Sunday, July 19, 2009

Racing - Naugatuck Criterium 19 July 2009

Today was the Naugatuck Criterium, the Donovan-Ruhlman Memorial. I've written about the Ruhlman bit, and I've raced here, somewhat unsuccessfully, before.

When things get fuzzy in my memory, I try and go to backup sources, like articles or videos. And since my mind got fuzzy today at the Naugatuck Crit, I'd want to go to the video tape... except an official I hadn't seen before didn't allow me to start with the helmet cam.

No archive. No backup.

Therefore my fuzzy minded recollection is about what you're going to get.

The day started pretty early, after a short night out with friends and a cumulative fatigue that sent us to bed early. I got up, fiddled with our DSL stuff for a while, gave up, used the Verizon Wireless Broadband card (it's awesome, what can I say?), and poked around a bit on the Internet.

The missus joined me and we went to Versus to watch the Tour - today would be the day, I thought, and I wanted to see at least part of it. I'm tired of explaining to people that, no, they don't race all out every day, but they really save it for only a few days.

But not really, because even an easy day is a hard day.

Sort of.

It's confusing, I know, and I want to go to work on Monday and say, "Now the race has started."

We got worried for a bit as the coverage seemed to never load, but then we realized, oh, hey, it's not 7:30 yet (or was it 7:40?). And that's when it starts.

The clock ticked over the one minute and suddenly, hey, presto, we had some "highlights". Then we went to the live feed. Shaky, 15 frames per second or so, but it certainly beat the spoilers put out by CyclingNew's live feed (the victim of what has to be the worst site redesign ever, and which I only read now after I've exhausted Velonews and BikeForums, both of which contain spoilers too).

Anyway, we sat glued to the screen towards the end as Contador somewhat predictably smashed all others. I was surprised at Armstrong's difficulties, but having been shelled many times, I could finally empathize with his feelings. I like to point out that although I've never seen Armstrong climb in anger, neither has a lot of other really, really good pros. Maybe 20 riders a year experience his climbing first hand - the rest aren't around to see it, even if they're in the same race.

After the main riders trickled across the line, I hurried downstairs and hopped on the trainer. Loosen my legs after 3 days of nothing which helped me recover from 4 really hard days (1 hr race, 2 hrs tandem ride at essentially race pace, 1.5 hours of which half was racing, and then 3 hours of which 0.5 was racing).

I figured 20 minutes was good, so hopped off after that. Had lunch (prepped by the missus), drank a protein shake with crushed ice (my new favorite lunch drink), packed the car, and split.

We got to the race okay, I changed, rode around a bit, and set up the helmet cam.

We were about to take the line when an official pointed to my pocket.

"I'm not going to let you race with that."

"What?", meaning, "What do you mean by 'that'?"

"The radio in your pocket."

"It's not a radio." When asked questions by authority type figures, answer just the question.

"It doesn't matter, you can't race with that."

"What's the rule you're referring to?"

"The course has a lot of potholes. You can't race with loose equipment."

I pondered this. The official was right, there's a rule against loose equipment on a race bike - no pumps, saddle bags, stuff like that. And, although I may have jammed 4 PowerBars in my pocket to make the same lump (and it would have weighed more than the battery pack in question), my camcorder was kinda heavy and not secured.

Okay, fine, what if I pinned it in place? It would have been secure, right?

Being a promoter, I know what it's like when dealing with rider-official conflicts, and the last thing I wanted to do was to create additional stress for the promoter.

"Okay", I agreed. I turned to SOC, my warm-up partner. "I gotta go ditch the cam."

I received some empathetic support from other racers (along the lines of, "What is this? That's crazy"), but I pointed out loose equipment is technically illegal.

And I went and ditched the helmet cam.

The race has a short bit of straight before the first turn, a 90 degree left with crosswalks and manhole covers. A nightmare in the rain, a non-issue on the sunny, bright day we had today.

A short downhill with a dropped right shoulder (before a now-really tall curb), littered with various manhole covers, sewer grates, and more crosswalks. Wind from the left.

Left turn, three manhole covers, onto a narrower, quieter road. Overgrown bushes stuck out pretty far from the shoulder, with riders frequently wading through them at full speed.

A short lump at the middle of the backstretch, worth 4 or 5 pedal strokes, a brief left bend, then a slightly more substantial rise, say 10 to 15 pedal strokes in a overly big gear. Wind from in front or to one side, but basically really windy.

Hard left, way more than 90 degrees, but one that you could pedal through, leading back onto the main straight. A long haul to the line which lay about 50 feet past the banner.

I had mentally committed to working for SOC in this race. I knew that the double rise on the backstretch would kill my legs, and I thought that it'd be hard for me to pull out a sprint after being at the limit for half a lap.

Incredibly, for about 5 laps, I sat near the front, in the top 15 or so. On a course with a hairpin turn and a strung out rest-of-the-course, this race actually followed the "ride in the top third" rule.

