Sunday, May 16, 2010

Racing - Ninigret Mystic Velo Crit

It seems like forever since I lined up for a "real" race - not a Spring Series race (where, to be totally frank, the course and situation is ideal for me), not a Tuesday Night World Championships (which I really like racing but it's not, um, as "serious"), not a group ride (where I find myself getting annihilated by some of the other guys, most of whom I'm supposed to beat based on my Cat 3 "rating").

So today I lined up at the line for the Mystic Velo Crit, yet another race at Ninigret Park, located in a park in Charlestown, Rhode Island.

Now, before anything about the race, I ought to point out that Ninigret and I go back a long way. In 1983, in my third ever race, I managed to finish my first race.


In my fourth ever race, I returned to the site of my all conquering "pack finish". Alas, twas not to be - I got shelled so fast it made my head spin. On the way home my brother introduced me to a new song he heard - "Stand and Deliver", by Adam Ant. I didn't appreciate it then (my head was pounding and we were in bumper to bumper traffic on Route 78 - who the heck makes a one lane highway?!), but after I recovered from that demoralizing defeat, it became one of my favorite songs.

From then on I've had my ups and down there. I got there one year after a frantic 1.5 hour drive (normally 2 hours - I made up most of the time driving like an idiot to the highway) and missed my race by 5 minutes. Another time I left there with my beautiful Silca floor pump on the bumper of the car. When I got home I no longer had my beautiful Silca floor pump.

Racing-wise too I've had good and bad. I've placed a couple times but more often I end up finishing in the last group or get totally dropped. The Missus, in the five or six years she's been watching me race, has never seen me do anything better than last a few laps. Usually I'm dressed, composed, and gone before my race finishes, or, if I have a teammate or friend in there, I'll be cheering.

But in recent memory I haven't done much of anything at Ninigret. The last time was probably in 1992, so 18 (!!) years ago, when I got into a break for 10 laps with two much better racers, and took a few pulls. After that, nada.

So when I said to the Missus that I was thinking of racing there, she probably shrugged nonchalantly. Been there, done that. We'll see what else we can salvage for the day.

(Actually, the Missus wouldn't think that way - she's eternally optimistic about my racing.)

Okay, I confess - it's me that thinks that way.

So what's so special about Ninigret?

Well, its history. Ninigret is an old WW2 airfield, with the "bike racing course" paved maybe 10 or 15 years ago. Originally folks wanted to build a velodrome there, and we paid a "velodrome" surcharge forever when we raced there. The funds to build a velodrome never happened so they used the money to pave the figure 8 instead.

It's a flat course, totally flat (of course - it's an old airfield). Exposed to wind, because airfields don't have trees sprouting up in the middle of them. The course there follows a non-crossing figure 8 - right, left, left, pass by the start/finish but about 20 feet to the other side, then right, left, left. A figure 8.

Until we got to experience the new pavement, the race was kind of like racing on lava - you really didn't want to fall because it really, really hurt. The pavement, optimized for traction for WW2 plane tires in all sorts of weather, resembled a field of broken glass glued to the ground. Great to keep those bias ply tires from sliding. But, at the same time, flesh and lycra didn't slide either. When someone fell, they just stopped. No sliding, none of this "slide in the rain across the road and into the curb".

Okay, maybe the bike would move around a bit.

The rider?

Just a muffled "Splat!"

Ask one fearless local pro sprinter, one with a lot of body ornaments and tatoos. He fell on his stomach/chest going a good 30-35 mph. Slid, oh, maybe an inch.

I couldn't bear to look - he had (still has) all sorts of piercings on the front of his body, and I can't imagine too many of them stayed where they were supposed to stay.

The pavement, after 40 or 50 years of nonexistent maintenance, had started to crack. One thing that started coming out - the wires buried into the pavement. I never thought of where the runway lights get there power, but now I know - from wires buried in the pavement. Give that pavement a few hundred cycles of frost heave and, hey! Wires pulling out of the pavement.

It's like those "tear here" strips - you pull on the wire and pavement comes up with it.

Most (all?) of the wires on the course were cut and cleared (at the edges of the course you'd see a bundle of cut off wires), but the 2 inch grooves they left behind were, well, left behind. You stick a nice 21 mm tubular in one of those and you were looking at some up close and personal time with the shredded glass pavement.

So, anyway, Ninigret was all about staying upright and avoiding the grooves.

And, since airfields have wide runways, the hosting club (not sure who actually) put tires along the boundaries of the course. If you went off the course, i.e. over a painted line, you had to brace for impact on a tire.

