Saturday, June 12, 2010

Racing - June 12, 2010 Nutmeg State Games Cat 3

So two days ago I looked at BikeReg for some reason, I think to map out my schedule in the next few weeks. I clicked on the Nutmeg State Games because it proclaimed that it would have state championships.

Which I thought were awarded at the New Britain Crit on July 11th.

I read the fine print after all the various asterisks and learned, to my dismay, that the Cat 3 race at Nutmeg would indeed by the State Championships.

I quickly asked my boss if I could leave early on Saturday - about noon - so I could race the States. With a daughter that has enough Nutmeg State Games t-shirts so she recognized mine as being from a different region, my boss readily agreed.

I hadn't really been planning on racing this weekend at all, because of the rainy forecast. I tend to skip rainy races because, frankly, I hate cornering and braking in the rain. I should train more in those conditions, but I don't. And I pay for it when it comes down on race day.

This State Championship realization meant I had to radically alter my preparation, or lack thereof. I'd raced Tuesday, yes, after a six day break from the bike, but didn't ride the following Wednesday or Thursday. I'd ridden one day in the last eight.

Friday I fueled up. If I ate enough Friday, I'd be okay Saturday, even if I went into the race a little underfed. If I didn't eat a lot of Friday, I'd have to watch my intake carefully, else I'd bonk.

I also needed to ride on Friday to loosen my legs up for a Saturday race, else my legs would feel like they were made from wood.

This is where I made my first mistake.

It was Friday evening, getting late, and I was tired. The Missus actually went to bed. I, being so committed to doing a decent ride, drank some caffeine before my "should-be-around-10 pm" ride.

Frankly, I drank it because I was sleepy. Caffeinated to the gills, I proceeded to:

- set up a cheap new DVD player
- hook it up to a stored TV that I had to set up first
- experiment with apparently broken cheap new DVD player
- hook up a nicer DVD player that I know works
- check that
- page through my race DVDs to watch some sprints and such (I chose the 2007 Tour and the 2003 Paris Nice DVDs)

Suddenly it was past 11 PM, I still had to ride, and I had to get up at 6:30 AM for work. I got to riding quickly.

A little past midnight I finally climbed off the bike. I'd done virtually no work on the bike, doing maybe a 150 watt ride, but I was sharp, alert, and maybe a little jittery.

In other words I wasn't about to fall asleep.

At 2 AM, hungry, I cooked up some pasta and had some chicken and stuff with it.

At THREE AM I finally felt a bit tired. Decided I should maybe lay down. I managed to fall asleep.

I got up at some point, hot, and went out to the couch to cool off. Once cooled, returned to bed.

At 6:30 AM the alarm went off. I went out, made some coffee, and... did nothing. I was sleepy, tired, exhausted, and I had a race at 2:10 PM.

My body started waking up at about 10 AM, starving, and I started eating everything in sight.

Of course, it then shut down, so I tried to grab a little nap in the office at about 11:30. But just as I started getting comfortable, it got busy, and suddenly it was time for me to leave.

Definitely not ideal preparation.

The Missus and I got to the race and it was pouring. I looked out the car a bit glumly. I would normally skip racing in the rain, but I wanted to win the frickin' CT State Championships, and I had to race in the rain to do it.

So racing in the rain it was.

I got soaked just getting the bike out of the car. I decided to go with the HED Bastognes - aluminum rims (I still haven't swapped the black KoolStops so I'd have no brakes on the carbon rimmed Stinger 6s) and lighter than the tank-like Jet 6 and Jet 9. I'd have to jump out of the last turn and I didn't feel like dragging all the extra weight around.

I did add some weight when I pinned my number onto my vest. Following my over-pin last Tuesday, I decided to go hog wild today too, using 13 pins again. You may laugh but let me tell you, I didn't hear or feel or even imagine a flapping number today.

Lotsa pins.
(Don't worry, I brought the pins to the race, didn't take them from someone else)

Properly kitted up (jersey, shorts, vest, head cover, long gloves, wool socks, shoes, helmet with cam) I set off on some miserable warm up laps. After a few minutes of decidedly low effort twiddling, I did a little jump. 900 watts, no effort, and the wheels responded nicely.

I went back to the start/finish to wait for my race.

A small field lined up, only a few brave souls willing to test themselves in the cool, rainy, windy conditions. For once I felt like a small field wasn't a handicap. Usually I view large fields positively - lots of shelter. But a small field would let race without worrying about maintaining position, and, with my new-found legs, I wasn't quite as concerned about getting shelled.

The race started off pretty aggressively, with an odd crash marring the first bit of the race. One guy went off to the right. Another, isolated with just one other rider, went off to the left. Apparently, on the left, a couple riders had a disagreement, and it ended with some unpleasantness off the bike.

I only learned of this later; I was too busy worrying about myself to wonder exactly why guys went down on opposite sides of the road, and why the two isolated guys went so far left. At the moment I figured one of them got stuck somehow - pedal, bar, cable, something - to the other.

I had other things to worry about, so I quickly forgot about the crash.

My big problem was that I couldn't corner to save my life. I know, it's been a theme, but today, in the wet, it actually worried me. I could feel both my front and rear tires breaking free of the pavement, skittish, and even did one of those "freeze, coast, and pray the bike doesn't fall over" moves in the very gradual Turn One.

I tried shifting my weight forward - but then the rear would slide. I shifted back. The front got light. I couldn't figure it out, couldn't even think of what I would do to make it better. Scaring myself left and right, I retreated out of the race's tactical situation.

After a few laps of experimentation I learned that I had to stay to the inside of the yellow line for Turns One and the hill, and that the Final Turn let me cross over the yellow line on the exit.

