Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 Bethel Spring Series - Criterium de Bethel

Ah, yes. Race day. If you could analyze what stressed me during the day, you'd have found the following...


Before race day I'd met with the folks on the other end of the building, the "volleyball people". Nice folks both (CJ and Meg), part of an independent volleyball federation (kind of like how USAC is independent of, say, the local high school sports program). They have a few teams based in their location, and they both travel and host tournaments.

On this Sunday, April 11th, it would be a practice. On the last day of the 2010 Bethel Spring Series, April 18th, it would be a tournament. Parking would be okay on the 11th and not-so-okay on the 18th.

We had to come up with a plan.

Between the three of us we figured a few things. First, we would keep the parking lot clear of cyclists. The volleyball parents seemed most concerned with (and stressed about) hitting "bikers". This is not a bad thing necessarily, but if a stressed pre-tourney parent hits a stressed pre-race cyclist... well, you get the bad image, right?

So no riding in the parking lot, no cyclists parking in the parking lot, and that would help clear that.

Second, we lost the cut-through driveway bit. It took about 0.75 miles off of a 0.8 mile loop. We agreed that we'd allow cars to get to the volleyball parking lot the "regular" way - drive around the loop.

Third, we decided that we'd reserve Second Lane (the name of the narrowest of the roads leading to the 4 way intersection at Turn One) for volleyball folks only. They could drop off and/or park there.

It ended up working pretty well. The practice (versus tournament) meant most parents just dropped off, and those that stayed just drove around the loop.

I have to say that the racers were very, very good about staying off of the parking lot pavement and parking away from Second Lane. Two weeks ago I felt like the Series was slipping out of my hands; this week I felt like it was back in place.

So thank you to the volleyball folks as well as all of the racers who helped avert a potential disaster to the Series.

Of course, we're not off the hook yet - next week's tournament will be sure to test everyone's friendliness.


The night before I'd been sweeping and leaf-blowing pebbles off of the top section of the course, the bit where spectators hang out. I didn't want to do it day-of-race so I spent a bit of time on it when no one was around.

Unfortunately I didn't get as much done as I wanted. This meant that once at the course (6 AM) I immediately started clearing what pebbles I hadn't cleared the night before. This meant I spent the first part of the day clearing the course of all the little pebbles that either rain and/or landscapers managed to pour onto the course. It's a simple procedure really. First you "cut" the curbs with a broom and a little blower (the broom to break loose the sand, the blower to move it at least a foot from the curb. Then you do a whole bunch of loops with the big wheeled leafblower.

Tip: When blowing sand away from a curb, you can wheelie a leafblower to clear the curb (else the metal undercarriage scrapes loudly). If necessary you can even single-wheel-wheelie it.

Dave and I cleared off the course, our leaf-blowers feeding each other (kind of like drafting with leaf-blowers, if you will), the pebbles were gone, and we could go racing.

Note to self: Next year, make a rig that does this with just one person pushing. And unlike the last five years or so, actually make said rig. It would have two to three wheeled leaf blower housings, a curb-cutting powered sweeper, and brooms to loosen any "sticky" sand/pebbles. If it was eight feet wide, cut a 12 foot path, it would take one or two laps to clear the whole course.

Bonus: if you could pull it with a mountain bike or some other pedal-powered device it would be even better.

I need an engineer, and since I failed out of Engineering in college...

Anyone? Beuller? Anyone?


So, with volleyball and the course out of the way, I did my normal "day of race" stuff. I ate when I could, drank Gatorade, helped someone with a mechanical, drank Gatorade, tried to post results in a timely fashion, drank Gatorade, did some Second Lane marshaling, drank Gatorade...

You'll sense a theme here.

Yep. Either promoters are thirsty or I really wanted some Gatorade. Well, for me, it was the latter. Two days prior I'd cramped my left calf super hard in my sleep. I was still sore day of race, my legs were twingy all the time, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get through the race without cramping. After the cramps I spent the next day trying to replenish whatever it was I didn't have. I took some vitamins, tried to mix up my diet a bit, drank water, had some orange juice, and even did a nice easy ride on the trainer.

