Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Racing - @TheRent, June 30, 2009

For the past week or so, the weather forecast for the area has been sort of similar each day: 10 more days of scattered thundershowers. The percentage chance of precipitation varies from 30 to 50%, and weather.com has ominous pictures of grey clouds with lightning and such, but with the sun peeking out from behind it.

Welcome to Connecticut in June!

Although we've had some bad weather, including an unusual tornado touching down nearby, the weather hasn't followed up the forecast very well in the past 4 or 5 days. Okay, I admit we got dumped on for a while, but Sunday, for example, turned out to be a great day. Same with Monday. And Tuesday.

And that brings me to Tuesday@TheRent, or EHaw, aka The East Hartford Training Races at Rentschler Field.

I came into the day a bit tired, with a race on Sunday and a longish group ride on Monday. The latter included some relatively significant climbing, one hill extending for 10 or so minutes of leg-breaking, steadily declining (500w -> 220w) effort. I also made some significant short efforts, trying to learn how hard I can go after a way-anaerobic effort. The hardest was a jump after a string of slower moving cars, did an extended hard effort, then tried to make it up this kicker of a little hill. I managed to turn the pedals over until I could breathe again so that was a good sign (first time I could do that on that hill).

After two harder days on the bike, I feel either leery or expectant. Leery because my legs are shot, or expectant because I'm starting to feel good.

This time I felt expectant.

As soon as I got home from work, the missus and I packed up and rushed off to the race. I scarfed down a banana, drank some Gatorade, and hoped that the pasta I had at lunch would hold me through the race until dinner. I hadn't "unconfigured" my bike from the Monday night ride, so it still had my seat bag, tail light, and Down Low Glow light setup. Although I took the tail light and bag off later, I'd leave the DLGs on while I warmed up.

I grabbed a brimmed cap, a "training cap", because I like the look of a brimmed cap under a helmet. For racing I usually use a brimless cap because then I can see forward while my head is in that "I'm hurting" looking down pose. Today, though, was more for training, so it was brimmed cap time.

At the race I used a recycled Bethel number (I'd been assigned 286 for the Rent Series so I found an unused 286, cut off the Bethel references, and am using that number), using 9 pins (!) to hold it to my jersey.

Which reminds me, I want to do a post on pinning. But that's a different topic.

Anyway, I registered and went warming up with some of the guys I met and raced with on Sunday. One of the guys was SOC, the guy who I tried to help that day. He seemed as cheerful as ever, and he wanted to do a good ride at his second (?) Rent race for the year.

Just before heading back to the start line, one of guys rolling around with me asked me what those silver tubes (the DLG) were on the bike. To illustrate I plugged in the battery, lighting them up. And since this was a flat race, and therefore battery weight really doesn't matter, I decided to race with the lights on.

(Note: I've raced with the feathery weight lights themselves since prior to the CCC Crit at Bethel. They're kind of a pain to take off so I've just left them on.)

The usual threats, Aiden and Tim, were there, but the third leg smasher, Eric, wasn't. This gave me some hope that the race would be a bit more suitable to someone like me. When the three leg smashers start smashing legs, I fall victim pretty quickly. When one is missing, the other two tend to smash a little less, and that lets me actually race a bit.

In this case Tim launched a hard attack at the start, literally standing up on the pedals for something like half a lap. After two or three hard laps he finally sat up, and the cursing field sat up with him.

Except for one of SOC's teammates, who promptly launched a counterattack.

He got a gap pretty quickly, tempting others to bridge, but with his team CVC literally everywhere in the field, it'd be up to one of maybe 8 or 10 riders to make the effort. I did a little pull, closed a little gap to a group of four racers, but nothing significant as far as the race was concerned.

For me, though, bridging that little gap was pretty significant because I went hard to do it, promptly got caught, and then managed to hang on when the pace picked up again.

Of course, as luck would have it, I timed it all wrong. With attacks and counterattacks collectively tiring the fields' legs, it was an ideal time to launch a muderous attack.

And when it finally came, it came just as I got caught. Of course it had to be Tim. He took with him two or three riders, quickly got a 40 or 50 meter gap, and then one of SOC's teammates bridged.

After a lap or three of pulling, the break sat well clear of the field, reshuffled to include just Tim, one of Aiden's CCNS teammates, and one of SOC's teammates.

I groveled in the hurt pit for a while, hanging on. At about this time I started regretting choosing the cool looking brimmed cap. I couldn't see well without lifting my head up, but I was so tired I didn't want to lift. So I shoved my cap up, helmet down, trying to rearrange stuff, but nothing worked. I had to keep peering up to see what was going on.

Note to self: use brimless caps in any race situation.

When a few of SOC's teammates rolled off the front, I felt obligated to chase, or, as I prefer, bridge (brimmed cap or not).

See, if you chase all the time, you're only helping the field. Great if you're trying to help someone in the field (like a teammate or a friend), but usually it's just a collosal waste of energy.

Instead, I like the Bridge. This involves launching a somewhat hard jump, like 2/3's of a sprint, then following it up with a leg-searing (for me) 450-500 watt effort. With a Bridge effort, you gap the field, not drag it along, so anyone who wants to go with you has to make the same initial jump effort.

