Sunday, April 19, 2009

Racing - Plainville April 18, 2009

Saturday I went out and did Plainville. And yes, I did it despite not finishing my post on how to glue a tubular tire (I'm going to work on that after this little bit).

I've done Plainville before (once, twice, three times, and I got the first one on my helmet cam). I know the course, I know the wind tendencies, and I even know where it is (left, left, right, left, right, right, and that's from the driveway of the house - skip the initial "left, left" if you count driving in our little development as "part of the driveway").

In other words it's really close to the house.

I went specifically to repay SOC for some of the hard work he did at the last Bethel. Most of my team made the trip to Battenkill so I was sort of alone down here in CT. SOC's teammate had third place almost wrapped up, but two riders had a theoretical chance at passing him for that third overall. They'd have to sweep the points (two primes plus win the race), but still, it was possible.

Said third place overall rider was also up at Battenkill, so two of his teammates, SOC and Est, made the trip to try and protect his third spot.

Since I had no team, and the team didn't do anything at Plainville before, I went to help out SOC protect that third place overall.

We talked about how to approach this puzzle. The easiest thing would be to get someone other than the two contenders to win the first points prime, and then we could relax and work on bonus stuff.

Of course we threw around the idea of trying to sweep the points, both primes and the finish, because apparently that would get him or his team something.

After a little reality check, we decided the more conservative approach would work better for us. Neither of us are breakaway riders so we'd have to work things out in sprints, and those get a bit chaotic and unpredictable.

We arrived at the race at the same time and in short order we were spinning around a nice warm up loop that I had no idea existed until that morning. We went by a few guys from the two teams that held first and second overall (Blue and We-Chase-Blue, albeit a different team Blue from '07).

After a bit of pedaling around, we did a little jump to open up our legs. As SOC accelerated, I realized that I needed to do an even smaller jump to open my legs up so I could do the "little" jump. So I did about 3 pedal strokes at some absurdly low effort level, sat, and watched SOC, about 50-80 meters up the road, look around a bit bewildered since his warm up partner suddenly disappeared.

He looked back, saw me, and eased.

That's when I jumped pretty hard.

My legs didn't feel very good - I hadn't ridden the day before so I felt slow, sluggish, stiff. But that jump helped my legs wake up a bit, kind of like splashing cold water on your face shocks you into coherence. I caught my breath and decided that was enough.

We headed over to the course, ditched our LS jerseys, and after the Missus pinned on my number and gave me a good luck kiss, we lined up.

I saw, for the first time in maybe 20-22 years, a guy Dave. I read his name with a bit of shock when checking the results the prior week - back in the day he was a top notch racer, raced for Richard Sachs, placed 10th behind a certain Davis Phinney in the Boston Mayor's Cup Crit, and won numerous state titles as a Cat 1 or 2.

Now he was a 3, and he was in my race.

The kicker? He was the one guy that could take SOC's teammate's third overall.

I was hoping that he'd gotten really heavy or something, you know, like I did, but he looked just the same as he did before. Maybe not quite as cut, but the same oak tree legs, the same pedal churning power. Smooth as always, adept in the field, and tactically savy.

Like very savy.

I said hi to him, contemplated telling him I was actually riding against him, and before I could decide what to do we were racing.

To everyone's surpise, including me, I went after the first attack, a softening up attack by We Chase Blue. With me and a third guy tagging along, we went nowhere, but that little effort finally cleared up my legs. After a few laps of recovery I felt good.

I'd also managed to recon the course under fire. I mean, yeah, I know where it goes, but a course changes with wind and weather. On that day the weather cooperated - sunny, maybe 70 degrees. I raced in shorts and a short sleeve jersey, and I drank an unusual amount of fluids for a one hour-ish race.

The wind always seems more significant to me. I learned quickly that the wind mimicked the day I wore the helmet cam. From the left on the main stretch, a slight wind after Turn One, from the right on the back stretch, and a headwind just before the last turn, Turn Two.

