Sunday, June 13, 2010

Racing - June 13, 2010 Whaling City Cyclone Crit, New London, CT

This morning, and last night, to be honest, I was not really thinking about racing today. I'd gotten totally soaked at the Nutmeg State Games, my bike was filthy, my car was full of wet clothing, I didn't eat much after the race (a piece of chicken breast and some salad), and I felt exhausted. I hammered out some thoughts for the blog and then, unbeknown to the Missus, snuck off to bed. I wanted to read a bit about Rommel, but after maybe a half page, I put the book down and fell asleep.

About eight hours later, I woke up briefly, asked the Missus what time it was, and fell back asleep.

About eleven hours after I fell asleep, I suddenly woke up, refreshed and hungry. The Missus and I wanted to go out to eat breakfast, but when she checked the forecast, she discovered something.

"Um, it says no rain from noon till 4."
"In New London. And your race is at 1:45."
"1:45. We'd have to leave at, oh, about 11:15 to get there by 12:45."
"What time is it?"

I thought about it. I had no kits left. My bike was a mess. I had no hydration, no Powerade. My stuff was in my car, and it needed to get into the other one, because my car had room for just one person - the driver.

I hadn't eaten a lot the day before, and virtually nothing after the race, so I had very little fuel reserves. In fact, I was surprised I wasn't famished.

But, nonetheless, I decided we should try. We tossed my wet kit in the washer (speed wash), I pulled my bike out of the car, and we set out to eat breakfast.

Problem was that the two places we scouted out were really busy. So we went to the grocery store, bought a bunch of food, and made an early lunch (for me). Eggs, pasta, chicken, some cheese, a couple cups of coffee... and it was 11:45.

We tossed my stuff into her car, I kept running back inside for the next thing I forgot, and finally, at about 12, we were on our way. We'd barely make registration, if we did at all, which would/should close at 1:15.

With the Missus driving as fast as practicable, I changed in the car, even putting on my heart rate chest strap. I had my cycling socks, shoes (still damp, although we put them on the dryer shelf for a bit), everything.

I even wiped the dirt off my helmet.

We made it to the race with about 30 minutes to spare, which was good because registration closed at 30 minutes before the race. I registered, working closely with the registration woman (she filled out the info while I filled out my release - cut the registration time in half). I could even decline pins (I grabbed 14 of them on my last trip into the house). I got my race number and let out a mental sigh of relief.

All the stress of the morning, famished from lack of food, running late, not really having a plan, that all went out the door. We were here, I was registered (and dressed), and after using 13 of my 14 pins, I was even numbered.

Pins, baby, pins!

Now for the fun (and less stressful) part - the race.

Fortunately for me, unfortunately for the promoter, a relatively small field lined up for the start of the 3s. I attribute this to a few things.

First, the race costs some money. Money that's well spent, yes, but money. Pre-reg was $26, a totally reasonable entry fee. Unfortunately every weather report I saw online predicted a day of nasty thundershowers. This worked against the promoter - heck, even I didn't pre-reg.

The day of race stick was $10 more. Although not exorbitant, I'd have to think that a lot of racers who felt unwilling to register online for a thunderstorm type race probably felt like they didn't have a chance of doing well. And paying $26 for a short training ride, that's not very savvy.

Once pre-reg closed, and the weather forecast looked the same, I'm sure those same folks started making other plans.

"Been rained out, might as well use this down time to build up 'racing credit' with the family/spouse/girlfriend/whatever."

I'm sure there were a lot of guys scheduling chores, housework, other "rainy day stuff". After all, these credits really help when, out of the blue, you decide you really want to go race that crit that's in, say, New London.

So, on Sunday morning, when the forecast suddenly changed... well, those very nice racers who understand that racing isn't the center of the world (it isn't, really) suddenly found themselves stuck. They couldn't back out of their commitments so they had to call it a day, even if the pavement was bone dry.

Lucky for me, the Missus really enjoys watching me race. Plus her mom lives down that way. Plus we have really good friends down there. So any ideas of me hanging a yet-to-be-finished-painted screen door went right out the broken screen door, and we set off the New London.

Therefore I figure it was just the pre-reg folks plus a very few others (like me) who lined up for the start.

