Sunday, August 15, 2010

Racing - 2010 Blount Fine Foods Criterium, Fall River, MA

The Missus's mom was on the phone.

"So how'd he do in his race today?"

The Missus didn't know quite how to describe it.

"Um, what do you call the second to last place?"

"A Lah-who. Sah-her?"

I heard the Missus giggle, but I hadn't heard the answer. But the giggle was fine - it made me smile. It didn't matter what the answer was - it was that kind of race for me.

The Blount Fine Foods Criterium in Fall River, Mass. Rectangular course, a hill on the 3rd stretch, a long flat sprint (into the wind today), and the rest of the course fast, with either a downhill or a tailwind or a little of both.

I got there in decent spirits. I'd been worried about my pedaling form, worked on it for a few rides, and then, after two days off the bike, decided to hone my form on rollers Saturday night.

After adjusting the wheelbase of the rollers (the track bike required a homemade wheelbase "reduction" fitting, the Tsunami is a full four inches longer), I jumped on the bike.

Well, kind of. It's been a while since I'd been on the rollers (last August, at the latest, so over a year, since I haven't ridden my track bike since August 10th or earlier), and those first few moments of getting onto the bike is always a bit... nervous. Luckily I didn't slam myself onto the top tube, I got under way, and I started working on my form.

After 20 minutes of zipping up and down the tachometer (i.e. cadence), I decided my form was fine, at least the spinning part of it. With coasting, shorts arranging, and the tentative start, I still managed to average about 100 rpm for the 24 minutes, with much of my time spent in the 110s.

Good enough for me.

I climbed off feeling like Fonzie. You know, when he walks up to the mirror, pulls out his comb, looks, and just says "Heyyyyy" and put the comb away?

Well, I got on the rollers, spun a bit, realized I didn't have the choppiness I expected, and decided it was fine. I got off the rollers feeling like Fonzie looking in the mirror and finding nothing wrong.


I'd also debated swapping in the 175mm crank arms. The course apparently had a hill on it, and when there's a hill, I prefer the 175s. I'd fitted the 170s a little while back, expecting to contest a track race or two at some point. But since the New England Track Championships were this weekend, and I worked Saturday and came to this race Sunday, well, I really didn't need the 170s.

So I thought maybe I should put on the 175s.

For whatever reason, I didn't.


Sunday's trip to the race went pretty well. I'd spoken to a good friend Kevin about Fall River, and, although he's out West, he used to live in the area. He recommended a route, even calling a friend in the area to confirm there wasn't any unusual construction. With his recommendations I altered our planned route. Suffice it to say that we got there in good time, even stopping to buy breakfast (my third one) and making a pit stop (which fortunately dropped us out of a bunch of slower traffic).

And we still saved 30 minutes.

Speaking of which... I'm still paranoid about the Mass Pike, the tolls (get a ticket when you enter the highway, pay when you leave, or, if you have an EZPass, do that virtually), and the fact that it's really easy to determine average speed between two points if you have a start and finish time.

Hopefully they don't do this.


SOC trailed us time-wise just a bit, arriving after I'd registered and gotten my number. And, as a special guest, Botto showed up as well. He'd be our unknown friend, racing to help us out.

SOC had targeted this race from last year. You never know how those things work out, with weather, illness, crashes, and the like, but for him everything lined up perfectly for this year. He was riding really well, was not sick, had recovered nicely from a block of training, and had full confidence in his strengths on this course.

Botto, well, he's good. I'll just leave it at that.

Checking the start list, I noticed one name in particular - EBTI. It's close enough to the accounting term EBITA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Amortization) that I'll... um... never mind, I'll call him EBTI.

So, as SOC, Botto, and I warmed up, I told them about EBTI. I've watched him race on the track - he's really fast, really strong, willing to put it on the line, and he has a nice strong team around him. I didn't know if he was their strongest rider, but since he impressed me on the track, I figured he'd be a pretty good choice to lead their Cat 3 team. Luckily we'd parked bumper to bumper to him, so when we returned to our cars to top off fluids and such, EBTI was there and I could discretely point him out to Botto.