I'd taught SOC to look for wind, and after watching him for a few laps, he looked like he read the wind the same way, and he sought shelter appropriately.


For the next 15 minutes, SOC and I took turns looking after things. I'd watch moves, he'd watch moves.

His teammate went up the road in a little group containing both the race leader and I think the second overall guy. Their teams watched content at the front of the field, leaving the chase to those that had missed out. Although technically my team (Connecticut Coast Cycle) missed the move, I had an ally in the break, so I didn't want to chase.

A few solo type riders had to chase though, and Dave, with only one teammate in the field, needed to get up there to bring them back. He came up to my hip and murmured.

"We need to chase. The race leader is up there and everyone is blocking."

This was when I regretted not telling Dave that I was trying to help CVC. Dave rolled to the front, and him and a former collegiate teammate (of both of us) brought the break back.

SOC and I missed the first prime sprint (we didn't know it happened, although SOC gave me a heads up because he knew when it was scheduled to occur), but for the second one (which we thought was the first one of the day) we moved up aggressively. I watched the two overall leaders fighting it out for the win, and would ya believe it, the overall leader took the prime.

I was sitting just off those guys' wheels, and when they crossed the line, with Dave nowhere in sight, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. SOC's teammate's third overall was officially secure. We could relax and race a race.

I glanced back to see what was going on - SOC sat on my wheel, a gap between him and the field.

"Hey, we can relax now!" I yelled.

He grinned back.

I tried to pull a bit but the field didn't want anyone leaving and they quickly regained our wheels.

A bit later someone offered me some inside tactical advice. I told him I couldn't take advantage of it, but SOC could. He nodded and I went and told SOC the tidbit. This galvanized SOC into action, to the point that Mrs. SOC was surprised on a particular lap when he came around the corner in a small break.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, Dave rode up to me again.

"5 to go."

I looked up and saw a big "5" looking back at me. I hadn't known where the lap cards were so it was nice to learn before it was too late.

I started looking for SOC. He saw me looking, interpreted the action properly, and eased over onto my wheel. This was good.

Only one problem.

We hadn't discussed the final sprint before the race - we'd focused on the numerical permutations for the overall and had decided that we really needed to protect the third overall before we thought of anything else. Problem was we didn't make any contingency plans, so now that his teammate's third was secure, our tactics were up in the air. The only known quantity was that I'd work for him.

With a slight cross-headwind sprint, it'd be best to go late, and to go on the left (because the wind came from the right). But by the time I figured that out, a few laps into the race, I couldn't really tell SOC because the whole field could listen in to my advice. I also knew that my legs were good for perhaps half a lap leadout, but it'd be a good, fast half lap. This meant I'd go on the backstretch at some point.

I could burn maybe another quarter lap match if I had some protection from the wind, i.e. if I was a bit far back and had to move up, I could do so from the first turn to the launch point on the back stretch.

Again, unfortunately, I couldn't share this readily with SOC.

Long time teammates who both train and race together will develop an almost uncanny ability to read each others' minds. A small nod or a subtle glance can convey paragraphs of information. SOC and I weren't there yet so I had to exagerate some of my nods and glances.

Therefore, every 30 seconds or so, for the last five laps, I'd turn around to check if he was there. If we had matching kits on, such actions would basically broadcast to the field "Hey! I'm leading him out! So if you want a leadout, get on his wheel! Okay?"

Long time or more experienced teammates would be a lot more subtle.

If I were in front, leading out someone, I'd look down, not back. I'd look for my teammate's fork, his front wheel, maybe even a unique mark we'd put on one of the two (some bright tape on the hub or fork works great). I'd conceal my looks with a face wracked with fatigue, so my glances down would appear to be that of a rider just about to give up. Folks watching would say, "Oh, he's supposed to lead out him. But man, that leadout guy won't make two downstrokes before he explodes." Then I hit hyperdrive and lead out my sprinter to a victory. Or something like that.

