Monday, March 15, 2010

2010 Bethel Spring Series - Ris Van Bethel

Ah, the second race. I had a lot of opening thoughts for this report, but, unfortunately, most of them escaped in the post-race haze.

I started the day without the splitting headache from the prior two days, but still with some chills, some weakness, acid buildup in my legs. Sick? I don't know. Stressed? Yeah, kind of, but not terribly so.

The weather, so cooperative the week prior, didn't help any. It was bad. Outside, people endured windy conditions, with some sudden downpours interrupting an otherwise gentle misty rain, and a bitter, biting cold. Inside it wasn't so bad.

Definitely a hard day for racing though, definitely.

But, with the team making a huge, huge appearance, I had to put on a brave face.

I had a lot of team support. Among the motors in support I knew pretty well SOC, Tarbox, MM, Drew, Lance (not that one, the other one - our Lance), TJ, plus a couple new to me guys... We even had our illustrious team founder in our presence too.

As a note, I should point out that I think I was the only one that drove in alone. Well, SOC also arrived kinda solo, with Mrs. SOC for company. Everyone else came in style in a huge land yacht of a hauler, a team vehicle, kinda sorta. I hope that sometime soon I can hitch a ride in the team boat, so to speak. Part of racing as a team is the whole hanging out before/after, talking smack, figuring out a plan for the race. I miss out on that with Bethel because I get there on my own and have my hands full throughout the day.

Anyway, as far as promoting, I kept bugging poor Arianna about the money - I realized that our fixed costs for the race are pretty high, and I didn't bring enough money to cover them. Meaning, without paying the town, the portapotties, and other "non-immediate" costs, the race costs a certain amount of money, and if the weather was so bad that only a few people showed up, I'd be short money. I mentally readied myself to make a trip to the ATM machine. I was pretty stressed about that but at the end of the day Arianna had everything under control.


With the huge worry sidelined a bit, with volunteer marshals relieving a huge mental weight off my head, I set about prepping for my race.

And, like last week, I fell miserably behind in my prep. My warm-up consisted of, once again, riding my bike from registration to the start line. Last week it wasn't a big deal. This week, in the wet, with almost no riding over the last six days, it hurt me a bit.

According to the SRM, it took 13 seconds of riding. So when I say I got a short warm up, that's about what it is - 13 seconds.

I lacked a lot of pre-race snacks, drank 1/3 as much coffee, had no electrolyte drink, no pizza, and pinned my numbers on my jersey instead of my rain jacket. Lots of dumb, unthinking mistakes, mistakes made while thinking of other things.

But, my mental greyness, about the same color as the sky, brightened up considerably when I saw the boys at the line. They looked fresh and eager, willing to work their hearts out for me.

I saw no Leader's jersey lined up. I was a bit surprised, but there is life outside of bike racing, even if we're talking about the fourth most important race in the world, the Bethel Spring Series (after the Tour, Giro, Worlds, and maybe PR).


Anyway, the official also asked if the leader was here, and when no one responded, the team guys all looked at each other. No Adler guy, who admittedly looked pretty strong last week. We didn't know the second place guy from last week so he got to hide in his anonymity if he was there.

But no Leader... that changed things. Today would be gravy - any points earned would be points gained. All we had to do was keep the field together and get points for the sprint. Our original plan had a lot of "If the Leader does this, we do that" kind of stuff. With no Leader, it was just a huge free for all, and we'd just get what points we could.

The first move went at the start, and from then till the finish it was game on. Over and over riders would launch off the front, and over and over the Expo boys went scampering after them.

Then, if the pace eased, the boys would hit the front, trying to stretch things out.

Our goal - to keep the field together, to leverage my sprint, gain whatever points possible.

The first lap gave me a shocker of a discovery - my brakes didn't work. I have my yellow pads somewhere but I figured I'd give the Koolstop regular pads a chance in the rain on wet carbon rims. On my other wheels regular pads worked fine, so I figured the same for these wheels and these pads. (Of course, I didn't really consider I was changing both variables at once, a bad move when experimenting with a two variable equation.)

Well, the first time I touched the brakes nothing happened. I grabbed a lot of lever, started veering to the side, and only when the riders in front started going again did I manage to not crash into someone.

I figured I'd be safe about five feet behind whoever I was following, but, over the course of the next hour, I had a few close calls. I started figuring out how hard I could reach out to keep from falling, or where I could jump a curb to get into the grass.

Note to self: Yellow Swiss Stops in the rain.

