Monday, July 19, 2010

Racing - Donovan-Ruhlman Naugatuck Crit (Cat 3-4s) Report

So, the end of a vacation, a mini-training camp if you will, a day off, and then a race.

How's that work?

Pretty well, actually.

Over the course of the last week, the Missus and I spent time in the Cape, away from work, and in the company of Mr and Mrs SOC. Although we managed to get in the standard relaxing vacation type stuff, SOC and I trained diligently. We managed to do a long steady day (a near century, followed in quick succession by food, a brief rest, and then a ride with the "girls"), some hard, almost nauseating sprints, and one hard tempo ride. Throw in some easier miles too and you have one complete week of riding.

We got back Saturday before the Ruhlman race (as I think of it - I didn't know the senior Donovan, just his son), and although I'd planned to spin my legs a bit, the long drive, hot weather, cool house, and friendly cats persuaded me to stay off the bike.

Sunday morning I did a quick spin on the bike, we packed the car, and off we went. I prepared four cold bottles, put in an almost full 2 liter bottle of Coke, and one sugared and one un-sugared electrolyte drink. I had the idea that I'd dump one ice water on me prior to the race; I'd carry two on the bike, one in my pocket. The Coke I wanted for before the race. I thought I'd drink the electrolyte drinks afterwards.

To my dismay I realized that I actually felt thirsty on the drive over. I started drinking the sugared electrolyte drink, but it didn't help much. A little worried, I registered (I felt the need to give the highest possible amount of money to the promoters today), got my number, and headed back to the really hot car.

I mean, yeah, I really like the Missus's car, but it was hot like hot hot, like it was temperature hot.

I was sweating bullets pinning my number. Part of it has to do with my ridiculous little pre-race ritual I've set up for myself. It's a combination of Spinal Tap's 11, Joe Parkin's Kermese Rituals, and the fact that I have over 21,000 pins in the basement for Bethel. At some point I just grabbed a bunch of pins floating around and used a bunch to pin on a number.

Now, it's become a ritual.

When I rode horribly with "just" 10 pins at the Keith Berger Crit, I realized that, yes, I had to use more pins.

A whole lotta pins.

I'd actually moved the car before I got ready so we were parked behind a long time friend Mike K. He and I go way back - I first met him when he was literally a kid (as opposed to a teenager). After a long time off the bike he's back, and we traded some old war stories while I got ready.

That helped calm my nerves. When I realized that I'd been there in 1992, worried about George Hincapie (who had flown home early after a poor TTT in the Barcelona Olympics), I realized that, hey, I've been doing this a while. I should be fine.

SOC showed up. We'd done those sprints during our training camp, and he killed me in them. I told him in no unclear terms at the end of that ride that I'd work for him here at Naugatuck. Since he's more used to helping me out (like he did at Bethel) or others (like we both did at a Plainville), he seemed a bit nervous about the prospect of working for himself. I wasn't sure how to calm him down but, unfortunately, the heat and my lack of hydration distracted me from trying to talk to him.

We rolled around the course, me getting a feel for the wind, and talked a little about how I felt it would be played out.

The main straight had a slight tailwind, although at race speeds we'd see some "headwind". The first turn felt good, dry, clean, with lots of traction.

The short downhill straight from the first turn seemed like it always did - really wide, really fast, and just a tad nervous for the much narrower, very fast, somewhat dusty, and very bumpy Turn Two.

There's always been a sweet spot line through Turn Two, but for some reason it seemed that guys turned in too early and either hit the most inside bump or went outside of it. Because of that, I never made it through the turn without at least one decent bump. I thought to myself that I had to go deep inside to clear the bumps, but realized that I'd have to turn in early if I was leading, otherwise I'd leave the inside open and tempt those "late movers" to try and shoot the gap.

It'd be a rough Turn Two I felt, and not just because of the pavement.

The back stretch, as usually, seemed harder than not. A bunch of newer bumps made the road rough going, and the first little rise sapped the power from my legs as it normally did. I thought of the Perma-Patch pavement stuff I had in the red car, the stuff I used at Bethel to patch some holes. I wish I had it here, yesterday - I'd have filled in some of the holes. I have to remember this for next year, if I have any left.

