Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Racing - Back in The Groove

I say that so easily, like I'm back in the groove, but it's not really like that, not totally.

I raced East Hartford, The Rent, E-Haw, whatever, tonight. With a lot of the big guns either missing or simply dormant, the pace seemed more Cat 3 like, not Cat 2 like. This meant "fun" racing, as opposed to "groveling" racing.

Okay, I admit I groveled a bit tonight, but it wasn't like normal, when the Big Guns fire and I go shooting off the back. Like last week, when someone noticed me trying to get out of my pain box and slammed the lid shut hard.

And stuck a big rock on top for good measure.

I seesawed off the back for three laps before I finally got that rock moved and jumped out of the box.

This week we started off under threatening skies, ones which weather.com claimed had "0% chance of rain". That number would graduate to "5% chance of rain" in an hour, and at 9 PM it would be "30% chance of rain". Logically, faithfully, I dismissed the ominous heavy, moist clouds as simple visual threats and not actual physical ones.

On the first lap, a CCNS rider picked up the pace, saw no one respond, and put his head down. With an illogical idea percolating at the back of my head, I rolled off in pursuit. See, even with weather.com's forecast, I figured that if rain started to fall, the promoters would call the race, and if I was in a break... well, I could be in worse position, that's for sure.

So I drilled it in the break. The CCNS guy would beg to differ, I'm sure, but according to my definition of "drilled it", man I drilled it.

Well, at least my first pull was reasonable.

We each did about half a lap, him into the wind, me not into the wind. My first pull went nicely at 475-500 watts, but I knew this would put me into the red soon. Real soon. It's pretty much my max 60 second effort, and even though we were pulling maybe 20-30 seconds each, 475 watts is a lot of watts for me. I knew that I couldn't do that too many times.

In fact, I couldn't do it twice.

My second pull must have broken records - the bad kind, like "lowest power leading a break" or something like that. I did a massive 220 watt pull, incredulous that the CCNS rider didn't just coast by me.

220w FTW (for the win). Not.
(Picture stolen from Tim)

The missus told me later she was hollering at me not to work, so he probably thought I was trying to get him to the front. I couldn't hear her over the thumping of my heart and the whooshing of my breathing, so I had no idea she'd been giving me very good advice.

The field seemed to have woken up, and our "massive" lead dropped quickly, massive being maybe 5 or 8 seconds. Fine, my 220 watt pull probably didn't help (we must have been down to 18-20 mph), but still, the field was more strung out. it wasn't just me.

A second or two behind us, the hammer dropped (I swear I heard it hit) and the field splintered.

I tried to soft pedal a bit, prepare for the catch, the extremely rude jump in pace.

Then Foom Foom Foom, guys blew by me. Extremely rude jump in pace. SOC flew by, then, as if just remembering I existed, looked back and asked if I wanted a wheel.

"No", I shook my head.

I mean, yes, but not just one. I needed four guys to block wind, not one. SOC disappeared up the road. After a few more blurry riders went by, a gaggle of guys, enough to form a temporary wind block, rolled by, allowing me to accelerate onto their wheels, into the miraculous draft.

I groveled for the next lap.

Soon, though, the field found a rhythm, mainly because a few guys went up the road and the chase was steady Freddy, not jumpy Jack, and I settled a bit.

Then the "0% chance of rain" went to "100% chance of rain" because it started to rain.

I relearned that my brakes don't work for the first half second of braking, almost causing me to pile into the four or five guys in front of me. Luckily the brakes finally grabbed because it'd have been embarrassing to take out a bunch of guys easing into a turn.

The brakes worked fine after that, I just had to feather them every now and then. Just like my car, I reminded myself.

With my glasses getting wet, my vision flickering double sometimes (happens when I ride hard), I had to focus to ride safely. Barely wet painted stripes, lots of curve, three turns, and things started getting kind of slippery.

The rain got just a bit heavier.

With the wet coming down relatively steadily - a misty rain, not a heavy one - the officials called 5 to go, shortening the race due to the weather.

