Sunday, July 12, 2009

Racing - New Britain Crit, July 12, 2009

A few thoughts.

First, I need to figure out how to get nervous in a race. Scare myself. Give myself a little jolt.

Second, if I try harder, I should be able to do better.

The first relates to the fact that I rarely find myself feeling nervous or excited or super-ultra motivated in a race. I thought about it, and the last time I had a truly scary moment in a race was just as I hit the pavement in the Poughkeepsie Crit some years ago.

I find myself in one comfortable situation after another. With all the years of racing in the area, at a certain somewhat mediocre level, I've seen a lot of what one may see in a normal Cat 3 crit.

Therefore, everything is familiar.

When someone swerves a lot, I just ride around them. If they bump me, I revert to my "reacting to a bump" drill/habit. I've practiced touching tires (although not recently) so when I find myself slamming into someone's rear axle, I just deal with my habit/drill of "my front tire slammed into something". Slam a pedal? Automatically do the "slammed a pedal" routine.

There's only so much you can do on a bike in a crit, and therefore only so many situations you'll encounter in a crit.

If you've encountered the common ones multiple times, well, they become "non-situations". No adrenaline rush. No metallic taste in the mouth. No nothing. Just "la dee da" and keep riding.

"I just kept riding."

Fine, I admit that I no longer find myself interested in pushing tire adhesion limits in the wet. Wet turns scare me, and I don't feel the need to prove myself in them. If I don't trust my bike, yes, I back off. I had a few bikes before that got wobbles on fast descents - I stopped going fast on descents.

And when I'm hurting because of the pace, well, it hurts.

But touching a pedal (or slamming one), having someone's skewer or pedal end up in my spokes, getting slammed in a turn, or even touching wheels, they're all "normal" now.

And so it's hard to get worked up over them.

The second thing is a bit more important. I understand, as much as anyone can, that effort is not equal to results. And, in fact, "more work" can often lead to worse results.

So, technically, I don't want to just work harder. I want to commit myself 100% to an effort and carry it out.

I felt dehydrated since yesterday, drinking loads of Gatorade (from powder) and trying to stay reasonably cool at work. But when I drank two bottles during warm up and didn't need to pee, I knew that I had severely underestimated my lack of hydration.

Therefore, after overhearing someone nearby mention something about, "I want to pee before I reabsorb everything", I hit the john. I really didn't want to "reabsorb", whether that really happens or not.

Then, loaded with three bottles (ice water bottle in my back pocket, Ice Gatorade in one cage, Coke in another), I headed for the line.

I realized as I warmed up (involving raising my HR from 108 to 121 BPM) that I really, really wanted to do a good sprint. By good I mean a sprint that uses me up, that lets me cross the line and lets me say, "Dag, that was as hard and as good as I could go." I haven't done that in a while, for a long time, and I really wanted to do a soul-draining, mind-clearing sprint.

So, when we lined up for the start, I decided I would ride smart, make efforts when necessary, and do a tire melting sprint.

That doesn't sound very different from my normal approach to a race, but I rarely consciously think things like this before a race. Especially those involving a good sprint. I just sprint when I can, but to do a longer sprint would mean taking some risks.

I also steeled myself to make extraordinary efforts mid-race if necessary, efforts I last made in a serious race perhaps 3 or 4 years ago. I've been practicing them at East Hartford, at the races @Rent, but not in a "real" race.

With a somewhat fatigued field (many of the protagonists had done at least one previous race during the day, and many would enter the P-1-2-3 race), we did a fast first 10 laps.

Then someone turned the throttle to Low.

We were going so slow I'd have sworn up and down that we were going 15 mph. I looked to verify, and the SRM told me we were going 22.5 mph.

Lies, all lies.

We crawled around the course. It had to be 15 mph. My heart rate, with my new heart rate belt, seemed comfortably low. I drank my second large bottle of iced Gatorade, drank a bottle of Coke, and started splashing some of the now-lukewarm water on my body.

I started trying to keep track of laps. Usually what happens is I see like, say, "6 to go". Then I think, "It's 6 to go. 6. We'll be seeing 5 at the line. 5 at the line. 5 at the line. 5. 5. It's 5 to go... so we'll see 4. Look for the 4. 4. 4..."

Then I'll see 5.

"What? They showed 5 twice. Will it be 4 next time? Or 3?"

See how that works? Or how it doesn't?

So, when I saw 6 to go, I kept telling myself it's 6 to go. Reminded myself (literally, on the short backstretch before the hill) that I shouldn't graduate the number to 5, that I should focus on 6.

Otherwise I end up sprinting a lap early.