With my cornering problems in the last few races, I had only one more thing to try - tubulars at full pressure. I had been lowering my tubular tire pressures because of the wider rims, because I'd been doing that with the clinchers and their wider rims. However, I realized at some point that the tubulars don't rely on rim width for their cross sectional shape - they're sewn into shape, and they go to that shape when you pump them up. Any rim width changes really deal with strength and/or aerodynamics, not ride quality.

So I cranked the tubulars' pressure up to normal, like 130/140 psi front/rear.

Tires singing, I set off.

I had one minor disadvantage at the start - I hadn't seen the whole course. I hadn't ridden any of it, except the final straight (19 revs in a 53x14 - always figure out how far out you can go). I had no idea where the turns were, how hard they were, nothing. I just knew the last turn looked a tad sharp.

With six turns in one km, with one a long sweeping 180 (yet to be discovered by moi), relatively narrow roads everywhere, it seemed like it should be a really strung out race. The guy who won last year, Bill Yabroudy, tried to make the race live up to those expectations by attacking like a maniac at the start.

I scampered out of my back-of-the-pack start position, moved up about halfway before the first turn, dove left, then right, then left, and found myself hitting a wall of wind.

Okay, this wasn't going to be a cakewalk.

We flew around the 180 (a left), immediately swung right (an awesome feeling, to be heeled over to the left then to rise up and lay the bike over the right), and hit a slightly uphill straight.

My wheels bounced into all sorts of road hazards, manhole covers, brick crosswalks, potholes, everything.

We careened left for the short descent, narrow, and set up for a very, very tight left turn. When I first looked up, I thought the course went straight because I literally could not see how we could have turned left there.

But as we slowed down, I saw that, yes, there was maybe two lanes at our speed through this last turn.

We blasted through that, Yabroudy still at the front, still hammering, and started back up the gentle rise to the start/finish.

That's when my legs started screaming in pain.

This was hard.

I thought, well, it's got to be because I'm not warmed up. But lap after lap, as I slowly assimilated wind directions, racer tendencies, and cornering lines, I found I faced the same pain going up that stupid rise every lap. My legs would start to fade hard at the top of the hill, lactic acid burning up to my hips.

I had to use the slight downhill stretch after the first turn to maintain speed, then used the second and third turns to get back into the field. After fifth turn I'd come off a bit again, recovering by using the downhill (and last turn) to carve my way back into the field.

For 10 or so laps I suffered, hanging on for dear life, praying no one would leave a gap in front of them.

I was literally off the back of the field twice a lap for a couple laps, the Missus finally breaking through my lactic acid haze by yelling to move up.

So I moved up.

Like four spots.

And stayed there for a bit.

Then, when Yabroudy and company finally eased up a bit, the needle dropped out of my red zone.

I was back in the hunt.

Twenty laps went by, guys attacking one another. I got stuck a few times behind guys who had no idea how to corner, leaving gaps, slowing too much. Making mistakes once or twice is okay, but to repeat them lap after lap after lap, that's not good. I tried to get by those guys, but, unfortunately, to become a Cat 3 while not knowing how to corner requires a lot of strength. These guys were really, really strong, making up for their lack of skills. At this level you can still use brute force to overcome lack of skills or even tactics.

I wasn't as strong, so even though I may have gotten by them one or two times, I had a hard time staying in front of them. They'd make big moves in the wind or on the hill, moves that require enormous reserves, get back into good position, and gradually lose ground as they cornered their way to the back of the field.

However, although they left gaps, they could close them in spots where it took huge efforts to do so - like on the hill or on that slight uphill straight just before the downhill.

Although I initially thought they'd just go off the back, they never did because they were so fit. I guess that they didn't want to go off the back either, so they made the efforts to close the gaps they opened up.

Once I realized these guys weren't a threat to me finishing the race, I spent less energy trying to avoid them. I could sit behind them, let them come back to me, and ease around them as they screwed up yet another corner.

And since those guys tended to live in the middle third of the field, I avoided them by staying in the back third.

Life at the back, although a bit tough, stayed steady enough that I felt it a safe bet to stay there until the tail end of the race. For me that meant the last 2 or 3 laps, and that became my plan. Start moving up, take advantage of any easing up, and see what happens.

From about 8 to go the field really spread out on the hill, and although I could have moved up, I chose to stay at the back, grab some shelter, and build my reserves for the last few laps.

Finally, coming up on two to go, I had to make some moves. I followed a move up the right side, tucked in at about 15th spot, and hung on. I slowly lost some spots, but another move like that on the last lap and I was sitting maybe 10th.