And no one else benefits from your work.

By now Tim and his two break companions were well up the road, about 1/2 to 3/4 of a lap clear. I hadn't seen SOC for a few laps so I figured he may have flatted, or, after the race Sunday, and doing a little instructional racing in the earlier B race, he had sat up. I still felt obligated to race though, and I decided that if he wasn't in the field, I'd race for myself but take more "effort chances", i.e. bridge and stuff. You know, test my legs and such.

SOC's teammates, numerous as they were, did an honorable thing - instead of blocking and blocking and blocking and blocking, they decided to do a parallel pursuit type effort, keeping the pace high enough to discourage attacks but low enough that they didn't chase down the break.

They actually set a pretty hard pace, one that got guys in difficulty. One by one guys got shelled. I sat near the back, struggling a bit, but when the guy in front of me let a gap go, I couldn't do anything about it. I should have, but my stupid cap was in the way and I didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. I did one of my "periscope" checks, saw pavement, and immediately kicked myself (mentally of course) for wearing the brimmed cap.

One guy rolled around me, and I realized I was in an Australian Pursuit like position. I was sitting on a guy's wheel and I had to calculate when I should go, balancing three important variables: recovering, wind direction, and the escaping field. The more I sat, the better recovered I'd be when I finally went. I could only go in certain sections of the course so I could use the wind to my benefit - in the headwind bit I'd explode quickly if I went there, so I'd have to wait until a more gentle section of the course. The whole time I thought about this the field steadily rolled away - I didn't have all day to think about my problem.

Finally, with the field at the edge of "reachability", my legs about as good as they'd get, I went pretty hard. I think the guy wasn't very happy with my jump (I think he was expecting a gentle pull), but I knew it was either jump or get lapped, and I wanted to try and get back into the field.

I pedaled furiously, trying to bridge before the headwind section. The missus, surprised to see this third big effort, screamed in support as I cranked by her.

And, miraculously, I made it back into the field.

But my legs weren't happy at all, I started to twinge a lot, and I couldn't catch my breath. A lap later, my legs sort of went numb and I sat up. Guys rolled by me, mainly solo, time trialing behind the field. I moved way over, off the racing line, when the break rolled up to me. Tim plugged away at the front, the CCNS guy sat second wheel, and SOC's teammate rolled by in third spot.

When he got next to me my adled, oxygen-starved brain did some calculations. Deep profile wheels, red Cannondale frame... it wasn't SOC's teammate. It was SOC himself!

Well now.

I was glad I never chased, not that I could have, but still, you know, I'm glad I didn't. It's hard restraining that kind of power, you know :)?

I stopped by the missus and Mrs SOC so I could watch the final bit of the race unfold. Tim had been pulling like a mofo, CCNS too, and SOC, well, he looked good but I think he was the least experienced of the three riders.

I said to the missus that Tim knew what to do, so did the other guy, but SOC, he'd be happy just to be in the break, and he may do too much work in the last couple laps.

Plus, I thought silently, Tim can throw down a world of hurt, something that SOC probably has never experienced.

I hollered at him to build reserves, but the Doppler effect meant he heard, "Errrssss". Then I told him to keep alert, which he heard as, "Errrssss."

I figured Tim would go at around 2 to go, and sure enough, 150 meters before they saw the 2 to go card, he launched a hard attack. SOC tried to go, as did the third rider, but it took a good 250 meters for them to come close to closing the gap.

Another 250 and it was all together. The third rider launched just after the bell. I screamed "RIGHT!!!!" and this time, because they were already passed us, no Doppler. SOC looked right and jumped hard. Tim went too, sitting on, watching, lurking.

Oh man. It's like watching a cat crouched on the floor, tail wiggling, digging in its claws, preparing to launch.

Tim was the cat. And the other two would be dead meat.

On the backstretch, just as SOC rolled up to the escapee's wheel, Tim went.


The CCNS gamely went after him, SOC struggling to hold his wheel, but that was it. Game over.

Tim could spend some time raising his hands, time he almost needed as he was recovering from a tough crash a couple weeks ago. SOC came around the CCNS guy for second, a great two laps of effort.

After the obligatory post-race chatting, the four of us (SOC and his wife, me and mine) went out for some dinner.

I felt pleasantly fatigued, pleasantly tired. Legs a bit sore from this third day of hard riding.

SOC related a funny story. Tim is a well known local, a bronze medalist at Elite Nationals, a really, really strong racer. And though SOC knew of Tim, he's never met Tim, didn't even know what he looked like. So after the race, Tim rolled by and complimented SOC on his race. SOC, polite and cheerful as ever, introduced himself.

"And your name is...?"
"Um.... Unkert?"

(SOC: mental calculations)


We all laughed. Then I relayed one of the many Tim stories I like to tell, the one about him getting the bronze at Nationals.

SOC looked at me.

"I'm glad I didn't know that before the race."

We got to watch as a dark thunderstorm rolled over the parking lot, dumping some good amount of water all around. Then, as we finished dinner, the sun set and the skies cleared up.

Good food. Good company. Good times.

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