The pace immediately increased, I immediately slid back a bit, and I found myself in that pain cave again.

"Just make the pain go away!" my body cried.

"Just one more lap!" I replied. "We might make it to the sprint!"

"Really, the sprint? Oooh, the sprint. Okay, one more lap. The sprint, really?"

I kept winning this little internal battle. My body kept falling for my "this is the sprint lap" line. 3 to go. 2 to go. Ding, ding, ding, bell lap.

Okay, I told myself, this is for real.

I rolled up the sheltered right side after the first turn. Tried not to ride on the parallel-to-our-line white stripes on the backstretch (think running lanes on a track). Filtered further up on said backstretch, trying to set up for an inside line, one that would give me protection on the exit.


Went into the last turn on the outside, heart kind of in my throat as everyone gingerly coasted to the outside, trying not to let the bike slide out. Then, once straighted out, we all started pedaling furiously.

I worked my way to the left, the inside, of the guy in front of me.

I knew the left side had shelter, the right side none, and the pace, for 200 meters to go, seemed agonizingly slow. I knew that it'd be hard to do a hard jump on the curving (left) final straight so I knew going early would have fewer drawbacks. (200 meters is early for me, 150 meters is good.) Since the left side was the sheltered side, it was also the "gives no protection" side.

Naturally I jumped on the left side, hugging the edge of the road.

It took me forever to wind up the gear, no real mental or physical focus, just slogging at the pedals, trying to turn them over. I overgeared a lot, partially because it's hard to break a tire loose when overgeared (just like in a car in the snow - less peak power means less chance of breaking tires loose), partially because I automatically shifted up when I jumped and I didn't jump all that hard, didn't jump from a fast speed, but I still shifted into the 13 or 12 or something.

Committed to this big gear, I slogged away along the edge of the road, the wood fence, and no one seemed to be coming up on my side. Like I said, it was hard to jump hard, and in a long curve, on just-moistened roads, it's almost impossible to put down that insane jump power required to stomp the competition into the ground.

I led all the way to the line, one guy almost catching me, his wider line giving him more speed, but at the same time requiring him to go further. The tradeoff bought him close, but my shorter, slower line got me there first. I think.

I don't know how many guys were in front, 4 or 5 or something, but to lead out the sprint and win it, that was good.

Afterwards I had a small surprise and a pleasant little chat, one I'll detail later. Then we went out for some good food, good company.

Racing with friends is fun. Racing with sensible people is fun. Racing with riders who are riding at your level is fun.

Racing tonight, therefore, was fun.

Can't wait till next week.


Unknown said...

We were all standing at the start finish line when we saw you go on a break.

It went something like this:

"Is that Aki in a break?"
"Oh wait, holy crap it is!"
"Someone get the freaking cameras!!!"

Hilarious. Good job out there. I had to get a ride home so I didn't get a chance to watch, but it looked like you were having a blast.

I got my first bonafide leadout and got a prime with that. It was awesome.

I ended up clawing my way to second in the sprint for the race. Pitiful sprint, but I went on the inside and was shielded a bit.

Aki said...

lol. I thought everyone would just follow me, but nooo, they wanted to watch me work. At least the field was friendly when I got caught, no super-vicious counterattacks to drop me.

Good job on your sprinting, prime and finish. I haven't looked at downloaded data but I have a feeling that the sprint wasn't easy, just one of those demoralizing sloggers of a sprint.

Leadouts are good and bad. Good for help, bad for all the pressure they give you to perform. For me, if someone that doesn't know me well leads me out, many times the leadout guy/s will drop me inadvertently.

Unknown said...

Haha, actually I didn't even break 900 watts for 10 seconds in the final sprint. It was like 800 watts for 12 seconds, which is a little funny.

Same thing happened at the ninigret race. I was tired at the end so I picked the shielded side to sprint up and still managed to finish in the money even though I had no real kick.

These training crits are good for the endurance stuff!