And I drank a lot of Gatorade.


At some point Bryan, the overall leader by a point, showed up at registration.

Of all the guys that could win the 3-4 overall, I have the utmost respect for him and his racing. I've known him since he was some high school kid, have never had a bad experience with him in a race, and never knew him to be anything but a friendly competitor. In my old age I've learned that finding good guys in racing is important, and Bryan is one of those good guys.

Unfortunately he's also my main competition. Or me his. Whatever, we're battling each other.

I greeted him with a firm handshake, one that hopefully conveyed the respect I hold for him, my admiration of his sense of duty, and the touch of knuckles one gives one's opponent before battling them in the ring.

Our ring would be Francis J Clarke Circle, the battle would be for the Leader's Jersey.

We debated what size jersey he should wear (I figured him a Medium, he chose a Large) and he grabbed his Leader Shoe Covers. The next time I'd see him would be on the bike.

For my part, I had to prepare too.

Before I did, though, I took a minute to say hi to my good friend Mike. I've known him since he was something like 12. He'd worked with me at the shop, helped me throughout the years with my various car things, worked with and for me in races, stood by me at my wedding, and, after a long maybe 12 year hiatus, found himself back on the bike.

And here he was, for his second race post-hiatus, grinning mischievously like normal. He wanted to see if he could help me out, just like old times. I have to admit that I had a big grin on my face too.

I pinned on my number, put together my bike, and got ready 20 minutes (!!!) before the start of the 3-4 race. I decided to get in a couple minutes of warm up, got a feel for the course conditions for the day, and got to chat a bit with my teammates.

Conditions worked out with the wind in the "tailwind sprint" direction, one of a few "standard wind directions" at Bethel. The wind felt a bit gustier than normal, not a steady blast. Part of it, I had to think, came from the extra buildings on the first stretch (compared to, say, 15 years ago, when it was pretty desolate). With more solid mass focused in the buildings and open area in the parking areas, the wind would funnel through just a bit more powerfully than through a more homogeneous environment like, say, a set of trees.

Otherwise, though, a tailwind sprint is something I rather like - fast sprints are always more fun than slow ones, no matter what the speed is beforehand.

Of course, this was 2010, not 1995, and the peloton's strength has collectively grown. With a huge early season race Battenkill just the day before, there were a lot of disappointed racers looking for some redemption.

And boy did they find it.

For example, in the Masters race, a disappointed Battenkiller attacked at the gun and stayed away for the whole race.



And in the 3-4 race, a Battenkilled Hob launched to go after a prime, won it, and helped drag a bunch of riders clear of the field.

I'd just made a big effort, literally exploding as the bell rang for that exact prime. I'd done a huge bridge move, going past three bridging riders to get to the solo one off the front. I spent much of the lap in the wind, worked with one guy for half of it, and now, totally cooked, had to rest a bit.

Huge mistake.

As I recovered, as my heartrate started to dip, suddenly sixteen racers were dangling just off the front of the field.

Now in the second group, I had to let my legs recover before making an ultimate effort to bridge across. Done properly, it'd be a repetition of my first move - big and obvious and effective.

Realistically such a move would draw out Bryan, and the race would be status quo (until the finish). If we were both up there, the break would probably sit up or blow itself apart. I felt I could follow Bryan if necessary, but I also thought he'd prefer to have a good half dozen teammates around him. This meant if I could bridge, the race would ultimately come back together.

But instead of a big move, we chased at a slower, more sustainable tempo. I always criticize the lower category racers (Cat 3-5) for chasing at below lightspeed (Cat 2s and higher tend to chase properly), but here we were, chasing at a high tempo pace. It was high enough to force me to dig into my reserves, much higher than a recovering pace, and, ultimately, it was doing me no real good. I couldn't recover to bridge and I couldn't pull hard enough to make a difference.