I found myself engrossed with this whole numbers thing. Luckily I sat at the back (after spending a few moments near the front in the first 5 or 6 laps), so my distracted riding didn't affect anyone.

We came up on what I was sure would be 4 to go. I looked right at the official's truck (a military sand-camo-painted enormous truck that would be camoflauged only if it were sitting next to the country's largest illegal tire dump), remembered, yet again, that the lap cards were on the left.

Looked left.

2 to go.

Two to... What? Two to go? My non-drifting mental calculations had proven it'd be 4 to go, and now it's 2 to go?

And here I am dwaddling at the back, doing caveman math (and doing it poorly), not making efforts, and even finding myself drifting off the back every now and then.

I mentally hitched up my pants, grabbed the drops, and started racing the bike.

Although I don't have visual proof (I unloaded the helmet cam just before the start, thinking it was a small field, but that was before about 30 guys rolled up, frantically removing their M30 numbers), I moved up much more aggressively than I usually do. I remember thinking, as I moved up, that it would be possible to win from a tailgun position at the bell, but it would be hard. Moving up now would make things much, much easier.

To my surprise, and probably to the missus's surprise, I sat about 5th wheel as we hit the bell. Really far in front, as far as I was concerned, because 4 of those guys would explode before the sprint, but I figured I'd ride from the front and keep tabs on things, move as the moves went up the road.

I got swarmed going into the first bend, the long left one. I dropped a good 20 spots, with a few sets of matching jerseys going by, leadout men and their sprinters.

The lower pace approaching the hill allowed me to move back up towards the front, especially by favoring the sheltered right side. I rode on the edge of the grass, knowing, hoping, that I could move up just a bit more.

Then, as we approached the final turn, I got around the last few people I could. A friendly rival snuck inside of me, nabbing a prime spot, and I relented, giving him his properly earned spot.

We dove left...

And the guy to the inside of the guy to the inside swerved violently outwards. Something happened, but the reaction seemed a bit excessive. The guy to my inside had to straighten out. I eased just a touch.

Facing a curb perpendicular to him while rolling pretty fast downhill, I could see the calculations flashing in his head.

"I might be able to make the left turn... 10% success predicted, with 90% probability of flipping over the bars and wrecking my bike when I smash into that curb."

"Veer right and go into that small parking lot... 95% success predicted, with a slight chance of nicking the curb."

He veered right.

I veered left, made the turn because I'd scrubbed off a lot of speed. Then, with a good 15 or 20 riders already having passed me, I decided that I better make this sprint count.

I accelerated, numb to the gearing. For all I know it was the 17, or it could have been a 14. I just shifted when I needed to, pointed at gaps, repeated. Watched guys sprinting and wondered if I should pass to the left or right. Then, as I approached the last big mass of riders (about 6 or 8 or 10 of them), I saw some daylight on the right side.

I blasted towards it, willing everyone to keep drifting left, to try and shut that huge open door on the left side, the windward side, the only side people thought would open up.

And I flew into that delicious, sheltered, right side.

The line came up way too quickly, but I did a mandatory bike throw. I'd rate it a 6 or a 7 out of 10, definitely not a great throw. More than a half-hearted lunge though, so not horrible.

I did a cool down lap. Found myself near Kevin, the NCC rider that I seem to see at all the races. He'd killed me in a couple sprints and he's a good barometer of what I could have done (since he seems to finish ahead of me all the time).

He looked at me quizzically, grinning a big grin.

I shook my head. "I was in decent position but then a guy swerved. And I had to sprint from way back. How about you?"

He nodded, smiling. "I got in there. I was pretty far back but I went up the inside." He gestured to the left, the windward side. "I got around everyone."

Jeepers. I got around because I was sheltered. He went into the wind and did the same thing. And he was in the money.

My mind wandered a bit. I stopped when I got to the missus, and Mr Parking Lot happened to be nearby.

"You okay? Nice save, by the way. I could see you thinking about trying that left"
"Yeah, I thought about it but I didn't want to crash, so I didn't try."

I turned to the missus. "See, we were, what, like 10th? 15th? going into the last turn..."

Parking Lot interrupted.

"I was THIRD wheel!"

I digested this for a second.

Third wheel?

I was fourth wheel?

With something like 300 meters to go?

Okay, I know this Zen thing is good, but when I don't even know where I sat going into the final sprint...


Next week.

Naugatuck Crit.

(Epilogue: Kevin got 6th, in the money. Yours truly, on the other side of the mass of riders lunging for the line, got 8th. Race paid to 7 places... Arg.)

1 comment:

stephhuddleston said...

Wow! Exciting read. Could feel my heart beating faster, tracking with you in my imagination. How cool!