SOC would not worry about him. It was our job to do the worrying today.

Somewhere in our warm up pedaling, I also saw the Greenline Velo kit. It resembles the Target Training one, so I get the two confused, but when I realized it was Greenline, I noted to both guys that there's another one that needed to be watched - Sam R (he doesn't have a blog that I know about so I'll use his name).

Sam's impressed over the course of the year. As a Cat 5 he dominated the field sprints at the Bethel Spring Series. I missed him racing as a 4, but by July he was a Cat 3.

And winning.

He slayed the field at Naugatuck, riding astutely and with form that belies his short racing career. As Botto pointed out, it wasn't like the guy just rolled off the couch and started racing. Sam is strong, smart, and, for us, definitely a rider to watch.

He prefers field sprints so I figured he'd play that card. EBTI, I haven't raced with him much, so we needed to make sure that he didn't get away in a break group.

I say "we" like I helped out during the race. But other than pointing out two guys to Botto, I didn't do much to help anyone out.

We lined up fine, the three of us finding our own spots, content to simmer in our own thoughts just before the race.

Then we were off.

I saw SOC in trouble right away. He'd missed clipping in the first try and his pedal bounced and spun around like they do after you kick at them. I'd missed too, but I managed to clip in before he did.

And, at this moment, I made the biggest contribution to SOC's race.

I waited.

If he panicked and couldn't clip in, I'd be there to either help chase or give him a big shove.

Luckily he clipped in and closed the gaps in front of him no problem.

A few laps into the race, dying a thousand deaths, I realized the outside of Turn 2 was fast, pretty smooth, and dumped you out on a fast, rumbly strip of pavement (as opposed to the hammer shock middle of the road).

I decided I needed to tell SOC.

I rolled up to him after struggling to move up to his position for a full lap, and, before I blew up, mentioned it was smoother to the outside of Turn 2.

And that was the last interaction I had with him until after the race ended.

I realized pretty quickly that I felt uncomfortable in the turns. Part of it was the radical lines some riders chose to take. Part of it was the realization that my (expensive and fragile) rim was hitting the pothole edges when I was leaned way over. And I suppose part of it was just me feeling not all there.

Something happens to me when I race. I guess it's adrenaline that I regularly deny feeling in a race. But I must because, when it counts, I feel extremely motivated. I'll dig deeper than I think possible, notice things in crystal clear detail in the midst of a hectic bell lap, and find untapped strength in my legs.

None of this happened during the race.

Yes, I noticed the riders that I needed to keep at arm's length (or more). I found different lines in the different turns. I experimented with technique going up the hill (sitting, standing, high cadence, low cadence, tops, drops, hoods, left side, right, middle), and I moved between different sides of the pack to see how the wind worked me over.

But that was all kind of self-education. It wasn't helping SOC race.

Botto, on the other hand...

First time I noticed him was when he dove into Turn 1, perfect form (he denied it). I saw him launching huge efforts up the hill. I wanted to get up there to tell him to calm down, but two things went wrong:
1. I couldn't move up to the front of the field.
2. Botto bridged up to a break.

I guess his effort was him launching a superlative effort to get into the first break of the day. After all, if he was in it, we (or rather, I) wouldn't need to chase. He buried the pain needle way into the red zone, then, when it retreated a bit, he started to work.

Then, for probably a third of the race, he was in a two man break, slogging away, trying to dangle a carrot in front of the field. He let the other guy take a prime because, frankly, the other guy was doing a lot of work.

Then, when Botto had had enough, he came back into the field.

But other than a brief moment towards the back, he was immediately back up there, launching himself after attacks all over the place.

I could only squint and watch in wonder as I groveled at the back of the field. SOC, to his credit, sat patiently, doing his own self-education, finding the best bits of the course for his strength and style.