I started wondering how I'd fare in the tight riding in the last few laps of the race. Normally I'm fine in tight quarters but not today.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

I kept racing on.

The wind played funny with us, hitting us head on and hard on the hill, but disappearing everywhere else. This made all the flatter sections much faster and the hill much slower.

Yeah, accordion effect.

I'd promised to be up there at the beginning, then again towards the end. But I kinda sorta failed big time at marking anything, seeing as I was sitting near the back of the field, and I struggled through the race.

At some point SOC came up to me to see how I was feeling.

I told him I felt good, which was, at some level, true.

My heart rate seemed artificially low, so low that I checked my strap to make sure it was making good contact with my chest. 120s bpm during a Bethel? Not right.

But, how I felt?

I felt pretty bad.

I figured it would pass. My legs were loading up right away, I was getting cold (stupid rain jacket mistake), my fingers weren't comfy, and I wasn't feeling peppy.

I'd promised the boys to be up front by 5 to go, but when I saw 5 to go, I looked up at the front of the field, looked down at my legs, and the two didn't want to go together.

"Ah, heck, the boys are doing fine up there. I'll wait till 3 to go."

At three to go I glanced up. Glanced down.

"Maybe I'll move up at 2 to go."

Coming up on 2 to go I realized that I was leaving things a bit late. I saw the boys going backwards in the field, struggling to maintain position, wondering what happened to me. So, on the hill, I moved up kinda sorta aggressively. The boys were cooked from their efforts and the images of Expo riders started evaporating from the front.

Later someone said it was actually kind of comical on that lap - we were doing a reverse leadout up the hill. Me first, then my leadout guy, then his guy, and so on and so forth. A show of team alliance, but a little topsy turvy.

I was okay with that. They'd done their work. I needed to do mine. I felt the responsibility tilting my way. This is what we had planned on, this is what I asked of the team. It was my job now.

I figured I'd ease up to the front bit with half a lap to go, in the less windy sections. But, on the hill, instead of the impassable wall I expected, one side opened up beautifully. I took advantage, taking some wind, trading that little match burn willingly for 30 places.

I rolled up to the front and started moving laterally at whoever sat on the three man Bethel train at the front.

It was Bryan.

Not the Brian from last week, another one. And, yes, this Bryan is one of the good guys too. He started racing a while back, when he was probably barely in high school, and he's kept his passion for racing alive for many, many years. I watched him race away from me in one New England Crit Championships, the 1-2-3 race, which he won by a proverbial mile.

I yelled at him last year, but it was just a desperate thing, not because he was doing anything wrong.

Anyway, he's a good guy. And because he's a good guy, I reversed my lateral move, moving away from, trying to let him in. He moved the other way too. Then he eased up a bit, letting me in, winning this battle of politeness.

I forget exactly what he said, but it went something like this.

"Don't let them lose you. This is your sprint."

I tucked in, now one more responsibility on my shoulders. My teammates' hard work for the last hour, and Bryan's position. If I had problems now I'd cause him serious problems, and I didn't want to do that.

First problem: I had to get closer to the next wheel than my five foot comfort zone, so I closed it down to about a foot.

Uncomfortable. Uneasy. I automatically cataloged ways out if he braked suddenly.

I thought of my careful chiding of new riders who don't follow close enough. Here I was, nervous at a foot.


We rounded the first turn and I hoped that the leadout wouldn't falter. Two guys, a full lap to go, it seemed a bit iffy.

The sprinter guy, third in the train, looked down and around. I expected him to say something to his guys but he didn't say anything I could hear.

But my fears on the leadout came to fruition. The first guy peeled off almost immediately. Then he tried to get back into second slot, obviously fatigued from some hard efforts. The guy in the lead pulled down the backstretch, but the scene seemed hauntingly familiar to last week's race, when SOC tried to do a 2 or 3 lap leadout.

We made it to the backstretch, to the end of it really. I started hearing some commotion behind me, a lot of yelling, "Right! Right! Right!".

I knew we were barely one lane away from the curb, leaving about 18 inches of pavement for the brave-hearted. I thought about closing the gap, sealing the hole, and leaving the "Right! Right! Right!" guys to their fate.

But then, looking at the slowing front, knowing I could hop on a train squeezing by my right, and knowing that anyone that would move such a train would be a good rider, I left the gap open.

I waited.

One, two, thr....

And sure enough, three guys blew by my right side, like the really blew by. Bryan was second wheel, so he'd figured on the "must be a good rider if he's squeezing by" bit too.