At some point a small group detached, and with the break still within reachable distance, it looked dangerous. It became even more so when Bryan made a huge move on the backstretch to bridge up to it. The field seemed to hesitate, but then someone went to the front. He pulled hard to close much of the gap. Later, I'd learn who it was.


Old habits die hard.

Even with a few willing allies (John from Cafeteros missed the move so they put four or five guys at the front, and a couple individuals pitched in as well), the gap went from an almost manageable 18 seconds to 35.

And that was the race.

I started hoping we'd get lapped. If we got lapped we'd get pulled, and if we got pulled there'd be no question about earning points. There was a minuscule chance that Bryan could bridge up to the break somehow, and with a cadre of totally committed teammates, they could both bridge the gap as well as set up the sprint for him.

So we had to get lapped.

I told SOC, motoring at the front for me, to go easy. He pulled a little less hard, like maybe 98.4% instead of 99.9%. I told him to go easier. He dialed it back to 96.1%. He was going hard enough that I had some difficulty holding his wheel. He didn't realize I was waving the white flag, and in his eternal optimism and sense of duty, he still wanted to bring back the lead group.

Of course, for me, that was out of the question. My legs were starting to crack under the pressure. All my efforts, the pulling, the attacks, were starting to show, starting to crumble the facade. I couldn't follow wheels on the hill anymore, especially after pulling on the backstretch, and I had no snap left in my legs.

If the field had launched hard, I'd have been shelled.

When I told SOC to actually sit up I think he finally got the message. He looked back, eased, and let the group envelop him.

The lead group was well over a minute ahead, close to lapping us. The laps counted down but, getting a bit delirious with fatigue, I lost track of the actual count. I figured we had ten to go, give or take. I was almost out of my one bottle of Gatorade (all of which, I should say, must have worked since I didn't cramp), I was tired, and I was starting to make minor errors in trajectory and judgment.


Then Bryan rolled up to me, resplendent in his Leader's Jersey and Shoe Covers.

"Want to attack? Just you and me? Have some fun?"

I looked at him, waiting a breath for the world to stop spinning. I probably looked mad because I was tired, and when I'm tired, people have said I look mad. But his grin didn't go away so I couldn't have looked mad. Either that or he knew that when I was tired I looked mad, even if I wasn't mad.

I thought of Hinault and Zootemelk on the Champs Elysee, first and second overall, in a break, sprinting for the prestigious stage win (Hinault won). Or at least that was my recollection at the time. We would mirror that, first and second overall, but in the chase. We'd pay homage to those kinds of efforts, those displays of sportsmanship.

"Okay," I managed to croak.

He took the responsibility of leading us to the front. I realized he was thinking of going "right now", and I didn't have it.

"Wait till the next lap. Wait till the next lap!" I hollered, begging.

He eased a bit, just improved position, and then, as we rolled into the backstretch, we flowed up the side.

He looked totally at ease, attacking while half looking back. He looked back a few too many times. Something wasn't right.

"Your teammate's chasing us."

I glanced back. SOC, loyal to the end, wanted to make sure I'd be okay with Bryan, and had found something from his legs. He was glued to my rear wheel. The field naturally stayed glued to his.

"Sit up! Sit up!" I yelled.

SOC looked at me dumbfounded. I could see the thoughts flying through his head now. "But then you'd be isolated with Bryan, and if he attacks you and drops you, then he could bridge to the lead group, and if he scored points, he'd increase his lead on you! Danger Danger!"

"Sit up! It's okay!"

SOC, looking like a scolded dog, his face reflecting confusion, sat up.

I felt bad.

But Bryan put the hammer down again and I went. Bryan kept looking back, and this time we'd gotten a gap. We caught and passed John (the Cafeteros sprinter) and another guy, both of whom had just attacked prior. Bryan eased as we hit the hill, kindly letting me take the pull by the start/finish in front of everyone. I obliged and did a pull up the tailwind sprint hill, the hill that I wouldn't be sprinting up today.