The second rise, an actual little hill like New Britain, emptied my legs on our warm-up laps. I couldn't stay on SOC's wheel without going deep into the red.

Frankly, this worried me.

If I was to help position him for the last lap, I'd need to go up that hill in reasonable shape, else I'd be nowhere on the last lap.

The Final Turn, Turn Three, is a nice hairpin in the dry. At the top of the short hill, it's not a high speed turn, so it's fun. I've had plenty of contact around that turn with no consequences. It's tight, you need to follow the wheel in front, and you can't go too wide or you end up virtually on the curb. One of my first Naugatucks I ended up hitting the outside curb with my wheel while heeled way over - the curb kept me in the road, I stayed upright, and ever since then I've liked that turn.

The thing I don't like about Naugatuck is the long finishing straight. I've yet to sprint down that straight without exploding spectacularly a long way from the line.

When we did sprints a few days earlier, I could jump reasonably well. I'd gotten used to the 170 cranks (coming off the 175s), felt good after some good training and recovery. Problem, for me, was that SOC stayed right with me on my jumps (which, I have to admit, surprised me since my only strength is my jump), and after a long, drawn out acceleration, he'd go roaring around me. After one of those sprints he looked at me and admitted that it "took some doing" to get around me.

If he led out, he simply rode away from me.

Therefore, he'd be better suited to this straight, on this day, than me. Hence I decided it would be best to work for him.

After a lap around the course, I told him what I'd need to do to get him to the last turn in a good spot. I'd have to go on the main straight, at the bell. I'd go through Turn One relatively fast, trying to string out the field. The others should mark me, follow, and not try and come around, since I'd be leading them out. The second turn would be fast, single or double file, and then the hard part would hit me.

I'd have to really crank it down the back stretch, up and over that little rise, then pouring on the gas up the hill to the final turn. With the wind hitting us from the right, I'd have to stay left. If I could make it to the final turn, I'd let SOC sneak by on the inside, otherwise I'd have to wait for a surge to go by before letting him jump on.

SOC mentioned that some other guys were talking of a break. I thought this unlikely, but if others were thinking a break, it'd mean that they'd try and get away. I filed this away for future reference.

I started going crazy with thirst on our second warm up lap. After I told him my quick analysis of the course, I stopped to drink some Coke. It'd be cold, have sugar, caffeine, and liquid. I ended up polishing off over a liter of it, standing there, unable to put down the bottle. I must have needed it so I let myself drink until I was done.

I already had the two bottles on the bike, so I grabbed the big dump bottle and the smaller one for my pocket. One final half lap warm up, a touch more Coke, and I rode to the line. I felt pretty good, the Coke lowering my core temperature a bit, the two ice bottles in my pocket cooling me off some.

At the line I started trickling the dump bottle's contents over my head (careful not to get the ContourHD cam wet), arms, legs, torso. The coldness shocked me at first, but then I wanted it, sitting there in the hot sun.

The Missus came over and gave me my traditional good luck kiss. I told her that I really wanted to carry the dump bottle too. She looked at me - that would mean I'd have four bottles that I may want to ditch before the end of the race.

"Toss the bottles here when you're done, I'll get them," she told me, motioning to the grass.

I nodded as I let another cold stream of water hit me. I took a sip or two, to chill out my tongue, and just before the start, I realized the bottle was empty. I looked over and tossed the bottle. She looked surprised - she expected the bottle in a few laps, not before the race started.

We were off. I spent the first lap getting a feel for the field in general, then moved up when I realized that there were guys gapping off the front already. I wanted to sit at the front, cover moves, and let SOC take it easy. I especially wanted to cover breaks, discouraging them.

For probably the first 15 laps I did just that, covering moves, sitting at the front, even going off the front a bit. I followed wheels mainly, took some reasonable pulls, and capped off my initial bit of work with a small move off the front.

Properly exploded, I eased back a bit. I'd been nursing my bottles (all three had plain ice water, for mainly dumping) and had barely finished one by 15 laps in. I got a bit more aggressive with the bottles - I'd finish the other two in the next 10 laps.

Tip: when carrying a third bottle, leave it in your jersey until you empty one caged bottle. Then toss the empty caged bottle and put the jersey pocket bottle into the cage. Like a buffoon I'd been trying to use the jersey pocket bottle first, and it made for some awkward "stuffing the bottle back into the jersey" moments.

