Monday, March 16, 2009

Bethel Spring Series 2009 - Tour de Kirche Report

No, no helmet cam. I wish I'd worn it Sunday but I simply forgot it in the rush to get ready.

The day started off well with the battery from Vantage Motors (Stamford, CT) starting the van up on the first try. If you need a classic sports car (say, like a James Bond Aston Martin) restored or serviced, they have restored or built up many award winning cars. End plug for good friend.

At o'dark hundred hours, a working battery took a huge weight off my mind. The missus there helped too, both for the moral support as well as the fact that her car was loaded down with Bethel stuff we'd brought down from home!

When we got to Bethel, we discovered a great thing. Not quite as great as a lost tomb or a winning lottery ticket, but close.

The Sweep Elves had visited the course over the last week, and except for a film of dust on the roads, they'd been swept clear of all that annoying sand and stuff. The Elves apparently ride bikes because the racing line was perfect, but at registration we sat in chairs sitting on an inch of sand.

With the roads swept, a full crew of helpers, and some surprising volunteers (thanks JJ!) I could hang out at the registration table to help out with the transfer of duties from the hard working Gene and the just-as-hard working missus. Gene is pulling back from the whole cycling thing, and the missus's real job has a lot to do with taxes, and it's tax season now. The young blood replacing them (some were literally baby-sat at early renditions of Bethel) did great work keeping the registration process smooth and efficient.

You'd think that such help would have let me warm up for an hour and all that, but I got busy chatting with various folks there, handling little problems, and generally frittered away that time until, hey, it was race time.

The racers were lined up and I wasn't even fully dressed, so I rushed over without finding my gloves, without my tires pumped up, etc etc. I did manage to level and tighten my bars - last week they moved twice on me when I hit the deceptively sharp manhole cover "pothole" in Turn One, and once again on a ride with an long-time friend Mike K. The bike had felt almost unrideable, but with the bars in proper position, I was back in business.

The official had been droning on and on about various things, and when he saw me roll over, he started wrapping things up. Then he saw me grab a pump nearby and started his droning again. For all those guys in the race, thanks for the extra bit of tolerance for a tardy promoter guy.

With my bike set, the official quickly finished up his speech "You'll go on my whistle!" and we were off.

I pride myself on being a good "clipper inner", meaning I get in my pedals quickly, but Sunday I thought someone was going to rear end me before I got going. Terrible. The other slightly bad thing that happened is my very pro looking shoe covers (my new favorite riding gear piece, btw) refuse to stay zipped (well one of them anyway) and then the zipper got stuck on that one. I thought briefly of taking them off but I felt like I had to maintain position so I decided to forgoe that move.

Maintain position? Yep, you heard right, maintain position.

For those two negatives listed just up there were the only things that didn't go well in the race. The wind was calm, the road was perfect (I almost tripped when my boot caught on what I thought was sandy pavement - it was just discolored from the sand but it was extremely grippy), and we had a big field (92 registered, 5 didn't pick up their numbers, so we paid 9 places anyway). It was just a bit bigger from last week and it made for some dramatic images when they were all strung out.

Prior to the race a long time friendly rival told me he thought the race would break up, with 10 or 15 riders rolling up the road. He expected it to be strung out, gaps forming, and at some point the elastic breaking. So when it started getting strung out a few laps in, and said friendly rival went rocketing towards the front (we were at the back), my Spidey Sense started tingling.

I couldn't rocket up to the front like him so I had to steadily work my way up, difficult when it's strung out, just as difficult when the field ended up packed tightly. But, eventually, I made it towards the front. I even poked my nose into the first few riders, following a surge by a rider down the backstretch. A lot of wind compared to even a few riders back, but I got a taste of it.

If it came down to a sprint it would not be a late jump sprint.

I drifted back a bit and spent the next few laps slotted in about 20 or 30 riders from the front, far back enough to get shelter, somewhat close to the action, and able to respond if something threatening suddenly brewed up.

On the hill my 175s made a huge difference (at least in my mind), letting me climb seated in either big or little gears (I usually went up in a 53x15 or so, sometimes as low as the 19), or stand if I felt the need. And my properly positioned bars made standing on the hoods a great position. With all the flying, traveling, and such, my bars end up tilted a little too high, a little too low, but my last adjustment (done on the trainer, while I was riding) was really good. My bike finally felt "great".

With about 15 laps down, I started getting tired. I'd been constantly surfing the surges, staying close to the front (well, like 20th), and I figured that if the lap cards said 15 to go or more, I'd drift back and try and recover a bit. The pace was pretty hot and I was getting a bit tired. I strained to catch a glimpse of the lap cards, the first time I'd look at them this race.

5 to go.


Distracted and worried by a potential move off the front, I'd spent at least 15 laps patrolling the front. No chance of drifting back to catch a breath - it took me about 3 or 4 laps to move from the back to the front, and I didn't have that time any more.

Saturday evening, on the trainer (and adjusting my bars) I decided that I'd follow the aforementioned friendly rival in Sunday's race. He led out the sprint, he is almost always in excellent position, and he's typically much stronger than me overall. I reiterated this thought when I went to bed a few hours later, and I reinforced the idea after quizzing him briefly on the unfolding of the sprint the prior week.

So, with the laps counting down quick enough that I only glanced at 2 to go to make sure I was counting right, I set off to find him. And from 2 to go to about half a lap to go, I followed him, moving up the outside when he did, protecting position in the field when he slid back in.

At 2 to go I felt a bit strained, but nothing like last week. I felt strained in expectation, not in struggle, and I had to constantly balance between moving up (expending energy) and holding position (building up reserves for the sprint).