"Don't get lapped!"

I registered that about a second after the official yelled it. We must be closer to getting lapped than I thought, and at about 1:50 laps, that meant the race had to be a good 1:30 ahead of us.

Mentally I relaxed. No one from this field, with all due respect, would bridge a 1:30 gap, even in ten laps.

I pulled off on the gusty front stretch. Bryan came through. My front wheel, tall and aero, caught a viscous gust of wind. The wheel snapped a foot to the side, almost taking me down. I recovered, kept going, and got on Bryan's wheel.

I must have been more tired than I thought.

I started getting that numb feeling down my shoulders and back, the feeling I get when my aerobic system is taxed beyond its means. It's okay if I have 15 guys to drift back through, I can recover in that time, the numbness retreating back up my back. But alone, with no one on my wheel, I had about, well, zero seconds recovery time. I was cooked, well done, road kill.

"I'm cooked," I hollered to Bryan.

He eased, pulled off, coasting. I could barely stay even with his back wheel. He turned and said something to me but I have no idea what it was.

A rider came back up, John close behind. They roared through, Bryan jumped on, and I sat up.

The field came by too, with a worried Mike telling me we had to get going, the race was coming up.

We hit the hill and that was it. My legs were done. The others rolled by me, the efforts etched in their legs. You could feel the defeat in the air.

I pulled to the side, where the missus waited, along with Mrs SOC and even Mrs Hob. Sat. Rested. Yet another friend Jimmy got me some Gatorade; I drank it.

The lead group sprinted for the win. The second group sprinted for honor. Bryan didn't contest it, not really, and rolled in outside the top few riders. SOC, after his finish, got me some water from his truck, helpful to the end.

In a way things were okay. Nothing had happened. The points remained the same. The same rider sat in second place, a rider no longer eligible to race with us - he'd upgraded to Cat 2 already, on the fast track to greater things. Bryan remained in the lead, a point ahead of me and the Cat 2.

Next week I'd have to earn a point, just one, just to get second from a ghost rider. To win the Series I'd have to earn a point more than Bryan, one to tie him (and beat him), more to just beat him.

But, right then, at that moment, I'd had my "jour sans", my day without. I tell racers that you can win the overall Series at Bethel even if you don't score points on one week. Two weeks and it's questionable. One week, it's okay.

So, for me, it is still possible.

I gathered my thoughts and lined up for the P123 race. I didn't know how I'd do, having left everything on the road in the 3-4 race. The P123s race a bit more digitally, power either all the way on or all the way off. We'd be going so slow my wattage dropped into the 40s and 50s, but then we'd be going so fast I couldn't think about looking down at the computer.

I distinctly remember wanting to say to the guy next to me, "Whenever we go this fast I wonder who's pulling, because someone's got to be pulling!"

Except I couldn't do more than glance around, with no breath left to say anything. No matter, either, because everyone looked kind of focused on riding fast.

I launched in the P123s like I did in the 3-4s, launching simply because I could. I didn't make it far, but my move represented a bit of defiance rather than any long term goals like winning the race in a big solo move (ha!). It let me extend my legs just one more time, make just one more effort, roll just one more time. Although the move came to naught I felt good about it.

It said to me that I still had something left in the tank.

Or, as they said in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"...

"I'm not dead yet!"


Anonymous said...

Awesome write-up, Aki. I think your stories are even better when you're writing from this perspective. You get a great feel for the race in the middle of the peloton and how it really hurts in there. Here's a funny thing about that race: someone on the sidelines was yelling to the break our time advantage. Only they were lying--"fifteen seconds! Thirty seconds!" We seriously thought we were in danger of getting caught right up until Mike (the official) warned us to pull through on the left.

Brian said...

One of the best stories to date. Thanks Aki!

John said...

Thanks for the write up and for making racing accessible and available to all of us that aren't fortunate to have CAT racing nearby.

And thank you for the reply re: the mechanic gloves