I checked my five, nothing, and I went right with them, squeezing through the hole on the right. Big effort. The Bethel sprinter in front of me went left, and the final act of the race started to unfold.

I hit the last curve sitting pretty, coasting, pedaling, whatever, staying on the wheel, looking for the jump. I'd totally forgotten about my five foot gap thing.

The sprint unfolded in slow motion. Bryan jumped first, going straight up the middle. The guy behind him went a bit left. I decided that Bryan went early and followed the left guy, the guy in white.

I realized I had a lot of gas left in my legs and I started going right, accelerating. And as I did I realized I was doing it wrong. Weight too far forward, too low a gear, no torque to the pedals, all bad, all wrong.

I realized that Bryan was out of range but I wanted the next place. The guy in white I could manage but the rider on the left wouldn't slow down.

I lunged at the line, threw my bike quick, but failed.

Third place.

The boys were happy, they'd kept the race together. They'd met their goal.

I hadn't met mine. And therefore I wasn't as happy. But third place in a race with the overall leader absent, that was acceptable. I'd take the pity prize. Bryan would actually lead me, but that was okay. I'd be just as proud of Bryan winning the Series.

But then someone told me that the overall leader had beat me at the line.


There was no Leader in the race. No Yellow Jersey. No acknowledgment at the line. But he was in the race? And he beat me in the sprint?

I felt my stomach sinking. All that work by the boys for what we thought were bonus points, all for naught?

Sure enough, the overall leader had been in the race. He had been the Bethel sprinter in the leadout.

If he'd been some guy from Maine or Virginia or some other far away place, I could understand him not knowing about the jersey, I could understand not wearing it. But racing for the home town shop, with their huge emphasis on doing well at the Series... no.

I told him (mistakenly, as I now verified) that it says on the site and the flyer that the leader has to wear the jersey. But it doesn't. Somewhere, somehow, I left it off. So that's my mistake.

I definitely thought about it at the beginning of the next race. I'd gotten pretty cold by then, and after a few laps I realized I didn't want to race. My hands were freezing cold, my heart rate low, so I started making repeated efforts to move up, to surge on the hill, to move to the front. After just a couple laps, a few efforts, I was feeling pretty cooked, but my hands were still so cold I could bare squeeze the useless brake levers.

I decided I'd pull out. I'd just moved up, we were going up the hill, and I looked, signaled, and moved to the left curb. Then, as we got to the finish, I signaled a left turn.

"Oh, come on man, stay in."

I turned left anyway. I was done.

Looking at the data, I raced pretty hard in the 3-4 race. I did two 1125 watt jumps from the bell to the sprint (one to move up, the other to respond to the surge), then a 1250 watt jump for the sprint. I was way slower in the sprint, 5 mph, but I suppose I could attribute that to the headwind. So I could be somewhat satisfied with my final lap efforts.

Whatever. I went inside and focused on my race tasks, updating the results page, tried to gather my thoughts for packing up.

To their credit the boys were happy. They'd executed their side of the plan really well. Lance, upgrading from Cat 5s, pointed out something after the race.

"It was harder than I thought. Cat 5s to Cat 3-4s, that's kind of a big jump."

Oh yeah, that's true. Essentially going up two categories in one race.

And pulling it off. Because he was out there hammering, stringing out the field, putting the hurt on a bunch of Cat 3s and 4s.

They all left after the race and with some post race pizza from Frank's, we didn't do the Sycamore jaunt. I finally got to get some of the pizza, and I sat with Frank talked a bit. We talked about how the day went, and then, tired, I headed home.

I thought about the race on the drive home. With my world stomping 92 horsepower car, I had plenty of time to think, especially on the long uphills.

The race went well. People showed up, regardless of the weather, regardless of the intraweb rumors. Most of the NY/NJ folks didn't show, but that was understandable, with all the downed trees, powerlines, and whatnot.

The races went pretty cleanly, no serious crashes, no stack ups.

Traffic seemed manageable, with no serious problems.

So the day was successful.

I got home, unpacked the car into the garage, then started moving stuff from the garage into the house.

When I opened the door to the house Bella was standing there, as usual. And as soon as I moved a bin into the doorway she bolted. As usual.

I looked at my dirty bike in the garage. It had done well, regardless of any faults belonging to the "nut that holds the seat down" as I like putting it (you know, the rider). I left it in the garage for now, I'd clean it later.

A couple trips later the missus came down the stairs.

"I gotta lighten up," I said to her.


