Sunday, May 24, 2009

Racing - Hartford Crit

Well, at least it didn't rain during the race.

Other than that, not much went well, at least not racing-wise.

I felt hot going into the race. Not hot like "Dude, I'm gonna rock this race!" or hot like "Man, it's hot out!" but hot like "I feel feverish."

Since I've misinterpreted various allergy symptoms for colds, I decided that this latest iteration of the "cold that won't go away" was just another allergy symptom.


With sweat pouring out of my body, we set off to Hartford. We picked up some friends of the missus on the way, and we got to the race in good order, in good time, and even took a short route to our secret "just behind the start line" parking spot.

We set out our picnic stuff, but with my race coming up, I went back to the car to get ready.

That's when things started going south.

First off, when pumping up my front 440, I managed to unscrew the valve out of the tire. Since it's a really tall rim, the valve actually disappeared from view behind some plastic sheet material that Zipp used way back when. I couldn't reinsert the valve properly - the plastic sheeting got in the way. I pumped up the tire, but it seemed to go soft kinda fast. Finally, after pulling the pump off, I could hear the air hissing out of the tire.

On to the back up front wheel - a freshly glued DV46 Vittoria CX combo.

This tire, thankfully, inflated normally, and I stuck the matching rear wheel into to the bike. I gathered some Powerade (blue, to match the kit) and water (clear, because that's the color of water) and set off to warm up a bit.

Oh, but before that, I set up the helmet cam. New batteries - ultra light Lithium Ion - took probably a pound off the weight of the set-up, and I taped the other stuff together so I could jam the camcorder in one pocket, the batteries in another. No more Camelbak. I left the batteries in for the ChaseCam (on the helmet) because the batteries ought to be good for 12 or more hours. I kept the ZR100 off since that battery lasts something like 90 minutes - I'd turn it on just before the race.

There were two of us with no teammates so we warmed up together - Hob and me. My legs loaded up right away, I felt awful, and I dreaded the start of the race. The camcorder seemed a bit heavy but nothing crazy, and I felt only a touch of the weight bobbing.

I felt a bit better after a few minutes of cruising around, but nothing snappy, nothing jumpy like some of the others I saw sprinting up a short rise in the standard warm-up loop.

Then, with just a few minutes before the race, I made sure my camera was on, refilled bottles, drank some more (I probably drank two bottles while warming up), got gloves, and got the SRM head on the bike.

Then, totally unmotivated, I rolled to the line.

I realized something the other day - that I rarely get nervous in races, rarely get that adrenaline rush. I mean, yeah, I used to get them all the time - one of my teammates called me an "adrenaline junkie" - but after years and years of racing, it gets to be a bit rote. The challenges remain predictable, my weaknesses always obvious - I'd need to hang in, conserve energy, and hope that I had a sprint at the end of the race.

The missus and her friends were there supporting me, but I didn't feel quite right. Usually, if nothing else, I'll be excited (not nervous) about racing, happy, but instead I felt too heavy, too slow. I think it was the combination of the humidity, the perceived heat (I thought it was overwhelmingly hot, although not too many others agreed), and whatever this allergy thing does to slow me down.

Nonetheless I set off when the start sounded, reasonably motivated, and started exploring the course all over again.

The first turn had gotten much worse, a single line available on the inside, otherwise I had to go wide.

The backstretch was just as bad as before, with long, wide, jagged cracks running down the middle of the lane. I think I hit every single one of them in the first few laps, but after a while I found that I could either stay 2 feet to the right of the yellow line (which turned dotted white) or to the right of the solid shoulder line.

The wind really hit hard at the end of the backstretch, literally taking my breath away the first time I ran into it. I studiously avoided the left side after that, apparently missing a good spot for moving up.

The hill wasn't too bad, but I knew it'd get worse as the race went on.

With 25 laps of a 0.8 mile course, we'd be racing for something like 45 minutes, but, man, did it seem like an eternity.

One guy in blue, riding with locked elbows, would swerve dramatically around every bump and pothole. After watching a few guys almost get hit by his rear wheel (everyone started avoiding that rear wheel, knowing it would suddenly dart to the side by a foot), I decided I had to say something. I rolled up next to him and said, not too loudly, "Dude, you gotta ride through the stuff, not swerve around it."

Apparently I said it pretty loudly because both Hob and SOC heard me say it, as they reported to me after the race. They hadn't realized it was me though, just that someone was reprimanding someone else.

The guy was strong, at least stronger than me, because he seemed to be in front of me all the time. But his erratic riding was enough that I didn't notice any other erratic or unusual riding habits. Well, one guy with moaning brakes, but he seemed to know what he felt comfortable doing (and not), and so he was fine.

Hob and SOC both pointed out that they saw some significant contact, but that nothing came of it. Since both upgraded from Cat 4 recently, they found this refreshing. Apparently the Cat 3 field at Hartford seemed much better behaved than a typical Cat 4 crit. Better be, right?

The race stretched on and on, endless, and I regularly slammed into cracks, potholes, manhole covers, listening to the wheels banging around. I thought I'd flatted at least once, I hit so hard, but the tires held up. Tubulars rock.