Of course, when my legs went, so did my top third position.

I realized I would run out of water when we passed 17 to go (we started at 28), and I already had basically nothing left. I started getting deep into my domestique role, trying to save myself for one huge effort at the end of the race. I saved a splash of water and a sip of RockStar for the last two laps, and pretty much use little fluid from then on.

I started riding a bit erratically, at least in my opinion. I had a couple moments of inattentiveness, requiring me to jerk the bars to avoid running into someone. I cornered a bit wide (like 2 feet, not 5 feet) regularly, trying to buy myself room if someone to my inside slid out. The wider line really helped in the second turn, because the line allowed me to miss all three manhole covers and it set me up nicely for the run up to the little bump.

I also hit a perfectly edged hole so hard my bars moved a touch, and one of my bar plugs went flying. Yikes.

And, finally, I had a massive moment. At least I want it to be a massive moment. Coming out of the last turn on some lap between "I have fluids" and "I don't have fluids", I took a slightly wider line than the guy in front of me, all while overlapped by a good 4 or 5 inches. What can I say, my Sphere is pretty small.

I slammed my front tire into his rear.

I'm not sure what I did, because whatever training I did with touching wheels came back to me instinctively, and I just rode through it.

In fact, I didn't holler, no one else hollered, and the guy I hit looked down a bit puzzled, like "My bike just wiggled... do I have a flat?"

After looking around for a moment, he decided his bike was fine, and he went on his merry way. Therefore it wasn't a massive moment, but when someone asks me if touching tires is serious, I have to say that it is. If that's the case, my massive non-moment has to be, by definition, a massive moment.

Anyway, with about 4 laps to go, I saw SOC standing besides Mrs. SOC, the missus, and a whole lot of other people (spectators).

When the sprinter is not in the race, the leadout man has to... re-adjust.

I tried to get into the sprinting mentality, moving up aggressively with 2 to go, getting to the front at the bell. Then, on the backstretch, as my energy meter petered away to nothing, guys were going all over the place. My legs were not happy, and I decided I really didn't want to go into that pain cave.

When I came out of the last turn, I didn't sprint. A few guys, friends and teammates alike, thought they had a good wheel, but unfortunately the wheel didn't go like normal. They sprinted around me, and I soft-pedaled to the line.

I stopped at our little spot, grabbed a bottle of ice water from the cooler, and sat near a cautiously curious boy, alternately drinking some of the water and pouring it over my head.

SOC, Mrs SOC, and the missus came over. SOC had a non-mechanical, i.e. a bike problem which is not considered a part failure, and therefore did not qualify for a free lap. At least he didn't roll a tire - instead, he hit the same pothole I did and this caused his brake to rub.

All that talk, not much action. A beautiful day too, not like the last time we went and it was pouring rain. Well, I kept wiping water and sweat from my face, but, hey, it wasn't rain.

We were sitting there when the missus perked up.

"I think they're calling you."


I vaguely heard my name. Crap, I thought. I wonder if I did something totally bad on the last lap. I didn't think I did, but hey, you never know.

I got my helmet (it wouldn't be good to ride over and get fined for not having my helmet), hopped on the bike, and rode over to the start/finish area. I almost grabbed my headband and gloves, but I figured my soaked head would overwhelm the headband, and my hands were nice and cool without the gloves.

The announcer said that someone wanted me there. Ends up it was the Connecticut State Rep from way back when I was a Junior, 25 years ago. She was an integral part of the Laurel Bicycle Club, the club that Paul Ruhlman raced for way back when.

And this race was named in part after Paul Ruhlman.

Paul's mom was there for the start of the P123 race. Rob Lattanzi, a kid from that generation and now a Masters racer, spoke a few words about Paul before the race got under way.

Afterwards I walked over to Mrs. Ruhlman, leaving my bike leaned up against something nearby. She'd found the post I did about Paul (her neice did, actually, but she learned about it eventually). I guess she wanted to meet me, to share some memories about Paul.

I was wearing my mirrored sunglasses which I consider to be "impolite glasses" because they hide those windows to your soul, your eyes, and I usually avoid wearing them if I'm talking with someone. But I didn't know I was going to be talking to anyone so I had them.

I did what I could - I took them off.

And we started talking.

She told me that he'd try and help everyone with their bike riding, even walking up hills with friends who couldn't ride quite as hard as he could.

She detailed to me about exactly what happened. It was a little different than what I heard but no less tragic.

At some point we finished talking. I could see the memories in her eyes, and I felt that it would be best to let her think in private. We said our good-byes and I walked back to my bike.

I had to wipe my eyes on the way.

I could tell you it was just ice water and sweat, but I'd be lying.

1 comment:

Rishabh Phukan said...

A race that ended safely, a little history, and memories.

Together, they make an awesome post.

Kudos SDC. Kudos.