"I gotta lighten up over this race thing. It's been bugging me, but, in the end, it's just a bike race."

I relayed to her some of what happened during the day.

She said the perfect thing.

"So you want to go out for dinner? Little City burgers?"

"Yeah, that sounds good."

We left, carefully closing the door so the cats wouldn't get out. I left the lights on so the garage and driveway would be lit when we got back. And we went out and had some burgers.


Anonymous said...

Good write up, Aki,
As far as the race leader, leave it to a Bethel rider to not get into the "spirit" of the race and not donning the leaders jersey.
How much is the fine for not wearing the jersey?

Aki said...

No fine, no penalties :) I talked to the rider and he understands. It's all good. Greg P also offered to talk to the team (he wore his jersey proudly and won) but I told him it's okay. I'm going to have the registration folks be more vigilant.

Hopefully, with some better spreadsheets (better than what I could make), the race leader will be highlighted automatically for "jersey". And in two weeks, for shoe covers. And in four weeks, for helmets. I'm psyched to see the leaders in full kit.

I'd get yellow bikes too, if I could, or shorts. But maybe in a few years. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Yeah make those XXl bibs in yellow. Make the leader as uncomfortable as possible in his/her last race

Anonymous said...

re: lack of leaders jersey and not raising your hand at the start line said...

Although it's good to not stress out so much, I like the fact that you take it seriously and because of that, you have a lot more respect for the strange beast that is a race.

Anonymous said...

Bethel is not the same Team as in the past,they are under new leadership,they just have to dial in on the ethics.

slowroadie said...


Not sure why the bad blood toward Bethel riders. I ride for Bethel, and like most of the riders in Cat 3 and 4, I have only been racing for a few years. Certainly not long enough to warrant the negative comments from anonymous riders. This year is the third year racing for the 3/4 leader. Same as me. Maybe all the guys who have been racing for far longer can cut him some slack.

And BTW, in each of the last two years I've raced at Bethel, the overall leader in my category did NOT wear the yellow jersey for at least one race. And no one was bringing it over and asking him to put it on either. It happens.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tyrade,
So when the Race Official asked for the race leader to raise his hand and he did not and none of the other Bethel riders said anything, that looks like they were all on board to keep him anonymous ! or be sneaky. Everyone knows That all those Bethel riders think this Training Series is The World Championships just go to there website or listen to GP,. There is one question that a lot of riders are asking about Bethel, How come so many riders have left that team over the years?

Aki said...

Hey, the Bethel Spring Series is about the most important race in the world :)

And to be fair riders leave good teams for all sorts of reasons, not just negative ones.

btw I like that tyrade actually identified himself. In general anonymous comments are easy. Putting yourself up for criticism is more difficult.

slowroadie said...

Well, I wasn't there on Sunday, but if it really went down as people say, that my Bethel team didn't respond to the leader call, then I can't condone it. If I were there, I would have raised his hand for him.

But I wasn't there on Sunday, so I don't know if the leader call happened during the side conversations that always take place at the line before the whistle, or what else may have caused the team not to respond. I do know that these guys are all pretty good guys, and most of them fairly new to racing. I find it difficult to believe that it was part of their strategy.

That said, I will be there this Sunday, and as Aki is sure to be late to the line (again), I will make sure he is wearing it myself. And with any luck - keeping it.

Anonymous said...

As Bethel's Cat 3 team captain, I feel the need to clear some things up. When the official asked where the race leader was and he didn't identify himself, we were puzzled by his actions. Several of us pointed, but in the hubbub no one noticed us doing that.

I'm really confused by the hostility toward the team. We take the race seriously, because it is one we co-sponsor and to take it any less seriously would be an insult to Aki and everyone who works so hard to make it work.

I've talked to Aki about the situation with this rider, and we've worked things out. If you have problems with a rider, it's about that rider. It's unfair to make generalizations based on team affiliation about all of the rest of us out there who are trying to race hard and honorably.

And Aki, I'm sorry your blog's comments have turned into a flame war.

Jim Escobar said...

I was there on Sunday at the start line of the 3/4 race, and it was very clear (and loud enough) to everyone, when the official asked if the race leader was present. There was no reply from any riders. Then someone said "and the Adler guy is not here ... so it is wide open." Meaning another one of the top finishers from week #1 was not starting, so the leader's jersey is up for grabs.
I have nothing against any of the teams racing, but it seems obvious to me that the race leader chose not to identify himself. Perhaps he can offer the best explanation.

Anonymous said...

I always thought better legs brought victories, not the color of a jersey.