The front of the field went ballistic as Yabroudy launched a spectacular attack at the bell, and I struggled to stay in position as the field went single file.

Then, as we approached the second last turn, the one leading to the downhill, I moved up on the inside a bit.

I knew I needed to be top 3 going into the last turn, and I felt comfortable leading out the field.

But as I powered down the downhill, I hadn't committed myself fully. I hesitated a moment, backed off just a bit, and realized that I wasn't going to make it to the front.

I tucked in about 10th.

Right behind one of the guys (I think) that I'd been trying to avoid the whole race, the guys who looked uncomfortable turning.

He dove into the turn and then into the ground as his front wheel slid out. At slower speeds he'd been okay, but at higher ones... he'd probably fall every single time.

My tubulars felt fine though, stuck like glue to the pavement. I hesitated a moment as I cleared the corner (and the rider below and to the right of me), jumped, shifted up a good 2 or 3 gears since I was under-geared, and jumped again.

As I built up speed I started passing guys, getting a couple of them right at the line. One was a totally spent Yabroudy, who'd exploded spectacularly just short of the line.

I counted the riders in front of me at the line.


I got 5th.

I cooled down, found the Missus. She was happy, I was happy. I wish I'd gone harder on that downhill - I had a lot left at the end of the sprint. But I was happy with my place.

We watched the P12 race. One huge moment was when the Kenda pro attacked hard on the downhill. He barely cleared the front of the field before the last turn, and his back tire did a lurid power slide as he exited the turn. Without hesitation he sprinted away from the line, his attack ultimately failing. There were a lot of attacks, a lot of chasing, and lots and lots of fast cornering.

The course is great for spectators, like great, great, great for spectators. From the first turn you can see the whole finishing straight plus turns 2, 3, 4, and 5. From the last turn (really Turn 7) you can see the whole downhill plus the finish straight. From the start/finish, you can see most of the downhill, the finish straight.

It's also a great course for (crit) racers. A real crit, with lots of diving into turns, lots of cornering line work, and a real battle for the final turn.

All in all a fantastic race. Definitely one for 2011.

The only disappointment of the race? My ContourHD had built up moisture inside the lens in the wet conditions yesterday, fogging it all up. So, although this would have been an awesome helmet cam race, I left the camera in the car. No helmet cam. I'm sorry. I may have to buy a second one, as a back up. And not use them in the rain anymore.


Anonymous said...

Hey Aki

In an attempt to diagnose your turning issue, I was thinking if it could be weight-related; when you change the weights of things the forces can change too... Possibility A: Guys who weigh more are applying more force between the wheels and ground, which means there's more friction and they can turn a bit harder. Maybe you lost a bit of stability when you lost all that weight (congratulations by the way)? Possibility B: I think I remember reading that your new bike weighs a bit more too, so it might also be just a bit harder for you to lean it over.

No idea if this makes sense, just an idea.

Aki said...

I'm pretty sure I've diagnosed my turning problems. Basically it was one of applying one theory to a seemingly related thing. Since they weren't necessarily related, the theory actually didn't apply. And therefore I was cornering well below my own expectations.

Here are the facts/theories:
1. 23mm wide clincher rims allow you to run clinchers at lower pressures, typically 95/105 psi instead of, say, 115/120 psi.

2. I own wide tubular rims (max width = 28mm)

Here is my mistaken deduction:
Since I own wide clincher rims, and I own wide tubular rims, I should run my tubulars at lower pressure too.

What really happens is the wider clincher rim gives the clincher tire a wider base.

A wider tubular rim only envelops the tubular tire. Since the tubular tire is the same shape/size when inflated (since they have no beads), the tire does NOT need to be inflated to a lower pressure.

At New London, I inflated my tubular tires to the normal pressures and I felt totally comfortable in all the turns.

At New Britain (Nutmeg), I was uncomfortable simply because I haven't been comfortable in the rain in, say, the last 15 years. For the first 10 years I raced, I never really gave much thought to the whole crashing thing, and I regularly hit the deck (5 years in virtually all training crashes followed by 5 years of virtually all racing crashes).

At some point I decided crashing wasn't fun, and I started avoiding rainy crits, rainy training rides, etc. So now I'm less comfortable in the rain.

For the future I think I'll have a set of box section tubulars for rainy races. And, maybe, I'll train more outside when it's raining.