Or, if you tried to clip an apex a bit aggressively (easy to do on every one of the 7 turns/bends on the course), you'd clip a stack of tires, maybe 3 or 4 feet tall. I saw more than one racer stick a knee out diving into a turn, catch the stack of tires (bolted together so they don't fall over), and flip himself over the bike and onto the ground.


Everyone would frantically adjust trajectory to stay upright, and suddenly we were all cornering about 2 feet away from the apex.

Anyway, you get the idea.

When the new pavement arrived, suddenly the race became a lot less epic. It's like paving over the cobbles in Paris Roubaix. Now you could corner like mad, knee sticking out wherever, because all the tire barriers had disappeared. If you fell in the rain, you slid. If you fell in the dry, you... slid a lot less. But none of the "catch a loose wire" or "sand down your extremities on the shredded glass pavement" things.

Now we just had to deal with the normal stuff that happens at Ninigret - wind, cold, heat, and rain.

Since there's a beach nearby, the park is on the ocean. Lots of wind. Lots. One year the 55 gallon drums they used to mark off a particular area next the course fell over in the wind.

A couple times!

Other times we'd be going full gas into the wind. I'd shift into the small ring, struggle to find shelter, and look at the cyclocomputer.

16 mph.

And we were all just dying.

On the other side we'd break 40 mph every lap, spinning our top gears frantically.

With the ocean comes moisture, and that means rain. It seems like it's always about to rain there, although there are some rare exceptions.

Finally, the temperature. It seems like Ninigret is either freezing or hot. Never "just right". It's like Bethel - it has its own weather pattern.

May 16, 2010

Imagine my surprise when we went to Ninigret and it was nice out. It wasn't windy, there were some small white clouds peppering the sky, and the sun kept things nice and warm. SOC showed up, we determined we'd be the Expo contingency today, and we decided to play things as they came.

We got a tip from some racers that had just race that it was a headwind sprint today, but it seemed suspiciously like a tailwind one from what I could tell. The announcer cleared up the confusion.

"It's amazing. The wind has completely reversed direction in the last 15 minutes."

Tailwind sprint.

Of course that gets me thinking about tactics. Early jump. Big gear. Watch the headwind going into the sprint.

The Missus's optimism rubbing off, I rode backwards next to the final 200 meters, measured out 20 revolutions of a 53x13 (if you want to know, it gets you from the last bend to the finish line). If I went in a 12 it'd be a bit further out, but I felt confident I could go from the last bend to the line, full gas, in the 12.

We lined up, a small field, maybe 30-32 racers. After a moment of waiting (for the official start time), and with a very quiet field (were they all nervous?), we set off.

I had to find my cornering legs again, and here it took me a few laps. I felt a bit better then, well enough to go after three attacks in a row. Someone launched in front of me, his body language broadcasting his intent to attack for literally 5 to 10 seconds before the actual attack.

When we got caught, his teammate went. I went again.

When that got caught, someone else countered.

I went again.

(Mr SRM tells me I made 1200 watt, 800 watt, and 1100 watt jumps, each time holding a good 500 watts for at least 10 seconds. A lot of work for me in less than 3 minutes.)

Finally I let 2 guys get a gap, a little one, leaving me at the front of the field. I realized that if it was last year, this would be it - so many efforts in a row, so soon in the race? I'd be changed and cheering before the race went 5 more laps.

Instead, suffering a bit, I rode myself back into the rotation, into the strung out field. Every time I asked my legs to do something, they responded. When I'd tentatively stick my nose into the wind, my legs felt fine.

It may be psychological but when I got in breaks my legs fell away. I didn't have the power to pull hard, but I could make the efforts to bridge or, once there, to hang on.

After a bit of this "race participation" nonsense I decided to ease up a bit. I watched SOC make a few moves, the first one happening about half a second after I decided to ease up - a beautiful counter attack when the pace eased. It went well, but eventually he and those that responded came back to the group. He made more efforts, made it into more moves.

I felt compelled to close the gap to one move though. SOC made it, but so did about 10 other racers, and three of them were teammates, one of them being the team leader. When SOC started to pull I got worried that the teammates would attack the small group and get away.

After watching field not really pull for two laps, I went to the front (two 1000+ watt jumps), made a decent effort (Mr SRM says 375 watts for 30 seconds), and closed down the gap.

Someone thanked me for the work, but, honestly, it wasn't a huge effort (and the numbers back that up).