The first lap card I saw said "5" on it. I immediately tossed a bottle - it was easy to clear the field because everyone was in front of me.

Then I tried to move up to give SOC a heads up, maybe even move him up a bit in the field.

Botto, as usual, was monitoring the front.

With 2 to go I was getting close to the front, maybe 20 back, but I'd killed myself to get there.

A solo rider held a barely-there gap, but he held it through a lot of surges and such. He looked like he'd have a chance. Long odds, yes, but still something more than zero.

To help him out a teammate led out other teammates to the front of the field. Although they may have had other plans, the immediate effect was to add two blockers to the front of the field.

When the field started fighting at the bell, I had managed to climb into the front bit of the field, on one of the blocker's wheels.

But I had nothing left.

As the field swarmed the front over and over, I found myself getting pushed further and further back.

Up front, going around all the blockers, putting in an absolute superlative effort... Botto. He launched hard, knowing no one would let him go this late. His huge effort had the desired effect - the whole field sprang into action, with the solo break rider's chances diminishing by the millisecond.

On the fast backstretch, normally a juicy temptation for me to move up, I had a hard time maintaining position. I could Botto driving hard. I saw SOC to the outside, too far back in my opinion.

On the hill the field swarmed the breakaway rider. I came off.

I tried hard to get back on, and maybe I did for a moment, but I totally and completely blew. I couldn't even get up to SOC, and if I could see him and his bike from my off-the-back position, that meant he was too far back.

I knew the hill killed me. SOC not only climbed harder than me, he still had a sprint to execute.

I shook my head mentally. No way. No way he'd be able to do anything. He had to be suffering a thousand deaths just to hang onto wheels 20 riders back.

Blown, I sat up, put it in the small ring, and started slowly pedaling to the finish. I kicked myself for not being stronger. I saw Botto too; he'd given everything in that last lap effort, and he was paying the price, staggering up the hill that last lap.

I could see the Missus, standing with Mrs SOC, at the finish. I lowered my head, unwilling to look at two disappointed people.

When I finally looked up, 10 or 15 feet away from them, they seemed oddly gleeful.

"Listen!" Mrs SOC exclaimed.

The announcer was reading out the preliminary results.

"In first place, Sam R of Greenline Velo."

I grinned inside in triumph. He's a good guy, deserves this. And I picked him before the race.

"Second and third are too close to call but it's.... (I forget the name) and SOC"

My jaw dropped.

The Missus said that it seemed that SOC got 3rd, missing 2nd by a hair. She's good at picking these things, even if sometimes the news she gives is less than desirable.

Sure enough, ends up SOC got 3rd.

Botto and I grinned in triumph. Well, Botto. Me, just in grimness.

After the podium shots we headed out for some food. Botto's effort told when he stepped out of his car - he hobbled around comically, his right leg totally rigid, his teeth visible in a tight grimace.


He nodded.

After he recovered we celebrated with some food.

At some point I remembered EBTI. I asked Botto if he ever saw him. Yeah, he had. EBTI rode a really smart race, always up there, monitoring, following. Then, as Botto exploded on the last lap, two of EBTI's teammates went flying by everyone, towing EBTI.

They launched up the hill, a superlative effort.

Too superlative, actually, because they both blew before they could get onto the final straight. It dumped EBTI on the front in the wind at the beginning of the sprint. Forced to lead out, he lost his opportunity.

I grilled SOC on his sprint. He'd gone left, pretty early, and, as he realized over food, he'd led out the second place guy just like he'd gotten led out in a prior year's race.

Except for Sam R, he'd have been battling for the win.

And that I can live with.

Lotsa pins...


Anonymous said...

You were penultimate. :)

Mrs. SOC

Unknown said...

Well done anyway - sounds like a cool course.

BTW, if SOC his name (acronym?), or is it a team title or something?

Aki said...

SOC (I linked the first time I mentioned him I think) is "SuitcaseOfCourage", teammate and blogger.