After a few laps of recovery I moved up again. No breaks had made it, I'd chased a few, and I felt the stage was set for exactly the finish I envisioned - a field sprint, opened up by yours truly.

I stayed near the front for the last few laps. At some point we approached Turn One as everyone slowed. I had been sitting near the front, and we all naturally flared out, going from single/double file out to a curb-to-curb formation. I realized there were about four or five riders to each side of me thinking of fighting for position, and I took the responsibility to surge, string it out, and lead through the first turn.

Wow. I never do that.

The other guys must have wondered if I felt really good, because I never do this stuff. I normally back off a little to save my legs, but I didn't want to make too many efforts before leading out SOC, and I wanted to maintain my position at the sharpest bit of the pack.

Unfortunately, with folks fighting back there for position, SOC never got up to me. As we approached the bell, I sat at the front and kept looking back, trying to spot him so I could give him at least an encouraging glance.

Luckily, leading out doesn't necessarily mean "with the sprinter on the wheel", especially if the leadout man felt uncertain about making it to a good drop off point. I'm no Renshaw, and I wouldn't be able to hold position until 200 meters to go. I'd explode earlier, 250 meters at best, 350 meters if I got too nervous. If that's the case, it'd be better for SOC to be a few wheels back.

With my fatigue-blurred vision, I couldn't spot SOC, but I gambled he was there. As we came up to the bell, guys started making moves.

And I started going.

I pulled pretty hard into and around Turn One. I wasn't going crazy - I wouldn't be able to, and I'd only go crazy if SOC was just behind me. So with the throttle eased back a bit, we approached Turn Two.

I had to pull the field back up to a Navone rider unfortunately, who'd tried to bridge to a solo rider. I had to string out the field, and that meant I had to go fast enough, and that meant bringing back any moves going slower.

On the back stretch, just as we hit the bottom of the hill, I realized that I was cooked. I never made an insane effort, and I felt glad that SOC hadn't made it to my wheel. If he had, I'd have ended up dumping him in the wind too early, and I'd have ruined his finish.

I saw a bit of sidewalk even with the road, and after checking my 7 o'clock, I quickly moved left onto it. Properly out of the way, I sat up, hoping SOC could work some magic with what little I gave him.

I looked up just in time to see a bunch of riders toppling over, including some guys that were very close to the front.

Anxiously I scanned the jerseys for SOC, but he wasn't there - he'd made it through. Everyone looked and sounded fine - one guy was trying to yank his bike clear of a very expensive carbon wheel without thinking of the consequences to said wheel. The wheel owner, though, quickly and firmly reminded the guy that, hey, this wheel costs a lot of money, and you don't need to break it to get your 50th place.

Well, 52nd place. Because I rolled around them and got awarded 51st for my troubles, rolling in well after the field.

The Missus, seeing SOC but not me, sent Mike K out for a recon lap to make sure I wasn't on the ground. Not knowing this, when I spotted her, I pointed towards the coolers - I need to sit and dissipate some of this heat energy I'd generated. When she walked up, Mike had already found me, and she reported that she felt SOC got about 14th. This seemed similar to my Harlem, where I got 14th after navigating through a crash. She'd counted my place perfectly then too.

SOC found me there, looking none too happy. He'd been expecting a lot from himself, and disappointingly hadn't broken inside the top 6 or so. But he felt he was up there. He'd come out of the turn pretty far back, having navigated around the beginning of the crash. He sprinted all the way to the line, a long, long way, and managed to pass a lot of guys.

I thought about the sprint, how I always falter halfway there. I asked him if the effort felt like that "Took some doing" sprint, and he grinned and nodded. That's why I wanted him to sprint - because he had a better sprint for this long finishing stretch. He could jump just as hard as I could but I couldn't go for more than 200 meters. He could. Ultimately the results confirmed a 13th place.

Now, that may not sound like a lot to most of you out there, but for me, at Naugatuck? I don't think I've ever placed that well personally. So for me, it was a success.

The four of us left for some food, our respective Missuses both starving (as were we). Disappointingly there are few races left on the calender, but I'm looking forward to those we have left. I felt good in the race, rode near the front for most of it, worked like mad, and felt good about how the day turned out.

Now for the next race. Booyah!

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