Alas, I didn't have those luxuries.

I'd sit up a bit, crane my head back, and look at SOC. Okay, he knows I want him on my wheel. And he looks pretty determined to hang onto it.

I tried not to take anything for granted, but I figured he knew it was five to go. Early in the race he'd noted we'd just covered fifteen minutes of racing, and the first prime hits at that time. We never heard the bell though so we didn't know if there was a prime. Whatever, SOC showed me he was much more aware of the race time than me. And I thought it'd be a bit hokey to point five fingers down to show him 5 to go, like a catcher signaling his pitcher.

For four laps we danced in the field. I'd choose the really big gaps if I had to move through guys, opting not to slither through the little ones. Luckily the field size allowed us to move around without too much problem.

In a 100 rider field, following a leadout man for five laps is practically impossible. It's more realistic to grab your leadout's wheel with maybe two laps to go, maybe one, and then fight to keep it.

It's hard though because a good rider can take your leadout man's wheel at will. It takes 5 to 20 seconds, involves no contact, and you're powerless to defend.

Luckily this doesn't happen all the time. Usually a leadout will benefit both the sprinter being led out as well as the guy behind the sprinter. So the fight ends up for the sprinter's wheel, not the leadout man's wheel.

In this case it'd be SOC.

The sprinter banks on this fight, and in fact when I was the sprinter, I've let other leadout men into the line in front of me because I figure that's another 100 meters of superfast leadout. A field with good teams (i.e. they're working together) usually approaches a field sprint led by a cluster of leadout men intent on drilling it almost to the line, followed by a cluster of sprinters all jockeying for position amongst each other.

As I remembered all this stuff I couldn't explain it to him, nor could I give him even hints of what to do. I had to rely on his wit, his ability to read race situations, his intuition, all those instincts, to carry him through the last few laps of the race.

We came up on two to go and things started getting organized at the front. We Chase Blue had a lot, and I mean a lot, of guys at the front. They had two guys off the front and were blocking like mad - they were trying to take the team overall, and getting first and second would help their cause greatly. Naturally the Race Leader (Blue) and his guys were chasing like mad, because they could also take the team prize.

We sat just behind all that.

The second last lap went by pretty quickly, nothing dramatic happening. I kept looking back at SOC and decided that I'd be burning my quarter lap match on the bell lap to move up, then going at half a lap to go. I decided it wasn't worth it to try and move up at 2 to go, only to have to fight like mad to maintain position. In all likelihood I could do it, but it's impossible to follow a wheel through that stuff, so SOC would be left out in the cold. Since my job was to lead him out, we had the luxury of skipping such efforts because we'd sacrifice one rider (me) to bring the sprinter (him) to the proper place at the proper time.

We came up on the bell lap, one to go, and now things were getting a bit heated, lots of yelling and stuff. Turn One got a bit crowded, but as the field exited the turn, things got nicely strung out. I knew I would see a bit of wind initially, but by staying left I'd hit the backstretch protected from the wind, and I knew I could go past the front at that point.

I surged out of the turn, on the left side, and hoped that SOC would follow me. Although a moderate effort for a last lap, maybe one that could be repeated twice before the sprint, on any other lap it might have been considered an attack. As I passed riders strung out in single file, I could see what was happening up front with the two man break.

The We Chase Blue break had disintegrated.

Gallantly one of the riders gave the other the biggest leadout he could, then sat up. His teammate had maybe 50-70 meters, but the way the field flew out of that turn, I didn't think he had a chance.

The field gravitated towards the guy coming back from the break, looking for shelter. The exploded break rider went almost to the left curb to get out of the way. And the field veered as if to tag him, pausing ever so slightly in their efforts. We Chase Blue didn't want to pull and no one else wanted to open up the sprint.

I decided I'd open the sprint.

