality.

Speaking of which... Where was Doc?

He struggled up the hill, a couple minutes after the field finished. He looked totally spent. He actually looked ill, a bit grey. I asked him if something happened, maybe he dropped a chain, maybe a crash?


He had put his heart and soul into the leadout and had left nothing for the climb up the finishing hill.

It had simply taken him two and a half minutes to struggle up a 150 meter hill.


Morgan Moore said...

Beautiful story Aki.

Anonymous said...

Awesome awesome awesome read!

-Young Rider
(Who really should be doing homework)

Aki said...

Thanks both. And YR get to your homework!

Anonymous said...

Now THAT'S a leadout! And a perfect example of great teamwork. Thanks for the story!

No One Line said...

that's an excellent story. i noticed a recent thread on bikeforums, in that racing subsection, about team tactics - a lot of people were sort of downplaying the ability of people to work together in the lower cats. i think that's patently ridiculous - one just has to adjust their tactics to suit the race. simple things like counterattacks, or a strong leadout like this one, can make all the difference.

i'm excited to be on a team for next season - hopefully i'll get a chance to give and receive some valuable assistance.

Aki said...

no one line - lol I posted on that thread. On bikeforums I post as carpediemracing. I think that because there are less experienced racers in the 3-5s, tactics become more important in those races. At the higher levels there is a minimum "entry", a minimum ante - that of fitness - and one's tactics ends up relying a lot on physical ability.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the good old days (for me, anyway)...and the team really did work well together. I think back to all the team meetings and those killer Blomin' Mertrics, and it's easy to see that the team was tight because of all of the functions we did together. And, of course, the shop was "home." Home of stomp rockets and indoor crits.
Mmm, the good old days...


Aki said...

hey Tom :)

Only a few people know about stomp rockets and the indoor crits, although the second probably warrant a mention in some post somewhere.