Less than a minute later I followed another well broadcast move, another 1100 watt jump.

It seems my legs were good.

As we started winding down the laps I started thinking of the finish. I didn't have a good way of approaching the finish with one teammate, even after all these years. So we rode our own races, I surfed the front, and tried to latch onto a big team's leadout.

With a lap to go someone tried to break the leadout train by attacking the field. It worked, but that team's sprinter went with the move.

Behind, the field scrambled, and I found myself losing position everywhere. A bit desperate I went into the wind before the second last turn, then again on the second last stretch. We went into the last bends (two bends beat as one) with me sitting maybe 10th.

When I looked up the line seemed way too far away. Although I did a little jump (900 watts) to get on wheels after the last bend, I waited a bit, the guy who got 4th overall at Bethel right in front of me. He launched, going left around two guys, and since I wanted to go past him, I went right. Then, after I cleared all three of them, I went back to the left curb, sprinting all the way to the line.

Mr SRM says I went for only 12 seconds at 1000 watts, but that was enough to catch and pass everyone but that big team's sprinter. It was close enough that the announcers were debating if I'd caught him, but for me it was no contest - I felt he beat me by 10 feet.

I wish I'd jumped just out of the turn. I wished I'd trusted my 20 rev distance. But I didn't. And I didn't.

Still, though, second was okay. Not just okay, it was good.

When we left, I realized something and told the Missus. Second, at Ninigret, is the best I've placed in a "real" race, a non-Bethel race. I placed second once at New Britain. Placed second at Providence. And second at Ninigret.

SOC, his missus, and my Missus went out for some eats afterward. I celebrated with a nice lobster, a perfect meal after a hard race. It takes forever to eat, has not too many calories, and involves all the major muscle groups (my hands were tired when I finished). We rehashed the race, discussed the moves.

We had fun. And that's what it's all about. I got second, fine, but that didn't make the day, it just capped it off. The race was what was important. Attacking. Chasing. Bridging. Even the hiding from the wind.

The talks before and after with friendly racers, catching up with news. Blasting through the turns, learning a little more about how the bike handles.

Trying to be as aero as possible when pulling.

Clicking up a gear and jumping after someone, even if you don't know that your legs can handle it.

Then doing it again because your legs could handle it that first time.

I realized that I have form right now that I've never had before. I don't know what it is - my power is about the same as it was for the last few years. I suppose the big difference is my weight. That and my bike fit. My bike is heavier than before, but it fits me well.

So now I'm looking for races. I want to take advantage of this form while I can.

I thought of that day so long ago, that fourth race in my life, the race where I went confident I could finish. Instead, dropped, demoralized, suffering from a rare headache, my brother trying to get me to listen to this new tape he had, trying to distract me from my heartache...

Stand and Deliver indeed.


Bruce Weinberg said...

Brilliant report. Aside from the wonderful race and lobster details, I loved the history/background and context. Great read. Congrats and well done!

zencycle said...

"that was enough to catch and pass everyone but that big team's sprinter. It was close enough that the announcers were debating if I'd caught him, but for me it was no contest"

Every picture tells a story, don't it?

Aki said...

Bruce - Ninigret's a tough race for me. I did remember getting a 4th there more recently than 1992 - I wasn't picked but a BOB racing guy said he just beat me at the line (and he did). Everyone around verified that he just beat me. So I got picked, and since he got 3rd I got 4th. I was hiding in his shadow so to speak they didn't see me initially (pre-camera days).

zencycle - yep, for me it was at least 10 feet. I had to look at about a 2 o'clock angle to see him, and I was on the opposite side of the course.

Unknown said...

Good job Aki!

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. Any chance you will be posting your helmet cam video from this race.

US.Army/Central Wheel/GHCC Cycling Team

Aki said...

Anthony - unfortunately I learned something the hard way with the ContourHD (and probably other firewire devices). If you connect it to a Windows machine and delete a file, it's deleted. If you connect to a Mac and delete a file, it gets moved to a Trash folder on the SD card.

I normally connect to a Windows machine first since I run my backups on a couple of them. But for the last couple rides before the race I downloaded straight to the Mac, then "deleted" the file. In fact the last thing I did before we left was to "delete" my last ride (after verifying it existed on the network at home).

This meant that the 7 GB of data on the card (almost 2 hours) didn't really get deleted. I only had about 1 GB left, about 15 minutes worth of footage.

Other than the very humorous opening turn, I have virtually no footage to play with. I'll do something, but unfortunately it won't be very much.