I had built up some good momentum and had to go left since the field had strung riders from the right curb all the way to the exploded break rider to the left. I hoped he'd left a little gap, that I wouldn't have to brake, and as I went left, still in my "moderate" effort level, I knew that I'd have maybe two or three inches to spare.

I went left. And yelled.


I went by him and accelerated. Now I was committed.

I wasn't sure that SOC would be able to follow - in fact, I felt pretty sure he wouldn't be able to, simply because he has wider bars than me, and if I had his bars, I wouldn't have gone through the gap.

However, I hoped that by opening up the sprint, I'd get the long strung out field to straighten out a bit, and since SOC had been carrying more speed than the field, he'd be able to slot in as soon as he saw a gap.

I don't know what he did though. I didn't have the luxury of turning around anymore. I sprinted up to and past the poor break rider. He moved right and eased, knowing that the field would be flying by him.

Just before the last turn I did something odd, though, and my left foot, or rather my left ankle, smashed into the let chainstay on the upstroke. My shoe popped out of my pedal.

I looked down to clip back in, but the pedal spun wildly on the crank. It took a few jabs - I don't remember how many - before I got clipped in. The SRM says I spent two seconds fumbling around, so that's not too bad. I remember one guy (not SOC) going past me as I did this, and it ends up he won the race.

I got through the last turn and started sprinting. My legs immediately screeched in protest and I thought, "Oh, good, I can practice sprinting when I'm totally dead!"

I did about two more pedal strokes and realized, okay, this is why I jump late, not early. I can't move my legs anymore.

A few guys whizzed by me so I raised my hand to indicate a problem, a biological in this case. I coasted across the line 11th, apparently, with SOC actually getting money with his 6th place finish.

After the race we rehashed some stuff, but the big surprise was that SOC had gotten 6th without realizing it was the last lap of the race. He just "followed" the guys going for the "prime", but they all sat up after the sprint. That's when he realized that maybe it was the end of the race.

Overall though it was a good race. Our focus on race objectives helped mask the pain of effort - a sense of purpose really helps motivation, and we both gave it our all for someone who wasn't even there. We worked well together and in the end, although the leadout wasn't successful in an exact sense (since SOC wasn't on my wheel), I learned that I can, in fact, lead out someone pretty well.


Rishabh Phukan said...

Nice write up!

I did the same thing once at plainville where I figured there was still another lap to go when in reality, it was already the last lap.


No One Line said...

"Luckily this doesn't happen all the time. Usually a leadout will benefit both the sprinter being led out as well as the guy behind the sprinter. So the fight ends up for the sprinter's wheel, not the leadout man's wheel."

I only raced Plainville once, but it seems to me that this still works out in the sprinter's favor at Plainville considering that turn at 200m to the line. A well-led-out sprinter can jump right out of that turn and gap anybody behind him - it can really be a sprint from the front. In the race I did, I got on Guido's wheel as he followed an attack up the inside on the backstretch. I took that corner third and threw my bike by him for 2nd. The winner, Guido, and I had hit the corner with enough speed that when we jumped to sprint there was a big gap behind us, with people still coming out of the corner. Maybe that's partially due to some wider spaces in the 4/5 field, but I got the impression that positioning is going to be crucial in a lot of races at Plainville and that it would be easy to miss the sprint by being one wheel too far back.

Aki said...

True that on Plainville. But a headwind sprint favors a sprinter with a good jump, and it's very possible to pass a couple guys in the final stretch. Difficult but possible.

For example, I don't think I would want to lead out a sprint there - I'd rather be maybe second or third wheel. Most leadout men would blow before the turn, and if they made it through it, it'd still allow say 2-3 guys to vy for the win.

Okay, I rethought that last thought. I'd go for a leadout that launches me at the last turn, but it'd have to be fast. My leadout wasn't very fast (34-35 mph). A 38-40+ mph leadout would make it virtually impossible to get passed after the last turn.

bigCrank said...

primes there are pretty predictable (~15 and 30 min). the first one occured when two "WeChaseBlue" were up the road.