In order to assure myself of those positions through those turns, I decided to sit at the back.

For the rest of the race.

Now, a casual observer may think, "Oh, he's just sucking wheel". But I had to make huge efforts exiting each of those three trouble spots because I'd inevitably let a gap go. I wasn't saving much energy; I was just trying to stay upright.

I started thinking about the sprint. I mean, I thought about it before, but now I had some concrete information, like the weather, the pavement slickness level, who was around, stuff like that, I thought about it more.

Working backwards from the line (that's how you approach goals - you start at the goal and work backwards), I decided I absolutely had to be in the top three going into the last turn. The last time I raced here in the rain, I was third going into the final turn, and I'd used everything I had to get there. I'd used so much I was too cooked to sprint.

But it was okay because the guys behind me bumped and went down. I was in front of the carnage, and trust me, I'd rather be cooked and upright than fresh and on the deck.

Back to today's problem - to be top 3 in the last turn meant I had to be in the top 3 going into that last turn.

The problem was that the hill was really sketchy. I didn't think I could maintain a forward field position on the hill, and still have legs to get to the final turn and then sprint.

So I decided that I would wait until half a lap to go, after the hill, before I moved up. Until then I would sit towards the back.

This sounds great but there's only a couple hundred feet of pavement between the hill and the last turn. And although the field wasn't big, it wasn't tiny either.

I tried a standing effort at the top of the hill, to see if I really had the legs to make it. I got by a guy or two, realized that I had a good amount of power, and shut it down.

As the laps counted down, I tried to convince myself that I had a sound plan.

At 5 to go it took little effort to stick to the plan. At 3 to go, my argument still carried good weight.

But at 2 to go, looking up at all the guys in front of me, I started losing faith.

I started moving up on the main straight.

After half a lap of slightly uncomfortable riding, I got nowhere.

So I let myself drift back again.

Half a lap, then. No other way.

I steeled myself for the effort. I knew the field would leave a gap and that a committed effort would net me a position close to the front.

I hit the hill on the inside/left, knowing that everyone naturally drifts out to the right at the top. Then, as soon as I could, I stood and dug deep, staying left. I had to stutter this effort as a guy in front of me went, then thought about it, and then eased.

I went around him to the left, committed to my insane plan.

Committed. Insane. Get it?


I rolled up the side of the field, hard, and I heard guys yelling that someone was moving. Yeah. That would be me.

I actually rolled past the front of the field, and focused on the last turn. I didn't like that turn in the wet, and I didn't want to take myself out.

Going a bit slower than possible, I eased into the turn, and then out.

I started going, looking down to see who was on my wheel. I saw one black rim with white decals, but no one else.

I instinctively reverted to my leadout habits at SUNY Purchase, where I'd bait riders into jumping early, wait, and then bury them before the line.

So I did a reasonably convincing fake jump, sat back down, and waited.

Sure enough, the wheel moved over.

As he started his sprint, I waited. After a judicious, oh, half second, I started mine.

Problem was that I couldn't gain on the guy! He just stayed planted in front of me.

Note to self: when reverting to old habits, make sure I've practiced them more recently than, say, 17 or 18 years ago.

As I approached the finish I started giving up. The team CLR guy in front of me had won the race.

I eased, thinking I'd crossed the line. But it seemed early. I squinted to find the line through the mud on my glasses.

There it is! Up... there...


Another guy zoomed up my inside and pipped me at the line.


The guy who pipped me is from New York. So that left the CLR guy. We found him a few minutes later.

"Hey, where do you live?"
"Where do you live?"
"Congratulations, you're the state champ!"

I grinned. He grinned. I shook his hand.

There were some other cool things for the day. I watched David H and TJ (of Expo) race in the P123 race, alongside an invited Dutch U23 team. One of their guys won out of the break, after sitting on for a good half dozen laps. His teammates celebrated in various ways in the field, with the best one being the "king of the world" meets "break dancer" salute (think of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic, but now do it on a bike, and wiggle your torso left and right like you're a snake... and do this all at about 35-38 mph in the middle of a field sprint).

They're kids, really, and having a blast racing their bikes. It made me grin watching them - free spirited, enjoying the moment.

There was some grumbling about how the Dutch guy sat on (from the spectators, not the racers he beat), but before anyone could frown at him, he walked over to the guy who got second and jammed a bunch of prize money in his pocket. The guy protested but it was clear what the Dutch guy wanted to say:

"You did the work. I had to follow team orders. It wasn't personal. I'm sorry it had to turn out that way. This (money) is to show that I respect you and your effort. I had a blast racing here in the US and I hope that tomorrow you and I can race each other again."

Everyone smiled, not a frown in sight.

After the Connecticut State Champs stood on the podium (David being one of them), the promoters had the Dutch guys up there for some pictures. When they were up there I asked which one did the cool salute. One guy grinned and raised his hand. The others goofed off, like the kids they are, and the coach good naturedly put them in their place.

It was fun watching them have fun. I don't know how else to put it. It reminded me that this is why I race bikes, for the opportunity to have pure, unadulterated fun, like I do when I race. It's hard sometimes, it can be cruel, but when things go well, it's just a hoot.

Grins, giggles, silliness, fun.

Bike racing is fun.

The now-unpinned number, with part of my prize.


Anonymous said...

Hi, what a nice last part of your story! I'm the winner's girlfriend staying behind in Holland ;(
It was the flying dutchman the dutch rider imitated haha!
Please can you help me with pictures from that day? I can't find anything!
My email:

Thank you!

Aki said...

I'm afraid the photographers seemed to stay away from the rainy weather.

Although very brief, there is a picture of him here.

I've asked around for some pictures, I'll forward any I get.