Keltic put a lot of guys at the front around this time, led by their extremely strong Bill Thompson. They lost their front position a short time later and a few guys shot out of the field, trying to do the big break to the finish.

As the surges kept moving up, it seemed that the field was steadily accelerating, shutting down attempts just to move up. I'm sure that it was possible to move up, but I felt some satisfaction that I sat at the front end of the field. Last week I'd have been 30 guys back and starting to panic.

We hit just over 31 mph going into the slight headwind at the bottom of the hill, and the field was pretty bunched up, everyone trying to move up. I lost a few spots to guys going around the outside, but I knew that I wanted to do the hill in the middle of the road, drifting left with everyone towards the top.

Sure enough, as we climbed to the ringing bell, the guys to the outside (left) got shut down, we all drifted left, and I crested the hill only 10 or so riders back.

It's weird, the closer I get to the finish, the less sure I am of the outcome.

The worst is getting led out by teammates. Here are guys killing themselves, just drilling it, for me, and I have no idea if I'll get swamped at the line.

The second worst is being in good position, like 8th or 10th going into the last lap. That's a spot ripe for being swamped, for being boxed in, for sitting up a few hundred meters as the field buries you for even thinking about a good race.

So I tried to think about maintaining my place and not about placing in the race.

As we rounded the turn one guy was way off, maybe 10, maybe 12 seconds away, but I figured we'd catch him in the sprint if nothing changed. A field going 35 mph covers a lot of ground in a hurry, but it'd be touch and go. Two more guys were trying to bridge, but they were a couple seconds back from the solo guy, and I thought that either they'd win or they'd be history.

The somewhat coordinated leadouts seem to have disappeared, but I don't know. Nothing really stood out because I was just groveling on the wheel, trying to ride the surges, trying not to get boxed in.

I chose the middle inside down the backstretch, trusting the wind to handle those on the outside, and the curb to control those to the inside. The field charged on, but I couldn't even see the solo break guy. We were sprinting for second.

Then, at about 300 meters to go, with form just like Nico Mattan in the 1996 Ghent Wevelgem (can you tell that's one of my favorite tapes?), a tall, slim rider launched a strong, fully commited jump. He later told me he found himself at the front, realized it wasn't going to be his race, and jumped really hard.

"I knew I was helping someone out when I did that."

He certainly did.

The field, bottled up just a touch, blew apart. The guy on his wheel did a similar launch, and I followed that second rider. The leadout guy hauled ass, actually gapping the second guy as we started rounding the mirror building bend, 200 meters to go. I, in turn, was not quite on that second guy. The field, I'm sure, was on my wheel.

I could see the two man chase up the hill, and in front of them, the solo break guy, but I quickly forgot about them as I focused on the sprint.

Slightly gapped, hands on the drops, fingers on the shifters, I wanted to do a "good" jump. I'd experimented with my jump in California, albeit while sick, and found that I jump best at 90 rpms. I also found that my jumps in training are much, much stronger than the ones in racing, mainly because I never mentally set up a race sprint. You just can't do that, at least not me, because I have to react to the race situation, not to my sprinting whims.

So with a slight gap to the guy in front of me, and another gap in front of him, and a smattering of riders in front of them, I figured I had a brief moment to collect myself, to look at the SRM, to see what my cadence was, to prepare myself for the sprint.

You know, I wanted to do a proper jump.

Okay. I jump at 90 rpms. Am I going 90? No, definitely too slow, maybe 80. I better shift down, but then I may over spin. Maybe I should anyway...

Aw, eff it, it's the freakin' race and I gotta go NOW.

I shifted BAM, jumped as hard as I could, shifted BAM, jumped again. I got around the two guys in front, then started the left bend to the finish. Tall skinny blue guy. Where did he come from??? He was on the yellow line, drifting left, dying. In the past I'd stay to the right, taking the long but safe line, but today I glanced down and left, saw nothing and went to his inside, cutting short the corner just a touch.

Then I saw the solo break guy. He was dying a thousand deaths, trying to hump it to the line before he got swamped. I died a thousand and one deaths, debating whether I should shift down a gear to pass him. I didn't because my right hand had no idea what "shift down a gear" meant, and I kept slogging the gear. I rode by him too.

I crossed the line clear enough that I didn't throw the bike, and I was coming undone as it was anyway. Although I regret it now, I immediately stopped and lay down on the grass, the world spinning its way around me. I should have kept going, but what's done is done.

Incredibly for me, as I review the data this morning, I jumped at over 100 rpms, and I maintained 110 rpms for a good 5 seconds, even as I shifted. I guess 80 rpms feels different when I'm racing, because it's really 25 rpms faster. The flat 110 rpm plateau surprised me because I normally overgear and sprint at something like 70 rpms. Okay, maybe 90, but not 110.

Although I wasn't sure if one of the two chasers had escaped the clutches of the field, someone confirmed to me that I'd won the sprint. Okay, that I knew, but it wasn't until a minute or two later that someone else confirmed that there were no breaks.


Good bar position, a short spin the day before, a little less sick, and voila, good things.

Maybe getting sick in SoCal is the key. I dunno. But I'll take this day in exchange for all those sick days.


Rishabh Phukan said...

Way to go Aki!

I think I'm going to head back to school early this weekend so I can come out and play with the 4's and possibly 3/4's on sunday!

Hopefully I'll be there and get to hang out :)

Anonymous said...

Of course it's the So Cal germs! We worked hard on growing those just for you last month.

Congrats on the win! I "saw" the whole thing, thanks to your post. Next time, be sure to ride a little bit after this finish line. Your body will thank you....

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Aki!

Aki said...

rtc, julie, rich, thanks.

Something to be said for training while sick. Didn't eat too many second dinners, rode a little more sanely, etc etc.