Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bethel Spring Series 2009 - Criterium de Bethel Report

It's hard to enthusiastically do a post when, well, things basically sucked on race day.

First off, the weather didn't cooperate. But that's not really the point. The point is that the weather was supposed to be really bad, but instead it was just kind of miserable. Sort of like expecting a knock-you-out cold and getting just the sniffles.

Translation? I came prepared for a Nor'easter, not a piddly 45 minute sprinkle. But all we got was the piddly sprinkle, and that happened, naturally, during the Cat 5 race. "Naturally" because, as new racers, the 5s are supposed to suffer and pay their dues. Cat 5 racing is like bike racing hazing, where new racers pay some excruciating dues before moving up into the more plentiful 4s. Their racing, naturally, lacks a bit compared to the other categories. No money, smaller fields, the least desirable start times.

So it's natural that it also rains during a Cat 5 race.

As soon as they stopped, the raid did too. But, unlike, say, Southern California morning fog, the sun never burned through the heavy overcast skies, and we spent the rest of the day in cold, wet conditions.

I had a lot of fun typing stuff up in the results page, posting all but the last few races "live", but the reality was that we were slow at the tent. We had 1/3 the normal turnout, and it actually made me a bit anxious because this is the first year I have a vested interest in the race (i.e. I sank my own money into it, and I took a gamble and spent more before we even had our permits).

The underlying thoughts going through my head went something like, "Well, am I paying $2000 to watch people race today, or am I spending a little less money than that?"

Honestly, I didn't know, and I still don't know. I should know a little more when I go to the bank tomorrow. I have to actually withdraw money because we basically ran out of money at the end of Sunday. Next week is a big fiscal day for the race - we'll be giving out about $3000 in prize money. I think. Plus merchandise. Primes. And any "larger than minimum" prize list increase (we step up the money with larger than minimum fields).

Whatever. With these thoughts running through my head, and the small (under 30 rider?) Cat 3-4 field, I wasn't looking forward to the race. I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses, and riding in a small field peels away all my strengths and lays bare my weaknesses.

Nevertheless I kitted up in the Leader's Jersey. I declined this the previous week for some reason. Part of it is being shy or something, part of it is the dread that I wouldn't ride up to the Jersey's standards.

I put it on, commenting sort of to no one in particular, "If I'm going to lose it, I'm going to lose it like a man." A guy registering asked if I was serious, and I told him I was. He seemed to be a bit skeptical, like this was one of my tactics to disarm the competition.

I even did a couple laps, peeled off a heavy layer (it was wet but not necessarily really cold), and suited up with my new rain jacket (I still haven't found my old one). I did all my rain-racing tricks, plus one new one, and felt reasonably warm and comfy.

The problem wasn't in being warm. It was in being fast.

And boy, when the field set out, they set out hard. I found out later one of the guys had his highest 5 and 10 second power outputs in the first five laps of the race. Figures, because on the second lap I was already coming off the back.

Now, although I made a big deal about all the guys from the City coming up as a team, the reality is that there's this kind of "Aki Mafia" at Bethel. In field sprints there are those that have their good sprints and those that don't. Since many of those that race at Bethel really are getting in some training miles (unlike me, because I'm allegedly peaking by March), they choose not to partake in the sprints.

They get bored in the race, and, like many generous and friendly racers, try to help out those who put a bit more emphasis on the Series.

One of those guys would be me.

So, although they may race on different teams, and in the summer they may do their best to break my legs in a crit, at Bethel things are a bit kinder, a bit gentler. I see friendly wheels suddenly, guys hesitating just a bit before moving up, glances back to see if I'm there. It's a bit easier to move up when, for example, someone coaxes me onto their wheel and then rides through about 70 guys and drops me off 20 back from the front.

That's all to help me. Not them.

So, in the very sparse, maybe 20-odd rider field, I probably had 10 guys who knew me well enough, or respected what I was trying to do, or whatever, that they would expend significant amounts of energy to help me.

I mention this because it makes my pitiful race even more pitiful.

I started seeing gaps in front of me by the second lap. Some guys jumped across, others took their time, giving me some protection as they closed the gap.

But I still came off.

My teammate Mike was religiously following around the guy I perceived as the biggest threat, and also the guy that Mike could probably beat if Mike just followed him around. In turn I was just trying to stay near the front because if I drifted back any I'd be at the back.

Then I started drifting back. My legs started hating the bike. And I got dropped. Guys behind tried to help, actively and passively, and I got back into the field.

Then I got dropped again.

And again, guys behind me helped me. I got back into the field.

It was the third of thirty laps of racing.

I came off again.

But this time, I'd run out of helpers. The whole field rode in front of me, and I came off. Cooked. Toasted. Done.

I couldn't really see, my glasses were all messy from the wet, gritty roads, but I could see people's body language.

"What's he doing out of the race??"

My teammate Mike, doing his best to try and earn points (so that others couldn't earn any), marked so many moves I couldn't believe he could still pedal. He found the legs to go with what ended up being the chase of the day. He looked to be in serious trouble though, riding beyond his limits. Within a few laps he'd come off too, a colosal effort come to naught.

In the end I lost the jersey to Stephen Gray, a powerful rider with Bethel Cycle. He earned it though, for sure. It was a tough day of racing, and it let the cream rise to the top.

And in the meantime I want to actually train. I've done maybe 10 hours since Febrary 26th, and that includes the four races I've done (well, three races plus three laps). I hope to do some riding this week, to get some rhythm back in my legs.

Next week the Series ends. No more pre-reg, no more packing up the van every Saturday, no more zombie-like Mondays. And next week we'll crown a new set of champions, and we'll aware a new set of Leader's Jerseys.

We'll see what happens. I'm praying for a bigger field, some luck, and legs for a good sprint.

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