A few times I found myself in big trouble, but the pace would ease just before I got sawed off completely, and I'd claw my way back into the race.

I used all the tricks I could. Sometimes I stood on the hill. I shifted into lower gears on the backstretch, sometimes higher ones. I sat on wheels like a limpet mine. I eased to let others get a spot that would allow me to draft them, instead of fighting needlessly for position.

None of it helped. I never felt my legs come around. I felt like I was pedaling in slow motion, churning through a thick vat of butter.

Finally we started seeing low lap card numbers. I swear that I saw 6 to go, then, two laps later, 5 to go, but it was just my overheating brain, numb legs, and building delirium responsible for that, not any officials or anything.

With three to go I was still far back, hoping I could salvage some kind of race for myself, for the missus's friends. I wondered if some miracle would happen, if suddenly I'd have some legs.

With two to go I got desperate, and when a guy in blue (not the aforementioned one, but I think a teammate) shot up the right side on the backstretch, I did a little move to follow him. I had to ease when I hit the wind, letting a few guys come in and fill the gap.

That move killed me.

It's like a thing I read about kicking a guy in his privates. Some martial arts will teach their disciples to launch a furious counter-attack if hit in the private because such an attack takes a second to sink in. The theory is that you have to attack before the pain hits, because once it sinks in, it's over.

Well, my move up the side was the kick in the privates.

The meter started running.

A few hundred meters later, the meter went "Ting!" and my legs exploded.

I did manage to make it to the bell, but when guys started going, I couldn't. I got around the first turn and sat up, letting a whole bunch of guys past me.

Finally, I heard someone pleaing, "C'mon Connecticut, don't sit up! Keep pedaling!"

I heard a response, "Dude, forget it, the race's over."

But that cry got through my addled brain and I started pedaling again, actually keeping some kind of pace with the field.

I followed them down the backstretch, around the last turn, and watched the guy in blue, who'd attacked a lap and a half earlier, finally pull off the front of the race.

Immediately everyone started sprinting.

"Boy," I thought, "I wish I was that strong."

I rolled up the hill, way behind the field.

A guy rolled up next to me.

"Sorry about yelling at you. It was just... well, you know." (or something like that).

I grinned, or tried to grin (it might have looked like a grimace).

"It's okay."

The announcer said my name, saying something about me. I think it was about the helmet cam.

I crossed the line.

Hot, tired, exhausted, I flopped onto our picnic area. Turned off the camcorder. Undid one of the Lithium Ion batteries (to turn the actual helmet cam "off").

Hey, at least I got some helmet cam footage.


Rishabh Phukan said...

Bummer that I didn't get to see you at the race, but I showed up right before mine.

It was my worst race of the year, when I didn't end up cramping up. It started pouring right before we lined up, and everytime I got the draft, I ended up getting being right next to a crash.

After 3 times of this happening, my brain just told my body to stop and I couldn't push harder.

I got pulled soon after.

I need to get better at drafting in a single paceline-ish thing. I just didn't trust anyone to ride smoothly after the crashes. I guess my race ended right after that mental note.

I feel like today would have been better spent on a long ride.

Oh well. That's bike racing.


Aki said...

It's unfortunate that it started raining at the end of the day. The 5s also got reduced to only a few riders after guys went down when the pavement started getting wet. At least you didn't go down.

We left when the rain started coming down relatively firmly in the 5s. But later it really, really came down hard.

Rishabh Phukan said...

Yup, I was there for that bit.

It also sounded like my car was being hit by bullets on the highway because the sky just exploded for a few minutes.

I'm stronger now than I was at bethel, but I just wish my form was close to where it was. Oh well :)

Aki said...

I don't understand how you can be stronger but have less form. To me they're just different words for the same thing (?). You'd mentioned in BF that you averaged 160-odd watts at Bethel but 220-odd watts at Hartford. Doesn't that mean you're riding with about 30% more power? To me that would be a good thing. It's just that other riders are riding better also.

I think one of the things that's happening is kind of like what's happened to Levi in the Giro. Levi is good in the early season for the simple fact that fewer good riders care about that part of the year. Basso, Menchov, Sastre, they're all cruising along in Feb, getting in their miles, while Levi is peaking, trying to win.

Now it's later in the season and guys like Basso, Menchov, Sastre, they're starting to come into form. Levi, who I think is outclassed by those guys when on equal form, now finds it difficult to race against them effectively. (Watch him slay everyone on tomorrow's stage lol).

Likewise, Hartford marks the beginning of the summer, and the guys who were doing Bethel just for training are now reaching some good form. Races will get harder for a little while longer (I figure until mid-July) as the collective field improves its form. Then, later, races should get manageable as the best riders upgrade or burn out and you gain some more fitness.

I'm not any better than I was at Bethel, but the guys in the 3s are way, way stronger than I was back during the Series. I was like Levi - close to maxed out back then. They were like Basso - just twiddling their pedals. Those guys are now getting into good form just now, and racing against them when they're at 60% is different than trying to beat them when they're at 85%.